Tag: Israel (page 1 of 3)

Uncomfortable Conversations at a Distance: Lessons from Teaching the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Daniel J. Levine is Aaron Aronov Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Alabama, where he divides his time between the Departments of Political Science and Religious Studies.  Information on his research can be found here

Last fall, I taught – as I have done every year since coming to the University of Alabama (UA) – an upper-division lecture-seminar on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.  The topic is never an easy one, with both the transition to remote teaching, and the acutely partisan political climate of the US elections, adding to the difficulty.  In this post, I describe these challenges, and a set of assignments which I developed in order to address some of them.  I then briefly assess their successes and limitations.  Comments and suggestions regarding the latter would be most appreciated!

Outlining the Challenges

The Israel-Palestine conflict poses particular teaching challenges even in the best of times.   First, the territories and peoples most directly implicated in it are mediated through tangled webs of overlappingutopianand mutually-exclusive mythic imaginaries.  So viewed, Palestinians and Israelis lose much of their humanity and autonomy; they become players in set-piece dramas of the students’ own, often unconscious, imaginings.   

A second challenge relates to student expectations.  UA undergraduates receive a version of political science that emphasizes practicaldispassionate problem-solving.  For many reasons – not least because that traditionis itself implicated in the conflict in a variety of ways – this course is ‘pitched’ somewhat differently.  

The subsequent discussion – following readings that connected the emergence of Zionism to that of 19thCentury anti-Semitism – may illustrate how these problems surface in class.  “If Zionism is a response to anti-Semitism,” one student asked, “then where is the boundary between legitimate criticisms of Israel, and those which are anti-Semitic?”  

A vigorous discussion ensued.  Several students held that the question of anti-Semitism was an invented controversy, a ‘false flag.’  To what end, I asked, and by whom?  

To distract Americans from more difficult historical reckonings of their own, said some.  To cultivate sympathy for Israel, said others.  A smaller number argued for the existence of a well-coordinated, highly influential group of ethnic-religious elites, with hidden ties to media and finance.  One student went so far as to state that I – the university’s only professor of Jewish studies – was myself part of that elite; further, that the design of the course reflected my support for its agenda.

However fraught, this discussion reveals a number of certain shared understandings. First, it acknowledges – if only in the breech – anti-Semitism’s historical-conceptual trajectory.  Second, that the memory of thattrajectory shapecontemporary political normsdiscoursesand policies.  Third, the linkages between critical reflection on that trajectory and claims of bad faith.

The Problem of Political Judgement

Consider the student who is deeply dissatisfied with the terms of contemporary political discourse.  Said student suspects that certain historical facts have been tendentiously assembled, but feels uncertainty – or fear – in raising the matter.  Their fear curdles into resentment.  

In what forums will they seek out to work out those intuitions?  Should one be surprised if some of them are drawn into conversations that are marginal, and anonymous – all the more so in a period of enforced isolation?  Should one then be surprised if some number of them show up for class with lightly-reworked conspiracy theories?  There are, after all, any number of well-conceived scholarly and journalistic discussionsalong the lines summarized above.  That said, the line separating ‘good’ arguments from ‘bad’ ones is no more self-evident here than in my student’s original question.    

This is because such lines cannot be drawn merely with reference to the facts upon which they are predicated.  Some critical or reflexive faculty must be brought to bear on them – political or ethical judgement.  But judgement is both contingent and fallible.  Its exercise has, moreover, become increasingly fraught. The student who asked me ‘where the line was’ intuitively understood this; they sought to substitute my judgement for their own.  

Hannah Arendt has noted that judgement relies on a shared consensus: first, as to what facts are, and second, to those public-discursive frameworks by which they acquire meaning: debates, elections, trials, literary-historical canons, etc.  Each of these has come under increasing pressure.  In the present context, consider recent attempts to formulate or institutionalize detailed definitions of anti-Semitism.  When married to enforcement of Title VI anti-discrimination legislation, these definitions seem intended to police the scope of  ‘acceptable’ scholarly and political discourse in the era of BDS, rather than to focus or direct intellectual argument.    

