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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How frequently does the USA veto anti-Israeli UN Security Council resolutions?

The Security Council is the only international body whose decisions are genuinely "law" and need to be obeyed. That is because they imply an agreement between the world's great powers: USA, Russia, China the UK and France and can be implemented by force (though that requires a further decision). To give you an example, if the International Court in the Hague makes a decision, it becomes a recommendation to the Security Council. If the council ignores it or it is vetoed it has little or no significance. The same applies to UN General Assembly votes: they are recommendations to the Security Council and can be ignored or vetoed. The "big five" members basically take all the decisions and a great power consensus is required for any action to be taken.

There are 10 temporary Security Council members drawn from the General Assembly on a mixed rota-election system.  Those members can make proposals for the others to veto or forget. This is significant because about 15% of UN states are Arab and a further 15% Moslem, so they are almost always in the Security Council.  Israel has never sat on the Security Council and as the only "Jewish" state is clearly very isolated at the UN.  At present Jordan is the only Arab member and Nigeria the only largely Moslem country in the Security Council so Israel has a relatively easy period.

So how often does the USA veto anti-Israel decisions?

I counted vetoes from the UN's foundation to 2009. In total 185 vetoes were cast in that period, of which 96 were cast by the USSR/Russia (mainly the USSR) and 78 by the USA. In some cases the other permanent members participated in vetoes, mainly the UK voting with the USA but also France and China occasionally cast vetoes. 

The USA did not cast a single veto before 1970. Most of the USSR's vetoes were cast in that period when the UN and the Security Council were dominated by pro-Western states. Following decolonization, the emergence of a third world voting block shifted power to the Soviet block and the USA then cast lot of vetoes, primarily in reference to the Middle East and Vietnam war.

In the 23 year period 1946-1969, when the USA cast no vetoes at all, the USSR cast 80 vetoes of which 5 vetoes related to Israel: the causes were Syrian-Israeli conflict over water diversions, Egyptian-Israeli conflict over access to the Red Sea and attacks on Israeli civilians.

From 1970 to 2009 the USSR/Russia cast 16 vetoes, only one of which related to the Middle East: In 1984 the USSR rejected a call for withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, then occupied by Syria and Israel.  Since 2010 it has cast a number of vetoes related to Syria.

France and the UK cast 8 vetoes in the 1946-1969 period. All with relation to the decolonization of Africa, two were about the Sinai crisis.

In the 30 year period 1970-2009, the USA cast 78 vetoes of which 39 - exactly half- were related to the Middle East, so on average the USA has vetoed one anti-Israeli decision a year since 1970.
Democrats governed the USA in 1977-1980, 1993-2000, 12 years out of the 40 year period examined: Only 6 vetoes were cast by Democratic presidents, but 4 of those were Israel-related (one or two per presidential term).
Half of all US Security Council vetoes were during the Reagan presidency, and it also was responsible for half of all Israel-related vetoes, either in relation to the occupied territories or the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. 10 vetoes were cast during the presidency of George Bush Junior of which only one was not related to Israel, in other words 3/4 of all pro-Israeli vetoes were cast by two US presidents.

The necessity of using the veto is often the product of poor inter-state relations. The point about the security council is that issues are resolved in back rooms and not through global confrontation. Use of vetoes are a form of low level confrontation and the high incidence of vetoes under Reagan and Bush may reflect poor inter-state relations, with Israel being an easy way to embarrass the USA because of its lack of international support.

Because I only studied vetoes I can't comment on what the Security Council was actually deciding, and strictly speaking the two need to be examined side by side. Israel is not the only long-term conflict, though it is arguably the UN's oldest conflict. India-Pakistan, Sri-Lanka, Tibet, Sudan and Congo all come to mind and they attracted almost no vetoes.

So is Israel dependent on the US veto? I would say, yes, but less then once a year.

Source: United Nations Security Council - Veto List

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cheap at the price: Why the USA supports Israel

In debates about Israel, I frequently see references to US aid to Israel.  This is generally provided as evidence of the power of the "Israel lobby" to divert American resources without reference to US needs.  The underlying assumption of this thesis is that support for Israel is not an American interest.

