Israeli leaders mislabelled by media foes
Comment from Australia
OVER the next year or two, probably for as long as it stays in office, there will be a sustained effort to demonise the Israeli Government of Benjamin Netanyahu. The speech last week by Netanyahu's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in which he explicitly supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute but was reported as if he had said the opposite, is a case in point.
But even the way Netanyahu and Lieberman are typically described is entirely misleading. Netanyahu, not least in the Australian media, is almost always called "hardline right-wing". This would be the equivalent of calling the government of John Howard or Malcolm Fraser hardline right-wing, or calling the recently defeated government of Helen Clark in New Zealand hardline left-wing.
Netanyahu leads the Likud Party, which has been Israel's main centre-right party for decades. Under Menachem Begin in the 1970s, a Likud government gave up the whole of the Sinai desert in a land-for-peace deal with Egypt. Netanyahu, who has held many portoflios in previous governments, has as part of his coalition the left-of-centre Israeli Labour Party.
It would be much more honest to label Netanyahu's Government centre-right. This question of language is of the first order of importance. The ancient Chinese sage Confucius, when asked what would be the main political reform he would carry out if he achieved state power, replied: "It would certainly be to rectify the names." Israel's enemies, heirs to ancient anti-Semitism, are on a relentless quest to delegitimise and demonise it at every point. Mislabelling a democratic government of mainstream, democratic politicians as hardline right-wing is an important part of that quest.
What about Lieberman's speech? Lieberman is the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Lieberman too has previously been a cabinet minister. His party is mainly supported by Russian immigrants. It is fair to say he is to the right of Netanyahu but not fair to say he is an extremist. His policies mix a hard line on national security with social liberalism.
Russian Israelis often have a somewhat attenuated connection to Orthodox Judaism and can therefore be disadvantaged in rulings concerning conversion, marriage and other family matters, where religious parties have considerable influence. There is nothing sinister about this. It is the sort of debate Ireland had in recent years about allowing divorce. Lieberman wants to secularise these matters.
On security issues his sharp language marks him out as a polarising figure. But there is no doubt he is a democrat and, by broader Middle East standards, an extremely mild politician. He is most famous for wanting all Israelis to take a loyalty oath. This is seen as insulting to Israel's Arab citizens. I think it is an unhelpful and unnecessarily polarising proposal, but it is not the black hand of fascism.
Similarly, Lieberman wants all Israelis to be forced to undertake military or other national service. This is also seen as hitting at Israeli Arabs, as they may not want to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces. But Lieberman also wants this provision enforced on Orthodox Jews, who do not do military service either.
Further, in Lieberman's vision of a two-state solution he is keen to transfer Israeli Arab towns into a Palestinian state. Some territorial swap is inevitable if a two-state solution is to work, but presumably no Israeli citizen would be forced to give up their citizenship, whatever happened to the land underneath them. So Lieberman's proposal cannot remotely be classed as ethnic cleansing or anything like it.
I think Lieberman's rhetoric is often unhelpful to Israel and exacerbates problems, but it is certainly not unreasonable for Lieberman to want to debate the civic identity of Israel's Arab citizens.
In his initial speech as Foreign Minister on March 30, Lieberman said the Annapolis peace process, which has been running for the past couple of years, is dead. But Lieberman fully committed himself to the road map negotiated and endorsed in 2002 by the US, the European Union, the UN and Russia, which also involves commitment to a two-state solution.
There is only one difference between the road map and Annapolis. Annapolis was based on the idea that the Israelis and Palestinians negotiate a final status agreement now on who would have what territory, and then one day the Palestinians will be able to form a government that can rule its own territories and provide proper security.
The road map, on the other hand, provided for reciprocity: that both the Palestinians and the Israelis had to undertake certain obligations along the way. Israel had to dismantle illegal Jewish settlements (that is, illegal under Israeli law) and prevent any territorial expansion in the existing settlements. (Lieberman is at times even critical of the previous government for not doing this.) The Palestinians had to form a functioning government and suppress terrorism.
When the Israelis withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, this was a kind of road test for Annapolis. But all they got, after a temporary ceasefire, was a constant barrage of rocket attacks. The Netanyahu Government is now inclined to stress reciprocity.
Indeed, in responding to Lieberman's remarks US spokesmen did all stress reciprocity.
Netanyahu, when in office previously, made a number of agreements that involved Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian land and all of which had as their object a two-state solution. Like Lieberman, Netanyahu is committed to the road map, which has as its goal an independent Palestinian state. But this is dependent on the Palestinians forming an effective and sensible government and meaningfully renouncing terrorism.
This is completely out of the question at the moment because half the potential Palestinian state, Gaza, is ruled by the terrorist death cult Hamas. Despite the protestations of Hamas sympathisers in Australia, the Hamas leadership, the charter which it still upholds and all Hamas spokesmen say Hamas will never recognise Israel's right to exist or to occupy a single inch of territory. This is not the occupied territories we're talking about but Israel proper. Hamas has also said it will never give up terrorism. Hamas may one day change its mind on all this, but at the moment it is inconceivable that the Palestinians could meet their obligations under the road map. That rules out a Palestinian state for the moment.