Fostering Student Solidarities

In the face of these challenges, I have historically relied on approaches that foster trust, openness, and mutual respect in the classroom.  Such trust emerges gradually, and by degree. To feel safe, students must be able to ‘take the measure’ of one another in ways that do not carry over Zoom.  What I needed was some alternative way to foster horizontal solidarities between and among a group of students could not meet in person.

To that end, I developed three inter-connected group assignments for the opening weeks of the course.  Students were placed randomly into groups.  Each was given two short preparatory assignments, and a longer project.  A brief summary of these follows (full details here):

First, each group received a list of web-based informational resources related to the conflict: websites, blogs, and reference materials maintained by leading think tanks, policy shops, NGOs, ministries, etc.  Students were asked to survey the range and depth of the information on offer, and to assess its credibility along different lines.  A second assignment asked them to track how these sites and resources were used, and by whom.    

The third assignment turned them from critics into curators. Each group was asked to arrive at a relevant topic of shared interest, and then to develop their own web-based finding aids.  These would be posted on a shared WordPress site.  Time was set aside in class for groups to meet in breakout rooms. Each group received its own ‘Blackboard’ workspace, with dedicated email, online storage, and a virtual meeting platform.   

Yes, But Did It Work?  

The best of these produced innovative takes on topics as diverse as arms sales, the UNRWA, satellite surveillance, and Israeli collective memory.  Less successful were those that reproduced the reified categories and ‘imagined dramas’ discussed above.  That said, pointing out that reproduction became a way to demonstrate and challenge the hold they exercise over students’ imaginations. My hope is to refine this challenge in future.

Hoping to foster the kind of small-group solidarity that would carry over into general discussion, groups were sized at 4-5.  As hoped, some bonded strongly, collaborating on subsequent projects together and participating interactively in open discussion.  Others suffered from ‘free ridership,’ or failed to arrive at consensus.  Thoughts on how to incentivize the former and address the latter would be welcome.       

It was also evident that this assignment only scratched the surface of the questions from which it arose.  How do we equip students to identify and critique the effects of knowledge networks – a space bounded by partisan politics, the sociology of knowledge, critical media studies, and ‘groupthink’?   Given the flood of information to which students are subjected, how useful is fine-grained analysis as a mode of cultivating judgement?  What becomes of a civic ideal predicated on unhurried, dispassionate reflection and unfettered argument, when the conditions of possibility for such practices, and public faith in them, were either never present or no longer exist?  

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Trump’s Budweiser Putsch

US President Donald Trump gestures as he arrives to a “Make America Great Again” campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, on August 1, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Emily Holland, an Assistant Professor in the Russia Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College & Hadas Aron, a Faculty Fellow at the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at NYU.

This week’s violent takeover of the Capitol Building has fueled the ongoing debate on the future of American democracy. For several years analysts have argued that the United States is undergoing the same process of de-democratization as countries like Turkey, Hungary, and Poland. However, the comparison to European populist de-democratization is misleading. The difference between Trump and European counterparts is that the latter do not rely on post-election violence to hold onto power, instead they rig the system long before the election. This week’s events demonstrate what is at stake for American democracy. Unlike  in European countries, the elimination of checks and balances is not the main concern. The real danger for the United States is out of control anti-system political violence that brings to a boiling point polarization and racial tensions.

Democratic breakdown or decline in places like Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Israel, and Poland, has inspired theories on how democracies die, comparing the United States to failing democracies around the world. But in these countries, populist insurrection is far more subtle [and effective] than the attempted insurrection on Capitol Hill. Populist leaders have successfully transformed political institutions, concentrated political power, broke down opposition, and dismantled democracy, with little overt violence and often without large-scale election fraud. Trump also attempted these strategies, but mostly failed because of the dispersed power structure of the United States, and his own incompetence.

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Why are we so quick to dismiss the UAE-Israel peace treaty?

