Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Pro-Israel Lobby: Defending Israel or Stifling Debate including of the Saudi Peace Initiative--The Doha Debates Chez Chiara

As indicated by the photo, this Doha Debate, on the impact of the pro-Israeli lobby on US and Western policy and debate, was held at the Oxford Union debating chamber at Oxford University, UK, on  May 1, 2007. 15 Qatari high school and university students were invited to travel to Oxford to be part of the audience. Their travels and activities are the subject of a photojournal here.

As indicated in the post, Israel Apartheid Week: 1-4 weeks focused on Palestine, I am proposing this Israel themed Doha Debate, along with the previous one, Calling on Obama: Get Tough on Israel, for readers to participate in here. Recent events in Israel and in the US--including regarding their relationship--make these debates current. This debate rounds out those included because of  Israel Apartheid Week, and focused on the Israeli aspect, though the Palestinian situation will come up again from other perspectives.

Recent events have made this topic more urgent than it constantly is: Fear and foreboding in the Middle East, Mayor backs Netanyahu over ongoing East Jerusalem Construction, US Fails to Persuade Israel on Housing Plan, Netanyahu Ends US Visit Without Resolving Settlement Dispute, More than 250 Congress members declare commitment to 'unbreakable' U.S.-Israel bond. These articles also suggest that when the US does disagree with Israel or direct its policy against Israel's wishes, the friendship carries little weight. On the contrary, Israel has escalated its behaviour, Israel tanks 'enter Gaza' after deadly clashes.

For more information on The Doha Debates generally, which follow Oxford Union debating rules, see the website of  The Doha Debates; for more information on The Doha Debates and the Doha Debates Chez Chiara see the introductory post;, and the blog Category Doha Debates (DohaDebates) on the sidebar. The following includes excerpts from the panelists' biographies, the debate transcript, and the final result. A summary statement precedes each of the dialogues with a particular audience member whose photo is included. Full information for this debate is here. The full transcript may be read here. The full debate may be listened to on podcast here. The video of the full debate is here.

The Motion
This House believes the pro-Israeli lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel's actions

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening to you and welcome to a very special session of the Doha Debates sponsored by the Qatar Foundation. As you can see, we've left behind our regular venue in the Gulf and we're here in Britain as guests of the Oxford Union - the most famous debating chamber in the world and the inspiration for the Doha Debates. The Union has a proud record of hosting controversial figures and discussing sensitive subjects. Malcolm X spoke here, so did Yasser Arafat and Richard Nixon. Former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan called the Union 'the last bastion of free speech in the Western world,' and for that and many other reasons, we're delighted to be here. Our debate tonight is also concerned with free speech, especially as it relates to criticism of the state of Israel. How far do Israel's friends go in seeking to protect its reputation? Why did former US President Jimmy Carter claim it was now impossible to have a rational debate about Israel in the United States? Our motion reads 'This House believes the pro-Israel lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel's actions' and we have a panel well-equipped to debate it.

Speaking for the motion

Norman Finkelstein is an author and professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago and is the son of Jewish Holocaust survivors. He is known as a strong critic of Israel and US foreign policy and has written five books including the most recent 'Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History'.

His other books include 'The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering' and 'Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict'. In April 2005, the UK's Channel 4 broadcast an hour-long documentary called 'The Final Insult' which was based on his Holocaust Industry book. [The documentary on how Holocaust survivors were cheated by the World Jewish Congress can be viewed in full here.]

He received his doctorate in 1988 from Princeton University for a thesis on the theory of Zionism.

Thank you. I've devoted most of my adult life, a large part of it, to studying the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the most striking thing when you look at the actual record on the conflict - the historical record, the human rights record, the diplomatic record - the most striking thing is when you look at the actual record, how little controversy, how little dispute, how little disagreement there is among the experts and authorities, yet when you enter the arena of public debate, public discussion, the media - all of a sudden the Israel/Palestine conflict becomes so controversial. It's as if nobody agrees on anything. It's my view that the vast preponderance of this alleged controversy is fabricated, it's conjured up, it's contrived by the pro-Israel lobby in order to sow confusion, deflect attention from and stifle discussion about the actual record which is so damning of Israel. The main means used are first of all to mystify the conflict, to claim that it's so complicated that it requires a knowledge the equivalent of rocket science to penetrate its mysteries. Secondly, the dragging in of extraneous issues like the so-called new anti-Semitism, and finally the vast proliferation of misinformation, disinformation and sheer fraud which masquerades as scholarship and which is then validated and even acclaimed by the mainstream media. That's the problem.

Andrew Cockburn is a full-time writer, lecturer on defense and international affairs and award winning documentary maker. His latest book 'Rumsfeld, An American Disaster' which was published in the US as 'Rumsfeld, His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy' was released this year.

Mr. Cockburn grew up in Ireland and after graduating from Oxford University, went to work on Fleet Street, first for the Evening Standard, then the Daily Mail. After working on 'World in Action,' a British TV investigative documentary programme, Mr. Cockburn moved to New York, where he worked as a producer for ABC News before joining WGBH 'World'. There he produced 'The Red Army," which won the George Foster Peabody award in 1982, and, later, 'Frontline,' for which he made hour-long documentaries on topics ranging from the Colombian cocaine cartels ('Inside the Cartels') to the aftermath of the first Gulf War ('The War We Left Behind'). In 1997 he co-produced 'The Peacemaker' starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.

He has also written for numerous newspapers and magazines ranging from The New York Times to The Guardian and National Geographic. His books include 'The Threat; Inside the Soviet Military Machine' and 'Dangerous Liaison,' co-authored with Leslie Cockburn, on the US-Israeli defense and intelligence relationship.

He now lives in Washington DC.

