Reflections on the value of respect

Four years ago, Rory Stewart wrote:

A great many of the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq arise from a single problem: the American-led coalitions’ lack of trust in local politicians. Repeatedly the Western powers, irritated by a lack of progress, have overruled local leaders, rejected compromises and tried to force through their own strategies. But the Westerners’ capacity is limited: they have little understanding of Afghan or Iraqi politics and rely too heavily on troops and money to solve what are fundamentally political and religious problems.
The coalitions cannot achieve political change in the absence of strong local support. And when they try to do so, they undermine their local allies. Iraqi and Afghan national and regional leaders have a far better understanding of the limits and possibilities of the local political scenes; they are more flexible and creative in finding compromises; and unlike the coalition officials, they are elected.
They must be given real power and authority. This may seem an obvious prescription — but in fact the coalitions are not allowing it to happen.

Underneath the lack of trust that Stewart correctly identified, is a more fundamental issue: the hubris of power.
We have the guns, the cash, and represent the most powerful nation on Earth. You need to respect us but we really don’t need to respect you. Respect is something we expect but will also on occasions dish out if or when it seems expedient.
Americans, shaped by a culture that tends to place a higher value on power than anything else, are inclined to view respect as simply an element in a power equation. In one situation respect might seem essential, in another merely useful, and in yet another it can be dispensed with. Rarely is it held up as the most vital component in all human relationships.
After President Obama showed up in Kabul just over a week ago, President Karzai showed his uninvited guest and paymaster the courtesy of inviting him to dinner. Obama, the New York Times tells us, returned the courtesy with a thank-you note. “It was a respectful letter,” General James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser told reporters.
 The significance of this incident, supposedly, is that it signals an overdue change in tone as the administration registers that its repeated admonitions of the Afghan president have proved counterproductive.
Ironically, an American president whose arrival in office was supposed to herald an historic shift in America’s approach to the world — one which would reinstate the value of soft power — has been a surprisingly clumsy diplomat.
So, if the White House now understands that it must not underestimate the value of respectfulness, that’s a good thing — but let’s not pretend a thank-you note is all it takes.
* Respect is one of those words we use so often we rarely pause to consider its meaning. It describes an attitude, yet its latin root, specere, to look, indicates that this is really a form of attention.
To be respectful is to attentively incline oneself towards the other in recognition of their autonomy and integrity.
There is no one we can respect and simultaneously try to change. When we coerce or manipulate someone, we cannot respect them because our attention is focused not on them but on what we want.
If one views respect as a resource, nowhere is it generally more scarce than among the powerful.
The conceit of power is that power elicits respect, when in truth the tokens of respect bestowed on the powerful are rarely more than expressions of fear, envy or duty. (Hence an underlying paranoia haunts the powerful: they know they are the beneficiaries of a social investment that could, if things turn sour, be swiftly withdrawn.)
Respect is not the fruit of power, but on the contrary, it is a self-propagating virtue that becomes mirrored through its own expression.
Meanwhile, behind what might sound like an overly abstract reflection on respect, another topic floating in the background is Israel, since if one drills to the core of the Middle East conflict, it cannot be reduced to land or religion. It’s about respect.
Can Jews who claimed their “birthright” by dispossessing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, somehow make peace with those people and their descendants without also acknowledging the Palestinians’ rights to dignity and respect? Yet can such respect be conferred without also calling into question the legitimacy of the Jewish state?
Where is the actual ground for mutual respect when the affirmation of one people’s rights has for six decades depended on the denial of another’s?
This is cross-posted at Woodward’s site, War in Context.

Israeli activists to J Street: ’stop trying to gain political capital at the expense of dedicated peace activists’

The following form letter has been circulating on an Israeli activist listserv criticizing J Street’s leadership for their stance on the Berkeley divestment bill:

Letter from Israel to Jstreet: Please Do Not Call Me “anti-Israeli” !
Dear J Street folks
I am an Israeli citizen, I support the proposed Berkeley divestment bill, and I find your statement on this matter completely unacceptable.
Calling the bill “anti-Israeli” amounts to no more than shallow fear-mongering, and it is also an insult to me, an Israeli citizen who supports morally justified sanctions against companies that sell or operate military equipment facilitating the occupation.
Please stop trying to gain political capital at the expense of dedicated peace activists, Jews and non-Jews. If you truly disagree with the proposed bill, please engage in a serious debate.

