Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Not to Advance Arab-Israeli Peace

Throughout his life, one of Yasser Arafat's favorite themes was that there was no historical Jewish connection to Israel. He would assert that there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, that the Western Wall has no Jewish significance, and even that Abraham himself wasn't a Jew. Indeed, he went so far as to reject the Jewish link to Jerusalem in the presence of President Bill Clinton during the Camp David talks, evoking outrage from the American leader and offering insight into why the negotiations were doomed to fail.

Arafat's views, unsurprisingly, were echoed relentlessly by Palestinian media outlets and textbooks, not to mention Muslim clergy. Generations of Palestinians were "educated" to believe that the Jews were interlopers, not a people indigenous to the Middle East. This had nothing to do with history, since there was abundant evidence of the intimate Jewish tie to the land dating back well over 3500 years, not to mention the spiritual and metaphysical meaning of Jerusalem as the heart and soul of the Jewish narrative.

And, needless to say, Arafat never chose to explain why Jerusalem is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible nearly 700 times, while not once in the Koran. Or why, when Jerusalem was in Jordanian hands from 1948 to 1967, not a single Arab leader besides Jordan's king chose to visit what was then considered a backwater city. Only when all of Jerusalem fell into Israel's hands in 1967 did the city suddenly seem to take on a magical, magnetic meaning for the Arab and larger Muslim world.

Instead, at the risk of stating the obvious, Arafat's revisionism had everything to do with politics and propaganda. If Palestinian leaders could cut the link between Jews and the region, then they would undermine the very legitimacy of Israel. Moreover, there was something else at work. It wasn't just that the Jews allegedly had no ties to any of these sites, but also that the Muslims did. In other words, what was at work was a usurpation of Jewish history and its replacement with Islamic history - a kind of across-the-board supersessionism by a religion that began more than 2000 years after Judaism.

Arafat died in 2004, but his beliefs most assuredly didn't. Typical of this ongoing mindset is the Palestinian Authority's chief Islamic judge, Sheikh Tayseer Rajab Tamimi, who recently denied that Jews had ever lived in Jerusalem or that the Jewish Temple ever existed.

And now, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan joins the fray, continuing his recent policy of never missing an opportunity to castigate Israel and proclaim pan-Islamic solidarity. In a Saudi newspaper, he states that the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Cave of the Patriarchs, and Rachel's Tomb "were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites."

For the record, the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron, is revered as Judaism's second holiest site, after the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Rachel's Tomb, in Bethlehem, is Judaism's third holiest site. As for the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Israel has gone out of its way since 1967 to respect Muslim religious authority there, even as the land underneath the mosque, the Temple Mount, is central to Jewish religion and history.

Indeed, this troubling pattern of trying to deny or extinguish a Jewish presence extends deeper into the region.

The other evening, my wife and I met a distinguished American journalist with over three decades' experience covering major news stories around the world.

Hearing an accent, she asked my wife where she was from. On learning that my wife was originally from Libya, she inquired as to when and why she had left. My wife replied that, as a Jew, she and her family were compelled to flee their ancestral homeland in 1967, just after the Six-Day War triggered a paroxysm of violence that resulted in the murder of many Libyan Jews.

The journalist said that she hadn't realized Jews ever lived there, much less that Jews, together with native Berbers, predated the Arab conquest and occupation of Libya by centuries. She couldn't conceive that every last trace of the Jewish presence in Libya, including synagogues and cemeteries, had been wiped out, as if the Jews had never existed.

When my wife added that the story was more or less repeated across much of the Arab world, with hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to leave because of persecution, violence, and intimidation, our interlocutor voiced embarrassment that all of this was new to her. Why hadn't she known, she asked rhetorically?

Well, the answer may be threefold.

First, the Arab countries themselves have sought to avoid any discussion of the subject, much less acknowledge the presence of Jews on their soil for centuries or, in the case of nations like Libya, millennia. For their own reasons, they would rather whitewash history.

Second, the Western media barely focused on the mass exodus or its implications. It just wasn't deemed a newsworthy story. As one striking illustration, the New York Times devoted exactly two tiny news briefs in 1967 to the end of the Libyan Jewish community.

Third, the Jewish refugees, until quite recently, were too busy establishing new lives to dwell on their kidnapped histories - or, more precisely, their erased histories, as if they had never existed in lands they once called home.