Debate on this issue is stifled or restrained in the Western world, more so in some places than others. Where I live and work in the United States it's particularly egregious. In fact to have this debate or to raise the issue of this motion would be or can be considered anti-Semitic in and of itself. I mean, Walt and Mearsheimer who have just been under discussion, these two serious professors, they had been accused of being anti-Semitic for suggesting that the Israeli lobby has a deleterious effect on US foreign policy. It's true that in other parts, in some countries such as this one, there is a little more room for manoeuvre but that may be a measure of Britain's importance or lack of it. It slightly reminds me of the debate that takes place every year in the UN when the vast majority or the UN General Assembly votes to condemn or call for an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, or voting against the US/Israel Nauru and Micronesia, maybe a few other great powers like that, and the no's have it, so it's one of those irrelevant debates. I think what we're concerned about here is the relevant debate, the real political arena which, given the attitude of the British government and European governments indeed to US policy on the matter really is made in the United States, and there it's very clear, that there are, you know, red lines, that you really as a politician or journalist dare not cross. If you know what's good for you, you will refer to, for instance, the 'wall', this obscene creation across the Occupied Territory in the West Bank, as a 'fence'. The New York Times did so. Last week The New York Times had a piece on security walls and they talked about the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, described as walls, the wall that's presently being built in Baghdad to divide the Sunni and Shia communities, that was a 'wall', and then the picture of this enormous thing in the West Bank and that was called a 'border barrier' even though in fact it's not on the border. So, you know, it goes across the board and you defy that at your peril. I mean, there's an occasional sort of example like the professors, and I'm very glad they got their money. There was no debate about Jimmy Carter until he got attacked, until in fact he wasn't really mentioned in The New York Times for example, our sort of Pravda we live with, until a rather obscure member, an obscure board, attached to an obscure academic attached to the Carter Center resigned, whereupon suddenly there was a huge piece in The New York Times saying, not saying obscure academic but saying, you know, making him sound very important, resigned in disgust at Carter's tract. All the discussion about Carter's book was not about what was in it, which is actually fairly ordinary, but about this horrific fact that he'd used the word 'apartheid' and then you know, the showers of abuse that Norman mentioned, so I mean, a more recent example, you know, you can't refer to, Barak Obama, presidential candidate, tried to refer to the sufferings of the Palestinian people, had to apologise. It's something every journalist and politician lives with in America and it's just a fact of life.

Speaking against the motion

Dr. Martin Indyk is a Middle East expert, former US Ambassador to Israel and Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. He is also the former Director of Research for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Ambassador Indyk served two tours in Israel, the first during the Rabin years (1995-97), and the second (2000-June 2001) during efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace and stem the violence of the intifada. Prior to his first assignment in Israel, Dr. Indyk served as special assistant to President Clinton and as senior director of Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC). He was a senior member of Secretary Warren Christopher's Middle East peace team and in the second Clinton Administration he was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, responsible for Middle East policy, under Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Dr. Indyk has published widely on US policy towards the Arab-Israeli peace process and the complex challenges of the Middle East. Before entering government service, Dr. Indyk served for eight years as founding executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is Chairman of the International Council of the New Israel Fund, Vice-President of the American Friends of the Rabin Center and serves on the boards of several organisations including Freedom from Hunger.

He received a bachelor of Economics degree from Sydney University and a doctorate in International Relations from the Australian National University.

Thank you, Tim. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I think the fact that the Doha Debates has come to the Oxford Union, the home of debating, is an indication that there's no stifling of the debate. But let me just pick up on the Jimmy Carter example. He has written three books highly critical of Israel, the last one, 'Palestine Peace Not Apartheid', was numbe r four on The New York Times bookseller list. By his own account, as he went on a book tour around the United States, he was greeted by thousands of people who turned out to hear his anti-Israel message. He was hosted, unlike Norman, on all the major network TV talk shows, ABC, NBC, National Public Radio, the Lehrer News Hour, Wolf Blitzer, even Larry King. He had pieces published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe summarising his argument. Of course Carter managed to generate a fire-storm of criticism, not just from defenders of Israel but from people who had worked with him and considered that this particular account was biased and cavalier with the facts, but that's the best evidence that there's no stifling of the debate, on the contrary, in fact the debate has been very intense. The second case of course is the even more famous one that you'll be aware of, of Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer. These two American academics from established universities, Chicago and Harvard, wrote a very lengthy paper on the Israel lobby that was first published here by The London Review of Books. It claimed that there was a vast cabal of pro-Israel supporters who constitute a powerful machine that was distorting the American national interest in Israel's favour. Not surprisingly, it too set off a fire-storm of debate, including a symposium in the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine, an unprecedented two-day debate on national public radio, several articles in The New York Review of Books, a debate at New York's famous Cooper Union, pieces in The Washington Post and New York Times, and articles in Commentary, US News and World Report, The American Prospect, New York Sun, etc. Etc. I checked on Google tonight. There are 220,000 hits when you put Walt and Mearsheimer together. There's clearly no stifling of the debate here, but even if you don't accept all of that, Walt and Mearsheimer have just landed a book contract from Farrar Straus Giroux, the publishers of Tom Friedman's books, for $750,000 advance. That kind of lucrative response to their charges of anti-Israelism gives you a sense that perhaps there's another reason that Norman isn't on television or isn't getting such lucrative contracts even though he is published by the University of California Press. One thing that all of these people have in common, and there are many more of them who've been published in the United States, the list is endless of people who make this argument about Israel's sins and the power of the Israel lobby, and what they all have in common is that they all claim that they're being stifled.

David Aaronovitch is a British journalist, broadcaster and author and is a regular columnist for The Times. He won the George Orwell prize for political journalism in 2000 and was the 'What the Papers Say Columnist of the Year' for 2003. He is the author of 'Paddling to Jerusalem: An Aquatic Tour of Our Small Country' (2000) and he is currently completing a book about conspiracy theories which will be published in Spring 2008.

A former BBC programme editor and executive, Mr. Aaronovitch joined The Independent in 1995 and soon became a columnist, sketch-writer and for two years TV reviewer on The Independent on Sunday. At the beginning of 2003, he switched to The Guardian and Observer becoming only one of two writers working on both titles. In June 2005, he moved to The Times.

Mr. Aaronovitch has presented and appeared in numerous television programmes. He has presented Newsnight, Parkinson's Radio 2 programme as well as being a guest on Question Time.

