February 14, 2011

The Greatest Knockout of All, by the great Carlos Latuff

EDITOR: The Boycott is biting, and Israel is fighting back with undemocratic legislation

It has taken a few years to build the BDS movement, and much remains to be done in the different countries around the globe. nonetheless, its effects are now clear, and Israel is fighting back with another undemocratic and unconstitutional law, badly worded and without any basis in law, either Israeli or international. The attempt here is to frighten and punish anyone who criticises the Israeli occupation and its ravages.

Calls grow for free Egypt media: Al Jazeera online

Pressure is mounting to rid state media of loyalists of Hosni Mubarak, the ousted president.

Pressure is mounting for Hosni Mubarak’s appointees to be removed from Egypt’s state media.

During the recent pro-democracy protests state television broadcast propaganda for the government and now some fear it may not be impartial during the country’s transition to democracy.

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons reports from Cairo.

Protecting Israel from its citizens: Haaretz

The parliamentary investigative panel to examine organizations’ funding sources actually have no interest in questions of legality and constitutionality. All they want is to delegitimize protest and political opinions, and to scare us.
By Avirama Golan
On Tuesday, a Knesset committee is due to approve on second and third readings the bill combating boycotts against Israel – another hysterical proposal by the right wing and Kadima MK Dalia Itzik designed to protect our weak and tiny country, which is being attacked from within and without.

“This law,” explain the architects of the proposal, “is designed to protect the State of Israel in general and its citizens in particular from academic, economic and other boycotts that are imposed on the country, its citizens and corporations, due to their connection to the State of Israel.” The law is designed to protect “the area under Israeli control, including Judea and Samaria.” According to the bill, “It is forbidden to initiate a boycott against the State of Israel, to encourage participation in it or to provide assistance or information in order to promote it.”

There is no problem, therefore, with a boycott by ultra-Orthodox consumers against supermarkets that open on Shabbat, or against a merchant whose sons serve in the Israel Defense Forces, even if it leads to their economic collapse. There might also not be a problem in boycotting fur exporters, for example. The only offense is “a boycott against the State of Israel,” and in effect against the settlements, whose products are the object of most boycotts in Israel and the world over.

That being the case, the bill – which is certainly not constitutional (we can make an endless list of freedoms that it undermines ) – opposes even international agreements that Israel has signed. First among them is the agreement to join the OECD and the agreement with the European Union. These require that products be marked, distinguishing the Israeli economy from that of the territories.

But even someone who believes that a consumer boycott is legitimate while an academic boycott is a despicable tool that harms Israeli education’s soft underbelly – someone who doesn’t move a single stone from the wall of the occupation – can’t support legislation that involves a consumer boycott directed only at the settlements, or silences anyone who demonstrates or speaks against them.

This is what will happen if the bill passes – and its chances are considerable despite the protest of many organizations, headed by the Coalition of Women for Peace and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. A “talkbacker” on the Internet who complains, for example, about the economic burden caused by the settlements can expect a lawsuit from a settler who can claim that the comment promoted a boycott of his products. The writer will be fined at least NIS 30,000 and the plaintiff won’t have to prove the link between what is written and the damage. Not to mention writers of articles and people who express opinions on radio and television.

Bizarre? Not compared to the next article: “If the interior minister sees someone who is not a citizen or a resident of Israel acting in contradiction to Article 2, or if the cabinet has decided by a majority of its members that such a person is imposing a boycott against the State of Israel, the interior minister is allowed to request the district court to deny that person the right to enter Israel for a period of at least 10 years.” So what? Will Ken Loach beg to be allowed to attend the Haifa Film Festival and be denied entry?

In other times we could depend on the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to reject such embarrassing texts out of hand. Not now. Questions of legality and constitutionality, freedom of expression and human rights are now dwarfed in light of the goal, whose distorted definition “protection of the State of Israel” justifies the means.

Behind this declared objective hides a more problematic one. The initiators of the glorious legislation of recent years – the Nakba law, the loyalty law, the community-admission-committee law, the denial of citizenship law (“the Bishara Law” ), the parliamentary investigative panel to examine organizations’ funding sources – actually have no interest in questions of legality and constitutionality. All they want is to delegitimize protest and political opinions, and to scare us.

Although Israelis find it hard to see the connection among the laws, which ostensibly refer to different issues and communities, the violent rape of the law book caused by this legislation has destructive results. And these results – which are collapsing the foundations of Israeli democracy – will harm everyone in the end, without distinction.

EDITOR: Connections are made

The Tahrir Square victory has become a rousing symbol for Arabs everywhere, including inside Israel’s Green Line borders. Below a young Palestinian student is voicing his clear criticism of western and Israeli voices which through a deeply Orientalist view, have argued for the denial of freedom to the Egyptians and Arabs elsewhere.

The resurrection of pan-Arabism: Al Jazeera online

The Egyptian revolution has resurrected a new type of pan-Arabism, based on social justice not empty slogans.

The Egyptian revolution has resurrected pan-Arabism but this is not the pan-Arabism of previous generations [GALLO/GETTY]
The Egyptian revolution, itself influenced by the Tunisian uprising, has resurrected a new sense of pan-Arabism based on the struggle for social justice and freedom. The overwhelming support for the Egyptian revolutionaries across the Arab world reflects a sense of unity in the rejection of tyrannical, or at least authoritarian, leaders, corruption and the rule of a small financial and political elite.

