Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Terra Incognita 134 Between "we" and "They"
Terra Incognita: Between 'we' and 'they'
02/15/2011 22:21

Some here ascribe all sorts of fabricated evils to Israelis.

Talkbacks (9)
In a recent article on Egypt, Larry Derfner repeats an unoriginal theme when he ascribes to “us” all sorts of values and opinions merely to place himself above and outside our society. “It’s not that we’re against democracy, goes the Israeli line on Egypt, it’s that we’re afraid of the Islamists and radical Arab nationalists taking over... we’ve taken sides against popular revolts that could hardly have cared less about the Israeli-Arab conflict... we’re tarring the Egyptian masses now as radicals... We have no problem supporting dictators or opposing democrats... We were doing to other people what we’d always hated other people doing to us.”

“We” is used no less than 48 times. And yet surely Derfner is not suggesting he is responsible; he isn’t speaking as someone who actually was part of the “we,” such as the government officials who met with their South African counterparts in the 1970s. What he really means is “they” – the bad Israelis, the Israelis to whom he ascribes all these things. But by saying “we,” many in Israel ascribe terrible sins to “us” only to take part in some banal self-flagellation and present themselves as lone righteous voices.

There is this never-ending self-lashing, this “oh, woe is me... we are so evil... our society is so terrible....”

To ascribe all these uniquely obnoxious traits to their own society, they portray that society as a distorted nightmare, like some Picasso drawing. Yossi Sarid, a former education minister, writes in Haaretz: “This was a civil uprising [in Egypt], one that did not suit the wild and violent image we insist on ascribing to all Arabs and to all Muslims... if only Israeli flags had been burned in the streets, we could frighten ourselves and the whole world, saying we were right again... can only Israel enjoy its limited democracy? The Exodus from Egypt, from slavery to freedom, is for Hebrews only, not for Arabs... finally we fit into the region.”

What is Sarid getting at? When he says “we,” does he mean that when he was education minister he worked hard to promote democracy in the Arab world, or does he mean that he too viewed the Arabs as insufferable extremists?

Well it seems he neither promoted democracy nor held this racist view. So who is “we”?

What he means is “they” – those bad Israelis, the ones who hate Arabs. Which Israeli ever said freedom is for Jews only? Yet suddenly that outlandish view becomes “we,” merely so “we” can be racist and hateful and reactionary.

Anshel Pfeffer writes, also in Haaretz, “are we afraid we won’t be able to bask in the title of ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Doesn’t Egypt deserve democracy too?” Which “we” is this? Where, ever, did someone complain that we won’t be able to bask in the title of the only democracy in the Middle East? Never were such words uttered, and yet this apparently becomes the normal notion of so many of “us.”

Bradley Burston writes on his blog on “I want you [Egyptians] to show us the last thing we expected to see. Because it is only when we see our best consensus assessments proven dead wrong, when the wholly unanticipated stuns us, when the inconceivable turns overnight into the inevitable, that change comes to this place... why has this Israeli government done its best to emulate in two years repressive measures Hosni Mubarak took 30 years to refine?”

At the end of his column Burston explains, “We deserve to build settlements because we have suffered and the Arabs are violent.” Once again, “we” is not the author, and the actual people referred to, the settlers, would never describe their reasoning this way.

TO TURN “us” into the a bogeyman, reality must be skewed so that the labels of “we” and “us” can be placed on it. Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar writes, “True, in Israel they do not arrest bloggers for insulting the president’s honor. On the other hand, Egypt does not hold for more than 43 years millions of people under military occupation.”

Eldar, like all his fellow travelers, imagines an Egypt that is democratic and an Israel that is a dictatorship. Egypt, he forgets, has had decades of emergency rule and lives under military dictatorship even today.

Derfner argues that our fears are “part of the story of why the incredibly brave people in Egypt inspire just about everyone in the world except us.”

Yet he knows very well that many people in the Gulf states, Iran, China and all over the world are not so inspired by Egypt, and he also knows that in Israel the Egyptian uprising inspired many. So he misleads on two accounts, he makes “us” into freedom haters, and makes the world into something it is not.

Why does Sarid write that Israel has “limited democracy”? He knows all too well, from having been in the Knesset, that this is a fabrication. In the Hebrew press it is the same: “we, us, ours, all of us.”

Part of the reason for the plethora of “we” that oozes into every piece of punditry is simply group think. In two of four February 13 op-eds in Haaretz, “Orientalism” is the topic. That isn’t coincidence; it stems from the same people all sitting around and telling the same nonsense to each other; “we live in a racist society, Orientalism finally is proven wrong by Egypt’s democracy, we believe democracy is only for us...”

And the readers, do they suffer from a mass psychosis? They should know very well that “we” is a stand in for “they.”

The over-emphasis on “we” stems from a prophetic tradition, but also betrays a deeper self-hate. In Judaism the child at Passover who indicates inclusion is “wise,” while the one who places himself outside is “wicked.”

Not wanting to be wicked, many of those who truly abhor Israel ascribe all sorts of nonsense and evils to it and its people. They style themselves “we” and “us,” when they do not actually view themselves as one of us, for they have only contempt for our society, which they paint as brutish, racist, savage and ignorant.

