Trump’s speech on Islam is rife with pitfalls. Experts say there’s little upside to it. – The Washington Post

Fasten one’s seatbelts (again):

CNN reports that top White House adviser Stephen Miller is drafting the speech on Islam that President Trump is slated to deliver in Saudi Arabia later this week. As you may recall, Miller was also at the center of crafting and defending the administration’s controversial immigration ban, which has been blocked by the courts because it unconstitutionally bars people from entering the country based on their religion.

Miller’s role perfectly captures the problem with this speech: Trump and his top advisers captivated his base by engaging in the worst Islamophobic rhetoric, perpetuating slurs about Muslims in the United States and around the world. But if Trump uses this speech to make amends for his past statements, he’ll alienate the very base of supporters who were the targets of this anti-Muslim strategy.

The administration is suggesting that he will, in fact, try to make such amends. National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who is also helping to write the speech, told reporters that it will be “an inspiring but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president’s hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world.” McMaster further promised that the speech will “unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization” and “demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners.”

But experts I spoke with today warned that this speech is so fraught with pitfalls that they are surprised Trump is even attempting it. They say handling such a nuanced topic as religion is a challenge even for the most learned minds and skilled orators. Yet Trump faces that problem and the additional challenge of striking a balance that is unique to his political situation.

Should Trump deliver the speech McMaster promises, it might briefly please his Muslim audience in Riyadh, but anger his right-wing base at home — something Trump seems unlikely to risk given his current precarious political and legal circumstances. On the other hand, if he were to say something to irk his Muslim audience that might satisfy his domestic base, he could sabotage the purpose of the trip and the speech itself: to solidify cooperative partnerships between the United States and Muslim countries to jointly combat terrorism.

“I would shy away from giving a talk like this in this country, much less in Riyadh,” McCants added.

Trump faces all manner of pitfalls. His first test will be whether he says or does anything to erroneously suggest that Saudi Arabia, a repressive regime that enforces Wahhabism, an extreme version of Islam, is representative of the faith. “Much of what Saudi Arabia encourages as proper Islam is not what many Muslims in the West would accept,” said Daniel Byman, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a terrorism expert.

The risks are heightened for Trump not just because of his unpredictability, but also because of his — and his inner circle’s — anti-Muslim track record. It’s hard to imagine that Trump would back away from a posture that earned him so much adoration from his base, or from his defense of his immigration ban, in which he has invested substantial domestic political capital.

“I don’t see President Trump as someone who’s going to walk away from that, “said John Espisito, director of the Bridge Initiative, a project at Georgetown University that studies Islamophobia. “He’s not someone who says ‘I got it wrong.’”

But even if Trump were to try to backpedal from his anti-Muslim rhetoric, it still might not necessarily be credible to his audience in Riyadh. As Espisito pointed out, the Trump team’s Islamophobia runs very deep: His top advisers have claimed that Islam is not a religion, but rather a dangerous political ideology. Trump himself has said, “I think Islam hates us” and that the Koran “teaches some negative vibe.” Top strategist Stephen K. Bannon has compared Islam to Nazism, communism and fascism. Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka has refused to say whether Trump himself thinks Islam is a religion.

Beyond this, Trump would have to actually reverse policy — for example, by dropping his immigration ban— to render any possible conciliatory rhetoric even remotely credible. “If the president extends an olive branch but then doesn’t implement any policy changes,” said Byman, “that’s going to send a louder message than a speech.”

Indeed, the risk is that Trump’s speech could make things worse. Byman warned that if Trump commits an accidental misstep or, perhaps worse, is derogatory— which can hardly be ruled out — his speech could potentially further a widespread perception in the Muslim world that the United States is “hostile to Islam.”

Most crucially, said McCants, Trump’s speech could undermine the United States’ relationship with the countries that have agreed to partner with it in combating terrorism. “He doesn’t have to say happy things about Islam to sell them on the partnership,” said McCants. But if he says anything to alienate Muslims, it could “make it harder for Muslim countries to partner with us.”