In fact the USA has important reasons for supporting Israel. Modern arms are extremely expensive to produce and generate no financial rewards, unless of course you manage to sell them.  The USA is the world's largest exporter of arms and the profits that it generates on arms sales help fund its arms manufacturers, whose main expense is not manufacturing the arms but doing the research and development needed to design them: By making arms manufacturing more profitable arms sales lower the procurement price for the US military and fund the research required to develop the next generation of weapons.  To put it differently, US military power - at the moment it is the strongest nation on earth - is dependent on its ability to produce the best weapons and sell them.

 Israel is a major customer for US arms - US aid to Israel is not spend it how you please cash, but credits to buy US weapons. The Israelis get a percentage of arms freebies but at the same time the Israelis are among the largest customers for US weaponry and US freebies prevent the Israelis from developing cheaper alternatives or shopping around- which could undermine the USA.  Israel is a major testing ground for US weapons, and Israeli innovation and research plays a key role in forming the next generation of US weapons. Much of US aid actually goes to fund Israeli military research and development and in return Israel gives the USA access to the know how generated by that research.  For example the US funded Israeli anti-missile missiles such as Iron Dome and in return received the technology developed by the Israelis free of charge.

Every major US computing firm (Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, Google etc) maintains an R & D center in Israel - per capita R & D in Israel is the highest in the world by along shot: They do so because it's cheaper here and the Israelis are good at it. What applies to computing also applies to arms. The Israelis use the arms credits they receive to build co-manufacturing and R & D agreements.  In addition many armies round the world use the Israelis as a model ("I'll have what they are having") so that US sales to Israel generate a lot of follow on sales to other states. Israeli use of US weaponry demonstrates its effectiveness - and how to use it.

Basically the US is (to paraphrase President Johnson) "better off with Israel inside the tent pissing out then outside the tent pissing in".

If your assumption is that the USA has no interest and gains nothing from supporting Israel then its very easy to be drawn into a world view which assumes mythical "Jewish power"  and the "Jewish lobby" is the entire cause of US support for Israel. My view is that US support is the product of circumstance and that the lobby, such as it is, merely enhances that support and makes it harder to change direction. It isn't the cause of US support for Israel and in fact the peak of Jewish power in the USA was in the Fifties when US government ties with Israel were quite minimal.

Finally I should mention that the highest recipients of international aid per capita are a variety of small Pacific Island states, but if you rule them out then the highest recipients per-capita are the Palestinians - and by a large margin. See  the Palestinians receive aid from a huge variety of nations.  World Bank data does not include military aid so it is probably larger in reality. The Israelis get their aid almost exclusively from the USA, almost exclusively as military aid, and receive less per person (though not by a huge margin) then the Palestinians.  Afghans receive more per person the the Israelis: see

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Arendt, Herzl, settlements and the Jewish response to antisemitism

What would Herzl and Hannah Arendt have to say about the settlements if they were alive today?
A key principal for Herzl's movement was that Jewish immigration had to be "secured by public law". Zionism was not a pirate movement, seeking to occupy land, but one that worked with the authorities both local and international and sought formal approval for its actions.  All land was legally purchased and Ottoman approval was sought for migration.  The movement focused on winning international approval and its leaders were democratically elected. This policy paid off, first with the Balfour Declaration and later with the League of Nation's creation of the Mandate for Palestine.  Would Herzl have approved of the West Bank settlements? I would guess that he wouldn't: the settlements are not supported by international law, there is a great deal of dubious land seizure and they are contrary to the democratic principals on which Herzl built the Zionist movement. Having said that, the sovereign power in the West Bank is the state of Israel, which supports most settlements (although some are built without permisison by "wild cat" groups), so in that respect they are at least partially secured by public law.

Although Arendt flirted with Zionism and was Jewish, she opposed nationalism and was no Zionist. Arendt was highly critical of Jewish authorities behaviour during the Holocaust:

"Wherever Jews lived, there were recognized Jewish leaders, and this
leadership, almost without exception, cooperated in one way or another, for
one reason or another, with the Nazis. The whole truth was that if the Jewish
people had been really unorganized and leaderless, there would have been
chaos and plenty of misery but the total number of victims would hardly
have been between four and half and six million people".

