Don’t use Islam to hide power abuse, Najib told


May 24, 2015

Phnom Penh

Don’t use Islam to hide power abuse, Najib told

by Ida Lim@www.themalaymailonline.com

hakam_phillip_kohThe use of religion to distract from the alleged abuses of the government is a dangerous tactic that will destroy multicultural Malaysia, said senior lawyer Philip Koh in a warning to the government.

With Islamism filling the void of communal politics that has increasingly fallen out of favour in Malaysia, Koh urged politicians not to succumb to the temptation to use religion as a means to pit the various communities against one another.

“As we love this country, we try to shape this country, we ask the elite that is in power, please don’t use religion to protect your corrupt use of power; please don’t use religion to manufacture anxiety among Muslims who are decent people, who have lived for the last 60 or hundreds of years in harmony with the minorities.

“Please don’t abuse that to try to unite in a false self-deceitful way, what you attempt to call a kind of a way to glue and create an enemy. That will be the beginning and we are already in the midst of that — the death of the Malaysia that we know,” he warned when speaking as a commentator in a forum here.

Dr Dian Diana Abdul Hamed Shah, a Universiti Malaya (UM) lawhakam_Dian_Diana lecturer, pointed out that the protection of minorities’ religious rights  are set aside by  politicians who choose to appease the dominant ethnic group for electoral support.

“You can see parallels with the case of Malaysia, especially in the aftermath of the 2013 general elections. So mobilising support among the minorities by addressing concerns of religious freedom or religious rights have been less and less appealing to politicians in all three countries,” she stated.

Dian was comparing the violations of religious freedom despite constitutional protections in Malaysia and two other countries — Muslim-majority Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where the Sinhalese Buddhist community accounts for 70 per cent of the population.

“Constitutional arrangements — no matter how beautiful, no matter how innocently drafted, no matter how innocently intended, no matter how supportive of human rights — are by themselves insufficient to protect religious freedom.

“Especially where the judiciary is subservient to the government of the day, where the executive and law enforcement authorities lack accountability, and where politicians do not have incentives to protect human rights,” she concluded.

hakam_Malik_ImtiazSenior lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said the role of the government is to act as an “honest broker” in providing equal space for all to resolve their issues within the confines of the law.

He said that while non-Muslims are often thought of as the minorities in Malaysia, Muslims who did not fit within Putrajaya’s definition of Islam also saw themselves being labelled as liberal or deviationist.

The prevalence of race and religion started when then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad sought to outdo PAS in Islamist politics, followed by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Islamisation efforts in the 1990s. In 2001, Dr Mahathir also controversially declared Malaysia to be an Islamic state.

According to Imtiaz, Malaysians are now encouraged to think through the “toxic” lens of race and religion, which splits up the community.

When weighing in on the politically motivated use of race and religion, Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi said that appealing to people’s baser instincts encourages them to subscribe to groups such as the Ku Klux Klan supremacist group and India’s BJP party.

“Somehow there’s always attraction in hatred, the important thing is that those of us who don’t believe in this kind of things must also speak out,” the emeritus professor of law from Universiti Teknologi MARA said.

The constitutional law expert said Malaysia remains a fortunatehakam_Shad_Faruq country, noting that things were less incendiary when compared to his birthplace India, where deadly communal riots can happen easily if a cow’s head is thrown at a Hindu temple or a pig’s head is thrown at a mosque.

Cows are sacred to Hindus while pigs are considered unclean and forbidden animals for Muslims. “In this country, at least in this respect, up to now and I hope it stays, we may not like each other (but) we don’t kill each other.

“And I think it’s quite something because in many other societies — Sri Lanka, Thailand, Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines, Pakistan and India, things are much worse,” he said.

The four were speaking at the “Human Rights and Religion: Are the two compatible?” forum, which was jointly organised by National Human Rights Society and the UM law faculty’s human rights research group.

http://www.themalaymailonline.com

UMNO leaders complicit in 1MDB cover-up


May 24, 2015

Phnom Penh

Umno leaders complicit in 1MDB cover-up

COMMENT

by Matthias Chang@ http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Najib and the Devil WomanThe Prime Minister cum Financial Minister (above), being a member of Parliament cannot be deemed ignorant of this fraudulent misrepresentation. Answers to parliamentary questions, whether from backbenchers or the opposition, are vetted before presented in Parliament. If the cash has been “diverted” or “unaccounted for” there is a basis for a charge of criminal breach of trust by all the relevant personalities involved in the transaction. There may also be elements of corruption.–Matthias Chang

It is elementary, Mr.Najib. You cannot be ignorant of what constitutes cash. Even a child knows what cash is, and when cash is deposited in a bank, the bank statement would reflect the cash deposited in the bank. Any paper or document other than cash cannot be deposited and reflected in a bank statement as cash.

Documents such as share certificates, treasury notes or bonds or other documents that are not considered as money, when deposited in a bank for whatever reason or placed in a fixed deposit box are never ever reflected in a bank statement.

The Minister of Finance, treasury officials, and members of the 1MDB Board of directors and its advisers are all experienced in finance and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be deemed ignorant of what is cash.

