Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 6/5/2012: Peter Beinart's Crisis Of Zionism--Still No Takers

From DG:
1) Not buying Beinart

Jason Zengerle a former colleague of Peter Beinart at the New Republic examines why Beinart's "Crisis of Zionism" hasn't caught in The Israeli Desert. (h/t Ashley Perry) Reading the profile, you get the impression that some of the resistance to Beinart is personal - he seems to be a rather shameless status seeker and possesses a rather large ego.

Knowing what Beinart's written though another reason is pretty clear: there's nothing really new about his position. His is the position of J-Street that burst on the scene four years ago due to its ties to Barack Obama and a free media campaign bestowed on the group by the mainstream media. But the problem of J-Street is the problem of Beinart. No matter what they call themselves they are anti-Israel and they are trying to make their case in a pro-Israel country.

While the takedown of Beinart is welcome, Zengerle's article is unsatisfying. At one point Zengerle interviews Beinart:

Sitting in his office, Beinart tries to be philosophical. At the age of 41, he still has the boyish face and eager demeanor of an honors student, and he normally speaks in an excited, unmodulated tone. (“You do not want to sit next to Peter in shul,” cautions one of his friends.) But now his voice is hushed and subdued. “I think had the New York Times and the Washington Post chosen different reviewers, they might very well have gotten very different reviews,” he says. “I mean, the New York Times book editors called it an editor’s-choice book, so I think that suggests that perhaps they see some value in it.” He points to “significant voices that have spoken up in support of the book,” in particular Nicholas Kristof, Paul ­Krugman, and ­David Remnick . 
All of this has left Beinart angry, defensive, and confused—surprisingly so, given that he has long relished launching arguments. “I just don’t accept the basic assertion that this book is one-sided,” he says in his office. When I ask him whether, in writing about such an obviously emotional topic, he wasn’t sufficiently attuned to certain sensitivities—that perhaps there are signifiers of good intentions he failed to send—he seethes. “What are the signifiers?” he asks, his voice rising and taking on its customary sense of urgency. “That I say very explicitly I’m a Zionist? That I say that I have harsh words to say about Hamas and Arafat and the second intifada? That I have very, very admiring words to say about Israel’s existence? That I think I tangibly show my commitment to the Jewish community and Jewish continuity through the way I live my own life?” Beinart regains his composure. “So I don’t know,” he says softly, his voice now betraying less exasperation than bewilderment. “I don’t even know what the signifiers are.”
It is surprising that neither the review in the Washington Post nor the one in the New York Times was positive. The latter is especially surprising because The Crisis of Zionism has the imprint of New York Times books. (Though perhaps that explains it  being an editor's choice.)

Beinart's self righteous pout about criticism is interesting. Here's a paragraph from the New York Times book review by Jonathan Rosen:
How you condense a thorny complexity into a short book says a great deal about your relationship to history — and to language. Beinart is especially good at invoking facts as a way of dismissing them. Thus Israel’s offer to withdraw from conquered land in 1967, and the Arab States’ declaration — “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it” — becomes literally a parenthetical aside in which the Arabs’ “apparent refusal” made Israeli settlement “easier.”
Beinart's complaint of the things he's written that he supposes should have rendered himself immune to criticism were written dismissively. Beinart sounded insincere to Rosen, who agrees with much of Beinart's analysis, though not his prescription. No matter how many words Zengerle spends explaining Beinart's problems, that's probably Beinart's biggest failing.

