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Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Arab Human Development Report has been released to much controversy, I will blog about this soon.

Lebanon has decided on the shape of the cabinet being a 15 to the government 10 to opposition and 5 to the President. Meaning that the President will continue to be and even more so now the vital power broker between the two coalitions of March 14 and March 8. As the blocking third is now in his hands. Aoun appears not to be happy with this which is no surprise given that he wants to undermine the President not give him more power! The Daily Star headline below articluates the cracks that Aoun’s frustration are creating within the opposition:

Nasrallah: New cabinet will be one of true partnership
Aoun says nobody consulted him on government formula

Aoun will get over it though and will have to learn to deal with Slieman being the Christian strong man for the moment.

The National have published a in depth article on the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared that is a great guide to understanding the basic situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon and the status of the reconstruction of Nahr al-Bared. The Tayyar website true to form have disgustingly added next to the title of the article Marginal Errors there own political views: (is Tawtin coming). Tawtin means naturalization (of the Palestinians in Lebanon) and Aoun has been central in efforts to stoke Lebanese (especially Christian) fears over this issue.

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The Economist hosts these great debates on various issues and the current one that will run until the end of the month is: This House Believes that Obama’s America is now an honest broker between Israel and the Arabs.

Supporting the motion is Daniel Levy who used to work for as an adviser to Ehud Barak and is p0litically what would be called a Clintonista. Against the motion is David “Shiver When You Here My” Frum, the neoconserative, who is, and I quote the moderator Xan Smiley, “…credited with coining the phrase ‘the axis of evil.'” I wonder if Xan Smiley would credit Ahmedinjad with coining the phrase, “Wiping Israel off the map,”? So you get the idea that this debate is a Israeli-American  debate rather than an Israeli Arab one and if you are in any doubt the guest speakers confirm it. In fact not one ‘Arab’ perspective is introduced into the debate the closest we get is to the moderator Xan Smiley quoting some of the comments left by readers, “Understandably, many of those from a seemingly Arab standpoint remain unconvinced that Mr Obama will truly change American policy…”

The argument in fact goes beyond weather Obama is an honest broker and displays the split between those that support the idea of the Greater Israeli state (Frum) and those who want pre-67 borders. Those that support the Greater Israeli state are basically arguing for a security Iron Wall, the revisionist Israeli ideology that Shlaim articulated in his book the Iron Wall. The realist in me tells me the reality is going to be dominated by those that support the Greater Israel debate and that any solution is a long long long way away. Anyway back to the debate:

Levy articulates, arguing why Obama is an honest broker, quite the opposite and more to the point why no US president can ever be. Yes they are the well known facts that every person with an anti-Zionist or, as in the case of Levy, anti-greater Isreal perspective will throw at you.  “Israel remains the largest recipient of overseas US assistance ($2.7 billion) despite having a PPP GDP per head of $28,000….In opposing settlements, the Obama administration does not embrace international law or punitive measures, and the US maintains unparalleled military measures and strategic cooperation with Israel.”

You really get the sense from Frum how Israelis on the right want to frame the debate. Apart from the obvious Iran arguments what the US and Israeli right have a problems with is that Obama thinks about the creation of Israel in terms of the holocaust and not the “millennial Jewish connection to the land of Israel…the narrative that moves him [Obama] is an anti-colonial narrative…”

Well I really hope so! Not that this will be enough. Even with the strong reaction against Obama by segments of the Israeli population he will still play it very much on the Israeli side. For instance the US focus has been on the growth of illegal settlements not the settlements themselves. I think we should think of Obama as being the most honest US President the Arab world is able to get but not an “honest broker”.

For those of the social democratic persuasion, like me, it will not come as a shock that neo-liberal fundamentalists such as Bush and Co feed off disaster to spread their ideology.

Klein destroys the theory of Milton Freidman’s free market ideology and that the state should be as minimal as possible. Klein exposes how proponents of free market fundamentalism far from extending freedom as they claim. The proponents of totally free markets use extreme measures of oppression to ensure that their privatization schemes and rolling back of social welfare can be implemented. Klein illustrates her theory in country after country starting from Chile and Argentina in South America, and then to Russia, China, South Africa, Sri Lanka…

In the Middle East Klien focuses on Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.

In Iraq Klein notes that it was the Freidmanite economic policies that the Bush regime was pushing through in Iraq that really got the insurgency going. The reduction of the state that included the now famous “de-Baathification” that left 500,000 Iraqis jobless, angry and ready to fight. Further to this, Klein documents how most of the reconstruction work went not to Iraqis or the Iraqi state but to private contractors from the US again leaving hundreds of thousand of Iraqis frustrated and jobless.

