How to beat ISIS–no, really

Bankrupt ISIS–that’s the way to beat it. Not mass airstrikes, not ISIS picsanctions–and this intelligent article by an economist who actually lives in the Mideast doesn’t even mention the idea of large-scale Western troop commitments, because that’s so far off the subject of effective means. Her solution is a long-term one of ending the Syrian civil war and providing jobs for the region’s poor to counter the appeal of radicalism.

I started reading “Rebel Economy” while I was in Egypt, and I found it a good source of deep, original thinking. Economist Farah Halime used to crank out a column once a week or so–now her output is more sporadic, but it’s always work examining and thinking about.

And this is a good place for me to pound my usual drum–the most ch26important story in Egypt, and in most of the Middle East, is the economy. Not the Muslim Brotherhood, not the military dictatorship, certainly not Israel. And the second most important story is the oppression of women. I wish I could say I don’t understand why journalists don’t write more about these issues, but it’s no great mystery–journalists find economics boring, and they have more important things to do than write about women–like quoting the latest government communique or following up on the latest scandal. So they’re missing the boat–and leaving it for me to write books about.

Israel opening mission in Abu Dhabi–part of Mideast realignment

The future Israeli diplomatic mission in Abu Dhabi probably won’t have a

Mideast Syrian Turkmens Glance

Russian plane shot down, Russia moving anti-aircraft missiles into Syria

flag flying in front of it, but it does underline how Israel fits into the regionwide realignment that’s in progress. Israel has had quiet relations with a number of moderate Arab regimes, and it sees common enemies in Iran and ISIS. And there’s a link to tensions between Turkey and Russia over Syria.

I discussed all this a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh.

AP finally reports about Abbas rejection of Israeli peace map

It took a full day and a bit of shaming, but The Associated Press has finally run a story about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of Israel’s peace map in 2008.

Besides me and those who read these posts, the AP is the only outlet that has reported how Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a map with the borders of a Palestinian state–the equivalent of all of the West Bank, all of Gaza, a link between the two and the Arab sections of Jerusalem. The AP article quotes Abbas without comment, that he couldn’t sign a map he didn’t have a chance to examine. He never met Olmert again.

His excuse is nonsense, of course. For decades the Palestinians have been Abbas mapdemanding a state according to he cease-fire lines after the 1948-49 war, known erroneously as the 1967 borders. Of course Abbas understood the map, and he demonstrated that by racing back to his office and drawing his recollection of what he had just seen. Here’s a photograph of that map, as obtained by The Tower magazine.

So the question remains–why did it take a full day and some outside pressure to get a single, solitary news outlet to write this story. It is, of course, the largest news agency in the world–and the same one that banned me from reporting it when I discovered it in March 2009.

My bosses at The Associated Press claimed then that it’s not news, there was no such offer, and Abbas did not reject it. If you needed any further proof that all three of those contentions are and were ridiculous, now you have it, in the voice of Mahmoud Abbas himself.

And now the AP has reported it from the mouth of the man who rejected it.

This should feel good, but it doesn’t.

There are too many negative factors coming into play here. It’s clear that most of the problem is the fact that AP and all the others out there are short-staffed. Whereas just a few years ago a senior editor would be on duty and jump all over a story like this, writing a news alert, a bulletin, a quick story, an expanded story and possibly an analysis within seconds, minutes and hours after the broadcast–now there just aren’t enough reporters and editors to do the job right.

And no doubt the AP would have missed this one altogether if the size and scope of the story had not been brought forcefully to their attention from the outside.

But what throws this imaginary, good-ol’-days scenario of proper news coverage of last night’s earth-shattering interview into question is the fact that there were plenty of staffers around in 2009 when the AP blocked my original story, which quoted chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat saying, on the record, much the same as Abbas did last night. Then it wasn’t a matter of staffing. It was a matter of ideology.

By then it was clear to the West that Israel was the strong side, the aggressor, the cruel occupier. The Palestinians were the weak side, the occupied, the victims. A story that did not fit into that little box, like the Palestinians turning down a reasonable offer of a state of their own,  just couldn’t see the light of day. By then it was an automatic response.

It continues to this day. So there’s no reason to rejoice.

Still no reporting on Abbas admitting he turned down Israeli offer of Palestinian state

We’re well into the news second cycle after the first acknowledgment by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that in 2008, he refused to sign a map offering his people a state in the equivalent of all of the West Bank, all of Gaza, a link between the two, and the Arab parts of Jerusalem–and still no coverage of this development in world media.

