American foreign policy American Jews Barack Obama Israel

So just who are Obama’s Middle East advisors? Finally, some clarifications…

Clarifications –i.e., light, as opposed to heat– about Obama’s Middle East advisors are provided by Jack Levin, an Obama friend and campaign insider quoted in Gidon Remba’s Tough Dove Israel. Almost the exact same language can be found on a blog called The Sunny Side, which quotes Eric Lynn, who is on Obama’s staff.

Here is an excerpt from Levin:

(1) The first allegation on almost every list is that Zbigniew Brzezinski is anti-Israel and is Barack’s chief foreign policy advisor.

The fact is that Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to a former president, called Barack and volunteered his endorsement of Barack’s campaign because Brzezinski agrees with Barack’s Iraq policy. While Barack briefly discussed Iraq with Brzezinski, Barack has never discussed, and will not discuss, Israel or Palestinian issues with Brzezinski. Indeed, Barack has no plans to talk further with Brzezinski about anything.

So to call Brzezinski a Barack foreign policy advisor of any kind is incorrect. And to call him Barack’s chief foreign policy advisor is a ludicrous misstatement.

(2) The second allegation on most every list is that Robert Malley is anti-Israel and is a Barack foreign policy advisor.

The fact is that Malley, who served on former President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy staff, emailed some of his writings and views to Barack’s staff as well as (we believe) to all (or most) of the other presidential candidates’ staffs. Barack has had, and plans to have, no conversations with Malley.

So Malley is not an advisor to Barack. Indeed, Martin Peretz (in a Jerusalem Post article entitled “Trust Obama on Israel”) unequivocally stated “Malley is not and has never been Middle East advisor to Barack Obama.”

(3) The third allegation on many lists is that Tony Lake is anti-Israel and is a Barack advisor. At last we have an allegation that is half correct: Tony Lake is a Barack advisor, but Tony Lake is not anti-Israel.

Tony was National Security Advisor to former President Bill Clinton (whose administration is clearly viewed as pro-Israel). Tony’s wife is Jewish and Tony himself converted to Judaism. Tony is pro-Israel and openly so, e.g., he is very well received when he speaks on U.S. foreign policy at synagogues and Jewish gatherings.

(Are you beginning to get the drift that you cannot believe everything you read on the Internet? Read on, please.)

(4) The fourth allegation on many lists is that Susan Rice is anti-Israel and is advising Barack.

Susan was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President Bill Clinton and Secretary Madeline Albright (again an administration clearly viewed as pro-Israel). She is not in any way anti-Israel. But in any event, her only involvement with Barack is on African affairs and she is not advising Barack on Israel or the Middle East at all.

(5) Another frequently mentioned character is George Soros. Whatever George’s views, he is merely a contributor (one out of 500,000 contributors so far and growing) to Barack’s excellent campaign. George is not an Obama advisor in any way.

(6) So finally we come to the key question: Who are Barack’s Israel advisors? Here the answers are all true and all good.

Dennis Ross, former President Bill Clinton’s chief Middle East advisor for 8 years, the world’s top recognized expert on the Middle East, a noted author of numerous books and countless articles, all of which are realistic and fair-minded, and himself a Jew.

While Dennis has not endorsed Barack, Dennis frequently confers with Barack and his team, and we all hope that whoever is elected president will call on Dennis to play a lead, crucial and fair-minded role on future Middle East policy.

Former President Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor Tony Lake, discussed in (3) above.

Representative Robert Wexler (D – FL), one of our country’s most outspoken advocates for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

Dennis McDonough, foreign policy advisor to former Senator Tom Daschle (D – SD), who consistently advocates a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

Dan Shapiro, a member of former President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council and a former aide to Senator Bill Nelson (D – FL), another consistent advocate of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

Eric Lynn, former foreign policy advisor to Rep. Peter Deutsch (D – FL), one of the House’s strongest supporters of Israel.

(The latter 3 – McDonough, Shapiro, and Lynn – currently serve as full-time Barack staff people.)

