Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Sadly, even though Marty Peretz has sold his remaining share of The New Republic, he will not be retiring to go and volunteer with traumatized children in Gaza. As part of the deal, Peretz will retain the title of editor in chief (and, of course, retain the shiny satin bowling jacket which identifies him as such) and continue to contribute to the magazine in the print edition and, Michael Calderone writes, in "his pugnacious blog, The Spine." Pugnacious, right. In the same way that Ann Coulter is "flamboyant" or Professor Griff was "outspoken."

I guess I understand Marty's requirements here. There's no way he would be able to wait for his semi-annual Wall Street Journal op-ed (for which he's usually brought in to bash some Democrat or Democratic initiative) for the opportunity to reiterate, once again, his view that Arabs are subhuman, their culture stinks, and Palestinian identity is just another word for Jew hatred. Peretz's kind of obsessive bigotry requires a regular forum to be properly and satisfyingly indulged, which, come to think of it, is probably what led him to buy TNR in the first place. Boy, times have sure changed since then (fade in harmonica, creaking of rocking chair.) Back in the 70's, in order to get published in a prominent political magazine you had to work hard, write well, and have something interesting to say. That, or marry someone with enough money to buy you your own prominent political magazine. Here in the future, we possess all kinds of new and wonderful tools which enable us to participate in political conversation in ways that our forebears couldn't have imagined. Broadcasting one's obsessions and advertising one's prejudices is now no longer the sole purview of trained journalists and wealthy cranks.

Andrew Sullivan marks the end of an era with a single tear rolling down his cheek. I can understand that Sullivan has warm feelings for Peretz because Sullivan began his career at TNR, but I wonder whether he would have written such praise for Peretz if, for the past several decades, Peretz's bile and loathing had been directed at homosexuals and gay culture, rather than Arabs and Arab culture?

Eric Alterman has more.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Arab Blogosphere

Bitterlemons has a very interesting series of essays on blogging in the Arab world.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Does Quoting Israeli Human Rights Organizations Constitute "Legitimate" Criticism?

Earlier this month James Kirchick challenged the idea that Israel supporters stifle debate about the Israel-Palestine issue in the U.S. by charging Israel's critics with anti-Semitism. Kirchick wrote:
When prodded to identify an instance in which legitimate criticism of Israel has been labeled “anti-Semitic,” the promoters of this meme come up with nothing.

I'm curious to find out who, exactly, Kirchick "prodded," as his claim disintegrates on contact with Google. Then again, I have to wonder what criticism of Israel might be considered "legitimate" by a protege of Marty "Jimmy Carter is a Jew-hater" Peretz? Kirchick may want to check out Anne Bayefsky's condemnation of the UN Human Rights Council's report on Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which is a classic of the genre.

As with much of what emanates from the Israelphile right on this issue, the piece is characterized by the author's complete inability to grasp the idea that the Israeli occupation, and the humiliation, harassment, and violence which it visits daily upon its Palestinian subjects, fuels hatred of Israel, and of Jews, and that that hatred, in turn, fuels violence and terrorism. The UN's anti-Semitism is simply taken for granted by Bayefsky, and thus statements about the brutality and the racist nature of the occupation, which are a common feature of the debate within Israel, magically become "anti-Semitic" when published in a UN document. (Nearly all of the violations listed in the report have already been copiously documented by Israeli human rights organizations.)

Bayefsky's screed is a veritable gift basket of logical fallacies, the kind that William F. Buckley was fond of calling down, but which are now simply tools of the trade for the gang at National Review. I had to re-read this bit a few times:
The ultimate carrying-card of U.N.-driven anti-Semitism is to blame the Jewish state for the world’s ills. Dugard exemplifies this most dangerous of canards. He reports:

For years the occupation of Palestine and apartheid in South Africa vied for attention from the international community. In 1994, apartheid came to an end…the OPT has become a test for the West, a test by which its commitment to human rights is to be judged. If the West fails this test, it can hardly expect the developing world to address human rights violations seriously in its own countries...

Thus the U.N. inverts right and wrong. Why should Sudan stop genocide? It’s waiting for the Jews to repent or the Jewishness of Israel to be terminated. Why should Zimbabwe stop murdering and starving its own people, white and black? Why should China grant anybody freedom of speech? Why should Saudi Arabia let women out of the house alone or into any driver’s seat? Why should Egypt stop the mutilation of the genitals of the majority of its married female population? They’re all waiting for a solution to the Jewish state problem.