In September, the UAE and Israel signed “the Abraham Accords,” normalizing relations between the UAE and Israel. The Trump Administration presented this as if it was equivalent to the Camp David Accords, a ground-breaking peace agreement that would transform the world. Much of the Middle East policy community, however, met it with a shrug. I’m not sure I’m joining in on that shrug. While it’s true Trump exaggerated and misrepresented the deal, as he is wont to do, I worry a sneaky “common wisdom” has developed among observers that may obscure the significant impacts of this agreement.

The deal came together over the summer, although there have been signs of a potential shift among Gulf Arab states towards Israel. They share a common enemy in Iran. Additionally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman in 2018, while the UAE’s US Ambassador wrote an op-ed in an Israeli newspaper hinting at possible normalization. Billed as a peace deal (even though they weren’t really at war) the two states agreed to normalize diplomatic ties and expand economic cooperation. While some saw it as a betrayal, other seem to see it as a relatively inconsequential event.

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Are the liberal internationalists wrong? On “being nice” and US foreign policy

I got an alert from the Foreign Policy app on my phone the other day: Tunisia had fired its UN ambassador after he opposed Trump’s Israel-Palestine “peace plan.” Tunisian foreign policy doesn’t usually make waves, but this caught my attention. It’s a sign that, while Arab states aren’t enthused about this plan, they are unlikely to push back strongly. It got me thinking about a bigger question: whether Trump will face any costs as the result of his unilateral and aggressive foreign policy, as liberal internationalists might expect. The answer seems to be no, and that has big implications for US foreign policy.

Anyone who was around during the Bush-Obama transition remembers the debate. Liberal internationalists argue the United States has an interest in compromising with other states and working through multilateral institutions like the UN. It’s not just “being nice,” it actually advances US interests better than unilateral actions. We increase our influence with other states, making it more likely they’ll cooperate with us in the future. And we decrease backlash against and anxiety over US power. So, the argument went, the neocon policy of George W. Bush will actually undermine US interests by making it harder to get things done internationally.

The Obama years seemed to validate this argument. Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize just being Barack Obama. America signed a ground-breaking nuclear arms treaty with Russia, the New START. The United States negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran, and was part of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.

Then Trump came. He withdrew from the JCPOA and the Paris Agreement. There are signs New START is going to fall apart. Trump was skeptical of other international commitments, withdrawing from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty and signalling he may withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. The United States left the UN Human Rights Council. Trump was openly disparaging of NATO. And he was generally not nice in his foreign policy, bullying Canada and China over trade agreements, demanding South Korea provide more money for US troops based there.

Based on the logic of liberal internationalism, US influence should be waning. States will tire of Trump’s aggression and stop following US directions. America will find it harder to get anything done.

But…that’s not happening.

There are some signs of waning US influence. The UN General Assembly famously laughed at Trump during a speech, and NATO leaders mocked him behind his back. China seems to be increasing its sway over the UN.

But that doesn’t seem to extend to substantive complications in US foreign policy. Canada still went through with the new US trade deal despite irritation with Trump’s tactics. South Korea has been scrambling to keep Trump happy, even as they’re frustrated with his pressure. And as we saw, Trump’s unilateral and imbalanced Israel-Palestine deal isn’t provoking much anger among Arab leaders.

So what does this mean for liberal internationalism?

One could argue that America is just so powerful it can get away with behavior like this. But that would be an important caveat for liberal internationalism, which often argues that it’s in America’s interest to be nice.

One could also argue Trump is doing long-term damage to America’s influence. Basically, wait for it. This sounds uncomfortably similar to realist defenses of their predictions that the world will balance against a unipolar America, though. With two of three 21st century US Presidents pursuing aggressive unilateral policies, we should be seeing definite signs of strain by now.

But I think it is very possible that liberal internationalists are just wrong. It is not in a states’ interest to be nice in their foreign policy, especially when that states has the resources to be mean. And maybe, as the neocons argued, it is even necessary to be tough when dealing with other states if you want to maintain your influence.

