Guest Post – Middle East news you might have missed over the chagim

This is another guest post by frequent contributor Brian Goldfarb, who brings us a review of Middle East-related news that you might have missed over the Jewish holiday period.

So, let’s start with some good news (sort of), with David Cameron and most of the Conservatives abstaining in the “Palestine vote”.  You will know by now that the result of that vote was a “victory” for the pro-Palestinian faction. However, note that well over half the MPs failed to vote. More importantly, it should be noted that David Cameron was firm in his commitment that:

“[he] has indicated that a favorable outcome of the vote would not change the country’s foreign policy toward the Palestinians, Reuters reported, citing Cameron’s official spokesperson.

‘I’ve been pretty clear about the government’s position and it won’t be changing’ the spokesman [on his behalf] told reporters ahead of the vote”

We can add the following clip (less than a minute) in which Cameron sends Shana Tova wishes to all! And he seems to mean it (even if he does his final greeting slightly wrong).

However, it soon gets worse again. It was a Labour MP, Graham Mitchell, who tabled the motion on Palestine. which is bad enough, but then we know that quite a number of MPs on the Left of the party are, essentially, anti-Israel (including, it seems, the prospective Labour candidate for this constituency: so that’s me voting for the pro-Israel Liberal-Democratic MP next May). That said, a row has broken out in the Labour Party. A significant number of senior (and probably not so senior) Labour MPs are objecting:

“Several senior party members were pushing back against an order that the whole party support the recognition. MPs objecting to the move argue that recognition of Palestine should only come as part of a wider Middle East peace settlement.

Rather than being subject to compulsory support for the motion, party members should be allowed to choose how to cast their vote, the objectors said.”


“Emotions were running high, according to Labour party members.

“To say that there is a row going on is putting it very mildly,” one senior Labour party member told The Independent. “People are furious. This is an attempt to rip up 13 years of carefully calibrated policy. It’s total madness and makes the prospect of peace less rather than more likely.”

According to the report, the Labour Friends of Israel has been campaigning to persuade Miliband to rethink how the opposition party handles the vote. If Miliband doesn’t agree, several senior faction members have also threatened to not turn up for the vote.”

In other words, this is not party policy, it never has been, and shouldn’t become policy on the hoof. It is also a warning to Miliband that, should he become PM after the next election and try to force such a policy through, he’ll have a major revolt on his hands. Good to know that the Left isn’t monolithic, as I keep trying to argue. And I heartily endorse the suggestion that this move “makes the prospect of peace less rather than more likely”.

Let me now turn, inevitably, to the less good news. With Israel, sadly, there’s always lots of that. To begin with, there’s this item, which is headed “Bag of Islamic State flags discovered in north“.

Now the irony here is that the discovery was made in an industrial park in Nazareth Illit, which is a Jewish village/town to the north of the New Testament birthplace of Jesus, Nazareth. Suffice it to say that Nazareth Illit is not a politically happy place, with a previous Mayor under investigation for alleged offences. I’ll leave you to read the article to discover that for yourselves. I will add that I wonder if whoever planted those flags did so hoping that no-one would look in a “Jewish” town for such items. How wrong can you be? They’d have been “safer” in Nazareth proper, where the discoverer might have decided to keep their mouth shut for fear of reprisals.

Who knows?

TV crew films near Sderot

To move on to matters related, sort of, and far less happy (at least the flags were found and the authorities are now on the alert). This article comes from The Tablet and brings us to far more sombre matters. It explains why the Gaza War looked different on Israeli TV than it did on CNN:

“Ten days into the war, when Hamas rejected a cease-fire offer and sent terrorists through a tunnel into Israel, the IDF’s ground operation began. Here, too, it is important to note the disparity: The international media sees Israeli soldiers as legitimate military targets, while to Israelis they are quite literally “our boys”—who are sent off at the age of 18 into mandatory military service. In this war Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s close friend lost his son, the grandson of a prominent left-wing politician was severely injured, and every anchor or reporter knew someone who was fighting in Gaza. In Israel there is often only one degree of separation.

Not only were Israelis watching a different war on television, but the pictures they saw were embedded in a different narrative that, in a nutshell, was this: We left the Gaza Strip, dismantled all settlements, completely retreated to the 1967 lines, and the outcome was that Hamas took over Gaza and we got rockets, which at any moment might strike our homes. The world, in contrast, heard the story of Israel bombing innocent civilians in an Israeli-made prison—and saw pictures of the devastation inflicted by our military might.”