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

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Two Articles on Jerusalem

End of the Tunnel? Hotzot Hayotzer, the Artists Colony in Jerusalem, faces eviction after 40 years of pioneering Judaica

Seth J. Frantzman

Published in the Jerusalem Post on February 6

George Goldstein speaks with a soft voice, tinged by a French accent, when he recalls moving into the Hotzot Hayotzer 40 years ago. In his hand is a slightly faded photo of him at his loom with Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek and artist Mordechai Ardon looking on. Despite the fact that he and more than tweny other artists at the Jerusalem Artists Colony face eviction in 22 days, he seems resigned to whatever fate will come; “I opened my workshop here in September of 1969 with the support of Kollek and Yigal Allon [then minister of education and culture] and it was the first place for traditional tapestry and weaving and is it still the only tapestry workshop in the country making things in the traditional way.” Goldstein came to Israel in 1960 and his work has enjoyed great success over the years, with large tapestries hanging in the Great Synagogue of Strasburg, Jerusalem’s Shaare Tzedek hospital and at Yeshiva University in New York.

Hotzot Hayotzer was once a pioneering project to bring culture and people to the ruined no man’s land that separated East and West Jerusalem. When once Jordanian snipers had sat atop the parapets of the Old City Walls, in 1967 the city was re-unified and the mayor desired to link the city together. By bringing dynamic artists and setting them up with workshops and galleries next to the Old City walls the municipality and government was showing its commitment to reviving this part of Jerusalem. That was in 1969. Today things have changed. The grand villas of Kefar David and the rejuvenated Yemin Moshe peer over into the row of workshops that is Hotzot Hayotzer. Nearby a dilapidated park is being remade by the Jerusalem Foundation into Teddy Kollek park. The Artists Colony has been left untouched. Although a restaurant, Eucalyptus, opened there over a year ago, the retinue of artists has remained unchanged, it seems, for almost a decade.

One of the “new” arrivals is Oshrit Raffeld, whose positive energy bubbles over as she describes the tragedy that is befalling the place; “It isn’t packed with tourists, but that is because Kefar David changed the route people take to the Old City…we were once the main way for tourists to get to Jaffa gate. At our own expense we paid the municipality to put up signs, we advertised and marketed ourselves.” For her, and for the other artists, it is the landlord, the East Jerusalem Development Company, that is to blame for the problems.

The East Jerusalem Development Company, despite its connotation as being involved with “East Jerusalem” was actually set up in 1966, before the Six Day War. It is owned jointly by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Tourism. The company currently manages several projects and properties, including Yemin Moshe, the famous old village created by Moses Montefiore in 1891, The Davidson Archeological Park next to the Western Wall, Zedekiah’s cave (Solomon’s quarries) near Damascus Gate and the Old City Walls walkway. The Artist Colony seems to be one of its least impressive projects, considering the beauty of Yemin Moshe and vibrancy of the Davidson Center. So what went wrong?

A little over a year ago the tenants of the Artist Colony were sent letters of eviction but the order was postponed for a year and the EJDC raised the rents by 30%. Raffeld recalls that “in the past they renewed our contracts yearly…but suddenly everyone was told to leave, no matter if the artists open their shops regularly. The company now claims that we didn’t agree to the rent raise, we didn’t object but we want contracts that protect us.” According to Gideon Shamir, director of the EJDC, it is primarily about the unpaid rent. The artists refuse to pay the higher rate and therefore they must go; “they pay a very low rent, we wanted to raise it to a more realistic price [According to Raffeld the price of the rent is 45 NIS per square meter]. There was a deadlock and the court order is for them to leave, I can tell you that we approve of thinking about the future of this place, but there is no connection between the future and the fact that the artists refuse to pay. We want this to be a place of culture and tourism.”

There is no doubt that the Artists Colony does not attract tourists. It is hard to find and there is no public parking. The new Mamilla mall funnels tourists into the Old City in a way that would make it surprising if any of them wandered down to the area of the colony. However some tourists do chance upon it. A couple from Toronto remarked after passing, “it looked closed to us, maybe it’s open later, there is nobody there.” They were wrong, half the workshops were open at 10:30am when they had passed, but they looked very much closed from a distance. Majd Ashhab who works in Mamilla and used to park near the place recalls that “they are closed always and they don’t allow us to park there, I’ve never seen anyone walking there.” However three students at the Jerusalem University College who study nearby were surprised to find such a special place in Jerusalem. After wandering by several times they chanced upon the workshops and were delighted to meet the artisans. Lauren Walker from Minnesota thinks that although the steep prices dissuaded her it was nice to meet the artists in the flesh. Josiah Sinclair, another student, who bought a leather belt says “this place is more authentic from the rest of the touristy places, this is how I imagined Jerusalem.”