And that, in the end, could make it harder to achieve Trump’s own stated goal of defeating what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism” than if he had not given a speech on Islam at all.

Source: Trump’s speech on Islam is rife with pitfalls. Experts say there’s little upside to it. – The Washington Post

Shouldn’t Israel Care About Anti-Semitism? – The New York Times

This piece by Shmuel Rosner worth noting post-Trump International Holocaust Remembrance Day deliberately not mentioning Jewish victims:

Occasionally, there is even a temptation for Israel to benefit from anti-Semitism. In recent years, rather than focus on the need to fight anti-Semitism in France, Israel called on French Jews to come live in Israel.

Of course, when Israel encounters a clear-cut case of Holocaust denial, or of persecution of Jews, it does not shy away from making its voice heard. Two years ago, the Israeli foreign minister warned European far-right parties that they must shun neo-Nazis and described Hungary’s Jobbik and Greece’s Golden Dawn as “illegitimate.”

But most of the time, Israel attempts to delicately balance its wish to delegitimize anti-Semitism and its need to maintain foreign relations that advance its causes. Sometimes this means using attacks on Jews to attract Jewish immigration to Israel. Sometimes this means turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism in exchange for political support. Sometimes this means ignoring the trivialization of Jewish deaths in the Holocaust.

This is as unavoidable as it is troubling, even painful. Israel is a state with interests and priorities among which censuring anti-Semitism is one, but not the only one.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, understood this when he agreed to accept reparations from Germany, less than a decade after the Holocaust. Mr. Ben-Gurion’s opponents had a strong moral case against accepting money from the country that had just orchestrated the murder of millions of Jews, but the prime minister thought that his duty as the man in charge of building and defending a new state trumped such considerations. Then, as now, Israel sometimes agreed to help other countries and parties whitewash their images. It’s often a trade: We, Israel, will get what we need in the form of money or arms or political support. You will get the right to showcase Israel as proof that you aren’t an anti-Semite.

This could become much more uncomfortable when the country in question is the United States and when the person accused of tolerating anti-Semitism is the American president. Israel depends on the United States more than it does on any other country for aid, security and diplomatic support. And the American Jewish community is the other main pillar of world Jewry, alongside Israel. More than 80 percent of Jews live and thrive either in Israel or in the United States. This makes the United States the place in which official anti-Semitism cannot be overlooked — and the place where it must be overlooked.

That could result in an irreparable split between Jews. The statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day — provoking Jewish outcry in the United States, while provoking nothing from Israel — just proved it.

UK – Anti-Semitism: Official definition ‘will fight hatred’ – BBC News

Sharp contrast to the US Congress’s proposed definition that explicitly included criticism of Israel rather than the more focussed definition of IHRA (their working definition of antisemitism also includes examples where criticism of Israel may cross over to antisemitism):

The government plans to adopt an international definition of anti-Semitism to help tackle hatred towards Jews.

Police, councils, universities and public bodies can adopt the wording, Theresa May will say in a speech later.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which the UK belongs to, created the definition.

It calls anti-Semitism a “perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

Prime Minister Theresa May will argue that a clear definition means anyone guilty of anti-Semitism in “essence, language or behaviour” will be “called out on it”.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance hopes its definition, agreed this year, will be adopted globally.

It defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

It adds: “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Legally binding

Downing Street said anti-Semitic behaviour could be overlooked because the term is ill-defined, with different organisations adopting their own interpretations.

The IHRA – which is backed by 31 countries, including the UK, USA, Israel, France and Germany – set its working definition of what constituted anti-Semitic abuse in May.

The group said having a “legally binding working definition” would give countries the “political tools” to deal with anti-Jewish hate crime.

Conservative MP and special envoy for post-holocaust issues, Sir Eric Pickles, told the BBC that the new definition “catches up with modern anti-Semitism”.

“I think it’s important not to conflate Jewish people with Israel,” he said. “That actually is the point in the definition.”

‘It is unacceptable’

Police in the UK already use a version of the definition. However, it will now also be used by other bodies, including councils.