Arendt may be wrong in what she says, and insensitive to the limited choices faced by Jews during this period, but there is a similarity between saying that settlements "must be secured by public law" and trying to work with the Nazis. In a sense what she describes is no different from the policies encouraged by Herzl, and which ultimately won the Jews a state.  By the way, most Jewish leaders were arbitrarily appointed by the Nazis and none were known Zionists. Some may have helped save Jews.

The thing is that the settlers, by ignoring the international community and the Israeli state, are working in accordance with the principals Arendt seems to be advising. So in that sense, Arendt's thinking is closer to settler groups then to liberal-Zionism. In the end, the Jews in Nazi Europe were caught in a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation and Arendt's criticism is not the product of a detailed analysis.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The PLO are not the sole legimate representatives of the Palestinian people and can't negotiate a treaty with Israel.

The PLO has official status at the UN as the "legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people.  In the Seventies it was granted observer status at the UN and it represents the Palestinians in international forums and negotiations with the Israelis.

Before the Nineties there was a logic to this. The PLO was a body composed of a group of different Palestinian organizations and had Arab League support.  The Palestinian's were either dispersed or under Israeli rule and had no means of electing a representative and the UN gave that status to the PLO.

Today, however, things have changed. First of all the Palestinians held free elections in 2004.  The result of those elections was an indisputable victory not of the PLO, but of Hamas and as such Hamas has the best claim to being the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Secondly, Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and Gaza is governed by Hamas. That means that decision making in Gaza is purely by the Palestinians without any outside intervention.  While we may not approve of the means by which the Hamas took over in Gaza, and the failure to hold further elections, that is arguably an internal Palestinian affair and despite the problematics Hamas is the only Palestinian group which can claim to represent the Palestinians.  At the very least, it is no longer possible to claim that the PLO is the sole representative of the Palestinians or that its decisions are binding on the Palestinians.

It could be argued that in the eyes of the UN the PLO remains the sole representative but in the absence of a fresh decision confirming their status, I would say that is contentious.

At present Israel and the PLO are negotiating a "final solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under US guidance, but without Hamas having some role in those negotiations, it seems to me that these negotiations cannot be said to be taking place in good faith.

A lot of people feel that Netanyahu is not negotiating in good faith and doesn't really want a result. That may well be the case, but the truth is that the negotiations in their present format are farcical when they don't include the only truly self-governing and independent section of the Palestinian people.  As long as that is the case, nobody is acting in good faith.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Salif Keita and BDS, from Alabama to Jerusalem

A few weeks ago I noticed that Salif Keita was due to perform at King David's citadel in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was both surprised and delighted.
I was surprised because Salif Keita is from Mali, a predominantly Moslem country on the edge of the Sahara where there is both an Islamic insurgency and Al Qaeda presence. Keita was also once a minister in the government of Mali. Salif Keita is an albino, which apparently are a group who face discrimination in some parts of Africa and he works to prevent discrimination against albinos.
I was delighted because Keita is one of my favorite African musicians.  His music combines modernity with ancient African themes.  I told my partner that while I would not be willing to spend 600 shekels (150 US dollars) to see the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney (as they are today), I would be willing to spend that much to see Salif Keita in King David's citadel.
The citadel is a structure just inside the Jaffa gate in Jerusalem which was built by King Herod about 2000 years ago.

Unfortunately, the timing of his show didn't suit my schedule with kids etc. so I had to leave it and I forgot about it until yesterday when I discovered from the Engage (anti-racist campagin against anti-Semitism) website, that Mr Keita had cancelled the performance and published a letter on his web page explaining that he was doing so because of  threats and because he wished to protect his work for Albinos. You can see the letter on his facebook page, or here
Salif Keita's letter explaining concert cancelation
 I have no problem with that, as I said I was surprised he would play here at all, and if he doesn't it won't affect how I vote or view the world. I just accept it as one of those things.

