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Israel’s Palestinians: the Conflict Within by Illan Peleg and Dov Waxman (Cambridge University Press: 2011) 262 pgs. Reviewed by Uri Gopher

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Israel’s independence in 1948 heralded the establishment of a homeland for the Jews but persisting within its parameters has been a large Arab Palestinian minority estimated to make up 20% of its population (a figure that includes the Jewish settlements in the west bank and the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem). With rare exceptions, animosities run deep between the two communities where discrimination against the Palestinian minority is widespread and sharp inequalities and mistrust separate Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens. October 2000 witnessed a convulsion of intercommunal violence when the state deployed heavy police forces to put down the protests of Palestinian citizens against the events that marked the beginning of the second Intifada, resulting in the deaths of thirteen Arab protestors by police gunfire.

What’s remarkable about this state of affairs is how little attention it receives outside the internal Israeli discourse, largely because Israel has no interest in internationalizing this divide, which it would rather frame (and have others frame, too) as a domestic affair. In this book, however, Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman convincingly argue that continuing to focus on the “external” Jewish-Palestinian conflict in the West Bank and Gaza at the expense of the “internal” conflict portends disaster for Israel’s already strained democracy and a complete collapse of the two-state solution.  The authors put forth concrete proposals to effectively ‘manage’ the internal conflict, thus providing a roadmap for the internal Jewish-Palestinian conflict, as they often refer to this divide, to complement the often-discussed, roadmap to the external Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These suggestions are based on the authors’ in-depth analysis of the Israeli case-study as well as drawing on their combined expertise of the way majority-minority tensions have been dealt with in other democracies.

The book is meant to sound as an alarm and instill a sense of urgency, and it does so quite compellingly. The logic behind this urgent call for action can roughly be stated as follows: 1) Only a holistic approach that takes into account both external and internal Jewish-Palestinian relations can provide both parties enough stability and viability; 2) Most efforts have heretofore focused on the external conflict, which has far too long overshadowed the internal one; 3) Israel’s intentional and unintentional mismanagement of the internal conflict “courts disaster”, in their words. This is already apparent in current anti-democratic trends that may further undermine democracy in the region, lead to civil unrest, large-scale violence and a complete collapse of the two-state solution; 4) Incremental steps towards meeting the demands set by the internal conflict will not suffice. Major changes in the definition of state, increased provision of both individual and collective rights and new social contract between the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority are necessary and still possible to achieve, albeit difficult.

The first part of the book provides an in-depth account of the “conflict within”, to which this book is dedicated. Those already familiar with the issues discussed – the Palestinian minority’s identity, history, politics, the extent of inequality and discrimination that exists, the majority’s views and attitudes towards the minority – may find that this part of the book adds little to their knowledge. Still, most readers, regardless of their background and experience, will appreciate the framing and narrative style in which information is conveyed.

The temporal thrust of this book is the present and future of Arab-Jewish relations. The first section of the book largely focused on the analysis of the events of the past decade and the authors’ account of the events and development of the conflict is fair and informative. One minor exception was their treatment of what is termed “the vision documents”. These refer to a series of four documents published in 2006-2007 that were produced by different Palestinian organizations, intellectuals, academics and political activists, all Israeli citizens. These documents present a harsh critique of the way the Palestinian minority has been treated by the state and set clear demands to the Israeli state and political system. Peleg and Waxman analyze these documents in great detail, exploring their implications for the future of Jewish-Arab relations. Though their analysis is comprehensive and persuasive, the authors tend to focus only on that part of the vision documents directed at the Jewish majority whilst ignoring those parts that feature self-criticism and challenge the Palestinian minority. As such, the authors’ replicate the manner in which these documents were presented to the Jewish majority, which is mostly in threatening terms.

The fact of the matter is that these documents also encountered heavy opposition from Palestinians in Israel. This was because all the documents recognized explicitly or implicitly the existing Israeli state as the point of reference and did not challenge that or relate to the status of a Palestinian state. They also referred little to the Palestinians living elsewhere. In addition, some of the documents were also highly critical of Palestinian society, especially towards its treatment of disempowered factions within the Palestinian society. These details should have been included in the authors’ analysis of these documents, so as to provide a fuller picture of their meaning, especially since they contain promising indicators for the minority’s commitment and willingness to enhance principles of liberal democracy.    

The second section of the book turns to suggesting new ways for significantly improving Jewish-Palestinian relations. The authors’ grand strategy for how Israel could better meet the needs of its Palestinian minority so as to enhance their sense of belonging and loyalty to the state includes three main elements:

1) A new state definition: despite Israel’s self-definition as “Jewish and Democratic state”, the former has been much more forcefully maintained than the latter. Based on their assumption that a re-calibration between the Jewish and democratic commitments is essential, the authors creatively propose to define Israel as “the Jewish homeland and a state of all its citizens”. Changing the existing formula from “Jewish state” to “Jewish homeland” the authors believe would soften the collective definition without altogether eliminating some Jewish collective rights, deemed crucial by the authors, in-order to reach compromise. The designation of “a state of all its citizens” granting legal equality to all citizens as “owners” of the state and providing members of the Palestinian minority a measure of recognition and protection which, together with other elements of this strategy, could move Israel towards a more inclusive and stable future.