It remains an ambition of the vast majority of Israelis that they can live in peace beside a peaceful neighbour, both behind agreed borders. In saying this is not available at the moment, neither Netanyahu nor Lieberman rules it out forever in the future. The international press might at least get this basic fact right.
Bob Quick should slow down: "British police arrested 12 people in anti-terror raids in northwest England overnight, a spokesman said, in what reports said was a major operation. The raids were mounted in locations including Liverpool John Moore University and Manchester, according to BBC television, adding that they were part of a long-planned operation brought forward by a security gaffe. Britain has been on high alerts since July 2005 suicide attacks in London killed 56, while car bomb attacks were foiled in London and Glasgow in June 2007. The operation was ordered hours after Britain's top counter-terrorism policeman, Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, was caught on camera clutching sensitive documents as he arrived in Downing Street. The documents, which included full details about planned operations, were legible on pictures taken by photographers and distributed around the world, the BBC said. Shortly after the raids were announced Scotland Yard said that Mr Quick apologised to his boss, Metropolitan Police chief Paul Stephenson, saying he "deeply regretted" leaving the document on show. "Assistant Commissioner Quick accepts he made a mistake on leaving a sensitive document on open view and deeply regrets it. He has apologised to the Commissioner and colleagues," said a Scotland Yard spokesman. [The speedy one was also the cop behind the controversial raid on the offices of a member of Parliament]
Who will stop the pirates? “The American merchant sailors who fought pirates to retake their US-flagged ship, which had been seized Wednesday in waters off Somalia, showed a stiff resolve against maritime piracy that the world community so far has not. Merchant vessels and the global economy will continue to be at risk from ransom-seeking pirates until the maritime powers adopt — and enforce — a zero-tolerance policy to stop the hijackings, say maritime security experts. With the ship’s captain reported to be in pirates’ hands, the unfinished drama casts a bright spotlight on increasingly insecure shipping lanes. The hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship -– which apparently involved the first hostage-taking of American merchant sailors in the pirate-infested waters off Somalia — at first appeared to end hours after the ordeal began, with the 20-member crew overpowering and detaining one pirate and others fleeing to the sea.”
Medical providers urge Obama to save “conscience” rule: “Doctors from across the country have come to Washington to try to save a federal regulation that gives added protection to medical workers who choose not to perform certain procedures, like abortion, that they morally object to. ‘It is open season on healthcare professionals of conscience,’ said David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical Association. ‘Discriminate at will.’ … Obama announced a month ago that he was reviewing the regulation.”
Holder tells prosecutors that justice is their only priority: "Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday warned federal prosecutors of increased scrutiny in the wake of mistakes in the corruption case against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. Holder told assistant U.S. attorneys for the District of Columbia that they must respond to negative perceptions of federal prosecutors by doing "the right thing." "Your job as assistant U.S. attorneys is not to convict people," Holder said. "Your job is not to win cases. Your job is to do justice. Your job is in every case, every decision that you make, to do the right thing. Anybody who asks you to do something other than that is to be ignored. Any policy that is at tension with that is to be questioned and brought to my attention. And I mean that."
A Fawning Frenzy For Michelle: "Imagine being Laura Bush and turning on the television and watching the absolute deluge of sticky-sweet syrup being poured all over Michelle Obama during her European debut as first lady. It is as if every TV reporter was handed a pamphlet of talking points and ordered to compare Mrs. Obama to Jackie Kennedy. NBC's Dawna Friesen gushed: "Though Harvard-educated Michelle Obama has substance, not just style, and that's what sets her apart." Apart from … whom? Unspoken, but unmistakeable, NBC's saying Michelle has more substance than Laura and more style than Hillary. Everyone expects the press to be polite and gentle with the First Lady, but this is ridiculous. The official "news" media line now is that Michelle is the most smashing and fashionable and intelligent first lady in recent history, maybe ever."
A Clintonesque lie: "The White House is denying that the president bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at a G-20 meeting in London, a scene that drew criticism on the right and praise from some Arab outlets. "It wasn't a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he's taller than King Abdullah," said an Obama aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Washington Times called the alleged bow a "shocking display of fealty to a foreign potentate" and said it violated centuries of American tradition of not deferring to royalty. The Weekly Standard, meanwhile, noted that American protocol apparently rules out bowing, or at least it reportedly did on the occasion of a Clinton "near-bow" to the emperor of Japan. Interestingly, a columnist in the Saudi-backed Arabic paper Asharq Alawsat also took the gesture as a bow and appreciated the move. Bald-faced lie and the world knows it."
The good old days: " I had a school friend whose father drove his family the length of Africa from Pretoria to Beirut in the early 1950s, and from the time they left South Africa (then a dominion like Canada)until they crossed the Sudanese - Egyptian frontier, travelled exclusively across British colonial territory. Apart from wear and tear on the vehicles they encountered no really bad roads, though they were mostly dirt, no malaria (largely eradicated), no crime, friendly people, and had a journey of their lives. I doubt whether you could drive around a street in Pretoria today without your car falling into a pothole or without being mugged, let alone cross Africa without serious incident."
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)