The balance sum amounting to US$1.103 billion is not some chump change and, when converted to Malaysian ringgit, would be more than RM3 billion. Therefore it is inconceivable that the Prime Minister, who is also the Finance Minister, and senior officials in the Ministry of Finance and Bank Negara do not know the difference between cash deposited in a bank and some “paper assets” to be held by the bank in Singapore, allegedly as custodian.

Therefore it is unpardonable that the Prime Minister, who is also the Finance Minister, and senior officials in the Ministry of Finance and Bank Negara do not know the difference between cash deposited in a bank and some “paper assets” to be held by the bank in Singapore, allegedly as custodian.

So when Ministry of Finance replied to Tony Pua’s queries in March 2015, surely its officials must have checked with the bank in Singapore or examined the relevant documents from 1MDB before confirming that 1MDB had “redeemed its balance of investment from the Cayman Islands in cash and transferred it to BSI Singapore”.

However, MOF has now issued a contradictory statement. A news report said, “The Finance Ministry has corrected its Parliamentary written reply in March that said the US$1.1 billion transferred by 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) from Cayman Islands to Singapore was not in cash.

“According to the latest written reply to Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua, the Ministry said the money that was “redeemed” was in the form of assets in US dollars.”

We cannot but agree that this is the Malaysian scandal of the century. Heinous and despicable crimes have been committed.

Why?

  1. For MOF to have issued the statement in March, forged documents must have been presented to show that cash was in fact deposited. This was corroborated by the current CEO, who said recently that the bank statement reflected that cash was so deposited. But the bank in Singapore has denied that cash had been deposited.
  2. The criminal offence of fraud and forgery is prima facie established and all the relevant personalities concerned with this transaction must be charged and it is for them to offer their defence in a court hearing
  3. When the statement by MOF/Prime Minister was made in Parliament that cash was deposited when it was not true, the august house was misled by a fraudulent misrepresentation. It was a blatant contempt of the house. The entire country was misled. The rakyat was cheated and led to believe a falsehood.
  4. In the past, members of Parliament were suspended for making a mere misrepresentation with no adverse financial consequences to the country. The members were penalised because the misstatement constituted an affront to the integrity of the proceedings of Parliament as well as to Parliament itself.
  5. The Prime Minister cum Financial Minister, being a member of Parliament cannot be deemed ignorant of this fraudulent misrepresentation. Answers to parliamentary questions, whether from backbenchers or the opposition, are vetted before presented in Parliament.
  6. If the cash has been “diverted” or “unaccounted for” there is a basis for a charge of criminal breach of trust by all the relevant personalities involved in the transaction. There may also be elements of corruption.
  7. The period between the March 10 and May 20 announcements in Parliament would by any measure be construed as a period when there was a massive cover-up. And all those personalities involved are accomplices in this cover-up.

The Deputy Prime Minister, the heads of Wanita UMNO and UMNO Youth and the members of the party’s Supreme Council, have failed to demand answers and to insist on seeing all the relevant documents so as to verify for themselves the truth or falsehood of the allegations brought by all concerned citizens. They should have done so especially after the bank in Singapore had declared the banking documents showing cash was deposited was a forgery. Alarm bells ought to have rung loud and clear, but these leading members of Umno chose to bury their heads in the sand and slavishly declare their so-called undivided support to the Prime Minister.

The Board of 1MDB even had the audacity to threaten to sue any one who dared question its integrity. Shame on you, UMNO.

The Prime Minister must resign and if UMNO leaders do not demand the resignation of the Prime Minister and continue to use their public office to deny this irrefutable confession by the MOF then they are all complicit in this heinous crime.

All the UMNO leaders who have accused Tun Mahathir Mohamad of wrongfully criticising the Prime Minister and sounding the alarm bells and raising the red flag of imminent crisis should humbly seek forgiveness not only from him, but from the entire country. The rakyat demands a public apology and the culprits must be charged in court for their crimes.

Matthias Chang is a Barrister and once served as the political secretary of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

Rohingya boat people: Myanmar’s shame


May 24, 2015

Phnom Penh

Rohingya boat people

Myanmar’s shame

Poverity, politics and despair are forcing thousands of Rohingyas to flee Myanmar. The authorities remain woefully indifferent to their plight

Since 2012 all the Rohingya villages and camps have been totally cut off from predominantly Rakhine towns like Sittwe. This has made it almost impossible for inhabitants to make a decent living. Tall wire fences are now being erected, completing their isolation. One Rohingyan says he used to have a good taxi business in Sittwe. Now he uses his motorcycle to carry a few customers in a small village. He makes about one-third of the money he used to. Most Rohingyas are farmers or fishermen. The former cannot return to their fields; the latter have few boats left and are driven away from fishing grounds by Rakhines if they manage to get out to sea.

The local authorities insist that this forced isolation is for the Rohingyas’ own good, to protect them from further attacks. Rohingyas, however, see it as the culmination of a long-standing policy of apartheid, depriving them of the last benefits that they enjoyed living among Rakhines. No Rohingya student, for instance, has been allowed into the university at Sittwe during the last three years. They are not allowed into the township hospitals unless it is a life-and-death situation. “It’s really inhumane stuff,” says an aid worker.

