Democratization EffortsForeign Policy

Nicholas Kristof’s J-Street Problem

Nicholas Kristof, in his column “Seeking Balance in the Middle East” suggests that Congressional opposition to the forthcoming UN vote on a Palestinian state is a serious mistake, and he recommends that President Obama would be better advised to follow the advice of the Jewish group J-Street on U.S.-Israel relations so as to produce a more “balanced foreign policy” and enable the U.S. to capitalize on the “Arab Spring”.

What “Arab Spring”? With all the talk of revolutions, the Middle East is slipping backwards. We see mobs burning buildings, and President Obama quoting Martin Luther King – “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom” – while the leaders of this “democratic transformation” read Mein Kampf.

For anyone who has the slightest understanding of the socio-political crises gripping the Arab Middle East today, it is clear that the “Arab Spring” is morphing into an “Arab Winter” leaving in its wake dying societies, instability, Sunni-Shiite hatred, bloody clashes, assassinations, bombings, massacres of civilians, sectarian violence and massive refugee problems – everything except liberal democracy, as we know it. If anything, it’s an “Islamic awakening”, and the only winners will be the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Iran. Recalling that the “democratic” revolution in Iran in 1979 was hijacked by the Khomeini Islamists, he fails to realize that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood – the parent organization of Hamas and the ideological cousin of al Qaeda – and its surrogates are similarly poised to seize power in Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia and the West Bank, the moment the opportunity presents itself.

If he or J-Street are under the illusion that liberal democracy will rise from this chaos, he need only consult the most recent Gallup poll in Egypt (and Egypt is typical of other Arab countries in this regard) where 64% of Egyptians say that Shari’a must be the only source of legislation in their country. With elections scheduled for November, that day may be fast approaching.

Once elected, the Brotherhood will not allow a parliament to pass laws that contradict the explicit commands of Allah, as conveyed to humanity through the Koran and the example set by the prophet. As Islamist scholars have explained repeatedly, human beings cannot permit what Allah has forbidden, nor can they ban what Allah permits including capital punishment and the amputation of limbs. Unless I’m missing something… gender apartheid, the ethnic cleansing of Jews, hostility to Western influence, mandatory donning of the veil for women, honor killings that will terrorize the female population, the execution of homosexuals, prostitutes and apostates (those who convert away from Islam), female genital mutilation, bans on music, dancing, men and women mixing in public, the commemoration of terrorists, suicide bombers and baby killers in public squares, streets and tournaments, the blowing up of liquor stores, the banning of abortion, freedom of conscience for artists, journalists, writers and the punishment of the media who exercise the right to disagree with their government, and practicing any religion other than Islam (witness the recent attacks on Copts and Christian Coptic churches in Egypt or the treatment of Hindus in Pakistan and the Bahai in Iran)… are anything but democratic (by Western standards). Any “parliament” so-elected will expand or limit rights and sustain or nullify laws on the basis of a divine document (the Koran) endowed with eternal and unalterable validity. Shari’a law (if Islamic history is any guide) will exclude non-Muslims from full participation in Arab societies, confer official second-class status (dhimmitude) on them, and protect their lives and property only so long as they pay the Jizya – a tax that must be paid by non-Muslims under Islamic law.

When Westerners speak of democracy, they assume it means the same thing to all peoples everywhere. The assumption is that popular power goes hand-in-hand with freedom and tolerance for minorities. It is an assumption not founded on history or reason, but on wishful thinking. In the Arab Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world, democracy is the national will to unite a country by purging it of all its divisive elements. Islamism can function as a democratic tyranny so long as the majority agrees with its basic premises. But if the rest of the population doesn’t agree – especially non-Muslim minorities – elections are rigged, bullets fly and the prisons are full. We forget that our idea of rights and its accompanying form of government evolved from centuries of political struggle. It cannot be grafted on to an alien society. Our governments are outgrowths of our culture. So are theirs. The only issues that really matters to them are what role the Koran will play in their society and how to deal with those “outsiders” who are causing all their problems. Attacking their embassies and burning their churches will teach them to keep their place in Islamic society.

In Egypt, at least ten thousand civilians are behind bars due to the implementation of several emergency laws. Among the targets of mass arrests have been bloggers, political activists, and participants in protests against the government, which are becoming more frequent and violent.

And according to Al-Jazeera, the unemployment rate among young Egyptians is 20%, while the unemployment rate for women with university degrees stands at 55%. The country imports half its caloric consumption, 45% of its people are illiterate, its university graduates are unemployable, its $10B a year tourism industry is dying, and its foreign exchange reserves are gradually disappearing. A country that can’t teach itself to read, can’t employ its own university graduates, and can’t feed itself cannot produce anything but a failed state.