In Israel Klein remarks how since the Oslo accord Israel has never been interested in peace but security. This Klein argues is primarily becuase Israel moved from a country that relied on high tech computer technologies in the global economy to security, especially in the world of 9/11.  While a convincing argument Israel did not suddenly come up with the idea of security as the main goal, as opposed to peace, in 1993. If Klein picked up a copy of the Iron Wall by Avi Shlaim she will find that ‘security’ has been Israel driving ideology since its inception, with Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his Revisionist Zionism that has dominated Zionist thinking since Israels inception.

As for Lebanon Klein does not give the country the time it deserves and in fact misunderstands the very nature of the beast. Klein rightfully praises Hezbollah for the efficient way they were able to deliver Iranian funds to their constituents after the July 06 war. But Klein  does not grasp that Hezbollah are the representatives of the Shia in Lebanon. Thus, stating that the Shia population took Hezbollah’s money because if they did not they would be left to the mercy of privatization and Solidere, while not wrong does not really grasp what was and is happening in Lebanon. “If the residents of Lebanon were grateful for the results, it was also becuase they knew the alternative. The alternative was Solidere.”

It must be said that many residents of Lebanon were not ‘grateful for the results’ (mainly the non-Shia) and that Lebanon was left bitterly divided that led to a crisis that is only just beginning to be solved today. There was not a Kenysian vs. Friedman economic debate/war. Instead it was while Bush was in power a confrontation between the US, Israeli and Saudi axis against the Syrian and Iranian one. In short there was to economics than what was going on in Lebanon during and after this period, even if Klein can strongly argue that Israel went to war with Hezbollah for economic reasons.

Magen Avraham synagogue, Beirut

Magen Avraham synagogue, Beirut

I just wrote an article for Executive on the Jews of Lebanon. Of course being a Jew in Lebanon is not an easy identity to carry so the very few that are here exist under other idenities or with a low profile. However, the Lebanese Jewish Community Council is pushing hard for the reconstruction of the Magen Avraham synagogue and are hoping will bring about once again a open Jewish community in Lebanon.

The synagogue currently lies in tatters desperately needing reconstruction and almost teasingly surrounded by cranes. The synagogue lies in the the middle of the construction sites of Solidere in the heart of down town in Wadi Abu Jamil that used to be the centre of the thriving Jewish community in Lebanon. Dr. Kirsten Schulze, a professor at the London School of Economic, has written a fascinating and detailed account of Lebanese Jews in her book The Jews of Lebanon: Between Coexistence and Conflict. The Jewish Presence in Lebanon stretches back as far as 1,000 B.C and what is so fascinating about this community is that the number of Jews in Lebanon actually increased after the creation of Israel. Schulze explains that “Lebanon was the only Arab country in which the number of Jews increased after the first Arab-Israeli war.” Lebanese Jews were highly integrated into Lebanese society and became the only Jewish community in the Middle East constitutionally protected in the proclamation of Greater Lebanon in 1920. Even after the first Israeli-Arab war the tradition of sharing religious festivals continued.

“In 1951, during the Passover celebration, the president of the Jewish community Joseph Attie held a reception at Magen Avraham synagogue which was attended by Lebanese Prime Minister Sami as-Solh, Abdallah Yafi, Rachid Beydoun, Joseph Chader, Habib Abi Chahla, Charles Helou, Pierre Gemayel and the Maronite Archbishop of Beirut,” Schulze wrote.

The Jews of Lebanon therefore, were mostly patriotic Lebanese nationals driven out of the country, like members of the other confessions, by the civil war. It was the beginning of internal strife in Lebanon in 1958 that began the exodus of Jews from Lebanon.

The decisive moment, however, was the Israeli invasion and occupation of 1982, when the Jewish presence in Lebanon was effectively ended. Robert Fisk, a British foreign correspondent who lived in Beirut during the civil war, wrote in his book “Pity the Nation,” that “incredibly, the Israeli shells even blew part of the roof off the city’s synagogue in Wadi Abu Jamil where the remnants of Beirut’s tiny Jewish community still lived… The last 10 families to worship there padlocked the door after the Israeli shells came through the roof.”

What was really interesting for me was the detail given in Shulze book on the relationship between the Kataeb and the Jews of Lebanon. The Kataeb was set up by Pierre Gemayel after being impressed with the Nazi youth and wanting to set up a similar organisation in Lebanon. This same organisation inspired by the Nazis would be the only party that would have Jewish members among its ranks and protected the Jewish community when civil unrest occurred. Further to this, Shulze retells the amazing story of when Yasser Arafat and the PLO take over the Wadi Abu Jmail area and the fearful Jewish community were shut up in the synagogue. Expecting persecution instead Arafat ordered that the Jews be given food and shelter and their homes protected.