I contacted the organizers of the letter to get the story of why they felt it was necessary. I heard back from Ofer Neiman who lives in Jerusalem and is coeditor of Occupation Magazine, an Israeli website about the occupation run by volunteer activists. Neiman wrote:

When I received the first messages from J Street two years ago, I felt there was something to celebrate. It certainly looked like a grassroots initiative to afflict the comfortable ones at AIPAC and comfort the afflicted ones, like frustrated Israeli peace activists who are fed up with AIPAC’s “pro-Israel” war mongering…
I am not an expert on the Jewish political arena in the US, but at that time I felt that there was something promising about J Street. Although they were not issuing poignant messages about the wrongdoings of the occupation, their cheerful bulletins about saying ‘Yes’ to peace and encouraging US involvement in the (so called) Middle East peace process seemed right.
J Street has grown since that time, and even held a festive conference with celebrity guests. With this came a more detailed agenda. We now know that J Street has failed to stand up for Richard Goldstone, an honorable human rights defender (and a Zionist), who has been vilified in an appalling manner by Alan Dershowitz and others.
J Street has not criticized Israeli war crimes, and its representatives use very soft, whitewashing language, when they are asked to comment on the every day reality of apartheid in the Occupied Territories. Worse than that, J Street seems keen on smearing dedicated peace activists, like the staff and volunteers of Jewish Voice for Peace (and other groups!), labeling them as “anti-Israeli” (read their press release on the proposed Berkeley divestment bill). This is a nasty way of self-promotion. It’s the AIPAC way.
The question begs itself: should we lovingly endure these cutthroat tactics, because that’s the only way to win hearts and minds among the Jewish community? Well, perhaps not.
AIPAC sympathizers are unlikely to break ranks and support a group which may weaken the old lobby. Will progressives, especially young people, be inspired by J Street’s policy? We have a counterexample in Israel. The ranks of Peace Now, once a mass movement, have dwindled drastically since 2000, when, instead of taking Ehud Barak on as a right wing menace and the most reckless Israeli politician of all, they resorted to banal “peace is the only way” or “a ceasefire is possible” sloganeering (with the exception of their good work on settlement monitoring).
The tasks of calling Israeli war crimes by their name and organizing grassroots activities in the OT have been left to others, the “radicals”. This pattern was repeated in 2005, when Peace Now volunteered to be a foot soldier for Ariel Sharon’s destructive “Disengagement Plan”, telling us that “This is the only game in town” (as if it’s impossible to say “we support the dismantling of Gaza settlements, but beware the dangerous consequences of an occupation-perpetuating, thuggish, unilateral step”. Peace Now does not inspire. It seems that J Street too does not inspire.
It’s the “radicals” who are leading the Israeli peace camp these days, as anyone who goes to Bil’in or to Sheikh-Jarah can tell. These “radicals” are not horned, yellow-eyed beasts. They are ordinary citizens, many of them young, who have learned that they can only rely on themselves and on like-minded people abroad, like the Berkeley activists campaigning for selective, morally justified sanctions against the occupation and the cynical corporations profiteering from it.
Activists, in Israel or in the US, are looking for a political home, and for a big cause. A peace group which fails to address the most pressing issues on the agenda is not a political home, and a cause which amounts to no more than coy political maneuverings is not a big cause.

Suddenly in vogue, book banning spreads to Canada

Earlier today, Phil posted on a leading Israeli book chain that has removed a book critical of the settler movement. Seems the trend is spreading. Tablet reports on an effort by the Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center to ban the book The Shepherd’s Granddaughter from a program run by the Ontario Library Association for 7th and 8th graders:

The book was published in 2008 to mostly good reviews and little controversy. But when it was nominated to the 2010 Forest of Reading list, the uproar began. Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center demanded that the book be “made unavailable” to students.
“The Simon Wiesenthal Center does not promote censorship,” said president Avi Benlolo, “but the issue is that this book is so skewed and so overtly against the State of Israel. … Any school child who reads the book will grow to hate the State of Israel and possibly the Jewish people.” The Jewish Tribune, a publication of B’nai Brith Canada, ran a story with the provocative headline:
Could this book turn your child against Israel?” The story’s opening sentence: “Reading this book made me want to go to Palestine and kill Israelis.” The quote was attributed to a girl named Madelaine on the book review site Quoting her was Toronto parent and Jewish Tribune contributor Brian Henry, who also wrote an open letter to Ontario’s education minister demanding the book’s withdrawal from the reading list.
“Unfortunately, that’s a perfectly natural reaction to this book,” Henry wrote. And in the same issue of the Tribune, Sheila Ward, a trustee of the Toronto District School Board, said, “I will move heaven and earth to have The Shepherd’s Granddaughter taken off the school library shelves.”
Ward, it was clear, hadn’t read the book. “This book,” she wrote, “on the basis of what Mr. Henry has sent to me, is so blatantly biased that it is intolerable. I suspect I’ll be accused of censorship. If it means I will not support hate-provoking literature with no redeeming qualities, I am delighted to be called a censor.”

To its credit Tablet quotes the Goodreads review at length showing that the author in fact does not want to kill Israelis, and says that Henry is being intentionally “disingenuous and hyperbolically alarmist.” Unfortunately that doesn’t mean he won’t be successful.

Cohen on Poland

Roger Cohen, who was so stirred by Tehran, is now moved by Polish history to imagine a different Middle East. His teaching re victimhood is aimed at those of us who harp about “justice” in Palestine. And I think it’s a good teaching, poetical, but it would be more meaningful if Cohen would go to Palestine and observe those conditions and explain who is responsible for them.
Agency in history is a difficult issue; but the creation of Jim Crow in Palestine is Israel’s achievement, with the active complicity of the American Jewish leadership. (Also, when all was said and done, Poland got Poland back…) Cohen:

Poland should shame every nation that believes peace and reconciliation are impossible, every state that believes the sacrifice of new generations is needed to avenge the grievances of history. The thing about competitive victimhood, a favorite Middle Eastern pastime, is that it condemns the children of today to join the long list of the dead.
For scarcely any nation has suffered since 1939 as Poland, carved up by the Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact, transformed by the Nazis into the epicenter of their program to annihilate European Jewry, land of Auschwitz and Majdanek, killing field for millions of Christian Poles and millions of Polish Jews, brave home to the Warsaw Uprising, Soviet pawn, lonely Solidarity-led leader of post-Yalta Europe’s fight for freedom, a place where, as one of its great poets, Wislawa Szymborska, wrote, “History counts its skeletons in round numbers” — 20,000 of them at Katyn.
It is this Poland that is now at peace with its neighbors and stable. It is this Poland that has joined Germany in the European Union. It is this Poland that has just seen the very symbols of its tumultuous history (including the Gdansk dock worker Anna Walentynowicz and former president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski) go down in a Soviet-made jet and responded with dignity, according to the rule of law.
So do not tell me that cruel history cannot be overcome. Do not tell me that Israelis and Palestinians can never make peace. Do not tell me that the people in the streets of Bangkok and Bishkek and Tehran dream in vain of freedom and democracy. Do not tell me that lies can stand forever.

Thanks to Irek.