And even when they tried, who was listening? The UN? No. The media? No. Arab leaders like Assad of Syria and Qadhafi of Libya? No. Even Western officials largely yawned when presented with the facts, perhaps because it only made a complicated Middle East puzzle still more so, even if it was an essential piece of that puzzle. But all is not entirely bleak. There are a few bright spots.

Morocco and Tunisia have always been exceptions to the rule. While the bulk of Jews from both countries did leave for fear of their future, those who stayed behind have been respected as an integral part of the nations' fabric and fiber.

And this week in Cairo, history is being made. A synagogue and a yeshiva, both associated with the legacy of the towering 12th-century Jewish rabbi, scholar, and physician Maimonides, have been carefully restored and will be open to the public, marking a step forward in finally acknowledging the Jewish role in Egypt's history. The quest for coexistence is achieved not by treaties alone, but by a spirit of mutual acceptance, understanding, and respect.

Those who would cavalierly deny the Jewish people their history and religious sensitivities, whether in Jerusalem, Hebron, or Tripoli, while demanding full recognition of all their own claims, are doing the cause of peace no service.


An ancient conspiracy theory spreads to China

Who’s to blame for the current global financial crisis? According to a bestselling book in China, which is leading the sales charts in the country, the answer is clear: The Jews.

In the eyes of most Chinese, Jewish people are considered “smart,” “rich” and “good at making money.” Bookstores in China offer a variety of self-help books titled, “How to make money like Jews,” and “The secret of Jews’ global success.”

Until recently, the notion that Jews and money were inseparable carried no anti-Semitic undertone in the country, but a relatively new book called “Currency Wars” threatens to change all that.

The book’s author, Song Hongbing, claims that behind world-changing events like the battle of Waterloo, Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, President Kennedy’s assassination, and the deep recession in Asia during the 1990s stood an intricate conspiracy aimed at increasing Jews’ wealth and influence.

Song, a Chinese computer engineer and history buff who resides in the United States, writes that almost every defining historical moment has been instigated by Jewish bankers, and mainly the Rothschild family, which Song says dominates the global banking system, including the US Federal Reserve System.

Song’s book was published in China about a year and-a-half ago, and initially sold an insignificant number of copies. But in recent months the global crisis has turned the book into a hit. Estimates put sales of “Currency War” well over a million, not including hundreds of thousands of illegal copies that can also be downloaded off the net.

Responses among readers vary; online discussions about the book reveal that many are convinced this is the most important publication ever written, as it “exposes the truth behind global economy.” However, others claim that this is “nonsense” and say that Song, who has never studied economics, simply pieced together a theory made up of several delusional conspiracy theories published on the internet.

Song’s publishers, a subsidiary of a state-owned publishing house, boast the fact that the book has been read by all leading financial executives in the country, as well as state leaders.

Song himself has become a local celebrity in China, and is often invited to lecture at financial conventions and is interviewed on TV as a famous financial analyst.


Nicolas Sarkozy identity debate 'boosted votes for far-Right'

Nicolas Sarkozy's controversial "national identity" debate has been blamed for helping the far-right to reestablish itself in French elections. Opponents said the president's decision to start a high-profile discussion about issues including immigration, the burka and social cohesion led voters to back Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front (FN). The near-bankrupt FN had been written off after a disastrous showing in the 2007 presidential elections, but on Sunday scored almost 12 per cent in the first round of regional elections.

Martine Aubry, leader of the Socialist opposition, said Mr Sarkozy was guilty of "reopening a door for the FN" by organising a "debate on national identity aimed at opposing [native] French with French from elsewhere, or foreigners". And Francois Bayrou, former presidential candidate and head of the centrist MoDem party, said: "It's a worrying moment. The National Front is back at a level not seen in years."

The regional elections were preceded by almost non-stop publicity for the national identity debate, which was meant to re-instill pride in traditional Gallic values. Instead official internet forums and public meetings turned into a sounding board for people complaining about France's growing Muslim community, which at more than six million is now the largest in western Europe.

Mr Sarkozy was accused of trying to use the debate to win over FN voters to his own governing party, the UMP. He complemented it by calling for the Islamic veil to be banned because it was against Republic secular values. But, during its own election campaign, the FN played on such fears, releasing a poster that read "No to Islamism", and depicting woman wearing a full veil. Other poster included a depiction of an Algerian flag superimposed on a map of France with minarets portrayed as missiles.