I suppose I stand as the sole representative of Western debate outside the United States, since all previous references have actually been to events inside the United States. There was an attempt that Andrew made to suggest that somehow or other - I think your phrase, Andrew, was, 'There's a little more room here in Britain, but that's probably a measure of the country's lack of importance.' I took that to mean that it wasn't sufficiently important for the pro-Israel lobby to start lobbying hard in Britain, because it wasn't considered to be significant enough. That is, you know, that's a kind of gratuitous insult to this country. However, because we have an ability to debate everything openly, one of the things that you will discover if you stay here for any length of time is that there is a vigorous debate about Israel in Britain, and I would hazard a guess that in France, in Italy and in Germany you could not also possibly say that any Israel lobby controls the terms of the debate or seeks to stifle it, so what I'm going to suggest to do first just as we begin is that what may be arguably true of the United States is simply not true of Europe and therefore you couldn't actually pass this motion on the basis that it was put in any case. It simply isn't true of Britain, that there is an attempt or a big attempt to stifle debate in this country by any so-called Israel lobby. There isn't a big Israel lobby in this country and it doesn't stifle debate. If debate is stifled in this country and in Europe, then as some Danish cartoonists found out to their cost, it isn't coming from any Israel lobby. It comes from a completely different series of sources and a completely different series of sensitivities, and that is a debate probably for another time. As to what you can call things here in Britain, in The Jewish Chronicle, I wrote an article calling what you said is called the fence, a wall, called it a wall. Do you know what, Andrew? I didn't get a single letter of objection from anybody to my doing that in The Jewish Chronicle, so I think what we're really talking about here is something slightly different. Now, everybody here has made a decision tonight, they've made a decision not to watch Chelsea versus Liverpool on the television tonight. One of the conceivable reasons why some of you might not, apart from an abiding dislike of football, is to watch Jose Mourinho do one of his operations at the end where he says that he should have got a penalty but his side was uniquely deprived of the right to a penalty or a bad decision because referees have simply got it in for them, or in the case of Manchester United, he usually argues that referees love Manchester United better because the Manchester United players put pressure on them, and this is known in England commonly, and in Scotland too, as 'we was robbed.' It's the 'we was robbed' defence. The Israel lobby is the great 'we was robbed' attack of those people who believe that history has unjustifiably gone against them, and I submit to you that the problem with this is that it actually constructs not a proper argument, it evades a proper argument while giving you two racial stereotypes for the price of one: the manipulative Jew on the one hand, and the childish Muslim who can't get an argument together on the other, and that's a good reason for rejecting the motion.

Audience Input

The ongoing, daily, media misrepresentation of the Israel/Palestine conflict that obscures occupation and racial discrimination in Iraeli law
I have questions for Martin Indyk and for David Aaronovitch. Both of you focused on exceptions, citing cases where people have succeeded to publish books and so on, but the fact of the matter is that in daily policy, in daily news coverage, we have an ongoing situation where the conflict is misrepresented. In America you'd never see any argument for Palestine on Fox News. You'd never think that Palestine is occupied by watching CNN and that there are severe racial discrimination laws within Israeli society...
Okay, and your question please. Can we have your question now please?
Here in Oxford as a student organiser, I would like to mention that here in Oxford we were denied rooms to speak about Palestine, so how can you claim that debate isn't stifled in England? Thank you.
Well, I'll leave David to talk about what happens here, but in the United States, it's true that Fox News is hardly fair and balanced in its approach to any subject. I think CNN does a much better job, but on the question of the Palestinians getting their story out, I just think that that's another myth. I think the Palestinians' story is out there day in and day out, and it's reported from all sides, and it's reported in all of the major newspapers as well as the mainstream television networks, and you know, the same argument is made about the BBC, that the BBC is somehow pro-Arab and anti-Israel, and I think that this is simply a manifestation of people not liking what they see because they happen to have a different point of view, but the notion that the Palestinian cause is not getting covered in the United States is simply flat out wrong. It gets huge coverage.
That's not entirely true, Martin. I mean, it gets a lot of coverage but it's not exactly an accurate coverage. I mean, we can look at a lot of examples but like Camp David, it's been repeated endlessly, I think by yourself included, that following the negotiations at Camp David in the summer of 2000, or during those negotiations, the Palestinians led by Yasser Arafat rejected an offer by Israel to give them practically everything they'd ever wanted. That is flat out not true, as has been actually explained by some of the US officials who were there.
But it's not the Clinton view and he was there.
Well, it's Robert Malley's view, it's also Shlomo Ben-Ami's explanation.
So Clinton's wrong?
Let's take that specific example and let's see whether we're getting an accurate picture of what's happening, in particular let's see if Martin Indyk is rendering an accurate picture of what happened. Very quickly let's go through the record. It'll take a half-minute.
I don't think you've seen my book.
I've read your accounts, Mr. Indyk.
No you haven't, they haven't come out yet.
I've read your account before the Congress. In July 2000, there are negotiations. They ended in impasse. Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's own Foreign Minister and a main negotiator, he himself said, 'If I were a Palestinian, I would have rejected the offer at Camp David in July 2000.' There are new negotiations. They continued till December. In December, President Clinton presents his famous parameters. Both sides, both sides accepted the parameters with reservations. How does Martin Indyk report it to Congress? He says, 'Only Arafat rejected the Clinton parameters'.
Okay, let's have Martin Indyk reply to that.
Thanks. Look, I agree with what Norman just defined in terms of what happened in July at Camp David. He doesn't know what my view of that is. Barak did make a generous offer there, but I don't think it was an offer that Arafat could possibly have accepted. In December of 2000 it was a very different story. Notwithstanding the violence and terrorism that had taken place from October on, the Clinton administration, President Clinton put down a very clear offer of a Palestinian independent state in all of Gaza and 95-97% of the West Bank, with territorial compensation for the 3-5% that might be absorbed into Israel; East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State including sovereignty for the Palestinians on the Haram Al-Sharif where the two holy mosques are, and all of the Palestinian Arab suburbs of Jerusalem would be under Arab Palestinian sovereignty, and a just solution for the refugees. What happened? I was ambassador in Israel, I received the cabinet decision that was taken by the government of Israel and conveyed it to President Clinton, accepting the parameters and then going through what the history had been of Israeli concessions up to that point. Yasser Arafat said to the President that he had a problem with four issues, I'll be glad to go into them. He did not accept them and he went away and as a result of that ...
Excuse me, we're going to move this on, there are a lot of people waiting.
... the process failed.