Arab protests in solidarity with the Egyptian people also suggest that there is a strong yearning for the revival of Egypt as a pan-Arab unifier and leader. Photographs of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former Egyptian president, have been raised in Cairo and across Arab capitals by people who were not even alive when Nasser died in 1970. The scenes are reminiscent of those that swept Arab streets in the 1950s and 1960s.

But this is not an exact replica of the pan-Arab nationalism of those days. Then, pan-Arabism was a direct response to Western domination and the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel. Today, it is a reaction to the absence of democratic freedoms and the inequitable distribution of wealth across the Arab world.

We are now witnessing the emergence of a movement for democracy that transcends narrow nationalism or even pan-Arab nationalism and which embraces universal human values that echo from north to south and east to west.

This is not to say that there is no anti-imperialist element within the current movement. But the protests in Egypt and elsewhere promote a deeper understanding of human emancipation, which forms the real basis for freedom from both repression and foreign domination.

Unlike the pan-Arabism of the past, the new movement represents an intrinsic belief that it is freedom from fear and human dignity that enables people to build better societies and to create a future of hope and prosperity. The old “wisdom” of past revolutionaries that liberation from foreign domination precedes the struggle for democracy has fallen.

The revolutionaries of Egypt, and before them Tunisia, have exposed through deeds – not merely words – the leaders who are tyrants towards their own people, while humiliatingly subservient to foreign powers. They have shown the impotence of empty slogans that manipulate animosity towards Israel to justify a fake Arab unity, which in turn serves only to mask sustained oppression and the betrayal of Arab societies and the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian pretext

The era of using the Palestinian cause as a pretext for maintaining martial laws and silencing dissent is over. The Palestinians have been betrayed, not helped, by leaders who practice repression against their own people. It is no longer sufficient for regimes in Syria and Iran to claim support for Palestinian resistance in order to stifle freedom of expression and to shamelessly tread on human rights in their own countries.

Equally, it is no longer acceptable for the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas to cite their record in resisting Israel when justifying their suppression of each other and the rest of the Palestinian people. Young Palestinians are responding to the message of the movement and embracing the idea that combatting internal injustice – whether practised by Fatah or Hamas – is a prerequisite for the struggle to end Israeli occupation and not something to be endured for the sake of that struggle.

Events in Egypt and Tunisia have revealed that Arab unity against internal repression is stronger than that against a foreign threat – neither the American occupation of Iraq nor the Israeli occupation galvanised the Arab people in the way that a single act by a young Tunisian who chose to set himself alight rather than live in humiliation and poverty has.

This does not mean that Arabs do not care about the occupied people of Iraq or Palestine – tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands have taken to the streets across Arab countries at various times to show solidarity with Iraqis and Palestinians – but it does reflect the realisation that the absence of democratic freedoms has contributed to the continued occupation of those countries.

The Arab failure to defend Iraq or liberate Palestine has come to symbolise an Arab impotence that has been perpetuated by the state of fear and paralysis in which the ordinary Arab citizen, marginalised by social injustice and crushed by security apparatus oppression, has existed.

When they were allowed to rally in support of Iraqis or Palestinians it was mainly so that their anger might be deflected from their own governments and towards a foreign threat. For so long, they put their own socio-economic grievances aside to voice their support for the occupied, only to wake up the next day shackled by the same chains of repression.

All the while, both pro-Western and anti-Western governments continued with business as usual – the first camp relying on US support to consolidate their authoritarian rule and the second on anti-Israel slogans to give legitimacy to their repression of their people.

But now people across the region – not only in Egypt and Tunisia – have lost faith in their governments. For make no mistake, when protesters have gathered in Amman or Damascus to express their solidarity with the Egyptian revolutionaries in Tahrir Square, they are actually objecting to their own rulers.

In Ramallah, the protesters repeated a slogan calling for the end of internal Palestinian divisions (which, in Arabic, rhymes with the Egyptian call for the end to the regime), as well as demanding an end to negotiations with Israel – sending a clear message that there will be no room left for the Palestinian Authority if it continues to rely on such negotiations.

In the 1950s and 1960s, millions of Arabs poured onto the streets determined to continue the liberation of the Arab world from the remnants of colonial domination and the creeping American hegemony. In 2011, millions have poured onto the streets determined not only to ensure their freedom but also to ensure that the mistakes of previous generations are not repeated. Slogans against a foreign enemy – no matter how legitimate – ring hollow if the struggle for democratic freedoms is set aside.

The protesters in Cairo and beyond may raise photographs of Gamal Abdel Nasser, because they see him as a symbol of Arab dignity. But, unlike Nasser, the demonstrators are invoking a sense of pan-Arab nationalism that understands that national liberation cannot go hand-in-hand with the suppression of political dissent. For this is a genuine Arab unity galvanised by the common yearning for democratic freedoms.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.

The Orientalist blindness: Haaretz

The Orientalists who emphasized the contradiction between Arab and Islamic culture and democracy are afraid to admit their failure.
By Mohanad Mustafa
For years, intellectuals, mostly Arabs, have been confronted by the stereotypical, even racist, approach found in much of Western Orientalism, including that in Israel. Under this approach, there is a contradiction between Arab and Muslim culture on the one hand, and democracy, equality and social justice on the other. Based on this contradiction, this form of Orientalism rejects any hope of democratization in the Arab world and justifies the prevalent tyranny. The Israeli propaganda machine is often proud of being the sole “island of democracy” in a sea of Arab despotism.