Mrs May will say: “There will be one definition of anti-Semitism – in essence, language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews – and anyone guilty of that will be called out on it.”

She will add: “It is unacceptable that there is anti-Semitism in this country. It is even worse that incidents are reportedly on the rise.”

Source: Anti-Semitism: Official definition ‘will fight hatred’ – BBC News

Women’s Rights Become A Battleground For Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews : NPR

Continuing religious radicalization in Israel:

Four years ago, a lawsuit was filed by an Orthodox feminist group called Kolech, which means “Your Voice” in the Hebrew feminine. It was one of the biggest class-action lawsuits in Israeli history, and it targeted what was then an all-male, ultra-Orthodox radio station called Kol Barama, founded in 2009.

“There were no women interviewing. You wouldn’t be able to hear a woman on this radio channel,” says Kolech’s executive director, Yael Rockman. “Not only that. This radio channel is not private. They get money from the government. ”

The discrimination lawsuit went all the way to Israel’s highest court, and in late 2014, the women won.

With a birth rate double that of the national average, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community is growing — and so is its political power. Feminists are girding for more legal battles over women’s rights.

In recent years, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox have lobbied to omit women’s faces from advertisements on the side of Jerusalem buses that circulate in religious areas. During recent Jewish holidays, signs appeared in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem, Mea Sharim, instructing women to keep off the main road and use side streets for the sake of modesty.

“Radicalization is getting worse, for sure. At the same time, the vision of equal rights, equal participation and women’s power — all of that is getting stronger around the world,” says gender sociologist Elana Sztokman, author of a book called The War on Women in Israel.

Despite the feminists’ legal victory against Kol Barama, Sztokman believes not enough is being done to protect women. She says that because the ultra-Orthodox tend to vote as a homogeneous bloc, they have achieved disproportionate political power and the Israeli government caters to them in an unprecedented way.

Until now, “Jews have never gone to the government authority and said, ‘Let’s make sure that the public spaces fit the needs of our most radical views on women, because it offends our most extreme strict men,'” Sztokman says. “That has never happened until Israel [in the] 21st century.”

Source: Women’s Rights Become A Battleground For Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews : Parallels : NPR

Israel: Facebook experiment reveals how ‘terror-related’ posts are treated differently

Interesting and revealing:

Two Israelis — an Arab and a Jew — posted messages on Facebook saying they were going to kill someone on the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The two posters were real people with active Facebook pages, but the threat was part of an experiment conducted by an Israeli news station last week. The goal was to monitor the reactions of individuals and Israeli authorities who are tasked with keeping tabs on social-media posts that they say might inspire terrorist attacks.

Critics in both communities say social media has served as a conduit for unstoppable deadly violence. While the low-intensity Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been burning for decades, the platforms have given rise to individual extremists and lone-wolf attackers who are much more difficult to stop, officials say.

After posting that he had been inspired to kill Jews, Shadi Khalileh, the Arab citizen, received calls from concerned friends and family. Israeli Arab members of parliament, who heard about his post via word of mouth, even called to ask why he would post such a message, or whether his page had been hacked. Only 12 people “liked” his post.

The Jewish citizen, Daniel Levy, wrote that he had to seek revenge after a Palestinian killed a 13-year-old Jewish girl in her bed. His post drew some 600 “likes,” 25 shares and comments such as “I am proud of you” and “you are a king.” One comment urged him to “please take the post down before you are arrested.”

Israeli police questioned Khalileh about his post — it took some work to convince them that it had all been an experiment. But Levy’s post went undetected by the authorities, the news station said.

In neither case did Facebook flag the posts, which remained online until the station ended the experiment.

The failure of social-media platforms to take action against posts calling for the murder of Israelis or Palestinians, Jews or Arabs, has become a growing issue for those on both sides of this decades-old conflict.

Source: Facebook experiment reveals how ‘terror-related’ posts are treated differently | Toronto Star

Sharp drop in granting of citizenship to Jerusalem’s Arabs – Jerusalem Post

Strange the comment “we do not analyze the data”:

In 2013, the number dropped to 262 of 705 applications. In 2014, only 49 of 875 requests were approved. Last year, a mere 24 of 829 citizenship requests were approved. So far this year, four of the 396 applications have been stamped “yes.”