The valorization of Israel as a democracy, yet the failure to recognize Hamas as democratically elected
I have a question for Dr. Aaronovitch.
You dignify me. I'm no doctor.
Excuse me, I was being polite.
In that case, may I say, 'Thank you, Professor.' (laughter)
Thank you very much. You mentioned that one of the strongest aspects of the Israeli lobby and the reason why it's so strong is that Israel is a democracy. My question to you is that Hamas was democratically elected and although it does not have the means or the financial support to create such a strong government as that of the Israelis, why has it not been accepted by the United States, and isn't that a sign that the Israeli lobby has stifled in fact the acceptance of this democratically elected state?
It's a very good question but note what you've left out. You've left out that it was also rejected by the European Union. No, hold on, even Andrew has not until now, if he wants to, can now suggest that the EU is also in the pocket of the Americans, in which case your line of demonology works like this: The Americans are in the pocket of the Israel lobby, Britain is in the pocket of the Americans, the EU is somehow despite Iraq in the pocket of the Americans as well, therefore ergo the West is in the pocket of the Israel lobby. And anybody who believes that the question of the right of return of Palestinians is not a complicated question must indeed answer that the answer to everything is that the Israel lobby is behind everything.
You haven't really answered my question.
No, to be honest, to be absolutely honest, I've forgotten your question.
I asked you and I'm not sure if you've had difficulty answering the question or understanding it, but my question to you is, why hasn't the United States accepted Hamas as a ...
Oh yes, and it is a good question, and it's not just the United States. Why has the EU ...
I don't want to know about Europe, I want to know about the United States.
No, no, I want to talk about Europe. I want to answer in my own way.
But you haven't answered my question.
Maybe there are dangers in my answering in my own way but I'm still going to do it. Why have the EU and America not recognised the Hamas government? They have not recognised the Hamas government because Hamas refuses to recognise the right of Israel to exist, and also has not rejected terrorism. That's the formal reason. Now, I personally believe that was an error. I can see why the error was made, and there are very good reasons in Europe in particular, there are very particular sensitivities about toleration of terror and so on. I think it was a strategic error. The strategic error permitted people to say exactly the thing that you're saying, 'You're inconsistent' and so on, so I think it was an error, but I think it was an error that was made in good and not in bad faith.
May I quickly address that? Let's agree everything Mr. Aaronovitch just said is true, for argument's sake. There's an elementary principle of international law, it's called reciprocity. If you apply a law to one side, it's called hypocrisy. If you apply it to both sides, then it's called a moral statement, so let's look at this. He says Hamas is not recognised by the EU and the United States because Hamas won't recognise Israel. Now, the logical question is, can you name a single Israeli government official, political party, which has ever recognised a Palestinian state within its internationally legal borders, namely the whole of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem as its capital? That's the law, that's what the World Court said. The question of terrorism, yes, Hamas should renounce the use of terrorism. Well, what about Israel? According to the most recent reports, human rights reports from B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights, 4,000 Palestinians have been killed against 1,000 Israelis. On both sides the vast majority have been civilians.
What has that got to do with it?

The USA's adherence to a pro-Israel stance, as proned by the pro-Israel lobby has made it enemies
Would you not agree that instead of the defensive argument that America helps Israel because they have common enemies, the US has actually made enemies as a result of this pro-Israeli lobby, therefore stifling debate, as it gives the US a bad image?
Martin Indyk, do you want to pick up on that?
Well, I'm not sure of the connection between the reputation the United States gets and the issue of stifling debate. I don't know if you want to clarify that, but if you're saying that the United States' support for Israel costs it internationally, I think that that is probably correct if you're talking about the Arab world and the Muslim world, and that's a large part of the rest of the world, for sure, but the United States supports Israel for a whole host of reasons that don't include an applause meter in the Arab world. But pursuing a peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and the Arabs is the best way to resolve that problem, and that's where I agree with David that the Bush administration fell down, did something that was damaging to American interests. But they didn't do it because of the Israel lobby, because there were people on the Israel lobby who wanted the United States to be actively engaged in providing peace in the Middle East because that serves Israel's as well as America's interest because Israel's highest interest is to achieve peace with its neighbours.
Mr. Indyk says the United States versus the Arab world or the United States versus the Arab world and some other countries. Well, what is the reality - not the image projected - what's the reality? You go to the United Nations General Assembly, every year they vote on what's called the peaceful settlement of the Palestine question. There's the whole world on one side, literally, the whole world on one side and the other side you have the United States, Israel, Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. That's it. It's not a question of the United States versus the Arab world, the Arabs versus the Israelis. It's exactly what President Bush said in 1990, you remember President Bush Senior, he said, 'It's not Saddam versus the United States, it's Saddam versus the world,' and exactly the same way the problem here is not Israel versus the Palestinians, the United States and Israel versus the Arab World. It's the whole world on one side and the United States and Israel on the other, and that you will never know from reading the mainstream media.