According to this simplistic notion, limited to a dichotomy and tainted by the crude sense of supremacy in which this Orientalism is imprisoned, Arab society is conflicted between the forces of undemocratic political Islam and those of oppressive, despotic regimes. Terms such as democracy and social justice cannot exist in Arab society because of the cultural obstacle that exists

This failure in understanding also has applied to political Islam’s contribution to democratization in the Arab world. In most cases, political Islamic movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have been perceived as seeking to impose a strict theocratic political order. Apparently the security-minded and racist perspective that characterizes Israeli and Western Orientalism prevents these observers from understanding the process of deep change that these movements have undergone. They also fail to perceive the various approaches to the state, democracy, society and the West – even within the Muslim Brotherhood. The comparison of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to the Iranian Revolution is one bit of proof of this distorted perspective.

The increased significance of young people in Middle East politics is not new. Early last century, young Arabs played a key role in shaping the elites and the worldview of Arab societies. Arab modernization, both on a national and religious level, was led by middle-class young people and was interrupted externally by Western colonial powers and domestically by Arab forces. This was followed by the rise of authoritarian regimes, most of them pro-Western.

The revolution of young Arabs in Tunisia and Egypt is not a revolution of the poor, or of young people who are simply seeking jobs. It’s a revolution of educated young people, some of them middle class, who support values of democracy and equality. Wael Ghonim, for example, one of the young Egyptians who organized demonstrations using the Internet, comes from a wealthy Egyptian family.

The young Egyptians at Tahrir Square must serve as a model for all forces of democracy around the world. The people who have always preached democracy are now afraid to admit their ethical failure, and the Orientalists who emphasized the contradiction between Arab and Islamic culture and democracy are afraid to admit their failure.

At Tahrir Square, the young are already setting up the country they aspired to achieve through the most peaceful, effective and democratic revolution in the past century. In this square, decisions are reached equally by men and women, Muslims and Christians, poor and rich. All they aspire to do is to transform Tahrir Square into the new democratic Egypt. They are liberating themselves and their society and are leaving behind the Orientalists bound by a concept of the past.

The writer is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Haifa.

Army urges protesters to end strikes: Ahram online

In its fifth communique the Egyptian army has stated that Egyptians should end their ongoing strikes to help the military achieve their goals, instead of obstructing it
Nourhan El-Abbassy, Monday 14 Feb 2011
In reaction to the massive labour protests in Egypt, in its fifth communique the Egyptian army has stated that Egyptians should end their ongoing strikes to help the military achieve their goals, instead of obstructing it.

The military spokesperson affirmed that such strikes create a negative impact and disrupt production. This hinders the interests of citizens and has a damaging effect on the Egyptian economy.

The army demands that every person focus on work and production rather than protests.

The statement came in response to growing labour strikes and protests in both public and private sectors in Egypt. Many analysts have expressed their fear that the army’s statements may come in the way of a continuous revolution in Egypt calling for democracy.

Protests in Egypt started in January 25th calling for an end to Mubarak’s regime and forced the president to step down on February 11. However activists say this was the first step towards democracy, other demands include ending the notorious 30 years old emergency law, and the immediate release of political prisoners.

WikiLeaks cables: Egyptian military head is ‘old and resistant to change’: The Guardian

US ambassador to Cairo gives his opinion on Muhammad Tantawi and number two general, Sami Enan

Julian Borger and James Ball, Monday 14 February 2011
Nothing Egypt’s military council has done in its past suggests it has the capacity or inclination to introduce speedy and radical change. Guaranteed its $1.3bn (£812m) annual grant from the US — a dividend from the Camp David peace accord with Israel – it has gained the reputation as a hidebound institution with little appetite for reform.

The frustration of the military’s American benefactors shines through in leaked US cables, where the criticism focuses mostly on the man at the top, 75-year-old Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi.

In March 2008 cable [146040], the US ambassador to Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, described Tantawi as “aged and change-resistant”.

“Charming and courtly, he is nonetheless mired in a post-Camp David military paradigm that has served his cohort’s narrow interests for the last three decades. He and [Hosni] Mubarak are focused on regime stability and maintaining the status quo through the end of their time. They simply do not have the energy, inclination or world view to do anything differently,” it reads.

The ambassador also notes that Tantawi has used his influence in the cabinet to oppose economic and political reforms which he sees as weakening central government power.

“He is supremely concerned with national unity, and has opposed policy initiatives he views as encouraging political or religious cleavages within Egyptian society,” the cable says.

Despite Egypt’s dependence on US military funding, Tantawi seems to have viewed as standoffish by US officials. They saw the number two general on the council, Sami Enan, as more amenable to personal ties. In fact, Enan was in Washington when the Cairo protests erupted.

That puts the 62-year-old Soviet-trained chief of staff, in the unusual position of being both Washington’s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s favourite general. The movement has described him as incorruptible and as one of its cleric put it: “He can be the future man of Egypt … I think he will be acceptable.”

The other three main figures on the council have played a backseat role up to now. Air Marshal Reda Mohamed, the head of the air force, Lt General Seif-Eldeein, the head of air defence, and the head of the navy, Vice-Admiral Mohab Mamish, are all in their late 50s or early 60s and have strong US connections. But they do not surface in the US cables as political players.

Israel must congratulate Egypt: Haaretz

Even if it is very late, official Israel must now join the West in sending courageous and good wishes from Jerusalem to Cairo.
By Gideon Levy
At 6 A.M. yesterday, shortly before dawn in Cairo, Al Jazeera correspondent correspondent, Jacky Rowland, described the massive street party happening around her as “the hangover of the revolution.” The big words are being taken out of storage. They are still wrapped in a plethora of fears and reservations, but one can easily say that Egypt has never before seen the dawn of a new day such as this, with the possible exception of the morning of the coup by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Free Officers Movement, more than half a century ago. That ended the monarchy; on Friday night the dictatorship ended. In between, the land of the Nile was tossed from hungry mouths to silenced mouths.