2) A new rights regime: the authors propose a series of policies meant to enhance both the individual and collective rights of Palestinians in Israel as a distinct national minority. These policies would ameliorate internal tensions and reduce the future likelihood of large-scale inter-communal bloodshed. This list includes: establishing functional autonomy for Palestinians in some areas of public life, improving the overall economic conditions of Israeli Arabs through long-term development plans and equitable funding arrangements, adopting an aggressive anti-discriminatory policy, increasing the amount of land available to Arab municipalities, initiating affirmative action programs, and formally recognizing the main representative institutions of the Palestinian minority and strengthening the status of Arabic as an official language of the country. At first blush some of these recommendations may seem far-fetched to some but almost all of these have been raised at different points in time by prominent Israeli figures and scholars, including by the Orr Commission, the official state commission of inquiry into the October 2000 events.

3) A new socio-political contract between the majority and the minority: the Palestinian minority’s willingness to enroll in a voluntary civilian service, in lieu of the mandatory military service imposed on the Jewish majority, would lead to the reassessment of common conventions in both Jewish and Palestinian societies and help foster good relations between the communities. However, this notion is less developed in the book as compared with the other two elements.

Peleg and Waxman make clear that they write in the hope of avoiding future bloodshed. They want to assure the success and viability of a two-state solution because “there is absolutely no way Israeli Jews will accept a one-state solution. They will staunchly resist this, even at the cost of war.” (p.230). In recent years, however, a growing number of scholars and public figures, among them Jewish and Palestinian ones, have challenged this two-state consensus by calling for a one-state solution and/or claiming that the former is no longer achievable. Peleg and Waxman do not in any way relate to these recent trends, which are necessarily linked to possible solutions for the internal conflict. This is somewhat surprising, given that one-state supporters, like the authors, share the conviction that a solution to the Jewish-Palestinian conflict needs to address both the internal and external conflicts. While there is much sense in tapping into the existing paradigm of a two-state solution as a starting point from which pragmatic change may be initiated, the authors were intellectually amiss for not at least widening their theoretical scope to include possible ethno-national scenarios, even if they do not support them. .

For starters, it is not clear that the attitudes and emotional reactions towards a one-state solution by those who oppose it will be significantly different than their reactions towards the kinds of ground-breaking proposals set forth by the authors, as evident in the reluctance to adopt hardly any of these proposed measures to date. If prevailing attitudes and emotional reactions are key factors in determining which solutions should be addressed and considered in the book, it is an argument that could serve to dismiss the authors’ own propositions.

More problematic is the authors’ reliance on current demographics in “Israel proper”- inside the green-line – to guide the assessment of potential applicability of different theoretical frameworks used elsewhere in the world with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian case. For example, in page 157 the authors state that “In general, although consociationalism[1] might work in a demographically balanced ethno-national situation, such as Belgium or Northern Ireland, it is unlikely to work in countries where one group enjoys a clear demographic and political advantage. Canada, Estonia, Israel, Slovakia, Spain and Sri-Lanka are some examples”. Since the authors’ comparative unit of analysis is the Palestinian citizens of Israel who make up roughly 20% of Israeli population (16.5% if East-Jerusalem Palestinian residents are excluded from the analysis) the authors’ decision to omit any discussion of solutions that fall outside the two-state paradigm because of its inapplicability to the Israeli case seems plausible. However, since current estimates, including official ones, show that Palestinians already make up over  50% of the population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which is the prism used by one-state supporters, this represents the kind of a more “balanced ethno-national situation” that the authors themselves state might lead to different conclusions.

This omission, though, does not in any way detract from the important contribution the authors make in shedding light on possible holistic ways to move forward on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their book may well constitute a “last call” for two-state supporters; a cry the authors indicate towards the end of their book may be too late.


Uri Gopher is a recent graduate of the Mid-Career Masters in Public Administration program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and served until recently as the Director of Policy Change at The Abraham Fund Initiatives in Israel.

[1] Consociationalism, a concept developed by Arend Lijphart, is part of the mechanisms included in power-sharing and was one of the demands put forth in one of the four “vision documents”  written by intellects of the Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel, discussed earlier.

The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival by Hirsh Goodman (Public Affairs, 2011). 256 pages.

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Hirsh Goodman started his career as the Jerusalem Post’s astute defense correspondent; 30 years later, he is now an associate at the influential Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. With such mainstream credentials, his schizophrenia-like assessment of Iran’s threat to the Jewish state and blurry vision of a two-state solution was wholly unexpected.

In the opening pages, Goodman invokes all the trash-talk typically associated with Iran: “maniacally dedicated to Israel’s destruction,” a threat unmatched “since Hitler,” “dream[s]” of hitting Israel with nuclear weapons, and immune to traditional deterrence theory. Yet 15 pages later, he’s suggesting that deterrence does work, explaining that if attacked by Iran, a nuclear armed Israel would inflict a “devastating” retaliatory blow. He cautions against a preemptive Israeli attack, warning that it would not fully destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities and only trigger a “vast and enduring” cycle of retaliation between the two countries. An “Iranian attack on Israel or an Israeli attack on Iran,” concludes Goodman, “is strategically nonsensical.”

Shortly after the book’s publication, Goodman had a change of heart. He now advocates attacking Iran, even hinting that tactical nuclear weapons should be used. Why the predicted cycle of violence between the Israel and Iran would be tolerable has not been explained.

Israel’s survival, Goodman argues, is not in question. The Jewish State’s superior armed forces thwart any serious military challenge from any Middle Eastern state. But issues will continue to plague Israel’s future stability and shape its character. One will be ceaseless attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations Goodman judges are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Islamic Republic. Such attacks will be painful and will elicit Israel’s retaliation but are something Israel can live with.