So where does that leave everyone who opposes Trump’s foreign policy?

Well, we could point out that his approach is effective in advancing his Administration’s interests, but those are not necessarily America’s best interests. For example, Trump may succeed in getting NATO to “pay more” for America’s support, but that doesn’t actually help America much. The benefit of multilateralism and cooperation, then, is not that it advances America’s interests; the process of working with other states helps us better understand what those interests are.

Or it may provide further support for the growing restraint crowd. Maybe the only way to lead the world is to be mean. And if we want to be cooperative and helpful, we’ll have to sacrifice some of our expansive interests. So…we sacrifice those expansive interests. If the only way to lead the world is to act like Trump (or George W. Bush), then we must be satisfied with a more restrained foreign policy.

I’m happy to be proved wrong; please feel free to provide evidence of Trump facing real substantive challenges in foreign policy due to his approach.

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Wait…what about Iran?

Remember this summer, when we were about to go to war with Iran? Iran seized an oil tanker passing through the Persian Gulf. Iran also shot down a US drone. The United States responded by shooting down an Iranian drone flying near a US ship, and nearly launching an air strike against Iran. The United States also expanded sanctions on Iran.

With Trump’s behavior becoming…unpredictable, and hawkish advisers like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo seemingly ascendant in the Administration, some sort of military clash appeared likely. But at some point this likely event kind of…faded away. It’s hard to point to a specific moment–someone backing down, tensions defusing dramatically. The issue just slipped away.

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Thoughts (for “both sides”) on the academic boycott

In the wake of the failed attempt at passing a boycott resolution (of Israeli academic institutions) at the recent MLA conference, here are some thoughts. (Readers of the Duck might be aware that last year’s ISA conference saw a modest attempt at bringing a discussion on BDS forward. That proposal was also voted down.)

Let’s talk (past each other)!

The debate over the academic boycott is often frustratingly unproductive.

On one hand, some anti-boycotters accuse boycott proponents of being antisemitic. While some boycotters may be antisemitic (just as some anti-boycotters may be antisemitic!), the accusation is ill-conceived and distracting. One claim I often hear — that since roughly half the world’s Jews live in Israel, then BDS must be antisemitic — simply doesn’t hold up. BDS is a tool to coerce Israel to comply with international law and adhere to human rights imperatives, not a boycott of Judaism or Jews.

On the other side, some boycott proponents accuse boycott opponents of being chained to other allegiances. “The bad conscience of liberal Zionism,” David Lloyd, English professor at UC-Riverside, wrote in Mondoweiss in describing the deliberations at the MLA, “forced to defend the indefensible, was on full display.” This too, is a bad-faith response. While some boycott opponents may be motivated by fealty to the State of Israel or to Zionism, there are enough good arguments against academic boycotts as a tactic to demand a fair consideration of the ethics writ large. More on this, below.

About the MLA deliberations, Lital Levy, a comparative literature professor at Princeton who followed the proceedings and later the responses from colleagues on both sides, says she “felt caught in the middle.” Rather than “digging in our heels,” Levy says, we should “actually talk to each other (and not just at these emotionally laden public hearings at MLA), but throughout the year, directly.” (Levy has more to say about the fraught nature of dialogue, though, below.) Continue reading

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Play it Cool

Yesterday I had the great fortune to sit on a faculty panel discussing the Iran nuclear deal put on by my colleagues at Georgia Tech [I will link to the video when it is available]. A logic of thought that came up, in different formulations, related to the idea that the nuclear deal might transform US-Iran relations and/or change Iran’s domestic politics. Coincidentally, the New York Times reported yesterday the answer is apparently a resounding no from the Ayatollah Khamenei–Iran would not be having anything more to do with the US lest the Great Satan “sneak back in through the window.”  As a bonus, he predicted Israel will “not be around in 25 years’ time.” These comments are almost certain to provoke anxiety in Israel and give renewed strength to critics of the nuclear deal in the US. I would caution them to hold their fire.