The news from Egypt is good news, not only for that country and the Arab world, but for the entire world, including Israel. Now is the time to be happy for the Egyptian people, to hope that this amazing revolution will not go wrong. Let us lay aside all our fears – of anarchy, of the Muslim Brotherhood or a military regime – and let this great gamble have its say. Let us not wallow in the dangers; now is the time to bask in the light that shines from the Nile, after 18 days of popular, democratic struggle. Of all countries it was Egypt, ironically, that proved that yes, it can. That it is possible to bring down a dictatorship, and even to do so by peaceful means.

Let us look at the glass that is half-full. Many of the initial fears came to naught. One after another, the bad old stereotypes about Egypt held by Israel and the West came crashing down. With the exception of a single day of violence, this revolution was peaceful. The Egyptian people proved that it is fundamentally unarmed and nonviolent. Cairo is not Baghdad, or even Nablus. That’s good news. The army, too, proved that it recognizes the limits of power and that, in contrast to other armies in the neighborhood, it is not trigger-happy. The Egyptian army has so far demonstrated – knock on wood – wisdom, determination and sensitivity.

The thousands of young Egyptians seen on television screens across the world also proved that Egypt has a face other than the one we are accustomed to. Not just ful and falafel, films and baksheesh, but also deep social and political awareness – and in English, yet. They also proved that, contrary to what we are told constantly, hate for Israel is not at the top of their agenda.

The prophecies of doom, according to which any democratic change would mean the rise of Islam, are also far from being realized. Look at the images from Tahrir Square: There are relatively few obviously religious individuals. They prayed quietly, surrounded by large numbers of secular revolutionaries. There were a fair number of Egyptian woman in the square as well. Egypt is not what we thought it was.

But of course the struggle is not finished, it has just begun. The beginning of the end of the ancient regime is only the end of the beginning of the revolution. But one can already predict that even if Egypt experiences another undemocratic phase along the way – a military regime or an Islamic takeover – even if it does not turn into a liberal Western democracy, with an opposition and freedom, overnight, it will get there eventually. There is almost no way back, and Egypt has never been closer. The Orientalists can go hang: The racist idea that the Arabs aren’t ready for democracy has already received a knockout blow. What is more democratic than this uprising?

For the most part, the world responded appropriately. Under U.S. President Barack Obama’s conducting wand the world, uncharacteristically, extended courageous and significant support to the freedom fighters from Tahrir Square. They will remember him for this, and perhaps that will also lead to a new dawn in U.S. relations with the Arab world, as Obama promised in his “Cairo speech.” And in Israel? Business as usual. True, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his ministers not to make public statements, but he did not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity: once appealing to Egypt in a firm and commanding, if not threatening, tone, to uphold the peace treaty; once warning that Egypt could become another Iran. That, too, will be remembered in Tahrir Square. Even if it is very late, official Israel must now join the West in sending courageous and good wishes from Jerusalem to Cairo. And if not official Israel, then at least we, the little people. From us to you: Mabruk, congratulations, Egypt.

Palestinian Authority cabinet resigns: The Guardian

Move seen by some as reaction to pro-democracy calls across Middle East and follows announcement of overdue elections

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Monday 14 February 2011

The Palestinian Authority cabinet has resigned in a move seen by some as a response to calls for democratic reform echoing around the Middle East.

The prime minister, Salam Fayyad, tendered the cabinet’s resignation to the PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, and is expected to form a new team of ministers within a few weeks.

The move follows the announcement at the weekend that long-delayed general elections will be held by September. Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip and which welcomed the fall of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, said it would not take part in the elections nor recognise their outcome.

Fayyad, the unelected prime minister of the PA, is respected by the west for implementing a programme of reforms and state-building measures in the West Bank. He is thought to be keen to form a cabinet dominated by technocrats.

After Mubarak’s departure on Friday, there were street celebrations in Ramallah, the West Bank’s main hub, in solidarity with Egyptian protesters.

Elections have not been held since January 2006, when Hamas won an overall majority. Abbas’s term as president expired two years ago. He has not declared whether he will be a candidate in the elections this year, but has repeatedly threatened to quit in the past.

Many ordinary Palestinians complain of increased repression in the West Bank, including the intimidation, detention and torture of political dissenters.

Hanan Ashwari, a veteran Palestinian legislator and member of Fayyad’s Third Way party, rejected the idea that the cabinet’s resignation was connected to events in Egypt.

“This has been in the making for some time, so it would be a mistake to overload the timing with significance,” she said. “This has nothing to do with Egypt. The delay was due to technical problems.”

She said Fayyad wanted a cabinet of “qualified, professional people” to oversee elections and assist in building institutions in preparation for a Palestinian state.

The PA, which is dominated by the Fatah political faction, has limited rule in the West Bank. Israeli military and civil authorities control about 60% of the territory.

Since Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007, 18 months after winning the elections, there has been a split between the two territories and their dominant political factions. Hamas accuses the Fatah-led PA of assisting Israel’s economic stranglehold of Gaza.

Meanwhile, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator who handed in his resignation on Saturday following the leak of thousands of documents from his office, cancelled a press conference to explain his move.

