Bus Bomb? Syrian-Israel Peace Talks? SSNP, Turkey is Warned, Washington is Broken

US Ambassador: The word is that the name of a candidate for Ambassador to Damascus has been sent up to the White House. No one seems to be willing to say who it is, but there is some gossip that suggests Jacob Walles, the former Consul in Jerusalem, may be named to the post.

Peace Talks: Israeli and Syrian diplomatic announcements about their respective readiness to discuss peace have all the hallmarks of cynical  maneuvering rather than the sincere desire to make peace. Israel wants Syria to engage in direct talks with no promise of return of the Golan. Syria wants Israel to resume talks where Clinton and P.M. Barak left off in 2000, otherwise there can be only indirect talks. Netanyahu won’t give up the Golan and Syria will not accept less than the whole Golan. There is really not much to talk about under the circumstances but neither side wants to be blamed for refusing to negotiate.

Explosion: Phil Sands does it again — real reporting. He does some hard journalism to argue that an exploding tire – not terrorism – just as Syrian authorities reported, was the most likely source of the deaths on a Syrian bus last week.

When it comes to reporting on Syria, foreign journalists and analysts somehow feel at liberty to speculate with no restraint. I remember how David Shenker suggested that Syria had bombed itself when a small extremist cell tried to attack the US Embassy in 2006. Others suggested that Syria killed Mughniya to please the US or that it staged the extremist shoot out at an abandoned UN site in Mezzeh in 2004 because it wanted to look as if it suffered from extremism to garner world sympathy. It is funny that most of these pundits make fun of Arabs when they resort to conspiracy theories to explain Western behavior, but cannot see their own absurdity when they resort to the same device to explain Arab behavior. Some will argue that Syria brings this skepticism on itself because it refuses to allow journalists to operate within Syria freely. Phil has called an auto engineer to explore the likelihood that an exploding tire could set off a bus fire and do the sort of damage we saw in the case of the Syrian bus explosion of last week.

In Syria, the dust settles, the story holds
Phil Sands, Foreign Correspondent
December 07. 2009, The National

The wreckage of an Iranian pilgrims’ bus after an explosion last week on the outskirts of Damascus. Phil Sands for The National

DAMASCUS // If you read, watched or heard any of the recent news reports out of Syria, you probably know that Sunni extremists set off a bus bomb in the Shiite neighbourhood of Saida Zeynab on Thursday, killing at least three people and raising fears of rising sectarian tension.

The Syrian authorities denied the explosion was a bomb, but ironically explained the fatalities had been caused by an “overinflated tyre”. The various news reports naturally mentioned this denial, but did so in a way that made it clear nothing of the sort could have been true.

Photographs of the damaged coach, the windows smashed, its side torn and blackened from fire, emphasised the point this was not the result of an accidentally popped tyre.

The only problem with all of these accounts is that there may not have been a bomb after all. The explosion, in fact, could well have been caused by an overinflated tyre.

“It’s well known within the industry for people to be killed from over inflating tyres,” explained a senior engineer at a leading tyre manufacturer in the UK.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because his company, a global brand that makes tyres for cars, lorries and aircraft, did not want its name associated with a fatal incident it had not been involved in.

The engineer, who said he had heard of the Damascus explosion, stressed it was impossible to know with certainty what had taken place without visiting the site. But, he said, tyre explosions could be extremely powerful.

“Coach or lorry tyres are not like those on cars,” the engineer said. “They have plies inside them, metal reinforcement that lets them keep their shape. And you put a lot of pressure in these tyres, say 90 pounds per square inch, that’s three times more than a car, it’s a lot of pressure.

“If you put too much air in, or if the tyre is old and weak and not properly maintained, it can explode, and those metal plies are probably going to go flying.”

Eyewitnesses to the explosion reported hearing a bomb go off, something the engineer thought could well have been a tyre. “A lorry tyre bursting at 120 PSI [pound-force per square inch] or something makes a hell of a bang; it sounds like a bomb,” he said.

Thursday’s blast left parts of the bus badly damaged, its windscreen smashed and engine burned. A van some 15 metres away had a piece of shrapnel-like debris punched through its window and there were three confirmed deaths.

However, while significant, the scale of destruction did not measure up to that caused by the car bombings so common in neighbouring Iraq; those bombs sometimes throw heavy engine blocks 30 to 50 metres, blow craters into concrete roads or demolish the walls of surrounding buildings. Windows in the immediate vicinity get broken.

When the Syrian security forces finally allowed journalists onto the blast site in Saida Zeynab, it was clear there was no crater. A taxi parked alongside the coach, on the same side as the explosion, had some of its windows smashed, but not all of them. There was even some unbroken glass in the immediately adjacent tyre workshop.

And the coach itself, while damaged, was far from torn to pieces. Most of the bodywork was intact, the engine and chassis appeared to be in place, even the seats above the site of the explosion, while misshapen, were still there.

Fire damage was significant but, in light of the British tyre engineer’s comments, it seems possible that flying metal debris could, for example, have punctured the fuel tank or fuel lines resulting in a blaze….

A growing number of media outlets and commentators rushed to speculate that this must be a sectarian conflict. There was talk of “destruction”, “these militants” – as if the bombing had been confirmed – and even a wild suggestion Syrians felt themselves about to be enveloped in “carnage”.

Syria’s public relations machine did little to tamp down the hysteria. Their spokespeople briefly mentioned an overinflated tyre, offered no extra details and summarily dismissed any further questions.

One critical point the speculative stories failed to address was just why the Syrian authorities would claim a bombing had been an accident. Syria repeatedly justifies its harsh suppression of all internal dissent on the grounds of a domestic threat from violent Islamic extremists. A bomb would fit that narrative perfectly, whereas a blown tyre does not.

Thursday’s explosion might well have been a militant attack, as was widely implied. But, utterly implausible as it may at first sound, there are reasons to believe the Damascus bomb of December 3 may not have been a bomb at all….. Under those circumstances, the claim that the explosion came from a burst tyre does not sound so ridiculous as it undoubtedly does at first glance.

Haaretz: ‘Syria drops demand for Israeli pledge to quit Golan Heights’
2009-12-07, Haaretz, By Barak Ravid

The Syrian government is no longer demanding an Israeli commitment to withdraw …

2009-12-07–MARK BENTLEY

Syria Steps, an on-line newspaper, (article copied below) reports that a small opinion poll carried out among Syrian economics students at universities in Damascus, Aleppo, and Latakia demonstrates that”

42% of students want a government job for the security. 33% want to work for a bank or insurance company.

12% chose as their first choice of employment a company run by Rami Makhlouf because of its superior salary and benefits. Interestingly, of those who said they preferred to work for a Makhlouf company,  almost none came from Aleppo at 2% of the total. Damascenes made up 52% and Latakians 40% of the students who wanted to work for a Makhlouf company.

What are the possible explanations for this Aleppine disregard for Makhlouf?

  1. Most obvious is that Aleppo has its own economy and Makhlouf companies do not enter onto the Aleppine college student radar so much. Makhlouf companies are headquartered in Damascus so Damasacenes talk about them and are aware of them. In Latakia, the high concentration of Alawites may be important to public awareness of the Makhlouf companies. They feel connected to them, unlike the Aleppines, for whom they are not important.

Other industrialists with high recognition for whom Syrians students wanted to work are Muhammad Hamsho (Apple Computer) in Damascus, Ghassan Karim in Aleppo, and Wahib Mar’ai (iron and steel) in Latakia.

Most respondents explained that they despaired of getting a job on graduation but allowed as how it was nice to dream about it.