Hotzot Hayotzher faces an uphill battle. The connection between the artists and their landlord seems completely broken. Every year the municipality hosts an artist’s festival called “Hotzot Hayotzer”, but over the past years the artists who have shops in the colony complain of being excluded. Most of the support for the artists comes from personal connections they have made. Goldstein recalls “I made many friends in forty years.” Letters of support have been sent from abroad and are being collected by Anat Galili-Blum, spokesperson of the artists. She believes there is going to be a “protest letter storm, hundreds of letters” from all over the world urging for the eviction to be cancelled. Judging by the connections and high quality craftsmanship that has brought attention to the artists it isn’t an exaggeration. Silversmith Yaacov Greenvurcel’s Judaica has been shown at museums around the world, including the Jewish Museums of Berlin and Vienna. For him “this is a microcosm of what is happening in Israel, the bureaucracy, the mall culture.” Accusations that the artist’s work is outdated are belied by the fact that the artwork of Greenvurcel, Raffeld and Yossi Sagi, among others, appears modern, cutting edge and even chic.
In the end only time will tell whether the EJDC gets its way and the recalcitrant artists are removed. While it is true that the site is not a burgeoning center of tourism, the artists are right that it is a unique space, a street of workshops where pioneering Jewish artists are creating dynamic creations. The question for the city and the tourism ministry is whether the current location is worth preserving when compared to other options. As of press time the tourism ministry had not replied to a request for comment on the situation.

Sold Out? A small Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem suddenly finds its future up in the air

Published in Jerusalem Post on January 3

Joe and Rozanne Polansky are soft spoken but determined. As they sit in their living room, with its beautiful panoramic view of the Old City and East Jerusalem, they relate what drew them to the place. In 2008 they first saw Nof Zion, the Jerusalem community they now call home. It was an empty shell, precariously overlooking the Old City basin and surrounded on three sides by the Arab neighborhood of Jebel Mukaber. When they returned in April of 2009 however things were thriving; "we loved the community, it was full of life and affection and gave us a great feeling." The Polanskis are from North Bellmore, Long Island. Joe worked in construction before going back to school and becoming a state inspector of schools for the blind. Initially they envisioned spending six months out of the year in the new community. But the enchantment of it all led them to place their house in the U.S up for sale and move to Jerusalem permanently.

For outsiders it might seem a strange choice. Nof Zion strikes the visitor as being half built and it feels isolated, even though it is only a ten minute walk from the U.N headquarters and Armon Ha Natziv. This is no accident. The developers never bothered to finish the job. They completed only around 100 units out of a promised 400. They never constructed a synagogue, despite claiming on their website that “the synagogue will be the first pubic building erected.” Ground wasn’t broken for a hotel, country club, and a number of other amenities. The rest of the project is just a sea of earth and weeds. Sad patches of grass attempt to break through the hardscrabble earth of the “garden” apartments, trying to put down roots like the new residents themselves. The seven buildings that were constructed are home to some 75, mostly middle class Israeli families and several renters, including one U.N worker and two basketball players.

Dawn Yonah, another resident who relocated from the Washington D.C area, relates a similar story to the Polanskis. When she had first signed a contract on the property there had been few residents. But she believed in the vision of Digal, the developers of Nof Zion; "we were aware of the location of it but as Zionists it didn't bother us, we received a special feeling immediately from the residents." The unbeatable view of the Old City, the promises and the price tag all made the choice easy. But little seems to have turned out as hoped. It was a struggle to get bus service and mail is delivered intermittently. The owners were promised 24 hour security but that never materialized and now residents volunteer to do their own neighborhood watch.

A year and a half ago Yonah relates that “there were rumors of financial problems with Digal, a lot of Americans refused to sign contracts for their apartments.” Joe recalls that it didn’t seem like Nof Zion would be affected; “we heard rumors only of it affecting other properties.” Digal’s website lists six other projects that they are involved in, including three residences in Rumania, a synagogue and hotels in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The story of what has befallen Nof Zion has been widely related in the media. Following Digal’s financial difficulties a Palestinian businessman named Bashar al Masri stepped forward with an offer to buy the property. Currently there is a campaign to find a Jewish buyer to match his offer or place pressure on the developers and creditors not to cave in.

Masri’s role is worth considering. He was born in Nablus and is a Palestinian entrepreneur. His uncle is Munib al-Masri, an extremely wealthy Palestinian who made his money abroad and is now a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and owner of a famous Italian renaissance style palace above Nablus. Bashar is the manager of Massar International and the brainchild behind the Qatari backed Rawabi development, the first planned Arab city in the West Bank which is currently under construction and will house 40,000 wealthy and middle class Palestinians. Requests for an interview were not returned as of press time.

The residents of Nof Zion are undaunted in their desire to see their community succeed but they are also wary of the future. “We don’t want to see this beautiful Jewish community broken apart, we will build and do whatever it takes, people here are determined to see our community continue to thrive” says Dawn. “Our community is like a large family, we aren’t disconnected. There are more than seventy children here.” Currently some of the children attend a day care in the temporary synagogue which is located in a neighbor’s unused apartment. Up until recently there was some deal between the owners and the other residents but now even that seems up in the air and the synagogue may have to move elsewhere.
Miranda Jones, Dawn’s daughter, has put her feelings down in writing in an article titled ‘an Oleh’s view of Nof Zion.’ She stresses that “this is not a matter of political right versus left…Nof Zion is a private, legal community that is growing each day as new families move into the apartments…virtually every family has an amazing story, with historical roots that go deep into Israeli soil, and lofty visions of a glorious future.” Many of the Residents stress this point: there are no tensions with the Arab neighbors. Miranda writes that the “playground is visited daily by both Jewish and Arab children.” During the tensions over Silwan in the fall there was some vandalism but the situation is generally quiet.