I am disturbed that Obama’s people rely entirely on obsolete, narrow definitions of what it means to be pro-Israel and that they don’t defend Malley. Read a little more of Levin’s comments and you will see what I mean. But that’s the game they are forced to play, alas, given the dumbed-down version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that must be presented on the campaign trail, so I don’t blame them.

31 thoughts on “So just who are Obama’s Middle East advisors? Finally, some clarifications…

  1. Much much ado about nothing. Are there any Jewish voters out there who doubt Obama on the basis of all of this? And if there are, would they be likely to vote for him if not for this BS??? Who cares?????????????

  2. This is unbelievable:

    “Barack has never discussed, and will not discuss, Israel or Palestinian issues with Brzezinski. Indeed, Barack has no plans to talk further with Brzezinski about anything.”

    Am I the only one here who is deeply offended by this remark. Sure, Brzezinski had problems with American Jews in the Carter years and he alienated people by saying nice things about the Mearsheimer-Walt book (Dan Fleshler has also praised some parts of it, if I’m not mistaken). But Obama is never ever going to speak to him? One of the most knowledgable and experienced foreign policy hands will under no circumstance be allowed to speak to Obama or get within two miles of him, as that would mean the candidate’s name would be bandied about some more by Ed Lasky???…Who else don’t they want the candidate to talk to?

  3. Levin states that Dennis Ross is “the world’s top recognized Middle East expert.” By whom? To my knowledge he doesn’t even speak or read Arabic, the lingua franca of the region nor Farsi, the second most important language in the region. At best Ross might be the leading expert on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but on that he is hardly an objective observer. Can it be the fact that he speaks Hebrew and is a Jew that makes him “the world’s top recognized Middle East expert” to an obviously ethnocentric observer?

  4. “””“Barack has never discussed, and will not discuss, Israel or Palestinian issues with Brzezinski. Indeed, Barack has no plans to talk further with Brzezinski about anything.”

    Am I the only one here who is deeply offended by this remark.”””

    Why are you offended? No law has been passed requiring Barack Obama to consult with Mr. B.

    “””Sure, Brzezinski had problems with American Jews”””

    Collectively? With all of them? If so (and I do not recall it, and would have if it had occurred) then that would be a reason not to consult with B. But it didn’t happen.

    “””But Obama is never ever going to speak to him?”””

    Obama is not planning to, but that doesn’t mean that he never will. I am not planning to speak with Larry King, but someday I might.

  5. “””Levin states that Dennis Ross is “the world’s top recognized Middle East expert.” By whom? To my knowledge he doesn’t even speak or read Arabic, the lingua franca of the region”””

    Arabic is NOT the lingua franca of the Middle East. If you travel to non-Arabic Mideastern nations (Turkey, Israel, Iran) you will have a tough time if you only speak Arabic.

    English would serve you far better. Even most Iraqi Kurds cannot speak Arabic.

    “””nor Farsi, the second most important language in the region.”””

    Is Farsi more important than Turkish or Hebrew or even Kurdish? This claim is subjective.

    “””At best Ross might be the leading expert on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but on that he is hardly an objective observer.”””

    Who is objective? How is objectivity measured?

    “””Can it be the fact that he speaks Hebrew”””

    As opposed to Arabic? Many if not most professors of Middle East studies are not fluent in Hebrew. Why is speaking Hebrew only more or less objective than speaking Arabic only?

    “””and is a Jew”””

    Why is this relevant?

    “””an obviously ethnocentric observer?”””

    Are you referring to yourself? How are you more or less ethnocentric than others?

  6. “””I am disturbed that Obama’s people rely entirely on obsolete, narrow definitions of what it means to be pro-Israel and that they don’t defend Malley.”””

    Why should they either defend or critique Malley? He is not part of their campaign and Obama may be only dimly aware, if that, of Malley’s existence.

  7. I don’t think Levin knows what-the-f(&k he’s talkin’ about. He’s giving what he thinks is the standard pro-Israel AIPAC-like line defending Obama’s bona fides. With friends like Levin, Obama won’t need too many enemies.

    Besides, I just don’t buy what he’s claiming about Brzezinski’s non-role. Everything I’ve read says that his role is significant.