What struck me was the debate on his Facebook page, which is rather sad.  Some were saying the boycott was anti-Semitic, others that criticism of them as anti-Semite as an "attempt to silence debate".  There was no attempt to reach out or promote peace and understanding. I saw that some supporters of boycotting Israel were comparing it to the bus boycott in Alabama and after reflecting on this I wanted to point out the difference between non-violence and boycotts as practised by Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and the BDS movement.
First both Dr King and Gandhi steadfastly and absolutely opposed the use of violence. This is not true of the BDS movement (boycott divestment and sanctions).
Second boycotts as used by both Gandhi and Dr King were first and foremost actions taken by those on the recieving end of discrimination. One of the problematics of BDS is that it is not Palestinians who are using non-violence or boycotts, it is predominantly a European movement targetting Israel, while ignoring the history of European-Jewish interaction, in which boycotts were a means of persecution. Dr King always spoke out very clearly against anti-Semitism, even saying that "Israel's right to exist in security is incontestable" which the BDS doesn't.

I suppose BDS supporters conflate themselves with the Palestinians and think that by acting in supprt they become part of a struggle they admire. Instead they are complicating the situation of the Palestinians and turning Israeli foreign policy into a struggle against anti-Semitism. The Palestinian's popularity in some respects is their achilles heal, preventing them from seeking or sustaining any peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Incidentally a Rabbi, Abraham Heschel, was at the front of many of the civil rights marches. Right next to Dr King (second from the right in this picture).

Monday, September 16, 2013

The inevitable defeat of inevitable victory in the Middle East

In 1948 the Palestinians were sure they couldn't fail, they outnumbered the Jews two to one and had the support of all the Arab states. In fact the Jews had nowhere to run and were so scared of failure that they gave the war everything they had. The sense that Israel's situation was precarious remained strong after 1948  and in the run-up to the 1967 war, Nasser's doom laden pronouncements led to widespread fear in Israel.  Again it turned out to be the opposite: Arab overconfidence fed the Israeli dread of defeat and led to opposite results.
In 1973 the situation reversed: The Israelis thought they were undefeatable and the Arabs were sure they couldn't win. Although the Israelis didn't lose the war, it was the closest Israel has come to defeat.

Because many Arabs assumed victory was inevitable sooner or later, they didn't work for that victory and were at a disadvantage. Because so many Israelis thought the Arabs might be right, they were motivated to try harder. Thus inevitable victory fed defeat.

Six months ago Assad's defeat looked invitable, but right now its hard to say what will happen in Syria. Latest reports say 50% of the opposition to Assad are "global Jihad' volunteers. With so many Jihadi forces gathering, Assad may find friends in new places, expeically if he dumps his Sarin collection.

Things may be reversing again. The Arab states are a mess, but given the way things tend to fall upside down in the Middle East, I would hestiate to make any predictions.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hebron and my basic training in the Israeli Army

This post is a continuation of my experiences doing basic training in the Israeli army in 1994.

As part of the basic training, we had to spend a six hour night shift guarding the base. To make it easier we were allocated partners for the shift and I was paired with the only Haredi Jew in our group of new immigrants doing three week basic training.
I no longer remember his name, the Russians liked him because his wife was Russian and he stood out.  He spoke Hebrew with a strong Yiddish inflection but the key thing about him was that he lived in the heart of Hebron.  Hebron is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank with Jewish settlers right in its heart.  There are I believe, about 400 settlers living there and they are regarded as among the most extreme settlers in the West Bank and a source of constant provocations and tension with the Palestinian population.

Our lone Haredi told us he was doing military service because it would allow him to get additional child support (he had five children) and to carry a weapon.  He also saw it as his duty to educate us about Hebron and constantly explained that Hebron, or rather the "Tomb of the Patriarchs" in the heart of Hebron is the burial site of Abraham and other forefathers (and mothers) and the second most holy site in Judaism (it is also sacred to Moslems).  All this was recounted with a typical slight sing-song Yiddish inflection.
During the peace negotiations with the Palestinians in the 'Nineties a Jewish terrorist opened fire in the tomb, killing 29 Palestinians.

