James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

Archive for September 2010

Gaza Flotilla Investigator at Iowa College of Law.

leave a comment »

Boyd Law Building

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer was at the University of Iowa College of Law today.  He is the lead investigator for the UN Secretary General ‘s inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident and the Mavi Marmara boarding that left several militant activists dead.  His investigation should not be confused with the recently concluded one conducted by the UN Human Rights Commission that summarily claimed Israel had committed war crimes.  Unlike the UNHRC investigation, Israel is cooperating with Palmer’s investigation and it is done under the more credible auspices of the Secretary General.

When I had Palmer as a professor in Comparative Constitutional Law, he was always very fair.  His views were somewhat more paternalistic than mine, but he was practical and reasonable.  The only major dispute I remember having with him was over the wisdom of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

Today, he maintained his professionalism.  His report will not be released until March.  He made very clear that he would not be commenting on the flotilla and he stuck to his word.  Radical leftist Professor Adrien Wing tried to bait him with a question that assumed his work would cause him to become the target of a campaign to discredit him personally and professionally and might even make him the target of violence (presumably by Jewish perpetrators?).

Palmer refused to take the bait and said simply that a person in the public eye learns to become immune to criticism.  His comments were the kind of steady, calm, and fair comments I would expect of an impartial judge.  I am optimistic that his report will be fairer to Israel than is typical of the UN.  With former Columbian President Alvaro Uribe by his side, I am doubly optimistic.

Advertisements

Written by JamesEJ

Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 12:43 am

How to Manipulate Maps

with one comment

Israel bashers often present a series of maps similar to the ones featured here that attempt to show the “loss of Palestinian land.”  Judged individually, each one is basically accurate.  But, in combination, the maps rely on shifting definitions, broad generalizations, and a lack of context to smear Israel.  They serve as examples of the willingness of opponents of Israel to promote falsehood to serve an agenda.

First Map

“Jewish land” = land purchased, owned, and inhabited by Jews.

“Palestinian land” = all land in the British Mandate except Jewish land as defined above.  The vast majority of this land is government public property controlled by the British.  Almost the entire southern half of the map is the Negev desert, where almost no one lived or owned property.  There are areas on this map, near Hebron for instance, owned by Jews who fled after the 1929 anti-Jewish riots.  There are other smaller plots of land where Jews lived. Those areas are marked here as “Palestinian land.”  Also included in the “Palestinian land” areas is land owned by the Druze Arabs.  Many Druze fought for Israeli independence in 1948.  Today, the Druze in Israel are full citizens who have elected to serve in the Israeli Defense forces on a compulsory basis.

Other Issues: The land is labeled “Palestine,” but it was formally recognized as the British Mandate of Palestine, a British protectorate carved out of the Ottoman Empire after WWI that had nothing to do with ethnic or other pre-existing boundaries.  During Ottoman times, there was no such area recognized simply as “Palestine.”

In 1946, Arabs in the British Mandate mostly regarded themselves simply as Arabs or as Syrians.  The word “Palestine” was identified more closely with the Jewish population of the British Mandate.

Conclusion: This map is created with a maximalist perspective of what was Arab or “Palestinian” and a minimalist perspective of what was Jewish. Words are used in the map to extend today’s concepts of “Palestinian” into a historical context where such concepts did not exist.  While using today’s terminology helps a modern reader understand the map, it also creates the impression of a historical continuity that misrepresents the reality of 1946.

Map2Second Map

“Jewish land” = all the land allocated by the UN to a Jewish majority state.  Much of it was, and continues to be, owned and inhabited by Arabs, Bedouin, and Druze.

“Palestinian land” = all the land allocated by the UN to an Arab majority state and the land allocated to an international area to be administered by the UN in and around Jerusalem.  Some of this area was owned and inhabited by Jews.  Several areas previously marked as “Jewish land” have disappeared, particularly between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and north of Haifa.

Other Issues: It is important to note that the Palestinians were led at this time by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.  The Mufti had been an ally of Hitler, pushed for the implementation of the Final Solution in the British Mandate, and sought to extend the Holocaust to Palestine.  No Jews would be able to remain in the areas marked as “Palestinian land.”  Many Arabs have been able to live in the areas marked as “Jewish land.”

The UN partition plan was never implemented.  The UN passed the plan.  The Jewish organizations accepted it, albeit reluctantly.  The Arab states and representatives rejected it and waged war on the Jews.

Conclusion: This map is less maximalist in that its principal omission is in regards to the status of Jerusalem.  Its bias appears most prominently in the context of why this map never represented reality.  The Arabs rejected this map, preferring instead to leave the division, or more likely total usurpation, of the land to the result of a war with the Jews.

