Archive for October, 2009

October 13, 2009

Giving Israel a Reason to Recognize the Armenian Genocide

by Gedalyah Reback

Following the Turkish downgrading of ties with Israel over the last year, some Israelis may try to find opportunity in the diplomatic crisis, rather than try to patch up a decaying relationship. This week, Turkey refused to allow Israeli participation in a NATO training exercise. The United States and Italy abruptly protested and pulled out themselves.

Turkey’s leaders have needed a reason to accommodate their constituents’ animosity toward Israel, whether or not Israel’s policies are justified. The second Gaza War in the last three years, Operation Cast Lead, gave Turkey an opening that it could hit Israel politically, score domestic points with voters, and put the onus on Israel to try and improve the relationship between the two countries.

It also adds to Turkey’s prestige in the Middle East to pressure the Israelis directly while Turkey also mends its ties with Syria. It reasserts Turkey in the coveted position of power-broker and mediator, that the Netanyahu government had undermined by not continuing the Turkish-moderated peace negotiations with Syria started hastily by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The fact, that Olmert initiated those talks with little public support and in an effort to improve his public image after the Second Lebanon War, or that the idea of ceding the Golan is unpopular in general among Israelis, is irrelevant to Turkey.

When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked off a stage he shared with Israeli President Shimon Peres after an impromptu argument at the World Economic Forum about the war in Gaza, many took it as a sign of things to come

But Turkey is still vulnerable politically on certain other points, notably its ultra-sensitivity to acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide and its efforts to join the European Union. Turkey may be taking steps to compensate for these failings. Turkey just signed a deal with Armenia to regularize its diplomatic relationship. Additionally, Turks have started turning toward the east away from the West in the face of such immense resistance to its joining the European Union.

The willingness to use Israel as a political pincushion and thumb a nose at the West (notably the US), despite whatever Turkey’s Foreign Ministry says, is definitely a significant shift away from defensive ties with Israel.

Recognizing the Armenian Genocide if the Relationship Withers

How far they will be able to go with this seems dubious. If Turkey becomes hostile to Israel, Israel would represent a formidable regional opponent that has established ties with NATO and even the Iraqi Kurdish leadership (the son of Iraq’s President, himself Kurdish, attended the AIPAC policy conference in May). Israel would also finally have a reason to openly acknowledge the Armenian genocide, something Israeli politicians have tried in the past, and definitely something ties with Turkey have prevented Prime Ministers from speaking out about.

It would inflame Turkey and again represent a major embarrassment for the leadership, despite whatever ties it makes with modern Armenia. Many Jews, cognizant of the Holocaust and wanting to confront genocides, have been frustrated by this lack of recognition in both Israel and among organized Jewish leadership worried about a tailspin in Israeli-Turkish relations.

If Turkey continues to downgrade the relationship with Israel, especially at the same time it improves ties with Syria, the country will eventually face a diplomatic crisis of its own.

Would continuing to ignore the Armenian issue undermine Jewish leaders fighting Iranian nuclear proliferation and genocide in Darfur by reminding people of the evils of the Nazi Holocaust?

The Israeli state, if it feels the need, will back any program or outspoken critic that equates the Armenian genocide with the Holocaust. Any apprehension Jewish activists may have about it because their words may be connected to problems between Israel and Turkey, may fade away.

An Abrupt End to Ties is Unlikely . . .

. . . but a gradual one is. I have no doubt the reason acknowledging the Armenian genocide has never happened by the government in Jerusalem is political, but so would be its inevitable recognition by the Israeli government. I would also worry about Azerbaijan becoming a bridge for diplomatic ties between Turkey and the regime in Tehran. However, this seems an appropriate time to consider the benefits of Jewish leaders acknowledging the crimes committed during World War I against Armenians and other Middle Eastern Christians.

Ties run deep. The military relationship has historically been strong, though there is a decline in military sales by Israeli companies to Turkish buyers. Israel and Turkey established ties as early as the 1950s, specifically against mutual enemies in the region and the Soviet Union. The Mossad might have helped catch Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in the 1990s.

There is a lot Turkey would lose out on if it decided to continue this break from Israel. Turkey’s military is not thought to be on the same page with the political leadership (though that idea might undergo changes in light of this week’s events). Turkey will also not take its relationship with Syria and Iran, one weak regime and the other a pariah, too far.

I don’t hope the relationship ends, but I’d like to end the hesitation by Israeli leadership on the Armenian genocide for the sake of Turkey. It is too important to ignore.

October 6, 2009

Israel’s Potential Future Citizens and its Geopolitical Role

by Gedalyah Reback

Israel’s current and potential citizens represent a potent force for strength and for justice in the world. The centuries of abuse Jews have endured provoked the creation of Israel by an unlikely motley crew of Jews from several cultures. Supposedly there is a decline in “Zionism” as a philosophy among Jewish Israelis. But the definition of Zionism is not universal, and today can only be brought to the common denominator of supporting the existence of a Jewish homeland, pretty much on par with the language of the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

Consider the contributions Israel’s workforce has made to the global economy. It is almost cited ad nauseum in Jewish circles the types of technological and environmental advances Israelis have made: microchip advances, communication technology, military prowess, desalinization and de-desertification, reforestation, the largest production of research and development literature per capita of any country in the world, etc.

Now what is meant when people say “Israel?” Is it not a limiting notion to not consider the potential for new Israeli citizens coming from the highly educated, wealthy and even ideologically committed pool of Jews living around the world that have some interest in the well-being and prosperity of a small country in the Middle East? Here is a consideration for what religious Jews call “כלל ישראל,” the entire scope of Jewry around the world, not simply a state representing 40% of that general population.