Frankly, it's difficult to grapple with argumentation this sloppy and dishonest. Bayefsky's claim that the report "blames the Jewish state for the world’s ills" is unsupported by even the most ungenerous reading. Dugard's report is premised on the notion that Israel should be held to international human rights conventions which Israerl has signed and claims to uphold, and that the failure of Western democracies to end Israeli oppression of the Palestinians has had a negative effect on our ability to promote human rights elsewhere. Fairly simple stuff, really. Rather than face, or even bother to dispute, the report's exhaustively documented conclusion that Israel consistently and miserably fails to meet human rights standards in its treatment of the Palestinians, Bayefsky libels Dugard as an anti-Semite, and then points to authoritarian abuses in countries with authoritarian governments, as if they somehow excused or mitigated the Israeli government's own abuses.

We have the requisite outrage over the use of the term "apartheid." I've written before that I think Jimmy Carter's use of the term in his book's title was probably a bad idea, given the distraction that it has predictably become from the book's important and substantive points about Palestinian life under Israeli military rule. That isn't to say that the term in not appropriate. Whatever justifications Israel may have for continuing the occupation, there's little doubt that the experience of Palestinians under that occupation has been very much like South African apartheid. If Israeli policy toward its Palestinian subjects is less explicitly racist in theory than the white South African government's toward black South Africans, which I think is disputable, it has been no less so in application.

Bayefsky saves her real indignation, though, for the report's statements on the ongoing "Judaization" of Palestinian areas:
What Dugard fears most is not hate and the terrorism it fuels, but “Judaization” — the idea of a Jew living in claimed Arab land. Deliberately mirroring Nazi imagery, his report refers to Israel’s security fence this way: “The Wall being built in East Jerusalem is an instrument of social engineering designed to achieve the Judaization of Jerusalem…”

Once again, Bayefsky condemns as "anti-Semitic" conclusions which are not in dispute by serious observers. It's important to understand what we're talking about here: "Judaization" is not, as Bayefsky disingenuously claims, simply "the idea of a Jew living in claimed Arab land." Judaization involves the changing of the demographic and cultural character of Israeli-controlled Palestinian territory through the expropriation of Arab land, the transfer of ownership into Jewish hands, and the transfer of Jewish colonists into that land. This is done through a variety of administrative and military procedures, but let's be clear about this: The Judaization of Palestinian East Jerusalem and key sections of the West Bank is the goal of Israeli policy. If that sounds ugly, it's because it is ugly, for none more than the Palestinian Arabs who have to face it every day, and whose lives and society have been subjugated and brutalized by it for the last forty years.

I encourage you to read and decide for yourself whether the report "epitomizes the foul anti-Semitism which has overtaken the U.N. human-rights machinery," as Bayefsky claims. I suggest that Bayefsky's response epitomizes the tendency of some hard line Israel-supporters to react with vicious invective when confronted with facts that contradict their view of Israel as "righteous victim," and data which explode the myth that it is Israel who is under siege. These people are quick to attack anyone who dares bring up the Nazis in the course of criticizing Israel, but sling the charge themselves with disturbing carelessness and cynicism. The difference here, as is generally true of how the American left and right deal with their extremists, is that people who equate Israel with the Nazis are marginal on the left. Those who compare Israel's critics to Nazis are published in National Review.

Friday, February 23, 2007


With a nod to Rob's very touching, and metal-savvy, acknowledgement, here's a Friday Guitar Blogging Twofer: A young Steve Vai, before he went all poodle-for-pay on us, and some dude named Frank, who is also a pretty competent guitarist...

In other guitar blogging news, a few months ago Mr. Trend had an interesting post in which he took issue with this list of "Greatest Guitar Solos." I'd started working on a response but never finished, as I am such an extraordinary procrastinor that I procrastinate about things which I was using to procrastinate about other things. Occasionally, I make my way back around to the first thing I was procrastinating about, and use it to procrastinate about something else, thus creating a Perfect Circle of Procrastination.

Anyway, quoth the Trend:
It's time to put all this bullshit to rest, once and for all.

The greatest guitar solo of all time is Eddie Hazel on Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain." Period. End of story.

And for all you future publications and people interested in lists, the presumption that great guitar solos can only be from white-man-rock both refuses the great guitar tradition present in the blues (don't go giving me this "Stevie Ray Vaughan was a great blues guitarist!!!" bullshit; and if you bring up Clapton, I'll rip your throat out), funk, jazz, and in countries that are neither the U.S. or England. It reflects both your ignorance to explore music beyond famous white guys, as well as demonstrating your complete unfamiliarity with anything outside of the traditional "rock canon" (which is probably racist and definitely archaic).

