An extraordinary claim

I read slowly. I subscribe to the London Review of Books. I'm currently reading the 10 April edition. On the bus this morning, I was reading a review by Henry Siegman of two books about the Israeli settlements in the Occupied lands. The review is a sharp indictment of the settlement movement, and the wider Occupation policies of the Israeli state.

About half-way through came this extraordinary claim:
the driving force behind the settlements is a small religious-nationalist group, whose members are widely considered the most savvy, well connected and effective political operators in Israel. Their ideology combines an intense form of religious messianism with an extreme nationalism that has far more in common with the religious and ethnocentric nationalism of the Serbian Orthodox militias of Mladic and Karadzic than with any Jewish values I am familiar with. That Sharon and some of his settler friends were virtually the only politicians in the West (other than Serbia’s Slavic supporters) who opposed military measures to prevent Serbian ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo was not an accident.
As a lifelong opponent of Ariel Sharon and even more so of the religious-national movement with which he has sometimes been uneasily allied, I have no wish to defend him. But this seems to me an example of an anti-Zionist so deeply enmeshed in hostility towards Israel's leaders that any criticism will stick.

Let's take a look, in this week when arch-cleanser Radovan Karadžić has finally been arrested, at Serbian ethnic cleansing. First, Bosnia, where ethnic cleansing took place mainly between 1992 and 1995 (that is, more or less exactly coinciding with the Rabin years in Israel, when Sharon was in the political wilderness). The first significant action by "politicians in the West" took place as war clouds gathered: the 1991 arms embargo, which was a great boost to the Serbian forces who had inherited most of the Yugoslav national army's arsenal, and a great threat to the future victims of ethnic cleansing, who were unable to defend themselves and thus left, essentially, at the mercy of "politicians in the West". Politicians in the West then stood by during the Foča massacre and the Prijedor massacre before UN troops were committed: to defend the international airport. The rest of the story is essentially the story of Western politicians' utter inactivity: a refusal to name what was happening as genocide in order to avoid the legal and moral responsibility to act, and literally standing by while massacre after massacre occurred.

What was the position of Western politicians? Some Western politicians, like Bob Dole, called for action. The majority of the Bush I clique American politicians, epitomised by James Baker, Lawrence Eagleberger, Dick Cheney, Brent Snowcroft and Colin Powell, opted for a "realist" response: doing nothing, shifting responsibility to Europe. Samantha Power has dubbed the Bush policy as a policy of disapproval: disapprove, but do nothing. In Baker's memorable words, America "did not have a dog in this fight".

Clinton, who won the Democratic Party nomination for president during the period of ethnic cleansing, called for action. It was only after his election at the end of '92 that intervention became politically possible. But despite some American politicians (notably Dole, Frank McCloskey, Al Gore and Joe Biden, as well as Madeline Albright), calling for action to finally be taken, the majority of Republicans and Democrats denounced them as war-mongers.

Thirteen months into the war, well over a hundred thousand Bosnians massacred, Clinton finally sent Carter-era hack Warren Christopher to Europe to persuade the Europeans not to actually act but to lift the arms embargo so the victims of cleansing could defend themselves. He came back having changed his mind, and the Bush I policy of disapproval and inactivity continued for months, a continuity signalled by Colin Powell remaining in post. Warren Christopher even claimed the Muslims were themselves responsible for their own genocide. The official line was: this is a tragic civil war, there's nothing we can do.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, the David Owen led European diplomatic initiative was signally ineffective. The UN came up with a tepid "safe areas" plan over a year into the slaughter (de facto accepting genocide outside the safe areas), but failed to send anywhere enough troops to defend them. France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark were the only European countries to actively support this. Mitterand, under pressure from both left and right-wing politicians to act more decisively, accepted a minimal UN presence. Only when Chirac took over in 1995 did France take a more robust position. Italy opposed intervention from the start. Greece not only opposed intervention but supported Milosovic. Helmut Kohl, to the intense irritation of Major and Mitterand, took a stronger line - but Germany's official military neutrality stopped it from actually committing troops.

What was Britain's position? Under John Major and Douglas Hurd, Britain took an even more anti-interventionist "realist" position than Bush I. As Melanie McDonagh puts it:
In the Bosnian war, Britain supported Milosevic. It dealt with him as a peace broker - from the start, it had set its face against the idea that the Bosnian government should be supported in fighting to prevent the dismemberment of its territory. And by maintaining the arms embargo, Britain consolidated the weakness of the Bosnian army vis-a-vis the Serbs. Indeed, as a forthcoming book by the Cambridge academic Brendan Simms makes clear, Britain was decidedly lukewarm about the establishment of the international war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia, lest it make Milosevic that bit less likely to strike a deal.
Or, as Ed Vulliamy, a witness to genocide has written:
It was David Owen whose endless, futile maps and plans bought the Serbs time and which seem so grimly absurd with hindsight. The enduring image of the bungled history of Unprofor will be of General Michael Rose supping on suckling pig with the butcher Ratko Mladic.
It was the British who objected to food-drops over Srebrenica, lest the Serbs see them as the thin end of the wedge of air strikes. But: 'The Bosnian Serbs need to realise they are not going to gain what they have grabbed by force,' proclaimed Major's Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd in May 1993. And yet Hurd was the leading critic of any attempt to check the Serbs by military means. At his side, always, was Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee.
It took the Srebrenica Massacre and the shame of the failure to stop the Rwandan genocide before the West finally actually intervened in August 1995, with a bombing campaign that halted the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia within weeks.