أين يرغب طلاب الاقتصاد والتجارة العمل بعد التخرج
الدولة أولاً ثم المصارف والتأمين ..ومخلوف وحمشو موجودان في الحلم بقوة

دمشق- سيرياستيبس:

أين تحب أن تعمل بعد تخرجك من كلية الاقتصاد والتجارة، سؤال توجهنا به إلى 200 طالب يدرسون في السنة الأخيرة في كليات الاقتصاد والتجارة في كل من جامعات دمشق وحلب واللاذقية حيث طلبنا من كل طالب أن يدرج ثلاث أماكن يحب العمل فيها مع تبيان سبب واحد فقط لهذا الخيار وبنتيجة قراءة نتائج الاستبيان تبين لنا مايلي:

42% من العينة وضعوا في المرتبة الأولى الوظيفة الحكومية والسبب الأكثر ذكراً لهذا الخيار كان لأنّها الأكثر أماناً وضماناً..

في حين وضع 33% من أفراد العينة المصارف وشركات التأمين في المرتبة الأولى.. بسبب الراتب والموقع الاجتماعي.

وقال 12% من العينة أنّهم يأملوا العمل في إحدى شركات رامي مخلوف كخيار أول والسبب بحسب رأيهم يعود إلى الراتب الجيّد والمزايا الّتي يحصل عليها الموظف في شركات مخلوف.

واللافت أن أكثر الذين رغبوا بالعمل عند مخلوف..كانوا في دمشق بنسبة 52% و 40% في اللاذقية و 2% في حلب .

وتوزعت النسبة الباقية ضمن قائمة الرغبة الأولى وهي 13% بين العمل لدى شركات محمد حمشو وخاصة في دمشق وغسان كريم في حلب ومجموعة الزين ووهيب مرعي في اللاذقية.

وفي الخيار الثاني..تفوقت المصارف وشركات التأمين فاختار نحو 62% من العينة المصارف وشركات التأمين كرغبة ثانية.. وجاء العمل في شركات رامي مخلوف ومحمد حمشو ليحققا نسبة 11% والباقي توزع بين العمل الحكومي وشركات الخليوي والشركات السياحية العقارية .

وفي الخيار الثالث..جاء رامي مخلوف بالمرتبة الأولى بـ 32% وقد لاحظنا أن الكثير ممن أجابوا كان يقصدون برامي مخلوف سيرياتل وإن كان البعض كان أشار بوضوح إلى شام القابضة وشركات أخرى تتبع لرامي مخلوف وتنوعت باقي الخيارات في الخيارالثالث…ما بين العمل الحكومي والمصارف والتأمين وشركات الخليوي وإقامة عمل خاص والسفر وهذا الأخير لوحظ أنه لم يكن هناك تركيز عليه بسبب الأزمة المالية ووجود شركات في سورية يوازي ما هو موجود في الخارج.

وفي كل الأحوال.. فإنّ الملاحظة المشتركة في كافة أفراد العينة كان في أهمية الحصول على فرصة عمل أينما كانت فهذا أفضل من البطالة برأي الكثير منهم.. وإن كان خيارنا للعينة من كلية الاقتصاد والتجارة إنما هو محاولة إظهار أنّ هذا الفرع هو من أكثر الفروع طلباً بسبب الانفتاح الاقتصادي الّذي تشهده سورية ودخول الكثير من الشركات الّتي يبدو خريجو الاقتصاد والتجارة أحد مصادرها الأساسية لتأمين العمالة التي نحتاجها.

بقي أن نقول أن معظم أفراد العينة عبروا في إجاباتهم عن فقدانهم الأمل بالحصول على وظيفة بعد التخرج ولكن لا مانع من الحلم أحياناً.

BBC Via FLC (Thanks)

…. Instead, when he visited Turkey in April he found a country that under the leadership of Mr Erdogan and his Islamist-inspired AK party has seen a rise in anti-Western rhetoric and “nationalism imbued with Islamism”, according to Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research programme at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Although Turks have a much more favourable view of Mr Obama than they did of President George W Bush, only 14% of Turks have a positive view of the US – the lowest rating among 25 countries polled by the Pew Research Center this spring….

Last week, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rejected criticism of his country’s improving ties with countries like Iran. He told the BBC that his country was attempting to have “zero-problem” with its neighbours.

This approach has allowed Turkey to rise as a considerable regional power and, until recently, this gave Ankara the ability to mediate between West and East, and between countries like Israel and Syria…. As it grows closer to countries like Syria, it is alienating Israel, and while it defends Iran’s nuclear program, it raises alarm bells in Washington.

Mr Obama is likely to be firm in expressing displeasure about the exclusion of Israel from the military exercise or his worry about the rise of anti-Western sentiments in Turkey. But he may also seek to explore whether Washington can still reap any benefits from Turkey’s improving ties with some of Washington’s foes and its ability to talk to them, in particular Iran.

But the US wants Turkey to use its ties with Tehran to deliver tough messages, not just sign gas and trade deals, which Mr Erdogan did when he visited Iran last month….. So in public, the US administration insists it is not worried about the developing trends in Turkey…..

But speaking at a conference last year, before becoming an Obama administration official, Mr Gordon said that while Turkey was still a stable partner, “current trends augur that it could just as easily become a more nationalist country that resents its rejection from the EU and isolates itself from the West”.

He concluded by advising the next administration, of which he was soon to become part, that it “should make sure that Turkey stays on the right path, because it would be sad to discuss four years from now why we lost a valued ally”.

Since that conference, the situation has only deteriorated, so it is most likely that Mr Gordon is still concerned with making sure that Turkey “stays on the right path”.”

SSNP News: Contributed by Nour

In a largely attended ceremony commemorating the 77th year since the founding of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, President of the Party, Dr. Ali Haidar, declared in a policy speech the inception of the Social Nationalist state across the Syrian homeland, with Jerusalem as its capital. President Haidar further clarified “not East Jerusalem, not West Jerusalem, but Jerusalem, all of Jerusalem, is our capital and every grain of soil from Jerusalem is to us the holiest of holies. He further stated that “we did not raise the slogan of “Jerusalem the capital of our Syria” in order to outbid anyone from the children of our nation in our love of this city, but to respond to the suggestion of the enemy in making Jerusalem the eternal capital of “Israel.” Jerusalem, just like all other Palestinian cities, will never be anything but Syrian in its origin, its inclination, and its fate.”

President Dr. Ali Haidar presented a plan for the realization of the Social Nationalist state, divided into three main parts. First, the rise of the national state with its capital Jerusalem. Second, the formation of a state civil law and the organization of national life. And third, the organization of the national economy on the basis of production. Each of those parts is followed by a series of subparts in what is a deliberate, organized plan of action to achieve what is “the highest goal of transforming the Syrian Social Nationalist state from a reality in our living sentiments to a living reality on its own.”

With respect to Sham (Syrian Arab Republic), President Dr. Ali Haidar stated that Sham has been successful in breaking its international isolation, and in “building good and promising political economic relations with Turkey, with our hope that it is not at the expense of our national rights [meaning the surrender of Cilicia and Alexandretta].” He further stated that Sham’s success in its foreign policy “should not be at the expense of its internal files which are in need of being addressed” and they include “the Shami economy” as well as “the need for the modernization and development of many of its laws, which will fortify its internal front in order to confront its external dangers.” President Dr. Ali Haidar also called on Sham to support and embrace all “resistances” in the nation, and to transform them into “a single all-encompassing resistance, and to regard resistance as a culture, a course, and a way of life, which is the more profitable strategic choice and which !
has proven its success in the preservation of our national rights.”

Why Discuss writes:

Jamil Sayyed is now suing in the Syrian courts the false witnesses (5 of them of Syrian nationality) in relation to the Hariri affair. His request for proper justice after 4 years of illegal detainement have been rejected by the TSL and the Lebanese justice system. The Syrian tribunal will request several high profile Lebanese personalities, ex ministers etc… as well and Detlev Mehlis to present themselves to this tribunal to be heard.

