Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hamas - another failed Palestinian-Arab organisation

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 465, May 14, 2017, by Hillel Frisch*:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Mounting evidence suggests that Hamas, viewed as either a terrorist movement or as a government, is one more failed Palestinian organization. It is recognized as such by Gaza’s inhabitants, who no longer show up to their rallies. Its lack of popularity is one reason for the small concessions contained in its recently published document. More concessions will come as popular pressure mounts. Israel should be patient, as time is on its side.

Hamas rally, photo by Soman, via Wikipedia Commons

As dovish Israelis seek signs that Hamas is about to modify its bigoted anti-Semitic covenant, evidence is accumulating that Hamas is yet another failed Palestinian organization on a long list of similar organizations. Their collective failure adds up to the failure of the Palestinian national movement as a whole.

The signposts of failure are easy to spot. The Hamas movement – which, since it took over Gaza in 2007, is now the Hamas government – has failed in both its major objectives. The first of these is muqawama, or “resistance” (in reality, the quest to destroy the State of Israel). The second is the governing of Gaza.

Few terrorist movements in the world were touted as so major and threatening a military force as Hamas, especially by Israeli opinion makers, military analysts, and the official military establishment. Hamas’s strategy of muqawama became a buzzword to denote a long-term threat to Israel’s security. Overlooked was the fact that muqawama was a strategy employed long ago by Fatah, its rival, with motley results.

In retrospect, the Hamas resistance was even less successful. Fatah and the PLO, which the faction once controlled, recognized the weakness of long-term terrorist attrition when Arafat gave the green light to the Oslo process. He signed on to a provisional Palestinian autonomy in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank after having assassinated numerous advocates of that route. His reversion to mass terrorism during the second intifada, while initially successful, proved to be a disaster from which the local population has yet to recover. The Oslo process took place 29 years after its official inception.

Hamas, though presumed to be more radical than Fatah and to have longer staying power because of its religious ardor, has proved less resilient than its competitor. Following the third round of the Israel-Hamas conflict in the summer of 2014, missile launchings and tunnel attacks on Israel have come to an almost complete halt. (In the years preceding the 2014 round, Hamas and the other factions launched on average 1,500 rockets a year. Since the summer of 2014, that number has dwindled to 25 a year, and they are almost always launched by salafi movements that chafe under Hamas rule.) This dramatic slowdown seems to indicate that “resistance”, while remaining a rhetorical device, is no longer Hamas strategy in the field.

Hamas has also failed to provide for the welfare of Gaza inhabitants. In the summer of 2014, Hamas agreed to participate in a unity government headed by President Abbas’s Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah even though Hamas was excluded from the government’s ministerial portfolios. This was the first indication since its takeover of Gaza in 2007 that Hamas recognizes its failure as a government.

The Gaza public, of course, realized Hamas’s failure much sooner. Years earlier, the Hamas government failed to solve Gaza’s pressing electrical blackouts, which created sewage and other ecological problems connected to the need for continuous electrical supply. A movement touted for having provided welfare services in the past is now devoting less than 2% of its expenditures, by its own account, to health and welfare. It has imposed additional taxes on top of the 14% value added tax Israel collects on imports and then transfers, according to an international agreement, to the rival PA. The concrete purchased with this income has gone into building offensive tunnels into Israel rather than solving Gaza’s critical housing problem. On top of all this, Hamas is unable to pay its civil servants their full salaries on a regular basis.

Since 2014, the inhabitants of Gaza have cast their vote against Hamas. They do not do this at the ballot box. (Neither the PA nor Hamas seeks to continue the democratic process that led to the 2007 civil war, which continues to this day.) Instead, they vote with their feet. When Hamas tries to bring them out to rallies, they stay home.

This can be clearly seen in photos of rallies commemorating the creation of Hamas. I found one photo, for example, that had been taken in 2009 in Gaza’s largest square. It is a long shot capturing tens of thousands of demonstrators. A photo taken at the Hamas commemoration ceremony in 2016, however – two years after the punishing bout in the summer of 2014 – looks very different. Hamas had moved the festivities to a narrow street, and the photo was taken close up and at street level. Instead of tens of thousands, one can hardly count one-tenth of that.

This development can be easily corroborated with “Google trends.” A search of the word “Hamas”, written in Arabic, on Palestinian sites shows a decline in the use of the term over the years. The findings are even more dramatic in Arabic searches for “Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades”, the fighting arm of the Hamas movement.

Little wonder, then, that Hamas has come up with a document that agrees, at least on tactical grounds, to a Palestinian state in Gaza and Judea and Samaria/the West Bank. The group is attempting to assuage Abbas and the Arab states that back him. Pressure from Gaza’s inhabitants is probably one reason for this move. Given Hamas’s failure as both a government and a terrorist movement, there will likely be more popular pressure to come, with further concessions down the line.

Israel must be patient. Time is on its side.

*Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

The Soviet-Palestinian Lie

From Gatestone, October 16, 2016, by Judith Bergman:

"The PLO was dreamt up by the KGB, which had a penchant for 'liberation' organizations." — Ion Mihai Pacepa, former chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Romania.
"First, the KGB destroyed the official records of Arafat's birth in Cairo, and replaced them with fictitious documents saying that he had been born in Jerusalem and was therefore a Palestinian by birth." — Ion Mihai Pacepa.
"[T]he Islamic world was a waiting petri dish in which we could nurture a virulent strain of America-hatred, grown from the bacterium of Marxist-Leninist thought. Islamic anti-Semitism ran deep... We had only to keep repeating our themes -- that the United States and Israel were 'fascist, imperial-Zionist countries' bankrolled by rich Jews." — Yuri Andropov, former KGB chairman.
As early as 1965, the USSR had formally proposed in the UN a resolution that would condemn Zionism as colonialism and racism. Although the Soviets did not succeed in their first attempt, the UN turned out to be an overwhelmingly grateful recipient of Soviet bigotry and propaganda; in November 1975, Resolution 3379 condemning Zionism as "a form of racism and racial discrimination" was finally passed.

The recent discovery that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), was a KGB spy in Damascus in 1983, was discarded by many in the mainstream media as a "historical curiosity" -- except that the news inconveniently came out at the time that President Vladimir Putin was trying to organize new talks between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Predictably, the Palestinian Authority immediately dismissed the news. Fatah official Nabil Shaath denied that Abbas was ever a KGB operative, and called the claim a "smear campaign."

The discovery, far from being a "historical curiosity," is an aspect of one of many pieces in the puzzle of the origins of 20th and 21st century Islamic terrorism. Those origins are almost always obfuscated and obscured in ill-concealed attempts at presenting a particular narrative about the causes of contemporary terrorism, while decrying all and any evidence to the contrary as "conspiracy theories."