The more serious threat to Israel’s well-being is Palestinian nationalism and Israel’s West Bank settlements. Goodman is sympathetic to the Palestinians’ suffering and views the settlements as a political and moral disaster for Israel. He fears that if left unresolved, the occupation could intensify fractionalization between Israeli Arabs, national religious Zionists, and secular Jews and twist Israel into a “de facto theocracy.” He predicts that only when the “Palestinian issue is off the table” will Israel’s economy and culture flourish and its relations with the Arab world normalize.

But Goodman is willing to accommodate Palestinian nationalism only on Israeli terms. He opposes uprooting the larger settlements because of the violent upheaval it would cause in Israel. “Israel cannot be expected,” Goodman instructs, “to tear itself to pieces for the sake of peace.” The improbable alternative scenario he offers is for Israeli settlers to “live as good neighbors and control their violent and fanatic elements.” It’s not clear how this stance squares with his advise that Israel reconsider the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative offering Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Goodman’s final word is that if necessary, Israel should unilaterally impose a settlement of its own design.

Goodman’s favoritism toward Israel is expected; what is harder to accept is his refusal to recognize any legitimacy in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS). He refuses to consider that after 60 years of occupation the international community may have a moral duty to pressure Israel to withdraw from the territories. He instead insists that BDS is nothing less than an insidious strategy to delegitimize Israel and undermine its right to exist. Goodman uncritically defends Israel’s 2008 war on Gaza, its 2010 attack on the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla”, and equates “unions in Norway” with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Jihad. This political myopia shuts down the meaningful political debate Goodman purportedly seeks and confirms his assessment that “how Israel will look in the future is as unpredictable as a flip of a coin.”

“Does Terrorism Work?” by Eric D. Gould and Esteban F. Klor, Quarterly Journal of Economics (2010)

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

That governments never negotiate with terrorists is a refrain well worn but false. Two Israeli scholars have now challenged the veracity of the parallel argument – that terrorism does not coerce governments into changing their policies. In the first systematic examination of whether terrorism is an effective strategy to achieve political ends, they conclude that Palestinian terror attacks forced Israel to accommodate Palestinian goals. Terror attacks “significantly affects the preferences and attitudes of Jewish Israelis” and the attacks “induced the local population to exhibit a higher willingness to grant territorial concessions.”  But at some point the violence reaches a tipping point where Israeli attitudes harden and Israeli opinion refuses further thought of concession.

Writing in the October 2010 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Professors Eric Gould and Eseban Klor compared over time Jewish Israeli opinion and civilian Israeli fatalities based on statistical data derived from political attitude surveys of Israeli citizens conducted from 1969. They determined with the use of regression analysis that “terrorism brought about a leftward shift of the entire political map in Israel over the last twenty years, including the position of right-wing parties who are traditionally less willing to grant territorial concessions to the Palestinians.”  Terrorism prompted Israeli voters to move to rightwing parties but those parties in turn moved “leftward” in their political views, by which Gould and Klor mean they moderated their political stance.  Left-leaning groups supported right-wing parties “only because the right-wing parties are moving to the left.” The “Likud’s position in 2009,” the authors point out, “is to the left of the left-wing Labor party’s platform in 1988.”

Gould and Klor conclude their study reveals that “terrorism can be an effective strategy” because right-wing Israeli parties were forced to concede “concession to the Palestinians.” But while the rhetoric of Israel’s right-wing parties may have changed, the facts on the ground expose an entirely different reality. The Likud may be talking the language of territorial concession but it consistently has pursued the goal of territorial annexation.

Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has been relentless. Since 1993 when Israel signed the Oslo Accords, Israel’s West Bank settler population grew from 116,300 to 289,600 in 2009. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem puts the total settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at over 300,000. Only photographs can capture the reality of settler colonization in the West Bank.

Land confiscation in the occupied territories has been persistent, with Jewish settlers now holding about 42 percent of the land.  A map revealing the extensive swath of West Bank land that Israel is permitted to control for “security” purposes under the Oslo Accords is jaw dropping and underscores claims that the territorial compromise as envisioned by Israel and the United States subjugates Palestinians to a Bantustan-like existance.  Human Rights Watch documented the existence of two-tier system of laws, rules, and services that Israel operates in the West Bank that favors Jewish settlers but imposes harsh conditions on Palestinians.  The cumulative result of such policies, concludes University of Chicago’s  John Mearsheimer, is that the “two-state solution is now a fantasy” as Israel incorporates the occupied territories into a ‘Greater Israel.’”

Gould and Klor correctly concluded that Palestinian violence  successfully coerced Israeli pubic opinion to accept territorial compromise, but the suggestion that it was an “effective strategy” toward achieving Palestinian independence is woefully misplaced.

Major Farran’s Hat: The Untold Story of the Struggle to Establish the Jewish State by David Cesarani (Cambridge, MA 2009) 218 pp.+71 pages of notes.. Reviewed by Paul Scham

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

“Serious” history and murder mysteries are generally considered two distinct genres.  As a historian who enjoys a good thriller or mystery, I know the difference; the former I use for research or assign it to my classes; the latter I read before I go to sleep (unless it’s really good and I stay awake to read it, usually with unfortunate results the next morning).

“Major Farran’s Hat”, however, scrambles up the genres and can’t be classified as either; making it necessarily both.  This book, which dismantles the firewall between two very different kinds of writing, also illustrates why they should normally be kept separate, though in this case the marriage mostly works.

