Category Archives: Middle East

“So, five million Jews and 100 million Arabs walk into a bar…”

Received by email, the latest wit and wisdom from Russian jokesters.

A Russian general is giving a lecture at a military academy.  During the question and answer period, a cadet asks, “Sir, do you think we’re ever going to have a war with China?”

“Unfortunately,” the general replies, “that is quite possible.”

“But that means we’re done for!” exclaims the cadet. “How could we possibly win?  There’s nearly a billion and a half of them, and less than 150 million of us!”

“Now now, young man,” replies the general, “don’t be so defeatist.  Numbers aren’t everything.  Look at Israel — they’ve only got five million people, and they’ve been holding their own against 100 million Arabs for sixty years!”

“Yes Sir, you’re absolutely right!” says the cadet. “Thank you!  But I do have one more question.  Do we have enough Jews?”


Filed under Israel, Middle East, Russia, Russian political humor

Parsing Obama

So, here comes Barack Obama’s long-awaited speech to the Muslim world, to decidedly mixed reaction.  I am not going to dwell at the moment on the specifics of his Israel policy (for a very pessimistic assessment see this post by Ron Radosh, though there are many Israel supporters who do not share Ron’s endorsement of the settlements).  I also agree that the part of the speech dealing with Iran was rather weak, full of lofty sentiment signifying nothing.  But some of the scathing criticism directed at Obama strikes me as rather misguided.  For instance, Charles Krauthammer found it to be infected by “self-absorption”; but was Obama’s talk of the aspects of his personal story that were relevant to the issues at hand all that different from what, say, Ronald Reagan did?

Does it really matter that Obama never used the words “terror” or “terrorism,” referring instead to “violent extremism”?  The power of the T-word has been somewhat diluted by overuse; besides, to many (non-terror-sympathizing) Muslims it is undoubtedly a red-flag word, due to their common belief that the West looks at a Muslim and sees a terrorist.  I think it was a positive thing to say, and drive home the point, that terrorism by any other name would smell as foul.

The President’s powerful affirmation of the memory of the Holocaust, and firm condemnation of Holocaust denial, was a key part of the speech.  Some believe that, by transitioning immediately to the plight of displaced Palestinians, Obama drew a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and Palestinian displacement.  Re-reading the speech, I see no such equivalence (though someone who wants to believe the two tragedies are equal could read it that way).  I think Obama was simply saying that the Palestinians have their own history of suffering which cannot be denied.  Should he have said more to acknowledge the Palestinian (and Arab) leaders’ own responsibility for perpetuating this suffering?  Probably.  Did he go too far in suggesting that each side’s view of the conflict was equally valid?  Probably.  But here’s an important point: the speech was intended as outreach to the Muslim world.   To say “Israel is 100% right and the Palestinians bear 100% of the blame,” even if it were true (and I don’t believe it is) would not be very productive.  Confronting a Muslim and Arab audience with the fact that Israel’s stiff-necked stance has something to do with “the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond” is a pretty good start.

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Filed under anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, Barack Obama, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Muslims, religion, religious freedom, September 11, terrorism, US foreign policy, West

L’Affaire Freeman

Is Chas Freeman, who has withdrawn his nomination to chair the National Intelligence Council, a victim of “the Israel Lobby”?

Freeman himself certainly thinks so.  Andrew Sullivan concurs.

I find Freeman’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as summed up in the “money quote” in this post from Andrew, to be quite lacking in the “balance” that many argue the U.S. needs in its approach.  This isn’t balance so much as one-sided Israel-blaming, for everything including the failure to “gain [the] admiration and affection” of any of its neighbors.  (How many of them were prepared to extend it?)  That aside, though, there really are other reasons to not want Freeman in a high-level foreign policy position.  Jonathan Chait gives examples of people who have nothing to do with the Israeli lobby who have opposed the appointment because of Freeman’s very cavalier attitude toward human rights, particularly his record as an apologist for the Chinese regime.  For more analysis, see this great post by Ron Radosh.  No, Freeman’s comments were not taken out of context, and Ron demonstrates that in his defense of the Tiananmen Square crackdown (or rather, his criticism of that crackdown for not being resolute enough), Freeman also defends brutal actions against peaceful protesters right here in the U.S. in 1932. Continue reading


Filed under Israel, Middle East

Speak of …

… I was going to say “the devil,” but then, I wouldn’t want the person in question to claim I had called him the devil.

The person in question is Eric Alterman, with whom I had an infamous spat nearly four years ago after I zinged him in my Boston Globe column for suggesting that it’s outrageous to expect Muslims and Arabs to pay tribute to the memory of Holocaust victims when so much of their suffering is caused by Jews. The occasion was the British Muslim Council’s decision to boycott the ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz because equal time was not given to Palestinian victims of Israeli “genocide.” Alterman and I had a caustic exchange on the Reason blog, Hit & Run, and Alterman also encouraged readers of his blog not only to pepper me with angry emails (about half of the ones I got were supportive), but also to call my then-editor at the Globe, Nick King. At some point, he also made the bizarre suggestion that I attacked him out of a personal vendetta because he had once defended my ex-boyfriend against unfair attacks (huh?); see more about it from John Tabin, who once greeted me at a party as “Eric Alterman’s Zionist white whale.” As I recall, Alterman continued to take gratuitous swipes at me and/or Nick King on his MSNBC blog for at least six months after this incident; here’s a particularly bizarre one.

Well, just the other day, I was recounting this saga to some people at dinner at the NAS conference and joked about how I felt neglected after the Alterman mentions finally stopped. And, lo and behold… here is Eric Alterman in the newest issue of The Nation, describing his suffering at the hands of the “Middle East Thought Police.” Continue reading


Filed under anti-Semitism, Eric Alterman, Israel, Middle East