By John Ballard
As the Massachusetts Yankee sez good riddance to King Arthur's court and ventures today into another lion's den, he enters a world-class diplomatic mine field. When I look at Mitt Romney's stable of advisors I will not be shocked if he keeps stepping into one pile of fresh protocol poop after another as he visits Israel. He would be well-advised to keep his time there as short and sweet as he can manage.
Here is a short reading list covering a few of the subjects into which he may experience yet another self-inflicted faux pas. These topics that are diplomatically radioactive, covering US-Israeli politics, Hezbollah, Palestinians, Jordan and the Olympics.
?Why is the Western left so obsessed with Israel?
American Jews have been at the core of civil rights and other movements associated with the Left. But Israel's treatment of Palestinians, both in the occupied territores and in Israel itself, has put the Left in a conflicted position.
The reason for the left's difficulty in defending its Israel obsession lies in the embarrassment of leftists to admit who, in the overwhelming majority of cases, they are - white, middle-class members of the First World's educated elite. They number among the haves. As leftists (or progressives, liberals or social democrats), what they hate more than anything else is seeing the strong bully the weak - but the worst, by far, is when the bully comes from among their peers, the strong on a global scale - the Western-dominated, economically-advanced world. Then the left - the college students, professors, activists, writers, artists and other politically engaged people - have a personal stake in the injustice they're seeing. When Syrians are bullying Syrians, or Sudanese are bullying South Sudanese, they don't.
Israelis may not be as white as people think, but they are as Western as you get in the Middle East, and they are without doubt the haves against the Palestinians' have-nots, while the occupation is without doubt a case of the strong bullying the weak. After nearly a half-century of this, how can any Western left-winger, how can any American liberal or European social democrat, not be incensed at what this country is doing?
Study question: Does Mitt Romney have a clue about this nuance or has he drunk so much of Neocon Koolade it may never enter his mind?
Extra points: Define Limosine Liberal and Neoconservative in twenty-five words or less without mentioning Jews.
?Syrian revolution leaves the Party of God in search of a Plan B
This excellent summary of challenges facing Hezbollah from The National is packed with good reading. Too much for a pr�s, and certainly too much for anyone trying to fake knowing about it from crib notes.
Six years after Hizbollah's "divine victory", Lebanese Shia are revisiting this occasion with bitterness and fear. Some feel that Hizbollah's support for the Syrian regime has created a conflict between the community and the Syrian people. While others, who still buy into the Party of God's rhetoric that Syrian president Bashar Al Assad is significant for the resistance, are also worried that Hizbollah is shooting itself in the foot, or leading the Shia in Lebanon to a new catastrophe. Meanwhile, Hizbollah seems to be getting ready to fight on more than one front, none of which will lead to a happy ending.
Study questions: Does Mitt Romney even know that the name Hezbollah means Party of God? Or that there is a difference (putting it mildly) between Shiite and Sunni Muslims? That Hezbollah is a Shiite Proxy? That Syria's Assad is Alawite? That Alawites are Shia? Or that Hezbollah is basically in charge of running Southern Lebanon to Israel's North?
?'Separate and Unequal' is unacceptable to Palestinians
Just as the complexities of Hezbollah and it's entanglement with Assad cannot be reduced to a few sound bites, the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict make rocket science look like an old Mister Wizard replay.
In introducing a 166-page report in December 2010, "Separate and Unequal: Israel's Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories," Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations at Human Rights Watch, stated, "Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits. While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp - not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes."
Study questions: What position, if any, does Romney have regarding Palestinians in the West Bank? What about Gaza? Does he know the difference? Does he know that Hamas and Fatah are not the same? Does he even know what Fatah is? And most interesting of all -- does he have a clue that there there are also Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin, born and reared as Israeli citizens, who are living testimony to official discriminatory maltreatment?
?Do Jordanians want reform or revolution?
Jordan, Israel's neighbor to the East, is of two countries in the neighborhood to have made official diplomatic peace with Israel. Again, the complexities of Middle East politics are enough to make even the bravest of diplomats want to pass the buck rather than open their mouths. Just mentioning the existence of Jordan is enough to be misunderstood.
The truth is that Jordan's royal rulers have tended to use the country's politicians and bureaucrats to deflect attention from their own failings; the four Hashemite kings have changed prime ministers almost 70 times since the establishment of modern Jordan in 1921 and the current king, Abdullah, has appointed 10 different prime ministers since coming to power in 1999 - three of them in the past 12 months alone. As I asked Mohammed Halaikah, a former deputy prime minister under Abdullah: Is there something wrong with every single Jordanian premier or perhaps something wrong with the king himself?
I was surprised, in fact, to find criticism of King Abdullah, and his wife, the glamorous Queen Rania, commonplace in Amman, the country's capital - despite the fact that insulting the king is punishable by three years in prison. Abdullah, however, lacks the charisma and charm of his late father, Hussein; many Jordanians may continue to harbour a nationalist and Islamic attachment to their Hashemite ruling family but plenty of others, for example, openly mock the Western-educated monarch's poor command of Arabic. Rania, who is of Palestinian descent, is particularly unpopular with the East Bankers and her lavish lifestyle and extravagant spending has prompted ominous comparisons with Marie Antoinette.
Study question: Will Mitt Romney dare mention Jordan? Or have his advisers wisely told him not to utter the name or make any reference to that place? It's even touchy to mention "West Bank" since it begs the question "West of what?" (That would be the Jordan River, which once ran through the Palestinian settlements that were IN Jordan, now referred to as the West Bank.)
?Israeli Arab Olympic hopeful thrown in at the deep end
This Haaretz article is two months old and I don't know whether or not Jowan Qupty is still on the Israeli Olympic swim team, (I think he is...) but if he is he will be the first Palestinian Israeli to be represented at the Olympic games.
The 22-year-old set the best time of any Israeli this year in the 100-meter breaststroke, and was positive he would join the 4x100 meter medley relay (together with Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or in freestyle, Guy Barnea or Yonatan Kopelev in backstroke and Alon Mandel in butterfly ). But then the ISA decided to name Imri Ganiel as the breaststroke swimmer. Ganiel has, indeed, passed the 50-meter breaststroke criterion for the European Championships in Debrecen that start tomorrow, but his time in the longer distance is slower than Qupty's. When the case was brought to the ISA's tribunal it ruled that both swimmers will travel to Hungary, and whoever swims the faster 100-meter heat will join the medley relay team.
Despite the saga being formally settled, Qupty is still raging at the ISA's behavior, and at its chairman, Noam Zvi.
"Everybody believes I'm a victim of racism, but I want to believe this isn't the case," he says. "I was caught in a political struggle. Zvi and my coach founded Hapoel Jerusalem, and then fell out. Zvi became the association's chairman and he helps Hapoel Jerusalem as much as he can. Whoever belongs to our team, 'Jerusalem United,' suffers because we're allegedly the opposition. I've heard similar stories before, so I'm not really that surprised."
Study questions: Does Mitt Romney realize that 2012 is the first time Palestine has been recognized as a participant in the Olympics? That the Olympics with which he so proudly claims solidarity by including Palestine has done something that world diplomacy has thus far failed to do? Does he even care?