Any hopes among Rohingyas that the country’s turn to quasi-civilian rule in 2011 after decades of military dictatorship might improve their lot have evaporated. While life is improving for many others in Myanmar, it is not for Rohingyas. They are unwitting victims of a deadly political game for control of what some Burmese proclaim to be the “New Myanmar”. Thus, for instance, while the rest of the country is preparing for a general election in November—the first democratic one in a quarter-century—a sleight of hand involving their voting documents has effectively deprived Rohingyas of the right to participate. Last year, during the first national census for years, Rohingyas were only allowed to register as “Bengalis”. In protest, most of them boycotted the count.

The government is pandering to a growing anti-Muslim hysteria in the country. Such sentiment has been encouraged by hardliners in the army and the ruling party who calculate that humiliating the millions of Muslims in Myanmar plays well with many Buddhist Burmese. It is often supported by the more chauvinist Buddhist monks as well. The hardliners have an election to win; they believe that playing to anti-Muslim feeling might give them an advantage over the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party.

Even Ms Suu Kyi, however, a Nobel peace-prize winner who campaigns relentlessly for human rights and the rule of law, has been loth to stand up for the human rights of Rohingyas. For some of her supporters, this has been extremely disappointing. Her low-key response has made it easier for the government virtually to ignore the boat-people crisis. By May 19th there had been no mention of it in the government-run Global New Light of Myanmar, an English-language newspaper. Rohingyas are not technically “citizens”, so the government feels that it can wash its hands of the problem.

Clearly ministers feel that they have no wider moral or humanitarian obligation to people whose families have lived and worked here for, in many cases, over a century. In the face of such callous indifference from all quarters in Myanmar, it is hardly surprising that so many thousands are taking to the sea. Unless the situation changes, the only guarantee is that even more will try to flee at the start of the next dry season, with the same appalling results.

LKY chose brains, not fawning followers


May 23, 2015

Phnom Penh

Why Singapore is ahead of Malaysia: LKY chose brains, not fawning followers

by James Sivilingam@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

 

Dr Afifuddin OmarOur leaders surrounded themselves with followers, LKY (Lee Kuan Yew) with intellectuals, says UMNO’s Cornell University (Ithaca) educated  Dr. Affifudin Omar.

Former Deputy Finance Minister Dato’ Wira Dr Affifudin, highlighting why Malaysia failed to emulate the success of Singapore, said one reason was that Lee Kuan Yew chose intellectuals, while Malaysian leaders were surrounded by supporters and followers.

Responding to a question posed by an audience member at a forum on new Malaysian leaders, Dr. Affifudin said that comparing Singapore and Malaysia was like comparing apples and oranges.

“Political, cultural and economic backgrounds are different. But since we are talking about leadership, when Singapore left Malaysia under Lee Kuan Yew’s PAP, he held on to Confucius’ principle of valuing knowledge. He surrounded himself with intellectuals, whereas Malaysian leaders surrounded themselves with people who supported them 120%,” he said.

Tun Razak and Zhou EnlaiTun Abdul Razak with China’s Mandarin, Zhou Enlai

Dr. Affifudin recalled that it was not always the case in Malaysia as Tun Abdul Razak Hussein also had a similar approach as Malaysia’s Second Prime Minister.

Dr.Affifudin recalled that Tun Razak needed experts in Asian development, and did not hesitate to hire two professors from Harvard and Cornell universities in the United States, while at the same time looking after his political stability.

“Lee Kuan Yew and Tun Abdul Razak were the same in that they surrounded themselves with the smartest and the brightest,” he said.

Singapore’s small size and the high level of education of the people has helped the republic to advance beyond Malaysia as every programme implemented would reach its public easily.

“Although Lee Kuan Yew exploited the democratic process in ensuring a majority in Parliament, the people accepted it because they knew Lee Kuan Yew was honest in what he was doing. He was a straight talker regarding the development of Singapore. That’s the leadership difference,” he said.

Lee and Dr. MahathirLKY chose Intellectuals, Dr. Mahathir recruited Fawning Followers

Dr.Affifuddin said Dr Mahathir Mohamad did not surround himself with intellectuals, unlike Tun Abdul Razak, and the downward trend had continued since.

“Tun Mahathir, I’m sorry to say it, was doing it all alone. When Pak Lah (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) came in, he tried to do it (surround himself with intellectuals) and was beaten up (kena hentam) for it,” he said.

Dr. Afifuddin had earlier acknowledged that he is still a member of UMNO but had not attended the forum, organised by former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim, to defend his party but to seek the truth, in the spirit of brotherhood.

“If my brother makes a mistake, I will question it and call it as it is. If he’s not guilty, I will defend him. I’m not going to defend UMNO. What I’m going to do is say what is wrong and what is right according to my own judgement,” Dr. Afifudin said.

