Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Shop till you drop

Now elevated to the status of ‘the premier global Jewish advocacy organization’, on 1 December the American Jewish Committee unveiled its latest strategy in the campaign to defeat global anti-Semitism.

“Our collective response to the haters of Israel is to shop,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris, who led a large group to Ricky’s, a store in New York’s Union Square…“Chanukah, when we celebrate our freedom as Jews, is the perfect time to show our support for Israel by purchasing Israeli products,” said Harris.  “We need to speak out and act. Shopping for Israel is the right thing to do."

In an aside attempting to ridicule the BDS campaign, Harris quipped, 

By the way, I can't help but wonder if the anti-Israel boycotters, for consistency's sake, also ensure before using their computers and cell phones, or seeking life-saving medical care, that there are no Israeli products or innovations involved.

What doesn’t appear to have penetrated is that BDS is not just a moral gesture.  With the supine International Community powerless to redress the injustice of Israel’s ongoing occupation of the territories it seized by force in June 1967, Palestinian civil society groups have called on supporters to inflict economic and other kinds of pressure on Israel.  It doesn’t matter what wonderful inventions Israelis have come up with.  What matters is what kinds of actions we consider will have the greatest economic impact at the time and what kinds of forces we can mobilize in support of the campaign, along with other tactical issues. 

Reducing the campaign to a question of some imagined moral consistency evidences incomprehension of what it’s all about.  To be fair, I suspect that it is beyond Harris’s capacity to understand solidarity, at least outside the tribe.

Stick to what you’re good at, David, and shop till you drop.

Informed consent

Yesterday I received invitations to sign two online petitions supporting Julian Assange.

One, from the Australian group, GetUp!, addresses Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder and aims to publish the petition in a full page advert in the NY Times with 75,000 signatories.  Quoting Thomas Jefferson, ‘information is the currency of democracy’, signatories appeal for due process,

If Wikileaks or their staff have broken international or national laws, let that case be heard in a just and fair court of law.

The other, from, with well over half a million signatures so far, calls on some unspecified ‘you’

to respect democratic principles and laws of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. If WikiLeaks and the journalists it works with have violated any laws they should be pursued in the courts with due process.

I beg to differ.  Much as I support the work Wikileaks and Assange have been doing, due process is not the issue.  If, indeed, they have broken any laws, I applaud their civil disobedience and call for the law’s repeal.

As I understand it, if the US indicts Assange, it is likely to be under the terms of the Espionage Act (1917), which casts quite a wide net, drawing in anyone who 'copies, takes, makes, or...receives or obtains...any sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blue print, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, document, writing or note of anything connected with the national defence'.  Furthermore, under s. 5, 'Whoever harbours or conceals any person who he knows, or has reasonable grounds to believe or suspect, has committed, or is about to commit, an offence under this title' is subject to lesser penalties.  The principal issues are probably whether Assange had 'intent or reason to believe that the to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation' and whether the leaked information was ‘connected with the national defence’.  I think it is likely that Assange can mount a persuasive defence on the grounds that his intent was not to injure the US or advantage a foreign nation, but rather to inform the public or the like.  But I’m not optimistic that a judge or a jury of his peers would find such a defence convincing. 

As Jefferson and others have observed, an uninformed electorate cannot exercise even the parody we call ‘democracy’ meaningfully.  Some of Assange’s supporters seem tolerant of the state’s need to keep secrets from other states and even from its real adversary — the people it rules.  There is a tension between their need for secrecy and our need for full information, at least if they intend to maintain the pretence that they rule over us with our informed consent. 

In a system purporting to represent the governed, there is, I think, an implied right to the information the government bases its decisions on, made explicit in the right to freedom of expression.  It’s frightening that the governed are prepared to countenance such transparent infringements of their most treasured and fundamental rights as the Espionage Act and the even more draconian 1918 amendment, known as the Sedition Act, which makes it a crime to

wilfully cause... or incite... insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall wilfully obstruct... the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, and whoever, when the United States is at war, shall wilfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag... or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States, or any language intended to bring the form of government... or the Constitution... or the military or naval forces... or the flag... of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute...

Now that Assange is at the mercy of The Criminal Justice System, he is certainly entitled to due process and we need to defend that entitlement.  But to couch the petition in those terms seems to me to miss the point and to elevate compliance with The Law into a matter of principle.  Any law with the capacity to criminalise the work that Wikileaks is doing demonstrates that The Law is not our friend and what we need to support is that work, whether legal or not.

Sunday 5 December 2010

I pledge allegiance...

While I’ve been dithering, it’s faded from the headlines.  But it was quite the controversial topic way back in October.

On 10 October, the Israeli cabinet approved a bill by 22 votes to 8 changing the wording of the loyalty oath non Jews seeking Israeli citizenship must take.

The Nationality Law of 1952 provides mechanisms for obtaining Israeli nationality by ‘return’, residence, birth, or naturalization.  The residence provisions only apply to those resident prior to the promulgation of the law.  Only children of Israeli nationals are entitled to nationality by birth — children born in Israel to non Israeli parents apparently have no claim to Israeli nationality.  Jews immigrating under the Law of return are entitled to Israeli nationality under the ‘return’ provisions.