There is nothing conspiratorial about the latest revelation. It comes from a document in the Mitrokhin archives at the Churchill Archives Center at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Vasily Mitrokhin was a former senior officer of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence service, who was later demoted to KGB archivist. At immense risk to his own life, he spent 12 years diligently copying secret KGB files that would not otherwise have become available to the public (the KGB foreign intelligence archives remain sealed from the public, despite the demise of the Soviet Union). When Mitrokhin defected from the Russia in 1992, he brought the copied files with him to the UK. The declassified parts of the Mitrokhin archives were brought to the public eye in the writings of Cambridge professor Christopher Andrew, who co-wrote The Mitrokhin Archive (published in two volumes) together with the Soviet defector. Mitrokhin's archives led, among other things, to the discovery of many KGB spies in the West and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the history of the full extent of the KGB's influence and disinformation operations is not nearly as well-known as it should be, considering the immense influence that the KGB wielded on international affairs. The KGB conducted hostile operations against NATO as a whole, against democratic dissent within the Soviet bloc, and set in motion subversive events in Latin America and the Middle East, which resonate to this day.

The KGB, furthermore, was an extremely active player in the creation of so-called liberation movements in Latin America and in the Middle East, movements that went on to engage in lethal terrorism -- as documented in, among other places, The Mitrokhin Archive, as well as in the books and writings of Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking Communist official to defect from the former Soviet bloc.

Pacepa was chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Romania and a personal advisor to Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu before he defected to the United States in 1978. Pacepa worked with the CIA to bring down communism for more than 10 years; the agency described his cooperation as "an important and unique contribution to the United States."

In a 2004 interview, FrontPage Magazine, Pacepa said:

The PLO was dreamt up by the KGB, which had a penchant for "liberation" organizations. There was the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, created by the KGB in 1964 with help from Ernesto "Che" Guevara ... the KGB also created the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which carried out numerous bombing attacks... In 1964 the first PLO Council, consisting of 422 Palestinian representatives handpicked by the KGB, approved the Palestinian National Charter -- a document that had been drafted in Moscow. The Palestinian National Covenant and the Palestinian Constitution were also born in Moscow, with the help of Ahmed Shuqairy, a KGB influence agent who became the first PLO chairman...

In the Wall Street Journal, Pacepa explained how the KGB built up Arafat -- or in current parlance, how they constructed a narrative for him:

He was an Egyptian bourgeois turned into a devoted Marxist by KGB foreign intelligence. The KGB had trained him at its Balashikha special-operations school east of Moscow and in the mid-1960s decided to groom him as the future PLO leader. First, the KGB destroyed the official records of Arafat's birth in Cairo, and replaced them with fictitious documents saying that he had been born in Jerusalem and was therefore a Palestinian by birth.

As the late historian Robert S. Wistrich wrote in A Lethal Obsession, the Six-Day War unleashed a protracted, intensive campaign on the part of the Soviet Union to delegitimize Israel and the movement for Jewish self-determination, known as Zionism. This was done in order to rectify the damage to the Soviet Union's prestige after Israel defeated its Arab allies:

After 1967, the USSR began to flood the world with a constant flow of anti-Zionist propaganda... Only the Nazis in their twelve years of power had ever succeeded in producing such a sustained flow of fabricated libels as an instrument of their domestic and foreign policy.

For this the USSR employed a host of Nazi trigger words to describe the Israeli defeat of the Arab 1967 aggression, several of which are still employed on the Western left today when it comes to Israel, such as "practitioners of genocide", "racists", "concentration camps", and "Herrenvolk."

Furthermore, the USSR engaged in an international smearing campaign in the Arab world. In 1972, the Soviet Union, launched operation "SIG" (Sionistskiye Gosudarstva, or "Zionist Governments"), with the purpose of portraying the United States as an "arrogant and haughty Jewish fiefdom financed by Jewish money and run by Jewish politicians, whose aim was to subordinate the entire Islamic world". Some 4,000 agents were sent from the Soviet Bloc into the Islamic world, armed with thousands of copies of the old czarist Russian forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. According to KGB chairman Yuri Andropov:

the Islamic world was a waiting petri dish in which we could nurture a virulent strain of America-hatred, grown from the bacterium of Marxist-Leninist thought. Islamic anti-Semitism ran deep... We had only to keep repeating our themes — that the United States and Israel were "fascist, imperial-Zionist countries" bankrolled by rich Jews. Islam was obsessed with preventing the infidels' occupation of its territory, and it would be highly receptive to our characterization of the U.S. Congress as a rapacious Zionist body aiming to turn the world into a Jewish fiefdom.

As early as 1965, the USSR had formally proposed in the UN a resolution that would condemn Zionism as colonialism and racism. Although the Soviets did not succeed in their first attempt, the UN turned out to be an overwhelmingly grateful recipient of Soviet bigotry and propaganda; in November 1975, Resolution 3379 condemning Zionism as "a form of racism and racial discrimination' was finally passed. This followed nearly a decade of diligent Soviet propaganda directed at the Third World, depicting Israel as a Trojan Horse for Western imperialism and racism. This campaign was designed to build support for Soviet foreign policy in Africa and the Middle East. Another tactic was constantly to draw visual and verbal comparisons in the Soviet media between Israel and South Africa (this is the origin of the canard of "Israeli apartheid").

Not only the Third World, but also the Western Left ate all this Soviet propaganda raw. The latter continues to disseminate large parts of it to this day. In fact, slandering someone, whoever they are, as racist, became one of the Left's primary weapons against those with whom it disagrees.

Part of the Soviet tactics in isolating Israel was making the PLO look "respectable." According to Pacepa, this task was left to Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu, who had achieved the unlikely propaganda feat of portraying the ruthless Romanian police state to the West as a "moderate" Communist country. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, as was ultimately revealed in the 1989 trial against Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, which ended with their executions.

Yasser Arafat (left) with Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu during a visit in Bucharest in 1974. (Image source: Romanian National History Museum)

Pacepa wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
In March 1978, I secretly brought Arafat to Bucharest for final instructions on how to behave in Washington. "You simply have to keep on pretending that you'll break with terrorism and that you'll recognize Israel -- over, and over, and over," Ceausescu told him [Arafat]... Ceausescu was euphoric over the prospect that both Arafat and he might be able to snag a Nobel Peace Prize with their fake displays of the olive branch.
... Ceausescu failed to get his Nobel Peace Prize. But in 1994 Arafat got his -- all because he continued to play the role we had given him to perfection. He had transformed his terrorist PLO into a government-in-exile (the Palestinian Authority), always pretending to call a halt to Palestinian terrorism while letting it continue unabated. Two years after signing the Oslo Accords, the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists had risen by 73%.