 

Pakatan Rakyat: Get Your Act Together First


May 23, 2015

Phnom Penh

Pakatan Rakyat: Get Your Act Together First

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT The idea of a shadow cabinet has been around for nearly as long as the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat’s, now seven-year existence.

This is too short a gestation period for this idea to be birthed: Pakatan’s overall ideological incoherence and the factional tensions and fissures within two (PKR and PAS) of its three components prevent the coalition from attaining the critical mass that would make a shadow cabinet a logical step in the maturation of the coalition.

PR Split2

Shadow Cabinet? Get Your House in Order First

We have only just got used to the idea that there can be an opposition coalition with enough popular support to successively deny the ruling coalition a two-thirds majority in Parliament. We are now getting used to the experience that this coalition can fight among themselves and still hold credibly enough together to win a by-election in a seat where the state leadership of one of the component partners was hostile to the notion of supporting the candidate selected to defend the Pakatan-held ward.

More instances of dissonance at the top and cohesion on the ground have to take place before we can say that an opposition coalition is here to stay and is credibly en route to being not just pretenders to but presumptives of Putrajaya. In other words, the idea of a credible opposition coalition has congealed in the public consciousness, but it’s going to take more time before refinements such as a shadow cabinet can be forged.

An idea from decades-old tradition

Shadow cabinets are an idea that has grown out of a decades-old tradition of loyal opposition forged in Commonwealth countries with at least centuries-long experience in democratically-elected representative governments, such as Australia and New Zealand.

India’s democracy, with 60-plus years of experience and of the opposition being able to form the government, does not yet have shadow cabinets. This is because the political landscape there has yet to evolve the kind of tradition of parliamentarianism and opposition component party cohesion that would make the mechanism of shadow cabinet work.

Shadow cabinets can only flourish on democratic soil that has been tilled for several decades and after two to three switches of governing power between competing coalitions or parties.

That has not yet happened in Malaysia. As such, the formation of a shadow cabinet would be the unwise placing of the cart of specific apportionment of portfolios among capable MPs of component parties before the horse of ideological coherence and acceptance within components that factional strife is par for the course and a wise leadership co-opts rather than bans them.
Wan AzizahPAS and PKR have some way to go before accepting these realities while DAP, though the predurability of Lim Kit Siang, has outlasted all factional rivals that had the effect of banking all factional fires within the party for a long time.

But the durability of one successful competitor does not guarantee the removal of the factional bacillus from the body politic of the party forever; it just means that no potential rival will risk going against the grain of the supremo so long as he is still around.

Which is why the next stage in the DAP’s ascension – to the primacy that was PKR’s in the overall pecking order of Pakatan until Anwar Ibrahim’s amnesia about nepotism being one of the vices Pakatan was formed to combat forfeited that status for his party – is the establishment and keeping of some preservative ground rules.

No third term for principal post holders

Chief among these is not allowing a third term for the holder of a principal position within the ambit of governance wielded by Pakatan. This means that Lim Guan Eng has to forego a third term as Penang Chief Minister because term limits are a necessary aspect of good governance for the refreshment and replenishment of personnel that such limits bring into play.

Guan Eng’s announcement that DAP would go ahead by forming a shadow cabinet can be seen as a ploy to lull claimants from within his party for elevation in the overall hierarchy of its governance, which includes the CM’s post in Penang.

It is a gimmick he should have refrained from deploying because the move will leave the DAP vulnerable to the charge of unilateralism that it has accused PAS of being guilty of, by choosing to introduce a step (hudud in Kelantan) not provided for in the common policy framework of Pakatan.

The move to form a shadow cabinet has been criticised by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang as “arrogant” and as furnishing a reason for the severance of ties between PAS and DAP.

So long as the progressive faction in PAS has a chance, however feeble, of staying and impacting the Islamic party, nothing that smacks of unilateralism should be done by Pakatan’s other components because that would bolster the suspicions of the conservatives that a victory for the progressives would clear the way for a DAP hegemony.

To demonstrate that Pakatan is not just marginally, nor just markedly, but radically better than UMNO-BN, it has to establish and uphold term limits and reject unilateralism.


Tony Judt’s Final Word on Israel


May 23, 2015

Phnom Penh

When it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, most of us are either pro-Israel or pro-the Palestinian cause. Even the honest broker, the United States cannot be impartial since its support for Israel is unconditional. No American President since Harry Truman can afford to risk his political career by not providing military aid and financial assistance to the Jewish state. The Jewish lobby is too powerful in the US Congress to ignore. But there is more to this than American leadership cares to admit. That is, in my view, that Israel is America’s most reliable ally in the Middle East to protect its economic and strategic interests in the oil rich Middle East.

The two state solution, (Tony’s binational state), is the obvious one and yet both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis, are unable to accept the reality that they cannot but live side by side in peace and security. No, they must be at each others throats. So the conflict between the two peoples continues at a horrendous cost to both sides in terms of human lives and property.