So it seems that the proposal would simply amend paragraph 5(c) of the Nationality Law — the section concerning acquiring Israeli nationality by naturalisation, that is, by non Jews — which provides: 

(5)(c)   Prior to the grant of nationality, the applicant shall make the following declaration: "I declare that I will be a loyal national of the State of Israel."

to read something along the lines of ‘…"I declare that I will be a loyal national of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel."

By nightfall, reports the Jerusalem Post, 150 were demonstrating at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. ‘One of the organizers of the demonstration, Sefi Rachlevsky, said that the protest was held to express their “great anger towards a terrible action taken by a country we love.’

The same day, Ha’aretz’s Gideon Levy wrote, ‘Remember this day. It's the day Israel changes its character… From now on, we will be living in a new, officially approved, ethnocratic, theocratic, nationalistic and racist country.’ 
JStreet immediately called ‘on the government of Israel to pull back from this proposal which runs counter not just to the values enshrined in the country’s Declaration of Independence, but puts at risk the very democratic nature of the state itself.’

On Tikun Olam, Richard Silverstein wrote, ‘If the [Supreme] Court does not reject the law then Israel is sliding down the slippery slope to a racialist state.’

Within two days, Ynet was reporting that the Anti Defamation League’s ‘National Director Abraham H. Foxman explained that "in the spirit of Israel’s founding principles of equality, we urge Israel’s government to adopt further modifications to the proposed amendment to the citizenship law so it will apply to all immigrants to Israel, including those entering under the Law of Return.’

By the end of the week, thousands were rallying against the bill.

Meretz MK Oron also condemned the loyalty oath bill, calling it racist and anti-democratic.

"This anti-democratic attack of legislation was meant to exclude the Arab population from the democratic game and to eternalize an ethnocentric right-wing regime in the government.’

‘…hundreds of Israeli public figures, including Shulamit Aloni, Zehava Galon, Yoram Kaniuk, Ran Cohen’ signed the ‘Declaration of Independence from Fascism’,

A state which forcibly invades the hallowed realm of the individual citizen's conscience, and which imposes punishment on those whose opinions and beliefs do not fit the authorities' opinions and the prescribed "character" of the state, stops being a democracy and embarks on becoming a fascist state.

Behind these stairs where we stand, the state of Israel was proclaimed. The state which increasingly takes Israel's place – a state which fills the country with a variety of racist legislation, promoted by the Knesset and the cabinet – is excluding itself from the family of democratic nations. Therefore we, citizens of the Israel envisaged in the Declaration of Independence, hereby declare that will not be citizens of a country purporting to be Israel and which violates its basic commitment to the principles of equality, civil liberty and sincere aspiration for peace – principles upon which the State of Israel was founded.

On 31 October, the International Jewish Anti-zionist Network (IJAN) released its response, pointing out that ‘The Zionist "Left" is distancing itself from this policy, but the proposed oath is entirely consistent with Israel's racist foundations and continued ethnic cleansing - all of which the Zionist "Left" has played a central role in perpetrating and whitewashing.’

And the next day, Gabriel Ash of Jews sans frontiers further excoriated the Zionist ‘left’,

…Not only is the Palestinian narrative erased and evaded, but the speakers appropriate it. They are the ones whose country has been stolen. Proclaiming that “grievance” serves precisely to appropriate another attack on the people whose country really was stolen… [The] "left" that defends the interests of the settlers and seeks to make the Palestinian national problem disappear is not part of the solution. It is part of the problem.

Tempting as it is to quote more extensively, I’ll leave it to you to follow the link

More likely in response to Foxman than to the Israeli ‘left’, Ha’aretz reported that on 18 October, ‘Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Justice Minister Ya'akov Ne'eman…to prepare a new bill extending the loyalty oath, which is currently aimed at non-Jews, to include Jewish immigrants as well’, quoting the PM,

"There is broad approval among the Israeli public regarding the Jewish and democratic identity of Israel, and that is not incidental. The state of Israel was founded as the sovereign state of the Jewish people and as a democratic state in which all its citizens – Jews and non-Jews alike – enjoy equal rights. Any person wishing to become an Israeli citizen must recognize these two key principals."

The same day, the American Jewish Committee ‘welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to direct the Justice Ministry to prepare a bill that will oblige both Jews and non-Jews to pledge loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.”’ To their credit, J Street’s response to Netanyahu’s suggestion was to ‘remain opposed to the proposal’, albeit ‘for the reasons enumerated in the statement above’ — it risks ‘the very democratic nature of the state’.

To require such an oath of olim would demand more complex drafting of the proposed amendment than the original proposal.  But that should be no impediment to justice and fairness.  AJC Executive Director David Harris

had been concerned about different standards for Jewish and non-Jewish prospective immigrants to Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu has wisely decided, in keeping with Israel’s long-established principles of democracy and equality before the law, that if Israel is going to institute an oath of allegiance, it must be applicable to all.

If nothing else, you’d expect one of Zionism’s shrillest defenders to be aware that ‘different standards for Jewish and non-Jewish prospective immigrants to Israel’ are absolutely fundamental to Israel’s existence and that goyim are not entitled to acquire nationality under the ‘return’ provisions. Accordingly, unlike Jews seeking nationality, they must meet residence and language tests, and pledge fealty, to qualify. Amending the wording of the oath does not change that.