The residents have been proactive in defending their interests. They have purchased bonds of the developer in order to have a say in any final decision. Motti Mintzer, an attorney and one of the first people to move into Nof Zion, has been instrumental in bringing families to live there and giving voice to the residents’ concerns; “I don’t mind who owns it as long as they carry through on their plans and the promised Jewish character remains the same, as well as the security of its residents. If this basic character of the project is changed - the company, Bank Leumi and the potential investor are exposed to lawsuits in an amount which is more than triple than the amount proposed in Weissglas' [representing Masri’s] offer.” As of press time no decision had been made regarding the Palestinian bid to acquire Digal’s assets but it seems whatever happens the people of Nof Zion will doggedly press on in their desire to make the community succeed.

Two Book reviews

A New Shoah, Meotti $15.95
Reviewed by Seth J. Frantzman
Tel 97-57-855-4551,
4 Baruch Ben Nariah, Jerusalem, 94502
February 2010
When I made Aliyah to Israel, at the tail end of the Second Intifada I was surprised by the lack of memorials to the victims of terror. The Palestinians and their friends in Israel call this the “presence of absence” when they describe the lack of commemoration for their former villages. However, a closer look reveals that there are a plethora of tiny signs and memorials for the all too numerous victims. Giulio Meotti, an Italian journalist, has set out to do these victims justice.
This is a tough and necessary job. There have been few books in English that chronicled the Second Intifada from this point of view. There have been even fewer that dared to examine the suffering inflicted on Israelis by the murderous attacks. This is primarily because of the content. It’s easier to write some puff piece about crying Palestinian children and their mother sheltering in a tent outside their freshly ruined house that was supposedly just demolished by a tank to make a road wider. It’s easier to write about soldiers than it is about blown up buses. And in general the supporters of Israel tend to shy away from the gore, from the semi-pornographic obsession with death and the slaughtered, preferring a different moral high ground.
Meotti’s point of departure is that there is a line that connects the victims of terror in Israel and the victims of the Holocaust. Hence the title, which many will consider over the top, A New Shoah. For him there are two reasons to draw this parallel. First is that those who carry out terrorism are often motivated by similar types of anti-semitic hatred; “Hamas and Hezbollah, two of the terrorist organizations that seek the destruction of Israel, call the Jews ‘pigs’, ‘cancer’” and other terms that conjure up a dark era. But the author also aims his argument at the West which he believes has betrayed the Israeli victims of terror; “why is Ofir’s story never held up as an example of what ethnic-religious hatred can do?” He continues, “whenever a Palestinian dies, even a suicide bomber, the newspapers fall all over themselves to publish his story and photographs…today in the West there is a faulty conscience-indifferent to the parade of young Palestinians putting on explosive belts....[this] has obliterated the fate of thousands of Israelis murdered because they were Jews.”
Meotti attempts to create a memorial for those who lost their lives in terrorism through a large number of vignettes. Many of the stories seem oddly similar in their tragedy. Take Corporal Ronald Beer who had “arrived from Russia 14 years before he was killed.” He desired to go the army because “someone has to protect them. If I don’t do it, who will?” There is Gadi Rajwan, an immigrant from Iraq, who employed seventy Arabs. And there is Nava Applebaum, daughter of an American immigrant.
The author tries to emphasize the humanity of the victims. He provides them with a story, a history and a future that was cut short. Like so many other he emphasizes how humane they were and how humane Israeli society is in general; “during the Second Intifada, Israeli hospitals continued to provide medical care to Palestinian patients.” Too many of the victims are sons and daughters or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Too many, it seems to the reader, are immigrants. Too many are on their way to get married.
Meotti’s book is jarring as it is a little scatterbrained. There doesn’t appear to be a great deal of organization, from one vignette to the other. But the overhanging theme never changes; Israeli Jews deserve to have their stories told and those that have ignored them under the banner of anti-Zionism are simply anti-semities in a new garb. The author isn’t always exact on his facts. He notes that there were “eighty-six Israelis [who] lost their lives during the First Gulf War, killed by Iraqi missiles, by panic, by suffocation.” This is a massive exaggeration, only 2 Israelis were killed and 230 injured. Where did he come up with 86? But this slight mistake can be overlooked, he has provided an important testament to the victims of terror. It is too bad there are not more like him.