Sayyed : La justice syrienne convoque Hamadé, Khachan, Rizk, Sabeh, Rifi, Hammoud et d’autres…

Assassinat Hariri

Le Tribunal spécial pour le Liban lui a fermé ses portes pour cause d’incompétence à juger les faux témoins et la justice libanaise refuse de donner suite à ses plaintes répétées : qu’à cela ne tienne, l’ancien directeur général de la Sûreté générale, Jamil Sayyed, s’adresse à la justice syrienne et obtient, au moins à cette étape du parcours, gain de cause. Dans un timing qui ne peut pas être innocent à la veille de la visite prévue du Premier ministre Saad Hariri à Damas et alors que le procureur général du TSL, Daniel Bellemare, est encore au Liban, le général Sayyed a annoncé hier que la justice syrienne a émis des mandats d’arrêt contre « les faux témoins et leurs complices » portant la nationalité syrienne et elle a délivré des commissions rogatoires pour entendre « leurs nombreux complices présumés libanais et étrangers, dont le député Marwan Hamadé, le conseiller en information du Premier ministre Hani Hammoud, le directeur !

général des FSI Achraf Rifi, le procureur général Saïd Mirza et d’autres politiciens et journalistes ».

Si la plupart des personnes citées dans la nouvelle publiée par le bureau d’informations du général Sayyed ont refusé de la commenter, le député Marwan Hamadé qui se trouve à Rambouillet a déclaré à L’Orient-Le Jour qu’il se « félicite de l’intégrité de la justice syrienne connue pour son respect des droits de l’homme notamment à l’égard de ses propres citoyens et surtout de ses intellectuels ». Reprenant une expression libanaise, il a ajouté dans une boutade : « C’est comme si les victimes sont satisfaites, mais le tueur, lui, ne l’est pas. » Prié de commenter le timing de cette nouvelle à la veille de la visite annoncée de Saad Hariri à Damas, Hamadé a déclaré : « Il s’agit d’un complot contre cette visite et contre le gouvernement d’union nationale. »

Dans les détails de l’information, les avocats de Sayyed en Syrie lui ont annoncé que le magistrat syrien chargé de statuer sur la plainte qu’il a déposée contre les faux témoins et leurs complices, dans l’affaire de l’assassinat du Premier ministre Rafic Hariri, a émis des mandats d’arrêt contre l’ancien vice-président syrien Abdel-Halim Khaddam et contre Mohammad Zouhair Siddiq. Le juge syrien a aussi délivré des commissions rogatoires pour informer les personnes de nationalité libanaise et autres, dont le nom figure dans la plainte, de la nécessité de se présenter devant la justice syrienne pour être entendues.

La liste des Libanais

Toujours selon le général Sayyed, ces commissions rogatoires ont été communiquées à la justice libanaise au cours de la semaine dernière. Elles comportent les noms des anciens ministres Marwan Hamadé, Hassan Sabeh et Charles Rizk et l’ancien député Élias Atallah. Les noms des magistrats Saïd Mirza, Sakr Sakr et Élias Eid figurent aussi sur la liste aux côtés de ceux du général Achraf Rifi, de Wissam Hassan, Samir Chéhadé, Houssam Tannoukhi et Khaled Hammoud. De même, les journalistes Farès Kachan, Hani Hammoud, Hassan Sabra et d’autres sont aussi convoqués devant la justice syrienne, en plus de l’ancien chef des SR Johnny Abdo, du jounaliste koweïtien Ahmad Jarallah, propriétaire du quotidien as-Siassa, et de l’ancien président de la commission d’enquête internationale Detlev Mehlis et son adjoint Gerhard Lehmann. Le journaliste syrien résidant au Liban, Nohad al-Ghadri, et les faux témoins syiens installés au Liban, Akram Chakib Mrad et Ibrahim!

Michel Jarjoura (ce dernier a été interdit de quitter le territoire libanais sur décision personnelle du juge Mirza, contrairement à la loi, selon le bureau d’informations du général Sayyed) font aussi l’objet de commissions rogatoires, ainsi que le « faux témoin » israélien d’origine palestinienne, Abdel Basset Bani Aoudeh, installé en Suède.
Le général Sayyed a précisé que sa plainte devant la justice syrienne est « personnelle et pénale ». Elle n’est donc pas politique et l’État syrien n’y participe pas, tout comme il n’a, pour l’instant, porté plainte contre aucune des personnes dont le nom figure dans les mandats d’arrêt ou dans les commissions rogatoires. Le général Sayyed a ajouté que l’État syrien aurait pu le faire après le scandale des faux témoins Mohammad Zouhair Siddiq et Houssam Houssam. Il a insisté sur le fait qu’il ne s’agit donc pas d’un procès syrien. Il est intenté par un citoyen libanais (lui-même) devant la justice syrienne, compétente du fait que cinq des personnes accusées ont la nationalité de ce pays. Sayyed a rappelé qu’il a tenté de porter cette plainte devant le TSL mais celui-ci s’est déclaré incompétent pour juger les faux témoins. Il a même fait appel à la justice libanaise qui a refusé de réagir. Il n’a donc plus eu d’autre choix que de s’adresser!

la justice syrienne. Sayyed a répété que cette plainte n’a aucune portée politique et il a ajouté qu’il est prêt à la transférer de Syrie au TSL au cas où celui-ci change d’avis au sujet de ses compétences. Il a enfin précisé qu’il peut retirer sa plainte si les personnes en question décident d’assumer leurs responsabilités au sujet de sa détention illégale et de la fabrication de faux témoins…

Interrogé par la chaîne LBC, le ministère des Affaires étrangères a nié avoir reçu les commissions rogatoires. Le ministère de la Justice a lui aussi affirmé n’avoir rien reçu, « à moins, ont précisé les sources du ministère, que les commissions rogatoires soient directement transmises au parquet. Ce qui serait une erreur de procédure, toujours d’après le ministère. De son côté, le procureur général près la Cour de cassation, Saïd Mirza, a refusé de démentir ou de confirmer la nouvelle, se contentant de déclarer à la LBC qu’il consultera son courrier aujourd’hui même…

Jamil Seyyed is now suing in the Syrian Justice the false witnesses (5 of them of syrian nationality) in relation to the Hariri affair. His request for proper justice after 4 years of unjustified detainement have been rejected by the TSL and the Lebanese justice system. The Syrian tribunal will request several high profile lebanese personalities, ex ministers etc… as well and Detlev Mehlis to present themselves to this tribunal to be heard.

Netanyahu: Israel ready for Syria talks
December 7, 2009, JERUSALEM (JTA)

Israel is ready for direct negotiations with Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Netanyahu on Monday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that he recently informed French President Nicolas Sarkozy of Israel’s desire to enter into new negotiations without preconditions, such as the Syrian demand before sitting down to talks that any negotiations end in a return to 1967 lines.

The prime minister also said that he told Sarkozy that he would prefer that France take over the mediator’s role from Turkey.

Netanyahu also discussed the threat to Israel from Lebanon to the north.

“If in the past we considered Hezbollah as a sideline militia, today Hezbollah is the real Lebanese army,” he reportedly said. “Hezbollah has replaced the Lebanese army as a significant force; it is arming and organizing as a real army. The Lebanese government and Hezbollah are becoming interwoven in each other – and they will suffer the consequences of any violation against Israel.”

Eyal Zisser in the Daily Star

“… He was prepared to accept most of Hizbullah’s conditions. When Hariri found himself immersed in personal quarrels with Aoun, he resolved them by making additional concessions. And he began hinting that he might be prepared to put aside his hostility with Syria. Hariri considers Syria responsible for the murder of his father, Rafik Hariri. Still, he indicated that he might be willing to open a new page between the two countries.

Thus it appears that the March 14 camp’s June 2009 electoral victory was only partial and short-term, one clash in a long battle far from finished, a battle over the path Lebanon takes and the future of the country……

… As a matter of fact, between the end of the 2006 war and the fall of 2009 Hizbullah almost tripled the number of missiles at its disposal. In November 2009, it was estimated that the organization possessed 40,000-50,000 missiles of the type it had used against northern Israel during the 2006 war……

It may be assumed that the new government formed in Lebanon is based upon a balance of fear between Hizbullah and its opponents, especially Hariri and the Sunni community he heads. It may also be assumed that a tense calm will continue to prevail along the Israeli-Lebanese border in the absence of either side having any interest in disturbing the quiet…..