Over the past decade, 2,641 of the 7,168 applications were approved, for an acceptance rate of 36.8 percent. By contrast, in 2015 the acceptance rate was 2.9 percent.

Since applications can take several years to process, those approved in a particular year may have been filed previously.

Asked why the acceptance rate has plummeted, an Immigration Authority representative responded, “We do not analyze the data.”

As a result of the Six Day War in June 1967, in which the capital was reunited, some 350,000 Jerusalem Arabs today live under Israel’s authority, making up 35% of the city’s population.

While all hold blue Interior Ministry ID cards marking their permanent residence status and they receive National Insurance Institute benefits, the great majority are not Israeli citizens.

Many are stateless.
The vast majority of those Arabs decline to apply for Israeli citizenship. “I declare I will be a loyal citizen of the State of Israel,” reads the oath that must be sworn by naturalized citizens.

Similarly, only around 1.5 percent of Arab residents vote in municipal elections even though they have a right to. As a result, Arabs have no representative in the city council who can advance their interests.

A knowledgeable government source, after viewing the data, told the Post, “The Interior Ministry is not committed to the reunification of Arab families, and rightly so. The problem is that some good and loyal people suffer from this policy.”

However, said the source, “The security situation makes a good excuse to deny these applications,” adding that many rejected applicants have appealed their cases in court.

Source: Sharp drop in granting of citizenship to Jerusalem’s Arabs – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

How integrated schools are offering Israel an ‘Iron Dome against hatred’

An alternative positive example, albeit small-scale:

The news from Israel is often bad: attacks on Jews by young Palestinians and reprisals by Israeli forces. Expanding settlements in the West Bank. Escalating fear and hostility. Plummeting prospects for peace.

But a group of dedicated educators is working to bring the two sides together — not at the bargaining table, but in the school room.

“We’re giving hope where leaders have failed,” says Mohamad Marzouk, director of the community department for the bilingual and bicultural Hand in Hand schools.

“Fear and mistrust develops over years when people are separated,” he says. “A kindergarten child goes to an Arabic or Hebrew school and never experiences the existence of children on the other side. This ignorance of the other creates mistrust and fear.”

Marzouk and Rebecca Bardach, Hand in Hand’s director of resource development and strategy, are in Toronto on a speaking tour.

“Hand in Hand is my Iron Dome against hatred,” says Bardach, referring to Israel’s missile defence system. “I can’t change what is happening politically, or the minds of people who hate each other. But I believe we can overcome that sense of helplessness with understanding.”

Hand in Hand, boasting some 1,320 Jewish and Arab Israeli students, and a lengthy waiting list, was founded in 1998 with one school in Jerusalem. It has now expanded to six, from Jaffa to the Galilee. Arab Israelis make up 20 per cent of Israel’s 8.5 million population and many identify as Palestinian Israelis.

The security wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories — Israel’s “separation barrier” — is physically and psychologically divisive, says Bardach. But the two separate language streams of the Israeli school system are a “huge contributing factor” to mutual misunderstanding between Jews and Arab Israelis.

“Children aren’t growing up learning about differences, what we have in common and building common ground,” she says. Parents must make a choice that cuts their children off from one or the other group.

Not so in Hand in Hand schools, where children are taught by Hebrew and Arabic-speaking teachers.

They partner with children who speak the other language, and study together. They also learn the missing links in mainstream curriculums — the other’s religion, culture, food, daily life and history. Elements that allow them to see their counterparts as fellow humans rather than enemies.

Outside the classroom they play together at sports, picnic together and celebrate each other’s holidays.

They and their parents have weathered nearly two decades of anger, violence, war and political outbursts in the world around them, including a 2014 firebombing of the Jerusalem school by Jewish extremists.