Book Review
The Future of Islam by John L. Esposito, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 234 pages, (Hardcover), 2010 $24.95
Engaging the Muslim World by Juan Cole, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 281 pages, (Hardcover), 2010, $269.95
Reviewed by Seth J. Frantzman
Tel 97-57-855-4551,
4 Baruch Ben Nariah, Jerusalem, 94502
December 2010
Most Muslims are moderate, are lurching towards pluralism, support women’s rights and if only we in the West will take the “next step” and “recognize that the Children of Abraham are part of a rich Judeo-Christian-Islamic history”, abandoning “Islamophobia”, we can move beyond the clash of civilizations. This, in essence, is the message of John Esposito, Professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University and founding director of the Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Juan Cole, a Professor of history at the University of Michigan, argues in his lukewarm account that we need to engage with the Muslim world and dispel the myths about it which have grown up in the West where “Islam Anxiety” has become wide spread. Cole provides a laundry list of apologies for every Islamic fanatic society, from Saudi Arabia’s gender apartheid to Iran. He even goes so far as to make outlandish claims: There is “lack of good evidence for an Iranian nuclear weapons program”; “The [Muslim] Brotherhood has never been big enough [in Egypt] to count as a mass movement”; He calls the Bin Laden “a wealthy and much better organized version of Timothy McVeigh” the Oklahoma City bomber; “Lebanon and Senegal, have much better human rights records [than Saudi Arabia]”; “the [Persian] Gulf is actually among the more cosmopolitan places in the world.”
Is it worth debunking these assertions? Iran is developing nuclear weapons, the Muslim Brotherhood is a mass movement, Bin Laden is not comparable to Timothy McVeigh, Lebanon does not have a wonderful human rights record even compared with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states can only be considered “cosmopolitan” in a 19th century slavery owning American South kind of way. After all, what other societies in the world house foreign workers, who make up a majority of the population, in work camps where their passports are confiscated and they are worked like slaves so that a tiny minority of wealthy people may enjoy the good life?
Cole, Esposito and Karen Armstrong, who writes the forward to Esposito’s book, are examples of popular Muslim apologists in the West. According to Armstrong there is an “entrenched reluctance to see Islam in a more favorable light” in the West and it is the responsibility of people in the U.S and Europe to not only view Islam in a positive light but change their foreign policies and cultures to take into account the feelings of Muslims since “western foreign policy has been one of the causes of the current malaise in the [Muslim] region.” Like Armstrong (who was a nun), Esposito burnishes his “Christian” credentials and talks about how he spent years in a “Capuchin Franciscan monastery.” The author notes in The Future of Islam that his two former books, What Everyone Needs to know about Islam and Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, were included on a “reading list” for high ranking soldiers being deployed to Iraq. It is not clear how Future of Islam differs from his previous two books in terms of explaining “what Muslims really think” (the title of another of Esposito’s books) but he claims to introduce us to Islam, again, show how religion plays a role in Muslim politics, examine Muslim reform initiatives and discuss America’s role in the Muslim world.
The main problem with Esposito’s book is that, despite his claim that he has attempted to organize it into themes, there is almost no logic to the way in which the argument is presented. The author is careful to make use of Muslim converts who have Western names. Towards this end he discusses the case of “Dr. Ingrid Mattson”, a Canadian convert to Islam and scholar at Hartford Seminary who was involved in a controversy at the Democratic National convention in 2008. There is also Timothy Winter, a Cambridge University Professor and “prominent Muslim religious leader” who “rejects extremists” and believes Islam should return to its “classical cannons” of Islamic law. But how many Muslims have heard of Winter and Mattson?
Esposito, who is mired in the swamp of American politics, tends to believe that his reader is deeply familiar with American evangelical preachers. Thus the name John Hagee appears numerous times alongside other “preachers of hate” and “hard-line Christian Zionists” such as “Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson [and] Rob Parsley.” Cole uses a similar tactic, comparing radical Islamists to the “gun culture” in the United States. Esposito wants us to believe that Muslim fundamentalists are “like that of the radical Christian Right.” The problem here is that this gives these preachers and right wing gun owners more importance than they have in order to set up a straw man that can be compared to Islamic extremism. Let’s be honest, Islamic terrorists have killed tens of thousands of people in the last decades from India to Africa and the New World. How many people have American gun loving terrorists like McVeigh or followers of pastors like Hagee killed? Less than 200. Even compensating for the population differences from whence the radicals are drawn, 350 million Americans versus 1.3 billion Muslims, there is no comparison.
Future of Islam oddly provides a sort of how to guide on how to convert to Islam (“there is no God and Muhammad is the messenger of God”), for some reason in the chapter entitled “the many faces of Islam.” Yet both authors acknowledges that “Islamic law in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and the Taliban’s Afghanistan has been used to restrict women’s rights and to mandate stoning of women charged with adultery (Esposito)” and other savage punishments.
In the end Esposito’s book is like blast from a shotgun. The author believes that if he lays out enough short little arguments that some of them will hit the mark. Cole prefers a more direct refutation of the West’s long held beliefs about Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Iran. Unfortunately for him, the West is correct, these countries are either run by nefarious regimes or are cauldrons of violent extremism.

Terra Incognita 131 Misunderstanding Egyptian Democracy
Terra Incognita: Careful what we wish for
02/08/2011 22:16

Chaos has a much better track record of producing more tyranny and fascism, than it does democracy.

Talkbacks (2)
‘Egyptians want what Americans have, they want freedom. [US President Barack] Obama needs to tell [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, ‘You are not leaving in September, you are leaving now; we are not giving you seven months.’” Those were the words of Fox News contributor Tamara Holder.

The mantra that Egyptians want freedom and democracy has swept the world. Alongside this argument is a romantic attachment to the Egyptian protesters, a weird admiration for the “people” and the “mob.”

