Friday, July 19, 2019

Israel and Anti-Semites--Unholy Bedfellows

When I was in Israel last week, one of the questions I asked several times was this: how could Israelis support a Prime Minister who pals around with anti-semites?  That Netanyahu has been buddying up with Viktor Orban, Hungary's anti-semitic prime minister/dictator wannabee, as well as other noted right-wing anti-semites.  And I wondered why Netanyahu was doing this and what price was he paying.

This piece speaks of an unholy alliance that gives some clues, but it was put a bit differently to me in Israel.  That the left wing in Europe is anti-semitic (some of it is, some of it is just critical of Israel--one can be critical of Israel without contempt for Jews, of course) and the right wing is anti-semitic so why not align with the ideologically similar?  Of course, this is extremely problematic for several reasons
  1. What does one get from aligning with Hungary in any case?  Orban might have some sway among the right wing authoritarians in Eastern Europe, but Hungary has little power or influence.  Selling out one's soul for what?  A few shekels?  Because Hungary can't deliver much.
  2. As Mrs. Spew reminded me last night, it is far, far more likely that the right-wing anti-semites would take the anti-semitic rhetoric and turn it into systematic violence than the left-wing anti-semites.  
  3. Looking away when anti-semites rise was something that falls into the category of "Never Again," right?  What is the point of having a Jewish state if the Jewish state allies with those doing harm to Jews?
The reality of Israeli politics is that the right-wing dominates (the left got crushed in the aftermath of the second intifada), and that Netanyahu dominates the right-wing.  So, there is little penalty for Netanyahu to hang out with anti-semites in Europe or the US.  His coalition-making challenges do not center on his pal-ing around with Orban and his ilk, but on the conflict between two right-wing voting blocks--the Ultra Orthodox and the Russian Jews who hate the Ultra Orthodox.  So, no, besides some upset columnists, there was no cost for Netanyahu politically.

A related question I didn't really ask as much is how do the Israelis feel about being the means to an end?  Evangelicals want Jews to run the biblical lands since that is the requirement for the rapture/Armageddon/end of times (excuse me if I get the religious terms wrong), as these folks think they will go to Heaven or whatever.  These folks see Israel's Jews is a tool for getting what they want.  The response to my question was basically that Israelis understand this, but don't mind since they are using the evangelicals.  That the GOP now is firmly committed to uncritical support for Israel as it panders to these end of times-seeking evangelicals.  Of course, there is a cost, as Israelis are realizing that Netanyahu's treatment of Obama has helped to alienate Democrats, and they fear the day when the Democrats gain the White House.

But it is all about the short term--sucking up to those who are anti-Jewish (and, yes, evangelicals are anti-Jewish) for a few more years of support while selling out what the Holocaust has taught the Jews.

While the basic state of Israel-Palestine peace talks was depressing enough, this other dynamic was just gutting.  Strangely enough, I feel my Jewish identity more when I see Israel selling out the Holocaust.  Seeing these t-shirts being sold at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial), well, had a complicated effect on me.  I will eventually get to the post on how this trip affects how I see myself and my identity, but this one is a clue.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The CDSN Thanks SSHRC!

We got the word from SSHRC in late April that it would be funding the partnership grant the Canadian Defence and Security Network had sought, but we could not talk about it.  We could operate, but we could not give credit to the funder... until now.  The Minister announced the results, along with other competitions (hey, co-director Phil, congrats!), so now we can give thanks to SSHRC for the funds.

And not just the funds for which we are thankful.  The partnership grant process required us to do a great deal of networking and leveraging. That each partner has to not just specify what it wants out of the partnership, but what it wants to put into it.  Indeed, the process requires partners to give at least 35% in cash on in kind to match the SSHRC funding.  Our partners went way beyond that. 