  8. I read in Haaretz that B has no role, in part because of his age (79). However, by mentioning B’s endorsement Obama is able to assert that the foreign policy establishment, or at least part of it, is supporting him.

  9. Jonathan, Brzezinski was vilified by much of the organized Jewish community during the Carter Administration. Things got so bad that he claimed that Rabbi Alexander Schindler, then chair of the Pres. Conference, called him an “anti-Semite.” Read “The Lobby” by Edward Tivnan for a blow-by-blow description.

    Or are you unwilling to admit that Pres. Carter had problems with American Jews because not all Jews had problems with him?

  10. “””Jonathan, Brzezinski was vilified by much of the organized Jewish community during the Carter Administration.”””

    I don’t know what “organized Jewish community” means. Does it mean synagogues? This did not happen.

    Nor do I know what “much” means in this context.

    The statement is so vague that it is difficult to either agree or disagree with it.

    “””Things got so bad that he claimed that Rabbi Alexander Schindler, then chair of the Pres. Conference, called him an “anti-Semite.””””

    I am always very suspicious of quotes which consist of a single word, with the rest of the sentence paraphrased.

    “””Read “The Lobby” by Edward Tivnan for a blow-by-blow description.””””

    It is not online. Since you have the book, why don’t you quote from its sources. I don’t mean an author’s opinions or generalizations, but actual facts.

    “””Or are you unwilling to admit that Pres. Carter had problems with American Jews”””

    President Carter in 1980 won among Jewish voters by a large margin, about 70 percent.

    On the other hand, President Carter lost among non-Jewish voters.

    Your language is very vague. “Problems.” What’s that? The wording of your statement makes it impossible for it to be false.

    But clearly, if Carter had been as popular in 1980 among non-Jews as he was among Jews (70%) then Carter would have won by a landslide.

  11. No. I am not going to take the time to prove what is common knowledge and has been documented by any number of sources. If you are interested in the truth as opposed to nit-picking about shorthhand phrases like “problems,” then look it up yourself. Check out the fierce confrontation over the F-15s. The controversy that erupted early in his presidency when he used the phrase “Palestinian homeland” and other codewords. The controversy that erupted when the Carter Administration announced a joint communique with the Soviet Union about the Middle East. The controversy over Andrew Young and the PLO when Young was Carter’s UN rep. There are others. Another source besides Tivnan is Steven Speigel’s “The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict.” Or Quandt’s “Decade of Decision.” If you keep arguing that Jimmy Carter did not have problems with the organized Jewish community (i.e., the Conference of Presidents, AIPAC, the ADL, etc.) all you will do is make yourself look foolish.

  12. Oops. I was wrong about one thing. Carter won a plurality of the Jewish vote in 1980, but not a majority.

    1980
    Reagan (R) 39
    Carter (D) 45
    Anderson (I) 14

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/jewvote.html

    On the other hand, Carter lost the election by a wide margin:

    Reagan 50.7%; Carter 41.0%

    Among non-Jews, Carter lost by ten percent. Among Jews, Carter WON by five percent.

    That’s a net difference of fifteen percent. There is really no question but that Jimmy Carter in 1980 was significantly MORE popular among Jews than among non-Jews.

    “””nit-picking about shorthhand phrases like “problems,””””

    Shorthand for what? Clearly Jimmy Carter in 1980 did not have a problem getting Jews to vote for him. Jimmy Carter had a problem getting NON-Jews to vote for him.

    “””Check out the fierce confrontation over the F-15s…”

    Check out the near universal acclaim which Jimmy Carter received over the Camp David peace accord. The bottom line is that Jimmy Carter won the 1980 election among Jews, lost it among non-Jews, and it would be a falsification of history to suggest otherwise.

    Carter continued and solidified US aid for Israel, which increased massively after 1973.

    I am not saying that I and other supporters of Israel were right to vote for Carter, but in fact we did in large numbers.

    “””The controversy that erupted early in his presidency when he used the phrase “Palestinian homeland” and other codewords.”””

    Codeword for what?