In his book, Red Horizons, Pacepa related what Arafat said at a meeting he had with him at PLO headquarters in Beirut around the time that Ceausescu was trying to make the PLO "respectable":
I am a revolutionary. I have dedicated my whole life to the Palestinian cause and the destruction of Israel. I will not change or compromise. I will not agree with anything that recognizes Israel as a state. Never... But I am always willing to make the West think that I want what Brother Ceausescu wants me to do.
The propaganda neatly paved the way for terrorism, Pacepa explained in National Review.

General Aleksandr Sakharovsky, who created Communist Romania's intelligence structure and then rose to head up all of Soviet Russia's foreign intelligence, often lectured me:
"In today's world, when nuclear arms have made military force obsolete, terrorism should become our main weapon."
The Soviet general was not joking. In 1969 alone, there were 82 hijackings of planes worldwide. According to Pacepa, most of those hijackings were committed by the PLO or affiliated groups, all supported by the KGB. In 1971, when Pacepa visited Sakharovsky at his Lubyanka (KGB headquarters) office, the general boasted: "Airplane hijacking is my own invention". Al Qaeda used airplane hijackings on September 11, when they used planes to blow up buildings.

So where does Mahmoud Abbas fit into all this? In 1982, Mahmoud Abbas studied in Moscow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. (In 1983 he went on to become a KGB spy). There he wrote his thesis, published in Arabic as The Other Side: The Secret Relations between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement. In it, he denied the existence of gas chambers in the concentration camps, and questioned the number of Holocaust victims by calling the six million Jews who had been killed "a fantastic lie," while simultaneously blaming the Holocaust on the Jews themselves. His thesis supervisor was Yevgeny Primakov, who later went on to become foreign minister of Russia. Even after he had finished his thesis, Abbas maintained close ties with the Soviet leadership, the military and members of security services. In January 1989, he was appointed co-chairman of the Palestinian-Soviet (and then Russian-Palestinian) Working Committee on the Middle East.

When the current leader of the Palestinian Arabs used to be an acolyte of the KGB -- whose machinations have claimed the lives of thousands of people in the Middle East alone -- this cannot be discarded as a "historical curiosity," even if contemporary opinion-makers would prefer to ignore it by viewing it as such.

Although Pacepa and Mitrokhin sounded their warnings many years ago, few people bothered to listen to them. They should.

Saudi Journalist To Palestinian Leaders: You Have Missed Too Many Opportunities To Resolve The Conflict With Israel; It Is Time For Palestinian Unity, Peace With Israel

From MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6941, May 23, 2017:

Mash'al Al-Sudairi 
(Source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, May 21, 2017)

In his May 21, 2017 column in the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily, Saudi journalist Mash'al Al-Sudairi criticized the Palestinian leaders and stated that for many years they had missed numerous diplomatic opportunities to resolve the conflict with Israel, and that they had at the same time lost Palestinian lands on the West Bank and wreaked destruction on Gaza.

Appealing to newly appointed Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya, Al-Sudairi wrote that Hamas's agreement to a Palestinian state in the June 4, 1967 boundaries implied recognition of Israel. Therefore, he said, Hamas should cease its violence against Israel, drop the slogan "Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea," and launch an initiative for achieving Palestinian unity. He added that a country's size was not necessarily an indication of its capacity for economic prosperity and success, and that it was high time for young Palestinians to live normal lives like other young people worldwide. The entire Palestinian people, he added, deserved to "enjoy life under peaceful conditions."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

PA Deception

From PMW Bulletin, May 23, 2017, by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik:

Who should the world believe?

What Abbas told Trump today,
or what Palestinian leaders tell their people regularly?

Abbas to Trump in Bethlehem: 
"... two-state solution along the borders of 1967, the state of Palestine with its capital as East Jerusalem living alongside Israel in peace and security."

PLO leader: 
"Everyone knows our goal is to liberate all of the land of Palestine"
PA Chairman Abbas and other PA leaders often reiterate to foreign audiences that they desire peace with Israel and that they support and want to implement the two-state solution. Today Mahmoud Abbas told US President Donald Trump:
"Once again, we reassert to you our positions of accepting the two-state solution along the borders of 1967, the state of Palestine with its capital as East Jerusalem living alongside Israel in peace and security."
[The New York Times, May 23, 2017]
However this is contradicted by numerous statements by PA leaders to their own people and even to Palestinian children. PA religious leaders have even taught recognizing Israel is prohibited by Islam.

Most recently Khaled Mismar, member of the
Palestinian National Council, the legislative body of the PLO, stated that "everyone knows" that despite agreeing to less, the real Palestinian goal is to eventually take all of Israel:

Palestinian National Council member Khaled Mismar: "The revolution broke out in 1965 (i.e., first Fatah terror attack) in order to liberate all of the land of Palestine (i.e., all of Israel), but circumstances didn't permit it... We have fought, and we have withstood everything, all the plots, but we will realize our goal. True, we agreed to receive only 20 or 22 percent of Palestine (i.e., West Bank and Gaza Strip), but a right is never lost as long as someone demands it. Every one of us knows what our goal is (i.e., to 'liberate all of Palestine')."  [Official PA TV, Topic of the Day, May 15, 2017]
 Another Palestinian leader also recently stressed that Palestinians do not intend to change their ideology. All of Israel belongs to Palestinians and is part of "Palestine."

The general coordinator of the PLO's National Committee for Commemorating Nakba Day stated in a speech that: "We will not relinquish one grain of sand from Jaffa, Haifa, Lod or Ramle" - all of which are Israeli cities.
General Coordinator of PLO's National Committee for Commemorating Nakba Day, Muhammad Alyan: "We want to say regarding what happened in 1948: No matter how great the losses and sacrifices may be, we will not relinquish one grain of sand from Jaffa, Haifa, Lod, or Ramle (i.e., all Israeli cities). Let this occupation do what it wants., We are staying here, rooted like the olive tree, fighting, and defending [the homeland]."
[Official PA TV, broadcast for Nakba Day, May 15, 2017]
Palestinian Media Watch has exposed similar statements by other Palestinian leaders, such as Fatah Central Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad who said that he is "certain" that a Palestinian state in the West Bank will lead to "Palestine" erasing Israel - just like North Vietnam took South Vietnam.