During the six hours that we guarded the base, I told him about my family history and he told me about himself. To my astonishment he turned out to be a former Irish-Catholic postman from Brooklyn. This revelation caused me to take another look at the man. I suddenly noticed that he was taller than me - and among the rather short Russian Jews, I was noticeably tall (in England I am average height).  He was also red-headed.
The next day in the dining room I couldn't keep my new information to myself. "x is a convert" I told someone next to me, "he's a former Irish Catholic from Brooklyn". Everyone who heard this was stunned and you could hear a buzz as the information travelled across the dining room, like waves of grass bending in the wind.

I have since learnt that Rabbinical Judaism regards it as a grave sin to remind a convert of their origins and they are quite right not the least because it is very difficult to convert to Judaism and requires a year of study. I sometimes remember the incident and feel ashamed of my action but with it I feel a sense of annoyance that someone who was not born into Judaism should act in a way that makes life difficult for those of us who had less choice in their religion.

I have never visited Hebron or the Tomb of the Patriarchs, but I should add two important facts about the tomb, which contributed tot he Jewish extremism round it.  First of all it is one of what were known to the Jews as the four holy cities (Tsafed, Tiberias, Jerusalem and Hebron) in which the Jews maintained a presence across the centuries. In 1929 there were riots in Palestine and 70 Hebron Jews were killed and the rest forced to leave.  The issue was a celebrated cause among right-wing Jews.  The other pertinent fact is that Jews were banned from entering the Tomb of the Patriarchs from the late 1300s until the Israeli conquest in 1967 and despite that apparently maintained their connection with the site, worshipping on the steps at one of the entrances.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My name was used for cyber fraud: An order for translation which was never paid.

I suppose there were warning signs. First I recieved a snail mail version of the Nigerian scam (in this case it was Portuguese) telling me I had inherited 650,000 Euros. 

Then I got this mail from Facebook:
Dear Jonathan,

Your Facebook account was recently logged into from a computer, mobile device or other location you've never used before. For your protection, we've temporarily locked your account until you can review this activity and make sure no one is using your account without your permission.

Did you log into Facebook from a new device or an unusual location?

 - If this was not you, please log into Facebook from your computer and follow the instructions provided to help you control your account information.

 - If this was you, there's no need to worry. Simply log into Facebook again to get back into your account.

For more information, visit our Help Center here:

Facebook Security Team

The login proved to be from Ohio using a Mac. I don't use Macs and someone in Ohio had got hold of my password.  This was worrying. 

In between I got a request to connect on LinkedIn from a German translator. I occasionally get these requests from people I don't know. If they look interesting and reliable I sometimes accept and this guy looked OK and I thought he might have some interesting connection, so I agreed.

Then yesterday the German fellow suddenly sent me an angry mail saying I owed him 700 Euros. It emerged that somebody using my name (spelt Löwenstein with an "umlaut") had ordered a large translation job relating to search engine optimization (SEO) which is the process through which websites get Google to bring them more visitors. He thought it was me and that was why he "friended" me. They gave him an address which was not mine.  I checked all the other Jonathan Lowensteins online (we're a relatively exclusive brand) but I could find no other in Israel. 
I exchanged some mails with the translator and he forwarded me the e-mail containing the translation order. I tried to trace the e-mail but failed. So I checked one of the documents he had translated and found it was for a website:  If you click on the link in the website it takes you to which is a site selling some kind of fake medicine.

I recently read an excellent article about fake medicine sites inWired (see this as well) so I guessed what was up. I guess they got their SEO material translated for free by posing as me, they even paid him a deposit to make it look genuine. So take care.