Author David Cesarani, a British academic historian of Zionism and Jewish history, has written this book with impeccable use of the usual scholarly apparatus (41 pages of endnotes and 13 of bibliography).  The book focuses on a little-known episode in the frenzied period in 1947 when the British Mandate over Palestine was coming to its end, under attack (in very different ways) by the Hagana, Etzel (the “Irgun”) and Lehi (the “Stern Gang”).

Alexander Rubowitz was a 16 year old supporter of Lehi, the most violent of the Jewish militias, which specialized in kidnapping and murdering British soldiers and civilians alike and which was therefore particularly loathed by the Mandatory authorities.  On May 6, 1947, a year before the State of Israel was proclaimed, he was abducted while distributing placards and murdered by a British patrol, led by Major Roy Farran.  The subsequent emergence of the story, the formal acquittal of Farran, and Lehi’s revenge (including a letter bomb that killed Roy Farran’s brother Rex), are recounted in this book in a context which makes their connection with the world-historical events unfolding around them breathtakingly clear.

Cesarani asserts that “the scandal that erupted around [these events] shook the British Mandate to its foundations and helped erode whatever legitimacy remained for British rule”. Perhaps somewhat overstated. But perhaps not. It clearly added fuel to fires already burning. As someone who has studied and taught this period for years, I must admit I had never heard of it.  It deserves to be better known as a remarkable vignette that encapsulates much of the violence and anger of this period.  However, since Caesarani does not even attempt to give Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle a run for their money, the obscurity in which it has heretofore dwelt is not likely to be seriously endangered.

Cesarani has clearly done his homework.  We are walked through the backgrounds of the British officials most involved with the case, especially Major Farran himself, as well as the mandatory police and military infrastructure.  The post-World War II–pre-Independence atmosphere is recreated with the high drama it deserves.  And the plot’s twists and turns are narrated with (almost) a novelist’s skill and (definitely) a historian’s factual precision.

However, the murder-mystery atmosphere is negated by the book’s beginning on page 1 with a factual account of the murder, so we are in no suspense about who the murderer really is.  Trying to understand why he put it there, in clear violation of Mystery Writing 101, I realized the author really had little choice.  Even though Farran was actually tried by a British court-martial in September 1947, a few months after the incident, and acquitted for lack of evidence, neither Cesarani nor his readers have the slightest doubt of Farran’s guilt.  Technically, there were problems with admissibility of evidence and with the fact that Rubowitz’s body was never found, which were cited in the acquittal.  But Cesarani is clear that the British authorities, by then desperate to relinquish the Mandate and leave, had no desire to have one of their own found guilty of murder in the Mandate’s 11th hour.

The book works as a provocative historical footnote.  Its documentation is superb, its reasoning is first-rate and its location in the confluence of great events is outstanding.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t have the suspense, motivation, conflicting alibis, and multiple suspects that usually mark a first-rate thriller.  Cesarani’s fundamental constraint, that he lacked the novelist’s freedom to play fast and loose with the facts, means the book proceeds slowly and methodically, fine for history but slow for mystery.

However, to be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will recommend it to friends.  But I think anyone with any interest in the period will almost certainly enjoy it, with the added bonus of having no problem with not being able to put it down.

“Wait!” you say.  “Don’t stop now!  What about the hat?”  “What with the strange and clumsy title?”

Simple.  Didn’t you figure it out? Major Farran left his hat at the scene of the abduction, by which he was traced.  Without it, Rubowitz’s disappearance would almost certainly never have been solved though, in my view, this wouldn’t have changed history.


Paul Scham is a Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, and teaches courses on the Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jewish Terrorism in Israel by Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger (Columbia University Press. 2009) Reviewed by Cheryl A. Rubenberg

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Jewish Terrorism in Israel analyzes most of what the authors have defined as “the 309 Jewish terrorist attacks between 1932 and 2008,” hypothesizing that while acts of terror may result from vengeance, more importantly they occur in the social context of “networks.” To illustrate their thesis they provide charts of detailed networks of the Jewish Underground, the Kahane Network, and the Amir Brothers Network. They are especially concerned with the structures and processes related to terrorism, and state in conclusion: “The case studies investigated in this book illustrate how counterculture communities based on totalistic ideologies are breeding grounds for religious terrorist groups.”

Methodologically the writers have relied on four prominent distinctions to identify an individual or group as terrorist: the use of violence; a political motive that motivates the violence; an intention to strike fear among the victims and their community; and the victims must be civilians or non-combatants. The databases from which their information was gathered included a vast array of official documents, interviews with former terrorists, civil and spiritual leaders as well as “comprehensive surveys of the communities where terrorist groups originated.” Also collected was “detailed information on each of the 309 Jewish terrorist attacks perpetrated in Palestine and the State of Israel between 1932 and 2008.” (Emphasis added.)  Implying that there were 309 attacks in total during those 66 years is a major underestimation and signals a chronic shortcoming of the book when it comes to identifying Jewish terrorist acts; there are nearly as many terrorist attacks in the West Bank every year.

To suggest that Jewish terrorism has existed for all time and to reinforce the perception about the unbroken link between modern Israel and its ancient imagined past, Pedahzur and Perliger devote most of their first chapter to the terrorist groups that fought Hellenistic and Roman rule in Palestine — the Hashmonai revolt, the Zealots, and the Sicarians. Then they jump to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which are covered in a scant page and a half. The second chapter deals mainly with the Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang). Some of the operations of these groups are mentioned, overwhelmingly those against the British, although the authors note that Etzel “. . . terrorize[d] Palestinian citizens[sic] in the attempt to sow fear in their communities . .” The assassination of Lord Moyne is detailed and the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte is mentioned. Most of the massacres (e.g. Dayr Yasin) against Palestinians are omitted. This chapter presents Jewish terrorism as part of the struggle against British colonialism in the establishment of a “sovereign and democratic Jewish state” while almost entirely neglecting the terrorism against Palestinians.