The late Mr Judt’s interview is  an eye opener for me. Those who disagree with his views, especially those in the United States and Israel, are welcome to challenge his take on Israeli-Palestinian relations.–Din Merican

Tony Judt’s Final Word on Israel

by Merav Michaeli

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/09/tony-judts-final-word-on-israel/245051/

In this interview just before his death last year (2010), the historian discusses his controversial views on Israel, the country’s future, and a life of disputation

In this undated photo released by New York University, NYU professor Tony Jundt is shown. A New York University spokesman says Judt died Friday night, Aug. 7, 2010, due to complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 62. (AP Photo/Photo Provided by NYU) NO SALES

In July 6, 2010, one month to the day before his death, I sat down with the British historian Tony Judt in his New York study to film an interview. He was positioned in a special bed in which he spent much of his time, completely immobilized by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The interview was part of a larger film project, with director Gaylen Ross, about Israel and the U.S. and American Jewry. It was, for me, a profound and deeply personal conversation.

Despite his illness, Judt agreed to let me interview him over email as well. What follows here is our lengthy conversation, conducted over several emails. As an Israeli who is deeply distressed by the state of my country, and as a journalist who feels more and more helpless in trying to bring change through my work, I felt a strong intellectual and emotional propinquity to Judt. We share similar views and perspectives about Israel. Between the two of us, he was the grown-up , he was the celebrated historian; I admit I was hoping for answers.

Before I left the filmed interview, I asked Judt how he would act, and what he would do, if he were today an Israeli Jew, teaching at Tel Aviv University, thinking the way he does, publishing the things he writes?

 “I don’t think I would have done anything different from what you and my other colleagues from Haaretz and academia are doing” he said, “History always happens to us and nothing ever stays the same.” And then I had to go.

A year has now passed. Israel is enduring a social upheaval that gives some hope for change, but its relationship with Turkey and Egypt are in severe crisis, the Palestinians are working on a unilateral independence declaration to present at the UN, and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called Prime Minister Netanyahu an ungrateful ally to the U.S. and a danger to Israel. Reading Judt’s words in light of the events, feels like reading a chilling prophecy. Our exchange started about two weeks following Israel’s controversial raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Israeli tanks maneuver in Israel near Gaza border

How do you see Israel’s actions in the Flotilla affair?

The characterization that comes to mind is “autistic.” Israel behaved in a way that suggests it is no longer fully able to estimate, assess or understand the way other people think about it. Even if you supported the blockade (I don’t) this would be an almost exemplary case of shooting oneself in a painful part of the anatomy.

Firstly because it alienates Turkey, who Israel needs in the longer run. Secondly because it was undertaken in international waters and largely at the expense of civilian victims. Thirdly because it was an overreaction. Fourthly because it had the predictable effect of weakening the case for a blockade rather than strengthening it.

In short, this is the action of a country which is fast losing touch with reality.

The raid on the flotilla was far from being the worst of Israel’s behavior over 40 years of occupation, yet the international response to it was the most grievous. Why do you think that is?

I agree. But what happens in small West Bank towns, in the Israeli Parliament, in Gazan schools or in Lebanese farms is invisible to the world. And Israel was always very good at presenting the argument from “self-defense” even when it was absurd. I think that Israel’s successful defiance of international law for so long has made Jerusalem blind and deaf to the seriousness with which the rest of the world takes the matter.

“The identification of Israel with Auschwitz (and of its enemies with Nazism) is not only obscene, but self-defeating”

Finally there is the question of cumulation. From the Six Day War to Lebanon, from Lebanon to the settlements, from the settlements to Gaza, Israel’s credibility has steadily fallen – even as the world’s distance from Auschwitz (the favorite excuse) has lengthened. So Israel is far more vulnerable today than it would have been twenty five years ago.

What do you tell those who say Israel has willingly withdrawn from Gaza and everything that has happened since proves the Israeli claim that there’s no partner for an agreement?

I tell them that they are talking nonsense, or else prevarication. Israel withdrew from Gaza but has put it under a punishment regime comparable to nothing else in the world. That is not withdrawal. And of course we all know that there are those who would like to give Palestinians “independence” but exclude Gaza from the privilege. That too was part of the purpose of the withdrawal.

Mideast-Israel-Palest_Horo-21

There is a partner. It may not be very nice and it may not be very easy. It’s called Hamas. In the same way the provisional [Irish Republican Army] was the only realistic “partner for peace” with whom London could negotiate; Nelson Mandela (a “terrorist” for the Afrikaaners until his release) was the only realistic “partner for peace”; the same was true of “that terrorist” ([according to Winston] Churchill) Gandhi; the well-known “murderous terrorist” Jomo Kenyatta with whom London fought a murderous war for five years before he became “a great statesman”; not to mention Algeria. The irony is that Washington knows this perfectly well and expects negotiations with Hamas within five years. After all, Israel virtually invented Hamas in the hope of undermining the PLO; well, they succeeded. But they are the only ones who can’t see what has to happen.

You advocated for a binational state. What does your binational state look like? How does it work?

I don’t know. What I do know is that since I wrote that in 2003, everyone from Moshe Arens through Barak to Olmert has admitted that Israel is on the way to a single state with a potential Arab majority in Bantustans unless something happens fast. That’s all that I said in my essay.