The PA continuously shows its definition of "Palestine" through its use of maps that include all of the State of Israel in "Palestine," for example on plaques of honor or logos , in posts on Facebook describing locations in Israel as situated in "Palestine," or in statements describing "Palestine" as stretching "from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea."

PA religious leaders teach Palestinians that Islamic law forbids them to "relinquish even one grain of sand of Palestine," and PA TV's children's program The Best Home reiterates the message that "all of Palestine will return to us"  and that its size equals the PA areas and Israel combined.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How news outlets spread misinformation, lies and propaganda

Don't Ignore the Cultural Boycott of Israel
by Lana Melman*, May 2017

Nearly 50 artists, including Roger Waters, Thurston Moore, Julie Christie and Mike Leigh, recently signed an open letter to the English rock band Radiohead, urging them to cancel their upcoming concert in Israel in support of the cultural boycott against the Jewish state.

In addition to the anti-Israel "regulars," some new artists joined the signatories this time, including the hip-hop group Young Fathers.

The open letter was widely reported on in both music and mainstream publications, including Pitchfork, the Washington Times, Vulture and Yahoo News.

These reports, with rare exception, quote heavily from the letter’s false accusations about Israeli apartheid and human rights violations, without any semblance of a counter-argument to these charges.

In reality, Israel is an open, liberal democracy that guarantees equal rights to all its citizens. Hundreds of artists who visit or perform there every year speak glowingly about the Jewish state, despite the harassment they receive by the likes of Roger Waters and mostly ill-intended grassroots groups.
In its article, Pitchfork, a popular music magazine that bills itself “as the most trusted name in music,” created the illusion of a wave of support for a cultural boycott of Israel by musicians and artists.

But the story conveniently neglected to mention even a handful of the high-profile artists who have rejected the call to boycott Israel -- including Madonna, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Bon Jovi, Claire Danes, Helen Mirren, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Pitbull, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Ricky Martin, Joss Stone, Carlos Santana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Quentin Tarantino, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Seal, Kevin Costner, Cyndi Lauper, Yanni, DJ Tiesto, Moby, Elton John and Bob Dylan -- to name but a few.

The Pitchfork article also failed to balance the negative comments by the letter's signatories with even a smattering of positive descriptions, such as one by Madonna, calling Israel “the spiritual center of the world,” or by Jay Leno, who describes Israel as “this one little paradise in the Middle East where freedom reigns.” They also failed to mention Paul McCartney, who kept his concert date in Israel despite threats against him.

Just two days after the circulation of the most recent open letter against Israel, the chief pop–music critic at the New York Times interviewed Roger Waters, as part of its TimesTalks series of conversations with 21st-century “talents and thinkers.”

In the question and answer session, Waters admitted that the open letter fell on deaf ears, and that Radiohead remained committed to performing in Israel in July.

Those same publications that breathlessly reported about the boycott letter were inexcusably quiet about that announcement. 

When news outlets publicize calls for the cultural boycott of Israel and fail to provide balance, they are not sharing a news story; instead, they are helping to spread misinformation, lies and propaganda.

*Lana Melman is the CEO of Liberate Art Inc., a leading expert and commentator on the cultural boycott effort against Israel, a Hollywood liaison, and a professional speaker and writer.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The progressive right to self invention

This is apparently a universal, not particularly Jewish, topic. Except that the Jewish tradition is a leading example of those mentioned in the conclusion, that have survived for millennia and have every hope of enduring for millennia still.

I’ve extracted the following from two essays* by David P. Goldman (also known as “Spengler”). The excerpts distil, for me, the essence of Goldman’s thesis, which, as usual, I find most illuminating and thought provoking. 

In these essays, he conflates the concept of a search for meaning with that of inventing one’s own identity, which could be a distraction from my primary focus: on the notion on self-invention. When Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, refers to the notion of "man's search for meaning", I believe that he meant for us to search for, and discover, the bedrock meaning inherent to our individual being, as a result of our heritage or circumstance.  I don’t think, as Goldman apparently does, that Frankl was referring to a search for a meaning that is ultimately invented by the individual, in isolation. 

So here goes, in Goldman’s words, with the focus on the notion of self-invention…

...One big idea unifies all of Nietzsche's [intellectual] offspring -- the Marxists, the Freudians, the French Existentialists, the critical theorists, the Deconstructionists, the queer theorists -- and that is the right to self-invention. That is the cruellest hoax ever perpetrated on human beings, for we are not clever or strong enough to reinvent ourselves. To the extent we succeed, we become monsters.

In the Judeo-Christian past, human beings had a destiny… People knew that their impulses must be subordinated to the requirements of God and nature. 

Since the French Revolution, progressives have sought to overthrow the regime of obligation in favour of the right to self-definition...

If you choose your identity at whim, your life has no meaning. That is true in the most parsimonious sense of the word: if you can arbitrarily decide to be a gender-fluid bestialist as well as a F to M to F trans-entity, then your life can "mean" any number of different things, all of them equally arbitrary.

…In the brave new progressive world, life means whatever you want it to mean. It is up to you to invent a meaning that suits you, which you may change whenever it occurs to you to do so.

… If you need to invent [meaning] for yourself, you must first reject what previous generations handed down to you…

There is something perverse in [inventing] the meaning of life. It implies that we don't like our lives and want to [invent] something different. If we don't like living to begin with, we are in deep trouble.

…People have a good reason to look at life cross-eyed, because it contains a glaring flaw - that we are going to die, and we probably will become old and sick and frail before we do so. All the bric-a-brac we accumulate during our lifetimes will accrue to other people, if it doesn't go right into the trash, and all the little touches of self-improvement we added to our personality will disappear - the golf stance, the macrame skills, the ability to play the ukulele and the familiarity with the filmography of Sam Pekinpah.

…[to invent our own identity] is the great pastime of the past century's intellectuals. Jean-Paul Sartre, the sage and eventual self-caricature of Existentialism, instructed us that man's existence precedes his essence, and therefore can invent his own essence more or less as he pleases. That was a silly argument, but enormously influential.

Sartre reacted to the advice of Martin Heidegger (the German existentialist from whom Jean-Paul Sartre cribbed most of his metaphysics). Heidegger told us that our "being" really was being-unto-death, for our life would end, and therefore is shaped by how we deal with the certainty of death. (Franz Kafka put the same thing better: "The meaning of life is that it ends.") Heidegger (1889-1976) thought that to be "authentic" mean to submerge ourselves into the specific conditions of our time, which for him meant joining the Nazi party. That didn't work out too well, and after the war it became every existentialist for himself. Everyone had the chance to invent his own identity according to taste.

Few of us actually read Sartre (and most of us who do regret it), and even fewer read the impenetrable Heidegger… But most of us remain the intellectual slaves of 20th century existentialism notwithstanding.