The present moment may be merely an intermission between two episodes in the struggle within Lebanon, and in the conflict between Israel and Hizbullah. Either or both fronts could explode at any time.”


“An Nahar Sources: The US administration is trying to embarrass Lebanon by setting impossible conditions before granting $100 million in military aid. One of the conditions is disarming Hezbollah.”

American Jews eye Obama’s ‘anti-Israel’ appointees
By Natasha Mozgovaya, 04/12/2009

Every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community.

In the case of Obama’s government in particular, every criticism against Israel made by a potential government appointee has become a catalyst for debate about whether appointing “another leftist” offers proof that Obama does not truly support Israel.

A few months ago, boisterous protests by the American Jewish community helped foil the appointment of Chaz Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council, citing his “anti-Israel leaning.”

The next attempt to appoint an intelligence aide, in this case, former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, also resulted in vast criticism over his not having a pro-Israel record.

American Zionists are urging Obama to cancel Hagel’s appointment because of what they call a long and problematic record of hostility toward Israel.

The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton A. Klein, described Hagel’s nomination as such: “Any American who is concerned about Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons, maintaining the Israeli-U.S. relationship and supporting Israel in its legitimate fight to protect her citizens from terrorism should oppose this appointment.”

Republican Jews have also protested Hagel’s appointment, citing an incident in 2004 when Hagel refused to sign a letter calling on then-president George Bush to speak about Iran’s nuclear program at the G8 summit that year.

In August of 2006, Hagel refused to sign a letter requesting the UN declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

In a speech at the conference of self-declared “pro-peace, pro-Israel” lobby J Street, Hagel spoke about his views on the issue of Israel and the Middle East.

“The United States’ support for Israel need not be – nor should it be – an either-or proposition that dictates our relationships with our Arab allies and friends. The U.S. has a long and special relationship with Israel, but it must not come at the expense of our Arab relationships,” Hagel said.

The latest round of heated debate has been over the nomination of Hannah Rosenthal to head the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in the Obama administration.

Rosenthal, who is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, served as a Health Department regional director under the Clinton administration, and held positions in different left-leaning Jewish organizations.

Between 2000 and 2005, Rosenthal was the head of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; she was also the executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Women. In recent years, she has served on the advisory board of the J Street lobby.

The president of Americans for Peace Now lauded Obama’s appointment of Rosenthal. Even Anti-Defamation League chairman Abraham Foxman came out in support of Rosenthal’s appointment.

“This appointment signals the continued seriousness of America?s resolve to fight anti-Semitism,” Foxman said in a statement.

Shortly after the announcement of Rosenthal’s nomination, conservative Jewish web sites began to attack her, some of them declaring that Obama appointed an anti-Israeli to fight anti-Semitism.

Rumors brewed that she had accused Israel of systemically strengthening anti-Semitism. Bloggers argued that her appointment would cause Jews and Israelis to cast doubt on Obama and his relationship with Israel.

In one of her articles, Rosenthal criticized conservative voices in the Jewish community who she accused of taking over the discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s a scary time, with people losing the ability to differentiate between a Jew, any Jew, and what’s going on in Israel,” Rosenthal said.

In an interview with the new online Jewish magazine, Tablet, Rosenthal said that she loves Israel.

“I have lived in Israel. I go back and visit every chance I can. I consider it part of my heart. And because I love it so much, I want to see it safe and secure and free and democratic and living safely,” Rosenthal said

Here is a synopsis from a comment by Stephen Walt on this issue:

“These are fine sentiments, but isn’t it odd that she has to defend her qualifications for a position in the U.S. government by saying how much she “loves” a foreign country? For an American official in her position, what matters is that she loves America, and that she believes anti-semitism is a hateful philosophy that should be opposed vigorously. Whether she loves Israel or France or Thailand or Namibia, etc., is irrelevant. (And yes, it’s entirely possible to loathe anti-Semitism and not love Israel).

But the real lesson of all these episodes is the effect of this litmus test on the foreign policy community more broadly. Groups in the lobby target public servants like Freeman, Hagel, and Rosenthal because they want to make sure that no one with even a mildly independent view on Middle East affairs gets appointed. By making an example of them, they seek to discourage independent-minded people from expressing their views openly, lest doing so derail their own career prospects later on. And it works. Even if the lobby doesn’t manage to block every single appointment, they can make any administration think twice about a potentially “controversial” choice and use the threat to stifle open discourse among virtually all members of the mainstream foreign policy community (and certainly anyone who aspires to public service in Washington).

The result, of course, is the U.S. Middle East policy (and U.S. foreign policy more generally) is reserved for those who are either steadfastly devoted to the “special relationship” or who have been intimidated into silence. The result? U.S. policy remains in the hands of the same set of “experts” whose policies for the past seventeen years (or more) have been a steady recipe for failure. If a few more Americans read Ha’aretz, they might start to figure this out.”

Idaf writes:

Mr. Whitaker is a 130 years late. Abdul Rahman Al-Kawakibi‘s conclusions in his book “Nature of Despotism” is sadly as true today as it was 130 years ago. To quote him: “The greatest disaster is our loss of freedom . . . freedom to speak out and publish, freedom to carry out scientific research”

A good paper on his work and its echoes in today’s Arab world here:

“More than a century before it was showered by outsiders with mantras about “freedom agendas” and “good governance,” the Arab world had a figure for whom these concepts represented imperatives for stanching the decline of the Arab-Muslim realm and restoring its position in the world. Arabs seeking a homegrown blueprint for human, political, social, and civil rights need not search very far. Al-Kawākibī offered a strategy for reform that rested on a penetrating analysis of tyranny and its ramifications for polity and society. A lifelong advocate of freedom of expression and freedom of association, al-Kawākibī’s commitment to the principles of liberty and justice was as unflinching as it was unequivocal”

Comments (34)

jad said:

November 2009
Q&A: Bassam al-Kadi
Director of the Syrian Women Observatory
By Nadia Muhanna


المنبر السوري للمنظمات غير الحكومية: “من وين لوين”؟!
نساء سورية

“تتابع المفاجآت غير السارة مما يسمى بمنظمات حقوق الإنسان في سورية، والتي أثبتت خلال الشهور الماضية أنها ليست إلا منظمات بيانات تتعلق بحقوق المعتقلين (وهي قضية هامة بالتأكيد، لكنها ليست إلا بابا صغيرا من الإسم العملاق الذي تحمله هذه المنظمات).

من تلك المفاجآت أن أغلبها لم يتخذ بعد موقفا صارما وواضحا من قضية “جرائم الشرف” التي تقتل فيها نحو 200 امرأة سورية سنويا تحت مسمى “الشرف”! وأن أغلبها لم يتخذ موقفا واضحا ومحددا من قضية المساواة على أساس المواطنة بين الرجل والمرأة في الحقوق والواجبات! ومنها الصمت المريب عن مشروع قانون الأحوال الشخصية بنسختيه الأولى الطالبانية والثانية المتخلفة!”

December 8th, 2009, 7:43 am


Steve said:

Josh, i am confused why you are using the Phil Sands article to now say that the explosion was likely to be a tyre explosion. All that Mr Sands article proves is that the tyre explanation ‘could’ be viable rather than, as initially suspected, a poor fabrication by the government. That doesn’t mean that a bomb could not have caused the explosion too. We will never know. You are revealing yourself to be a little too willing to believe what the regime says, simply because one journalist rang a tyre manufacturer. Surely we are now faced with a mystery – it might have been a bomb, it might have been a tyre. There is motive on both sides but, as you flippantly dismiss, because Syria won’t allow journalists to operate freely, we will never get closer to the truth.

December 8th, 2009, 8:47 am


Akbar Palace said:

Steve said:

Josh, i am confused why you are using the Phil Sands article to now say that the explosion was likely to be a tyre explosion.


Don’t be confused. Think of Professor Josh as an “unofficial” Syrian government employee.