As many have pointed out, there is a contradiction between Israel’s claim to be ‘the national expression of the self-determination of the Jewish people’ and to be democratic in any meaningful sense.  Privileging any ethnicity or religious group erodes the democratic rights of those not so privileged.  So under the new provision, the only non Jews who would be entitled to immigrate and become Israeli citizens are those who are either too distracted to notice that they are swearing allegiance to something that can’t possibly exist or too dishonest or cynical to care.  Extending the requirement to olim would then restrict Israeli nationality by ‘return’ only to Jews displaying those characteristics.

But I reckon there are deeper implications.

In the immortal words of the Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel, ‘The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people - the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe - was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew…’ [my emphasis] 

As I read it, the point is that all Jews purportedly possess a common heritage in Palestine and are therefore equally entitled to live there.  Also, because anti-Semitism is inevitable wherever Jews live outside of Israel, we need to have a refuge we know will accept us when we flee oppression in ‘The Diaspora’. 

Making citizenship for olim contingent on taking an oath (anathema, by the way, to observant Jews) or indeed on anything, seems to me to have one of two consequences.  Either not all Jews are equally entitled to access our heritage and seek refuge from persecution, or they are redefining Jew to include just the distracted and the cynical.

One way or the other, that seemed to me to undermine Israel’s whole raison d’ être. No longer would just any member of ‘the Jewish people’ enjoy an entitlement to our ‘historic homeland’ and to asylum when under threat.

But on reflection, it transpires that whatever the framers of the Declaration might have intended in 1948, by 1950 the Law of return already empowered the Minister of Immigration (amended in 1954 to the Minister of the Interior) to deny an oleh’s visa if ‘satisfied that the applicant:

    (1) is engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people; or
    (2) is likely to endanger public health or the security of the State; or

The 1954 amendments extended the Minister’s power to exclude a third category of applicant — ‘a person with a criminal past, likely to endanger public welfare’.

So Israel has, virtually since inception, been the state not of ‘the Jewish people’ tout court, but only of those Jewish people who meet the Minister’s approval.  And in recent times, the Jewish state has demonstrated no reluctance to exclude unwanted Jews, even as visitors, when it deported Norman Finkelstein in May 2008, and refused entry to Noam Chomsky two years later. 

Since one of the principal tenets of Zionist ideology is that Israel is in fact the state of all the Jewish people and therefore any activity against Israel or Israeli actions, including criticism, constitutes ‘an activity directed against the Jewish people’, I can certainly understand why they might want to exclude critics.  And yet both Finkelstein and Chomsky are proponents of partitioning Palestine in accordance with The International Consensus, which I have argued implies support for the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. So it’s not as if they actually challenge Israel’s fabled ‘right to exist as a Jewish state’.

If the Knesset enacts the legislation mandating a loyalty oath for Gentiles and the Supreme Court allows the law to stand, Israel remains a racist ethnocracy. If it requires the oath for all who seek Israeli nationality, it still remains a racist ethnocracy. And as for the Jews who can’t swear allegiance to a contradiction, we already know that Israel is not our country, anyway.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

The American Jewish Committee has just released the results of their 2009 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion to the acclaim of David Harris, Executive Director of the AJC, in his Jerusalem Post blog.  Slagging off ‘surveys sponsored by right-wing or left-wing groups...

These ideologically-driven organizations always magically find polling outfits, construct questions, and present data that somehow undergird their preconceived views...

Enter AJC's Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion. No doctrinal axe to grind, no effort to tilt the questions, no desire to withhold "inconvenient" results.

Last year, the AJC reduced the sample size for their survey from 1000 to 800, implausibly claiming the same 3 percentage point margin of error.  At the same time, they also reduced the question set from 38 questions to 15, unconscionably interrupting the time series I had so laboriously constructed for several questions. 

This year, they have retained the reduced sample size but reintroduced some of the old questions, along with a few new ones.  Lest anyone accuse me of cherry picking, I’d better go through all 21.  I might just mention in passing, though, that both Harris’s blog post and the AJC press release claim that ‘there's little difference in attitudes towards Middle East matters among the various generational cohorts’.  If they can disaggregate the responses by age, it’s a variable they must have collected, but have declined to report.  So while there may be no desire to withhold inconvenient results, they have actually withheld some significant results, which can only make you wonder what else they have kept to themselves.

The poll begins with three new questions,

1. How would you characterize relations between Israel and the United States today? Are they very positive, somewhat positive, somewhat negative, or very negative?

2. Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama Administration’s handling of US-Israel relations?

3. Do you approve or disapprove of the Netanyahu government’s handling of Israel-US relations?

Like so many questions in AJC and other opinion polls, whatever little information you may be able to extract is ambiguous, contingent upon how you believe respondents interpreted it.  When the survey went into the field, 30 August to 17 September, it was already clear that Israeli PM Netanyahu had absolutely no intention of humouring Obama’s insistence on a freeze in settlement construction.  In that context, some may have felt Israeli defiance was a positive development, some that Obama’s humiliating retreat was positive, some that it was positive that he put on a show of confronting the Israeli government in the first place.  Others might have thought the very same things evidenced negative relations, whatever that means.  A wide variety of other aspects of the relationship could have struck respondents as positive or negative, depending on factors they were not asked about.  For what it’s worth, 81% said relations were positive, 54% approved of Obama, and 59% of Bibi.