    “””If you keep arguing that Jimmy Carter did not have problems with the organized Jewish community (i.e., the Conference of Presidents, AIPAC, the ADL, etc.)”””

    The “organized Jewish community” is first and foremost synagogues. It is also Hadassah, B’nai B’rith, YMHAs, any Jewish organization, by definition.

    Unless “organized Jewish community” is also a “codeword,” since you brought the phrase “codeword” up. But codeword for what? And how am I supposed to know the true meaning?

    Carter received a plurality among members of Jewish organizations, including synagogues.

    It appears that any disagreement is a “problem.” In that case all presidents have had problems with all communities.

  13. Jonathan,

    I took 2 minutes off and reviewed this exchange. If you are implying or trying imply that Carter was in fact a good president and one of the reasons was that he helped Israel, I agree with you, at least on the latter point. But, otherwise, you are way off base here. The same source you gave on the Jewish vote indicates that Carter won 71% in 1976. But his total dropped off precipitously in 1980, when he got lower than any other Jewish Dem. since Roosevelt. Other than Carter, every Dem since Roosevelt has carried the Jewish vote by a solid majority and often an overwhelming one. There were clearly many reasons for Carter’s loss of support among Jewish voters, like other votes, including his handling of the economy. But Marco is absolutely correct in his assessment about his problems with the organized pro-Israel community in the U.S. I guess you could argue that the “organized Jewish community” should not be characterized as being represented by the 52 organizations (including Hadassah, B’nai Brith, and synagogue umbrella groups)in the Pres. Conference, AIPAC, the ADL and other well-known national organizations that have a pro-Israel advocacy component. But that is the generally accepted meaning of the term when people talk about domestic politics. Instead of rooting around to find election stats or, as Marco says, nitpicking about the definitions of words used by commentators in a medium that requires a certain amount of brevity, please take the time to read a litte bit about Carter’s presidency. No one should take the time to prove to you what is generally accepted history. If you can refute he said about the F-15s, Carter’s early rhetoric about Palestinians, etc., I am sure we would all be interested in this singular view of Carter’s presidency

  14. I agree that President Carter went from being extremely popular among Jews in 1976 to merely being popular in 1980. Recall, however, that 1980 was a three-way race, and most other presidential elections are two-way.

    As we all agree, this downward trend among Jews corresponded to a similar drop in Carter’s support among non-Jews.

    Hopefully we agree that Carter remained more popular among Jews than among non-Jews throughout his presidency. And Carter got a plurality of the Jewish vote in 1980. There were VERY few other ethnic groups of which that can be said. African-Americans, certainly.

    “”””Marco is absolutely correct in his assessment about his problems with the organized pro-Israel community in the U.S.”””

    Marco spoke of problems with the “Jewish community.” You speak of problems with the “pro-Israel community.”

    There is a huge rhetorical difference. Marco’s formulation introduces ethnicity as a (negative) factor, yours does not.

    Which formulation are we speaking of here? Marco’s which is ethnic (“Jewish”) or yours, which is not (“pro-Israel”)?

    “””I guess you could argue that the “organized Jewish community” should not be characterized as being represented by the 52 organizations (including Hadassah, B’nai Brith, and synagogue umbrella groups)in the Pres. Conference, AIPAC, the ADL and other well-known national organizations that have a pro-Israel advocacy component.”””

    No, the 52 organizations in the Presidential Conference include most of the largest Jewish organizations.

    But you, also are flipping back and forth from “Jewish” to “pro-Israel.” At the start of your sentence you speak of the criteria of being in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

    But then you flip and add to that the criteria of “organizations that have a pro-Israel advocacy component.”

    So which is it? Your latter formulation would include some Christian evangelical groups.

    “””Instead of rooting around to find election stats”””

    Unlike generalizations, election results can be measured. Election stats are very relevant to what we are discussing.

    “””or, as Marco says, nitpicking about the definitions of words used by commentators in a medium that requires a certain amount of brevity,”””

    The problem is that contradictory definitions of words are masking sloppy thinking here. Even you flipped back and forth between Marco’s “organized Jewish community” and your “organized pro-Israel community.”