All the misinformed support ignores the reality: Just because people riot or protest for something doesn’t mean they are democracy-loving moderates.

The lesson being taught to the Egyptian people by statements like “Mubarak must go now” is that democracy is about rioting and protests. Roger Cohen of The New York Times argues that an “election in September is unimaginable.” Maybe an election in America in November is unimaginable, if enough people protest, say 2 percent as in Egypt; perhaps we too should just change elections based on their demands. Haaretz asks, “Is a democratic Egypt too much for Israelis to take?” But what we are seeing isn’t a “democratic” Egypt.

The Israeli and American Left is especially euphoric in its embrace of the Egyptian masses.

Anshel Pfeffer writes that “people are scaring us with talk of an Islamist takeover of our big neighbor.

But doesn’t Egypt deserve democracy too?” He elaborates: “We’re all suffering from Orientalism, not to say racism, if the sight of an entire people throwing off the yoke of tyranny and courageously demanding free elections fills us with fear rather than uplifting us, just because they’re Arabs.”

According to the doyens of the Left, Israel is a “Western outpost” that does not integrate into the Middle East and thus didn’t prepare for the uprising in Egypt.

IN THE US, all the op-eds by the likes of David Brooks and Maureen Dowd are toasting the crowds in Egypt. Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institute explained that we must not fear an Islamist takeover. “We overlearned that lesson and we need to get beyond that panicky response. There’s no way for us to go through the long evolution of history without allowing Islamists to participate in democratic society.”

Kagan also argues that the US shouldn’t support a slow transition from Mubarak, like elections in September, but rather the immediate removal of the tyrant.

The message is clear from all over the Western world: Egypt’s protesters are true democrats. They are romantic; they are Americans without knowing it and to support them we need to have the government of Egypt vanish overnight and have some sort of chaotic transition. There is no greater sign of democracy than chaos. The Islamists all want democracy; we shouldn’t fear them, but embrace them because they represent the genuine feelings of the people. We are racists because we see large numbers of people marching, shouting and burning, and we fear their rage.

Democracy isn’t about burning down the headquarters of the other party. It isn’t about paralyzing the state so that no business can be conducted and nothing can happen. Oddly, democracy isn’t about mass protests and riots. Democracy is primarily about voting and peaceful transitions of power. The other freedoms that follow from that, like the press, assembly, religion, equality and free speech, are products, hopefully, of democracy.

Democracy has, since its inception in ancient Greece, always been plagued by its evil twins, fascism and tyranny. It is strange to hear, but democracy’s opposite is not tyranny; it is monarchy.

Tyranny is the antecedent or result of democracy.

“Tyranny” comes from the Greek word tyrannos, defined by Plato as “one who rules without law, looks to his own advantage rather than that of his subjects and uses extreme and cruel tactics – against his own people as well as others.”

Tyranny came about through the rise of popular cults associated with war heroes and wealthy men who seized power through coups. Syracuse, an ancient city state, was a democracy from 467 BCE but in 407 a man named Dionysius I seized power and became a military dictator. The philosopher Plato, a product of Athenian democracy and a democrat himself, became a friend and supporter of this tyrant.

Rome, a republic for many years before it became an empire, suffered from tyranny as well. Sulla, a military leader, was made “dictator” by the Roman Senate for the purpose of “making of laws and for the settling of the constitution.” Like the tyrant of Syracuse, Sulla murdered those he suspected to be enemies of the state.

TO UNDERSTAND tyranny’s relationship with popular democracy, we must fast forward to the period 1917 to 1950. In that period almost all of the liberal democracies in Europe were brushed aside by popular fascist or communist movements. It began with Russia where a brief period of democratic government in 1917 was followed by the communist seizure of power.

The fascists and their enemies used mass protests and chaos, including rioting, to secure power against weak democratically elected patricians who proved incapable of dealing with the street. Yet those who look to Egypt and admire the protesters don’t see that these types of mass protests, while they demand democracy, also walk hand in hand with dictatorship.

It isn’t about the Egyptians being Arabs. It isn’t about Israel “integrating” into its region. It’s about the fact that no one notices that what is going on in Egypt is not a sign of democracy, it is just a sign of chaos and mass protest. Mass protest may cause a government to implement democratic reforms.

But as we have seen in Tunisia, when the government simply collapses and runs away, that doesn’t represent a “democratic transition.”

Chaos, as there is in Egypt, has a much better track record of producing more tyranny and fascism, than it does at producing democracy.

Those who journeyed to Iran in 1979, like the popular French philosopher Michel Foucault, believed they were witnessing “democracy.”

But they were witnessing the rise of Islamic fascism.

No one remembers that. No one who teaches Plato and Foucault recalls that despite all their ideals, they flirted with tyranny; it was sexy, it was strong, it was popular and muscular and in the streets. Our philosophers were wrong. And we are wrong today when the very existence of a mob, rather than orderly lines at the ballot box, makes us feel that “democracy is happening.”

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

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Terra Incognita 130 The Western Academy and Middle East Tyranny
Terra Incognita: Deathly silence
02/01/2011 23:11

The Western academy and tyranny in the Middle East.