I located the server housing the website, it was in the Czech republic but the server is probably rented and just holds a website. The business is elsewhere and these guys know their internet and won't be nearby. I suppose they are German speakers because the documents were in German and they spelt my name with an Umlaut.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hair-raising tales from elderly Israelis

My appartment is too small for my current five person family and we are looking for a larger one. There is a neighbourhood we really like nearby and my partner found a nice flat for sale there, although its still a bit too small, its within our budget and is in a building which can easily be expanded.  So I went to chat to some of the neighbours, see what they were like and whether they would agree to an expansion.
I spoke to two neighbours and the second pair were small elderly folk who told me they had been in the building since it was built "in 1963 or 1964".
They said they were allocated the apartments in a lottery.  Apparently it was discounted as they were immigrants.  "Where are you from?" I asked. "Poland" came the reply.
They told me they arrived in Israel in 1949, "Well actually it was 1947 but the British imprisoned us in Cyprus until 1949".  I did my History MA on this stuff and started asking questions.  This is the story they told:

The woman had a Catholic neighbour in Poland, and both he and his sister were called up by the Nazis for servitude of some sort in Germany and he suggested that she pose as his sister.  As a result she became the maid in the house of an SS officer. I missed a trick here and failed to get details of the SS officer and the servitude.  She said she was very young and the man protected her.  She masqueraded as a Christian for four years, living in the officers house. She didn't want to go into details and her husband didn't like talking about all this,  I didn't hear what happened to him.

After the war they both started making their way to Palestine. There was a mass movement of Jews out of Poland and the USSR in the Forties', mostly locally organized and now called "Bricha".  They both joined the same group (and fell in love) and their group walked across the Alps from Austria. I believe US troops were helping Jews crossing through Austria (eg providing food and shelter).  I repeat they crossed the Alps on foot from Austria to Italy.  In Italy they got a train to Genoa. From Genoa they took a rickety boat (they told me its name but I forgot it).  When they approached Palestine, two British destroyers came either side, slamming against the boat and trapping it.  British trooops boarded the boat (incidentally this usually happened in international waters) and took the occupants prisoner.
They were held on Cyprus until about a year after Israel's independance and released in 1949.
Being elderly they have no need (or money) for any expansion, and having crossed the Alps on foot they are in great shape, so their flat won't become free any time soon... So the flat fell through.  I got this post though,  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A comparison of discrimination in Israel, the UK, Sweden and USA

I thought it might be interesting to compare treatment of African-Americans, British Moslems and Israeli Palestinian-Arabs.  Note that I have excluded the occupied territories.  In some cases the situation in Israel is good enough that factoring in the occupied territories would still leave it comparable with other countries. I did not include economic data because of time constraints.

Discrimination varies between countries and is affected by particular local conditions. It is important to note differences: Not all Israeli Arabs are Moslem while I focussed on Swedish and British Moslems. African Americans are not a religious group but a skin-colour group.  Israeli Arabs and African Americans are local minorities while in Britain and Sweden most Moslems are relatively recent immigrants.

In the course of looking for sources I found Moslem sites discussing some of these problems. One memorable quote said that there are more Phd's in France then in the entire Moslem world. Problems of inequality are not purely the product of discrimination and any comparison of data needs to factor that in.

This is what I found:

Members of Parliament

Israel: 10/120 10% of seats vs 20% of population
UK:   8/650 1.2% of seats vs 4.8% of population
Sweden: 3/349  0.8% of seats vs (roughly) 4% of population.
USA: Senate - 0/100 African Americans are  13.6% of the population
          Congress - 41/435 9.4% of seats
Taken together 41/535 7.5 % of seats

Executive (government ministers)

Israel: None
UK: 1
Sweden:  None
USA: Head of State + 3

High Court

Israel: 1/15
UK: None
Sweden: None
USA: 1/9


Israel: 3750 out of 22,000 (17% vs 20% of general population) An additional 10,000 were held from the occupied territories. 2008 10% os Israeli Arab prisoners were involved in political crimes.
UK: 11,000 out of 86,000 (13% vs 4.8% of general population) .
Sweden:  No data Non-Swedes form 30% of inmates and immigrants are reported to be disproportionately represented in the prisons.
USA: 900,000 out of 2.3m (39% vs 13.6% of general population) 2009

Voter participation

Israel: 56% vs 67% national average. 2013 elections.
UK:  No data by religion but Bangladeshi and Pakistani voters were reported as having a higher then average turnout (70%+) . 65% national average. 2010 elections
Sweden: Studies suggest that voter turnout is lower among immigrants.  Many immigrants are given residency but not citizenship.
USA: African American voters had a higher turnout then any other major ethnic group.