A fourth new question was slightly less ambiguous than most AJC questions,

4. Do you agree or disagree with the Obama Administration’s call for a stop to all new Israeli settlement construction?

If we assume that respondents believe that new settlement construction has nothing to do with expansion of the matrix of control over the population of the West Bank and is simply an effort to provide accommodation for younger generations born in the settlements, then it’s possible that the 51% who disagreed just think it would be unfair to force the Jewish settlers to live in more crowded conditions than they’re accustomed to, or to move their young families into ‘Israel proper’. It goes without saying that the AJC neglected to ask how American Jews felt about the restrictions on issue of building permits to accommodate the natural increase among Palestinians in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, or in ‘Israel proper’, nor about the home demolitions and evictions. 

Of course we know that settlement expansion is not just about natural growth. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics’s Statistical abstract of Israel 2009 (Table 2.4), 31% of the population growth in ‘Judea and Samaria’ of 14,000 in 2008, was due to migration – 700 immigrants and 3900 internal migrants.  The ICBS itself attributes only 69% to ‘Natural increase’.  In 2007, migrants accounted for 37% of the increase.  Since the data don’t disaggregate the areas of the Jerusalem District occupied in 1967, I have excluded it.

Yet another new question asks,

5. As compared with one year ago, are you more optimistic about the chance for a lasting peace between Israel and the Arabs, less optimistic, or do you think the chance for a lasting peace is about the same as it was one year ago?

This is even less informative than a typical AJC question without considering it together with a question about how they felt last year.  We don’t know what the 2009 sample thought about the long term prospects for peace last year, but we do know how the 2008 sample answered a question the AJC has been asking since 2006,

10. Do you think there will or will not come a time when Israel and its Arab neighbors will be able to settle their differences and live in peace?

It’s a different sample of course and it’s kind of bodgy to compare percentages of percentages, but since that’s all the AJC has given us to work with, it turns out that 38% last year said that they thought there will come such a time and 56% that it will not.  Among this year’s sample, 43% said there will and 51% there will not.  So 13% more of this year’s sample said there will come a time and 9% fewer said there won’t.  So you might expect some 22% to say they feel more optimistic and 78% to say they felt the same.  In fact, only 12% were more optimistic, 23% less optimistic, and 65% the same as one year ago.  They are not the same people, but if the samples were truly as representative as the pollsters claim, it shouldn’t matter.  Of course, it’s possible that people discerned that they were more optimistic, while still thinking peace unlikely, and vice versa.  Ultimately, the two variables aren’t strictly compatible.  It’s not that the answers are inconsistent with each other, it’s that the respondents can make very fine measurements of their level of optimism.

Closely related to these two questions is Question 9, asked every year since 2000, except 2008,

9. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.”

It is, I suppose, mildly encouraging that with 75% agreeing, this has fallen to its lowest level since 2001, seven points below the proportion who agreed in 2007 and below the 78% average over the nine observations.  That means that 28% of the sample who believe ‘the Arabs’ aim to destroy Israel also think that they will someday settle their differences with Israel and live in peace.  Anyone familiar with Zionist discourse will find contradictions like this unsurprising.  Furthermore, as I mentioned in 2007,

What this question does above all else is invite the respondent to buy into racism. By refusing to specify whether ‘the Arabs’ are ‘the moderate Arab states’, the PA, the Palestinians in general, Arabs in general, or whatever, the question’s framers force the respondent to accept the racist presupposition that ‘the Arabs’ are of one mind. They are duplicitous in pretending to demand the return of the territories occupied in 1967, but in reality, they are bent on Israel’s destruction, a second Holocaust. Again, we can’t really tell much about those who disagreed without knowing why they did so. But it’s pretty clear that those who agreed were prepared to accept those assumptions.

Just imagine a poll asking,

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “The goal of the Jews is not the establishment of a viable Palestinian state but rather the annexation of all of historic Palestine.”

The AJC would be among the first to excoriate the pollsters for their blatant antisemitism.  And rightly so.

The last question concerning the prospects for peace, which has featured in the last three iterations of the survey, is,

11. Do you think that Israel can or cannot achieve peace with a Hamas-led Palestinian government?

The proportion saying Israel cannot achieve peace with Hamas has risen by 11 percentage points from 2008 to 79%, the highest level in the three years the question was asked.

I assume that the reference to a ‘Palestinian government’ is just lazy shorthand for a Hamas majority in the Palestinian National Authority, a strictly administrative body whose mandate under the Oslo accords to police designated areas of the West Bank on the occupier’s behalf was to have expired in 1999.  Still, by calling it a government, the question invites the respondent to think of the PA as a separate country that can treat with Israel on the basis of some sort of equality.  And it is an important component of Israeli propaganda to represent Israel and the Palestinians, who are always assumed to be just the minority of Palestinians who happen to reside in the West Bank and Gaza, as adversaries.  When couched in these terms, liberals can comfortably demand evenhandedness in treatment of the two sides, recognise that each has hurt the other, that each has suffered at the other’s hands, and that each ought to be willing to make painful sacrifices and compromise in the interests of peace.  Explicitly recognising that Israel is the coloniser and the occupier would undermine such conceits and raise the spectre of recognising the Palestinians’ right to resist.