None of this bodes well for democracy, pluralism, or American interests in the Arab world.

Moreover, J-Street has no significant following in the U.S. or Israel, and has consistently opposed U.S. interests in the Middle East. While presenting itself as a “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” Jewish lobby group, it is in fact the antithesis of that. It has facilitated meetings on Capitol Hill for Richard Goldstone to promote his discredited report, and applied moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas during Operation Cast Lead claiming that “there are many who recognize elements of truth on both sides of this gaping divide” and it reproached Israel for launching “a disproportionate response” against Hamas. In its accusation, it attacked Israelis for “lacking sanity and moderation” in their attitude toward Hamas – which accounts for why the group issued a congratulatory message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the alliance he formed with the terrorist group. In its April 29th, 2011 press release, J-Street went so far as to say that “the preliminary agreement on political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas poses one of the most important challenges in years to those who hope to see a peaceful two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

This is an unconvincing fantasy. How can a “peaceful two-state solution” be achieved by signing a reconciliation pact with a terrorist organization whose culture extols “martyrdom”, a lust to kill Jews and eradicate Israel, and supports an agenda that calls for a global Islamic caliphate (as stated in its Charter), not a national one? Abbas knows this, and he also knows that, given the nature of Palestinian society, he can’t make peace with Israel and negotiate a two-state solution that would recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state in the Middle East – no matter what the terms of the agreement or where the final borders might be drawn – as it contradicts the Palestinian claim for an absolute and unconditional “right of return” to Israel. Besides, on what basis can peace be achieved when Palestinian children regularly trade “martyr” cards instead of Pokemon cards, and attend “summer camps” where the ethos of martyrdom is part of a child’s “education”. Signs on the walls of Palestinian kindergartens proclaim their students as “the shaheeds (martyrs) of tomorrow”, and elementary school principals commend their students for wanting to “tear their (Zionists’) bodies into little pieces and cause them more pain than they will ever know.”

These attitudes towards Jews and Israel were further revealed in July by a detailed survey conducted by American pollster Stanley Greenberg in partnership with the Beit Sahour-based Palestinian Center for Public Opinion. That survey determined that 72% of Palestinians deny the three-thousand year historical connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem, 61% reject the concept of two-states-for-two-peoples, 62% support kidnapping IDF soldiers and holding them hostage, and 53% support inciting hatred of Jews in Palestinian schools.

The survey also noted that when given an anti-Semitic quote from the Hamas Charter about the need for battalions from the Arab and Islamic world to defeat the Jews, 80% of Palestinians agreed, and 73% specifically agreed with a quote from the Charter about the need to kill Jews wherever they are found.

It’s not just that Israel is not loved, it’s that Jews are hated. No concession will ever be enough. The war against the Jews is the greatest populist issue in the Arab world today. It is the one thing that unites all the major Arab political factions – from secular “liberals” to Islamists. It is a chronic malady and there is no cure. Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority claims that the Palestinians’ land had been occupied for 63 years. The “occupation” to which he refers is thus not the result of Israel’s victory in 1967, but rather, Israel’s very creation in 1948. Even one tenth of 1 percent of the Middle East is too much. Such hatred of the Jewish state cannot be appeased.

Given this reality, how can Kristof and J-Street possibly believe that a “peaceful two-state solution” can evolve from such a culture, and worse, that Israel should be forced into making further suicidal concessions to bring it about?

As if supporting an accord with a terrorist organization opposed to U.S. interests in the Middle East was not enough, J-Street joined with the pro-Iranian lobby – the National Iranian American Council – to oppose congressional efforts to impose sanctions on Iran (although it later reversed itself), and in March this year, in the wake of the Fogel family massacre in Israel, it lobbied the U.S. Congress against a resolution that condemned the blatant incitement in Palestinian school books and the Palestinian media, while refusing to comment on the curriculum of the PA which openly promotes the violent struggle to liberate all of Palestine (meaning Israel).

If Kristof really wants to know how much credibility J-Street enjoys, he should consider its recent rallies in New York and Los Angeles. In August, it held a “Day of Action” to rally its members to contact Congress in support a two-state solution. One hundred people showed up in New York and twenty-five in Los Angeles. Is this a group that should be advising the President of the United States on how to promote U.S. interests in the Middle East?

He also suggests that the U.S. should not veto the resolution on Palestinian statehood that is scheduled to come before the UN on September 21st. It would seem that establishing a hopelessly fractured and dysfunctional state that has no semblance of government unity, inadequate control over terror groups, undefined borders, massive corruption and economic mismanagement doesn’t matter all that much to him, J-Street or the morally bankrupt UN. Nor does it seem to phase them that the PLO is on record for having declared that there will be no place in any future Palestinian state for Jews. But apparently, all this matters a great deal to the U.S. House of Representatives that voted 407-6 calling upon the Obama Administration to veto any such resolution and back the suspension of funds should the PA pursue its bid for a unilateral declaration of statehood.