On top of this, Israelis are news junkies, and this only gets worse when fighting breaks out. Thus:

“We live in a country whose people don’t agree with each other on anything. And yet one activity—besides bickering—comes close to uniting everyone: watching the news. Israelis want all the information, all the time. This is true even on a normal, calm day, if such a thing truly exists in the Middle East. The combined ratings of the evening news broadcast on the three main networks—Channel 1, Channel 2, and Channel 10—reach 40 percent, meaning four out of 10 people in the country tune in to the evening news…

The war in Gaza turned all three Israeli networks into 24-hour news channels. Television was the main source of information while rockets were flying toward Israel, and no one turned it off. What was once an hourlong evening news program mutated into an ongoing, seemingly endless broadcast. The country’s national pastime became an obsession.

As a matter of fact, the 24-hour news cycle began almost a month before Operation Protective Edge: It all started June 13, after three young Israelis were kidnapped…And when a few days later [after their bodies had been found] Hamas began the barrage of rockets targeting Israel, the national mood and the media platform were equally prepared for war.

During the 50 days of the war in Gaza, Israelis, and the rest of the world were watching two completely different wars. In Israel, the country was under attack and it was all happening on live television: The camera leaped between different cities being targeted—showing the rocket’s trajectory from the Gazan border, the subsequent sirens, and civilians taking shelter in Israel and, often, the rocket’s interception by the Iron Dome anti-missile system several minutes later—moments of deep anxiety, followed by relief, over and over, throughout the day. Israeli networks co-operating with the IDF’s Home Front Command aired banners clearly stating which region was under attack, and in some areas where the sirens weren’t loud enough, this turned out to be life-saving information.”

You don’t need to be an Israeli to be only too aware of this: anyone with family and/or friends in israel hangs on the news when conflict breaks out in the region – and sits at the computer sending emails and hoping not to receive the ones with bad news.

An Israeli vehicle at the scene where two soldiers were wounded in a bomb explosion near the border with Lebanon, October 7, 2014

Still in the general area of conflict, what started off looking like a Lebanese army faux pas turns into something rather more sinister. The original incident (which you might have read about) which appeared to be an attempted incursion by Lebanese army soldiers in the area of Har Dov (Mt. Dov aka the Shebaa Farms – a disputed area on Lebanon/Israel border), repelled with two IDF soldiers and one Lebanese soldier wounded, has become something much more serious. This article now points the finger at Hezbollah. Or, more accurately, Hezbollah points the finger at itself, as follows:

“The ring of explosives detonated alongside an IDF patrol on the border with Lebanon on Tuesday was another in a series of messages from Hezbollah to Israel. It was a brazen attack, carried out inside Israeli territory, the message being that, from now on, every incident in which Israel causes Lebanese injuries will be greeted with a response along the Lebanese or Syrian borders.

As opposed to other recent cross-border attacks, in which the perpetrators didn’t claim responsibility, the message this time was loud and clear: a full admission by Hezbollah. The claim of responsibility also gave a reason for the attack.

“The Group of the Martyr Ali Hassan Haydar detonated an explosive device in the Shebaa Farms,” the Shiite group said in a statement, using the Lebanese name for the Mount Dov region, where the attack took place.

Haydar was a Hezbollah sapper killed on September 5 in Lebanon while attempting to defuse an explosive device attached to an alleged Israel spying apparatus discovered that day. Hezbollah vowed revenge.”

Of course, the problem is that Israel will not be deterred from responding as it deems necessary, as the article continues by noting that:

“the Shiite group [is] trying to lay down new red lines for Israel — red lines that Israel is likely to cross: Israel will almost certainly continue to disrupt the smuggling of game-changing weapons from Syria to Lebanon (indeed, those violate Israel’s own avowed “red line”), “forcing” Hezbollah to respond the next
time it or its allies come under IDF attack.”

“[However,] one doubts whether Hezbollah, which doesn’t have many available fighters, is seeking to escalate the situation to all-out war or even a more limited conflagration. The organization is tied up with a war that has already been raging for three years, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces.

This week, eight of its fighters were killed in battles in Syria’s Qalamoun region. In all, a third of Hezbollah’s forces are currently in Syria, where they’re battling a plethora of Sunni extremist groups, including the notorious Islamic State.”

Let’s hope so.