Map3Third Map

“Israeli land” = land owned by Jews, Arabs and Druze, but under the control of the state of Israel.  Admittedly, it includes fewer Arabs than before the war.  Israel did not permit Arabs to return to Israel out of fear of further ongoing hostilities.

“Palestinian land” = land annexed by Jordan, marked as “West Bank,” and land occupied by Egypt, marked as “Gaza.”  The Arab states never created a Palestinian state in these areas.  The Jews who tried to remain in these areas were expelled after the war.  The Jordanians blew up the largest synagogue in Jerusalem, the Hurva, which had stood for centuries in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

Other Issues: There is no context regarding how we got to this map.  Jews accepted the UN partition and the Arabs rejected it.  War ensued and Israel won additional territory.

The map makes the Palestinian Arab areas appear to be autonomous.  They are shaded differently than Jordan and Egypt.  However, Gaza remained an occupied territory of Egypt and the West Bank was annexed by Jordan.  In both Palestinian Arab areas, and other Arab countries, Arab refugees were segregated in permanent refugee camps.  Those camps exist today, nominally administered by a UN entity separate from the main UN refugee organization.  Nothing is on the map to denote these segregated areas.

Conclusion: This map accurately indicates the borders of Israel after 1948, but has shifted the definitions in such a way that overstate the “loss” of “Palestinian land.”  Many Israeli Arabs retained control of their land after 1948 and, under this map, their land is considered “lost.”

Fourth Map

“Israeli land” = land controlled by Israel that is not “Palestinian land” as defined below.

“Palestinian land” = land administered by the Palestinian Authority and patrolled by Palestinian Authority police forces.  All Jewish settlement, even on land purchased by Jews, is strictly prohibited in these areas.

Other Issues: The most significant defect in this map is that it leaves a 30-plus-year gap from the prior map.  In 1967, Israel captured the areas labeled “Palestinian land” in the previous map.  Prior to 1993, there was no Palestinian Authority or territory administered by Palestinian organizations.  There should be a map prior to this one that, using these definitions, would have no area marked as “Palestinian land.”  The areas marked as “Palestinian land” here are not land that Israel failed to capture or control.  It is land where Israel began to transfer authority to the Palestinian Arabs in the hope of creating an independent Palestinian Arab state.  Some versions of this map are for 2005 instead of 2000.  In that case, the whole of Gaza is marked as “Palestinian land,” thereby additionally failing to recognize full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

The second most significant defect in the map is that it completely ignores the fact that Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in 1967 and later completely withdrew all Jewish settlement from it in exchange for peace with Egypt.

In 1967, the Arab nations launched a war against Israel, and Israel won, capturing the Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.  Israel controls the Golan Heights today.  The mapmaker has conveniently left out the Golan, which has never had a Palestinian Arab population.

Over time, the Dead Sea, the landlocked body of water on the map, had lost significant area due to evaporation and the southern section is now physically separate from the northern section. The failure to reflect this fact is simply sloppy mapmaking.

Conclusion: This map completes the distortion begun in the earlier maps.  It has taken us from maximalist Palestinian Arab claims to the land to a minimalist view of what Palestinian Arab land might be now.  In the process, it has erased the history of Israel returning land for peace.  It has manipulated Israeli efforts towards peace, the creation of Palestinian Arab administered areas, to appear as Israeli efforts to take Palestinian Arab lands.

Written by JamesEJ

Friday, September 24, 2010 at 12:54 am

Posted in israel

Tagged with , ,

Losing Iowa

leave a comment »

The Jewish WeekThe NY Jewish Week ran my piece today on the challenge facing Jews in Iowa over Israel and, to a lesser degree, other Jewish issues. Here’s a taste …

Iowa may be the Achilles’ heel in the fabled power of the Israel lobby. Unfortunately, Jews are losing the state.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses give it disproportionate political attention. Any serious presidential candidate must make multiple visits to the state to be viable. The lack of a significant Jewish presence in Iowa presents a problem for Jews in this country.

Most importantly, anti-Israel activists seek legitimacy for their efforts to delegitimize Israel. This legitimacy-seeking activity provoked candidate Barack Obama to say during the 2008 presidential campaign, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” One of the leading anti-Israel activists in Iowa set the trap with a question and Obama stepped into it. The Des Moines Register dutifully reported the story without important context that would have undermined the anti-Israel framing.

Read the rest of Losing Iowa at The NY Jewish Week.

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 12:04 am

Reflections on Yom Kippur.

leave a comment »

This year, during the Yom Kippur service, this passage in the morning service Haftarah portion (beginning at Isaiah 58:4) stuck out for me:

Behold, for quarrel and strife you fast, and to strike with a fist of wickedness. Do not fast like this day, to make your voice heard on high.