The stifling of debate by the pro-Israel lobby in the West is matched in the East by a pro-Palestinian lobby
Let us just say at the moment that the debate is successfully stifled in the West. I think in that case it is also fair to say that the debate is successfully stifled in the East and Middle Eastern states. Would you say there is a very strong pro-Palestinian lobby in those states that makes them wholeheartedly side and stifle debate there on the Palestinian side? Because if not obviously your inductive logic does not follow.
Well, nobody's going to make the argument that there's free debate and discussion in the Arab world, but the key question to my thinking is, who or what entities are the obstacles to resolving the conflict? That's why we're all here. If you look at the Arab world, the Arab initiative April 2002, Martin Indyk in his congressional testimony, he portrayed it accurately. He said the Arab League, all 15 members, were offering full peace and normalisation with Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal. That's the opinion of the whole international community. That's the basis to settle the conflict. The Arab World, however stifling, there is discussion there and I won't dispute it, on the key question of resolving the conflict, the Arab World is with the entire international community, a two-state settlement based on the June 1967 borders. It is Israel and the United States which are out of step with the whole world and it's because of the lobby, they're the problem.
Not withdrawal to the 1967 borders though, Martin. Israel has not proposed that I don't think.
Listen, as a matter of fact, whenever Israel has had an Arab partner sitting down and negotiating with it, the consequence of that negotiation is for Israel to offer withdrawal, full withdrawal, to the 1967 borders. It happened with Egypt, it happened with Jordan, four Israeli Prime Ministers offered it to the Syrian President, and he didn't take the offer, it happened with Lebanon, and in the case of the Palestinians, we have had an Israeli government, the Barak government, as I said, that was prepared to offer a two-state solution on the basis of 100%, that is, 95-97% plus territorial compensation for 100%, and so if we could ever get back to the table, that is not going to be the problem.
Andrew Cockburn, you want to come back just briefly and then we're going to move on.
The famous Israel offers of 2000 at Camp David was to offer basically a series of Bantustans.
Well, that's not true.
It is.
That is the propaganda line put forward by people who have to find a way of explaining why Arafat rejected the offer.
Okay, we're going to move on now.
Martin Indyk went before Congress and he said that Ariel Sharon accepted the two-state settlement as depicted in the road map. That's what you wrote. Now, you take The Economist magazine. It described the two-state settlement offered by Ariel Sharon as withdrawal from 40-50% of the West Bank, so I ask you, Martin Indyk, 40-50% withdrawal, is that the road map? Is that the road map, Martin? Or was that a lie, misinformation?
Let him just answer that very briefly.
Last time I checked, Ariel Sharon is not the Prime Minister of Israel. The person who is now the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, was elected with a mandate to withdraw from the West Bank.
The West Bank or parts of the West Bank? You know, it's a big difference, Martin.
Oh, it's a big difference, for heaven's sake. Everybody knows, Norman, and you know it as well, what the outline of the deal is going to look like, you know. The Israelis put up a wall, you want to call it a wall, we'll call it a wall. They put up a wall that incorporated 8.5% of the West Bank.

Stifling debate,  including adequate discussion of the Saudi initiative
Thank you. A number of times during this debate, Barak Obama's remarks have come up and unlike Mr. Cockburn, the gentleman to my left quoted him correctly saying that no-one is suffering as much as the Palestinians, and the main thing about that statement is it's demonstrably false, because it doesn't matter if you take violent death, GDP per head, infant mortality, average life expectancy, there are huge amounts of people suffering more than the Palestinians. Nevertheless I think most people would agree that the Israeli/Palestinian situation receives more air time in the Western media than any other foreign problem, except possibly American elections and things.
So what is your point?
Now, given this it's true that there is a debate about Israel and that your problem is not that it's been stifled, because it's not, because it's out of all proportion to its genuine importance, your problem is that you haven't got the hegemony over the debate that you think you deserve, and that frankly you can't hack it.
Andrew Cockburn.
First of all, Obama was clearly talking in the context of Israel/ Palestine, so it's really your point is kind of beside the point. No-one's demanding hegemony, well, no-one on this side is demanding hegemony over the debate. We're just pointing out that the debate is very one-sided, that for example Martin may have told the Congress that the Saudi initiative offers a full withdrawal, but we don't read that in the papers.
What, he stifled himself? How did you manage that, Martin?
No, Martin didn't stifle, I think he may have said in full expectation it wouldn't be a headline in The New York Times the next day.
I'm a great advocate of the Saudi initiative because I'd like to see this problem solved.
Let him finish his point.
It's frequently said, I think I've heard it from the hall here tonight, that Hamas, David was saying that the European governments imposed the sanctions on Hamas because they refused to recognise Israel's right to exist. They, Hamas, have accepted the Arab initiative of 2002. You know, there's lots of rhetoric on all sides.
That's simply not true. That's simply not true. They did not accept it.

Could an Islamic lobby ever have as much power in the USA as the Israeli lobby does
The argument is that the lobby can stifle debate as it's very powerful. Well, do you believe that an Islamic lobby in the US could ever have as much power as the Israeli lobby does?
David Aaronovitch, what do you think?
It is absolutely obvious. I can't speak about the United States because I don't have the figures for there and also I don't know the distribution of the various voters, and I don't know the predisposition of Muslim voters from different countries to vote together and en bloc in the United States, I simply don't have any idea what it is. Traditionally, as I understand the American Jewish vote, it's been liberal, it's been in certain states rather than others, although it's not been clever enough to distribute itself into places like Texas which would have made it ... But it has been clever enough to go to places like Florida where things have been very close. But certainly in Europe there is the beginning of what seems to be an engagement by Muslim communities, various Muslim communities, you notice I'm being very careful here because peoples come from very, very different countries and from very different cultures and tradition, but they do have a series of common attitudes it seems to me about aspects of foreign policy, and their attitudes will become increasingly important to democratic politicians, certainly in Europe. I don't think that's any doubt, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that, by the way, so I think there will be some form of pressure upon politicians when it comes to some foreign policy decisions as a consequence of that, but in America I just can't say.
Can I just jump in on that?
Very briefly because we're running out of time now.
There are more American Muslims than there are American Jews, but they're not organised as a monolithic community. You know, there are Pakistani Muslims, there are Arab Muslims, there are Black Muslims, and on the other hand, the Jewish community, you know, if you have two Jews, you have three organisations. They're probably the most highly organised people in the world.
You just wanted to come back for a moment. What did you want to say?
Do you believe that this division is what makes it difficult for the Islamic people to actually gain as much power?
Well, I think it's just a reality that Muslims in America have one common interest which is how they are treated in the United States and they're treated as American citizens. There have been problems after 9/11 which they have managed to organise to lobby about and get their interests protected, but they don't have Palestine as their number one interest. Some of them do but most of them don't.