    But the first is an ethnic reference, the second a political one. Conflating the two when criticizing Israel is VERY DANGEROUS. I hope we never see it on a mass level in my lifetime.

    “””please take the time to read a litte bit about Carter’s presidency.”””

    Any educated person who was an adult in the 1970s would have read about the Carter presidency every day. Carter had a major problem ca. 1979, but it was the economy and the hostages.

    His Israel-Egypt peace treaty was one of the few bright spots for him.

    I am all in favor of continuing to read about that era, but I wonder whether someone who was not there as an adult can, if not careful, miss the forest for the trees.

    The forest in this case is the election stats. Carter was more popular among Jews than among non-Jews, and he won the Jewish vote while losing in a landslide in 1980.

    A tree might be “this organization said X.” True, but this other organization did not.

    “””No one should take the time to prove to you what is generally accepted history.”””

    No one should take the time to prove to me anything. I don’t matter.

    However, people ought to be aware that there is a dangerous conflation going on in Marco’s rhetoric of “the organized Jewish community” and your rewording of that as “the organized pro-Israel community.”

    The danger is that Marco’s formulation is ethnic and your primary formulation is not.

    “””If you can refute he said about the F-15s, Carter’s early rhetoric about Palestinians, etc.,”””

    I don’t need to. Those events all occurred. And every president has them. But you yourself do not contend that Carter was, while in office, anti-Israel. He was pro-Israel and the overall judgement of a plurality of Jews was favorable to him.

  15. This will be my last comment on this. I don’t see anything wrong with conflating the “pro-Israel community” and the “organized Jewish community” in the course of a conversation or written piece. Everyone knows that the latter means, so I use it when I want to convey something about the 52 orgs + AIPAC and others (like the big federations, or think tanks). The fact that the pro-Israel community includes non-Jews does not make it any less true that the organized Jewish community, as it is commonly understood, is pro-Israel. I am glad of that.

    All of the groups in the Pres. Conference have a vote and a voice on issues related to Israel. Plus they are on the Exec. Committee of AIPAC, so even if they don’t have Israel advocacy as their central mission, they are involved in it. Sorry if the term “organized Jewish community” in the context of helping Israel offends you. You’re the one who makes it an ethnically sensitive issue by being loathe to use the term in that context.

  16. Jonathan,
    Iran is the most populous country in the region and Farsi is spoken throughout Iran and widely in Afghanistan, where it is known as Dari, parts of Pakistan and in Tajikistan. Hebrew is only widely spoken by Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs and former Palestinian prisoners.

    Modern Standard Arabic is the lingua franca spoken by the largest number of educated people in more countries than any other language in the region. A lingua franca is by definition the language of commerce and government.

    I don’t think that Dennis Ross would make the claim about himself that Levin made for him. I’m not denigrating Ross, I own a copy of his memoirs and I respect him. But first of all to single out anyone as “the world’s foremost expert on the Middle East” takes khutzpah, and then to make that claim about someone who is so linguistically deficient takes even more. But this would be like singling out a Lithuanian-American who speaks only English and Lithuanian as “the world’s foremost expert on Europe.”

    When I lived in Israel in the late 1970s there was a common joke that the definition of Israel is a Middle Eastern country run by East Europeans that thinks that it is part of Western Europe. So this demonstrates that even Israelis know that they aren’t typical of the region. Ross’s knowledge is on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in particular on Israeli and Palestinian positions to the conflict. He also has probably been to any number of other Arab countries to meet briefly with the leadership.

  17. “””I don’t see anything wrong with conflating the “pro-Israel community” and the “organized Jewish community” in the course of a conversation or written piece.”””

    Nor do I, if the references are laudatory or neutral.

    But such conflation incorporated into negative references, such as Marco’s, is dangerous. In addition, it muddles the messsage, so possibly legitimate criticism gets lost in ethnic references.

    “””the organized Jewish community, as it is commonly understood, is pro-Israel. I am glad of that.”””

    So am I. We are not associating being Jewish with a negative characteristic.

    But let’s say someone thinks that being pro-Israel is wrong. Then when such a person then complains the Jews are pro-Israel, that person is associating being Jewish with what in the critic’s mind is a negative characteristic.

