Another War of Jenkins' Ear

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Posts Tagged ‘Israel

Israel only for Israelis Who Support Israel As Defined By Nationalists

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Jerusalem Post:

An Israel Beiteinu bill derided by critics as unfairly targeting Israeli Arabs passed into law late Monday night, with supporters welcoming it as a boost to internal deterrence against would-be terrorists and traitors.

The Citizenship Law enables courts to revoke citizenship – in addition to issuing prison sentences – against people who are convicted of treason, serious treason, aiding the enemy in a time of war or having committed an act of terror against the state.

Israel Beiteinu MKs David Rotem and Robert Ilatov cosponsored the bill, which easily passed the plenum by a vote of 37-11.

“Any normal state would have legislated this bill years ago,” said Rotem shortly after the bill passed. “I thank all of the legislators, who have sent a message tonight that citizenship and loyalty go hand in hand. There is no citizenship without loyalty.”

The bill originated in Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman’s campaign promise of “no loyalty, no citizenship.”

. . .

Opponents of the bill, including MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), cited the fact that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) opposed the legislation.

The Shin Bet initially supported the bill, but changed its opinion and announced that it believed the current laws offered sufficient recourse against such offenders. The current law allows for canceling citizenship for breach of trust, and there have been cases in which citizenship has been revoked.

During the bill’s final committee hearings, a Shin Bet attorney said that there were enough provisions in the existing law to strip offenders’ citizenship as needed. He added that the bill itself was problematic and that Israeli Arabs indeed believed that the law was aimed at them.

Even mentioning that this passed (much less being critical of it) I am sure to be branded an anti-Semite somewhere on the internet. And that will be hogwash. This law is not necessary – for any transgression that serious, the offender should be able to be locked up anyways.

But I don’t see how in the long run Israel can get by without reaching a hand out to Arab peoples in some way, especially the Arab citizens who are already there. Jeffrey Goldberg (of all people) had an interesting post on a related topic recently. This is a step in the wrong direction that will probably only have a chilling effect on anyone trying to mediate existing problems.

Try criminals and their supporters for what they do; rescinding who they are should only be a last step in case of emergency.


Written by John Whitehouse

March 29, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Law, Politics

Tagged with , , ,

Your Daily Reminder That Hamas Can’t Govern

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While there is worry about the revolutions in the Middle East turning too Islamist, at the end of the day, governments are only successful if they govern. And there’s still no evidence that Hamas can do that:

Whatever the reason for Hamas’s obvious lack of restraint in recent weeks, it is not helping the party’s reputation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Its popularity among Palestinians continues to decline: A mid-March opinion poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research had Hamas support at a mere 33 percent of people in Gaza and 21 percent in the West Bank. Fatah, on the other hand, enjoys 42 percent support in Gaza and 39 percent in the West Bank. Hamas’s brutal crackdown on national unity rallies in Gaza on March 15, including the killing of at least one female protester, further discredited the organization. Perhaps Hamas hopes that another confrontation with Israel would bolster its foundering domestic credentials.

This probably has something to do with the increasing attacks on Israeli citizens. Of course, there’s no evidence Fatah is particularly skilled at governing either. At some point, there has to be some sort of economic development plan for Palestinians in the Wst Bank and Gaza. But it’s not clear there’s anywhere near the willpower necessary to do that in Israel or the United States, sadly.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 24, 2011 at 3:14 pm

A Limit to Israeli Blame Syndrome

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It’s become common place to refer to everything in the Middle East as having primarily to do with Israel. It’s good to see an emerging class of people who don’t think that way:

People are angry that they are not respected, that there are no jobs, education and health care are poor, that corruption is draining their money, that they do not have real freedom, that the media does not reflect our problems and that there is no system because everything happens by opaque presidential decrees,” said Abdel Ayman Nour, a Syrian dissident who runs the website All4Syriafrom abroad. “Syrians simply want to be respected as citizens and are angry they are treated as sheep.”

The Syrian regime, usually a savvy player, seems confused about how to respond to these signs of unrest. It has veered between offers of reform to denial, arrests, intimidation, and beatings. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Jan. 31, Assad claimed that “Syria is stable,” crediting his anti-U.S. and anti-Israel foreign policy for being in line with his people’s beliefs. The president also promised political reforms would take place this year — but simultaneously, media run by or with close ties to the state have accused infiltrators and Israel of being behind protests.

That’s not to say any results of any political change in Syria or elsewhere would favor Israel. To the contrary, they might not! But they’re not primarily about Israel. They’re about the actual interests of the people. That’s a step in the right direction.


Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Libya is not Iraq

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Adam Serwer, now:

Both of the above statements could not be farther from [Obama] who, in 2002, said that war in Iraq Saddam Hussein “poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.” Whatever we’re doing in Libya, it can’t really be described as an attempt to eliminate an imminent and direct threat to the United States.