While the Carleton publicity gave me heaps of credit, I need to make clear this was very, very much a team effort.  The folks who are now CDSN co-directors helped write heaps of draft documents (the application has more than 20 pieces), gave comments on drafts, met in August to discuss the Stage 2 application (it is a three stage process, with us making it past stage 1 the second time we tried), and helped bring along more than 30 partners.  Our partners had to grapple with the SSHRC website and with their own legal people to get a Memorandum of Understanding signed, so I will be forever grateful for them.  Our roughly 100 participants also had to do some SSHRC webwork, so I am thankful to them.  I had multiple RAs work on this project with us, doing much of the tracking and grunge work, so thanks!  The folks at Carleton, especially Kyla Reid, our grants facilitator, who knows this process and has brought several teams to success over the past few years, will be owed beers for a long time.  Our Dean, Andre Plourde, not only provided support and enthusiasm, but also served as a mock interviewer for the third stage of the process--a 20 minute interview.  Which reminds me that I owe Stéfanie von Hlatky and Caroline Leprince for kicking butt in the interview.  Twas a strange process, and they came through big-time.  Our VP for Research and his staff were also very helpful. 

Now what?  Well, since we got the notice in late April:
  1. We had a meeting in Ottawa to develop the rules and procedures so that we operate well; 
  2. I have started distributing some of the money to the leaders of the five research themes; 
  3. I hired two great staffers in Jeffrey Rice, our project coordinator, and Melissa Jennings, our knowledge mobilization coordinator or comms person, and kept on Alvine Nintai, our excellent research assistant.
  4. Melissa built a webpage and staffed the twitter account and email address, and we now have a banner and stickers for the podcast!
  5. Stef and I started a podcast, Battle Rhythm, with two episodes out and one to be taped and dropped next week.
  6. The Co-Directors have started planning their first workshops.  Each of the five theme teams will be holding annual workshops to build focused research agendas.
  7. We supported the Kingston Conference on International Security and the annual workshop of Women in International Security-Canada.
  8. We (and by we, I mean Jeff) applied for several DND project grants to fund some of our efforts.
  9. I went to Europe to network with the European Research Group on Military and Society and the European Initiative for Security Studies to see if they want to join our network.
  10. We have added one new partner and are working to bring along a few others who have indicated interest.
  11. We just transitioned to a new Defence Fellow--a Canadian Forces officer who becomes part of the CDSN HQ team.
So, yeah, it has been a busy three months.  Our next steps will be to develop the goals that SSHRC wants to measure us by in year 3.5, and to help various partners with their events this fall.  It is not exactly all downhill from here, as years 2-7 will have a variety of activties that we are not doing this year (annual conference, summer training institute, book workshop, post-doc competition, etc).

We believed very strongly in this endeavor, that it will provide many collective goods to help the Canadian Defence and Security community, so we are most pleased by what we have accomplished thus far, and, finally, we can thank SSHRC for funding this effort. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Israel, day 8: Hebrew U, Religion and Identity, Parting and Departing

The last day was not as intense as the previous one.  It involved a trip to Hebrew University, a pair of sessions with a super smart negotiator, and then we packed and had a great last .... dinner somewhere near where the last supper was. 

First, Hebrew University May have the best view of any university I have ever visited:

We learned both about how academic stuff works in Israel (articles >>>> books), that it is a bit challenging to insist on English curriculum when the school’s name refers to another language, and that their grad students are doing sharp and interesting stuff.

After lunch, we had two sessions with a super impressive Israeli negotiator.  He talked in part about culture differences—that there are no words in Hebrew or Arabic for win-win but there are for zero-sum.  That win win means winning and then winning some more, right.?  He then went on to. Argue that the two sides have very different narratives that are the key obstacles to settlement.  That Palestinian identity is critically defined by conflict with Israel.  That their identity is about dispossession, about inability to realize rights, that this is about decolonization process, not a peace process.  “Success is making Israel one-eyed while we go blind.” 

For Israelis, conflict is a way of life. Hard to imagine how to be a Jew without conflict.  Many Israelis believe the conflict has nothing to do with Israeli policies, but with refusal to acknowledge right of Jews to self determination.  That the Jews are a people, not a religious group.  If it was all about occupation, leaving Gaza should have settled that.  

So, two core ideas: 
  1. How much investing can we do in authentic but not self defeating narratives?  Two conflicting narratives here, so how to create alternative ones that allow for settlement?
  2. Justice is an obstacle to peace.  Both sides have heaps of grievances and have made big mistakes, but the key is not fixing the past but finding. A resolution for the future.
I asked whether they had tried to learn from the resolution of other conflicts how to create alternatives. He said he had looked at other agreements and learned little.  