Khaled Abu Toameh had an excellent article at the Gatestone Institute website, Where are the moderate Arabs and Palestinians?:
Some Israeli politicians, especially Arab Knesset members, have used the parliamentary podium to advance and defend the causes of Palestinians. Israeli policies and actions are condemned in the Knesset more than they are denounced in the Palestinian or any Arab parliament. The Palestinian parliament, incidentally, has been paralyzed since 2007 because of the dispute between Hamas and Fatah. 
In most parliaments throughout the Arab world, representatives do not enjoy the same freedom of speech as their counterparts in Israel. Members of parliament in the Arab world can not stand up and openly demand peace with Israel. When was the last time an Arab parliament or prominent politician or columnist called for peace and compromise with Israel? 
Can anyone in the Palestinian territories or the Arab world form a party that advocates peace, coexistence and harmony with Israel? On the contrary, the only voices that are being heard among Palestinians and other Arabs are those who seek to boycott and delegitimize Israel. 
Perhaps the reason that Beinart's arguments sound insincere is that he has to get around this asymmetry. Israel has made significant efforts since 1993 to make peace. Twice Israeli leaders have made final status offers to Palestinian leaders. Yet Israel is more stigmatized and less secure than it was nineteen years ago. If the peace process was to Israel's benefit, it hasn't shown it.

On the other hand we also know that no matter how insincere the Palestinians demonstrate their commitment to peace is, we see experts explaining that they must still be rewarded in order to keep them engaged in the peace process. There is no one who argues that the Palestinians failure to make peace somehow renders them illegitimate.

A process which makes demands on one side but not on the other is doomed to failure. Maybe that's too complicated for a "public intellectual" ( as Zengerle describes Beinart ) but regular people understand that.

I'd like to make two observations about the Zengerle article. The article mentions a couple of Torah study groups that prominent politically connected Jews participate in. I have no idea how serious these groups are, but I'm fascinated that they even exist. The other observation is that Martin Peretz had a deserved reputation for making The New Republic pro-Israel, but his editors generally don't seem to have shared his inclination. Hendrik Hertzberg, Michael Kinsley, Andrew Sullivan and Peter Beinart can't be described as pro-Israel. Only the late Michael Kelly (that I'm aware of) could be so designated.

2) Round two in Egypt

The New York Times reports More Protests Loom in Egypt, Targeting Candidacy of Mubarak’s Prime Minister:
In a joint statement, the candidates also endorsed a call for a major demonstration on Tuesday to protest what they called the weak verdict handed down over the weekend in Mr. Mubarak’s trial. Their statement was the most forceful effort yet to use anger over the verdict to galvanize opposition to Mr. Shafik, long considered a contender to succeed Mr. Mubarak inside his authoritarian one-party system. But it was also the latest blow to the credibility of Egypt’s first competitive presidential election.
The call for Mr. Shafik’s elimination came less than two weeks before he is set to face Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in the runoff, scheduled for June 16 and 17. The new president is expected to take power from the military council that has governed since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster 16 months ago; attempts to draft a new constitution have so far deadlocked, which means the new president could play a formative role in the shaping of Egypt’s charter.
The Muslim Brotherhood said in its own statement that all three candidates agreed to demand not only a retrial of Mr. Mubarak but also legal action against Mr. Shafik for his role as Mr. Mubarak’s prime minister, “bringing to justice those accused of conniving with the defendants by hiding evidence, including the prime minister and minister of interior during that period, who are now seeking to abort the revolution.”
The sentence in bold above is curious. The reporter, David Kirkpatrick, never explains why the news conference was a "blow to the credibility" of the upcoming election. In fact he notes later that there was no evidence to support claims of widespread election fraud. The only issue addressed seems to be the presence of Ahmed Shafik in the runoff. In fact the whole article is written from the standpoint of the undesiribility of Shafik's candidacy.

Barry Rubin reports on some of Shafik's platforms:
  • Don’t be bloodthirsty. He accepted the life sentence for Mubarak and a former interior minister (not a death sentence) and six security officials being found innocent. Egypt should not be eager to throw people into prison but move toward democracy: “The days of political imprisonment are gone. Rest assured your sons and daughters are safe enough to express their opinions, even if their’s oppose mine.”

  • Real Muslim-Christian peace in Egypt. “The Brotherhood accuses our Coptic brothers of treason and tries to stop them from practicing their given right to vote. How do you expect them to believe you when you speak kindly to them in press conferences and threaten them in their homes and stores?”