But ok, since it looks as though Israel is determined to give itself this future, what will it look like? Hell. But what could it look like? Well, there could be a federal state of two autonomous communities — on the Swiss or Belgian model (don’t tell me the latter doesn’t work — it works very well but is opposed by Flemings led by people very much like [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman). This could have crossover privileges and rights for both communities, but each would be autonomous. I think this would work better than a mixed single-state, and it would allow each community to set certain sorts of religious and other regulations according to its taste.

If it could look so good, why would it be hell?

Because it would start from a very bad place. It would begin with Jews running the place in the name of a Jewish state, defined by Orthodox Rabbis and controlled by an army whose officer core is increasingly permeated by religious and settler communities. No Arab would feel remotely safe, much less equal or a citizen in such a “single state”. The Arabs’ lack of property, rights, status and prospects would either make them a sullen and potentially violent underclass or else the best of them would try to leave. This is no good basis for integration, though it is of course what some of Israel’s present leaders privately desire. And then there would be Gaza…

And if Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also recognize that Israel is on its way to a single state with an Arab majority, why do you think they aren’t doing what needs to be done?

Of Barak I will not speak. He is now a senior minister in what I regard as close to a neo-fascist government. If he has chosen that direction, then obviously he has no interesting or ethically defensible plans of his own. He is an object of contempt in my eyes.

Olmert, who seems to have reached my conclusions by his own path, suffers from being a typical tactician, and lacking strategic vision or political courage. He is not as bad as Shimon Peres in this and other respects — Peres seems to me the most disappointing and in some ways damaging politician in Israel’s history — but he will not stand up to the soldiers or the settlers or the rabbis and therefore he is not interesting as a candidate for real change.

In such a state, Jews would soon be a minority. Doesn’t that frighten you?

Not as much as it seems to frighten others. Why is it ok for a Jewish minority to dominate an Arab majority, its leaders to call for expulsions of majority members, etc., but not ok for a democracy to have a majority and minority both protected under law? At least Israel could then call itself a democracy with a clear conscience.

What you are really asking is whether I think the Palestinians would immediately set out to rape, pillage and murder the Jews? I don’t see why they would want to — there is no historical record suggesting that this is what Palestinians do for fun, whereas we have all too much evidence that Israelis persecute Palestinians for no good reason. If I were an Arab, I would be more afraid of living in a state with Jews just now.

Can you see or understand why Israelis are afraid?

Yes, but only in the sense that someone who has been brought up to fear and hate his neighbors will have good reason to be frightened at the thought of living in the same house with them. Israelis have created a generation of young Palestinians who hate them and will never forgive them and that does make a real problem for any future agreement, single- or two-state.

But Israel should be much, much more afraid of the Israel it’s creating for itself: a semi-democratic, demagogic, far-right warrior state dominated by racist Russians and crazed rabbis. In this perspective, an internationally policed and guaranteed federal state of Israel, with the same rights and resources for Jews and Arabs, looks a lot less frightening to me.

Can you see why American Jews are fearful as well of that?

No. This is the fear of the paranoid hysteric – like the man at the dinner table in the story I wrote in the New York Review who had never been to Israel but thought I should stop criticizing it because “We Jews might need it sometime.” American Jews — most of whom know nothing of Jewish history, Jewish languages or Jewish religion — feel “Jewish” by identifying unthinkingly with Auschwitz as the source of their special victim status and “Israel” as their insurance policy and macho other. I find this contemptible — they are quite happy to see Arabs killed in their name, so long as other Jews do it. That’s not fear, that is something between surrogate nationalism and moral indifference.

In your 2003 essay “Israel: the Alternative” you wrote that Israel was an anachronism. Writers in Israel were asking why you didn’t offer France and Germany to give up this anachronistic model first?

Oh, come on! I did not say that nation-states were past their use-by date. I said that ethnically driven versions were. There is nothing in the constitutions of France or Germany that creates second-class citizens defined by religion, ethnicity or parenthood. There is nothing there defining who can and who cannot have certain jobs, live in certain places or marry certain people. If Israel looked like France or Germany in these respects, it would be a better place. By the way, until Germany gave up its 1913 law regarding citizenship defined by descent, I wrote very critically about it. But Israeli commentators would not know that — they are fixated on their own obsessions.

In that essay, your portrayal of Europe seems somewhat idealized. Do you still think that “Christian Europe” is part of the past and that their evolving minority problem is indeed marginal?

I don’t think I said that the minority problem was “marginal”. Nor do I want to idealize Europe. I have written elsewhere that the failure of Europeans to welcome Turkey into the EU is a catastrophe — for Turkey, for democratic Muslims everywhere, and for integration back in Europe itself. But once again, my Israeli critics don’t read about anything else so they would not know my positions on this. If Europe fails to address the fact that most of its new members (excepting Poland) will be and are either secular, post-Christian, or Muslim in makeup, it will face a hard future.

And how do you see Europe’s future, will it accept Islam and Muslims as an organic part of it?