So, so much for Israeli exceptionalism.

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SnoopyTheGoon said…
I wouldn't prejudge the book on technicality, but this:

"the driving force behind the settlements is a small religious-nationalist group, whose members are widely considered the most savvy, well connected and effective political operators in Israel."

is also a load of crap. Historically all Israeli governments, left or right supported the settlement movement. It is only later that most of support shifted rightward.
bob said…
Thanks Snoop. Actually, though, the review says the books say more or less what you are saying: that all parties (in fact, the books and review go further: all sections of Israeli society!!) have been complicit in the settlements, and that in recent years the tail has started to wag the tail, with the most extreme section of the Settler movement dictating terms to Israel's governments.

Although lots of Israeli anti-Settler statements are quoted in the review (from Ha'aretz to officials in the Olmert government), the review portrays an Israel totally in the grip of the Settler movement.

The books, incidentally, are:

* The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-77 by Gershom Gorenberg

* Lords of the Land: The War over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar
Anonymous said…
Actually, on top of everything else that article is plain wrong. It's true that Sharon (as Foreign Minister) opposed an independent Macedonia but it's not true that he supported the Serb nationalists. In fact, the Likud government provided considerable humanitarian aid in the Balkans:

"Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon said today that an independent Kosovo could become a base for Islamic terrorism and further undermine stability in the Balkans.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly distanced himself from Mr. Sharon, saying the Foreign Minister was expressing his personal views.


"Four Israeli Air Force planes left Tel Aviv today loaded with aid for a vast refugee camp set up north of Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. Israel has already sent a 70-member medical team to help set up a hospital in the camp."


Anonymous said…
Linked to this on Engage, Bob.
Anonymous said…
Siegman is weak in his Zionist history. Ethnic nationalism was at the core of the revisionist Zionism of Jabotinsky and others. While secular in orientation, the revisionists believed all of Israel, Judea, Samaria and Jordan should be included in the new Jewish state. This is fairly common knowledge for anyone who has even spent a bit of time studying the development of the Zionist movement, the schisms within said movement, etc.

As far as Kosovo, there were (and are) people on the Israeli right who felt the Kosovo Liberation Army was an Islamist terrorist organization.

Also, there a plenty of folks in settlements who do not conform to the stereotype provided by Siegman. A friend of mine lives in one just outside of Jerusalem. He and most of his neighbors are on the left. As Snoopy mentioned, governments of left and right have supported the settlements.

Here’s an article critical of Siegman from CAMERA:

Falsehoods that Distort and Denigrate

Perhaps the greatest repudiation of Siegman’s credibility as an "expert" are his repeated errors.

A forgiving observer might excuse blunders in predicting events—for example his reference, not long before Israel announced its intention to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, to an Israeli "plan" to make sure "Gaza remain[s] in Israeli hands" (International Herald Tribune, Sept. 25, 2002); or his insistence after Ariel Sharon announced the Gaza disengagement plan that the Prime Minister "has probably come around to the position that he must kill the idea" (Council on Foreign Relations interview, Oct. 7, 2004); or his claim, only nine days before Hezbollah’s July 12, 2006 cross-border kidnapping raid—an attack undoubtedly spurred in part by the success of a similar Hezbollah raid in 2000—that Israel’s release of hundreds of Arab prisoners in exchange for the Israelis captured in 2000 "did not cause Israel in the long run any harm" (National Public Radio interview, July 3, 2006). After all, the Middle East is a volatile region, and accurate predictions are not always so easy.

But there is no such excuse for Siegman’s all too common errors of fact.

• One egregious falsehood, corrected by the Los Angeles Times on July 16, 2006, was Siegman’s outrageous allegation that "since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza last year ... Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli artillery and airstrikes virtually on a daily basis." (June 18, 2006, "Israelis killing Palestinians, and vice versa: Is ‘moral equivalency’ really so wrong?")

The newspaper ran a correction after CAMERA provided editors with statistics refuting the writer’s claim. Even according to figures published by the partisan Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), on most days since the Israeli withdrawal no Palestinians at all were killed—neither Palestinian civilians, nor Palestinian combatants; not by Israeli airstrikes or artillery and not by Israeli gunfire; not even in "work accidents" or internecine Palestinian fighting (all of which seem to be included in the PRCS figures). The specific incidents described by Siegman (Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli artillery or airstrikes), then, were extremely infrequent.

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