By asking whether Israel ‘can achieve peace’, the question further demands that the respondent accept that peace is Israel’s objective, that it is something Israel aspires to and is exerting itself to bring to fruition.  There’s no point in reciting the litany of offers of peace, including recent ones from Hamas, that Israel has ignored or rebuffed.  I think it will suffice to mention the siege imposed on the suffering people of Gaza and the shower of white phosphorous and whatnot that Israel treated them to earlier this year with the explicit aim of annihilating Hamas and the ‘infrastructure of terror’, like schools, hospitals, prisons, government buildings, warehouses, factories, farms, orchards, mosques, houses, power plants, and so forth, to evidence just how hard Israel is trying to achieve peace with Hamas.

Harris writes that American Jews, ‘understand that if peace with the Palestinians is to be achieved, it will require two states’.  Now understand is another one of those ‘factive verbs’, like recognise, that presuppose the truth of the content of the that clause.  So if American Jews understand that ‘it will require two states’, then it must really require two states.  Apart from deploying a slimy rhetorical trick, therefore, Harris reveals his own preconception and ‘doctrinal axe to grind’.

Four questions bear on the respondents’ view of the two state ‘solution’.  The first, an old standby, but a casualty of last year’s cull, returns this year.

6. In the current situation, do you favor or oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state?

This year, 49% favoured a Palestinian state, three percentage points more than in 2007 and below the average of 52% over the eight years they were asked, while 41% opposed it, two points less than 2007 and just over the 40% average.

But as I wrote in 2007, the last time they asked,

What’s interesting about the question, however, is not the numbers, but the wording, ‘In the current situation, do you favor or oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state?’ Without additional information, the answers to such a question don’t tell us very much. Some respondents may favour establishment of a Palestinian state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Others may favour a series of disconnected bantustans whose borders, airspace, port, communications infrastructure, etc. are under Israeli control. Some of those opposed may prefer a single democratic secular state throughout historic Palestine, or the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza to Israel and the expulsion of the remaining non Jewish population. So it is not at all obvious that favouring establishment of a Palestinian state is necessarily a progressive view, or that opposing it is not. In fact, even if it were safe to assume that all respondents understood the question the same way, as something like the Geneva initiative, with a return to more or less the Green Line and a ‘symbolic’ gesture towards justice for the refugees, that is a long way from progressive. As I’ve discussed before, it entails accepting that ethnic cleansing and terrorism are acceptable nation building strategies, that territory can legitimately be acquired by force of arms, that refugees deserve permanent exile and statelessness, that it’s ok to privilege one group over another on the basis of religion or ethnicity, and other positions that are prima facie anti progressive.

To understand what the opinions about the establishment of a Palestinian state mean, I would have liked to see answers to questions about the refugee issue, about Israel’s status as a Jewish state, whether a Jewish state can be democratic, the status of the Israeli Arabs, ‘targetted assassinations’, checkpoints, the boycott of Hamas and the siege of Gaza, the bypass roads, the future of the ‘large settlement blocs’, (In 2005, the last time they asked the question, 36% opposed dismantling any West Bank settlements, the highest ever and up seven points from 29% in 2004.), the construction and route of the wall (In 2006, 73% supported ‘the Israeli government's decision to build the security fence separating Israelis and Palestinians?’, up from 69% the previous year.), among other things. In particular, I’m interested in the proportion of US Jews who subscribe to views that I would define as Zionist, that is, who believe that a state that privileges Jews is acceptable. But I wasn’t really expecting them to ask that. I think it is clear from the phrasing of other questions, the ‘destruction of Israel’ question in particular, that those framing these questions simply assumed that it went without saying that all respondents do hold such views. It would be frightening, but not really surprising, if they are right.

Question 7 has been part of the AJC questionnaire since 2000, apart from last year.

7. In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction?

This year, 37% said yes, one point less than in 2007 and below the nine year average of 40%, while 58% said no, above the average of 55%, and 6% weren’t sure.

As I wrote last time,

Like most of the questions in the AJC survey, there are problems with the wording. To begin with, it rests on the assumption that ‘a permanent peace with the Palestinians’ is conceivable without a capital of the Palestinian state, whatever its configuration, in al Quds. And that already betrays further assumptions – that ‘the Palestinians’ means the PA; that anyone purporting to represent ‘the Palestinians’ could negotiate sovereignty over Jerusalem, that ‘peace’ means simply the end of all resistance. Furthermore, the question assumes that it would be a compromise for Israel to relinquish sovereignty, when not even the US recognises Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem. Anyway, the answers to this question do shed a little light on the Palestinian state question.

Specifically, if all of the 41% who oppose establishing a Palestinian state and all of the 1% who weren’t sure and all of the 9% whose response the AJC has not tabulated, presumably refusals, also said Israel should not compromise on Jerusalem, that means that a minimum of 7% of those who favour a Palestinian state want that state to exclude any part of Jerusalem, suggesting that the Palestinian state they envision falls short even of the miserly Arab peace plan or the Geneva initiative. 

The next question, which the questionnaire included from 2001 until 2005 and again this year, asks,

8. As part of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to dismantle all, some, or none of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank?

As with the Jerusalem question, this one rests on the assumption that there is some conceivable permanent resolution to ‘the conflict’ that would leave Jewish settlers in occupation of a portion of the sliver of territory east of the Green Line.  This is of course consistent with the principal partition proposals, which envisage land swaps to compensate the Palestinian state for the land Israel would annex in the West Bank for the facts on the ground.