We want to invent our own identities, which implies doing something unique.

…Most people who make heroic efforts at originality learn eventually that they are destined for no such thing. If they are lucky, they content themselves with … small joys, for example tenure at a university.

But no destiny is more depressing than that of the artist who truly manages to invent a new style and achieve recognition for it. ...The inventor of a truly new style has cut himself off from the past, and will in turn be cut off from the future by the next entrant who invents a unique and individual style. …That is why our image of the artist is a young rebel rather than an elderly sage. If our rebel artists cannot manage to die young, they do the next best thing, namely disappear from public view…

If we set out to invent our own identities, then by definition we must abominate the identities of our parents and our teachers. Our children, should we trouble to bring any into the world, also will abominate ours. 

If self-invention is the path to the meaning of life, it makes the messy job of bearing and raising children a superfluous burden, for we can raise our children by no other means than to teach them contempt for us, both by instruction, and by the example of set in showing contempt to our own parents. 

That is why humanity has found no other way to perpetuate itself than by the continuity of tradition. A life that is worthwhile is one that is worthwhile in all its phases, from youth to old age. 

Of what use are the elderly? In a viable culture they are the transmitters of the accumulated wisdom of the generations. We will take the trouble to have children of our own only when we anticipate that they will respect us in our declining years, not merely because they tolerate us, but because we will have something yet to offer to the young. 

In that case, we do not [invent] the meaning of life. We accept it, rather, as it is handed down to us. 

Tradition by itself is no guarantee of cultural viability. Half of the world's 6,700 languages today are spoken by small tribes in New Guinea, whose rate of extinction is frightful. Traditions perfected over centuries of isolated existence in Neolithic society can disappear in a few years in the clash with modernity. But there are some traditions ...that have survived for millennia and have every hope of enduring for millennia still... 

*To read the original essays in full, see:
The Existential Roots of Trump Derangement Syndrome” in PJ Media, 12 May 2017; and
Why you won't find the meaning of life” in the Asia Times, 11 August 2011.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Entire platoon calls commander who claims he beat Palestinians a 'liar'

From Israel Hayom, 7 May 2017, by Yair Altman:

Spokesman for NGO Breaking the Silence Dean Issacharoff alleges that when ordered to arrest a Palestinian suspect, he beat him while comrades watched

Issacharoff's former commander, comrades and subordinates: We were there, it never happened.

Former members of a platoon in the IDF's Nahal Brigade who served with Dean Issacharoff, spokesman for the nongovernmental organization Breaking the Silence, which publicly and often anonymously criticizes IDF conduct in Judea and Samaria, are furious with their former comrade over public claims that while serving in the army, he beat a Palestinian he had been sent to arrest while his fellow platoon members watched.

Issacharoff made the allegation on camera at an event hosted by Breaking the Silence, a group whose aim is to collect recorded testimonies of IDF misconduct in Judea and Samaria.

Issacharoff 's former platoon comrades went on record calling his "testimony" an outright lie, and are even threatening to sue him for slander.

On Thursday, the Reservists at the Front organization, which is devoted to countering false or distorted narratives about IDF conduct, posted a video on its Facebook page in which 11 former members of Issacharoff 's platoon, as well as company commander Omri Synar, face the camera -- their full names appearing on screen -- and deny his claims. The video went viral, racking up about 270,000 views and thousands of likes and shares. The post was also translated into English.

"When I saw his testimony, I was just astonished," Synar told Israel Hayom.

"I talked to the war room, the command center, and all the soldiers. Maybe there had been something I hadn't seen. No one understood what he was talking about. I'm willing to take any lie detector test. It never happened. It's a completely made-up story," the company commander said.

Issacharoff 's former platoon mates and his former company commander are threatening to sue him for slander and want the Military Advocate General to launch an investigation into his testimony.

"These are serious allegations. He is attacking my good name, and the [good] name of the soldiers," Synar said. "So we'll go on to take legal action against him. Either he's a liar or we're criminals. Either he apologizes and says, 'I lied for one reason or another,' or we'll see him in court."

Chairman of Reservists at the Front, Maj. (ret.) Amit Deri, highlighted the harm caused by Breaking the Silence. "When we visit campuses in the U.S., we hear Breaking the Silence's lies quoted over and over by the biggest anti-Semites and anti-Israel groups. Reservists at the Front will keep on exposing the lies of Breaking the Silence."

Breaking the Silence said sarcastically in response: "These events didn't take place, just like the occupation doesn't exist."

Iran gives $600 million to Hezbollah

From Arutz Sheva, 6/5/17, by Danit Halevy:

Hezbollah has created an independent economy within Lebanon, which includes institutions, education, and businesses - from $600 million worth of Iranian aid, Saudi Arabian newspaper Al-Youm reported on April 25.

The Obama Iran deal provided over $1 billion in cash to Iran, of which $600 million has found its way to Hezbollah

Hezbollah terrorists
Hezbollah terrorists (Reuters)

...the aid was transferred almost completely in hard cash, and is being used for the terror group's institutions and salaries paid to its terrorists and their families...

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Land Broker Handed to PA by B’Tselem and Ta’ayush was Tortured to Death

From, 28 April 2017, by David Israel:

 Nasser Nawaja at the Ofer Military Court, January 24, 2016.
B'Tselem agent, Nasser Nawaja at the Ofer Military Court, January 24, 2016

Ta'ayush agent, Ezra Nawi at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.

The transcript of debriefing of Ezra Nawi, an agent of anti-Zionist NGO Ta’ayush, by an officer at the Yatta branch of the PA Preventive Security, reveals that Nawi was fully cognizant of and even celebrated the terrifying fate of his victims – Arab land brokers who defied the Palestinian Authority and sold land to Jews in Judea and Samaria, Army Radio revealed this week.

Nawi was featured in a January 8, 2015 expose by the Israel’s Chennel 2 investigative news program “Uvda,” where he and B’Tselem agent Nasser Nawaja discussed informing the Palestinian Authority security services about an Arab who intended to sell land to Jews in Judea and Samaria. The sale of Arab land to Jews is punishable by death under Palestinian Authority law.

In the Uvda expose, Nawi offered disturbing details about the inevitable fate of the subject of his conversation with his B’Tselem collaborator.

After the victim, Mohammed Khaled, nicknamed Abu Halil, had been turned over to the Preventive Security agency, Nawi stated, he “now has a direct line to God.”

Nawi later offered, by means of an explanation: “There was kind of an attack [on Khaled] and I’m being blamed a little for having a hand in that. I passed [the case] to the Preventive Security.”