    “””Sorry if the term “organized Jewish community” in the context of helping Israel offends you.”””

    It only offends me if the person using the term is complaining about Jews helping Israel. I think helping Israel is great.

    But criticism leveled at Jews as a group, even if couched in terms of “the Jewish community,” “Jewish leaders,” etc. I have a problem with.

    “””You’re the one who makes it an ethnically sensitive issue”””

    “Jewish” is an ethnic reference. I don’t object to the use of the term “Jewish.” I only object to negative use of the term.

  18. Wikipedia states that “a lingua franca…is any language widely used beyond the population of its native speakers.”

    You are thus using the phrase incorrectly. You claim:

    “””Modern Standard Arabic is the lingua franca spoken by the largest number of educated people in more countries than any other language in the region. A lingua franca is by definition the language of commerce and government.”””

    All horses are animals, but not all animals are horses. All lingua francas are used in commerce and government, but not all languages used in commerce and government are lingua francas.

    Arabic is not a lingua franca in the Middle East, because non-Arabs rarely communicate with each other in Arabic.

    If Israelis and Maltese, or Turks and Iranians, were communicating with each other in Arabic then yes, under those conditions Arabic would be a lingua franca.

    But they don’t. People of different nationalities in the Middle East would be much more likely to speak English to each other than Arabic.

    Let me put it another way. When traveling through northern Israel, you can look down the main street of a town. If the signs are in Arabic and English it is an Israeli Arab town. If the signs are in Hebrew and English it is a Jewish town.

    That is because English, not Arabic or Hebrew, is the lingua franca of the Middle East.

    Signs in Arabic and English are commonplace all over the Middle East. Arabic is spoken for the most part only by Arabs. Hence it is not a lingua franca.

  19. Jonathan,
    This is the definition from the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary: any of various languages used as common or commercial tongues among peoples of diverse speech. In Iraq it is Arabic that is used between Kurds, Turkomens, and Arabs. In Lebanon it is Arabic that is the common language between Christians, many of whom claim to be Phoenecians rather than Arabs, and Muslims. In Iran the lingua franca is Farsi–approximately half the population of Iran is made up of ethnic minorities such as Bucharis, Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, etc. When Jews were present in Arab countries in large numbers it was Arabic that they used to speak with their neighbors–unless you consider Arabic-speaking Jews to be Arabs. When Arabs from Morocco or Algeria go to Lebanon or Iraq they speak in Modern Standard Arabic. For Muslims Arabic is the language of prayer, although some know Arabic about as well as most Reform Jews know Hebrew.

  20. “”” any of various languages used as common or commercial tongues among peoples of diverse speech”””–Merriam Webster Online Dictionary definition of “lingua franca”

    The above definition is the same as the Wikipedia one. A lingua franca is when native speakers of different languages (“diverse speech”) communicate using a common learned language.

    English is a lingua franca of southern India. French is a lingua franca of former French colonies in Africa.

    Most of the examples you give are simply native Arabic speakers communicating with other Arabic speakers in their native language, Arabic. When Arabs speak Arabic to one another that is to be expected. It does not constitue the use of a lingua franca, because the speakers are not “of diverse speech.”

    “””In Lebanon it is Arabic that is the common language between Christians, many of whom claim to be Phoenecians rather than Arabs, and Muslims.”””

    While some Lebanese Christians may speak French in their homes, the large majority of them speak Arabic. Hence their Arabic first and last names, e.g., Bashir Gemayel, Suleiman Franjieh (whose surname literally is Arabic for “Frenchman”), etc. These are people whose ancestors have been speaking Arabic for centuries.

    When native Arabic speakers in Lebanon converse with each other in Arabic, that does not make Arabic a lingua franca.

    “””When Jews were present in Arab countries in large numbers it was Arabic that they used to speak with their neighbors–unless you consider Arabic-speaking Jews to be Arabs.”””

    Jews in Arabic countries traditionally spoke Arabic. Some spoke a Judeo-Spanish called Ladino. Some Yemenite Jews spoke a Judeo-Arabic written in Hebrew letters.