In coming years we will all be treated to the “expert” opinion of Western academics that the Egyptian dictatorship was propped up by the West, and that any rise of the Muslim Brotherhood was the “fault” of the US and Israel. Before that happens, it should be recalled that whatever support the West provided Egypt’s government, that collaboration was matched by the Western academy, which has consistently turned a blind eye to tyranny in the Middle East. If the academy and its democracy-loving humanists truly supported democracy, they would have long ago stopped shipping legions of students to these countries, and stopped propping up institutions in the Middle East.

Over the decade I’ve spent at university, there doesn’t seem to have been a dictatorship where students didn’t want to study. Colleagues ventured to Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Morocco to learn Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. They joined the Peace Corps to work in Jordan. They rarely questioned the regimes in which they had chosen to study.

Terra Incognita: Hebronites at the gate
Terra Incognita: Corporate world's new marketing strategy
Terra Incognita: Pre-Islamic but retained by Islam

In Jordan, my friend hid her Star of David necklace so as not to “offend” the local people she was “aiding.” In Yemen, another friend donned the burka to “blend” in to that culture. In one weird incident, American students at the American University in Cairo played dress up; one girl was the “Zionist entity” and the other students dressed as Hamas.

COLLABORATION WITH the regimes’ dictators was par for the course. One champion of study abroad is the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA), which maintains relations with 36 universities and colleges in the US. In 2009-2010 the program received 162 applicants, of which 39 received tuition-sponsored fellowships. Under the website’s “Frequently Asked Questions,” there are no questions alluding to the fact that study-abroad destinations are brutal dictatorships. The fact that local women are killed for ‘honor,’ or that recent studies showed 83 percent of Egyptian women report being sexually harassed in public was not part of the information provided to prospective candidates.

According to CASA’s annual report on Syria, its “cultural program... introduce[ s] students to the host culture and help[s] them interact with Syrians.” As part of the Syrian program there were field trips, visits to the cinema and meetings with actors. There was even a “student-led debate,” although it didn’t touch on politics but rather modern Arabic literary texts.

The list of participants in the program include highly qualified students from elite institutions; Georgetown, Yale and Harvard. So why is it that the best students in Middle Eastern studies are happy to drink dictatorial Kool- Aid in Damascus and Cairo? The answer the universities will provide is that it is best to study Arabic and the Middle East in the Middle East. There is no doubt about that. But the troubling aspect is whether the students who go to these countries ever question the abuses that are the daily fare there.

In her book The Bread of Angels, Stephanie Saldana described study in Damascus. She was taken aback, as I am, by the odd popularity of these dictatorships with American Jewish students. No matter that Syria suppresses its Jewish community, Saldana recalled, “there are so many [American] Jewish foreigners studying in Damascus that they may as well open their own yeshiva.”

They all hide their Jewishness, of course.

Rachel Levine, another Jewish woman who studied in Syria, recalled that “speaking with Syrian nationals about visits to Israel, tuning in to radio stations from the other side of the border or speaking Hebrew are all ill-advised.”

Saldana mentions in her book: “I’m tired of wondering which shopkeeper is watching me for the secret police. I just want something resembling a carefree day.”

IN OCTOBER, Morocco expelled Al Jazeera (Egypt has now followed suit) from the country. Morocco didn’t ban it for collaborating with terrorists, but rather for “irresponsible” reporting. It turns out the Qatar-based station had “tarnished Morocco’s image, downplaying its achievements in development, infrastructure projects, democracy and human rights.” It had “reported critically on poverty in Morocco and on its policies in the Western Sahara [occupied by Morocco in 1975].”

Western media, like the BBC and New York Times, know better than to go off the beaten track; they report that Morocco is a beacon of progress. Western- educated university students do the same as they are funneled in by programs at the universities of Montana, Kentucky and Georgia.

The SIT Study Abroad, which Brandeis offers its students, is “based in the cosmopolitan city of Rabat, [where] students study Arabic and acquire an indepth appreciation of a rich and rapidly changing society in Morocco.”

And to make sure the students don’t experience the fate of the Qatari journalists, they learn about “contemporary development challenges.”

Suffice it to say, the students aren’t going to the Western Sahara to ask about Morocco’s colonization of that country.

Likewise, the overthrow of the Tunisian dictator should remind us all of the blinders that our academic society has long worn regarding dictatorships in the Middle East. In August 2008 the International Geographical Union held its international conference in Tunis. Amid the festivities there was no inkling that the thousands of academics from around the world were being duped by a thuggish regime. You wouldn’t have known it either from the panel discussions at the conference, the field trips or back at the hotels. There wasn’t one discussion among the leading academics about the fact that this was a dictatorship.

But this isn’t surprising. Academics who preach about democracy at home in Europe, the US or Israel tend to have no hesitation about travelling to countries whose rulers do not share their political outlook. Consider the widespread Western academic collaboration with the United Arab Emirates. George Mason University, Michigan State, Harvard Medical School and Boston University all maintain satellite campuses there.