Neocons need not apply

Below, an event at Tufts last week that will give heartburn to neocons. Notice: no one from Brandeis is participating. The neocon pursuit of corridor, their modus operandi (avoid direct sunlight – why, look at Rob’t Satloff’s dishonest interaction with Stephen Walt and MJ Rosenberg’s honest rejoinder) means there are openings in academe.
One Harvard math friend was discussing taboos with me. He said, “you mean criticizing Israel,” and I smiled, for being Muslim the only taboos that I had experience with were all sexual. I said as much to him and he said that for him criticizing Israel could cause grief. He and his girlfriend attended the Finkelstein event a while ago.
The Tufts Event:
 [sorry for lack of paragraphs below; webmaster is lazy]
Cabot Intercultural Center 160 Packard Avenue Tufts University Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts A CONFERENCE SPONSORED BY THE FLETCHER SCHOOL OF LAW AND DIPLOMACY, AND THE UCLA CENTER FOR JEWISH STUDIES CONFERENCE CONVENERS Nadim N. Rouhana, David N. Myers * _*Conference Schedule*_ Thursday, April 8 WELCOMING REMARKS 5:15 PM – 5:30 PM Stephen Bosworth, Dean,
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University David N. Myers, Professor of Jewish History, UCLA Nadim N. Rouhana, Professor of International Negotiation and Conflict Studies, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University SESSION I: LOOKING PAST, LOOKING FORWARD: THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM Chair: Peter Uvin, Academic Dean and The Henry J. Leir Professor of International Humanitarian Studies, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University Speakers:
Henry Siegman, President of the U.S./Middle East Project Rami Khouri, Director, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut and Editor-at-large, The Daily Star (Beirut); Fares Center Visiting Scholar Spring 2010, Tufts University _*Friday, April 9*_ 8:30 AM – 9:00 AM – REGISTRATION SESSION II: HISTORICAL ENCOUNTERS BETWEEN JEWS AND ARABS IN PALESTINE 9:00 AM – 10:45 AM Chair: Leila Fawaz, Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and Founding Director of Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, Tufts University.
Speakers: Lital Levy, Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows and Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, Princeton University Arab Jewish Writers and the Question of Palestine, 1903-1948 Salim Tamari, Senior Fellow, Institute for Palestine Studies, editor of The Jerusalem Quarterly, Visiting Professor, Georgetown University, Washington DC WWI, Ottoman Jerusalem and Zionism David N. Myers, Professor of Jewish History, UCLA Past and Present: Why History Matters 10:45 AM – 11:15 PM – COFFEE BREAK SESSION III: CURRENT ENCOUNTERS BETWEEN ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS 11:15 AM – 1:00 PM Chair:
Jeswald W. Salacuse, Henry J. Braker Professor of Law, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University Speakers: George Bisharat, Professor of Law, UC Hastings College of the Law “Unchain My Heart:” Overcoming the Tyranny of the “Past” Ian Lustick, Bess W. Heyman Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania We Have Met the Others and They Are Us: Perpetrators and Victims in “Valtz Eem Bashir” Nomi Stolzenberg, Nathan and Lilly Shapell Professor of Law, USC Law School Property and Sovereignty:
The Intertwined Fate of Private and Public Land Claims to the Holy Land 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM – LUNCH BREAK SESSION IV: THE FUTURE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM Chair: Eileen Babbitt, Professor of International Conflict Management Practice, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University Speakers: Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Professor, Department of Jewish History, Ben Gurion University, and Fellow, Center of Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania Binational Thinking:
Advantages, Risks, and Problems Leila Farsakh, Assistant Professor, Political Science Department, University of Massachusetts Boston The One State Option as a Political Project: Palestinian Challenges and Prospects Pnina Lahav, Professor of Law and Law Alumni Scholar, Boston University School of Law Why I Still Believe the Two-State Solution Is Preferable Nadim N. Rouhana, Professor, International Negotiation and Conflict Studies, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University Historical Encounters and Visions of the Future in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Asking the Right Questions 4:00 PM – 4:15 PM – COFFEE BREAK SESSION V: 4:15 PM – 5:15 PM – WRAP-UP DISCUSSION WITH PARTICIPANTS.

Kafka’s Apartheid

Posted: 12 Apr 2010 08:20 AM PDT

My head hurts just reading the convoluted regulations.

Your chance to see and hear Eyad al-Sarraj

Posted: 12 Apr 2010 08:18 AM PDT

This looks good, I hope Sara Roy can get it on-line:
“Voices of Gaza” Videoconference Event
Presented by the MIT/Harvard Working Group on Gaza Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj, President of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme
Rowiya Hamam, Psychiatric nurse in Gaza Omar Shaban, Economist and director of the Gaza-based Palestinian think tank PAL-Think
Moderator: Dr. Sara Roy, Senior research scholar at Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Thursday, April 15, 2010 12:00-2:00 pm
Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics
Conference Room Littauer Building, Room 166 79 JFK Street, Cambridge

‘This is a racist state in which savages do what they want’

Who is Israel and what is Israel to you? as the old soul song went. This is another scary post. It is about the McCarthyite culture that has settled over that country. A leading book chain has removed a book that criticizes the settler movement from its shelves after rightwingers complained about the content. This society is in crisis, and who is informing Americans? From Ynet:


Shulamit Aloni, former chairwoman of the leftist Meretz party, said in response to the chain’s decision, “Israel has not been democratic for some time now. Our declaration of independence promised equality. I there equality? This is a racist state in which savages do what they want in the name of G-d and their rabbis.” 
“The settlers rule the land. The government supports them so much; it’s a disgrace,” Aloni told Ynet Sunday night.