I tend to think it is less about narratives and more about interests and institutions, but he was pretty compelling,

We took a break and then came back for an exercise: we split into a bunch of groups and had to consider how to rule as supreme court justices (the court here is quite activist and far more centrist or liberal than the rest of the political system) on a series of scenarios that pitted group and individual rights.  Stuff based in reality like can the ultra Orthodox Jews block roads on the sabbath since folks aren’t supposed to drive on the sabbath or can ultra orthodox in the military leave events where women would be singing, and whether the various symbols of the state should berevised to be more inclusive.  It was interesting to argue with my colleagues in the made me realize how hostile I am to the ultra orthodox.  Ok, I knew that already “I fundamentally believe that fundamentalists suck.”  The spear wanted us to justify our decisions based on principles, but, as it turns out, the Israeli supremes tend not to balance competing rights but rights with sensibilities.  This, of course, sneakily and smartly built on the previous discussion about narratives.

The last event was an excellent dinner.  I explained the concept of “dibs” to our shepherd so that I could eat with him since that was a much lauded experience and I had serious FOMO.  It was, indeed, special, but just as I asked the big civ-mil question, Charlie Kupchan, one of the two organizers, stood up and asked everyone for their final thoughts.  I talked about how this great experience was a lousy propaganda effort (see my next post later today), that I was forced to confront how I felt about my identity and Judaism (I was not alone in indicating that this was caught up in a complicated relationship with one’s father and a post for tomorrow) and how great of a group we had.  The last was a very common theme.

I am glad I went.  I learned a lot, had great food, completed my cross Mediterranean swim despite Medusas, got to fly over an ancient land, and hung out with the cool kids.  And now I have to write the next book, prepare for the fall, and spend some time with Mrs. Spew.  Oh, and one last flight as I wrote this post and the previous one from the lounge at Newark airport.

Israel, day 7: Palestinians and Palestine

The big day of the trip was the day we went to Ramallah, capital of the Palestinian Authority (for my previous posts regarding this trip, go to here, here,here, here, here, and here). ‘‘Twas the big day because it was least in the control of our hosts—the speakers were chosen by the Palestinians, so any effort by Academic Exchange to play us (see my wrap up post later) would be challenged here.
The day started with an Israeli retired colonel who works for a think tank that has been involved in the peace process. He did a nice job of explaining the series of events that followed the Oslo agreement.  A name that came up, General Keith Dayton, that struck me.  Dayton was head of the US effort to train and equip the Palestinian security forces.  He was also my boss in 2001-2002 as he was the boss of the European section of the J5. Anyhow, the idea was for the palestians to provide security in the parts of the West Bank where the Palestinians had authority (zone A) and then police zone B where the authority is a bit mixed (the Israelis run zone c which is 60% of the West Bank).  The speaker said something else that reminded me of the Balkans: the best cooperation is among the Israeli and Palestinian criminals.  I asked about Pal civ-mil, as there has not been an election in ten years (neither the incumbents nor the Israelis want Hamas to win, as they did in Gaza).  There was a coup attempt a few years ago, and Israel helped prevent it from succeeding.  Perhaps the most surprising news from my questions was that the amount of training Israel provides for occupation duty is very limited: three days! As most troops rotate among the three major missions—Gaza, the northern border, the West Bank—the IDF is putting poorly prepared troops into difficult spots.  That the conscripts are quite young and not that well trained leads to deviations from the rules of engagement and, thus, international law.  One lesson of the 2006 war in Lebanon was to increase the length of the command courses.  I am still unsure of how Israel’s civil-military relations work as I asked about that far too late in the trip (our shepherd is a retired general who was most generous but I didn’t get alone time until the ... last supper).

Then onto Ramallah, where the city was a mix of very modern, well kept buildings and cars and not so much.  We met with a series of Palestinian officials.  The first put together a case for,what Israel had done wrong with much exaggeration but also provided some of the narrative that helps to shape the discourse and dispute.  He did say something that echoed what we heard from Israelis near Gaza: Israel is afraid of nonviolent protest.  A common theme on this day was more criticism of Trump since anynthought of US has an honest broker is gone (more on multilateralism below).  He spoke about demanding equality rather than two state solution, which differed from the next guy.  He concluded by suggested that we should not be lulled by the current state of exhaustion since there was the same exhaustion before both intifadas.