The UAE is a vile dictatorship, an apartheid country where only the 19% who are of Arab-Emirati descent have citizenship, and where millions of foreign workers are forced to slave in substandard conditions building a playground for wealthy Europeans and Saudis. These workers are housed in “work camps” outside the major cities, their passports confiscated, and kept conveniently out of the way so that no one must be bothered by their presence.

My friends who visited the Gulf related that local Emiratis brag about running over Indian and Pakistani foreign workers for fun, or beating their maids. In one of the more heinous reports related by the BBC, a Sri Lankan maid was tortured for months by her employer, who hammered nails into her body. A survey by Colombo University found that a quarter of the 600,000 Sri Lankan women who work as maids abroad had been beaten and raped and/or not received payment. At one employment agency, “the maids are advised not to run away from their employer if they encounter problems, but to maintain a positive attitude.”

Western universities have maintained that same brainwashed positive attitude.

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

Terra Incognita in Korea Times Middle East chaos in historical perspective

Middle East chaos in historical perspective
By Seth J. Frantzman

The chaos that has seemingly engulfed one Arab country after another in the last five years, and now appears to be swamping Egypt and Yemen, is part of a broader pattern that a clear reading of history reveals.

The U.S invasion of Iraq in 2003 seemingly began a process of democratization and hope that has unraveled several Arab countries. The resulting insurgency in Iraq didn’t peak until 2005-2007.

At around the same time Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafic Hariri was murdered in a massive car bombing unleashing protests, which forced Syria to withdraw from that country. Then in January of 2006 Hamas won the Palestinian elections ushering in a year-and-a-half of low level violence that resulted in Hamas’ conquest of the Gaza Strip. That was followed by the sudden collapse of Tunisia’s government.

The internal pattern played out in these four countries has been roughly similar. Each was previously ruled by secular-nationalist governments led by strongmen. In Iraq it was Saddam Hussein who ruled for roughly 24 years. In Lebanon it was Syria which occupied the country for almost 30 years.

The fall of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia ended a 24-year reign and has seemingly sealed the fate of the ruling party which has been in power since 1957.

In the Palestinian territories the rise of Hamas didn’t overthrow the ruling Fatah party but it seriously challenged its power. Fatah, the main political element in the Palestinian Authority, has been the leading power behind the Palestinian movement for 30 years.

What becomes clear is that the process of collapse has taken place after years of political stagnation and one party rule. But the internal logic behind the descent into chaos has been brought on by a number of factors and has affected, so far, only a certain type of regime.

Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon are all legacies of the 1950s Arab nationalist awakening. It must be remembered that until 1918 many of these countries were under Ottoman Turkish imperial rule. In the case of Tunisia and Egypt the two countries fell under colonial rule, by the French and British respectively, in 1881-1882. Prior the 1880s both Egypt and Tunis were ruled by hereditary monarchies.

After the defeat of the Ottomans in World War I, the Middle East entered an interesting period. An Arab revolt led by a leading family from Mecca and supported by the British and various Bedouin tribes helped to drive the Turks out of the region. The leaders of this revolt, the Hussein family, attempted to install themselves in power.

Eventually they were able to retain only the kingdoms of Jordan and Iraq. In Palestine the British mandate resulted in division of the country between Jews and Arabs. In Lebanon the French mandate ensured the creation of a unique sectarian political system that ensured power sharing between its various groups.

The major movement in the Arab world from the 1920s was a type of Arab nationalism that borrowed heavily from imported European ideas and blended modernity, democracy, secularism and socialism. The Arab revolutionary regimes that came to power in the 1950s in Egypt (1952), Tunisia (1957) and Iraq (1958) proclaimed their countries to be republics.

While the regimes were different and often at odds with one another they shared hostility to the traditional monarchies found in Jordan and Saudi Arabia and viewed themselves as secular and socialist. They tended to side with the non-aligned nations during the Cold War but received weaponry and advisors from the U.S.S.R.

After 1973 Egypt increasingly found itself a key ally of the U.S. Saddam, a U.S ally in the 1980s, fell out of favor after the momentous invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat also moved from a Soviet oriented orbit to moderation and understanding with the U.S. in the 1990s. Lebanon has been a key Western ally since its independence in 1943, an alliance that saw American soldiers arriving in the country in 1958 and the 1980s to prevent civil strife.

Now however these secular-national regimes appear to be on their last legs. Fifty-eight years of rule by the Nasserist political party of Egypt have stagnated the country. The opposition is made up of secular liberals and Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood.

The same types of opposition, in different forms, are found in Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia and Palestine. In Lebanon Hezbullah, a Shia Islamist party, has now played a key role in bringing down the government and appointing the most recent Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al Malaki began his career as an Islamist Shia dissident of the Dawa party.

As noted above, Palestine’s political landscape is divided between the secular-nationalist government in Ramallah run by Mahmud Abbas and the Islamist Hamas in Gaza. Tunisia’s Islamist movement is quite small compared to the other countries surveyed.

The fall, like dominos, of the secular-national governments in the Middle East mirrors a process that stretches back to the 19th century. It is part of a larger cycle. Whether the current wave of chaotic political change will also affect the Gulf monarchies, Jordan, Libya or Morocco awaits to be seen.

The author is a post-doctoral researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute of Market Studies. He can be reached at