All of this enabled the veteran FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen to remain in the running in 12 of France's 22 mainland regions. The firebrand enjoyed a remarkable personal triumph, winning 20.29 per cent backing in the southern French Provence-Cote d'Azur region, which has a high North-African immigrant population. This compares with the dismal 6.8 per cent the FN mustered in European elections last year, and the just 4.3 per cent Le Pen won in the 2007 presidential vote.

In comments addressed to Mr Sarkozy this time round, Mr Le Pen said: ""It's the phoenix rising from the ashes. The National Front has returned to the forefront of French politics." Mr Le Pen, who is now 81, founded the FN in 1972, and is expected to be succeeded shortly by his daughter, Marine, who is the party's vice president. The 41-year-old's own political credibility was given a huge boost after she won 18.3 per cent in the industrial depressed northern Pas-de-Calais region.

The strong French far-Right showing comes after the anti-Islamic Freedom Party (PVV) led by the Dutch firebrand Geert Wilders triumphed in municipal elections in the Netherlands earlier this month. It won in Almere, a city just east of Amsterdam with a large immigrant population. It came second in The Hague, the only two cities where it chose to participate.

PVV came second in last June's European parliamentary elections, in which anti-immigration parties gained ground in nine countries. In Hungary, the nationalist Jobbik party won three of Hungary's 22 allotted seats with nearly 15 per cent support.

Despite the FN optimism, voter turnout for the first round of regional elections was just over 46 per cent – a record low. The second round will be held on Sunday. The Socialists, who came top with 29.5 per cent, ahead of the UMP with 26.2 per cent, are on course for a possible "grand slam" – taking all 22 regions in mainland France. The Socialists, who currently run 20 regions, are expected to wipe the floor by teaming up with Europe Ecologie, now France's third political force, which won 12.5 per cent, and another left-wing group.

Mr Sarkozy's camp claimed that all was not lost and beseeched its electorate turn up to vote next Sunday. Francois Fillon, the prime minister, who has led the UMP's regional campaign said: "It's not over. Everything is open" before the run-off next Sunday.

France’s immigration minister, in charge of the national identity debate, denied it had contributed to the FN’s higher-than-expected score. "I don’t think so, I even think the reverse (is true),” he said, pointing out that the FN had scored 16 per cent in the last regional elections and was present in 17 regions in the second round. Last month Mr Besson had dismissed the FN as “a bogeyman that doesn’t exist".


Indigenous tokenism an empty gesture, says Australian conservative leader

I have always thought this custom was a sort of pious fraud but I am pretty surprised to see a mainstream political figure saying likewise -- JR

TONY Abbott has opened up a new front in the culture wars by declaring that Kevin Rudd and other Labor ministers demonstrate a misplaced sense of political correctness when acknowledging the traditional owners of land at official functions. Mr Abbott's dismissal of the modern practice of acknowledging traditional owners as "out-of-place tokenism" also won support among some Aboriginal leaders, who have described the trend as "paternalistic," The Australian reports.

The Opposition Leader said Labor politicians felt obliged to observe the practice, despite the fact it was inappropriate in many instances.

"Kevin Rudd is not an old-style lefty . . . but the Labor Party is full of people who are, and I guess this is the kind of genuflection to political correctness that these guys feel they have to make," he told the Adelaide Advertiser. "Sometimes it's appropriate to do those things, but certainly I think in many contexts, it seems like out-of-place tokenism."

But the Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation's Eddie Mulholland said it was a positive move to acknowledge Aboriginal owners. "What's Tony Abbott trying to achieve, some cheap political shot?" Mr Mulholland asked. "It's an acknowledgment that we do exist with humans. "It is not that long ago we were classified as part of the flora and fauna."

Labor backbencher Steve Georganas defended the practice, saying it was the right right thing to do. "They are the traditional owners of this land," he said, adding Mr Abbott's comments were "totally disrespectful".

Liberal frontbencher Eric Abetz said he did not generally acknowledge traditional owners of the land when making speeches. "I find it personally to be quite paternalistic," he said, adding he had done when it was appropriate. "Why don't we acknowledge a whole host of other people and indeed deities?"



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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