Subsequent chapters examine other specific terrorist incidents. The 1980 assassination attempt against three Palestinian mayors was posited as a vengeful response to a Palestinian terrorist attack (i.e., the killing of six yeshiva students in Hebron) but not once do they suggest that a Palestinian attack was revenge for an Israeli action. Palestinian terrorism is presented in a vacuum throughout the text (the Occupation is barely acknowledged) until the final chapter. The authors further argue that the attacks on the mayors were part of a violent campaign by Jewish groups to overturn the Camp David accords and prove to the Israeli government that their opposition was a force with which to be reckoned.

Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre of 29 Muslims at prayer is situated in a network of Kahanists and radical rabbis in Kiryat Arba (e.g. Baruch Marzel and Moshe Levinger). The authors essentially adopted the findings of the State Commission of Inquiry that concluded besides Goldstein’s “deep distress and frustration at the implementation of the Oslo Accords,” vengeance was also a motivation because of “continuing Palestinian violence against the settlers, which he saw as a direct result of the peace agreements and the Israeli surrender to Palestinian demands.” Pedahzur and Perliger failed to note, however, that there was a minimum of Palestinian violence against Israelis at the time and Goldstein was a known racist who, when serving as an IDF physician, refused to treat non-Jews. Their main analysis of Goldstein’s massacre involves the Kahanist counterculture, which they detail extensively and of which Goldstein was “a central figure.”

In chapter five the authors shift to Jewish violence against Jewish Israelis and the terrorism of radical settlements plus the Bat Ayin Underground that attacked Israelis and Palestinians. Iconoclastic groups are also discussed, such as the Uzi Meshulam Cult, the Ein Kerem Group, and the Lifta Gang.

In their concluding chapter Pedahzur and Perliger compare Jewish terrorism with Islamic terrorism and to a lesser extent Christian terrorism.  They find commonalities among the three but with one significant distinction:  Islamic based terrorist are “more inclination to inflict mass casualties . . . The only aggression committed by Jewish terrorists that could fall into the category of a mass casualty attack by Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, in which twenty-nine people were killed.” (Emphasis added).

The foregoing statement borders on the absurd. Jewish groups have been engaging in mass terrorism since the beginning of the Yishuv through today. Using their aforementioned four distinctions to identify an individual or group as terrorist, it is clear that terrorism can be perpetrated by a state as well as non-state actors. Palestinian scholars have long documented widespread Zionist violence against Palestinian civilians for political purposes during the 1948 War.  The emergence of the “new historians” in Israel has brought the knowledge of such systematic atrocities to a larger audience. Ilan Pappé tells of how “Israeli troops of all backgrounds, ranks and ages” carried out mass killings of Palestinians as part of a campaign to ethnically cleanse the land of Arabs.  According to Benny Morris, the Israelis were responsible for 24 massacres during the war. Its unsettling that Pedahzur and Perliger fail to even mention these events in their study.

During the Yishuv, terrorism was primarily the purview of the Irgun and Stern Group; after the state was formed, terrorism was perpetrated by sub-state actors such as Unit 101 and the Mossad as well as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Massive retaliatory raids against Palestinian villages in the West Bank and Gaza that began in the 1950s expanded throughout the subsequent 30 years to include whole towns and cities in Lebanon.  These raids purposely targets civilians, constituted collective punishment, and under the authors’ definition, represent terrorist acts.

Pedahzur and Perliger offer useful profiles of individual terrorists and their presentation of terrorist “networks” and how they form and function is particularly insightful.  But their habit of discounting Israeli terrorist violence, be it from irregular forces or sanctioned by the state, greatly limits the book’s pedagogical value.


Cheryl A. Rubenberg is formerly an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Florida International University and the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Palestinians in Search of a Just Peace (2003) and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2010)

The Third Lebanon War – Council on Foreign Relations (July 2010); Drums of War: Israel and the “Axis of Resistance” – International Crisis Center (August 2010).

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Lebanon traditionally has been the Middle East venue where the proxies of outside powers have wrought destruction; now there is apprehension that it may be the local from which a region-wide, Middle East conflagration will erupt. This concern prompted the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) to issue a “contingency planning memorandum” for the next Lebanon war. Authored by Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Israel as well as the first commissioner of the short-live Israeli Baseball League, it suggests that Washington pressure Israel not to attack Hezbollah. An Israeli-Hezbollah war, he concludes, “would hold almost no positive consequences for the United States.” Kurtzer doubts that the Obama Administration could resist pro-Israel pressure so he also advises that providing more advanced U.S. weaponry to Israel could induce Israeli restraint. He warns that Israel could strike swiftly and without warning, providing almost no time for U.S. sponsored “preventive diplomacy.”

The cause of Israeli-Hezbollah tension is the large quantity and enhanced quality of missiles that Hezbollah has acquired since the 2006 war. Secretary of Defense Gates described Hezbollah as possessing more missiles than most governments, which, if not misleading, Kurtzer says has “breached the limits of what Israel considers acceptable behavior.”