He and Phil Sands are the only 2 people in the world what believe this stupid story, all while 2 rear tyres are shown intact on the few pictres that bypassed the Syrian government and shown on this website.


December 8th, 2009, 7:25 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

“…The Knesset is gearing up to vote on Wednesday on an amendment to a law requiring a referendum ahead of any Israeli territorial withdrawal. The amendment is expected to be approved, as the government has already approved it by ministerial committee”.


“…The law will cover areas such as neighborhoods of Jerusalem over the Green Line, and the Golan Heights, which Israel has full sovereignty over”.


I hope Syria would adopt this act too, and then we can have a peace
agreement, that is approved by the peoples, in the most pure and
crude form of democracy.

December 8th, 2009, 9:40 pm


Hassan said:


Landis has revealed himself long ago as a stalwart defender of the regime in Damascus.

December 8th, 2009, 9:43 pm


Hassan said:

It looks like Syria’s support for Bathist terrorists who target Iraqi civilians may soon come back to haunt it.

See this article on the bombings in Baghdad:

Regarding the bus bombing in Damascus. It looks like the account by the Syrian Interior minister is “most unlikely.”

Expert casts doubt on official explanation of Damascus blast
‘It is most unlikely’ that reasons given could have caused damage
By Richard Hall
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Listen to the Article – Powered by

BEIRUT: Expert analysis has cast doubt on the Syrian government’s explanation of an explosion which occurred in Damascus on Thursday, suggesting it was “most unlikely” that the reasons given could have caused such damage. The explosion took place at a garage south of Damascus, causing significant damage to a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims to Sayeda Zainab mosque, a popular Shiite Muslim pilgrimage site. Reports suggest the bus was empty at the time of the blast.

A statement from Syrian Interior Minister Said Sammour claimed the explosion, which killed 3 bystanders, was an accident caused by a tire bursting due to an excess of pressure.

After analyzing photographs of the scene, a UK-based professor who has appeared as an expert witness in several high-profile cases, said the explosion “clearly occurred from within the outer bus envelope,” rather than in the vicinity of the bus as Syrian officials claimed.

“If the damage process had indeed been started by an exploding tire, then it is most unlikely that it would have been sufficiently powerful to cause the damage shown,” said the expert, who wished to remain anonymous.

The expert said that the only way the damage could have been caused by an exploding tire would be if the fuel tank was located at the source of the damage at the back of the bus and it had disintegrated on impact.

The manufacturer of the chassis – a UK based company called Scania – confirmed the fuel tank in the model pictured is fitted at the front of the vehicle, which makes an exploding fuel tank highly improbable.

The expert concluded: “On the available evidence, the involvement of an explosive device cannot be excluded.”

Sammour arrived at the scene on the day of the incident and denied rumors of a terrorist attack.

“It is not a terrorist act at all,” he said. “It happened while one of the empty bus’s tires was being repaired. An explosion took place as a result of the excessive pressure.”

Statements from the Syrian government seemed to contradict accounts from eyewitnesses, who recounted a large explosion and six dead. Witnesses also reported windows 10 meters from the impact were smashed and debris scattered even further. Police sealed off the area and reporters were banned from reaching the site until it was cleared.

While many commentators have raised suspicions over the official explanation of the explosion, they are at a loss as to who committed the act, if it were indeed a terrorist attack.

“A small operation like this could be any number of terrorist organizations,” said retired Lebanese Army General and political analyst Elias Hanna. “We need to know the answer to a number of questions before we get an idea of who committed it.”

“The bus came from Iran, was the bomb planted there? Or was it placed in the bus after arriving in Syria? There are lots of technical and tactical aspects of the attack which we know little about, therefore it is difficult to ascertain who carried out the attack,” said Hanna.

Hanna ruled out the involvement of Israel or the United States, pointing to the relatively small scale nature of the presumed attack.

Simon Haddad, a professor of politics at the American university of Beirut noted the significance of the intended targets – Shiite Muslims.

“There is a history of explosions in Syria, they were mainly attributed to Sunni groups, but this time the targets are different,” said Haddad.

“Whereas in the past these groups have targeted the general population, this appears to be an attack directed specifically at Shiites.”

Haddad speculated that Al-Qaeda or one of its many splinter groups such as Fatah al-Islam could have been responsible, but that there was no clear motive for any such group to launch an attack at this time.

Other commentators noted the significance of the blast coinciding with a visit of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, who was visiting Damascus for meetings with President Bashar Assad and other Syrian officials.

In September last year, a bomb attack killed 17 people and injured 17 more, the incident also took place near the Saydah Zeinab shrine. The attack was blamed on Sunni militants opposed to President Assad’s government, with many alleging they originated from Tripoli in north Lebanon.

In February last year Imad Mughniyeh, a commander in Lebanon’s Hizbullah, was killed in a car bomb in Damascus. Hizbullah blamed Israel for the attack.

December 8th, 2009, 9:46 pm


why-discuss said:


Remember that the declaration about the exploded tyre brought jokes and ironical remarks from newsmen and bloggers. The article just shows that it is a very plausible explanation.
Anyway if ever it was a bomb, do you think the Iranians who are the “target” victims would give such little coverage to the incident? They hardly mentioned it in their news, did not start an investigation and have take no extra security measures around Seyyeda Zeinab shrines. If you are in Damascus, have you seen extra security? The subject seemed closed.

December 8th, 2009, 9:52 pm


why-discuss said:


Many countries and groups have vested interest in creating trouble in Iraq. Syria has the least reasons as it it not threatened by a Shia or a Sunni power in Iraq. In the contrary it wants the country to return to normality so the Iraqi refugees go back home and trading blooms.
On the other hand, there is a real possibility that after the withdrawal of the US, an Iraqi government, too close to Iran, would join Syria in taking a hard stance against Israel. Therefore it is Israel’s interests to make sure Iraq and Syria say apart, that the Shia majority stay away from Iran and that Syria is weakened on the international arena and accused of terrorism.
Any accusations on Syria reflects on its ally, Iran.
So, it is possible that Israeli agents have infiltrated groups in Iraq and are pushing them in organizing terrorists actions to put the blame on Syria who, because of the presence of exiled baath operatives, is an easy suspect.
It tend to believe that if the Mossad was able to kill Moghniye, it has strong operatives in Syria and Iraq and is outsmarting the syrian ‘mokhabarat’ and the iraqi intelligence.

December 8th, 2009, 10:17 pm


Hassan said:


“So, it is possible that Israeli agents have infiltrated groups in Iraq and are pushing them in organizing terrorists actions to put the blame on Syria who, because of the presence of exiled baath operatives, is an easy suspect.”

I would laugh if this wasn’t so sad. Unfortunately, everybody seems to believe that the Israelis or the Jews are everywhere. Behind every corner. Behind every plot. I hear too often that they were responsible for 9-11, behind Bin Laden, and are the source of all discord in the Arab world. Sorry, but the answers aren’t that easy or that convenient. When will people stop blaming their problems on others. I know its hard to accept, but Arabs, Muslims are behind the attacks in Iraq. They’ve found refuge in Syria because it opposes the Americans. Although, Syria has also been the victim of a terrorist attack recently, the bus (sorry Landis but its obvious). This attack on Syrian civilians was also not perpetrated by the Israelis. Sorry Why-Discuss.

December 8th, 2009, 10:31 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

The European Union is right in demanding that Jerusalem must be shared. I hope USA support such decision,soon.
As far as the bus incident, I am not convinced it is a terrorist act, probably accident.