That brought even more support for Hand in Hand, from the media, thousands of demonstrators, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

The traumatic event shook parents and children. But they were helped through it by the school’s tradition of unflinching dialogue on the events around them, however painful. It held true even in the past two years, when Jewish parents were afraid to drive on main roads for fear of being attacked, and Palestinian parents feared gangs of extremists who targeted Arabs for beatings.

The success of the Hand in Hand community has led to expansion, but on a shoestring. Its $9 million-a-year budget is financed by the Israeli government and private donations. Scholarships are available, but fees are $1,200 a year. “Not easy to afford” in Israel, Bardach admits.

Source: How integrated schools are offering Israel an ‘Iron Dome against hatred’ | Toronto Star

Has Labour under Corbyn really gone soft on antisemitism? | Tony Klug 

One of the more thoughtful and balanced commentary on the UK Labour antisemitism issue:

For Britons on all sides, it means reflecting on the critical role Britain and Europe played in instigating the conflict in the first place. The tragic historical Arab-Jewish clash was the product of generations of virulent European antisemitism at home and rampant imperialism abroad. It was white Europe’s innate sense of superiority and its routine oppression that fostered Jewish nationalism, Arab nationalism and Palestinian nationalism. Europe’s present-day assumption of the moral high ground over a conflict it helped to shape is breathtakingly audacious. Those on the British left today who disdainfully dismiss Israel as merely a colonial-settler state conveniently forget that Jews were not sent to Palestine as agents of imperial Europe, but were fleeing the continent for their lives.

For its victims, the systematic annihilation of two-thirds of European Jews was not just a shocking historical statistic. A cataclysm of that magnitude has inevitably left an indelible mark on the psyche of a people made to feel not just powerless, but also utterly degraded and worthless. Probably most Jews, including strong critics of successive Israeli governments, hold on to Israel as the phoenix that arose from the ashes. Many lament that the Jewish state did not come into existence 10 years earlier, for that might have saved up to 6 million Jewish lives.

It is these sentiments that are generally uppermost in the minds of Jews who passionately parade their support for Israel. Their myopia regarding the increasingly desperate Palestinian plight is shadowed by the insensitivity of others who dismiss them as simply bigots or oppressors. This is felt particularly keenly when their accusers seem much less exercised by the gross human rights abuses of a host of despotic regimes or the brutal antics of armed militant groups, and in some cases even make excuses for them.

Historically, Jews and Arabs have mostly had cordial relations. The Jewish and Muslim belief systems and customs have much in common. The contemporary conflict has severely undermined these ties and has fostered in their place the parallel phenomena of anti-Jewish sentiment in the Arab and Muslim worlds and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in the Jewish world. Ultimately, only a resolution of the conflict will settle these matters. Here, Europe could be appropriately and energetically engaged. Meanwhile, it should not be forgotten that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are fated to live alongside each other one way or another. Thus they both have an intrinsic interest in spurning the sometimes dubious support of fair-weather third parties whose antipathy to one side or the other can be so odious that it could poison relations indefinitely.

By promptly excluding Downing and Kirby, and investigating recent allegations of endemic antisemitism in the Oxford University Labour Club, the Labour party is showing itself to be alert to this insidious menace. But these steps might be tinkering at the edges. Without prejudging them, a comprehensive open inquiry into antisemitism on the British left, including the Labour party, would help clarify the underlying issues and draw out the important distinctions. As proudly proclaimed opponents of racist bigotry in all its forms, Jeremy Corbyn and the party he leads could provide an important service to the fabric of community relations by taking on this challenge.

Source: Has Labour under Corbyn really gone soft on antisemitism? | Tony Klug | Opinion | The Guardian

Israeli novel Borderlife is cut from school curriculum, becomes bestseller

Seems like these are the kinds of novels that should be read by high school students to help them see the humanity in the other (as should comparable readings be part of Palestinian and Arab curricula):

A novel by an Israeli author about a love affair between an Israeli Jewish woman and a Palestinian Muslim man from the West Bank who meet in New York has been excluded from Israel’s regular high school curriculum, out of concern it might threaten the Jewish identity of students reading it.