Egypt’s revolution and Israel: “Bad for the Jews”: The Electronic Intifada

Ilan Pappe, 14 February 2011
The view from Israel is that if they indeed succeed, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are bad, very bad. Educated Arabs — not all of them dressed as “Islamists,” quite a few of them speaking perfect English whose wish for democracy is articulated without resorting to “anti-Western” rhetoric — are bad for Israel.

Arab armies that do not shoot at these demonstrators are as bad as are many other images that moved and enthused so many people around the world, even in the West. This world reaction is also bad, very bad. It makes the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and its apartheid policies inside the state look like the acts of a typical “Arab” regime.

For a while you could not tell what official Israel thought. In his first ever commonsensical message to his colleagues, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked his ministers, generals and politicians not to comment in public on the events in Egypt. For a brief moment one thought that Israel turned from the neighborhood’s thug to what it always was: a visitor or permanent resident.

It seems Netanyahu was particularly embarrassed by the unfortunate remarks on the situation uttered publicly by General Aviv Kochavi, the head of Israeli military intelligence. This top Israeli expert on Arab affairs stated confidently two weeks ago in the Knesset that the Mubarak regime is as solid and resilient as ever. But Netanyahu could not keep his mouth shut for that long. And when the boss talked all the others followed. And when they all responded, their commentary made Fox News’ commentators look like a bunch of peaceniks and free-loving hippies from the 1960s.

The gist of the Israeli narrative is simple: this is an Iranian-like revolution helped by Al Jazeera and stupidly allowed by US President Barack Obama, who is a new Jimmy Carter, and a stupefied world. Spearheading the Israeli interpretation are the former Israeli ambassadors to Egypt. All their frustration from being locked in an apartment in a Cairean high-rise is now erupting like an unstoppable volcano. Their tirade can be summarized in the words of one of them, Zvi Mazael who told Israeli television’s Channel One on 28 January, “this is bad for the Jews; very bad.”

In Israel of course when you say “bad for the Jews,” you mean the Israelis — but you also mean that whatever is bad for Israel is bad for the Jews all around the world (despite the evidence to the contrary since the foundation of the state).

But what is really bad for Israel is the comparison. Regardless of how all this would end, it exposes the fallacies and pretense of Israel like never before. Egypt is experiencing a peaceful Intifada with the deadly violence coming from the side of the regime. The army did not shoot at the demonstrators; and even before the departure of Mubarak, already seven days into the protests, the minister of interior who directed his thugs to violently crash the demonstrations had been sacked and will probably be brought to justice.

Yes, this was done in order to win time and try to persuade the demonstrators to go home. But even this scene, by now forgotten, can never happen in Israel. Israel is a place where all the generals who ordered the shootings of Palestinian and Jewish anti-occupation demonstrators now compete for the highest post of Chief of the General Staff.

One of them is Yair Naveh, who gave orders in 2008 to kill Palestinian suspects even if they could be peacefully arrested. He is not going to jail; but the young woman, Anat Kamm, who exposed these orders is now facing nine years in jail for leaking them to Israeli daily Haaretz. Not one Israeli general or politician has or is going to spend one day in jail for ordering the troops to shoot at unarmed demonstrators, innocent civilians, women, old men and children. The light radiating from Egypt and Tunisia is so strong that it also illuminates the darker spaces of the “only democracy in the Middle East.”

Nonviolent, democratic (be they religious or not) Arabs are bad for Israel. But maybe these Arabs were there all along, not only in Egypt, but also in Palestine. The insistence of Israeli commentators that the most important issue at stake — the Israeli peace treaty with Egypt — is a diversion, and has very little relevance to the powerful impulse that is shaking the Arab world as a whole.

The peace treaties with Israel are the symptoms of moral corruption not the disease itself — this is why Syrian President Bashar Asad, undoubtedly an anti-Israeli leader, is not immune from this wave of change. No, what is at stake here is the pretense that Israel is a stable, civilized, western island in a rough sea of Islamic barbarism and Arab fanaticism. The “danger” for Israel is that the cartography would be the same but the geography would change. It would still be an island but of barbarism and fanaticism in a sea of newly formed egalitarian and democratic states.

In the eyes of large sections of Western civil society the democratic image of Israel has long ago vanished; but it may now be dimmed and tarnished in the eyes of others who are in power and politics. How important is the old, positive image of Israel for maintaining its special relationship with the United States? Only time will tell.

But one way or another the cry rising from Cairo’s Tahrir Square is a warning that fake mythologies of the “only democracy in the Middle East,” hardcore Christian fundamentalism (far more sinister and corrupt than that of the Muslim Brotherhood), cynical military-industrial corporate profiteering, neo-conservatism and brutal lobbying will not guarantee the sustainability of the special relationship between Israel and the United States forever.

And even if the special relationship perseveres for a while, it is now based on even shakier foundations. The diametrically-opposed case studies of the so far resilient anti-American regional powers of Iran and Syria, and to some extent Turkey, on the one hand, and the fallen ultimate pro-American tyrants, on the other are indicative: even if it is sustained, American support may not be enough in future to maintain an ethnic and racist “Jewish state” in the heart of a changing Arab world.

This could be good news for the Jews, even for the Jews in Israel in the long run. To be surrounded by peoples who cherish freedom, social justice and spirituality and navigating sometimes safely and sometimes roughly between tradition and modernity, nationalism and humanity, aggressive capitalist globalization and daily survival, is not going to be easy.

Yet it has a horizon, and it carries hope of triggering similar changes in Palestine. It can bring a closure to more than a century of Zionist colonization and dispossession, to be replaced by more equitable reconciliation between the Palestinian victims of these criminal policies wherever they are and the Jewish community. This reconciliation would be built on the basis of the Palestinian right of return and on all the other rights the people of Egypt so bravely fought for in the last twenty days.

But trust the Israelis not to miss an opportunity to miss peace. They would cry wolf. They would demand, and receive, more funds from the American taxpayer due to the new “developments.” They would interfere clandestinely and destructively to undermine any transition to democracy (remember what force and viciousness characterized their reaction to democratization in Palestinian society?), and they would elevate the Islamophobic campaign to new and unprecedented heights.

But who knows, maybe the American taxpayer would not budge this time. And maybe the European politicians would follow the general sentiment of their public and allow not only Egypt to be dramatically transformed, but also welcome a similar change in Israel and Palestine. In such a scenario the Jews of Israel have a chance to become part of the real Middle East and not an alien and aggressive member of a Middle East which was the figment of the hallucinatory Zionist imagination.

Ilan Pappe is Professor of History and Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. His most recent book is Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel (Pluto Press, 2010).

Egypt’s army calls for end to strikes as workers grow in confidence: The Guardian

Ruling military council also appeals for end to political protests while seeking to reassure youth leaders
Chris McGreal in Cairo

Monday 14 February 2011
A flag seller walks through Cairo traffic. Egpyt’s army has sought to reassure youth leaders that it is serious about democratisation. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP
Egypt’s new military government has appealed for an end to the strikes sweeping the country as workers use their new-found freedom to demand pay increases after years of rising food prices.

Transport, bank and tourism employees were joined by steel, oil and gas workers in stoppages that undermined the army’s attempts to return Egypt to normality after the three weeks of unrest that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

The ruling military council called on Egyptians to go back to work, saying that strikes “damage the security of the country”.

“Noble Egyptians, see that these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative results,” it said in a statement read on state television.

Reuters reported that the army was considering using martial law to ban work stoppages, although that may prove difficult to square with its promises of democratic liberalisation.

In the statement, the army also called for an end to political protests, having forced out the last few hundred remaining demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, who had refused to leave until the military stepped aside in favour of an interim civilian administration. Soldiers barred foreign television cameras from filming the operation.

The army sought to reassure youth leaders, who played a leading role in the protests, that it is serious about democratisation by telling them that it will hold a referendum on constitutional changes within two months. But it is not clear who will be making the changes or to what extent they will free Egyptian politics.

The most immediate challenge for the military regime, though, is the unleashing of years of pent-up frustration and anger among workers about rising prices.

More than half of Egypt’s population lives on less than £1 a day. They are heavily reliant on subsidised foods, particularly bread, after sharp increases in the price of staples such as rice and pasta in recent years.

Egypt’s military rulers declared Monday a bank holiday after bank employees went out on strike along with workers in the state-run oil and gas industries, ambulance drivers, textile- and steelworkers and post office employees. Police officers and employees of the culture and health ministries joined the strikes.

Hundreds of Bank of Alexandria workers demonstrated outside its branch in central Cairo urging their bosses to “leave, leave” – the same slogan used in mass protests against Mubarak.

Striking workers in the state-owned Cairo transport authority took to the streets to demand a pay increase and benefits such as free hospital care.

Among them was Ahmed Said, who has worked as a driver for the company for 18 years. His take-home pay is about £60 a month, of which more than half goes on rent. He feeds a family of five on the rest.

“There is just enough money for food. We have meat once a week but not all weeks. Some days we do not eat dinner. If a child goes to the hospital and we have to pay for that, then me and my wife do not have a meal,” he said. “This is wrong. How can Mubarak be worth so much and we have so little?”

He said that after years of staying silent out of fear of the pervasive secret police under Mubarak’s rule, he would not now be intimidated. “Before, we had to be careful. We would be arrested. But now we can talk. We need food. We have been on strike four days. The army cannot stop us,” he said.

Another transport worker, Hatem Saleh, waved a wage slip that showed he earned E£238 (£25) in basic pay last month, with E£225 (£24) in overtime and bonuses. Again, more than half goes on rent.

Saleh entered the flat he shares with his wife and two teenage daughters, and opened the fridge.

“We have a big fridge, but look, it is empty. What is there? Some vegetables. Not enough vegetables for more than two days. We have some bread. We have not had meat in two weeks because we had to pay some money for my daughter’s school. If we buy clothes, we eat less. How can this be when I have worked for nearly 20 years?” he said.

The food crisis stalked the Mubarak regime for years. Egypt’s attempts to reform its system of subsidised food for the poor, which ate up more of the national budget than health and education, and the government’s decision to encourage the growth of crops for export in place of wheat, contributed to a surge in food prices in recent years.

It came just as demand for subsidised foods increased because people were less able to afford such staples as rice and pasta owing to surging oil and crop prices.

Three years ago, activists organised a series of food protests that in some ways presaged this year’s uprising.

A strike and protests were partly organised by emails, text messaging and the internet, but the government was able to outmanoeuvre them with a 30% pay rise for state workers, and by rounding up some of the organisers and through intimidation.

But Egypt’s new military government faces workers who are no longer so afraid of authority.

Egypt crisis: Protests switch to demands on pay: BBC

The BBC’s Lyse Doucet finds hope, tension and a mistrust of the media among Egyptians calling for a new start

Fresh protests and strikes have flared in Egypt as demonstrators demand better pay and conditions from the country’s new military rulers.

Bank, transport and tourism workers all demonstrated in Cairo after 18 days of protests succeeded in removing President Hosni Mubarak.

In a TV statement, the military urged all Egyptians to go back to work.

Earlier, Cairo’s Tahrir Square was cleared of protesters but hundreds soon returned, joined by disgruntled police.

Hundreds of uniformed and plain-clothes police marched to Tahrir Square, shouting: “We and the people are one” and vowing to “honour the martyrs of the revolution”.

They said they had been forced to act against their wishes in using force on protesters early in the anti-government demonstrations.

The military has urged all Egyptians to go back to work
But they are detested by many ordinary Egyptians, says the BBC’s Jon Leyne in Cairo, and repairing relations will take time and hard work.

Most of the thousands of protesters in the square had left on Sunday after welcoming the announcement by the new ruling military council that it would dissolve parliament and suspend the constitution.

‘Honour the martyrs’
As the day unfolded, strikes and protests were held outside a string of government offices and at workplaces, eventually prompting a televised statement from Egypt’s military rulers.

At the scene
Early on Monday, military police moved in to clear the last remaining democracy protesters. But Tahrir Square was not left to the motorists for long. Wave upon wave of new protesters have been coming through.

They include the police, blamed by many for repressing the earlier protests and maintaining President Hosni Mubarak in power. But the police wanted to let everyone know that they’re being treated as scapegoats. Then various groups of workers joined the demonstrations, including some employees from the vast government building on the edge of the square and more anti-government demonstrators.

Across Egypt, it’s a slightly chaotic situation, with workers staging their own mini-revolutions against their bosses. And there is no sign it’s going to calm down any time soon.

The best guarantee of a smooth transition to civilian rule would be if all Egyptians went back to work, the military said.

Strikes and disputes would “damage the security of the country”, the army’s ruling high council said.

Separately, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had agreed to a request from Egypt to freeze the assets of several former Egyptian officials, and a French government spokesman said Paris had received similar requests – although not for the assets of Hosni Mubarak himself.

Our correspondent in Cairo says there appears to be a whole series of mini-revolutions going on in the wake of the removal of Mr Mubarak.

The big challenge now facing the military rulers may be staving off a wave of strikes, he says.

The military had to instruct banks to remain closed on Monday following the strike threats.

The Egyptian stock exchange has also postponed its reopening until Sunday at the earliest.

In protests on Monday:

Hundreds of bank employees protested outside a branch of the Bank of Alexandria in central Cairo, calling for managers to resign
Public transport workers took part in a demonstration outside the state TV and radio building, calling for better pay
Ambulance drivers parked 70 of their emergency vehicles along a riverside road in a pay protest
Police also protested, massing outside the interior ministry complaining about their pay and working conditions
Near the Great Pyramids, some 150 tourism industry workers also demanded higher wages
One protester, Ahmed Ali, told the Reuters news agency: “The big people steal and the little people get nothing.”

Many employees blame bosses for what they consider to be huge earnings gaps in companies.

The tourism sector, which accounts for 6% of GDP and is in its peak season, has been badly hit by the anti-government demonstrations.

Strikes and protests at other state-owned firms across Egypt have hit the postal, media, textile and steel industries.

There are reports the military is planning to prevent meetings by labour unions or professional organisations, effectively banning strikes.

‘Sincere desire’
The higher military council has said it intends to suspend the constitution and set up a committee to draft a new one, which would then be put to a popular referendum.

Military statement
Constitution suspended
Council to hold power for six months or until elections
Both houses of parliament dissolved
Council to issue laws during interim period
Committee set up to reform constitution and set rules for referendum
Caretaker PM Ahmed Shafiq’s cabinet to continue work until new cabinet formed
Council to hold presidential and parliamentary elections
All international treaties to be honoured

Key activist Wael Ghonim added that there had been an encouraging meeting between the military and youth representatives on Sunday and spoke of a “sincere desire to protect the gains of the revolution”.

“[The military] said they will go after corrupt people no matter what their position current or previous,” Mr Ghonim reported.

During the meeting, Mr Ghonim reported on a Facebook page, the military agreed to draft constitutional changes within 10 days and hold the referendum within two months.

During the transition the cabinet appointed by Mr Mubarak last month will go on governing, submitting legislation to the army chiefs for approval.

The opposition’s Ayman Nour described the military leadership’s steps as a “victory for the revolution”.

MAD ISRAELIS Section

EDITOR: New contributor to this section is an ardent Zionist, Martin Sherman, who cannot find anything to criticise in that perfect land, and has a real problem with Tom Friedman, who is a Zion ist himself, but has ventured into some critique of Israel…

Go figure Tom Friedman: YNet

Op-ed: Top columnist writings on Israel ludicrous, offer wildly contradictory advice
Martin Sherman
Tom Friedman is journalist of undoubted talent. He has produced numerous insightful and thought-provoking columns on both US domestic politics and on international affairs that range from the ascent of modern India to the potential profitability for inventiveness in environmentally friendly technologies.

However, when it comes to Israel – specifically the Israel-Palestinian question – his writing morphs from the lucid to the ludicrous.

Indeed, since the beginning of the Obama Administration in late 2008, Friedman has sallied forth with series of articles that have not only been harshly critical of Israel, but also decidedly haughty and hostile. But as irritating as his condescending and contemptuous style may be, what is far more troubling is how the substance of his writings has become so detached from reality and/or so devoid of context.

