Sunday Reads: On Israel’s controversial nation-state law, How ISIS corporatized terror

November 23, 2014


According to Henri J. Barkey, Obama’s upcoming review of America’s Syria strategy is unlikely to result in any serious changes:

The options such a review would produce are unlikely to change policy anytime soon. This is not only because there are no good ones out there that can transform the situation, but also because the Syrian crisis has become part of a larger global struggle with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s potential countermoves, especially in Ukraine, serve as a deterrent to American action in Syria.

Fred Kaplan believes the US should continue talking with Iran after the November 24 deadline passes:

The P5+1 talks are the two countries’ only diplomatic forum; as long as it’s not a forum for deception, it’s a good idea, on many grounds, to keep them going. The same was true of the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Limitation Talks during the Cold War. For their first 15 years or so, the talks accomplished little in reducing strategic arms; but, had the forum not existed, it would have been much harder to make genuine progress, in cutting arms and ending the Cold War, when the time grew ripe. Who knows: the same may be true, a decade or so from now, with Iran.


Daniel Friedman, Israel’s former Minister of Justice, makes a case against Israel's controversial new nation-state law:

It's possible that the law is aimed at explaining to the Arabs the essence of the State of Israel. But legislative declarations only convince those who are already convinced, as we have learned from Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel.

In today's explosive situation, the law only has the power to cause damage and worsen our relations with the minorities, and the same could happen even if the law is moderated and softened.

The Shalom Hartman Institute's Yehuda Kurtzer thinks that Arendt’s idea of the banality of evil is one that we must learn from when it comes to our attitude toward terrorism:

There is no way to remember Amalek, or to live by the ideology of Esau-hates-Jacob, without simultaneously animating a genocidal sensibility in ourselves. It may originate as defensiveness, but it translates to fundamentalism. And at this moment in Jewish history, the perpetuation of this ideology in a culture that is blessed with weaponry and military strength is to condition our own thinking toward outcomes that will condemn us.

The massacre in Jerusalem was evil, because it was largely banal… The terrorists acted demonically without being demons; they were not battling the forces of good on the plains of heaven, but were playing out a fantasy borne of their toxic political culture, a paranoia that may have some root causes in political realities but which has been poisoned and rendered out of control by inflamed rhetoric and the false sense that there are no alternatives.

Middle East

Nick Danforth takes a look at the interesting history of the ideal of a Muslim caliphate:

The caliphate’s more recent history under the Ottomans shows why the institution might be better thought of as a political fantasy—a blank slate just as nebulous as the “dictatorship of the proletariat”—that contemporary Islamists are largely making up as they go along. (If it weren’t, ISIS could not so readily use the same term to describe their rogue and bloody statelet that Muslim British businessmen use to articulate the idea of an elected and democratic leader for the Islamic world.)

Businessweek’s Cam Simpson tries to show how ISIS actually employs some pretty corporate savvy strategies to spread terror in the Middle East:

The group’s leaders portray themselves as akin to seventh century warriors thundering forth on horseback to expand their religious empire by sword. They call their car bombs “steeds” and their drivers the “death admirers, the knights of martyrdom.” But in many important ways they have much less in common with ­medieval warriors than they do with modern ­bureaucrats, and a successful attempt to defeat them may require understanding their logistics, their financing, and their management structure as much as their extreme theology.

Jewish World

Yossi Klein Halevi’s memoir about his extremist past is being reissued, and here is an interesting piece about it by Professor Michael Weingrad:

And so the conundrum of Halevi’s youth—and the central rift described in Memoirs—was how to reconcile his father’s view of the world with the incommensurately different reality of postwar America. His father’s “main teaching” was “to know the world without illusion.” Yet postwar America, seen without illusion, looked to be exceedingly hospitable to its Jews. Even his father insisted on the country’s fundamental goodness, its exceptional character. But his pre-adolescent son could not accept the contradiction. “My father’s love for America,” he writes of his boyhood convictions, “was a classic case of Jewish self-delusion, of refusing to see the world as it is.” Not for this youngster the mistake of Jewish naiveté that had doomed European Jews in the war. And so the son set out to find menace and threat, and to confront it boldly.

Jeremy Ben Ami points out that there is a disparity between the views of most American Jews and those of the community’s two most vocal billionaires:

Poll after poll confirms that many of the views expressed by these men — from Adelson’s belief that “the Palestinians are an invented people” to Saban’s support for “bombing Iran to smithereens” — don’t speak for Jewish Americans more broadly.

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