A significant proportion – 37% — want to retain all of the settlements.  To be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of these actually believe that position is consistent with establishing a Palestinian state.  It’s virtually inconceivable that any of the 8% of American Jews who told the AJC that they were prepared to countenance dismantling all of the settlements were among the 41% who oppose partition.  Another 52% said it would be ok to dismantle some of them.  That’s a larger proportion than the 49% who said they favoured establishing a Palestinian state, so even if I’m wrong about the ones who would dismantle all the settlements, there are still some in the sample who think Israel should be willing to dismantle some settlements even though they oppose partition.  Which makes you wonder why they want to dismantle settlements.  I can only speculate that they may harbour some resentment towards some particular group of settlers, perhaps because they’re too secular, or not secular enough?

One of the ironies of positions that Israel should retain control of all of Jerusalem, or all or some of the settlements, is the assumption that after the UN allocated 55% of historic Palestine to the Jewish state in the 1947 partition resolution and after Zionist forces captured and annexed an additional 23% in 1948, it is Israel that would be compromising if it were to relinquish control of part of what it annexed in 1967.  Those who, like Nobel Peace Laureate Barak Obama, say, ‘Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided’, are comfortable with Israel conquering territory by force and annexing it permanently. 

The last question about the partition agreement is brand new,

12. Should the Palestinians be required or not be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement?

On the face of it, you’d think this was evidence of Harris’s assertion that the AJC has ‘no desire to withhold "inconvenient" results’, because this requirement, supported by a whopping 94% of the sample, is a true showstopper.  And yet, when he writes in his blog

The most decisive response: 94 percent of those surveyed believe that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state in the context of a final peace agreement.

you’d think he didn’t even realise that this requirement was a serious, probably insuperable, obstacle to any kind of agreement with the Palestinians.  Not that it’s contentious or anything – it was, after all, one of the principal demands of The Quartet whose Road Map peace plan has enjoyed so much success.  Furthermore, as I’ve argued before, partition of Palestine actually presupposes the existence of a Jewish state because ultimately the whole point of creating a separate Palestinian state is to preserve the Jewish character and Jewish majority in Israel. 

But to recognise Israel as a Jewish state implies accepting the legitimacy of Israel’s foundation as such, which required the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous inhabitants to establish the required sustainable Jewish majority, effectively relinquishing the refugees’ right to return.  It is certainly not out of the question that some unrepresentative quisling Palestinian administration, like the current Abbas regime, might be prepared to humiliate itself even further by selling out the refugees and the Palestinian Israelis to retain control of some rump Palestinian state and the lucrative perks that go with being the big fish in a small pond.  But that’s not a position widely favoured among Palestinians.

The 29 September AJC press release announcing the results of the survey quotes Harris,

“AJC surveys have consistently shown that American Jews yearn for Arab-Israeli peace, and back compromise through negotiations, but remain skeptical of Arab intentions, and disheartened by a tough environment in the Middle East, especially with Arab refusal to recognize Israel’s very legitimacy,” Harris said.

In reality, the questions in this year’s survey, as in previous iterations’, provide evidence for only one of these assertions – that American Jews are sceptical of Arab intentions.  If you assume with Harris that establishing a Palestinian state has some prospect of delivering peace in historic Palestine, then all we can say with any confidence is that less than half of American Jews favour that, and most of them wouldn’t even go that far if it doesn’t involve the humiliation of the Palestinians by forcing them to accept the legitimacy of their dispossession.   And many don’t yearn for peace enough to support withdrawing from the territory conquered in 1967.  I think what he means is that they yearn for ‘calm’, the media euphemism for a situation where Israel persists in building settlements, restricting movement, demolishing homes, shooting protesters, committing extrajudicial executions notwithstanding ‘collateral damage’ and Palestinians don’t react.  Their yearning for peace extends to Israeli Jews.  And if that’s what he thinks, he may be right, but the AJC survey hasn’t asked any questions that would support it.

Only 8% of the sample, the lowest proportion in the six years they’ve asked, were prepared to compromise to the extent of dismantling all of the settlements, which can only mean that they reject withdrawal behind the Green Line.  Over the six years they’ve asked, the average proportion was 11%, peaking at 15% in 2005.  As in each of eight previous surveys, a majority won’t even consider ‘compromise’ on part of Jerusalem, with an average of 55% rejecting it.  And hardly any of them would compromise on recognition.  So it’s not at all obvious how he arrives at his conclusion that American Jews ‘back compromise’. 

In 2000, 59% said they supported the Israeli government’s handling of ‘negotiations with the Arabs’.  Between 2001 and 2004, majorities of between 60% and 63% agreed ‘Regardless of their individual views on the peace negotiations with the Arabs, American Jews should support the policies of the duly elected government of Israel’.  Then in 2007, 55% said they thought ‘negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cannot lead to peace in the foreseeable future’.  And that’s all we know about American Jews’ views on negotiations from the Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion.  On this basis, I couldn’t claim that ‘AJC surveys have consistently shown that American Jews back compromise through negotiations’ without significant embarrassment.

On the whole it would appear that David Harris is unconcerned with presenting data that somehow undergirds his preconceived views.  His preconceived views are independent of and impervious to his own data.

Moving right along, the survey goes on to ask three questions about the most pressing issue for American Jews, for Israel, and well, for everybody,

13. Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue?