On the Uvda tape, Nawi is bragging about his ties to the PA secret police, which “does what it can to prevent [land sales to Jews]. They catch [the offending land brokers] and kills them. Before it kills them, it beats them a lot. First zubur, then gazanga.”

(The last idiom has been discussed at length in Israeli social media sites, and the consensus is that it was made up by Nawi, and means, first they torture, then they kill. The choice of words has an obvious sexual connotation, although the progression from one to the next is awkward.)

The document exposed by Army Radio offers concrete details about Nawi’s planned campaign against land broker Mohammed Khaled. The Preventive Security debriefing officer notes that “Mohammed Khaled a.k.a. Abu Halil executed land sales to Israelis in the area, in cooperation with his sons Yasser and Akab, through the mediation of a settler named David from the Susya area, in the years 2009-10.”

Khaled died of a stroke following his interrogation in the hands of the Preventive Security, just as Nawi had described it.

The case against Nawi is being processed by the Jerusalem District Prosecutor’s office, which refused to comment on the ongoing investigation.

In addition to his connections with Ta’ayush and B’tselem, Nawi appears to have completed his trifecta of anti-Israeli NGOs with his proven ties to Breaking the Silence. On January 11, 2016, Channel 2 News showed footage of Nawi visiting the offices of BtS, where an employee paid him about $400 in cash, money Channel 2 alleged (with video documentation) he used to pay Arab demonstrators in protests he organized.

Also see "Corrupted by power: the betrayal of human rights by human rights NGOs" in, 15 January 2015.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Putting the onus on the Arabs

From the Middle East Forum, April 24, 2017:

Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Bill Johnson (R-OH)

PHILADELPHIA  Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Bill Johnson (R-OH) will launch the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus (CIVC) on April 27 at 9 a.m. The caucus' goal: to introduce a new U.S. approach to Israel-Palestinian relations.

Cong. Johnson notes that
"Israel is America's closest ally in the Middle East, and the community of nations must accept that Israel has a right to exist – period. This is not negotiable now, nor ever. The Congressional Israel Victory Caucus aims to focus on this precept, and to better inform our colleagues in Congress about daily life in Israel and the present-day conflict. I look forward to co-chairing this very important caucus with Cong. DeSantis."
Cong. DeSantis adds:
"Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East, as we share common national interests and possess similar national values. Israel is not the problem in the Middle East; it is the solution to many of the problems that bedevil the region. American policy must ensure that Israel emerges victorious against those who deny or threaten her existence."
Since 1988, every U.S. administration has invested in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, but nearly three decades of failure strongly suggest that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations need rethinking.

The caucus calls for a new U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ending the emphasis on Israel making "painful concessions" and instead putting the onus on Palestinian [Arab]s – they must give up the goal of destroying Israel and recognize Israel as the Jewish state.

The result will be beneficial for both Israel (which will no longer face a rejectionist enemy) and the Palestinians (who can start to build their own polity, economy, society, and culture).

CIVC builds on ideas promoted by the Middle East Forum that are now gaining support among analysts, in the U.S. Congress, in the executive branch, and in Israel.

"All sides agree that a quarter-century of 'peace process' has failed spectacularly," says Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum. "Perhaps it's time to try something new, namely focusing on the essence of the problem, which is Palestinian rejectionism. Perhaps it's time to give up on post-modern notions of enrichment and return to the proven concept of victory. Perhaps it's time for our ally Israel to win, and time for the Palestinians to have a chance to improve their lives."

Following the launch on Apr. 27, the caucus will begin a campaign to educate members of Congress and staff by hosting briefings and hearings. It will also help launch a parallel caucus in Israel's Knesset at a two-day conference in Jerusalem in July 2017.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Collapse in Support among Israeli Jews for Withdrawal from the West Bank and the Establishment of a Palestinian State

From the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 29 March 2017:

A poll conducted on March 20-21, 2017, by leading Israeli pollster Mina Tzemach for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs found a decrease in support among Israeli Jews for withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Willingness to agree to a withdrawal from the West Bank as part of a peace agreement declined from 60% in 2005 to 36% in 2017. Support for the Clinton Parameters proposed by President Bill Clinton in December 2000 declined from 59% in 2005 to 29% in 2017.

  • 79% say it is important to retain a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. 
  • 83% oppose transferring the Temple Mount to the Palestinians.
  • 88% say that Israel cannot withdraw from territories that border on Ben-Gurion Airport. 
  • 81% say that Israel cannot withdraw from territories bordering the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway (Route 443).
  • 76% want Israel to have full security control of the West Bank. 
  • 81% say it is important that Israel retain sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.
  • 71% say an agreement should be conditioned on Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
The poll indicates that the Israeli public does not agree to Palestinian demands for an independent state on all the territory of the West Bank, including east Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, with its capital in Jerusalem. Therefore, it is difficult to see how any agreement is currently possible.

The poll reflects the suspicions Jewish Israelis have of Palestinian intentions and their awareness of the resulting security dangers, especially in light of the current realities in the region.

The poll results should clarify for those who wish to promote an agreement that if they want to succeed in promoting a peace agreement, the first step needs to be to increase the trust among the Israeli public for any agreement. The only way to achieve this is to attempt to have the Palestinians change their narrative, to stop their one-sided moves against Israel in international forums, and to stop paying salaries to terrorists and lauding them as heroic role models.

Click here to read the full poll.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Iran, Hezbollah, and War Crimes in Syria

From The Tower, Issue 49 (Apr-May 2017), by Shlomo Bolts & Mohammed A. Ghanem:

Iran and its allied militias are tearing through Syria on behalf of Assad’s ruthless regime, leaving corpses and chaos in their wake. Will the world ever hold them to account?

On the night of April 6, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump signaled a radical shift in America’s policy towards the six year-old Syrian civil war by ordering multiple airstrikes against the Al Shayrat airbase near the city of Homs. Two days earlier, the airfield had been used by Bashar al Assad’s regime to launch a horrifying chemical weapons strike against the town of Khan Sheikhnoun, in which more than 80 people were murdered and hundreds more severely wounded. Reportedly, the nerve agent used in that attack was sarin  – giving the lie to former Secretary of State John Kerry’s confident assertion, on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ in July 2014: “With respect to Syria, we struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.”

Whether Trump’s gambit will lead to the removal of Assad remains an open question. The stakes are certainly high, since the American airstrikes were not just a blow against Assad himself, but against his Russian and Iranian allies – the two outside powers that had secured, so went the conventional wisdom, his long-term survival through the brutal conquest of the northern city of Aleppo in December 2016. Five months on, the tyrant looks decidedly more insecure, now that he is in the sights of the world’s most powerful military.

