Start with two Palestinians

In an interview in February 2003, Edward Said said this:

An outrageous Israeli, Martin Kramer, uses his Web site to attack everybody who says anything he doesn’t like. For example, he has described Columbia as “the Bir Zeit [university] on the Hudson,” because there are two Palestinians teaching here. Two Palestinians teaching in a faculty of 8,000 people! If you have two Palestinians, it makes you a kind of terrorist hideout. This is part of the atmosphere of intimidation that is McCarthyite.

Flash forward seven years later, to last week’s formal inauguration of the new Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University. From its website:

Founded in January 2010, the Center for Palestine Studies is the first such center to be established in an academic institution in the United States. Columbia University is currently the professional home to a unique concentration of distinguished scholars on Palestine and Palestinians, as well as to award-winning supporting faculty in a variety of disciplines.

So how did Columbia go so rapidly from “two Palestinians teaching in a faculty of 8,000 people!” to “a unique concentration of distinguished scholars on Palestine and the Palestinians”? Don’t be shocked, but Edward Said was out to deceive in that 2003 interview. Obviously there were more than two Palestinians back then. But I didn’t invent the nickname Bir Zeit-on-Hudson because of their number. It was meant to evoke precisely the atmosphere of intimidation—anti-Israel intimidation—that would later come to light in the “Columbia Unbecoming” affair.

Now that Columbia boasts of being home to “a unique concentration of distinguished scholars on Palestine” (who “will have a national and global reach”), Bir Zeit-on-Hudson hardly sounds far-fetched. By that, I don’t mean a “terrorist hideout”—those were Said’s words, not mine—but a redoubt of militant Palestinian nationalism in the guise of scholarship. And I mean militant: the affiliates of the new center aren’t only engaged in the positive affirmation of Palestinian identity, but are activists in the campaign to negate Israel. This is obviously the case in regard to Joseph Massad and Nadia Abu al-Haj—their field isn’t Palestine studies, it’s anti-Israel studies—but it’s increasingly true of the new center’s co-director, Rashid Khalidi, Columbia’s Edward Said Professor, an enthusiastic spokesman for the PLO in its terrorist phase and a severe critic of the same leadership in its present phase.

For now, Khalidi is cleverly doing what Said did with his “two Palestinians” shtick. “We have absolutely no money,” Khalidi said at the launch (attended by an overflow crowd). “What our little modest center will be able to do may be some narrow, specific things,” he reassured a journalist from the Jewish Forward. I’m not buying it, and I think that the moniker Bir Zeit-on-Hudson is too modest to convey the scope of the ambition behind this project. So I’m working on an alternative. For a preview, click on the thumbnail or here.

Sweeping Khalidi under Obama’s rug

The Washington Post runs an article today, exploring the origins of President Obama’s heels-dug-in stance on Israeli settlements. White House officials described Obama’s position to the Post as “years old and not the product of recent events or discussions.” The Post then traces it way back to some of Obama’s Jewish friends from Chicago days. The earliest influence named in the piece is the late Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf of Hyde Park, whose synagogue was across from Obama’s home (and whom Marty Peretz memorably described as “one of those remaining nudnik Reform clergy who is always pained that, given the distress of the Palestinians, life is too good for the Israelis”).

But how is it possible to mention Wolf and not Rashid Khalidi, Obama’s University of Chicago colleague? Not only did Obama famously have his own “conversations” with Khalidi, but Wolf attested that his own conversations with Obama on Israel and the Palestinians were three-way, involving Khalidi. A journalist who interviewed Wolf last year wrote this:

Wolf has impressions about Obama’s initial views on Israel more than specifics, and the impression was one of sympathy for the views that he and their mutual friend, Palestinian advocate Rashid Khalidi, expressed to him on Israel—views including the need to pressure Israel to give up the West Bank. In retrospect, he believes that Obama was carefully considering their perspective rather than endorsing it. “When he was listening, we had his ear, but he didn’t come down on our side,” he reflects. “I think he was listening and learning and thinking.”

“Our side,” no less. It makes no sense to invoke Wolf’s influence without even mentioning Khalidi, because on the question of the West Bank, they were a tag-team.

That’s why writing Khalidi out of the story of Obama’s view of the settlements is absurd. Back in October, I delivered a lecture suggesting that Khalidi gave Obama his primer on the Middle East. I recently posted it here, for the record. There’s nothing in it I would change, and the claim that Obama got his intransigent view of the settlements from exclusively Jewish sources is yet another attempt to sweep Khalidi under the rug.

Gaza errors (or lies)

Henry Siegman, who must spend every waking hour hating Israel, has a piece in the London Review of Books, which is never complete without an Israel-bashing tirade. This one is called simply “Israel’s Lies.” Siegman spends a lot of time faulting Israel for the breakdown of the previous six-month cease-fire with Hamas, reached through Egyptian mediation in June 2008. In one passage, he accurately reports the quid pro quo of the cease-fire:

[The cease-fire] required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad… and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions.

Correct. But only a couple of paragraphs earlier, he set up the cease-fire as an entirely differently deal—and accused Israel of violating it:

Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further.

Therefore according to Siegman, Israel violated the cease-fire before Hamas fired a single rocket, by reneging on its supposed commitment to ease sanctions. Rashid Khalidi, writing in the New York Times, went even further: “Lifting the blockade,” he wrote, “along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.” (My emphasis.)

None of this is true.

First of all, contra Khalidi, Israel did not agree to “lifting” of the “blockade,” only to easing it. At the time, the Economist reported the cease-fire thus (my emphasis):

The two sides agreed to start with three days of calm. If that holds, Israel will allow some construction materials and merchandise into Gaza, slightly easing an economic blockade that it has imposed since Hamas wrested control of the strip.

And Israel did just that: it slightly eased the sanctions on some construction materials and merchandise. Siegman falsely claims that Israel “tightened” its “throttlehold” on Gaza after the cease-fire, and that this is confirmed by “every neutral international observer and NGO.” Untrue. The numbers refuting him appear in the last PalTrade (Palestine Trade Center) report on the Gaza terminals, published on November 19, as part of its “Cargo Movement and Access Monitoring and Reporting Project.” The report says the following (my emphasis):

Following the announcement of the truce ‘hudna’ on June 19, 2008 and took effect on June 22, a slight improvement occurred in terms of terminals operation times, types of goods, and truckloads volume that [Israel] allowed to enter Gaza Strip.

This is exactly what Israel had agreed to permit. Here is the table from the PalTrade report, comparing average monthly imports before the Hamas coup (June 12, 2007), between the coup and the “truce,” and then after (i.e., during) the “truce” (through October 31). (If you can’t see the table below, click here).

As is obvious from this table, Israel did ease sanctions during the cease-fire. The average number of truckloads per month entering Gaza during the cease-fire rose by 50 percent over the period before the cease-fire, and Israel also allowed the import of some aggregates and cement, formerly prohibited. (No metal allowed, of course—it’s used to make rockets.) Israel did not allow more fuel, but the PalTrade report notes that fuel brought from Egypt through the tunnels “somewhat made up the deficit of fuel that entered through Nahal Oz entry point.” (For Israel’s own day-by-day, crossing-by-crossing account of what went into Gaza during the cease-fire, go here. This account also puts the increase of merchandise entering Gaza at 50 percent.)

Why do the Khalidi and Siegman errors (or lies, if made knowingly) matter now? If you believe Khalidi’s claim that the last cease-fire included “lifting the blockade,” you might say: why shouldn’t Israel agree to lift it in this one? Or if you believe Siegman’s claim that Israel tightened the sanctions at the crossings during the cease-fire, you might say: Israel shortchanged the Palestinians once, so the next deal on the crossings has to have international guarantees. But in both cases, you’d be relying on entirely bogus claims.

Israel has a compelling strategic reason to keep the sanctions in place. (I say sanctions and not blockade, because Israel doesn’t control the Egyptian-Gazan border, and so cannot impose a true blockade.) Israel’s sanctions are meant to squeeze the “resistance” out of the Hamas regime—and, if possible, to break its monopoly on power in Gaza. Unless these goals are met, at least in part, it’s lights-out for any peace process. And as long as sanctions don’t create extreme humanitarian crises—as opposed to hardships—they’re a perfectly legitimate tool. It was sanctions that ended apartheid in South Africa, kept Saddam from reconstituting his WMD programs, got Qadhafi to give up his WMD, and might (hope against hope) stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Hamas owes everything not to its feeble “resistance,” but to the tendency of the weak of will or mind to throw it lifelines. It’s now demanding that the sanctions be lifted, and the usual chorus is echoing the cynical claims of a tyrannical and terrorist regime that shows no mercy toward its opponents, Israeli or Palestinian. Supporters of peace shouldn’t acquiesce in another bailout of its worst enemy. It’s time to break the cycle, and make it clear beyond doubt that the Hamas bubble has burst. The way to do that is to keep the sanctions in place.