If you search for it, all you’ll find are this and this. The first one is my blog from last night. The second is a post by The Tower, which picked up my blog. That article includes this photo of the map Abbas himself drew after hurrying back to his office in the wake of refusing to Abbas mapinitial the map Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered him. You can see clearly Abbas’s recollection of the territories Israel would have given the Palestinians in exchange for settlement blocs. So clearly, he understood it, though he told his interviewer that he didn’t sign it because he’s not an expert with maps.

So the question becomes–why is no one else interested in this? So far I’ve determined that a leading news agency was aware of the program on Israel TV Channel 10 last night, someone watched it, but no story was written. I’m told one of the news agencies will put out a story at some point today. Make no mistake–this disclosure warranted news bulletin treatment in real time.

There is, of course, a pattern here. I discovered the offer with the map in March 2009, four months after it was offered. Israel had wanted to keep it quiet, since releasing it would have made it the starting point of the next round of Palestinian demands. Yet my bosses at The Associated Press banned me from writing about it, claiming that it’s not news, there was no such offer, and Abbas did not reject it. If you needed any further proof that all three of those contentions are and were ridiculous, now you have it, in the voice of Mahmoud Abbas himself.

So why isn’t this news? I suspect it’s a combination of short-staffed news bureaus and the classic idea that if Abbas turned it down, it’s because the Israelis were wrong. They always are. That’s not news.

And that’s why I left journalism.


Palestinian leader confirms he turned down Israeli peace offer

For the first time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has confirmed on the record that Israel’s prime minster offered him a map of the borders of a Palestinian state in 2008, and he turned it down–and I’m still waiting for a word of this to appear on an international news agency or website.

It’s the 2008 peace proposal that I discovered in March 2009, but my employers, The Associated Press, banned me from writing about it. A version of the map is here.

Israeli TV’s Channel 10 just wrapped up a three-part series about the peace talks in 2000 and 2008. In an on-camera interview, Abbas confirmed, in Arabic, that he was offered a map with borders of a Palestinian the equivalent to all of the West Bank (with some exchanges of territory), all of Gaza and a land link between the two. He refused to initial it, he said, because he’s not an expert on maps (though the territorial demands were always the most prominent of Palestinian requirements) and anyway, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was under investigation for corruption and would leave office five months later.

I submit that Olmert’s domestic problems were none of his business, and if I were the leader of a nation that wanted a state, and I were offered a map giving me everything I want–I’d sign it and say, “let’s work out  the details.” In fact, that’s what Israel did in 1947, when the UN partitioned the British mandatory areas and gave some to Israel–without that “let’s work out the details” part–Israel didn’t even have that option. Its leaders simply accepted the partition as offered, and then fought off Arab armies trying to destroy the Jewish state before it could get started.

But what I think is less important than whether this important disclosure gets any publicity. It’s been several hours since the program aired. I would have expected a news alert and a bulletin as soon as these words escaped Abbas’s lips, and then a full story, and then an analysis. I’m still waiting for any of that, but I’m not holding my breath. If they wouldn’t let me write about it in real time, claiming Israel never made such an offer, why would they write about it now, six years later? It doesn’t fit the accepted pattern that Israel is the intransigent side and the Palestinians are always the helpless victims.

BDS: The world’s best failure, and what to do about it

To: BDS Board of Directors


Subject: My resignation

Dear friends,
Despite all our efforts over the past decade to persuade people, companies, universities, nations, artists and others to boycott Israel, pull investments and impose sanctions, we have failed abysmally. Therefore, please accept my resignation.


From: BDS Board of Directors

Subject: Your resignation

It is true that BDS has failed miserably in its stated goals, but it has, under your direction, become a world force in anti-Israel activity. Some even credit us with starting a new wave of anti-Semitism. We don’t know how you did it, but keep doing it. Your resignation is hereby rejected.

The mythical CEO is wrong. Despite facts to the contrary, BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions against Israel) is a success. The Board of Directors is also wrong. The CEO didn’t do it.

We Jews did. By overreaction that borders on mass hysteria, we have helped create an imaginary monster that threatens our health and safety.

First, here are some facts:

EU trade risingIn the 10 years since BDS began its campaign, Israel’s exports to the US have increased 43 percent. Exports to Europe have risen by 33 percent. That’s despite the world economic downturn of 2009, when trade dropped about 20 percent, through no fault of BDS. Also, exports to Asia have tripled since 2010.

That’s the complete failure of the “B” part, boycott.

About divestment, the “D” part: News sites gave joyous headlines to reports that direct investment in Israel dropped precipitously in 2014, to $6.4 billion from $11.8 billion the year before. But it’s a small sample of acquisitions, and experts say the difference has more to do with interest rates than most other factors. A more accurate measure is foreign investment in Israeli stocks and bonds. That jumped from $1.8 billion in 2013 to $9.8 billion last year—a fivefold increase.