The next guy, a negotiator, was very dynamic (slick some said).  He insisted that they had recognized Israel’s right to exist in the pre1967 boundaries.  He insisted, unlike the previous guy, that the only solution is the two state solution.  He argued that Pompeo among others is turning this into a religious conflict which helps ISIS.  There was not much discussion of ISIS re West Bank this week so this was pretty striking.  He said nice things about USAID, and a common theme of the day was how Trump’s policy changes are making things worse (so much for Trump tweets vs words). He had many negative things to say about the Arab countries and Iran “don’t try to be more Palestinian than us!”  Which led to a nice rant
  • Real threat to Iran is Iran 
  • Real threat to Arabs are other Arabs
  • Real threat to Israel is the occupation 
He told a fun story where he met with Christians united for Israel who said: “only peace of Jews, Muslims convert to Christianity” and his response was that if Netanyahu does it, he would think about it.  He had much to say about Kushner, Greenblatt, and Friedman—the US negotiating team.  He also asked Trump “did you develop a technique to kill ideas with bullets?” Which Trump didn’t understand.

On a one state solution with equal rights, he said that we (the Palestinians) would change everything and the Israelis know it.  

We then met with a higher ranking politician, who argued that the world was with the Palestinians except for Israel and the Trump Administration, which disagrees with the previous speaker’s take on Iran.  The two state solution is the shortest path to peace, he said.  Again, 67 borders, don’t need 1948, ok with some land swaps.  He said they wanted security, willing to have a third party provide security in demilitarized Wesr Bank, including US or NATO with Jerusalem as open city.   He did tend to give US way too much credit as he said US was behind Hamas and was using Iran threat to distract everyone.  A key theme was that current situation was apartheid... which our resident Africanist could poke holes in, but i did keep,seeing “separate but equal”

His take on the recent meeting in Bahrain over economic development: these amateurs (Kushner, etc) think all we want is money: “there was no money in the first place. If there was money, Jared would be thinking about how to take it.”

The last speaker was from the PA foreign ministry.  She asserted that Arab states could not betray Palestinians without upsetting the Srab street, which was the first mention of the Arab public this week.  She pointed out that Trump was unilaterally deciding final status issues like Jerusalem.  She asserted that the Palestinian diaspora is less pragmatic than PA, which reminded me of my long dead diaspora project.  She had a great point about folsmsayinf Palestine is not ready doe statehood in two words: South Sudan.

She then went on to sound like Trudeau: that the PA wants to uphold the multilateral order.  Sure.  It makes sense that the vastly weaker player would want a multilateral solution rather than just working with Israel and Trump. Also, two stare solution as “we need separation”

We then returned back to the hotel for one last briefing and I was too tired to pay much attention.  We did get re-energized with a late night tour of tunnels under the western wall. Our guide tried to remember a concept he had once read about that would explain why the first temple’s loss hit so hard, and damn near all of us in the group either said endowment effect or prospect theory.  He gave us a good review so the history of this spot.
  1. The middle of what is now the Temple Mount is supposed to be where God started when he built the planet
  2. This is where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac
  3. This is where they built the first temple
  4. And the second, which Herod (nasty dictator but good builder) reinforced.
  5. Where Jesus was killed, buried.
  6. Where Mohammed flew to seventh heaven
  7. Where the Golden Dome of the third holiest site in Islam was built.
Our tour of the tunnels, including three baths (one fed by a stream), was most interesting.  I can’t imagine being anyplace with a longer history.  The archeological effort here makes clear how far this stuff goes back.  

Lots and lots of path dependence on this day: that previous decisions shape the choices available to the next folks, whether that is how the British ruled, how the 67 war provided many opportunities, how the settlers are creating facts on the grounds, how leaving Gaza led to the rise of Hamas and shifted Israeli politics along with the second intifada.

In short: oh my.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Israel, Day 6: they are digging in the wrong place!