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The Threat of the BDS Movement

Hello there! I’m very excited to be blogging here at Duck of Minerva for the next several months, and I’d like to thank all the full-time Ducks for the opportunity! For my first post, I thought I’d address something I’ve been thinking about ever since a student asked about it in my US Foreign Policy class this past semester. She asked about the BDS movement and whether I thought it had any chance of influencing Israel’s behavior towards the Occupied Territories and the Palestinians. Not having thought much about the issue before, I gave a typically hemming-and-hawing answer, but the more I think about it the more I think that the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divest Movement is, perhaps, the most significant threat faced by Israel today. (As an aside, this is not at all an area of expertise of mine, so what follows is more musing than academic treatise. I’ll post more serious  stuff in my area of academic expertise soon.)

Seriously, you ask? Yes, seriously. Seriously, you ask again? More significant than the rockets of Hamas and Hezbollah? More significant than Iranian nuclear proliferation? More significant than the civil war in Syria and the potential collapse of the Assad regime? Yes. Let me explain.

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The Strange Death of Liberal Zionism

This is a guest post from Ariel I. Ahram (@ariel_ahram), an assistant professor of government and international affairs in Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs in Alexandria, Va. He is the author of Proxy Warriors: The Rise and Fall of State Sponsored Militias (Stanford University Press, 2011).

Laments over the state of Israel have become increasingly common. Especially in the midst of this summer’s war in Gaza, Israel’s erstwhile sympathizers and supporters have come forward questioning the Jewish state’s viability and morality. Israel, they claim, has lost the pretense of liberal democracy and is careening toward a kind of Jewish ethnocracy, an apartheid state ruling over millions of Arabs between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Though this discourse often takes a tone of Jewish ritual atonement, it has ramifications far beyond the Diaspora-Israel relations. A common commitment to liberal democratic principles is a key component of the cultural linkages underpinning the special U.S.-Israel relationship. Israel’s perceived rightward seems to have dire implications for the possibilities of peace as well. Many believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has effectively ruled out the possibility of relinquishing territory to a Palestinian state. But the problem is deeper that leadership. Ugly displays of racism, such as when right-wing Jewish thugs abducted and murdered a sixteen year old Palestinian boy in Jerusalem this July, seem to indict Israeli society as a whole. Liberal Zionism is, in a word, dead. Continue reading

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Jus Ex Bello in Gaza

The New York Times recently reported that unidentified Israeli officials claimed that Israel is looking to unilaterally end the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. After more than 1800 Palestinian casualties in three weeks of fighting, international pressure to cease hostilities appears to be working. However, this strategy of the “silent treatment,” rather than a negotiated settlement may not be right course of action. In fact, there may be no morally right way forward, given the complexity of this case.

The anonymous Israeli officials told the Times that they did not want to “reward” Hamas with negotiations or a ceasefire. Thus Israel would merely wind down operations, since it has destroyed many of the tunnels it claimed were its primary objectives. The logic, reportedly, is that officials hope that a slow truce will take hold, as it did after hostilities in 2009. Continue reading

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If Gaza Isn’t a Genocide, What Is?: discourse as resistance

At the moment many of us are watching the news with bated breath. New sites,  facebook and twitter feeds are filling with images of civilian deaths and the leveling of Gaza. There is growing sentiment that the ‘targeted’ operations in Gaza by the IDF have been willfully indiscriminate- with example upon example of civilian safe havens being directly targeted (4 UN schools in 4 days, 46 schools in total, 56 Mosques and 7 hospitals). The UN has called for an investigation of war crimes by Israel, and there is a growing international public movement to protest the killings- in the face of almost universal silence by major world leaders on the issue.
One question that has not been consistently raised is why the term ‘genocide’ is not being used to describe the activities of Israel in Gaza. It seems that only ‘extreme’ activist groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves would accuse Israel of genocide, with the rest of the international community preferring to qualify their criticisms using terms like ‘indiscriminate’ ‘disproportionate’ or ‘criminal.’ The politics of Israel and Palestine have become so muted, so tangled with discursive landmines that it is difficult to even pose such a question. Yet one does not need to be a radical to at least try to evaluate Israeli actions against the established UN definition of genocide. Serious questions about the end goal of the current military actions, along with longstanding Israeli policies and their impact on the ability of Palestinians to exist require attention.
It is worth quoting the following section from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide- not only to assess whether the current military offensive constitutes a genocide, but also to reflect on the international community’s ‘punishable’ role as actors ‘complicit’ to a genocide.
“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide. ” Continue reading