The International Crisis Center (ICC) concurs with Kurtzer’s prediction but forecasts a wider war embroiling Israel, Syria, Hezbollah, Lebanon, and perhaps Iran. It too recognizes that Hezbollah’s robust missile inventory underlies current tension but its in-depth analysis offers a more complex portrait of events. In contrast to Kurtzer, who views Hezbollah’s missiles only in terms of a threat to Israel, the ICC interprets the missile build-up as part of the dynamics of deterrence. Hezbollah, according to the ICC, can now retaliate to an Israeli strike by inflicting serious harm on a wide swath of Israeli civilians. The report finds that officials “from both Israel and Hizbollah privately share the conviction that the ability to inflict widespread damage represents their most effective means of deterrence.” But this stability is precariously fragile. The ICC quotes a Hezbollah official’s observation that “the new paradigm of ‘mutually assured destruction’ adds to the uncertainty. It could deter Israel from attacking, for fear of the fallout. Or it could prompt it to do so, out of concern that Hizbollah’s capability might rise even further.”

Whether the next war is sparked by premeditation or a miscalculation, Lebanese civilians and the country’s infrastructure will not be spared. It will likely include an Israeli attack on Syria to stop it from supplying weaponry to Hezbollah and perhaps to topple the regime. The fear of an unrestrained Israeli attack has caused so called “axis of resistance” – Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and Iran – to intensify their security ties, creating something echoing a mutual defense agreement. Not surprisingly, these moves only deepen Israel’s sense of peril. The ICC report is both sobering and chilling. It and Kurtzer offer some worthwhile recommendation to ameliorate the growing risk of war; unfortunately, past history suggests that such counsel may fall on deaf ears.

Will Iraq Join a Middle East Nuclear Arms Race?

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

In the current issue of Joint Forces Quarterly, Richard L. Russell, a professor at the National Defense University, portends a Middle East on the verge of a nuclear arms race.  His prognosis is based on the many Arab states, plus Turkey, that have expressed an interest in acquiring or reinvesting in nuclear power to meet their future energy needs.  Russell fears that peaceful nuclear power in the Arab world inevitably will lead to clandestine nuclear weapons development.

Russell faults Iran for prompting the likelihood of a nuclear arms race but he also recognizes that the Islamic Republic is not the only contributor to a regional nuclear arms race. Russell identifies five factors influencing the acquisition of nuclear weapons in the region: “to deter adversaries, compensate for conventional military shortcomings, fight wars, garner domestic political power, and win international political power, especially to leverage against the United States.”

Russell warns that “given this powerful array of determinants for nuclear weapons present and pervasive in the Middle East, the current Western push to market and sell nuclear power infrastructure and capabilities to the region is dangerously short-sighted. These capabilities could well be converted for military nuclear weapons programs in some shape or form in the next generation.”

Absent from Russell’s review is consideration of war-torn Iraq, a significant omission in light of an in-depth study published by the U.S. Army War College.  Authored by Dr. Norman Cigar, a former senior Pentagon Middle East analyst, the report concludes that Iraqi political elites are determined to reconstitute their country’s nuclear program, including the possible development of nuclear weapons. Cigar readily acknowledges that forecasting Iraq’s future is unpredictable but concludes that “one should expect in Iraq the same movement toward nuclear power as in the rest of the Middle East, at least in the civilian sector.”  He relates how as early as 1993, Iraqi nuclear scientists were urging a resumption of a nuclear program and that “virtually everyone in [Iraq’s] informed public” view nuclear power as “quintessentially emblematic of scientific and intellectual progress.”

The Iraqi  Shi’a community, Cigar found, was largely supportive of Iran’s nuclear endeavors and some viewed a nuclear armed Iran as a shield against threats from neighboring Sunni countries, Israel or the United States. In contrast, Iraqi Sunnis and secular leftists viewed Iran’s nuclear proclivities with alarm. But generally, “within the informed [Iraqi] public opinion,” Cigar found a “domestic and intellectual and political environment that is receptive to the notion of nuclear weapons as a useful and legitimate instrument of national power.”

Iraq has begun to reestablish its nuclear program by reintegrating itself into the Arab world’s official nuclear research mainstream, asking France to help build a nuclear reactor in Iraq, and seeking Italian investment in its nuclear industry.  The government is also trying to reconstitute the country’s scientific community – Cigar’s sources estimate that some 5,500 Iraqi scientists were lost through emigration or assassination; of those killed, 350 were nuclear scientists.

Cigar concludes that a near-term resumption of an Iraqi military program is unlikely, although how Iraqi leadership views regional threats could change that prediction.  He implicitly takes issue with Russell’s thesis in JFQ that rejected any suggestion that Israel’s nuclear weapons play a role in the possible proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Cigar asserts that a resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict “would create an environment that is less conductive to consensus for the need of nuclear weapons” and recognizes that “a continuing fear of Israel’s nuclear intentions … spurs and justifies calls for proliferation of nuclear weapons as a counterweight.”  He also identifies the double standard on which the U.S. and the international community judges Israel’s nuclear weapons and those of other regional states as a cause for proliferation. Lastly, the former Pentagon analyst recommends that the United States and its allies avoid “threatening regimes such as Iran’s with forcible change.”  He counsels that such intimidation only “make regional rulers defensive, putting a premium on acquiring a nuclear deterrent as a buttress to regime security, thus sparking a cascade effect.”

Transforming America’s Israel Lobby: The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change by Dan Flesher (Potomac Books, Inc., 2009) Reviewed by Eli Clifton

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in their 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, triggered a firestorm of controversy when they argued that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East was contrary to U.S. national interests and the trouble was due to the activities of a coalition of pro-Israel lobbies.  The authors’ portrayed the “Israel Lobby” to be largely aligned with the American and Israeli right-wing and Israel’s Likud Party and an overwhelming force for any dissenting voices to go up against.