Today was a very different day (for my previous posts regarding this trip, go to here, here,here, here, and here), partly because it is the sabbath but mostly because of what we did. An Israeli archeologist met with us, briefed us on a few thousand years of history and then gave us a tour of much of the old city. Because I have an early morning and a very full day tomorrow, it is listicle time
  • He drew a distinction between that which is and is not tied to the archeological record. Abraham and his folks? No.  Jesus? Yeah.
  • Oh, and he was amazing
  • I got a better grip of what the various temples were and even a bit about Islam’s history
  • Once a site is holy, it is holy forever, so folks would on top of someone else’s site and again and again
  • I didn’t know King David was also an ancestor of Jesus and a prophet in Islam
  • The Maccabees were major league aholes.  Judah would have been very disappointed
  • The Romans used local elites as agents.  Herod may have been awful in most things but he was a builder
  • Monty Python was right: Romans did give them aqueducts 
  • How to identify a Jewish place as an archeologist? Look for no pig bones
  • Back to Maccabees, the Zionists looked around, looted Jewish history to find some warriors to build role models and symbols.  So, their dark side was ignored.
  • King David was not buried where folks thought so all of the religious sites tied to it are in the wrong place
  • We went to the Holy Scepture, where six Christian factions share it but long ago the keys were given to local  slim family so that none of the rival factions would lock out the rest.  The common areas within tend to get ignored until a pope visits
  • This was where Jesus was killed, washed, and buried.  But not where his bones lie because of being resurrected.
  • The western wall was not the temple’s wall but a retaining wall to hold up the stuff upon which the temple rested
  • After the tour six of us went in search of falafel and hummus and we were not disappointed. We found a hole in the wall place in the Arab quarter.  Yum.
  • In the holy scepture, I spotted art that depicts the moment I could not believe in the Jewish God

The story is of God asking Abraham, the first Jew, to sacrifice is only son Isaac, and then at the last minute, an angel intervened so he sacrificed a goat or a lamb.  While I was inclined to be sceptical, once I grasped this, I had two reactions (blasphemy follows):
A) the idea that God is more important than family is abhorrent to me. Abraham was willing to kill his kid?  I found this deeply problematic long before my father took a stand for a God he said later he didn’t really believe in over family.
B) God is an incredible dick to be playing this kind of mind game with his key supporter.  So, if God is like this, he is not my God.  I brought up the “hardening Pharoah’s heart part of the exodus story the night before.  Again, God seeking to establish his brand at great cost...

Ok, if you aren’t offended by that enough to read on, the other event of the day was that our traveling Rabbi who has accompanied us gave us an end of sabbath chat about religious Zionism.  It was a beautiful setting with great food and interesting people to chat with.  We did learn that the ultra
orthodox's kids make up 20% of first graders (the other supremely fertile group is the settlers) which means that since the males don’t work and rely on welfare, the Israeli economy is going to be screwed in the near future along with the political system.  Oh, and since the orthodox control the personal law stuff (who can marry, who is a Jew), the secular Russian immigrants who fought and died in recent wars can’t be buried in Jewish cemeteries.

My pessimism about Israel’s future hit rock bottom tonight.  We go to Ramallah to meet with Palestinians tomorrow... maybe there is a layer below this rock bottom?  The archeological experience would certainly suggest  we can always go further down....

Israel, Day 5: Yad Vashem

Yesterday, we started by going to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum.  The building is impressive, but I was disappointed.  How so? The building is one long stretch with the walls leaning inward.  One cannot go straight across but has to go right, then left, then right, etc which illustrates so many turning points and also makes the place feel like it is getting smaller and smaller. the place was quite crowded so I asked if this was deliberate to make one feel like one is in an overcrowded ghetto, cattle car, concentration camp, and the guide said yes, but the popularity of the place made it far more crowded than intended.  The exhibits were amazing: lots of artifacts, including the cobblestones from the Warsaw Ghetto.
(for my previous posts regarding this trip, go to here, here,here, and here)

 The guide emphasizes the “righteous among the nations”: something like 27000 non-Jews who risked their lives to try to help.  What she didn’t emphasize were the efforts that some Jews made to resist.  We only heard about the Warsaw ghetto uprising because someone asked.  She did say something interesting that I had not realized before: that there was not much organized resistance until towards the end because collective punishment meant that resistance only made sense when folks realized that everyone was going to die anyway. And then they were “fighting for three lines in the history books.”

Books containing the names and stories of 4.8 million killed
in the Holocaust.  There is space in here for the rest.
One disappointing thing about the place, but is understandable I suppose, is that it makes the Holocaust an almost entirely Jewish experience.  In other museums, I saw more stuff about what happened to gays, to Roma, to disabled people, to socialists, and others.  6 million is a lot but is only a bit more than half of the 11 million killed in the camps and elsewhere.  Even if the number goes up 8 million thanks to new research, 5 million others still matter quite a bit.  I am sorry we didn’t see the children’s memorial.  The gift shop had wildly inappropriate t-shirts.