As Daniel Larison points out, all of what Obama said about Hussein can be said about Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. But the Libya intervention seems to have revealed a genuine ideological transition from the Barack Obama of 2002, from a kind of neo-realist to a full fledged liberal internationalist. Both approaches would have justified intervening on moral grounds, but the character of Obama’s intervention is differentiated by its reliance on international institutions.

That’s demonstrably not true. As I just posted, Voice of America reported the EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner is warning of a massive influx of refugees to Europe. Sure, this does not threaten the United States of America, but it sure does threaten Libya’s neighbors in the region – look at reports from the Tunisian border. There’s no indication those sorts of things are going to get better if Gaddafi levels Benghazi. But the regional effects is both the legal justification for action AND the one difference from Yemen, Bahrain (spilling outward is not the same as spilling inward), the Ivory Coast, etc. And by contrast, there was no real exodus I am aware from prior to the Iraq war (if anything, the war caused one). I don’t think being aware of how humanitarian crises spill over into international relations makes one doomed to be as bad as George W. Bush. Rather, it makes Obama conscious of actual international destabilizing actions, not just illusory ones.

(Moreover, any road to a new policy on Israel and Palestine has to include the issue of refugees. Recognition of that elsewhere can only help).

PS: This DOES NOT mean that Obama will not make some of the same mistakes in Libya that Bush made in Iraq or that it means whatever is done in Libya is just a great idea. Just that there’s more legal and political justification for the actions taken than in Iraq.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

In Which I Discuss Israeli Motives

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One of the weird things to me about the flotilla attack is that the motives for Israel to act in the particular way they did are unclear.

They clearly at some point would have to do something regarding the flotilla (I doubt “let it go unimpeded” was an option – there is an embargo on Gaza). But one would think they could have tried o divert it or blockade it or just to damage the ship enough to not continue further.

Why did they attack the ship 72 miles out to sea? (This does presume, of course, that there is a logical reason).

One potential answer is “because they can.” In this view, Israel can and must respond as forcefully as possible to those whose interest oppose it (I deliberately am not using the word enemies here; I don’t think it’s accurate to say the flotilla was Israel’s enemy the same way, for instance, Iran is). This is somewhat reminiscent of Eisenhower’s massive retaliation in practice.

The other line of thinking is the Lusitania argument. The Lusitania was a passenger ship famously sunk by a U-boat during World War I. There was great outrage at the time over sinking a passenger ship during a war and killing civilians. The Germans claimed the ship was carrying weapons. In the end the Germans were proven right.

The question, therefore, if one accepts this line of thinking, is what sort of weapons or munitions would be in a hold that Israel would fear be on that boat where they would have to intercept it 72 miles out at sea and not merely disable it or turn it away first. The list is not long, but one immediately thinks of some great weapon. Indeed, politicians like those now in power in Israel have been quite open about such fears.

There are problems with this theory. One, the first theory (because they can) strikes me as more plausible. Second, this would indicate a staggering failure of intelligence on the part of the Israelis.

This is a cautionary tale .. not of a robust self-defense as some would claim, but rather a cautionary tale of abandoning any diplomacy. Israel can do better. (Although, to be fair, a lot of countries could do better, and a lot of governments – including that of Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – could do better as well.)

See here and here for more information.

Written by John Whitehouse

June 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Foreign Policy

Tagged with , , , ,

In which I discuss “international waters”

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All this week I’m going to take a look at the Israeli attack and international law, piece by piece. Why in parts? One, to save my sanity. Two, to break the matter down into parts digestible by people without a law degree. (Hopefully).

(By the way: I should add that the worst part of this attack for Israel is not any judgment under international law per se, but rather the extreme chilling effect it would have on any possible Iranian sanctions. Others have said this long before I.)

So to start: One fact circulating regarding the Israeli attack on the flotilla is that it occurred in international waters; many people have not said what that means.

Here is a description from the Washington Post of what the Turkish Foreign Minister said:

Davutoglu displayed a map showing that the attack took place 72 nautical miles off the coast of Israel, far beyond the 12-mile sovereign border. He said that the “Israelis believe they are above any law” but that they would be held to account by Turkey and the international community. He likened the actions of the Israeli government to “pirates off the coast of Somalia,” not a civilized nation, and ridiculed Israeli claims that some in the flotilla were linked to al-Qaeda.

[ . . . ]

But he said that in Turkey’s view, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has full authority under the statement to order an international probe. He noted that the incident took place in international waters so Israel has no right to declare it can conduct its own inquiry.

“We will not be silent about this,” he said. “We expect the United States to show solidarity with us. . . . I am not very happy with the statements from the United States yesterday.”