Dan Flesher thinks the power of the Israel lobby is largely based on “smoke and mirrors.” The real question, he argues in Transforming America’s Israel Lobby: The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change, is “Why have American Jews let the lobby speak for them?” He points out that opinion polls of American Jews suggest that they are politically to the left of the stances taken by the lobby’s biggest voices. 

Arising from this gap has been a number of new, pro-Israel organizations willing to challenge the hard lined policies of the major Jewish organizations. Assessing these differing viewpoints forms the basis for Fleshler’s insightful book. He is well positioned to analyze this break-away movement, having worked with a number of left-of-center American Jewish groups including Americans for Peace Now, the Givat Haviva Educational Foundation, and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, organizations  dedicated to advancing Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Transforming America’s Israel Lobby examines the terrain of American Jewish organizations’ stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including: the “Far Left or Religious Anti-Zionist’’—which includes Jewish Voices for Peace; the “Pro-Israel Left’’—which includes J Street; the “Center Left’’—which includes the Union of Reform Judaism; the “Center’’—which includes the Anti-Defamation League; the ‘”Center Right’’—which includes AIPAC; and the ‘”Far Right’’—which includes American friends of Likud and the Zionist Organization of America.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), often seen as the figurehead of the “Israel Lobby,’’ stands to the right of most of these groups.  Fleshler explains that AIPAC’s strength lies in its ability to give American Jews a link to Israel when increasing numbers of American Jews are finding themselves detached from the narrative of Israel’s founding and the holocaust.  AIPAC and the most mainstream American Jewish organizations give their membership an opportunity to rally around Israel.  But they create for them “diaspora lag,’’ where controversial topics, such as discussions of a Palestinian state and negotiating with Hamas, often remain verboten even when they have been publicly discussed in the Israeli media.

Fleshler suggests that AIPAC’s political muscle on Capitol Hill is on account of few opposing lobbies within the Jewish community.  The mere fact that it exists and is able to muster public support when needed is motivation enough for a large number of US politicians to fall in line with AIPAC’s positions.

Fleshler also posits that AIPAC and the “Israel Lobby” have magnified their perceived influence through “smoke and mirrors” by leveraging long-held anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish control of the media and economy.  He discusses how bundled campaign contributions coming from out-of-state Jewish donors to a congressional candidate with few Jews in his or her district helps confirm the myth of Jewish money even when the total sum of money may be relatively small.

Fleshler makes a strong case that progressive American Jewish organizations can tap into a constituency willing to stand up to the mainstream “Israel Lobby.” Groups such as J Street, a recently formed progressive counter-point to AIPAC (Fleshler sits on its advisory council), should speak up and give politicians “cover” for taking stances which pressure Israel to give up its settlements and promote the formation of a viable Palestinian state, the book argues.

Fleshler’s core argument, borrowed from the former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy,  is that it is in the interests of American Jews who care about Israel to recognize that American strategic interests in the Middle East require a more active U.S.  role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That the book offers few concrete suggestions on how a center-left coalition within the American Jewish community might gain greater influence is disappointing. But that Fleshler places the ADL – whose national director, Abraham Foxman, thought talking to Muslims was “a pipe dream” because there was “no one to talk to” and opposed U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell’s Mideast tour because he was “even handed” – in the center of the Jewish political spectrum suggests that he may have a higher hill to climb than he thinks. He also fails to address a belief long held among some Washington policymakers that Israel’s role in the Arab world serves U.S. interests. Despite Fleshler’s cogent argument that the “Israel Lobby” rests on “puffery” and “smoke and mirrors,” any center-left Jewish coalition trying to bring a “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” voice to the ongoing saga of U.S.-Israel relations faces a difficult and complex challenge.

Eli Clifton writes on U.S. foreign policy issues for the Inter Press Service News Agency.

Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism by Victoria Clark (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; 2007). 331 pages. Reviewed by Donald E. Wagner

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

British writer Victoria Clark provides a comprehensive historical overview of Christian Zionism from its origins in the British Isles to its contemporary manifestations in the United States.  Her fluid style offers the reader an informative, well documented, and easy to read narrative.

Clark begins by taking us inside a typical Christian Zionist “Holy Land tour,” in her case with a Colorado mega-church. They provide for us their home-grown version of American Christian Zionism, including a right-wing, pro-Israel, end-time belief system that typically shapes the worldviews of these true believers. Their core belief is that the in-gathering of world Jewry to Palestine will bring about the second coming of Christ, when Jesus will defeat the anti-Christ in the final Battle of Armageddon, and set up his thousand year reign.

Clark traces the historic development of Christian Zionists to sixteenth century England as exhibited in the writings of Rev. Thomas Brightman, whose monograph “The Revelation of the Revelations” dates back at least to 1585.  Similar writers inspired the Puritans, such as John Winthrop –the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony – to immigrate to the New World in the belief that their settlement drive served a divine purpose. The thinking of Rev. John Nelson Darby, who many call the “Father of Christian Zionism,” merged with other early evangelical thinking to create the “restorationist” movement (“the Jews must be restored to Palestine”) which gradually became a political movement in support of the Zionist movement.