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Anti-Semitism in Germany: A Comment

“Mutti,” aka Angela Merkel, is not amused. Neither is the rest of the German political establishment, the German media, or the vast majority of German people. Three days ago, some of the protesters against the Israeli campaign in Gaza yelled anti-Semitic hate paroles, a man wearing a kippah was chased through Berlin, and the police didn’t interfere. This is absolutely shameful for all of us Germans and it is very understandable that the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, condemned the acts in the strongest words. However, Mr. Hadas-Handelsman is wrong to insinuate parallels between the current situation and the Germany of 1938. Continue reading

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The Responsibility to Protect: Israel & Gaza

gaza bomb

The London School of Economics Middle Eastern Studies Center recently advertised that it is going to hold a symposium on whether the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine applies to the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. In particular, it is gathering a cohort of experts to debate R2P’s standing in the conflict, as well as if the norm is the correct framework to be “useful;” however, “useful” for what is not at all clear.

R2P, which holds that states have a responsibility to protect their peoples against gross crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing, is a contentious and nuanced doctrine. How it applies to the current situation in Gaza is not at all evident, given that this particular situation is not an “easy” case. The conflict is not “internal” in the way that Syria’s civil war is, and as such, few have called upon the parties to clearly uphold their “responsibility to protect.” Thus before anyone rings the death knell for R2P (again), we ought to consider the facts of the case. Continue reading

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Israel in Gaza: What’s the Plan?

10557671_684954708219777_6909228407805769384_o(Photo by Oliver Weiken—EPA)

What’s the Israeli plan with all of this? According to the Israeli Defense Forces statement, “The IDF’s objective as defined by the Israeli government (in the ground offensive) is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”

Despite the somewhat ambiguous language here, what this apparently means is that the Israeli government wants to return to some kind of status-quo ante — albeit one with a weakened Hamas stockpile of rockets and tunnels. It doesn’t want to return to full-scale occupation in Gaza and it doesn’t want to defeat Hamas. Both would be too costly. As Aaron David Miller writes : Continue reading

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The Collapse of the Status Quo in Israel.

Just over a week ago – two days before the discovery of the bodies of the three abducted Israeli teenagers and four days before the abduction and revenge killing of Muhammed Abu Khdeir — I sat in the family quarters of a young Palestinian shop owner in Jersusalem’s Old City sipping mint tea with two colleagues.  We met the young shop owner and his two cousins while bargaining over some textiles in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.  At the conclusion of the sale, they thanked us for a rigorous negotiation and invited us to their family quarters where they had a museum style display of textiles, rugs, and other artifacts that their family had collected in their 150+ years as shop owners in the Old City bazaar.

As we sat drinking our tea, we asked the young men about the political situation. Continue reading

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Engineering Peace

Can third parties do more than foster temporary, unstable ceasefires? Without perpetually holding the belligerents at arms’ length via heavily militarized buffer zones? Is it possible to make peace self-enforcing at a reasonably low cost?

Recent work on conflict management suggests not. Less intrusive approaches to mediation, such as information provision, fail to solve the problem that poses an obstacle to efficient negotiate between the belligerents in the first place. More intrusive approaches such as deploying armed peacekeepers are often successful, at least if they come after a conflict ends, but entail great costs. You want lasting peace on the cheap? Good luck with that.