I’m going to take Dautoglu at his word regarding the 72 mile fact for two reasons; one, it is not in dispute by anyone I have seen (including Secretary-General Moon), and second that there is no reason to fudge the numbers dramatically.

The twelve mile rule regarding international waters has been set for a while – since the 1960s when a group of countries led by Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Venezuela moved to change territorial seas from 3 to 12 miles. (Which is what the Law of the Sea defines the limit as well).

Indeed Israel too claims 12 miles of territorial waters – just see this article about a foreign submarine that entered within 12 miles of shore in 2004. (see also here).

However, territorial waters is not the same as an exclusive economic zone. We’ll start with that tomorrow.

In the meantime, I could really use a map of where the incident occurred if anyone has it.

Written by John Whitehouse

June 1, 2010 at 1:04 pm

In Which I Disagree With Bill Keller

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The son of Ethan Bronner, the Jerusalem Bureau Chief of the New York Times, has enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Clark Hoyt, the public editor of the NYT called for Bronner to be reassigned; in response, the executive editor, Bill Keller defended Bronner and said no change would be made.

Keller makes two arguments. First, he concedes that while sometimes personal connections require restrictions (a court reporter will not cover a trial if his wife is one of the attorneys). But then he gives a litany of examples where personal knowledge helps: an Afghanistan reporter who is an ex-Marine, a reporter from Lebanon who reported on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and a Tehran reporter who was exiled from the country. There are two problems here: First, Bronner’s son is the one with personal knowledge, now Bronner himself. Second, these other examples of experience are past experience, not ongoing experience. But the salient point is that even if Keller is right and this does inform Bronner’s reporting (which is entirely possible), is that outweighed by a conflict of interest? Therein lies the real issue.

Keller argues:

You and everyone you interviewed for your column concurs that Ethan Bronner is fully capable of continuing to cover his beat fairly. Your concern is that readers will not be capable of seeing it that way. That is probably true for some readers. The question is whether those readers should be allowed to deny the rest of our audience the highest quality of reporting.

This is what Hoyt wrote:

“There are always two questions,” Shipler said. “One is whether there is an actual conflict; the other is whether there is the appearance of a conflict. Given the high quality of Bronner’s reporting, I don’t see an actual conflict.” He said he thought Bronner should remain in his post and The Times should disclose the situation. Keller and Bronner responded freely to my questions, but the paper has otherwise been tight-lipped so far.

Alex Jones, director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy and a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Times, took a different view. “The appearance of a conflict of interest is often as important or more important than a real conflict of interest,” he said. “I would reassign him.” Jones said such a step would be an injustice to Bronner, “but the newspaper has to come first.”

Hoyt does not discuss more why apparent conflicts of interest matter so much. But to me, this is a large problem.

This is what the relevant NYT ethical guidelines say:

107. To avoid such conflicts, staff members may not write about people to whom they are related by blood or marriage or with whom they have close personal relationships, or edit material about such people or make news judgments about them. For similar reasons, staff members should not recruit or directly supervise family members or close friends. Some exceptions are permissible — in a foreign bureau, for instance, where a married couple form a team, or in the case of an article by a food writer profiling her brother the Yankee star, where the kinship is of genuine news interest.
109. In some cases, disclosure is enough. But if The Times considers the problem serious, the staff member may have to withdraw from certain coverage. Sometimes an assignment may have to be modified or a beat changed. In a few instances, a staff member may have to move to a different department — from business and financial news, say, to the culture desk — to avoid the appearance of conflict.
Bill Keller, in essence, is arguing that appearances of conflicts are not important and should be only acted upon if there is some sort of grave appearance of conflict.  I disagree.  No one, including myself, wants to impugn the credibility of Ethan Bronner. But that is why rules regarding an apparent conflict of interest matter. If nine out of ten reporters in Bronner’s position would maintain their integrity and would act responsibly, that’s not enough. Appearance of conflict of interest rules exist not just to assure readers that there is integrity, but to prevent reporters from being in a compromising position. In short, you don’t want to realize that Bronner can’t maintain his integrity too late. If that is unfair to Bronner, that’s the risk of having such a high standard of reporting as the NYT aspires to.
To argue otherwise is not to give a veto power to extremists. It’s to protect the reporting at the expense of the reporters. Reading Keller’s entry with its triumphant descriptions of various NYT reporters, I wonder if Keller made an understandable but real mistake of valuing the reporters over the reporting.
That all said, I would also agree with Hoyt’s assessment, that “[t]he Times sent a reporter overseas to provide disinterested coverage of one of the world’s most intense and potentially explosive conflicts, and now his son has taken up arms for one side.” At most, I can see Bronner still being allowed to cover the conflict in some capacity, but allowing him to stay as the Jerusalem Bureau Chief is a bridge too far.

Written by John Whitehouse

June 1, 2010 at 7:36 am