    But a century ago the large majority of Jews in Arab nations spoke Arabic. During the late 19th and 20th century some North African Jews (and non-Jews also) began to speak French as their native language.

    However, the Jews who moved to Israel from Arab lands after 1948 usually spoke Arabic as their native language. When they spoke Arabic to their Arab neighbors this was another example of native speakers of Arabic conversing in their common native language. Again, that does not make Arabic a lingua franca.

    “””When Arabs from Morocco or Algeria go to Lebanon or Iraq they speak in Modern Standard Arabic.”””

    Again, this is an example of native speakers of Arabic conversing in Arabic. That does not make Arabic a lingua franca.

  21. Jonathan,

    Often you devote your energy into arguing about the precise definitions of words or trying to question arguments by pointing out that phrases are not precisely defined enough to your satisfaction. There is something obsessive about your approach and I don’t see what it contributes to the conversation. What the hell difference does it make what “lingua franca” means?

  22. It makes a difference, but Jonathon might be using the semantic distinction as an intentional distraction from the point of the comment.

  23. It is obsessive.

    On the other hand, there is a philosophy which some call anti-Rationalism (http://www.zmag.org/Zmag/articles/oldalbert17.htm).

    According to anti-Rationalism, there are no facts, only opinions. Evidence doesn’t matter. Words mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean.

    Moreover, according to anti-Rationalism it is rude to tell someone that they are wrong. Doing so interferes with proper discussions, which are merely exchanges of opinions for which there are no rights or wrong.

    And in such a universe, Arabic is the “lingua franca” of the Middle East.

  24. Jonathan,

    You seem to be adopting the pan-Arabist position that all Arabs are the same people. In reality Arabs are best understood as sharing a common culture and civilization.

    A century ago many, if not most Italians did not really speak Italian–they spoke local dialects. Italian was just one dialect adopted by linguists as the national standard. That dialect was the lingua franca of Italy, because it was used by educated Sicilians, Napolitanos, Venetians, Florentians, etc. to speak to one another when traveling or doing business in another region. Arabs from different Arab countries do the same, using MSA as the standard–which is why MSA is taught to diplomats and military personnel in Western countries rather than a particular national varient of Arabic.

    So you still contend that Ross or anyone else can be the world’s leading expert on a region without speaking any of the native languages of over 90 percent of the population of the region? I don’t think Ross would try and argue that point. Then there is Bernard Lewis of Princeton University who has been a scholar for decades and knows Arabic, Turkish, and I believe Farsi as well. He has also published many books on the history and culture of the region. Ross has published one book on the region–his memoirs.

  25. lingua franca – “a common language used by speakers of different languages.” –http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/lingua%20franca

    The question is whether words can mean whatever one wants them to mean. Arabic is an important language. It is not a lingua franca. The examples you give consist of native speakers of Arabic speaking Arabic to one another.

    I don’t contend that Ross is a leading expert on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.

  26. Jonathan,

    Here is a quote from Wikipedia on Arabic: Modern Arabic is classified as a macrolanguage with 27 sub-languages in ISO 639-3. These varieties are spoken throughout the Arab world, and Standard Arabic is widely studied and known throughout the Islamic world.

    I once asked one of the Army’s few native Arabic speaking interrogators, a native Egyptian, if he ever used interpreters while working in Iraq. He said yes as he couldn’t understand the local dialects (i.e. spoken languages) spoken by the prisoners. Magrebi Arabic and Iraqi Arabic are probably as distant from one another as Portuguese is from Romanian. But if Romanian and Portuguese were still called dialects of Latin then you would argue that Latin isn’t a lingua franca as the locals in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, and Romania all are just Latin speakers. So for educated Arabs from these different countries or educated non-Arab minorities such as Berbers or Kurds or Turkomens, Modern Standard Arabic serves as a lingua franca.

    And I’m glad to see that you finally concede the point of my original comment.

    As to what Ross being a Jew has to do with it, I deduced that this was one of the criterion by which Levin decided that he was “the world’s leading recognized Middle East expert.” The others being that he was pro-Israel and speaks Hebrew (after a fashion).