Writing with Anna Pechenkina, I have argued that the consensus view may be too negative. Third parties can raise the effective cost of war by promising to provide subsidies if and only if war is avoided. But even that does not solve the underlying problem. Subsidized peace may persist, provided the provision of the subsidies persists, but it is not self-enforcing.

In a fascinating paper, Rob Carroll offers some optimism. He demonstrates formally that third parties can remove the risk of war, in a fundamental sense, by engineering transfers of economic and military resources in such a way that the natural outcome of trade will reflect the expected outcome of war. Thus, neither side will stand to gain from fighting and will not be expected to do so. In equilibrium, the two sides make their own peace—but they would not have done in the absence of mediation.

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About Those Israel Academic Study Trips…

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kavita Khory, Professor of Political Science at Mount Holyoke College.

Last spring the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Boston invited me to participate in a weeklong study tour to Israel.   Designed for scholars of international relations, political science, and public policy, the purpose of the educational tour was to provide an “in-depth firsthand exposure” to Israel and promote a “deeper understanding” of its politics and society.  The faculty study tour, now in its fourth or fifth iteration, is billed as the cornerstone of the organization’s public diplomacy initiative and its program for Israel advocacy.  I never made it to Israel, but I quickly developed a profound understanding of the Israeli government’s double standards and the limits of an American passport.

I was excited at the prospect of visiting Israel for the first time and yet skeptical about the value of a politically motivated program.  I wondered whether my participation would be seen as an endorsement, as some colleagues argued, of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians.  If I did not go on the trip, would I be passing up a unique opportunity to learn about Israel in the company of exceptional scholars and teachers?  Conversations with colleagues, including past participants in CJP tours, convinced me of the educational benefits of the program, despite its obvious drawbacks.  So I set aside my reservations and signed up.

A week before our departure, the CJP informed me that I (the only member of the group and a US citizen) would need to carry a separate identification document at all times—a “card” certifying that I had been “prescreened” by the Israeli Consulate in Boston.  While “technically traveling with a U.S. passport is sufficient in Israel,” additional documentation, I was told, would ensure a “smooth” trip. Continue reading

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The “Israel Lobby” and the Nixon Administration

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Eric Grynaviski, who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University.

When Mearsheimer and Walt wrote the Israel Lobby, I was skeptical. I bought the argument that supporters of Israel influenced US policy, but because I am not a realist, I did not buy the argument that this necessarily deflected the US from pursuing specific policies during the cold war or afterwards. The primary reason for my skepticism was the evidence: because of how recent US support for Israel is, there are few archival documents that have been opened that show the extent of the ‘Israel Lobby’s’’ influence. This is compounded by the book’s focus on recent episodes, like Iraq, where there are few available documents. And, as many have argued, it’s unclear whether Israel exerts more influence than other lobbies in the United States.

While doing research for a book that is will come out with Cornell next year about the US-Soviet détente, I read the recently released Foreign Relations of the United States volume on the 1973 war. This is a very important case for the Israel Lobby argument because there was a lot of political organizing around Jewish-related issues, especially Soviet restrictions on Jewish emigration, featuring one early episode for organized lobbies in the United States pressing an administration over Israeli security issues. In the language of case selection, it is a ‘hard’ case for the Israeli lobby argument because the ‘lobby’ was only beginning to become an organized political force in Washington.

This volume is enormously interesting for the Israel lobby argument, in part, because it showcases Nixon and Kissinger’s fears of the lobby. I’ve read a lot of cooky Nixon and Kissinger shenanigans over the years, but these do stand out, in part because they emphasize Nixon and Kissinger’s concerns about the Lobby over strategic considerations.

My reading of the volume is that it provides some direct evidence of the influence of pressure from the Israel lobby on US policy, bearing out not only the Israel Lobby argument but more generally the importance of domestic politics to Nixon’s foreign policy.