I’d like to wind up this review of items you might not have seen with a slightly lighter article, from Petra Marquardt-Bigman’s blog, “The Warped Mirror” (although German by origin, she now lives in Israel, and also has a blog at The Jerusalem Post) The headline is “Shlomo Sand resigns from being an invented Jew (or something like it)“.

Shlomo Sand and his crackpot theories

For those who haven’t heard of him, or in case it has slipped your mind, Shlomo Sand is the “acclaimed” (it says on his personal website) historian who claimed that the Jews are an “invented people” (two of the words in the title of his book). In other words, the Jews didn’t exist as an ethnic group until the Khazars of the Russian steppes decided to convert, wholesale to Judaism.

This dismisses all that compelling DNA evidence tracing Jews, collectively, back to the Middle East, some 3000 years ago, to say nothing of tracing Cohanim (the priestly caste) to one male, also 3000 years ago (i.e., Aaron existed, whatever his name), let alone the tons (literally) of archaeological evidence. And now he wants to become non-Jewish.

Petra notes:

In response to this publication, my very erudite Facebook friend David Sigeti wrote a comment that echoes Shapira’s point quoted above and highlights the important question how Sand’s specious “scholarship” could be so shamelessly promoted by many academics and intellectuals:

“I think that the best short phrase to describe Sand is ‘serial crackpot’. [According to Sand] All the genetic evidence is fabricated and the Ashkenazim are really from Central Asia, Yiddish is a Slavic language in spite of being mutually comprehensible with various dialects of German, the ancient Romans were incapable of transporting large numbers of slaves across the Mediterranean in spite of having fed Italy from Egypt for centuries etc., etc., etc. He is almost certainly the only author in the modern, democratic world to write a book that relies on so many crackpot hypotheses in fields as diverse as genetics, linguistics, and history and to get it taken seriously by other academics and intellectuals.

That this nonsense gets taken seriously may be the most telling example of the confluence between ‘anti-Zionism’ and classical antisemitism. It is almost impossible to imagine anything like Sand’s ideas being taken seriously on any subject other than the Jews

As my mother might have said, he can “gay gezunter haid” (Yiddish), meaning, approximately, “go in good health” – although she, a clever lady, would have been being ironic, and she would have known she being ironic. She might also, or instead, have said that he could “gay in dredd”, or, “go to hell”, without irony.

Read Petra M-B’s article for yourself. It’s a delightful hatchet job. We’re better off without him. Mind you, he still has a post at Tel Aviv Uni. Do any of his erstwhile colleagues actually talk to him?

Anne adds:

Brian, thank you for this review of these news items. I know that I missed some of these myself.

Regarding your last item, Sand makes no sense even within his own parameters. If the Jews are an invented people, as he claims, then how can he resign from them? Either the Jews exist and he wants to “resign”, or they are invented in which case what on earth does that make him? Besides a bigot, a madman, and almost certifiably lunatic.

Furthermore, he makes his wish, or rather his petulant demand, upon the pages of a major UK newspaper with a record of anti-Israel and even antisemitic sentiment, as noted by Richard Millett. If he wants to “resign” from the Jewish people, why did he not write his screed in the Jewish Chronicle?  (Probably because they would have refused…).

In any event, is anyone stopping him from “resigning”? We are only too happy to see the back of him.

Just don’t let the door hit you on the way out Shlomo!

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3 Responses to Guest Post – Middle East news you might have missed over the chagim

  1. peteca1 says:

    Quoting Mr Goldfarb … “We left the Gaza Strip, dismantled all settlements, completely retreated to the 1967 lines, and the outcome was that Hamas took over Gaza and we got rockets, which at any moment might strike our homes. The world, in contrast, heard the story of Israel bombing innocent civilians in an Israeli-made prison—and saw pictures of the devastation inflicted by our military might.”

    That is exactly how the international media treat this issue. And you are 100% right … if there is a major difference in how Israeli media show the Gaza fighting (compared to the rest of the world), then a large gap will open up between Israelis and everyone else. And here we are. I am not saying the inernational media was right for doing this … I am simply saying … it is- what it is. This is the reality.

    I see no resolution. Israel just needs to look after itself. The media these days has too many biases. And LONG GONE are the days when solid journalism reported objective facts. There are too many people, and too many countries, who have savvy in how to adjust the global media to suit their own purposes. SAD to say – but true!

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Well said Pete. Israel just has to learn to manage the situation – with the media as well as with the Palestinians – for there is no real “cure” or solution, no matter what the politically-correct brigade would have us believe.

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