  27. “””I once asked one of the Army’s few native Arabic speaking interrogators, a native Egyptian,”””

    I.e., he speaks Arabic, since you call him “Arabic-speaking.”

    You have made my point for me, although in a different way than I would have. The Egyptian-born translator speaks Arabic, but cannot understand some Iraqi Arabs, who also speak Arabic.

    Hence Arabic, by definition, is not a lingua franca in the Middle East. A knowledge of Arabic won’t usually enable one to communicate with Turks, Jewish Israelis or Iranians. Depending on the dialect of Arabic spoken, it won’t always allow one to communicate with all Arabic speakers.

    If you had written that Modern Standard Arabic, a dialect of Arabic, is a lingua franca then I would not have bothered to disagree. I responded to your claim that Arabic was the lingua franca of the Middle East, a claim you no longer make.

    “””And I’m glad to see that you finally concede the point of my original comment.”””

    You are attacking a straw man here. I never claimed Ross was an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. I helpfully pointed out that just as Ross cannot Arabic, most professors of Middle East studies cannot speak Hebrew.

    The latter, e.g., Juan Cole, are apt to offer their opinions on the Middle East, to which they are entitled. But Juan Cole is not an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute for the same reason that Dennis Ross is not. Each only speak one of the two languages used by parties to the dispute.

    Their respective vantage points are limited.

    Defrocked former professor Norman Finkelstein, lauded as an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by some, speaks NEITHER Arabic nor Hebrew, and similarly is not an expert.

    “”””As to what Ross being a Jew has to do with it, I deduced that this was one of the criterion by which Levin decided that he was “the world’s leading recognized Middle East expert.”””””

    I am not psychic. Your deduction is not clear from what you wrote. Why did you deduce that Levin praised Ross because Ross was a Jew? What is the basis for your deduction?

    How do you know what you claim to know about Levin?

  28. Jonathan,
    I should have said Modern Standard Arabic in the beginning. It is the lingua franca of Arabs and of many Muslims as well.

    I don’t consider Finkelstein to be much of a Middle East expert. I do consider Ross to be an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian tracks of the peace process and by extension of American Middle East policy. He also has a very good working knowledge of Israeli and Palestinian politics.

    I’m not psychic either. I made the deduction based on the features that Levin might share in common or admire in someone in order to make the absurd claim that he did about Ross.

    While not speaking Hebrew may be as much a drawback for expertise in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Arab-Israeli conflict as not speaking Arabic, it is not as big a drawback when dealing with Middle East politics in general. There is much in Middle East politics that has nothing to do with Israel.

    By the way, I speak Hebrew but not Arabic, but I’ve studied enough Arabic to know what I’m talking about in regard to the language.

  29. I haven’t the time nor the patience to read through the rest of these comments. What caught my attention is the debate over Carter’s relationship with Jews in 1980.

    Let me be the first to point out that this is NOT 1980. In the year 2008, former President Carter is clearly an anti-Semite. Just read his book: “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” published in November 2006. (http://www.amazon.com/Palestine-Peace-Apartheid-Jimmy-Carter/dp/0743285026)

    One last point — as a whole, journalists are lazy individuals who put little effort into the “investigative” part of investigative reporting. They go for sound bites without documentation. If you want a less biased view of the world, you must seek out resources from around the globe and all sides of the issue. Relying on biased, undocumented slop that gets reported on the 6 o’clock news is one of the main reasons why politics are divisive and full of mud-slinging and unreasonable allegations.

  30. I find it disturbing and sad that the criteria for Obama’s advisor’s on the Middle East is that they side unequivocally, without any reservations on any matters with what is acceptable to Israel. They must never be able ever to say publicly that they disagree with Israeli policies. Thus, they will be meaningless, inconsequential and one-sided stooges. I cannot see how this bodes well for Palestinians and Israelis alike. So much for the immense potential of Obama’s inspirational and motivational speeches and character, if when it comes to an issue of grave importance his advisors will essentially tell him to shut up or repeat the mantra that has gotten no one anywhere since this conflict began. What a disappointment!

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