Clark’s work on the American roots of Christian Zionism focuses primarily on evangelist William E. Blackstone, who organized the first official Zionist lobby initiative in 1891, a full six years before the founding of Herzl’s World Zionist Congress. Financing Blackstone’s petition drive was J.P.Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and publisher Charles B. Scribner and support was found among U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, Supreme Court Justices, and numerous clergy.

By the time the Clark moves to her final chapter, “Talking Texan,” she has established an insightful historical context for understanding modern-day Christian Zionism in America. Their support for Israel is complex and muti-faceted: many confuse the Israel of the Bible with the modern state of Israel; some think Biblical prophecies are approaching fulfillment in modern Israel; others believe that after the battle of Armageddon, Jews will convert to Christianity and Jesus will rule from Jerusalem. Texas is spotlighted as the place where the erudite, theological debates of the 1800s were “simplified and sensationalized” and turned into “the gun-slinging, Armageddon-fixated ideology it is today, the prevailing system of the American south.” But this exaggerates the Lone State’s domination of the movement and improperly stereotypes Christian Zionism to be a southern phenomenon.  In fact, the movement has substantial influence throughout the United States, ranging from small Midwestern towns to southern California to the mega-churches of Colorado, and has a growing presence in Africa, Asia, and throughout Europe.

Clark’s foray into theological analysis is also problematic.  Her generic use of the terms “Evangelical” and “Christian Zionist” fails to distinguish the variety of tendencies that characterize these complex Christian movements.  Such personalities as televangelists Pat Robertson and Rev. John Hagee, former President Jimmy Carter, and head of Sojourners Jim Wallis, all claim the term Evangelical, but the first two are the polar opposites of the second pair.  Evangelical Christianity is an umbrella term that covers a variety of theological and political tendencies, of which less than 10% are Christian Zionists, who are more accurately described as “fundamentalists” or the right-wing of Evangelicalism.

A more thorough discussion was warranted of the powerful critique of Christian Zionism by the Heads of Churches, who represent the local Palestinian Christian community in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and inside Israel.  This indigenous Christian opposition challenges the heart of Christian Zionism and the central project of Israel and offers perhaps the most important assessment of Christian Zionism that is available today.  Sadly, the critique is hardly developed.

Aside from these flaws, Clark has packaged a phenomenal amount of historical material into a single volume. It stands as an important resource that you may want to keep in sight for the next couple of years.  The Christian right already has started to gear up for the 2010 Congressional elections and the 2012 Presidential elections. Christian Zionism runs deep in American culture and it has the institutions and grass-roots support to rally voters in support of its candidates.  So keep this useful book on your bookshelf, as the themes discussed by Victoria Clark are likely to be heard in the near future.


The Rev. Dr. Donald E. Wagner is an ordained Presbyterian clergyman and is an Associate Professor of Religion at North Park University in Chicago, where he is the Executive Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He served for ten years as the Director of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding. His books include Anxious for Armageddon (1995), Peace or Armageddon (1993), and All in the Name of the Bible (1988). During the 1980s he was National Director of the US Palestine Human Rights Campaign.

Israel’s “Sadat Option”: Could Israel Push the U.S. to Attack Iran? – Joint Forces Quarterly

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

The  general consensus among military policy wonks is that an Israeli attack to halt Iran’s nuclear development would be difficult and largely ineffectual: the lengthy flightpath would have Israel’s warplanes transiting over possible hostile foreign airspace, it doesn’t have a sufficient number of aircraft to hit all of Iran’s widely dispersed nuclear installations, and the long fight probably would prohibit its bombers from carrying the heavy ordinance necessary to destroy Iran’s hardened sites. Only the United States has the capability to mount a sustained and widespread attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.  President Bush had rejected Israel’s request for a joint U.S.-Israeli attack and the Obama administration so far has shown no willingness to resort to the military option to force Iran to halt its nuclear development.

But Richard L. Russell, a professor at the National Defense University, points out that Israel could push the U.S. into a fight with Iran.  Writing in the Joint Forces Quarterly, a publication for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Russell shares Israel’s view that economic sanctions against Iran will have little meaningful effect and that Tehran will continue a clandestine nuclear weapons program under the cover of prolonged negotiations.  He posits that Israel could take a page from Anwar Sadat’s playbook:  the 1973 war was not launched to defeat Israel but to shake Washington and Tel Aviv into starting meaningful negotiations.  Russell suggests that Israel could become frustrated at the slow pace of negotiations and “strike out militarily with no illusion of severely damaging Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but with every intention of shocking the international community via the Sada option into substantially greater diplomatic, political, economic, and military pressure on Iran.”

The drawback with this plan is that no one believes that in response to an assault, Iran simply would sit back and do nothing.  Russell recognizes that Iran and most of the Muslim world inevitably would blame Washington for an Israeli strike, resulting in retaliatory attacks against a broad range of U.S. interests worldwide. Iranian action against U.S. forces in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, attacks by the Revolutionary Guards on U.S. ships in the Gulf, or Iranian sponsored terrorist attacks would compel U.S. counter-attacks. Similarly, the Obama administration would be hard pressed not to come to Israel’s defense if Iran retaliated with missile strikes against Israel.

Russell hints that Israeli action against Iran could be precipitated by bellicose threats or reckless action by Iran or by strikes by Hizballah, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad against Israeli interests.  Any such incidents also could serve as a pretext for war, much like the incidents used to justify Israel’s 2006 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon.  But unlike Lebanon, exercizing the “Sadat option” by Israel most likely would push the United States into a war with Iran.  Russell tactfully sidesteps this conclusion; he simply suggests that U.S. military planner be ready for Iranian retalliation.

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