The choice of Al Shayrat as the target for the Tomahawk missile strikes dramatically highlights the regional and global dimensions of the Syrian conflict. Russian military personnel are based there, as part of the extensive military aid which Moscow provides to Assad – they received advance warning from the Pentagon that the strikes were imminent. The base has also served officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Assad’s principle backer, and the shock troops of Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese Shiite proxy. Geographically, the airbase lies in the portion of south-western Syria, extending into Lebanon, under the control of Hezbollah and the IRGC.

Al Shayrat also highlights a too-often ignored aspect of this war, and the focus of this article: that Iran and Hezbollah have carried out grave war crimes and crimes against humanity ­– strongly resembling the crimes committed by the terrorists of the Sunni ISIS – against the Syrian people on Assad’s behalf. These took place, as we document here, not only in Aleppo and its environs, but in locations like Homs City and Tel Kalakh – with Al Shayrat serving as a launchpad for the attacks.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its affiliated foreign fighters have long been the true drivers of Bashar al-Assad’s war against his own people.

When pro-regime forces launched an assault in 2013 on Homs, then the “Capital of the Syrian Revolution,” Hezbollah led the charge. When Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels threatened the capital Damascus in March 2015, Iran-backed foreign fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon beat them back. When the FSA along with Sunni Islamist factions launched an assault near Assad’s heartland of Latakia a few months later, Hezbollah stepped in to counter them. The horrific slaughter in Aleppo late last year was only made possible after the Iran-backed Iraqi Nujaba Movement, which mirrors Hezbollah ideologically and operationally, turned the tide in Assad’s favor.

Given the Assad regime’s history of fanning sectarian tensions and turning a blind eye to extremists, its claim to be running a “secular” model of government was always largely propaganda. But Iran-backed foreign fighters dispense with that pretense completely. As Phillip Smyth notes in “The Shiite Jihad in Syria,” Iran-backed foreign fighters in Syria are recruited with the stated purpose of defending Shiite Muslims and Shiite holy sites. Smyth also details how this recruitment is heavily linked to Shiite religious scholars who preach vilayet e-faqih, the ruling ideology of the Iranian regime, which holds that the only form of legitimate rule is that of Islamic jurists.

Political and operational ties between Iran and its foreign fighters in Syria are quite clear. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated openly in August 2016 that “Hezbollah’s budget—its salaries and expenditures, its food and drink, weapons and missiles—are from the In January 2016, Human Rights Watch reported that the IRGC recruited thousands of Afghanis to “defend Shia sacred sites” in Syria by offering various material incentives. And the spokesman for Nujaba said in 2015, “We are all the followers of [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei and will go and fight to defend the holy sites and Shiites everywhere.”

Furthermore, evidence suggests that Iranian oversight of its proxies in Syria extends to the highest levels. Only two months before Hezbollah began its assault on Homs in 2013, top IRGC commander Hassan Shateri was killed on the Syrian-Lebanese border. IRGC head General Qassem Suleimani appeared on the front lines of the crucial battle for Damascus in early 2015. Both the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War believe that, around this time, the IRGC took direct command of operations by its foreign proxies in Syria, allowing Iran to “implant military leadership over a base of irregular fighters that it organizes, funds, and equips.”...

General Qassem Suleimani is the head of the IRGC’s Quds Force, the primary force supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Photo: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader

Follow the link for a detailed account of many atrocities by Iran

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Middle East: There will be chronic instability for a long period of time.

From the transcript of a 20 March 2017 BICOM briefing with Moshe Ya’alon*:

The Middle East is going through the greatest crisis since the days of Muhammad. We’ve seen the Arab Spring become the Islamic Winter. We have witnessed ongoing internal conflicts, including the Syrian civil war, which has produced more than half a million casualties and has resulted in the majority of the Syrian population becoming refugees, some within the country, others in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Europe.

I don’t see an end to this crisis. There will be chronic instability for a long period of time. I don’t see stable transition from the tyrannical regimes which have been removed. I don’t see a return of the old ideologies of Nasserism and Pan-Arabism. And those who believe that ‘Islam is the solution’ are frustrated.

Three radical Islamist movements

What we see today is a conflict between three different radical Islamist movements each seeking hegemony in the Middle East and beyond.

First, there is the Iranian ideology that seeks to export the “Islamic revolution”. They have reason to feel they have been successful so far. As well as Tehran, the Iranian regime is dominant in Baghdad through the Shi’a government, in Damascus by supporting President Bashar al-Assad, in Beirut through Hezbollah, and in Sana’a [in Yemen] through the Houthis. Iran is challenging the US in the region; we see them firing at American vessels. A grave concern for the region is Iran’s aspiration to develop a military nuclear capability. There will be a delay for about a decade as a result of the 2015 nuclear deal, but Iran will remain a serious challenge for Israel, for the Sunni Arab regimes and for the Western world. Iran’s belligerency is the result of the vacuum created by the former US administration. At present we have little idea of the current US administration’s policy, so Iran will see what it can get away with in the meantime.

The second radical Islamic movement seeking hegemony in the region is the Sunni jihadists; whether it is ISIS or Al-Qaeda, their aim is to impose an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and beyond. ISIS succeeded in establishing Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, Syria, Sinai and Libya. The Sunni jihadists – especially ISIS – have too many enemies in the region. However, the fight against ISIS continues.

The third element is Turkey. President Recep Erdoğan is the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, and seeks to create a neo-Ottoman empire based on the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. He has acted with this goal in mind for a long time. He supported ISIS economically by buying oil because they were willing to kill the Kurds. He allowed trained and experienced jihadists to come from all over the world to join ISIS to fight in Syria and Iraq, and to go back to their own countries, especially to Europe, and we have witnessed the consequences of this.

For a very long time, Erdoğan didn’t just allow illegal immigration, he facilitated it. We are not only talking about refugees. I went to Greece in February 2016 and was briefed on illegal immigration from Turkey to the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. There were more than 800,000 illegal immigrants coming from Turkey to the Greek islands. Most were illegal immigrants from Morocco and Pakistan. There was no war in those places. The Greeks also claimed that Turkey subsidised flights from Marrakech to Istanbul for US$50. My conclusion is that Erdoğan aims to Islamise Europe.

These developments are consequences of the vacuum created by the US. I’m not sure what will come now with the current administration. We must wait and see....