December 8th, 2009, 10:33 pm


Friend in America said:

Akbar Palace – Regarding #24 yesterday, please no threats. It is not that I doubt the government’s explanation. It is just that I cannot find anything that confirms. An investigative explanation would be easy, if the evidence is there. If it was a tyre, which tyre? Not the one lying on the ground. Not the one on the right rear where the damage took place. If a tyre exploded while being inflated, where is the compressed air pump and hose? Did this take place at a petrol station?
Maybe Josh did rely too much on a few speculative remarks by a tyre mfr employee. Not a concern for me. That commentary was pretty wild, even for a weak British newspaper. But Josh, who needs terrorists if a tyre explosion will ignite a fire in the engine compartment? That would raise serious concerns for public safety on all tourist buses in Syria. Scania is one of the world’s best bus manufacturers and it will be very, very concerned.
Does the fact that the damage was much smaller than those resulting in recent terrorist bombings in Iraq point clearly toward a tyre explosion? The damage seems too extensive to be caused by a tyre explosion, unless it set off another explosion or fire. But diesel fuel does not explode. Did a compresssion tank explode or cause a fire? Compressed air tanks on buses are not inflamable. Also, notice the photo shows a cylinder (probably a compressed air tank) in the engine compartment that is undamaged. It could have been a smaller bomb – maybe in in a small suitcase or satchel. Hence less damage to the surroundings.
All my comment in yesterday’s thread stated was there was nothing sufficient to support any investigative conclusion. Everyone can look at the photos and draw his or her own opinion. For me, the case is open.

December 8th, 2009, 10:54 pm


SimoHurtta said:

The manufacturer of the chassis – a UK based company called Scania – confirmed the fuel tank in the model pictured is fitted at the front of the vehicle, which makes an exploding fuel tank highly improbable.

UK based????? Scania is a Swedish company and nowadays it’s parent company is Volkswagen. Scania has ten production facilities in Sweden, France, Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, Poland, and Russia.

Buses can catch fire and burn fast very badly for different technical reasons and because of the materials (much aluminium, plywood etc) used in the bus’s “cabin”. An example of a burned Scania bus (one year ago) in Finland.
A burned Russian tourist bus in Finland 5 months ago

December 8th, 2009, 11:40 pm


why-discuss said:


I don’t believe in the plot theories that Jews are responsible of all what is happening but I am not discarding any possibility, especially when there has been more signs in this direction. I don’t underestimate the Israelis intelligence agencies.

Israeli Mossad is in Lebanon, several spies network have been found. How can you be so sure that they are not in Syria and Iraq where the path taken by this countries has a direct impact on the security of the Jewish state? Who killed Moghniye in the middle of Damascus ? Arabs? Iran? Baath?
I am not saying that Arabs are not part of the acts, but the instigators can be found somewhere else. To whom the crime really benefits.

December 8th, 2009, 11:42 pm


Al-Farabi said:

Josh, what do you know of Jacob Walles? Do you think his selection signifies anything in particular? Whatever happened to Jeffrey Feltman as the logical choice?

Lastly, a question and comment about Iraqi Ba’athists in Syria. Why continue to harbor them? At this stage the Iraqi Ba’athists seem to be a liability more than anything. Is the motivation simply to be the bastion of opposition groups? I do recall Syria hosting Maliki for almost 20 years. Does Syria have any real interest in keeping them around? My own reactions includes that Damascus has an internal recognition of the Iraqi Ba’ath as a legitimate opposition group, although historically competitive with Syrian Ba’ath, the Syrians feel a special obligation to host them. What’s your take?

December 9th, 2009, 3:34 am


Alex said:

On peace with Syria, Israeli leaders only talk the talk
By Elie Podeh


The ritual “track dance” is in full swing: the Syrian track first – no, the Palestinian track first. A future scholar researching the history of the main contacts between Israel, Syria and the Palestinians starting in the 1990s will discover a marvelous cyclical pattern: Whenever the Palestinian track reached a dead end or a breakthrough beckoned, the Israelis began talking about the Syrian track, and vice versa.

What the two tracks have in common is that no breakthrough has really occurred in either. The reasons for this are many and varied, but there is no denying that Israel bears much of the responsibility. The Barak, Sharon and Netanyahu governments seem to have preferred making noises about peace to doing anything about it. The Olmert-Livni government seems to have been the only one that took steps toward reaching an agreement, behind the scenes via Turkey.

Making do with noises about peace has a number of advantages. Psychologically, it gives our leaders, and perhaps some of our citizens, the feeling that Israel really wants peace, while the other side just talks about it. Politically, it doesn’t cost anything.

There’s nothing new in that the Syrian arena is more amenable. The Syrians are not as internally divided as the Palestinians, there is apparently “someone to talk to” there, and the issues and possibilities for resolving them are familiar. Some of them have already been agreed on. So why has the Syrian track been pushed aside? The answer is to be found in the inability of Israeli prime ministers to make a clear decision about withdrawing from the Golan Heights.

They fear the electoral implications of such a move because of the Golan’s special status in Israeli public opinion. Unlike Judea and Samaria, an ideological question is not at issue, and different pretexts are given for not negotiating with Syrian President Bashar Assad: His government bankrolls terror attacks, it’s in a strategic alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, all he wants is to dip his toes in the Kinneret, and so on.

Without belittling the importance of these matters, it should be stressed that if Anwar Sadat’s positions had been scrutinized like this, there would have been no peace deal with Egypt. His first demands included not only Israeli withdrawal from all Egyptian territory it had conquered, but also a solution to the Palestinian problem. This linkage made the negotiations so difficult that Sadat walked out.

The Egyptian precedent teaches us several things about the Syrian track: First, Israel will not receive any advance concessions that could be used as bargaining chips in negotiations. Even if Syria is not prepared to formally cut its close ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, a serious diplomatic move would drive a wedge through this axis, with a significant affect on the regional balance of power. Second, tough initial bargaining positions do not necessarily reflect the final positions. Significantly, the Syrian position, unlike the initial Egyptian one, does not call for a solution to the Palestinian problem.

Israeli politicians mouth lofty slogans about the importance of peace with Syria, but they aren’t prepared to face up to the price to be paid. Instead, they pose preconditions. Israel’s situation in the Middle East is at rock bottom. Beyond the familiar regional threats, Turkey has moved away and the regimes in Egypt and Jordan have to defend themselves against public opposition to peace with Israel. We need from our decision makers a more active and effective policy, as well as cooperation with moderate elements. The Syrian arena, unlike the Palestinian one, offers an abundance of opportunities for bold and creative leadership, but that has not been forthcoming.

The writer teaches in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

December 9th, 2009, 5:06 am


Alex said:


Syria wants a secular Iraq… it is the right thing for Iraq and it is the right thing for the region. Syria will therefore protect Sunni Iraqi leaders (Baathists or others) and it will help them play a balancing role to the much more powerful Shia parties.

Iran prefers a Shia Iraq, and the Untied States has no clue what works and what does not.

December 9th, 2009, 5:13 am


Alex said:

Can someone find us links to these studies? .. they supposedly concluded that Syrian women (because of what they eat) are the smartest in the whole world! 🙂


دراستان أمريكية وبريطانية: المرأة السورية الأكثر ذكاء واحتراماً في العالم

ميشيغان ..
أظهرت دراسة حديثة صادرة من مجموعة باحثي جامعة ميشيغان الأمريكية أن المرأة السورية هي أكثر نساء العالم ذكاء.
وقالت رئيسة المجموعة البروفسورة كيتي برادفورد إن السبب وراء ذلك يعود للطعام الصحي الذي تتناوله المرأة السورية مثل زيت الزيتون الذي يغذي الدماغ والجوز البلدي الذي يحافظ على الدورة الدموية.
وأضافت برادفورد: إن من أهم العوامل التي ساعدت على زيادة وعي النساء السوريات ونسبة ذكائهن انتسابهن للجامعات السورية والانفتاح الاجتماعي والمساواة بين الرجل والمرأة في سورية.
كما توصلت دراسة صادرة من مركز ستارش البريطاني للأبحاث العالمية إلى أن السوريات هن الأكثر احتراما على مستوى العالم.