And make damn sure Eddie Hazel is number one. It's the Truth.

Trend is right, the Planet Rock list is crap, and his point about the preponderance of white acts on the list, and the exclusion of non-white acts from the rock canon in general, is an important one. That said, as a self-appointed custodian of the pantheon, I feel I have to defend Clapton and Vaughan. At the risk of having my throat ripped out, I offer that Clapton's playing from the Yardbirds on through Derek and the Dominoes is very solid. His performance on Steppin' Out from Live Cream Volume II is as powerful a statement of musical identity as anything in the rock guitar canon. That Clapton has devolved into just another aging Sixties pop star doing a Rock Skool version of himself onstage shouldn't take away from his truly excellent work, or from the huge role he played in popularizing the blues and helping to get work for a lot of the blues legends who he now unjustly overshadows in the minds of most rock fans. As for Stevie Ray, I have yet to meet a guitarist, of any race, who doesn't recognize that the man was an astonishingly skilled player, and a virtual encyclopedia of blues styles. I don't think he and Clapton should be blamed just because frat boys dig them, or because classic rock radio listeners don't care enough to look up the guitarists who influenced them.

Moving on, Trend's nomination of Maggot Brain as the greatest guitar solo ever is a good one, a very defensible choice. I've loved the tune ever since I first bugged out to it in the crappy little college apartment my buddy and I shared. (As it happens, I've been listening to that record a lot lately. I can still smell the bong water, dirty laundry and cheap vino...) For me, however, there is one clear winner in this category, the touchstone of all electric guitar: Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), the last tune on Electric Ladyland. I just cannot get over this track. I love its simplicity, I love its brevity, I love that it fades out just as Jimi's really starting to play. I love that Jimi's playing the amp as much as he's playing the guitar. I love that it contains within it almost the entire scope of rock guitar vocabulary, from straight blues to whammy bar tricks to the modal playing that makes me weep for the record Jimi never cut with Miles Davis. As far as I'm concerned, this tune is the reason electricity was invented.

Your nominations are, of course, welcome.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman, who blogs under the name Kareem Amer, has been sentenced to four years in prison.
Abdel Kareem Soliman's trial was the first time that a blogger had been prosecuted in Egypt.

He had used his web log to criticise the country's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator.

A human rights group called the verdict "very tough" and a "strong message" to Egypt's thousands of bloggers.

Soliman, 22, was tried in his native city of Alexandria. He blogs under the name Kareem Amer.

A former student at al-Azhar, he called the institution "the university of terrorism" and accused it of suppressing free thought.

The university expelled him in 2006 and pressed prosecutors to put him on trial.


During the five-minute court session the judge said Soliman was guilty and would serve three years for insulting Islam and inciting sedition, and one year for insulting Mr Mubarak.

This op-ed appeared in yesterday's Washington Post. As Kamal and Palmer note, one of the more tragic aspects of the story is the role that authorities at Al Azhar University played in Kareem's arrest and prosecution. Al Azhar is the most prominent institution of Islamic learning in the world, and is the world's second-oldest continuously operating university.

Esraa al-Shafei, who maintains the Free Kareem website, writes in today's Daily Star on the blogging phenomenon in the Arab world, and the promise and the threat it represents. It saddens and angers me to think where we might be today if President Bush had decided after 9/11 to cultivate genuine political reform in the Arab world, to respectfully but firmly encourage the opening of political space, rather than try to transform Arab societies at the point of a gun. It will be years until we even begin to grasp the extent of the damage this man has done to America's reputation in the world, but we can look at some of the early returns.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I'll be posting over at Alterdestiny, come on over and check it out. Kung fu and guitar blogging will commence immediately.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Buried in this story about last month's Senate ethics reform package was this paragrpah about a rather large loophole that seemed tailor-made for a particular constituency:
Lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, also talked to lawmakers about excluding from the measure's travel ban trips to Israel sponsored by the group's nonprofit foundation affiliate. The legislation, as written, would allow those trips to continue.

The non-profit affiliate in this case is the American Israel Education Foundation, which functions effectively as the travel arm of AIPAC, and is the third largest private sponsor of congressional travel. Among the spendiest, AIEF is the only organization which is specifically foreign policy-focused.