*Ya’alon is a former IDF Chief of Staff, and served as Israel’s Defence Minister from 2013 to 2016 until disagreements with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led to his resignation. Ya’alon has announced the formation of a new political party and his intention to run for Prime Minister. He is likely to have a major role in determining the composition of the next government in Israel. In this briefing he discusses the security challenges facing Israel and the wider region and the prospects for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Other Islamic State: Erdogan’s Vision for Turkey

From The Wall Street Journal, by Daniel Pipes*, April 13, 2017:

The strongman wants to reverse the country’s secularization and cement his authoritarian rule.

The Turkish president at a rally in Istanbul, April 12. 

This Sunday, millions of Turks will vote to endorse or reject constitutional amendments passed in January by Turkey’s Parliament. ... Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan years ago arrogated all the powers that the constitutional changes would bestow on him. He is already lord of all he sees for as long as he wants, whether through democratic means or by fixing election results. If the referendum passes, it will merely prettify that reality.

Consider the nature of Mr. Erdogan’s power. The obsequious prime minister, Binali Yildirim, tirelessly advocates for the constitutional changes that will eliminate his own office, historically the most powerful in the country. Criticism of the almighty president can get even a child thrown into jail. The most tenuous connection to a (possibly staged) coup d’état attempt last July means losing one’s job—or worse. The state routinely jails journalists on the bogus charge of terrorism, and truly independent publications are shuttered.

If Mr. Erdogan has no need for constitutional changes, which amount to a legislative triviality, why does he obsessively chase them? Perhaps as added insurance against ever being hauled into court for his illegal actions. Perhaps to assure a handpicked successor the power to continue his program. Perhaps to flatter his vanity.

Whatever the source of Mr. Erdogan’s compulsion, it greatly damages Turkey’s standing in the world. When his aides were not permitted to rally Turks living in Germany for the constitutional changes, he accused the Germans of “employing Nazi measures.” He also compared the Netherlands to a banana republic after Turkish ministers were prevented from speaking in Rotterdam. This souring of relations has already led to a breakdown in military ties with Germany.

Implicitly threatening street attacks on Europeans hardly helped Mr. Erdogan’s international standing, nor did allowing one of his close allies to call for Turkey to develop its own nuclear weapons. More damaging yet, the leader restarted a civil war with the Kurds in July 2015 as a gambit to win support of a nationalist party in Parliament, a move that has already had dreadful human consequences.

This insistence on doing things his way fits a pattern. Mr. Erdogan could have won visa-free travel for Turks traveling to Europe, but he refused a meaningless change to the definition of terrorism in Turkey’s criminal code. He harms relations with Washington by making the extradition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen a personal fixation. He potentially disrupts relations with 35 countries by setting his intelligence agencies to spy on pro-Gulen Turks. Former Trump adviser Mike Flynn tarnished his image by registering as a foreign agent representing Turkey’s interests in 2016.

Mr. Erdogan’s narcissism increases the price of dictatorship by causing him to make unwarranted mistakes. A once cautious and calculating leader now pursues baubles that only generate enmities. This has damaged the economic growth that fueled his popularity. Mr. Erdogan has turned into a self-parody, with his 1,100-room palace and Ruritanian honor guard.

Where will it end? The president has two apparent objectives. First, Mr. Erdogan seeks to reverse Kemal Atatürk’s westernizing reforms to reinstitute the Ottoman Empire’s Islamic ways. Second, he wants to elevate himself to the grand, ancient Islamic position of caliph, an especially vivid prospect since Islamic State resurrected this long-moribund position in 2014.

Those two ambitions could meld together exactly 100 years after Atatürk abolished the caliphate, either on March 10, 2021 (by the Islamic calendar), or March 4, 2024 (by the Christian calendar). Either of these dates offers a perfect occasion for Mr. Erdogan to undo the handiwork of the secular Atatürk and declare himself caliph of all Muslims.

No one inside Turkey can effectively resist Mr. Erdogan’s enormous ambitions. This leaves him free to continue in his erratic ways, stirring trouble at home and abroad. That is, unless he one day trips, likely over an external crisis. Meantime, Turks and millions of others will pay an increasing price for his vainglorious rule.

*Mr. Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan taking Turkey down the road to an Islamist state in the mould of Iran

From The Wall Street Journal, via The Australian, April 15, 2017 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan at rally in Black Sea city of Giresun yesterday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spent the past few years laying the groundwork for authoritarian rule shaded by Islamism. With tomorrow’s referendum, he seeks to ratify his gains and sweep away the remnants of Turkey’s once-liberal democracy.

Those are the stakes in the referendum, in which voters will decide whether to transform the country’s parliamentary model into a strong executive system with Erdogan at the top.

Polls show a slight advantage for “Yes”, though opinion polling should be taken with a grain of salt amid the paranoia and repression that prevail in Turkey.

Under the proposed changes, Erdogan would be allowed to lead Turkey until 2029. His powers would expand to include declaring emergencies, issuing decrees, and appointing ministers and senior civil servants. The changes would permit Erdogan to check the judicial branch in some instances and simultaneously to head a political party while in office, something the constitution denies him today.

This presidential system would be the culmination of an authoritarian drive Erdogan launched a decade ago, when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) purged a secular establishment that was the main bulwark against Islamism. The AKP has since tightened controls over the internet, brutally suppressed a youth uprising in 2013 and won Turkey the dubious honour of being the world’s foremost jailer of journalists.

Then came last year’s attempted coup, for which Erdogan blames his erstwhile ally Fethullah Gulen, a US-based imam who leads a rival Islamist network. Since the coup, the government has detained, fired or otherwise punished more than 140,000 Turks. In parallel to his domestic repression, Erdogan has intensified his anti-Western rhetoric.

Ankara has accused the Dutch and German governments of “Nazi” practices after they denied permission to pro-Erdogan rallies.

All of this has transpired under Turkey’s current parliamentary system, in which opposition parties can still vie for seats and check at least some of Erdogan’s excesses. If the AKP had more seats, Erdogan could have pushed through the constitutional change without having to bother with a referendum.

If he gets his wish for a stronger executive, the opposition would be further marginalised. This suggests Turkish democracy’s future could be grim no matter the outcome, and the choice facing voters is between shades of black.

If Erdogan loses, he will continue to strengthen the repressive apparatus and whip up nationalism with his gratuitous war on Turkey’s Kurdish minority. But if he wins, the possibility of democratically removing the AKP from power will be even narrower.

The danger for the Middle East, and for Turkey’s NATO allies, is the country could evolve into an Islamist state in the mould of Iran — albeit Sunni, not Shia. Erdogan beguiled many in his early years as an Islamist leader who claimed to respect democratic norms, but the sad irony is his drive for authoritarian power will lead many in the West to the unfortunate conclusion that Islam and democracy are incompatible.