The Result

The vote is 65.6% for the motion, 34.4% against.
The motion has been resoundingly carried.

What is your opinion of the motion?
Do you have anything to add on the themes raised here?
Are there other themes you would have introduced?
What is your impression of the diversity of the audience members?
How do you view the positions of the panelists?
How would you vote: for or against the motion? Why?
Is the pro-Israeli lobby just a fact of life to be accepted? As even Palestinian journalists acknowledge about attitudes in the USA?
Is there, could there be, should there be an Islamic lobby in the US? How would it be different than a pro-Israeli lobby?
This debate occurred before Obama was elected. How did the final campaigning and his time in office change his relationship with the pro-Israeli lobby? Or did they?
What does the current US-Israel disagreement/stalemate say about the role of the Israeli lobby?
What is your impression of  the Saudi initiative? About the Western response to it?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Earth Hour: Australia Started It in 2007; 121 Countries Including Saudi Participate in 2010

Earth Hour will occur throughout the world on Saturday March 27, 2010 from 8:30pm-9:30pm local time. During this hour all electricity is to be cut throughout the world, except for non-essentials in an effort to raise awareness of, and take a stand against, global climate change. Canadians will be pleased to know that the Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) Saturday night broadcast of games is considered essential. Saudi Arabia is participating, as both Arab News, "Saudi Arabia to go dark for an hour",  "Turn off your lights: It's Earth Hour", and the Saudi Gazette, "Earth Hour: A symbolic, significant event",  have reported. Khaleej Times Online signals that this is a first:  "Saudi Arabia to Participate in Earth Hour for the First Time" and is to happen in municipalities throughout the KSA. The blog Earth Hour Jeddah details the event there.

From the official Earth Hour site's About page:

Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million homes and businesses turned their lights off for one hour to make their stand against climate change. Only a year later and Earth Hour had become a global sustainability movement with more than 50 million people across 35 countries participating. Global landmarks such as the, Sydney Harbour Bridge, The CN Tower in Toronto, The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Rome’s Colosseum, all stood in darkness, as symbols of hope for a cause that grows more urgent by the hour.
In March 2009, hundreds of millions of people took part in the third Earth Hour. Over 4000 cities in 88 countries officially switched off to pledge their support for the planet, making Earth Hour 2009 the world’s largest global climate change initiative.
Earth Hour 2010 takes place on Saturday 27 March at 8.30pm (local time) and is a global call to action to every individual, every business and every community throughout the world. It is a call to stand up, to take responsibility, to get involved and lead the way towards a sustainable future. Iconic buildings and landmarks from Europe to Asia to the Americas will stand in darkness. People across the world from all walks of life will turn off their lights and join together in celebration and contemplation of the one thing we all have in common – our planet. So sign up now and let’s make 2010 the biggest Earth Hour yet!.
It’s Showtime! Show the world what can be done.

The official Earth Day 2010 video

The following are the satellite photos of Earth taken by American astronaut Sunita Williams, used in a stunning power point presentation by her called Blue Beauty.

The full presentation as a video

The goal for tonight's Earth Hour is to darken the earth sequentially, so that each of these satellite photos, if taken between 20h30 and 21h30 locally in given parts of the world, would be blackened.

Participating in the past, with friends and family, has been a moving experience. I hope you all have/make a chance to share in it. As organizers hope 1 billion will join in, we'd best help out!

What plans do you/did you have for Earth Hour?
How will you/did you spend it? 
With whom?
How will you/did you manage without electricity?
What was your city like?
What impression did this hour of relative darkness give you?
How big a sacrifice was it to spend this time without electricity?
Is it a worthwhile action?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ann Coulter, Islamophobia, American Freedom of Speech, Canada's Right to Exist and Cancellation at the University of Ottawa--Relevance to Saudi?


Ann Coulter, former lawyer, and now professional far right wing, proud Neo-Con media pundit, is well known for her inflammatory statements about the left, liberals, Muslims, homosexuals, Obama, and once famously said about Canada's refusal to join the war in Iraq (we have been in Afghanistan since the beginning), that Canada should be grateful the the US allows it to exist. The following is a student compilation of Ann Coulter and fellow Fox News correspondents on Canada's right to exist:

Here is a sampling of other opinions Coulter has expressed on Canada and Canadians. She also famously (at least in Canada) argued with a CBC interviewer about whether Canada had sent troops to Vietnam. Although he offered her every face saving way to desist and move on, she insisted. The short clip is worth watching to get a sense of her style when cornered:

Recently Ann Coulter has graced Canada with her presence on a sponsored tour of Canadian campuses and other institutions opining on free speech. She recently exercised her American right of  free speech (different legally than in Canada where the threshold for hate speech is lower ie less tolerant of  it) at the University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario, Canada) telling a 17-year-old Muslimah student that all terrorists are Muslim, all Muslims are terrorists, and hence Muslims shouldn't be allowed to fly, but rather should travel by flying carpet, or, failing that, by camel. At her next scheduled stop, the University of Ottawa (a bilingual university in the nation's capital) student protests, including by Muslim students, prevented her talk from being held as planned.

This being Ann Coulter, the media were all over it, and of course she issued statements that provoked more controversy. I have included below 4 newspaper articles, 2 from the centre left national CBC, and 2 from the right wing Sun News organization, which together provide some context and a sense of the reactions to them. The links are included in the titles for those who want to read them in situ. I would only note at this point, that the Ezra Levant quoted is a far right wing, pro-Israel pundit, often in trouble with Muslim associations in Canada, and who, as the editor of the now defunct Western Standard, was the only major news editor in Canada to publish the Danish Cartoons.