A complicated question. There is no one Europe on this issue — unlike institutions or regulations, religion varies hugely. Some parts of Europe, mostly Western but not only, are virtually de-Christianised. There — e.g. in England or parts of France or parts of Scandinavia — the problem is re-introducing religion and religious identification into secular societies. Thus in Holland the anti-immigration party emphasizes its own tolerance compared with the intolerance of Islam.

Elsewhere, e.g. in Poland or parts of Italy, people are still actively Catholic. Paradoxically, this makes them more sympathetic to Islamic institutions — priests and imams working together, etc. — but averse to excessive dilution of their historic dominance.

“I suspect that in decades to come America (the new Rome) will abandon Israel”

The other problem is that most young Muslims are not Muslim (the same is true for almost all Bosnian Muslims). That is, they are as secular in fact as their white schoolmates. But because it is convenient for governments and administrators to classify them as Muslim, they often become so out of resentment. Thus there are many more “Muslims” in Europe than actually belong to a Mosque or practice Islam. They would be better identified by their point of origin — Surinamese, Algerian, Senegalese, etc. — than by religion. But European censuses don’t allow for that.

The biggest impediment to integrating Muslims (real or imagined) to European societies is the loud rejection of Turkey. It says very clearly that European leaders think not in terms of democracy (else why allow Croatia to apply), nor corruption (otherwise Greece would not be a member) but religious tags: Turkey is mostly low practicing by Muslim standards, but it is unquestionably overwhelmingly Muslim. Its unacceptability to Germany or France is a big, big mistake — all across Europe it sends a message to the Muslim community: “you are not part of us”.

Conclusion: on this score I am very pessimistic about Europe’s prospects.

Do Jews still need a Jewish state, a haven from the world? Or is it a changed world in which it isn’t necessary any more?

Some think they do, some think they don’t. Israel would never have happened if it weren’t for Hitler and keeping the fear of Hitler alive is part of what fuels ultra-Zionism. But the whole thing is a complete mystery to most of the rest of the world. To be sure, there is anti-Semitism everywhere. But even if we ignore the unquestionable fact that some of it is driven by Israel’s behavior, it doesn’t diminish just because there is a Jewish state and we have no reason to believe that Israel is a barrier to prejudice anywhere else.

The world has changed since 1939. But Israel is a fact and there is no point debating whether it should exist. However, like many, many Jews outside of Israel, I feel a declining sense of identification with the place: its behavior, its culture, its politics, its insularity, its prejudices have nothing to do with being Jewish for me and I know that is especially true of younger Jews, excepting ultra-religious ones. So even if things went wrong for Jews today, I don’t think most of us would want to go and live in Israel.

You lived in Israel for about two years in all. Why did you choose to build your life elsewhere?

I found the place rather stifling. I think you have to be a very deep believer in the Zionist objective, or else a Jew for whom the presence of other Jews is absolutely crucial in your life. Otherwise the downsides of Israel — its parochialism, its self-obsession, its resort to violence as a first solution to everything: all of these are far too much to bear.

I think that perhaps I was there at an odd time. On the one hand everyone was quite optimistic and rather left-leaning in my world, and the treatment of Israel’s own Arabs was largely invisible to me; on the other hand it was a very small place in which people seemed concerned with very small things — or else they lived mentally in Europe and never really accepted the terms of life in a small Middle Eastern country that would sooner or later have to stop beating its neighbours and find a way to respect them as equals.

Finally I believe I got frustrated with my friends and colleagues who told me to abandon my academic plans (Cambridge, etc.) and help build Zion. Even in 1966 this seemed to me simply silly: reproducing a collective farm in Galicia, circa 1910, in the middle of the ’60s.

How do you see the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel today?

Why are we so obsessed by this? If Iran attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon, the U.S. and Israel would wipe out large sections of that country. Tehran is a sophisticated place that knows this perfectly well. Most Iranians I know think that their president’s obscene rhetoric is diversionary — a way to sell himself as the spokesman for the Muslim “street”. They don’t like it and they don’t back it. But they are proud and don’t like being told that they alone in the neighborhood can’t have nuclear autonomy: they are surrounded by nuclear powers (India, Pakistan, Russia and Israel, not to mention the American fleet). Why should they not feel paranoid? The nuclear threat to Tehran is far greater than the nuclear threat to Tel Aviv.

No one I know in Washington seriously believes that Iran is about to nuke Israel. They are far more worried that Israel is working up this implausible scenario as an excuse for another diversionary war.

There are good reasons to discourage Iran from a nuclear capacity – but the existential threat to Israel is not one of them.

Should Israel attack?

BenjaminNetanyahu

Only if it wants to destroy forever its credibility as a stable member of the community of legitimate states. We all know perfectly well that such an attack would have a limited impact on Iran’s long term plans, but would solidify support for it globally while forever alienating Israel from the world. That seems a pretty lousy deal for Israel.

Iran is a Shi’ite state, which hates the Taliban and is good friends with countries we need, like China and Turkey. Israel should be secretly and eventually publicly trying to get back on good terms with it. In the larger scheme of things, it is pretty incredible that Israel has deliberately set out to alienate those few Muslim lands which have a real interest in being friends with it.