December 9th, 2009, 5:27 am


Shai said:

Netanyahu: “‘Any historic peace agreement I bring will be based on support from majority of public”

This should not frustrate anyone. Netanyahu knows that he can receive much more support from the people of Israel, than he can from his own government or the Knesset. Menachem Begin couldn’t even convince the “moderate” Ehud Olmert – who voted AGAINST return of the Sinai to Egypt – but he got through to most Israelis. The public acts on emotions, the politicians on self-interest.

I believe Netanyahu is starting to prepare the public in Israel for an “Historic peace agreement”. He won’t waste his time on the politicians.


December 9th, 2009, 7:43 am


Shai said:


“I don’t believe in the plot theories that Jews are responsible of all what is happening but I am not discarding any possibility, especially when there has been more signs in this direction.”

I know you don’t mean Jews but rather Israel or Israeli security agencies, but using this term is dangerous because it does contribute to antisemitism worldwide. It’s the same as suggesting on 9/11 that “Muslims were responsible”. Note the anti-Islam sentiments and actions that followed worldwide. We all suffer from these generalizations, but in reality whoever commits whatever acts is not representative of the majority.

Since we do not know who or what caused the explosion on that bus in Damascus, why speculate at all? Aren’t we just planting near-facts in people’s minds that way?

December 9th, 2009, 7:51 am


Steve said:

Well this will be the test of Dr Landis’ bias then won’t it? Presumably to be fair to both possibilities he should draw the same attention to the Huffington Post’s expert who says it probably wasn’t a tyre explosion as he did to Phil Sand’s expert who said it was….

December 9th, 2009, 11:11 am


Nicolas92200 said:

A well structured article, published in the FT a couple of days ago.

Israel must unpick its ethnic myth
By Tony Judt

Published: December 8 2009 02:00 | Last updated: December 8 2009 02:00

What exactly is “Zionism”? Its core claim was always that Jews represent a common and single people; that their millennia-long dispersion and suffering has done nothing to diminish their distinctive, collective attributes; and that the only way they can live freely as Jews – in the same way that, say, Swedes live freely as Swedes – is to dwell in a Jewish state.

Thus religion ceased in Zionist eyes to be the primary measure of Jewish identity. In the course of the late-19th century, as more and more young Jews were legally or culturally emancipated from the world of the ghetto or the shtetl , Zionism began to look to an influential minority like the only alternative to persecution, assimilation or cultural dilution. Paradoxically then, as religious separatism and practice began to retreat, a secular version of it was actively promoted.

I can certainly confirm, from personal experience, that anti-religious sentiment – often of an intensity that I found discomforting – was widespread in left-leaning Israeli circles of the 1960s. Religion, I was informed, was for the haredim and the “crazies” of Jerusalem’s Mea Sharim quarter. “We” are modern and rational and “western”, it was explained to me by my Zionist teachers. But what they did not say was that the Israel they wished me to join was therefore grounded, and could only be grounded, in an ethnically rigid view of Jews and Jewishness.

The story went like this. Jews, until the destruction of the Second Temple (in the First century), had been farmers in what is now Israel/Palestine. They had then been forced yet again into exile by the Romans and wandered the earth: homeless, rootless and outcast. Now at last “they” were “returning” and would once again farm the soil of their ancestors.

It is this narrative that the historian Shlomo Sand seeks to deconstruct in his controversial book The Invention of the Jewish People . His contribution, critics assert, is at best redundant. For the last century, specialists have been perfectly familiar with the sources he cites and the arguments he makes. From a purely scholarly perspective, I have no quarrel with this. Even I, dependent for the most part on second-hand information about the earlier millennia of Jewish history, can see that Prof Sand – for example in his emphasis upon the conversions and ethnic mixing that characterise the Jews in earlier times – is telling us nothing we do not already know.

The question is, who are “we”? Certainly in the US, the overwhelming majority of Jews (and perhaps non-Jews) have absolutely no acquaintance with the story Prof Sand tells. They will never have heard of most of his protagonists, but they are all too approvingly familiar with the caricatured version of Jewish history that he is seeking to discredit. If Prof Sand’s popularising work does nothing more than provoke reflection and further reading among such a constituency, it will have been worthwhile.

But there is more to it than that. While there were other justifications for the state of Israel, and still are – it was not by chance that David Ben-Gurion sought, planned and choreographed the trial of Adolf Eichmann – it is clear that Prof Sand has undermined the conventional case for a Jewish state. Once we agree, in short, that Israel’s uniquely “Jewish” quality is an imagined or elective affinity, how are we to proceed?

Prof Sand is himself an Israeli and the idea that his country has no “raison d’etre” would be abhorrent to him. Rightly so. States exist or they do not. Egypt or Slovakia are not justified in international law by virtue of some theory of deep “Egyptianness” or “Slovakness”. Such states are recognised as international actors, with rights and status, simply by virtue of their existence and their capacity to maintain and protect themselves.

So Israel’s survival does not rest on the credibility of the story it tells about its ethnic origins. If we accept this, we can begin to understand that the country’s insistence upon its exclusive claim upon Jewish identity is a significant handicap. In the first place, such an insistence reduces all non-Jewish Israeli citizens and residents to second-class status. This would be true even if the distinction were purely formal. But of course it is not: being a Muslim or a Christian – or even a Jew who does not meet the increasingly rigid specification for “Jewishness” in today’s Israel – carries a price.

Implicit in Prof Sand’s book is the conclusion that Israel would do better to identify itself and learn to think of itself as . . . Israel. The perverse insistence upon identifying a universal Jewishness with one small piece of territory is dysfunctional in many ways. It is the single most important factor accounting for the failure to solve the Israel-Palestine imbroglio. It is bad for Israel and, I would suggest, bad for Jews elsewhere who are identified with its actions.

So what is to be done? Prof Sand certainly does not tell us – and in his defence we should acknowledge that the problem may be intractable. I suspect that he favours a one-state solution: if only because it is the logical upshot of his arguments. I, too, would favour such an outcome – if I were not so sure that both sides would oppose it vigorously and with force. A two-state solution might still be the best compromise, even though it would leave Israel intact in its ethno-delusions. But it is hard to be optimistic about the prospects for such a resolution, in the light of the developments of the past two years.

My own inclination, then, would be to focus elsewhere. If the Jews of Europe and North America took their distance from Israel (as many have begun to do), the assertion that Israel was “their” state would take on an absurd air. Over time, even Washington might come to see the futility of attaching American foreign policy to the delusions of one small Middle Eastern state. This, I believe, is the best thing that could possibly happen to Israel itself. It would be obliged to acknowledge its limits. It would have to make other friends, preferably among its neighbours.

We could thus hope, in time, to establish a natural distinction between people who happen to be Jews but are citizens of other countries; and people who are Israeli citizens and happen to be Jews. This could prove very helpful. There are many precedents: the Greek, Armenian, Ukrainian and Irish diasporas have all played an unhealthy role in perpetuating ethnic exclusivism and nationalist prejudice in the countries of their forebears. The civil war in Northern Ireland came to an end in part because an American president instructed the Irish emigrant community in the US to stop sending arms and cash to the Provisional IRA. If American Jews stopped associating their fate with Israel and used their charitable cheques for better purposes, something similar might happen in the Middle East.

The writer is University Professor at New York University and director of the Remarque Institute

December 9th, 2009, 12:53 pm


Shami said:

Turkey PM: Israel can not bomb Gaza then hold drill in Turkey


December 9th, 2009, 12:57 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Steve said,

Well this will be the test of Dr Landis’ bias then won’t it?


The “test” you are referring was already taken many years ago when Prof Josh was “Co-director, Center of Peace Studies, at the University of Oklahoma”, a long time Baathist apologist, and part-time “Shabbos Goy”. You may have missed all his work in these important areas.

Nowadays, the esteemed professor is up to his eyeballs in Baathist apology, so his other duties are suffering.



December 9th, 2009, 4:25 pm


why-discuss said:


I was replying to Hassan who wrote
“Unfortunately, everybody seems to believe that the Israelis or the Jews are everywhere.”

Shai, you know about all these theories running in some circles that Jews want to control the world. I just don’t buy any of these.