The American people have no desire to establish another unstable Arab state with Islamic Hamas lurking in the shadows, waiting for its chance to take over the government of Palestine just as it took over Gaza four years ago – throwing Palestinian Authority (Fatah) supporters off 15-story buildings in the process.

But the most disturbing aspect of Kristof’s editorial is his comment on Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in December 2008. Numerous Commissions have held Hamas responsible for having violated international law and committing war crimes by firing missiles into Israeli cities and towns, using ambulances to transport weapons, using schools, mosques and private homes to store them, and using civilians as human shields. It was only after thousands of these Iranian-supplied missiles landed in Southern Israel that Israel finally decided to take action by striking at Hamas missile-firing teams, weapons workshops, arms-smuggling tunnels and missile storage facilities. In doing so, it made every effort to target only those directly responsible for the missile attacks while protecting the civilian population in Gaza by dropping millions of leaflets and making cell phone calls in Arabic to those living in targeted areas – warning them to leave the area immediately.

That’s why Israeli actions were supported by a 390-5 vote of the House that considered Israel’s response to be a legitimate act of self-defense. Kristof, however, dismisses the House vote as “congressional tom-foolery (that) bewilders our friends and fritters away our international capital.” He also mocked the fact that he expected to be accused of applying double standards to Israel, yet, that is precisely what he is doing when he refers to the House resolution as having taken place “as Gazan blood flowed.”

What about Israeli blood shed by these missile attacks and the trauma sustained by ordinary Israelis forced to retreat into bomb shelters with only seconds notice? The hypocrisy is stunning. Only one nation is on perpetual trial and held to moral account for terrorist outrages committed against it – Israel. Only one nation is regarded as having virtually no civilians – Israel. According to the Shin Bet, there were 146 successful suicide attacks in Israel between 2000 and 2009. During this period, 1,178 Israelis were killed and 8,022 were injured in terror attacks. In the last year alone, Hamas has launched 557 missiles from Gaza into southern Israel. Yet, when Israelis respond to these missile attacks, they are compelled to justify their actions. But those who fire the missiles are not. When civilians are killed by Western airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya, or by the Turkish air force bombing Iraqi villages or sites suspected of housing PKK members, resulting in the deaths of innocent people, their deaths are seen as regrettable accidents. But when Israel is involved, it is implied that its actions are intentional and “disproportionate”.

If a nation has no right to defend itself (or is condemned when it does), the implication is that it has no right to exist. The Arab world understands this very well. By reversing the role of aggressor and victim, it has been able to delegitimize and demonize the Jewish state in world forums with impunity. And it has done so with the tacit approval of organizations like J-Street and the international media.

Do Kristof and J-Street really believe that if Israel complied with the demands of its enemies by ceding more land to them, that these fanatics would turn their swords into ploughshares, become America’s best friends, enshrine social justice into their societies as a matter of law, end their 1,400-year bloody history of Sunni-Shiite tribal hatred, forgo jihad against the West, cease anti-Semitic incitement in their schools, summer camps, mosques and media, drop their demand that Islamic Shari’a law be the sole basis upon which to govern their populations, allow freedom of religion, end their dictatorships, institute political and economic reforms, permit secular opposition parties and unions to operate without fear of being butchered by their own security forces, establish an independent judiciary, and join the family of civilized nations? If so, they are delusional.

It is shameful to suggest that the only reason for the problems in the Middle East is because of Israeli obstinacy as if it is the fault of the Israelis and not the rejectionist Arab world that cannot stand the thought of a sovereign Jewish state in its midst.

The survivors of the exiles, the blood libels, the inquisitions, the pogroms, the ghettos, and the death camps don’t need lectures on why Israelis must seek “normalization” with their enemies. His support for J-Street’s positions is symptomatic of the failure of NGOs, media commentators, politicians, heads of state, social activists and proponents of human rights to recognize that those who seek Israel’s destruction by chanting “Death to Israel” and who intend to introduce Shari’a law throughout the Middle East, also seek the destruction of the Western liberal democracies when they chant “Death to America” in the same breath.

Kristof believes that the only chance America has in the region is to seek “a new beginning” by adopting “a more balanced policy” (meaning a more pro-Islamist policy) promoted by J-Street. The Obama administration also believes that by putting a little “light” into the once-solid relationship between Israel and the United States, it might be able to coax Arab countries into negotiating a peace. Fortunately, the American people and the U.S. Congress don’t see it that way and have acted accordingly.

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