It is also important to be aware that Canada, while valuing free speech, has a lower tolerance for hate speech, and a higher tolerance for media bans, than the US does. Also, freedom of speech in North America is quite different than that in MENA countries, including Saudi Arabia. Certain blogs have addressed freedom of speech in Saudi directly:  for example John Burgess  of Crossroads Arabia recently did a post on "Expanding Saudi Media Freedom", and Eman of Saudiwoman's Weblog posted March 24 on "Censored in KSA"; or in the context of freedom of speech in the West seeming to mean freedom of Islamophobic (but not anti-semitic) speech. In other cases, the issue comes up in the comments, often between Western commentators and Saudis, or Muslims, who differ in their perception of what is legitimate expression of criticism or disagreement, and what is hateful and offensive.

Coolred  of Coolred's Rant recently questioned the boundary between free speech and hate speech when she discovered her 2 highschoolers are regularly taunted and harassed as "terrorists" by virtue of being Arab and Muslim, "When is Freedom of Speech a Crime?". This is particularly painful as she went to considerable lengths to move her children from a negative social environment in Bahrain, where they were targeted because of their father's abuse, as she has documented on her blog, and which was mentioned in the post she agreed to here, "Ramadan Zakat,  Sadaqa, Charity: When Mixed Marriages Go Awry, and Mixed Families Suffer" .  The joy of their success in moving to the USA, and the positives of  their stay there are not tarnished, but are put into broader context by schoolyard racism, also discussed here in the post, School Yards Plus ça change...: Forms of Discrimination.

Student bloggers, Asmaa of Chapter One, in Saudi, and Ellen, of Steadily Emerging with Grace, in Australia, have simultaneously, it seems, had problems with freedom of expression where usually it is most liberal--in a university setting.

Asmaa, whose photography work was featured here in the post, "Medical Cover: Labcoat/Abaya/Scrubs", has posted on her own blog, in "Don't You Dare Smile!", about a backlash from certain professors against the highly successful video she and other students put together as part of a GCC Medical Students Conference-- the highly altruistic and Islamic (though some disagree on that latter characterization), "Donate a Smile Campaign". The video featured staff, students, and professors at KAU hospital and medical school, photographed smiling, with famous quotations about the value of a smile, fading in and out, set to "Smile (though your heart is breaking)". The esthetic and public success of this video seems to have offended some; and pressure on professors and students resulted in the video being removed from Youtube and made private. *There has been a new resolution to the problem, and the video has been lightly edited and reposted:

Meanwhile, Ellen--whose marriage to M (a Saudi and Shia) has been featured  here in a 2 part post, "Saudi/non-Saudi Students: Marriage and The Marriage Permission Process--Part I Ellen" and "Part II M" -- has been having difficulty with freedom of expression in a University of Sydney (Australia) course on Islam:  "Duty to Speak Up?" . Let's just say that she and the professor disagree about the proper tone to take in discussing Islam and Muslims, and more recently and dramatically on the Sunni/ Shia split: "How to go about it?". Of greater concern to her was the way he handled her questions, and the remarks he made about Shiism.  Now, she will be dropping the course, and looking for proper avenues to complain about his pedagogical practices.

Some questions now for discussion later:

Should Ann Coulter, or anyone, expect American style freedom of speech in a foreign country?
Does Canada, or any other country, have the right to set its own boundaries and publication bans on hate speech?
Was the warning from the university official part of a fair preparation for Coulter's visit, or a threat to her or to freedom of speech?
Should campus security have handled things differently?
Were the students right to protest in this way or would a different strategy/tactic have been better? What?
Does this deserve media attention, a lawsuit, a blog post, or is it much ado about nothing?
What about freedom of speech in Saudi, or on Saudi-based or Saudi-themed blogs? How free is it?What or who controls how free that speech or, any other, is?
How free is academic freedom of speech? What pressures are brought to bear on students and professors?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

The articles:

As a starting point for discussion, please read the articles below, about the cancellation of Coulter's speech, and think about the limits of freedom of speech, free speech vs hate speech, where the line is drawn between them in different countries, and in different settings, and the rightness or wrongness of the students protesting as they did in Ottawa, along with how this plays out in Saudi or MENA vs Western contexts on blogs and off. Also, gather your own thoughts and impressions, of course.

Not reprinted below, but the newest update, Ann Coulter was extremely well received at the University of Calgary, a training ground in some departments for Canadian neo-Cons, and in the Canadian Bible Belt. When they were persona non grata in 2009, both George W Bush, and Condoleezza Rice spoke there, and no where else in Canada. Ann Coulter, in her scheduled talk, claimed she has been treated worse in Canada than any Muslim since the Reformation (?), "Spurned in Ottawa, Ann Coulter gets a big welcome from Calgary"--well worth the read.

Coulter's Ottawa speech cancelled

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | 7:23 PM PT 

Conservative author Ann Coulter had been scheduled to speak Tuesday night at the University of Ottawa.Conservative author Ann Coulter had been scheduled to speak Tuesday night at the University of Ottawa. (Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press)
American right-winger Ann Coulter's speech at the University of Ottawa was cancelled Tuesday night due to security concerns after thousands protested outside the venue.
A spokesman for the group that organized the event said there were fears for Coulter's well-being after about 2,000 people gathered outside the venue to protest her presence there.
Although the event was cancelled, organizers said her Canadian tour will continue, wrapping up at the University of Calgary on Thursday.
Coulter is a darling of the U.S. right wing who, according to critics, uses incendiary language to sell millions of books, as well as her syndicated column.
On Monday night, Coulter sparked controversy when she spoke to about 800 people at the University of Western Ontario in London. She drew applause when she attacked the health-care overhaul bill U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday.
But the regular Fox News commentator drew outrage from some, including a 17-year-old Muslim student who asked her a question about her views on Muslims.
Coulter has said all terrorists are Muslims and has suggested all Muslims be barred from airlines and use flying carpets.
When the student said she didn't have a flying carpet, Coulter told her to "take a camel."
In an interview on CTV News Channel Tuesday, Coulter called that remark a joke. "They wouldn't be bringing me in here for a speech if I never told a joke, if I never used satire," she said.
"There's a political point behind my saying that they could take flying carpets, the silliness of all this."