A plurality of 49% approve, 35% disapprove, and 15% aren’t sure.  As usual, there’s a hidden agenda.  To answer the question requires respondents to accept that there is some Iran nuclear issue.  The Iran nuclear issue is not that Iran has built uranium enrichment facilities, including one it has just announced it is constructing near Qom, in strict accordance with their obligations as a party to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, that the IAEA and the US ‘intelligence’ community can find no evidence of any intention to develop a nuclear weapons capability despite the most intrusive inspection regime anywhere and despite imminent threats of attack by both the global and the regional superpowers.  No.  That wouldn’t be it.  The Iran nuclear issue is that the fanatical mullahs, determined to exterminate all Jews even at the price of their own obliteration, are on the verge of producing two deliverable nuclear warheads with the inadequately enriched uranium it has stockpiled.  It goes without saying there is no India nuclear issue and no Pakistan nuclear issue, at least not yet, much less an Israel nuclear issue or a US, UK, or France nuclear issue.

In their yearning for peace, only 56% support ‘the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons’ (Q14) and just 66% support Israel doing so (Q15).

The next two questions seem designed to undermine confidence that the respondents possess any grasp on reality whatsoever.

16. Do you think that anti-Semitism around the world is currently a very serious problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem at all?

Ninety-nine percent said they thought antisemitism was a problem, 56% a ‘Very Serious problem’.  Now there are cases in the US of nazi hooligans attacking Jews, and doubtless of landlords refusing tenants and employers refusing jobs to Jews because they were Jewish.  But I doubt if there’s been a case of the police harassing anyone because they were Jewish in living memory.  Nor of denying admission to university or any of the other manifestations of racism.

According to the Anti Defamation League’s 2008 annual audit of antisemitic incidents, they had declined for the fourth consecutive year, and the vast majority of incidents involved remarks or graffiti.  And the ADL has a very low threshold for perceiving antisemitism.  They were impelled, for example, to write to Garry Trudeau on 1 June to complain about the last frame of this 31 May cartoon.

I assume, without much confidence, that Abraham Foxman’s noxious ADL excludes expressions of antizionism and mild criticisms of Israel from their enumeration of ‘incidents’, as Britain’s Community Security Trust claims to in its reports on antisemitic incidents.  Of the 1352 incidents their audit enumerates, 37 involved actual assault, that is, if we accept the ADL’s claims that these were unambiguously racially motivated, about 1 assault for every 162,000 Jews in the US. 

And as if that weren’t ample evidence of profound and delusory paranoia,

17. Looking ahead over the next several years, do you think that anti-Semitism around the world will increase greatly, increase somewhat, remain the same, decrease somewhat, or decrease greatly?

Only 10% expect antisemitism to decrease, while 45% anticipate an increase, 15% greatly, despite the ADL’s claims that it is declining.

The survey then asked about party affiliation and religious denomination.

18. In politics as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent?

Sixteen percent of the sample claimed to be Republican, 53% Democrat, 30% Independent, and 1% Not sure.    

19. Do you think of yourself as . . .
Orthodox        9
Conservative   24
Reconstructionist        2
Reform            27
Just Jewish      36
Not sure          1

Without the original dataset, you can’t crosstabulate these with any other variables, so I don’t find them especially interesting.  In any case, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, crosstabulating variables with a sample of 800 results in very high margins of error.  Or to put it another way, you have to be less confident that the estimate really represents the population it’s supposed to.

For example, Harris claims,

The gap in perspectives between self-identified Orthodox and Reform Jews is astonishingly wide. For instance, while 59 percent of Reform Jews approve of the Obama administration's handling of U.S.-Israel relations, among Orthodox Jews the figure drops to only 14 percent.

Only 9% of the sample – 72 respondents – said they were Orthodox, and they are supposed to represent the views of all the Orthodox Jews in the US.  I suspect that the margin of error – the confidence that 14% of American Orthodox Jews have the same views as those ten respondents – is higher than the estimate itself.  If Harris were honest, he would mention something about that.  If you think crosstabulations like this are of any interest, the press release reports some.

Not to leave anything out,

20. How important would you say being Jewish is in your own life?

Although I don’t really know what the question might have meant to respondents, 84% said it was important, a slim majority of 51%, very important.  Those estimates are lower than the averages over the six years they’ve asked of 88% and 55%, respectively.  The 15% who said it wasn’t very important represent the highest level so far.

Finally, what struck Harris as ‘The saddest figure’,

21. How close do you feel to Israel?

As I wrote in 2007,

...without knowing respondents’ motivations – without asking why – we don’t know whether those who feel ‘very distant’ from Israel oppose any discussion of dismantling settlements and favour immediate forcible transfer of all Palestinians from ‘Eretz Yisra’el’, or object to the existence of a Jewish ethnocracy...

Encouragingly, the proportion who felt Very distant remained steady at 8% since last year, although the 22% who felt fairly distant represented a one point decline from 2008, but 30% distant is well above the ten year average of 26%.

It might be kind of interesting to go through Harris’s blog post in detail, refuting every claim, but I’ll confine myself to two more points.  The 29 September AJC press release announcing the results of the survey quotes Harris,

While ideologically-driven Jewish groups of the left and right assert that a majority of American Jews share their views on the Middle East, it just isn't true. The AJC survey results reveal very clearly that, in fact, the bulk of American Jews hold largely centrist views, at times tilting to the left, at other times tilting to the right. [my emphasis]

It may provide some insight into what he means by ‘left’ and ‘right’ to consider a couple of paragraphs from his blog post.