 The worst consequence of an attack on Iran — an extreme form of Israel’s foolishness hitherto — would be the final alienation of American sympathy. Already major military figures like [David] Petraeus have gone on record as seeing Israel as a “strategic liability.” Attack Iran and Israel becomes an intolerable burden upon America’s increasingly fragile role in the world. This would be a very big mistake to make.

Why do you think Israel, as a state, still hasn’t gotten over its existential fears, over its self-concept as “victim?”

Obviously it has not. But it has gone from genuinely believing itself to be threatened to exploiting that “threat” to serve unworthy and foolish goals. As a result, no one outside Israel takes seriously the threat to its existence, which is bad for Israel should such a threat ever arise. The identification of Israel with Auschwitz (and of its enemies with Nazism) is not only obscene, but self-defeating. Until 1967 it was semi-plausible, despite running counter to the equally self-serving image of “macho Jews” who would never “go like sheep to the slaughter.” Since 1967 it is a ridiculous claim and looks it.

In your view, in the bigger picture, what is Israel’s role and place in the history of the Jewish people?

My first response is that of Zhou En Lai when he was asked what was the significance of the French Revolution and replied, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Another perspective, the long one, would be to say that Israel is behaving very much like the annoying little Judean state that the Romans finally dismantled in frustration. This classical analogy may be more relevant than we think. I suspect that in decades to come America (the new Rome) will abandon Israel as annoying, expensive, and a liability. This will leave Israel to its own resources or to making friends with anyone who will deal with it (as it once did with South Africa). That in turn will make it a very unpleasant place for Western liberals and democrats, who will loosen their ties with it. No doubt it will survive, but it will mean less and less to Jews elsewhere as people forget the original impulse and historical circumstances surrounding its founding.

As to the future of Jews in the diaspora, they (we) will once again be the predominant community (once again as in classical times). I think Israel will grow increasingly marginal for most Jews, though I don’t quite know what their Jewish life will look like either in a secularized world. In a way, we may be entering a new Middle Ages where the only way to preserve Jewish cultural and religious traditions will be to live in separate ghetto-like spaces (gated communities) closed off from the surrounding majority. That is already the case in parts of America.

We are now about a year into the Obama era. Is President Barack Obama “good for the Jews?” For Israel?

Barack Obama

Obama could have been good for Israel and Jews if he had followed through on his Cairo speech and original intentions. But despite expectations, he caved in to Netanyahu and is now bad for Israel in the sense that he does nothing to stop it behaving badly to its own detriment. By not following through on his appeal he let people down who had hoped for a new start. And by allowing Israel to continue with settlements, or protecting Israel at the UN, he has made more enemies in Arab lands. In that sense, the dynamic is not very different than it was before, except that the tone is more polite. And of course, his Afghanistan mess makes him look like Bush, albeit nicer. On the whole, I would say he has failed here.

After your binational state proposal, many felt the need to publicly denounce you, even famous liberals. How hard was this for you?

Not at all. Since people took to calling me “Belgian” as a synonym for “anti-Semitic European,” or “Self-Hating Jew,” I assumed that they had nothing very interesting to say. Since liberals would often say one thing to me in private but something different in public for fear of being thought “anti-Semitic”, I never much cared about their criticisms either.

On the whole I don’t mind taking a minority view: I’ve always done this. And many of the people who slapped me down for my criticisms of Israel were enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq war. So I suspect I was on the right side twice-over. The only criticisms I took seriously came from Israel, from reasonable people who had good grounds for disagreement. I suspect ground is starting to open up in America, as people gently put their heads above the parapet and risk criticizing Israel without getting shot.

In recent writing and interviews, you relate a lot to your unique sense of a limited future. How has this changed the way you see history and current politics?

I don’t think it’s changed it at all, though it may have shifted the balance of my writings and interests. I don’t think I have altered my views on history or politics, though of course given my circumstances I have to ration my contributions and try to focus on the things that either matter most or that I have the best chance of influencing.

After your binational state proposal, many felt the need to publicly denounce you, even famous liberals. How hard was this for you?

Not at all. Since people took to calling me “Belgian” as a synonym for “anti-Semitic European,” or “Self-Hating Jew,” I assumed that they had nothing very interesting to say. Since liberals would often say one thing to me in private but something different in public for fear of being thought “anti-Semitic”, I never much cared about their criticisms either.

On the whole I don’t mind taking a minority view: I’ve always done this. And many of the people who slapped me down for my criticisms of Israel were enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq war. So I suspect I was on the right side twice-over. The only criticisms I took seriously came from Israel, from reasonable people who had good grounds for disagreement. I suspect ground is starting to open up in America, as people gently put their heads above the parapet and risk criticizing Israel without getting shot.

In recent writing and interviews, you relate a lot to your unique sense of a limited future. How has this changed the way you see history and current politics?

I don’t think it’s changed it at all, though it may have shifted the balance of my writings and interests. I don’t think I have altered my views on history or politics, though of course given my circumstances I have to ration my contributions and try to focus on the things that either matter most or that I have the best chance of influencing.