Even before she spoke in London — the first of three speeches this week on Canadian soil — Coulter received a pre-emptive and private caution about the limits of free speech in Canada from the provost of the University of Ottawa, where she appears Tuesday.

Coulter warned to tread lightly

The letter was immediately leaked to select conservative news organizations, with Coulter telling one that the university was "threatening to criminally prosecute me for my speech."
For a strident provocateur speaking on "Political Correctness, Media Bias and Freedom of Speech," the University of Ottawa warning — however tepid — was pure oxygen for the fire.
After mentioning the Charter of Rights and Canada's free speech laws, vice-president academic and University of Ottawa provost François Houle invited Coulter to "educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada."
He noted, by example, that "promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges."

Warning just fuel to fire, say critics

Coulter's representatives did not respond to an interview request Monday from The Canadian Press.
However, she told in an email that: "The provost of the U. of Ottawa is threatening to criminally prosecute me for my speech there on Monday — before I've even set foot in the country!"
Even critics of Coulter say attempting to muzzle her only gives her a louder bark.
"In terms of putting limits on what she … should say or shouldn't say, I'm not sure that helps," said Ottawa Centre New Democrat MP Paul Dewar.
"It might add fuel to the fire that she will be probably starting tomorrow."
Liberal MP Scott Brison told Coulter's political opponents to "vote with your feet."
"If you don't agree with what she has to say, then ignore her."


  • The story originally stated the University of Ottawa is located in the Ottawa Centre riding. In fact, it is located in the Ottawa-Vanier riding.

Coulter's circus comes to town, but can't perform


I knew something was up as I walked towards the University of Ottawa and saw security guards locking the exits surrounding the Marion building.
That's the building where American right-wing commentator Ann Coulter was about to give her much-hyped lecture this evening.
The University of Ottawa is one of three stops on the Ann Coulter's Canadian tour, organized by the International Free Press Society and the Clare Booth Policy Institute.
About 200 demonstrators turned out to shut down Coulter's talk.
And they succeeded.
Canadian conservative commentator Ezra Levant told the audience inside at about 8:10 p.m. that the event was cancelled. The audience was forced to leave through those very exits I saw university security locking.
Levant later wrote this message on Twitter: "Cops advised that proceeding with Coulter event in face of protesters would be dangerous to her and crowd."
Prior to the start of the event, hundreds of people were forced to wait in the rain while organizers tried to usher people through.
As the demonstration escalated, about two dozen police officers and university security guards also showed up to try and quell the crowd.
Outside on the steps of the building's entrance, protestors held up signs while reciting some of Coulter's past quotes, such as: "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Other protestors chanted "this is a safe space."
Then at 7:41 p.m., security officials told the crowd outside that someone pulled the fire alarm and tried to get those in line to back away from the doors.
After about 15 minutes, people started to file back into the building, until the event was called off.
One male in his early twenties was escorted out of the foyer of the building by an Ottawa police officer.
Protestors claimed victory, chanting "whose campus? Our campus!" at the entrance to the lecture hall.

Ann Coulter: 'I'm the victim of a hate crime'

Controversial columnist and author Ann Coulter speaks at The University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, on Monday, March 22, 2010

Controversial columnist and author Ann Coulter speaks at The University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, on Monday, March 22, 2010

Photograph by: Dave Chidley for National Post, Dave Chidley for National Post

Inflammatory right-wing pundit Ann Coulter took aim at a University of Ottawa administrator Monday night, saying an e-mail from the school warning her to use "restraint, respect and consideration" when addressing Ontario students during a speaking tour this week made her a victim of a "hate crime."
Speaking to students and academics at the University of Western Ontario Monday, Coulter said the e-mail sent to her Friday by Francois Houle, vice-president academic and provost of the University of Ottawa, targeted her as a member of an identifiable group and as such, she will be filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission alleging hate speech.
"I'm sure the Human Rights Commission will get to the bottom of it," Coulter said to loud cheers from the 800-strong audience. "I think I'm the victim of a hate crime here. Either what (Mr. Houle) did was a hate crime, or the whole commission is BS."
In Houle's e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by the National Post, the administrator urges Coulter to weigh her words with "respect and civility in mind" when she speaks at the University of Ottawa campus Tuesday.
"Our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or 'free speech') in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States. I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here."
Houle goes on: "Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges."
Ezra Levant, lawyer and former publisher of the Western Standard magazine, spoke before Coulter on Monday and called Houle's letter a "veiled threat." Seamus Wolfe, the president of the University of Ottawa's student federation, has already said that Coulter is not welcome on campus and that he is trying to work with the administration to find a venue for her speech elsewhere.
The administration, however, has said it does not object to the fiery pundit's appearance on campus.
Coulter's targeting of the University of Ottawa administration and Canada's Human Rights Commissions came at the end of a half-hour speech that attacked political correctness in the United States and the mainstream media, which she said was uncritical of the Obama administration and unfairly biased against conservatives.
"It's almost like there is one standard for Conservatives and one completely different one for Liberals," Coulter told the crowd, which alternated from cheering to booing depending on the topic of discussion, which ranged from gay marriage, illegal immigration to Obama's health-care bill.
"A word is either offensive or it's not. In a world of political correctness, all words are banned unless they're used against conservatives."
At one point she criticized gays for comparing their plight in the U.S. with the hardships experienced by blacks during the civil rights movement. She also called Obama the "first 100 per cent politically correct president."
Coulter began her speech to a standing ovation from about three-quarters of the crowd and said she harboured no hard feelings about the U.S. hockey team's loss to Canada at the Winter Olympics.
Apart from her anger toward the University of Ottawa and the human rights commissions, Coulter was uncritical of Canada, unlike past comments she has made about this country.
Even though Coulter is not a Canadian citizen, Levant, who has been involved in human rights law cases, said it would not be "outlandish" for Coulter to file a complaint against the University of Ottawa, especially in light of the 1985 Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration case.


Related Posts with Thumbnails