I believe Israelis is a country that has a powerful army and strong intelligence agencies that were often able to mislead even the US and other European countries. They have a network of spies worldwide and we all know it.
I don’t underestimate them and I think they are capable of just anything to reach their short and long term goals.
Of course I will be accused of paranoia and of covering up for the evil Arabs can do to themselves. Yet for me Israeli intelligence is the suspect no 1 in violent acts happening in the arab world, until it is proven otherwise.

December 9th, 2009, 5:54 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Nicholas92200 said:

A well structured article, published in the FT a couple of days ago.

Also a well structured opinion from one individual who isn’t Israeli.


I had no idea who Tony Judt was so I googled him. Apparently, he said:

In 2003, in an article for the New York Review of Books Judt argued that Israel was on its way to becoming a “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno state.” He called for the conversion of “Israel from a Jewish state to a binational one” which would include all of what is now Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This proposed new state would have equal rights for all Jews and Arabs living in Israel and the Palestinian territories.[13]

It seems to me Israelis (Jewish and non-Jewish) are the only ones who have the right to determine the direction of the country. I guess I’m not sure why Mr. Judt is concerned either way. I would argue that Israel is already a binational state or, at least, on its way to becoming one. What’s the big deal?

I would say Israel is the most functional state in the region, so I wonder if Mr. Judt is giving any advice to other ME states.

December 9th, 2009, 7:19 pm


Akbar Palace said:

They have a network of spies worldwide and we all know it.


Do you think there is a network of Syrian, Iranian, turkish, Jordanian, Egyptian, or Saudi spies worldwide?

Also, do you think there are spies that support the various Islamic terror organizations worldwide?

December 9th, 2009, 7:23 pm


Shai said:


Indeed it is paranoia… 🙂 But look, Israelis feel exactly the same about the Arabs – there’s some hidden conspiracy just under the surface, to throw all Jews to the sea. And “until it is proven otherwise” (as you said), every statement, every gesture, every action and reaction by the Arabs, is reinforcement of this intention. So we go even further – we generalize and bring about paranoia, towards all Arabs.

You and I can both come up with at least half a dozen other “interested parties” that could have planted a bomb on the bus, and not Israeli agencies. Personally, I doubt it was Israel. As for Mughniya and Deir-ez-Zur, I doubt it wasn’t Israel.

December 9th, 2009, 7:30 pm


Akbar Palace said:

The Hidden Imam vs. The Hidden Israeli Liberal

Shai said:

Indeed it is paranoia… But look, Israelis feel exactly the same about the Arabs – there’s some hidden conspiracy just under the surface, to throw all Jews to the sea.

I know we Jews are so utterly “paranoid”, given the unfortunate events of the Holocaust, the little wars for survival, etc, but what “hidden conspiracy” are you talking about? Hamas, Hezbollah, and their patrons in Iran have not “hidden” their desire to “wipe Israel off the map” in the least. It’s all public knowledge if one cares to investigate.

Hamas Charter, Article 7:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).



Therefore our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.


Statements from the Iranian government:


December 9th, 2009, 8:46 pm


Shai said:


“Hamas Charter, Article 7: “The Day of Judgement…”

That’s hilarious. You’re worried about a charter written by an organization that uses $10 rockets that barely kill flies in empty fields, and don’t seem to be particularly worried about a similar “charter” written by Evangelical Christians that have multi-billion dollar annual budgets… 🙂

Btw, notice you seem to be arguing against my claim that we Israelis (and quite a few Jewish Americans) are paranoid, but then you actually reinforce my statement by saying “given the unfortunate events of the Holocaust, the little wars for survival…”

So are we, or are we not paranoid? Because what I hear from you is “Yes, we are paranoid, but we have a right to be…”

When will that “justified paranoia” as a result of the Holocaust and “wars for survival” (last one was probably 36 years ago, if not 42 years ago) end? If it’s not the mighty Iranian nuclear program with its hundreds of nukes that will erase Israel, it’s the Holocaust. Thank God we have that. What would we do without it?

Akbar, as a person who lost more than 90% of my family to the Holocaust, I ask you to stop using the victims’ names in vein. If they were around today, they’d scoff at your fear of Hamas, and your “justified paranoia”. Thankfully for you, they’re not.

December 9th, 2009, 9:41 pm


Shai said:


I’ve noticed that all too often the phrases “existential threat” or “wars for survival” are thrown around like cheap candy. I propose to have a special day allocated just for finding out what each person’s definition is for these concepts. Does “existential”, for instance, mean “the ability of a nation to continue to exist as a free and democratic society”? Or does it mean “the ability of a nation to ensure no $10 rockets can hit its open fields”?

I have a feeling that some people believe Israel is continuously under existential threat, ever since its birth in 1948. That the 1956, 1982, and even 2008/9 Gaza operation, were all “wars for survival”. That had Israel not gone in, and killed 1,300 Palestinians some 12 months ago, Israel would not be able to survive. Same with Lebanon 2006, with 1,500 Lebanese killed. These were existential threats (Hezbollah kidnapping 3 soldiers), and Israel had to “protect itself”.

To some people, there has never been differentiation between 1948, 1973, and “wars of choice” (coined by none other than Menachem Begin).

December 9th, 2009, 10:33 pm


Alex said:


Your total focus on “Islamic terror” is wither the result of your paranoia, or the result of your robotic implementation of your standard classic Israeli propagandist training.

Instead of paying any attention to the increasingly moderate statements from the leader of Hamas based in Damascus where he makes it clear he will accept Israel within the pre-67 borders.


Oh and by the way, there are Syrian spies operating outside Syria where there is an absolute need, I’m sure. But Syrian spies are not like Israeli spies posing as legitimate local security airport officials … at every international airport harassing passengers and tricking them into submitting to their search and paper scanning requests.


Remember why Israel ties Iran for the title of “most dangerous to world peace” in most polls in Europe?


December 9th, 2009, 10:37 pm


Alex said:


The problem is that Israel seems to be seeking a zero-risk environment… at any cost.

Someone needs to tell them that it is impossible! … in trying to reduce risks you end up creating many more. When they invade Lebanon in 1982 to push the Palestinians away (to Tunisia) they practically created Hezbollah… when they created Hamas to weaken the PLO, they created a more stubborn Palestinian enemy.

When they tried to destroy Hezbollah in 2006, they empowered Hezbollah even more, and helped Syria prove the wisdom behind its resistance option.

And I will keep repeating it, and will be here hopefully to remind the wonderful people who call themselves “friends of Israel” … you do not know how to restrict your self to any reasonable limits … your drive for more power in Washington is starting to backfire on you and on Israel.

Wait and see.

December 9th, 2009, 10:55 pm


Friend in America said:

I think commentators have been too heavy in our criticism of Dr. Landis. This is his site and he has a valid mission to announce events from a Syrian perspective, although he may have been too eager to do so recently. So Josh, you have been chastised, and it’s time for us to move on.

Logical analyisis makes it difficult to conclude Syria was actively involved in facilitating the bombings in Iraq this week. Some are frustrated with Syria’s hosting radical (revengful) Iraqi baathists since 2003. But where is the intelligence the government or other Syrian authorities took an active role in promoting the recent terrorism? A passive role? Maybe, maybe not. In Iraq the usual suspects have not changed: Al Qada operatives, Sunni extremists, Shite extremists. Political factions within the government is highly unlikely.

The statement in #16 is a sound policy which could have very good long term benefits, but the Sunnis must play a peaceful role, and the observation about America’s search for a solution is perceptive:

“Syria wants a secular Iraq… it is the right thing for Iraq and it is the right thing for the region. Syria will therefore protect Sunni Iraqi leaders (Baathists or others) and it will help them play a balancing role to the much more powerful Shia parties.
Iran prefers a Shia Iraq, and the Untied States has no clue what works and what does not.” (#16 above)

A speech by Syria’s President at this time to this effect would be very constructive (well, maybe not the last sentence).

December 10th, 2009, 1:45 am


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