We returned back to the hotel to hear from two people who pool the Israelis and Palestinians.  Their findings really taught us that nothing is going to change anytime soon.
  • The left is so small in Israel: between 12-20%.  The center is 25%.  Only the secular Israelis have significant numbers of folks who are not right wing, but they are very divided across the spectrum.
  • Only 30% of the right think it is essential to negotiate, and, well, the right is going to be in power.
  • Among Palestinians, support for two state solution is now below 50%
  • The basic questions about trends show that Palestinians are ok,with the status quo.
I asked my favorite question: how come Netanyahu doesn’t pay a price for embracing anti-semites?  The answer is that the only folks who care don’t matter.   Everyone knows Netanyahu is an asshole, but that is priced in.  And Israeli voters are just focused on power politics.  That the world is unfriendly so Israel can’t be choosy.  So cozying up to Putin or Trump or Orban just makes Netanyahu influential, not a sellout of Never Again.  Well, he is to me.  I find it strange to be friendly with Viktor Orban because Hungary is a weak player in IR, so why suck up to that antisemite? 

Our last speaker talked about the concepts of Jewish state and democratic state and the contradictions.  His take was interesting and nuanced, and I could only conclude that Israel is going to be less democratic. He was very interesting, very smart, and I am now even more frustrated.  It did make me think more about my identity but that is a post for a different day.  The big news there was that the Law of Return is based not in what the religious rule is to be Jewish but the Nazi rule: one Jewish grandparent is sufficient.

We then went to the western wall as the sabbath was beginning.  It was quite interesting to see so many happy Jews, with those at the wall divided by gender: men to the left, women to the right.

A long, complex day. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Israel, day 4: Helos and Borders, oh my!

What did the Romans ever do for us?
Yesterday was such a long and busy day that I was too tired to write this post. We took helicopters up,to the Golan Heights, a bus from the landing pad to different spots among the various borders, a lunch with a Druse woman, and then back to Jerusalem for dinner and meeting an NGO guy (for my previous posts regarding this trip, go to here, here,and here)

What did I notice and think about along the way?
Agriculture outposts of all kinds with
nets mostly indicating banana farms.
The line on the left is the border with Lebanon,
the white buildings to the right are for UN base
    A tourist destination--viewing spot of Syria
    from the corner of the Golan Heights.
  • The banana trees are covered in nets apparently to keep the flies in for sweeter bananas.  Which led to a mystery: lots of banana farms, no bananas on our tables.  Turns out Israel doesn’t import bananas and they are not in season.
  • I have always scoffed at the “the Jews turned the deserts green” but seeing from the air the patterns of farming and such, the Jews here are mighty good at irrigation.  However, I am guessing that the Palestinians don’t irrigate as well because is the challenges of owning land in the occupied territories.
  • The Golan Heights are never going back, as they are obviously super strategic given how the owner has big military advantage over the non-owner.  Plus not many Palestinians here so not that difficult (not that I support Trump’s recognition of annexation)
  • We had a former SOF General as tour guide.  I didn’t buy everything he said (“we can destroy Hezbollah in a month next time) but he did provide some keen analyses like there being 7 different conflicts here (Sunni vs Shia; intra Sunni; secular vs religious in Syria; Turks vs Kurds; US vs Russia; those who prefer high oil prices vs low; Israel vs Iran)
  • A common theme that several speakers have repeated:Israel has tried to pick leaders in the neighbors and they suck at it
  • Israel has attacked Iranian targets in Syria over 400 times.  Which means that they have coordinated or deconflicted with those flying over Syria: US led coalition and..... Russia.  Hmmm.  Most of the attacks seem to be launched from planes flying over Israel.
  • Israel would have to do more of US left Syria but nothing they can’t handle (including special ops)
  • Iran is said to have a concept of ops: to support proxies to produce Shia led countries... 4.5 so far (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen) which works if a country has weak regime, civil war and some shia.  Jordan is next target but I asked: where are the Shia?  The general said they can be imported from Iraq.  I am sceptical, but Israel is working hard to prevent this.
  • We had a fantastic meal made by a Druse woman, Mona, whose business is hosting tour groups like ours and explaining Druse identity, religion and life. ‘‘Twas very, very interesting.  The
    Druse didn’t choose to become Israeli citizens both to protect families in Syria and Lebanon and because they are hedging in case the border changes again.  Her tale might not be the average tale, however.
  • We learned the story of Eli Cohen who penetrated the highest levels of Syrian govt in early 1960s--the statue to the right is of his wife waiting for him to come home see this wiki page
We then returned to Jerusalem, landing on a pad adjacent to the largest Jewish cemetery here.  We had a speaker after dinner who works for an advocacy group... but I was tired and he was not the best speaker.  Still, best day of the trip. I learned more than I reported here, including understanding better why the Israelis had contempt for Obama and now for Trump.  A post for another day.