The book, written by Dorit Rabinyan and known in English as Borderlife, was recommended for inclusion in the curriculum of upper high school grades by a committee advising the education ministry, which nevertheless decided against it. “Young people of adolescent age tend to romanticize and don’t, in many cases, have the systemic vision that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation,” a senior ministry official said, according to Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper. (The Hebrew word translated by Ha’aretz as “miscegenation” can also mean “assimilation.”) The official, in other words, feared that reading the book might lead students to accept as normal romance between Jews and Muslims.

The education ministry later backtracked to some degree and said the book could be taught in advanced literature classes, but would not be part of the regular curriculum, according to Ha’aretz.

In an interview, Rabinyan describes the novel’s central romance as one in which the protagonists for the first time discover a member of their homeland’s opposite community as an individual. Hilmi, the Palestinian, is simply Hilmi, a man. And Liat “is no longer her Israeli people, her Israeli country, army, government. She’s herself.”

At the same time, Rabinyan says, every individual is shaped by the soil on which they grow, and she wanted to explore the resulting tensions when the two characters connect. “What I was looking into was the power of love to drift us into each other’s identity, and to have our mutual third identity that is born be a threat, be the one that can colour us with the loved one’s colours, and take over and maybe swallow ourselves and our original identity,” she says.

Rabinyan drew on her own past when writing the book. “I did live a year in New York. I did meet a group of young Palestinians who impressed me and really made me tick in a way that inspired me.” But she says that when writing literature, memories are not enough. “We have to add a portion of fantasy.”

The political undertones of the book might not have been Rabinyan’s primary concern, but they are unavoidable. The symbiosis of the couple, she says, is like the symbiosis of Palestinians and Israelis inhabiting the same land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. “We have no borderlines between us, and we have no definition of our identities in ways that usually two neighbours have, and this is why we treat one another in such a way that maintains the conflict to be more than just a fight of two gangs over territory,” she says.

Instead, says Rabinyan, the conflict is defined as an existential question of identity. “It’s a matter of the Jewish DNA being threatened by the surrounding Arab culture,” and it is this fear of being swallowed that justifies—demands, even—Jews’ isolation from their Palestinian neighbours.

Source: Borderlife is cut from school curriculum, becomes bestseller

Israel, Antisemitism and Terrorism: Gurski

Phil Gurski on Israel and the tendency to label any criticism as antisemitism (the former heads of Shin Bet, the interior intelligence agency, make similar points regarding the continued occupation in the documentary, The Gatekeepers):

There is no question that Israel faces significant security challenges in its dangerous neighbourhood (although I would stop short of calling those threats existential for the simple reason that Israel’s humongous technological superiority, not to mention its undisclosed nuclear arsenal, makes it more than a match for any state stupid enough to attack it) .  And Israel is, and should be, an ally of this country.  It is a vibrant, albeit unwieldy, democracy that serves as an all too rare example for the region.

On the other hand, it has been increasing settlement activity in the Occupied Territories for decades, a clear and flagrant violation of international law. It is beholden to fanatic religious zealots who are no different than the religious extremists we find elsewhere in the region. It has cracked down on freedom of association, but only for groups that are critical of the Israeli government.  All in all, some of what it does can be seen as kindling for the extremist fire.  No, terrorism does not spring solely from Israeli policies, but some of those policies are counterproductive.

Israel likes to complain that the world holds it up to a higher standard than that of its neighbours and that there are much more egregious actors who are a lot worse.  True, but as a democracy, and one that gets gazillions in subsidies from its main ally, the US, it has to put on its big boy pants and accept criticism. Without pouting and calling those that disagree with it Jew haters.

Israel has to acknowledge that its policies in the West Bank are inimical to its long term security and stop kowtowing to fundamentalist religious kooks.  We will work beside Israel to keep it safe and prosperous.  In exchange it has to accept sometimes harsh words.  Friends tell friends when they err.  Canada is Israel’s friend.  It’s time for the latter to listen.  Because it will hear more honest talk from Canada under the Trudeau government than it did under the previous one.

Source: Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting