Springtime for Rouhani: Jack Straw complains that pro-Israel cash stymies US-Iran peace

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Jack Straw

In an op-ed on Friday at The Independent, former British foreign secretary Jack Straw revisited a narrative he advanced late last year regarding the alleged injurious impact of funds from Jewish and pro-Israeli groups in the U.S.

During a Parliamentary debate on diplomacy in the Mid-East in late October, Straw reportedly complained that the greatest obstacle to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors is the “unlimited” funds available to Jewish groups and AIPAC which are used to control American policy – comments which Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub complained represented familiar tropes about “sinister Jewish power”.

Straw’s Jan. 17 Indy op-ed (In Hasan Rouhani’s Iran, you can feel the winds of change‘), addresses the broader issue of U.S. – Iran relations, and is giddy with excitement over the peace and harmony that could be achieved if we place our trust in the beneficence of Iran’s putatively moderate president, Hassan Rouhani.  

You can sense the thrill going up his leg as he waxes eloquently on the “courageous” Rouhani who has evidently imbued Tehran with the progressive spirit more akin to “Madrid or Athens” than “Mumbai or Cairo” – all of which would be news to the country’s oppressed Bahai, imprisoned democracy activists and opposition leaders, and families of the 33 Iranians executed in the last week alone. 

The antagonist in Straw’s Iranian Spring tale is clear by the third paragraph, where he recalls his encounters with leaders of the Islamic Republic in 2001:

My first visit to Iran was in late September 2001, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The moderate Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, had courageously reached out to the United States with moral, and much practical, support in the struggle to counter al-Qa’ida.

Then, I went straight from Tehran to Israel. The Israelis concocted a diplomatic row over my using the noun “Palestine” rather than the adjective “Palestinian” in an article for the Iranian press. A banquet for me was cancelled and my meeting with the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was delayed until the small hours. Behind this grammatical nonsense there was a much bigger issue – as there still is – about whether Israel wanted an end to the isolation of Iran, or whether it suited them for  Iran to be damned as a “pariah state” for all time.

Since Israeli and American politics are so intertwined, this was a major question for the US government, too. There are more American PhDs in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s Cabinet than there are in US President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. Yet the US quickly squandered all the potential of Mr Khatami’s bid for rapprochement with the West, with the ill-judged inclusion of Iran in President George W Bush’s “axis of evil”. Indeed, US policy  so undermined the Khatami administration that the reformists lost ground, to be replaced by the populist hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Pivoting to the Rouhani era and the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and the P5+1, Straw writes:

President Rouhani’s election last summer was as overwhelming as it was surprising. “He only had 5 per cent in the polls when we started”, one proud supporter told us. The consequences of Mr Rouhani’s victory cannot be overstated. There’s a lightness in the air…

Sustained economic recovery depends in part on internal reform, but also on an end to the nuclear-related sanctions…Sanctions can have eccentric effects. Five hundred Porsches were imported last year, it is claimed. Coca-Cola is freely available; but banking sanctions mean that cancer patients cannot access life-saving imported drugs, even though formally these have been exempt from control.

November’s interim deal agreed in Geneva between Iran and the “P5 + 1” (the five Permanent Members of the Security Council, plus Germany) will come into force on Monday. There’s an obvious prize for Iran in ending all sanctions. There is for the UK too. Above and beyond big trade opportunities, a normalisation of relations will have profound benefits, not least in those troubled countries – Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine – where Iran has such influence.

Finally, Straw cites the greatest obstacle to the normalisation of relations and peace in the region:

Whether a comprehensive deal on Iran can be reached will crucially depend on how far Mr Obama is able to resist the intense lobbying (and financial support) Mr Netanyahu is able to muster in the US Congress.

Beyond Straw’s repugnant suggestion that pro-Israel elements in the US Congress take their marching orders from Jerusalem, and his failure to acknowledge that pro-Israel (and anti-Iran) sentiment is embraced by the overwhelming majority of Americans, it’s important to recall that his recent charges leveled at Jewish groups and Israel seem to reflect a broader narrative of Zionist root causes.  

A few weeks after 9/11, Straw led a Western delegation to Tehran, and delivered the following message in the context of the deadly attacks by al-Qaeda which killed nearly 3,000 Americans: “I understand that one of the factors which helps breed terrorism is the anger which many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine.”

Of course, one of the factors which undeniably leads to violence and instability in the Middle East is Iran’s role, according to the U.S. State Department, as the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

However, when you wake up in the morning genuinely convinced that Israel and the state’s Jewish supporters represent the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East, then even a reactionary, Islamist regime which exports terror abroad, while repressing religious minorities, women, gays and political dissidents at home, can evoke your ‘liberal’ sympathy.

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Guardian columnist blames the persecution of Mid-East Christians on Israel’s creation

Yes, the Guardian’s religion blogger Andrew Brown really did blame Israel for the Arab persecution of Christians in the Arab Middle East.

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Here are the relevant passages in his latest post on former president George W. Bush’s recent work with a group of Messianic Jews: 

…there is widespread confusion among evangelicals about whether Israel is really a kind of America overseas – a recent poll for the Pew Foundation found that twice as many American Evangelicals as American Jews were unwavering in their support for Israel. This is something that successive Israeli governments have deliberately cultivated.

But the links between Zionism and Christianity go much further and deeper than that. The conversion of the Jews, and their restoration to Jerusalem, was a great enthusiasm among English evangelicals in Victorian times. Barbara Tuchman’s marvelous book Bible And Sword chronicles some of the consequences.

It’s fair to say that without the belief of Victorian upper class evangelical Englishmen – almost exactly the equivalents of George W Bush – there never would have been a Balfour Declaration. And without that declaration, there could not have been the Jewish immigration to Palestine that laid the foundations for the state of Israel.

Some people will see this as an example of the destructive craziness of religion, and perhaps it is, but it is also an example of the way in which theology is only powerful and important when it is wrapped up in identity. Because if there is one group that has suffered as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel and its support by Western Christian countries, it is the historic Christians of the Middle East – who are now the victims of persecution throughout the region and scapegoats of an angry nationalism.

Whilst Brown’s characterization of the foundation of Zionism and the establishment of Israel is completely ahistorical, the magnitude of Brown’s fabrication regarding the cause of anti-Christian racism in the modern Middle East is simply difficult to comprehend. 

Christians are facing systemic persecution throughout the Arab and Muslim Middle East to the point where studies have predicted that “Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands”, or will at least “effectively disappear from the region as a cultural and political force within our lifetime”.  As The Telegraph commented on a recent study by the think-tank Civitas, “the most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam”. The report estimates that “between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.”  Some 2 million Christians have reportedly fled in the past 20 years alone.

Such racist oppression against the beleaguered Christians occurs daily in countries such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq – as well as in Palestinian controlled cities in the West Bank.  

Of course, the one country in the region where the Christian population is growing in total numbers is Israel.

Yet, the Guardian blogger not only ignores this statistical evidence, but views the disturbing news broadcast daily of Coptic churches being burned, Christians arrested for ‘blasphemy’, and clergy kidnapped and killed in Muslim dominated countries in the region, and somehow sees the root cause in Israel’s very creation.  

As Walid Phares, a Lebanese-American scholar who advises the U.S. on issues related to terrorism, said at a conference on protecting Christians in the Middle East in 2012 sponsored by CAMERA, the plight of religious and ethnic minorities in Muslim and Arab majority countries in the region is ignored due in part to political correctness, cultural relativism and a malign obsession with Israel.

In the future when we cite examples of how antisemitism manifests itself in unusual ways at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’, Brown’s astonishing moral inversion, in which Muslims persecute Christians but Jews are still to blame, will be near the top of our list.

Awaiting Hillary’s ‘robust’ condemnation of offensive cartoon

A Guest Post by AKUS

cartoonI am an admirer of both Hillary and Bill Clinton, and not only because both have been supportive of the American Jewish community and Israel. 

Bill Clinton worked tirelessly trying to bring a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Hilary Clinton may go down as one of the most successful and influential Secretaries of State the US has known and has also worked hard – and as fruitlessly – to try to bring some closure to that conflict. Their daughter is married to a Jewish man, son of friends of theirs.

But this week, they and the branch of the US administration that Hillary heads have failed the Jewish community in the UK, and, indeed, around the world.

When some Muslims rioted across the world following the 2005 publication (in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten) of Mohammed cartoons, Bill Clinton was swift to respond, and absurdly compared cartoons depicting Mohammed to deadly anti-Semitic cartoons depicting Jews:

[Former President Bill] Clinton: “Totally Outrageous Cartoons Against Islam”

DOHA (AFP) – Former US president Bill Clinton warned of rising anti-Islamic prejudice, comparing it to historic anti-Semitism as he condemned the publishing of cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.

“So now what are we going to do? … Replace the anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice?” he said at an economic conference in the Qatari capital of Doha.

“In Europe, most of the struggles we’ve had in the past 50 years have been to fight prejudices against Jews, to fight against anti-Semitism,” he said.

Clinton described as “appalling” the 12 cartoons published in a Danish newspaper in September depicting Prophet Mohammed and causing uproar in the Muslim world.

“None of us are totally free of stereotypes about people of different races, different ethnic groups, and different religions … there was this appalling example in northern Europe, in Denmark … these totally outrageous cartoons against Islam,” he said.

The (George W. Bush-era) State Department also weighed in on the Europeans’ cartoon controversy. It too hastened to reference anti-Semitism and claimed equivalence with the horrendously anti-Semitic cartoons that appear daily in Arab media:

Bush Administration on 2006 Danish Cartoons: “We Certainly Understand Why Muslims Would Find These Images Offensive”

The Muslim world erupted in anger on Friday over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in Europe while the Bush administration offered the protesters support, saying of the cartoons, ”We find them offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive.”

… The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, reading the government’s statement on the controversy, said, ”Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images,” which are routinely published in the Arab press, ”as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief.”

Still, the United States defended the right of the Danish and French newspapers to publish the cartoons. ”We vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view,” Mr. McCormack added.

When some Muslims rioted over a film made by an Egyptian born Copt living in America that mocked Islam, Hillary Clinton showed understanding for their anger:

HILLARY CLINTON: Anti-Muslim Film Is ‘Disgusting And Reprehensible’

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday called the film that helped provoke protestors to riot “disgusting and reprehensible.”

“Let me state very clearly — and I hope it is obvious — The United States government had nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message,” Clinton said in a statement at a State Department.

Clinton said that the video’s intended purpose seemed to be inciting violence.

So now I ask – where is the condemnation from either Bill or Hillary Clinton or the US State Department that Hillary heads over the rabidly anti-Semitic cartoon that appeared in the UK’s Sunday Times on no other day than Holocaust Memorial Day?

Even if we agree that the concept of freedom of speech means that Scarfe can create and the Sunday Times publish anti-Semitism, why has Bill not found time to say something like this?

“None of us are totally free of stereotypes about people of different races, different ethnic groups, and different religions … there was this appalling example in Europe, in Great Britain … this totally outrageous cartoon directed at the Jewish people.”

Why hasn’t the State Department’s issued a statement with criticism such as this?

”We find the Sunday Times cartoon offensive, and we certainly understand why Jews would find these images offensive … anti-Semitic images are unacceptable.”

Why has Hillary not found the time to “absolutely reject” Scarfe’s cartoon as “disgusting and reprehensible … with the intent of inciting violence”?

Hillary – if it takes a village to raise a child properly, what does it take in our global village to get your attention to the increasing anti-Semitism that has become such a staple of European media and as weighty a condemnation of this “typically robust cartoon” by Gerald Scarfe” as Bill, you, and the State Department have found for other cartoons and a poorly made and initially widely ignored film promo?

Iraq’s disappearing Christians, and the Guardian Left’s disappearing sanity

“When Marxist dictators shoot their way into power in Central America, the San Francisco Democrats don’t blame the guerrillas and their Soviet allies. They blame United States policies of one hundred years ago. But then they always blame America first.” – Jean Kirkpatrick, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN under Ronald Reagan

The Guardian Left’s propensity to blame the U.S. and Great Britain first – while avoiding expressing such opprobrium for brutal dictators or Islamist terrorists – is truly legion, and was on full display in CiF columnist William Dalrymple’s piece on Nov. 12 entitled “Iraq’s disappearing Christians are Bush and Blair’s legacy.”

He begins:

“When George W Bush sent the US into Iraq in 2003, he believed he would be replacing Saddam Hussein with a peaceful, pro-American Arab democracy that would naturally look to the Christian west for support. In reality, seven years on, it appears that he has instead created a highly radicalised pro-Iranian sectarian killing field, where most of the Iraqi Christian minority has been forced to flee abroad.”

So, George Bush “created” a highly radicalized pro-Iranian…[Christian] killing field.”  Of course, the Islamist terrorists who, you know, actually engaged in the killing seem to bear no responsibility for the brutal murders they committed.

Dalrymple continues:

“Before Bush senior took on Saddam for the first time in 1991, there were more than a million Christians in Iraq. They made up just under 10% of the population, and were a prosperous and prominent minority…Of the 800,000 Christians still in Iraq when Dubya unleashed the US army on Saddam for the second time, two-thirds have fled the country.”

At this point I’m not sure if Mr. Dalrymple is a troll – deployed secretly by conservatives in the UK to discredit the left by advancing arguments which seem to long for the days of the Butcher of Baghdad. (See my post about the “glory days” of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq here)

A CiF commenter summed up Dalrymple’s descent into post-colonial lunacy, and liberal racism, best:

Treat the Arab world like adults?  My guess is that Mr. Dalrymple never thought of such a crazy idea.