The alarms that sound among pro-Israel groups whenever this sort of legislation is considered reveals their belief these trips are highly effective in instilling and strengthening pro-Israel views in legislators and staffers, many of whom know little about Middle East issues before taking the sponsored visits. Matthew Berger in the Jewish News Weekly:
Jewish groups have used trips to Israel as a key tool to help lawmakers understand the significance of the Jewish state and its need for political support. Such trips have helped sensitize lawmakers to Israeli concerns.

For example, President Bush was said to have been deeply moved during a 1998 trip to Israel as governor of Texas. He formed strong ties with future Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the visit, paid for by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

AIPAC has sent numerous lawmakers to Israel over the years through the American Israel Education Foundation. These trips often include extensive travel in Israel and meetings with key political leaders. The trips have been credited with helping lawmakers see controversial topics such as the West Bank security barrier and the Gaza Strip withdrawal in a light favorable to Israel.

In response to the loophole, former South Dakota Senator Jim Aboureszk wrote in the Christian Science Monitor:
Pro-Israel groups worked vigorously to ensure that the new reforms would allow them to keep hosting members of Congress on trips to Israel. According to the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper, congressional filings show Israel as the top foreign destination for privately sponsored trips. Nearly 10 percent of overseas congressional trips taken between 2000 and 2005 were to Israel. Most are paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, a sister organization of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the major pro-Israel lobby group.

New rules require all trips to be pre-approved by the House Ethics Committee, but Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts says this setup will guarantee that tours of Israel continue. Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported consensus among Jewish groups that "the new legislation would be an inconvenience, but wouldn't seriously hamper the trips to Israel that are considered a critical component of congressional support for Israel."

These trips are defended as "educational." In reality, as I know from my many colleagues in the House and Senate who participated in them, they offer Israeli propagandists an opportunity to expose members of Congress to only their side of the story. The Israeli narrative of how the nation was created, and Israeli justifications for its brutal policies omit important truths about the Israeli takeover and occupation of the Palestinian territories.

That last bit is important. People on these trips aren’t given anything close to a “balanced view,” in fact they’re exposed to the worst sort of revisionist nonsense. (“There’s no such thing as a Palestinian. And anyway, they don’t eat pizza like you and me. Would you like to visit a Sbarro?”) They certainly aren’t shown the Palestinian refugee camps. They're kept safely away from the military checkpoints where teenage Israeli troops keep Palestinians waiting in lines for hours because they think it’s funny. They don't see Jewish settler children, under the protection of Israeli troops, chanting racist slogans and throwing stones at Palestinian women and children on their way to school. And they sure as hell never see the Palestinian homes, schools, gardens, olive groves, and playgrounds which have been razed to make room for new, illegal settlements on expropriated Palestinian land.

These trips aren’t just for the members of Congress, of course. Last summer, National Review's Rich Lowry and Slate's Jacob Weisberg both took AIEF-sponsored trips to Israel, returning as little more than stenographers, dutifully typing out Israeli talking points.

It’s possible that the kind of people who are taken in by the constant Israeli propaganda featured on these trips were inclined in that direction to begin with (Though, of course, one of AIPAC’s goals is to ensure that those are the only kind of people in Congress.) Given AIPAC’s strenuous efforts in support of the non-profit sponsored travel loophole, it’s obvious that AIPAC considers these trips effective tools for achieving their policy goals. That they were able to carve out such an exemption speaks for itself.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Juan Cole is skeptical of reports that he's fled to Iran. Mark Steyn and Michael Ledeen are certain that Muqtada's in Iran, and claim this as proof that the surge is working.

Oh man, that's a tough one. Who to believe? On one hand, you've got a guy who's been pretty much right about everything having to do with Iraq and Iran over the last four years. On the other, you have Mark Steyn and Michael "Islam is very unpopular in Iran nowadays" Ledeen, whose incredible ability to be wrong about every. last. thing. relating to Iraq and Iran has been matched only by their ability to soldier on without ever seeming to notice.

As Cole notes, it's in Muqtada's political rivals' interest to promote the idea that he has fled to Iran, as Muqtada has frequently condemned leaders who chose exile during the Saddam era, rather than stay in Iraq to struggle and risk death as the Sadrs did. This has proven to be a very effective rhetorical weapon for Muqtada against better-funded rivals like the Hakims.

Labeling Sadr "a Persian stooge" and "an Iranian agent," Steyn and Ledeen seem unable to grasp the reality that Muqtada represents a genuine political movement in Iraq, one rooted in a tradition of clerical activism going back decades. They hide information like this in places called books.