Somebody before us put up some AE graffiti
at a former Syrian army hq in the Golan Heights.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Israel, Day 3: Gaza and Journalists

Today’s adventure took us to the Gaza Strip and then to Jerusalem, where we will be based for the rest of the week.  (See here for day 1 and day 2)

The first stop near (not in) Gaza was the trade transport entrance very close to the Egyptian border.  We got to see how stuff is brought by trucks to this facility, unloaded and inspected, then picked up by mediator trucks, then talking to the edge of Gaza to be dropped odd and then picked up by Gaza drivers.  One section smelled fishy.... because fish had been transported that day.  The idea is for the Israelis to have no contact with the Palestinians.  We remarked that this was a very inefficient way to so this, but efficiency is certainly not a goal here and maybe inefficiency is seen as a good thing.  And, yes, the lack of trust is intense.

Building the wall downwards
Tunnels are a big deal, not just to escape to Egypt (the use of that word hinted at something one Israeli admitted later: Gaza is a prison) but also to get agents into Israel to kill or, even better, kidnap. The going rate of a kidnapped IDF soldier is more than 1000 Gazans. So, the Israelis are building a different kind of wall: a barrier going 30 meters down under the ground to block tunnels.  The other threats are rockets, snipers and balloons.  The last refers to ballo
ons that are sent out by Hamas with an incendiary device to cause farms to burn.  These various efforts rise and fall but are clearly aimed at providing some costs for the status quo,  the Israeli stance is to let enough stuff to get thru to keep Gaza above water but only barely so.  What we have is a coercive bargaining process with neither side really expecting a bargain.  

While I am not thrilled with the status quo, I had more sympathy today for the Israelis in harm’s way near Gaza than I did for the settlers yesterday in the West Bank.  The big problem with Gaza is that it de-legitimated land for peace in Israeli eyes.   They gave Gaza to the Palestinians who then brought Hamas to power there. That is their perspective, which then makes it hard to give up other lands.... not great.  Strikingly, the Israelis reported that the thing they fear most would beif Hamas could mobilize nonviolent masses walking at the Israelis who would then have to shoot or run.  That Hamas can't do that says something.  The costs of the status quo mount as each side adapts to the other.  

The bus went to an Israeli neighbourhood nearby and also to a lookout area that had a memorial to paratroopers lost in the various wars.  I asked if they ever had a combat jump: once in 1956. But as an elite force, they got involved in much stuff.

The bus then went to Jerusalem where we met two journalists: one befor dinner and one during.  The first discussed how American Jews and Israeli Jews don’t really understand each other, and that Israel’s democracy is not like those elsewhere: the founders did not have political philosophy to build on and did not write a constitution.  So, rights are different.  The best illustration was that the state allows different religions to govern family law and such, which means that the only kind of intermarriage that is recognized is between a Muslim man and Jewish woman... very complicated stuff.  His take on Israeli Jews was that they are tribal with big divides between those of European origin and those from the Arab world. What unifies them? The bargaining that happens with every coalition, that Jews don’t kill Jews (which was contradicted by the archaeologist a couple of days later), and not much else.  
I hadn’t realized that the second intifada disrupted the political system so much, helping to break the left. 
This speaker told of a strange story where the Supreme Court told the military that they had to stop fighting deluding the second intifada until they could rule on whether the military was commmiting war crimes....which means I have a good reason not to include Israel in my current work: it is not comparable.