Will such be the fast I will choose, a day of man’s afflicting his soul? Is it to bend his head like a fishhook and spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord?

Is this not the fast I will choose? To undo the fetters of wickedness, to untie the bands of perverseness, and to let out the oppressed free, and all perverseness you shall eliminate.

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and moaning poor you shall bring home; when you see a naked one, you shall clothe him, and from your flesh you shall not hide.

Then your light shall break forth as the dawn, and your healing shall quickly sprout, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall gather you in.

The point of this passage is part of what is essential to understanding much of the ritual and practice of Judaism.  On Yom Kippur, no one can avoid seeing the self-deprivation that marks its observance.  Fasting for 25 hours with no food or drink or many other pleasures of life is an unpleasant thing to endure.

And yet, this passage makes clear that such observance is not really what God wants from us.  How ironic it is that we read this passage on such a day!  By this point in the service, most of us have had no water or food for 13 hours and we read that such affliction is not what God desires … and yet we keep fasting.

That irony underlies much of what we do as Jews.  It is rarely the case that the fast itself or what we eat or what sorts of attire we wear actually matters to God.  We observe these rules as laws unto themselves, but also as a way of being mindful in what we do.  I know that, for me, when I am fasting or wearing a kippah I am loathe to do anything wrong and strive to do more that is right.

And so, while I honor these mitzvot for their own sake, they are even more important because they help me to honor far more difficult and complicated mitzvot.  Fasting may seem difficult, but it can be done.  Repairing the world seems like an impossible task, but by doing things like fasting, it seems a little more possible and it certainly makes me mindful about my responsibility.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Posted in judaism

Tagged with ,

Pagan Bacchanalia in Iowa City …

leave a comment »

The Bacchanal by Peter Paul Rubens

The Bacchanal by Peter Paul Rubens

My periodic commentary … a slightly modified version of what I could write for every Iowa v. Iowa State game weekend:

Paganism is alive and well in Iowa City. The bacchanalia began Friday night and didn’t end until Sunday. The Hawkeye and Cyclone worshipers each surrendered themselves to their respective deities with sacraments of alcohol and sex acts. A great battle took place between the objects of their worship, and the Hawkeye cult emerged with a victory. Even so, the debauchery persisted, as both cults continued their festivities, drowning their respective victory and defeat in large amounts of beer.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Posted in other

Tagged with

Happy New Year!

leave a comment »

It always struck me as interesting that we Jews count the years from what is essentially a literal reading of creation. Just 5771 years ago, the whole universe was created … if you believe in a plain text meaning of the Bible.

What is interesting about it is that we Jews count years in this way, and yet almost none of us read Genesis as a literal text. We celebrate Rosh Hashanah consistent with a belief in which very few of us believe. When I meet a creationist, it means that I am more likely to know the age of the universe according to their belief than they are … seems odd to me …

L’Shanah Tovah!

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Posted in other

Mousavi calls out Ahmadinejad over Israel.

leave a comment »

Mir Hossein Mousavi

Jews and Israelis have long known that the Palestinian Arab issue has been used by dictators to control their populations and unite against an imaginary evil.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other autocrats in the vilayet-i-faqih regime have most heavily utilized this tactic when they have sought to court the Arab street in particular and appeal to Islamists in general.

What has changed, however, is that Mir Hossein Mousavi has begun to expose Ahmadinejad’s manipulation for what it is:

This year, the day was also marked by bitter criticism of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s administration by his opponents. Dissident leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, issued a statement saying the government was using Israel as an excuse to crush its critics.

“The orchestrated violence against the opposition shows that the occupation of Jerusalem and Israel is just an excuse. They consider their real enemy people who are fighting to free our country from oppression,” said Mr. Mousavi’s statement.

via WSJ -Day of Anti-Israel Protest Reveals Iran’s Internal Rift

Language like this is promising.  It demonstrates that Persians, even those who aspire to positions of power, are increasingly willing to see and expose the tactics that entrench a fascistic regime, provoke conflict, ultimately, endanger Persian lives on multiple levels.

Many of the ordinary Persians I know have realized this for a long time.  But, to have a major opposition leader say it demonstrates that the bulk of the people of Iran are ripe for hearing the truth.  It means that the opposition does not need to jump on the bandwagon of bashing Israel, hating Jews, and denying the Holocaust to challenge the leaders of Iran.  That is good for peace and good for the future of a liberal and democratic Iran.

cross-posted at The View From Damavand

Written by JamesEJ

Tuesday, September 7, 2010 at 1:16 am