In his Driving Drunk in Jerusalem (March 2010), Friedman adopted the most malevolent and mendacious aspects of anti-Israeli slander. In it, he suggested that the Israel government was putting the lives of American troops at risk – all because during a visit by Vice President Biden in Jerusalem, it approved an interim planning stage for the future expansion of an existing neighborhood in its capital, situated closer to the Knesset than Du Pont Circle (in central Washington DC) is to the Capitol.

Approvingly he quoted Biden mindless allegation that “What you are doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and endangers regional peace.”

It is difficult to know what is more infuriating: Friedman’s endorsement of Biden’s vicious vilification of Israel, or his ignoring of Biden’s outrageous hypocrisy. After all it was none other than Senator Joe Biden who not only supported, but sponsored and/or co-sponsored at least half-a-dozen Congressional resolutions calling not only for US recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but for the US to relocate its embassy to the city.

What should we attribute this omission to? Staggering ignorance? Purposeful malice? Hypocritical Opportunism? Professional amnesia? Certainly nothing that one would expect from the pillar of the “paper of record” as the NYT deems itself to be.

Absurd theory
Friedman also gets low grades for coherence and consistency – with his recommendations for US policy swinging wildly from one extreme to the other. Thus, in his Hobby or Necessity? (March, 2010), Friedman deemed an Israeli Palestinian agreement to be essential for US foreign policy and indispensible for its success.

The reason for this alleged US imperative is an imagined causal nexus between Iranian nuclear aspirations and the Palestinian problem. According to “Friedmanian” wisdom, if Israel would only make perilous territorial concessions to an unelected aging leadership and allow the establishment of an unsustainable micro-mini Arab Sunni state, the non-Arab Shiite Persians will somehow be convinced to relinquish their drive for regional hegemony.

Moreover, Friedman appears to think that only once the Palestinians are accommodated, will the rest of the Arab world (which has been responsible for the slaughter of Palestinians on a scale arguably greater than anything Israel is accused of) miraculously acquire a clearer view of their own interests, and allow a more muscular policy toward thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.

This absurd theory, that Washington can only galvanize a front against a common threat by undermining its allies, was vividly underscored by the WikiLeaks exposé, which showed that despite the absence of Palestinian statehood, Arab regimes had little inhibitions about pressing the Obama administration to “cut off the head of the (Iranian) snake” before it was too late.

Indeed, Friedman soon abandoned his view that an Israeli-Palestinian deal is an indispensible American foreign policy necessity. In Reality Check (November 2010) he advised: “The most valuable thing that President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could do now is just get out of the picture”, i.e. to treat the previous “necessity” with benign neglect and to leave the sides to stew in their own juices.

However, soon after this dramatic “zig” Friedman made an equally drastic “zag”. In his recent B.E., Before Egypt. A.E., After Egypt he again urged the administration to “get back in to the picture”. He now spurred it to take an active role stating: “Today I believe President Obama should put his own peace plan on the table, bridging the Israeli and Palestinian positions” – which completely contradicts his prior position that this was detrimentally futile…which, in turn, completely contradicted his position prior to his prior position, that this was a crucial necessity. Go figure Friedman.

Obsession with settlements
Indeed, in this article he elevates the art of the non sequitur to formerly unattained levels. Astonishingly, although Friedman recognizes that Mideastern geopolitical structure has undergone tectonic shifts and agrees that “everything we thought for the last 30 years is no longer relevant…(and) everything that once anchored our world is now unmoored,” he suggests that we should implement …precisely what he was proposing before these shifts -i.e. massive Israeli territorial concession to the Abbas-Fayyad regime.

Thus, just as overwhelming evidence is beginning to emerge as to the imprudence of an approach that hinges on long-term survival of autocratic Arab-regimes of dubious legitimacy, questionable popular support and aging leadership, he urges Israel to adopt – and the US to expedite – precisely such an approach.

So although Friedman might arguably be right when he states that “Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have built a government that is the best the Palestinians have ever had”, he neglects an “inconvenient truth”: The political and socio-economic realities in the PA administered territories still comprise a dysfunctional polity and an unsustainable economy – with around 60% of GDP due to foreign handouts, with disposable income far less than GDP (reportedly about half); and with a perilous combination of an insignificantly tiny productive base and a massively bloated public sector.

Is Freidman seriously counseling Israel to consider this a good long-term bet on which to wager vital national interests?

Finally, no review of Friedman’s perspective on Israel is complete without reference to his obsession with “settlements.”

As if totally oblivious to the proven futility of a previous 10-month building freeze and the proven irrelevance of settlements as a source of Palestinian intransigence and violence, he severely chides Netanyahu for honoring his pledge to his government and his people by refusing to extend the freeze for two more months. Can Friedman really be unaware that although in Gaza all settlements were razed and even cemeteries uprooted, this brought no peaceable response from Palestinians?

Indeed, quite the opposite, they chose to trample abandoned hi-tech greenhouses, desecrate deserted synagogues and bombard civilian populations, clearly demonstrating the settlements are only an excuse, not a reason, for their enduring hostility.

Indeed, in view of the fact that Israel has evacuated the entire Sinai peninsula, relinquished its oil resources and its foregone strategic depth, has withdrawn unilaterally from the Gaza Strip, has demolished settlements in northern Samaria, has allowed armed militias to deploy in the areas adjacent to its capital and within mortar range of its parliament, it is difficult to imagine anything more galling and absurd than Friedman’s accusation in I Believe I Can Fly (November 2010), where he has the temerity contend that the exercise of circumspect caution by the Israeli government “makes Israel look like it wants land more than peace.”

Surely the time has come to treat Friedman with the disregard his undisguised bias and his unacceptable bile clearly warrant.

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