Below are excerpts from four documents released as part of FRUS, recounting different statements made by Nixon and Kissinger about political pressure brought to bear and how they saw it organized. Continue reading

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What Western Analysts Got Wrong About the Israeli Election

flag-israel-XLThis is a guest post by Brent Sasley. Sasley is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington. He blogs at Mideast Matrix and Open Zion. Follow him on Twitter.

The Israeli election results are far messier than anyone had hoped, leading to furious debates about who got what right about the Israeli electorate. This seems to be especially true among Western analysts and media that aren’t close Israel watchers but do comment on Israeli politics.

And it is messy. On the face of it, the religious (Shas, United Torah Judaism, Jewish Home) and rightwing (Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and National Union) bloc did drop from 65 seats to 61 (a joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Jewish Home).

Yet United Torah Judaism increased from 5 to 7 mandates, while Jewish Home went from 3 to 12 seats. At the same time, the “soft” or center right also dropped: Kadima went from 28 seats in the previous Knesset to 2 today, while a new party, Yesh Atid, appeared with 19.

And the center-left and left did better at the same time: Labor picked up 2 seats (13 to 15) while Meretz doubled its representation from 3 to 6 seats. The Arab parties stayed the same at 11 mandates.

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“Dangerous Neighborhood:” Operation ‘Defensive Pillar’ and its Interpreters

This is a guest post by Daniel J. Levine (University of Alabama) and Daniel Bertrand Monk (Colgate University). Daniel J. Levine is author of Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique. Daniel Bertrand Monk  is the co-editor, with Jacob Mundy, of the forthcoming: The Post-Conflict Environment: Intervention and Critique (University of Michigan, 2013). The authors’ names for this essay have been listed alphabetically. 

tl;dr notice: ~2600 words.

“As Ambassador Gillerman has said many times on our show, ‘Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood.” —  Fox News, 16 November 2012

“As he was asking instructions…a man in his early 20’s came up, stuck the point of a knife against his back and ordered him into the lobby of adjacent building….The youth was…ordered to surrender his money. He explained that the only reason he was there at all was that he had no money…. The man closed his knife and said: “Look, this is a very dangerous neighborhood.  You should never come to this part of the city.”  Then he instructed him to his destination via the safest route, patted him on the back and sent him on his way.” — New York Times, Metropolitan Diary, Lawrence Van Gelder

The Arab Middle East may have undergone significant political transformations in the period between Israel’s 2008 ‘Cast Lead’ Operation against Gaza and the recent ‘Defensive Pillar’ campaign, but no one in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv appears to think that a review of Israel’s ‘grand strategy’ is warranted. If anything, seasoned observers suggest, the Arab Spring seems to have driven Israelis to assume out of resignation a position which Zionist nationalists like Vladimir Jabotinsky once held with fervor. Writing in 1923, Jabotinsky evocatively described a metaphorical “iron wall” that would protect Zion from the ire of its neighbors; for their part, contemporary Israelis (we are told) can only imagine a future in which they will be perpetually enclosed within a (quasi-literal) Iron Dome. Hence, Ethan Bronner  reports: Israelis have concluded that “their dangerous neighborhood is growing still more dangerous…”’ To them “that means not concessions, but being tougher in pursuit of deterrence, and abandoning illusions that a Jewish state will ever be broadly accepted” in the region.

Interpreters of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the ‘Anglosphere’ and seasoned Middle East watchers often resort to the same curious euphemism: seeking to make the region’s unique patterns of violence intelligible to American audiences and to themselves, they explain Israel’s impatience with diplomacy, and its reliance on disproportionate use of force, by referring to the “dangerous neighborhood” in which it finds itself. Bolstered by an “ideology of the offensive” that has been present in Israeli strategic/operational thought since the 1950s (see here, here, and here), and by the ostensible ‘lessons’ of the Shoah for Jewish self-defense, this euphemism evokes positions so pragmatically self-explanatory that no further justification is felt to be needed. The IDF Spokesman’s Unit even released a meme (see the opening image) with the intention of rendering this logic visually explicit.

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