The problem for the right: A plurality of American Jews, by a margin of 49 to 41 percent, supports the establishment of a Palestinian state in the current situation.

In addition, a majority of American Jews, 54 percent, supports the Obama administration's handling of U.S.-Israel relations. 32 percent do not.

Clearly, there are American Jewish organisations, like the Zionist Organisation of America, so far to the right that Obama’s insincere and ineffectual pleas for negotiations offend them. 

If Harris reckons a 49% plurality of American Jews supporting some kind of Palestinian state is a problem for the right, he must consider it some kind of left wing position.  Since, as I mentioned before, the main rationale for partition of Palestine is to preserve Israel as a Jewish state, it takes a long stretch to perceive supporting it as left.

In any case, the AJC survey doesn’t really provide scope for respondents to express unambiguously left wing positions.  They could, of course, say they felt very distant from Israel, but we can’t be sure of the extent to which that category may be polluted by ZOA supporters and their ilk.  Surely the positions majorities adopted on Jerusalem and recognition of Israel and settlement construction and bombing Iran and, perhaps above all, the Arabs’ goal, do not betoken centrism – these are extreme positions.  Beyond that, insofar as the sample truly represents the views of American Jews, they are deeply confused if they think, as some do, that a Palestinian state that accommodates Jewish settlements and foregoes all of Jerusalem is a recipe for peace.  And whether the paranoia about antisemitism is clinical, or arises from their uncritical consumption of ADL fear mongering, it strongly suggests we accept their opinions cum grano salis.

Harris expresses contempt for the ‘ideologically-driven Jewish groups of the left and right’ and the polls they’ve conducted.  I surmise that ‘the ideologically-driven Jewish groups of the left’ must be J Street, whose National Survey of American Jews I analysed in April.  And the only group I know of to the right of the AJC, if you can imagine such a thing, and has conducted any recent polling is the ADL. 

I have to concur with Harris that those are pretty ordinary, ideologically driven and rather bodgy polls.  The ADL survey results only appear to be available in the form of a little slideshow.  The J Street poll is full of loaded and complex questions that by and large can only tell you anything about those who give affirmative responses. 

But it takes considerable chutzpah to criticise others’ polls for the same things your own is guilty of.  Anyway, it transpires that, to the extent that they are comparable, the results are not that different.  For example,

·         54% of the AJC sample approved of Obama’s handling of US-Israel relations, as did 72% of the J Street sample;  55% pf the ADL sample approved Obama’s handing of ‘US policy towards Israel and the Palestinian Territories’.
·         62% of the ADL respondents were as optimistic as last year about prospects for peace; like 65% in the AJC poll, well within the margin of error.
·         49% of the AJC sample support establishing a Palestinian state, like 61% of the ADL sample and 76% of J Street’s.
·         74% of the ADL sample approved the ‘military action that Israel took in Gaza’, as did 75% of the J Street sample.
·         66% in the ADL survey and 69% in the J Street poll thought the ‘military action’ was not disproportionate.
·         49% of the AJC sample, 55% of the ADL sample, and 40% of the J Street sample support a US attack on Iran.
·         58% of the ADL sample and 66% of the AJC sample support an Israeli attack on Iran.

The results of at least two of the three surveys are close on several measures, and where they depart, it’s not always in the expected direction.  So if the ADL is spinning results to support a right wing agenda, how does it come to pass that the ADL reports a much larger proportion than the AJC supporting the purportedly left wing position on establishing a Palestinian state?  Or that the ‘left wing’ J Street admitted that more of their respondents supported Israel’s pogrom in Gaza than even among the ADL’s?

So it would seem that Harris talks out the wrong orifice.  He is prepared to make assertions about what his own poll found that are inconsistent with the very results he’s presenting and promoting.  He lampoons those he seems to perceive as his competitors for the same gaffes he makes even as he does so.  He seems to imagine that he can compensate for his ignorance and hypocrisy with arrogance and bluster.

And guess what!  A few weeks back, the American Jewish Committee boasted,

David Harris, AJC’s executive director, has been elected a Senior Associate Member of Oxford University’s St. Antony’s College for the academic year 2009-10. He will also be a Member of the college’s European Studies Centre.

St. Antony’s is one of the postgraduate colleges of Oxford University and specializes in international relations, economics, politics, and modern history. It is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading institutions in its fields of specialization.

“This is a big feather in our cap,” said Richard Sideman, AJC’s president. “It is yet another sign of the esteem in which our staff is held around the world. For AJC, it means, above all, precious exposure to the world of thinkers and ideas affecting the environment in which we work. This, in turn, will further strengthen the agency’s ability to fulfill its ambitious mission.”

Needless to say, my first thought on reading of this was, ‘What an embarrassment for the fifth greatest university in the Oxford needs its very own Dershowitz’.  But it turns out that a Senior Associate Member is not such a big deal.

Senior Associate Members are normally visitors to the College and the University for periods of up to a year who are pursing [sic] a specific research objective of their own.  They or their academic work must be known to the Governing Body Fellow who is acting as their Sponsor.

If St Antony’s know about the honour they’ve proffered to the AJC, they’re not doing a song and dance about it, because Harris’s name appears nowhere on their site.