  • Economic stability. “I am sure that as soon as I am elected all international investments that are halted now will return. Housing investments, agricultural investments, industrial investments and tourism will return to as they were, and better,” An Egypt run by the Brotherhood is not likely to attract foreign investment or put the emphasis on economic progress.
If Shafik wins, Rubin writes:
Of course, even if Shafiq wins, the Islamist-dominated parliament will really rule the country. Moreover, as we saw with violent attacks and arson at four of Shafiq’s election offices, there will be lots of violence from Salafists and possibly Brotherhood people. Christians, women who exercise certain rights and secularists will be attacked and at times killed.The only way out would be a Shafiq-army alliance, giving the president — who has no political party and no organized base of support in parliament — some muscle. Following a period of massive violence, chaos, and economic catastrophe, that might eventually lead Egypt back to the kind of military regime that governed between 1952 and 2011, albeit with far more personal freedom and (possibly fixed) elections. Like it or not, that may well be the best possible option.
In other words in the runoff, if Shafik wins and if he's as good as his word (though neither is guaranteed) the reformers might actually get what they claimed they wanted: greater freedom. But that's not a sense you'd get from reading Kirkpatrick. Nor would you suspect that the attacks on Shafik's offices might be part of a campaign of intimidation led by Muslim Brotherhood. To Kirkpatrick there's only one motivating factor in Egyptian politics: righteous anger at Mubarak and his regime.

Kirkpatrick doesn't even give a sense that there was anything amiss with Hosni Mubarak's trial. But the editors of the Washington Post write in Egypt's Travesty of Justice with Hosni Mubarak:
His trial was less a serious judicial exercise than a smokescreen thrown up by the military council that removed him from office. The generals who once reported to Mr. Mubarak now desperately seek to preserve their power, despite a promised transition to democracy, and to avoid being held accountable for their own crimes. Mr. Mubarak’s prosecution was meant to defuse the popular demand that the old regime be held accountable while obstructing it in every meaningful sense. An equally farcical trial of U.S.-backed pro-democracy activists is the other side of this strategy; it is due to resume in Cairo on Tuesday.
The editorial later refers to Shafik as "reactionary," which, as noted above, does not appear to be fair. One point that's ignored is that the dissatisfaction with the trial from the perspective of the Muslim Brotherhood is that the sentence was too lenient, not too harsh.

Here's Dry Bones.

Finally, there's a perspective missing from reporting on Egypt, that Raymond Ibrahim notes in Graphic Video: Muslims Slaughter "Apostate" in Tunisia:
Liberal talk show host Tawfiq Okasha recently appeared on "Egypt Today," airing a video of Muslims slicing off a young man's head off for the crime of apostasy -- in this instance, the crime of converting to Christianity and refusing to renounce it. The video—be warned, it is immensely graphic—can be seen here (the actual execution appears from minute 1:13-4:00).

For those who prefer not to view it, a summary follows: 
A young man appears held down by masked men. His head is pulled back, with a knife to his throat. He does not struggle and appears resigned to his fate. Speaking in Arabic, the background speaker, or "narrator," chants a number of Muslim prayers and supplications, mostly condemning Christianity, which, because of the Trinity, is referred to as a polytheistic faith: "Let Allah be avenged on the polytheist apostate"; "Allah empower your religion, make it victorious against the polytheists"; "Allah, defeat the infidels at the hands of the Muslims," and "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger."
Visibly distraught, Tawfiq Okasha, the host, asks: "Is this Islam? Does Islam call for this? How is Islam related to this matter?...These are the images that are disseminated throughout the electronic media in Europe and America…. Can you imagine?" Then, in reference to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, whose political influence has grown tremendously, he asks, "How are such people supposed to govern?"
(I have left out parts of the description and have not seen the video myself.)

How prevalent is the view Tawfiq Okasha? Will we ever read similar sentiments in the New York Times?
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