I got to ask a question that I have had for some time: why is Netanyahu hanging with antisemites in Europe and does he pay a price?  In his eyes, the right wing governments are nationalist, which is fine, but pro Israel where progressive folks are seen as anti Israel.  In essence, right wing anti-semites > left-wing anti-semites.  This seems dumb to me, but the right wing nationalist and, yes, anti semites, such as Orban of Hungary, support Israel so it doesn’t matter if they support anti-semitism.  And, no, Netanyahu is not facing much criticism for this.  So much for never again.  One thing I didn't push: sacrificing one's values to get Hungary's support?  Hungary is the one of the least useful, least relevant, least powerful countries in Europe.  Hungary fights well below its weight.

The dinner speaker was very interesting, providing us with more depth about Israeli politics and the split between Jews in US and Israel.  We pushed him on Israeli stances on Iran.  He finally explained something makes some sense of the Iran obsession.  I had thought that Israel was overly fussed with Iranian nukes since Iran would be deterred by Israeli nukes.  However, Iranian nukes would complicate the current situation: that Israeli nukes currently deter Hezbollah from attacking with many, many more destructive missiles—that is they cause huge amounts of damage, then Israel could nuke Iran since hezbollah gets its weapons from Iran.  If Iran has nukes, it could deter Israel and then Hezbollah could then just attack Israel at will.  I get that, but I think Israel could credibly commit to using its nukes if Hezbollah caused so much damage as it would have little to lose.  Israel doesn’t have to convince Iran 100%, just has to make Iran worry about that possibility.  But yes, Iranian nukes would make all of this harder.

The real lesson of today is that fear and coercion are not working great and may not be sustainable and that alienating American Jews is probably not going to help.

So, yeah, not a very cheerful day.... but the food was really good and tomorrow we fly helicopters to the Golan Heights!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Israel, Day 2: History, Community, and Settlers

The first full day was quite full (first night post here).  We started with a guided tour of the Rabin museum.  Yitzah Rabin had been a general, a defense minister, and then Prime
I wonder who radicalized his assassin?
Minister who got assassinated by a Jew who was upset at the Oslo Accords.  I had forgotten the context—that he was killed at a rally for the peace agreement.  The museum starts with that rally and that day and then goes through both his personal history and Israel’s over the course of his lifetime.  What stuck out? That the 1973 war made it easier for Israelis to criticize the government and the military; that two weeks or so before the assassination, the opponents of the agreement held a very heated rally where some chanted death to Rabin “blood and fire will drive Rabin out”, that Netanyahu was at that rally.  Oh a notable omission: very little religion in that museum.

We returned to our hotel for a discussion with a very sharp journalist who covers the region.  He discussed the patterns and trends, focusing on four :
  1. The successful Iranian effort to broaden and deepen its proxys’ power and position
  2. The failure of the Saudis and Egyptians to do the same
  3. The conservative bloc—Turkey and others—failing to get stuff done
  4. The fall and inevitable return of IS.
His main contention was that the wave of Arab spring was largely spent.  He also the success Russia had in saving Assad, and how the various players are all confused by Trump.  He argued that the US remaining in Syria was good for keeping the Kurds in ok shape.  I was tempted to ask whether Israel was an American proxy or vice versa.  Instead, I asked about different proxy “markets”: that Iran has more success because there is far less competition.

We then met with a mayor of an Arab community, but I also met with jet lag so I don’t have much to report.

Shilo archaeological site
Then we went into the occupied territory to meet a settler who explained the stuff from their perspectives.  This woman was an American transplant with eight kids.  She put the best possible spin on being a settler and effortlessly dodged my question about whether settlers were changing the situation deliberately thru their behaviour.  I found most of her assertions to be problematic, but it was valuable to get this point of view.  We did learn some bible history since her house looks over key historical sites including the pre-Jerusalem capital—Shilo. The key new info was that the Israeli explanation of settling is this:
The land owned by the Jordanian king becomes Israeli state land with the defeat of Jordan in 1967.
The authorities then checked all of the aerial maps to determine spaces that had not been settled—was there a building or agriculture done at some point.  If not, the land is considered to be empty and available.
Then Israel leases the land to settlers for 100 years.  
This is apparently based on Ottoman Turkish law.  Ummm.

The dinner at a winery in this occupied territory was terrific, of course.
Pretty place, this occupied territory.

Lots of interesting discussions among the group.  

Tomorrow we go to the Gaza Strip and then Jerusalem.