Thanks to Marsha Cohen.

91 Democratic congresspeople need a little space on the special relationship

What the openly pro-Israel Jeff Jacoby describes here (“Support for Israel runs on party lines”) is not a new phenomenon although the gap between registered Democrats and Republicans when it comes to Israel has grown wider. That 91 Democrats refused to sign the recent Hoyer-Cantor letter to Secretary Clinton on the “unbreakable bond’’ and “extraordinary closeness’’ between the United States and Israel may reflect what they have heard from their constituents– whereas the most vocal Republicans are the Christian Zionist evangelicals.
This ultimately presents a problem for a party that has historically been dependent for the bulk of its funds on wealthy Jews and labor unions run by pro-Israel bureacrats. At what point will that funding either switch to Republicans or, what is more likely to happen in the case of those labor bureacrats, they will campaign only half-heartedly or worse for the party, sit on their hands? Jacoby:

The letter was polite, but there was no mistaking the implicit rebuke of the president for treating Israel so shabbily. Nor, one might think, was there any mistaking its bipartisan appeal: It was signed by 333 members of the US House, more than three-fourths of the entire membership….. 
But look at the disparity that emerges when those results are sorted by party affiliation. While support for Israel vs. the Palestinians has climbed to a stratospheric 85 percent among Republicans, the comparable figure for Democrats is an anemic 48 percent…. …And behind Israel’s “Top 5’’ favorability rating lies a gaping partisan rift: 80 percent of Republicans — but just 53 percent of Democrats — have positive feelings about the world’s only Jewish country.
Similarly, it is true that 333 US House members, a hefty bipartisan majority, endorsed the robustly pro-Israel Hoyer-Cantor letter to Clinton. But there were only seven Republicans who declined to sign the letter, compared with 91 Democrats — more than a third of the entire Democratic caucus. (Six Massachusetts Democrats were among the non-signers: John Olver, Richard Neal, John Tierney, Ed Markey, Michael Capuano, and Bill Delahunt.)
From Zogby International, meanwhile, comes still more proof of the widening gulf between the major parties on the subject of Israel. In a poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute last month, respondents were asked whether Obama should “steer a middle course’’ in the Middle East — code for not clearly supporting Israel.
“There is a strong divide on this question,’’ Zogby reported, “with 73 percent of Democrats agreeing that the President should steer a middle course while only 24 percent of Republicans hold the same opinion.’’

Weighing Obama, ‘FP’ allows the Israel lobby to put its thumb on the scale

Josh Rogin piece at Foreign Policy about where Obama’s advisers stand on Israel (all over the map, he states; I’m not buying) seems to rely on the usual suspects for insight into Obama’s braintrust.
The quotations I bristle at are near the end, from worried outsiders and Israel supporters, and have the effect of making General James Jones look like an Israel-hater because he doesn’t line up behind Netanyahu. Jeez. Where do I live?

Add to that [conciliatory] line of thinking the National Security Council’s Dennis Ross, who due to his experience and inclination [former chairman of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in Jerusalem; yes that’s all over some map] is also said to be more focused on solving the dispute over Israel’s settlements. Yes, Ross argues for going a little easier on the Israelis than the other members of the team, the official said, but recent attacks on his loyalty to America from unnamed sources were way overblown.
Valerie Jarrett is another team member to watch. Two officials confirmed she is in almost all the meetings, although one official cautioned that doesn’t mean she has a foreign-policymaking decision role, per se.
…To the extent that Jones and Jarrett seem to have increasing clout with Obama, that worries outsiders who fear they are pushing him toward a tougher stance vis-à-vis Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, who abruptly cancelled his plans to come to Washington next week for the nuclear summit.
And amid reports that Obama personally directed the harsh response to Netanyahu following the settlements dispute last month and the dressing down Netanyahu received at the Oval Office, Israel supporters worry that he is determined to make Netanyahu come to him.

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