That leaves the “S” for sanctions, and that’s the easy one—despite a decade of BDS badgering, there aren’t any. Europe has begun labeling products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but that’s not a ban on buying them. In fact, probably 90 percent of EU consumers couldn’t care less where a product is made, as long as it’s a good product. And the tiny number of people who would care about such a label would be the same fanatics who wouldn’t buy Israeli products in the first place.

Here’s a good example of how we relate to BDS with unwarranted hysteria.

An Israeli newspaper screamed in a headline referring to the EU, “Boycott could cost NIS Only 0.2 percent2b.” First of all, there’s no boycott, and more importantly, the story itself points out that even if it does cost two billion shekels—about $500 million—that amounts to all of 2.5 percent of Israel’s exports, and 0.2 percent of Israel’s gross domestic product. Two tenths of one percent. A burr under a saddle. A mosquito bite on an elephant. So the headline should have read, “Boycott would cost only 0.2 percent of GDP.” Despite the Israeli government’s overheated reaction, the labeling affair will have even less an effect—and whatever effect it has will be amplified by that very reaction.

But what about all the performers who cancel their trips to Israel because of BDS threats? The truth is, there’s not much more room for visiting performers, because so many come here. In recent months we’ve hosted Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, Bobby McFarren, Chris Brown, Gloria Gaynor, Bon Jovi, top classical musicians, and pop stars I’ve never heard of because I’m too old. They come because Israel offers sold-out halls and outdoor parks, top facilities, and a good payday. BDS is irrelevant to them. Also, BDS took a resounding slapdown last summer when it tried and failed to get a Spanish event to ban Jewish singer Matisyahu from the US.

So that leaves the main question: Why are Jews so afraid of BDS, when it’s such a failure?

It’s mostly because of the noise its supporters make on North American university campuses. No doubt their demonstrations are unpleasant, and Jewish students feel genuinely threatened—but figures show that pro-Israel campus groups are growing faster than they are, and anti-Semitic events are actually dropping. Israel’s North American supporters still outnumber Palestinian backers in all age groups by about three to one, according to the latest Gallup poll. So Jews both in Israel and in North America are really in good shape. It should be comforting to know that the loud disrupters represent little of substance and nothing of justice.

Yet we’re making BDS worse by empowering the haters with overheated reactions.

fergusonBDSJews voiced outrage when BDSers marched down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after the riots there. But most people who saw the photos linking Israel with American racial violence would either cringe in disgust or laugh in derision. That kind of behavior shows what the BDS fanatics really are—obsessive Israel haters and anti-Semites who are prepared to pervert any cause to their own ends.

So let’s stop helping them. Here’s a suggestion:

There is nothing to gain from debating fanatics who make up lies. Let’s shame them instead.

We should ask them, “Why are you so concerned about a conflict that’s thousands of miles away, when there are so many problems to solve right here?”

Our response is the Jewish concept of “Tikun Olam,” repairing a broken world. Hundreds of Jewish congregations across North America have broad Tikun Olam projects to help the needy in their cities. A quick search turns up Anne Frank House, a shelter for homeless people in Washington, DC. A daily bread program, feeding the hungry in Baltimore. Volunteer tutors in Memphis. Food collection and distribution in New York housing projects. A project to feed the homeless in Toronto. All sponsored by synagogues, and there are many, many more.

So you answer BDS with a question: “This is what we’re doing. What are you doing?”

The key is to put BDS in its place, first of all in our own heads. They are just the latest fringe group of haters, blown up out of all proportion by social media and our over-the-top response. It is inconceivable that we would allow a few violent protesters to break up one of our events and watch an Israeli official or speaker hustled from the room for “safety.” In that context, we’re the ones with the rights.

From now on, then, we must deal with BDS from our actual position of strength and confidence, not weakness and fear.

—   —   —

MARK LAVIE has been covering the Mideast since 1972. His book, “Broken Spring,” sets the record straight about Arab Spring and Mideast reporting.

After Paris–use intelligence to deal with ISIS

That’s both kinds of intelligence–military intelligence and the kind between our ears. That’s what I told

host P.J. Maloney on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh a few minutes ago. It’s natural to want to hit back at ISIS after atrocities like the one in Paris on Friday, in Beirut the day before and, some say, the Russian plane crash in Egypt’s Sinai (though I still doubt that was an attack). But military action in Syria and Iraq won’t stop extremist Muslim attacks in the West. ISIS isn’t built like that. It will be harder–but the West has to get inside the local cells and leadership, wherever they are, and stop the attacks as they’re being planned. Bombing and other forms of military intervention will be counterproductive. I explain it all in four minutes of radio time here.