Unfair Political Pressure Changing Israeli Attitudes about Multilateralism

The conditions Israel faces in the international political arena are being seen through the same lens the early Zionists saw attitudes toward Jews 100, 150 or 200 years ago. And they are not off the beat to think so. Eighty percent of the UN Human Rights Council’s resolutions have been passed against Israeli policies and actions, totally ignoring the systematic policies of third world dictatorships and the number of civilian deaths, accidental or purposeful, in Iraq and Afghanistan by NATO countries.

Few countries in the world are willing to lend credibility to Israeli defensive needs, or see the Israeli presence in the West Bank as a defensive military position.

Israel’s ability to argue credibly is tarnished by deliberately misused rhetoric about “disproportionate” warfare. The Goldstone Report, recently published, focused on matters of policy rather than conduct during the Gaza war, and pictured Israel as a state not imposing rules of war on its soldiers, despite prosecutions and dozens of ongoing investigations into soldiers’ conduct.

Even the most liberal Israelis see a consistent attempt to smear Israeli actions, whether they would be justifiable or not.Because of general accusations like the ones cited above, and the obvious political attitudes behind them, Israelis across the board are more and more taking non-Israelis’ positions with a grain of salt. For a majority of Israelis, arguing the campaigns have been “disproportionate” is very nonsensical, considering how many Israelis were actually in the field when these battles and air strikes took place. These Israelis have lived with constant reports of unprovoked rocket attacks on S’derot and attrition on the northern border with Lebanon.

Israelis have universally supported the last two wars the country fought in Lebanon and Gaza, and notice the missing acknowledgement by foreign politicians of these wars’ legitimacy and the conditions these wars have to be fought under. Consequently, Jews are more cynical toward international opinion, be it from politicians or activists, who have predictable things to say about any Israeli military actions. As a New York Times article in January pinpointed:

“It is very frustrating for us not to be understood,” said Yoel Esteron, editor of a daily business newspaper called Calcalist. “Almost 100 percent of Israelis feel that the world is hypocritical. Where was the world when our cities were rocketed for eight years and our soldier was kidnapped? Why should we care about the world’s view now?”

Immigrant Influx and Impact on Global Stage

Even individuals like Richard Goldstone feel the need to cite Jewishness in their pursuit of investigating human rights violations or war misconduct. But he is only one of a plethora of Jewish activists in a gross number of causes. For the Jews who see the imbalance in global treatment of Israeli political and military policies, their sense of justice will kick in. These are the international law experts, human rights activists, liberal thinkers and so on who see something to contribute to the world to correct that imbalance.

This is also the core of people, dedicated in something, who are the members of the Jewish community that can take that step toward acting on behalf of Israel. Their Jewish connection is not purely identity. It is active and manifest in how they live their lives. They have something more than just identification with the State of Israel and the people living there as well.

Activists like this will contribute to new discourses about the rules of war, the inefficiency of human rights organizations in conflicts more distressed than the Israeli-Palestinian one (<a href="like in Darfur, Iran, Burma and North Korea), and want to improve the social situation in this small country between Jews and non-Jews or different sectors of the Jewish public.

The State and its leadership ought to see the tremendous fire power of these liberal activists’ ideas and attitudes will have in strengthening Israeli political, cultural and social clout domestically and throughout the world. They would add to the already immense industrial capabilities of the well-educated and skilled Israeli public. Zionism’s definition may be subjective, but they maintain the basic, common denominator: to support the existence of the Jewish homeland.

October 2, 2009

Proportionality: A Legal Concept Abused by European Politicians (From January 2009 / Tevet 5769)

by Gedalyah Reback

This is a post I find relevant to finally add to this blog given the current events surrounding the Goldstone Report on the war Israel fought in Gaza in December ’08 and January ’09.

The idea that Israel’s wars with Hamas and Hizbullah have been “disproportional” has been thrown around heavily since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. While over 1,000 Lebanese were killed, about 250 of them estimated to be Hizbullah combatants (Hizbullah has never been forthcoming about who exactly was a combatant in the organization’s service), this is not how this concept is evaluated in international law.

The term has been used in rhetoric and advocacy organizations’ propaganda as a way of assessing how many military combatants have been killed against the number of civilian casualties. This is not the correct use of the idea. As outlined in a Wall Street Journal op-ed ( by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz:

“there is no legal equivalence between the deliberate killing of innocent civilians and the deliberate killings of Hamas combatants.”

The issue of civilian casualties is separate from that of proportionality. Fir the first issue to actually be an issue, the civilians must be either deliberate targets, or their welfare recklessly ignored (and ignoring the welfare of civilians is an issue which is further understood on a virtual case-by-case basis).

Luis Moreno-Ocampo Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court states in an open letter in 2003 (

Article 8(2)(b)(iv) draws on the principles in Article 51(5)(b) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, but restricts the criminal prohibition to cases that are “clearly” excessive. The application of Article 8(2)(b)(iv) requires, inter alia, an assessment of:
(a) the anticipated civilian damage or injury;
(b) the anticipated military advantage;
(c) and whether (a) was “clearly excessive” in relation to (b).

Go further into research if you would like, I am ordering articles on the topic from Rutgers library – which are free if you are a student (Specifically: Shamash, Hamutal Esther, “How Much is Too Much? An Examination of the Principle of Jus in Bello Proportionality” . Israel Defense Forces Law Review, Vol. 2, 2005-2006 Available at SSRN:

The above source, the same letter, reminds the reader:

“International humanitarian law and the Rome Statute permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives,[1] even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur.”

The rules about “excessive” force are vague, perhaps intentionally vague. There is no operational definition of “excessive,” leaving the word up to interpretation. This is probably because there is no clear consensus on its definition, or that the term is weighable on a case-by-case basis, depending on what type of risk the enemy is to you.

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