James Edward Johnson

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Archive for the ‘israel’ Category

The Irony of Today in Jewish History

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Today marks great tragedy and great triumph for the Jewish people.

Seventy years ago today, for two days in 1941, pro-Nazi Arabs rioted against the Jews of Baghdad.  In a wave of violence, the Jews of Iraq were destroyed on a shocking scale – even in the context of the developing Holocaust. In the Farhud, which means “pogrom” or “violent dispossession”, approximately twice as many Jews were killed in Iraq as were killed during Kristallnacht in Germany.   The only reason the Nazis did not succeed in exterminating the Jews of Iraq is that the British regained control shortly after the Farhud.  Even still, Baghdad would be nearly Jew-free within the next ten years.  One of the major centers of Jewish life for approximately 2,500 years was destroyed.

Forty three years ago today (on the Hebrew calendar), another center of Jewish life was restored.  In 1967, Jews had been barred from their holiest sites in Jerusalem for 20 years – during the Jordanian occupation of the city.  Although day-to-day control of the Temple mount, Judaism’s holiest site, remains under the authority of the Islamic Waqf, it and the Kotel, or Western Wall, was opened to the Jewish people under the sovereignty of the Jewish state.  The return of this area to Jewish hands is marked by Yom Yerushalayim.

So, while on this day we remember a terrible tragedy and the destruction of a center of Jewish life, we also remember a great victory and the restoration of a center of Jewish life.

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Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 6:13 am

Posted in history, israel, judaism

A long time without posts …

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So, I have been a long time in posting.  My work keeps me busy this time of year.  Even so, I have published a couple things in the interim:

A letter in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on the problem with simple answers on Israel.

A book review of ‘A Curable Romantic’ … a really wonderful story.

If you read only one, read the book review.

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12:45 am

Posted in israel

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Some Muslims are not just “moderate” …

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… they are downright righteous. I met such a Muslim Arab man – Bedouin to be specific – on Thursday at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

Ishmael Khaldi works for the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, most recently as Deputy Consul in the San Francisco consulate.  He speaks for the Jewish state of Israel and being a Muslim is no barrier to that fact.

He spoke clearly about the threats to Israelis – all Israelis – emanating from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the delegitimization campaign against Israel.  Whether it is Iran’s race for nuclear weapons or the Boycott Divest and Sanction movement, these threats are threats to Arabs and Jews and others in Israel and often elsewhere.

I have met few people who have so clearly expressed the case for the Jewish state and the common bond shared among many Israelis – Jew and Arab alike.  Most striking was his explanation of the work that many Bedouins did to help give birth to the Jewish state.  For, while Israel’s independence is often simply described as the cause of war between Jews and Arabs, Khaldi made clear that a sizeable number of Bedouins supported the pre-state Jewish community and the state of Israel.

His was a story not lost on those of us familiar with the long tradition of Druze assistance to the Jewish community.  Once one peels back the simple narratives, one sees the plural multiculturalism that defines Israel as not just a Jewish state, but also as a democratic and liberal one.  Khaldi is just one of many examples of that multicultural liberal reality.

Read more about Ishmael Khaldi and buy his book through his website or on Amazon.

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Gaza Flotilla Investigator at Iowa College of Law.

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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.

Written by JamesEJ

Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 12:43 am

How to Manipulate Maps

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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

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Losing Iowa

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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

Israel is the paragon of religious liberty.

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Al Aqsa Mosque

The Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount (courtesy MathKnight, Hebrew Wikipedia & WikiCommons)

In Jerusalem at the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, more than a hundred thousand Muslim worshipers convened and listened to a Friday sermon that attacked not only the State of Israel, but also the very prospect of  peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority:

Tens of thousands of Muslims poured into the heavily guarded Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem for the last Friday prayers of Ramadan as Palestinians protested against newly re-launched peace talks.

Israeli police put the number of worshippers at 160,000 to 170,000, while Muslim authorities said it exceeded 200,000.

In his Friday sermon Sheikh Yusef Abu Sneineh criticized the re-launch on Thursday of Middle East peace talks in Washington, saying “these negotiations are a joke.”

He went on to accuse Israel of seeking normalization with the Arab and Muslim world while “continuing its colonization” of the occupied West Bank through the building of Jewish settlements.

via The Daily Star – Tens of thousands pray at Al-Aqsa as Hamas calls for more armed ‘resistance’.

When one considers that Saudi Arabia heavily regulates the practice of Islam and that Egypt has a long history of regulating sermons, it makes this kind of liberty, in a place far more threatened by Islamist extremism, all the more impressive.  Even liberal Europe fails to display the degree of religious tolerance that exists in Israel.

And yet, if you listen to the European media or the Arab media, only Israel is the world’s oppressor.  Perhaps rather than condemning Israel, they should seek to emulate Israel.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, September 5, 2010 at 12:23 pm