What to Call a Conflict between Israelis & Palestinians

A guidebook from the Austria-based International Press Institute helps journalists chose words carefully when reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–because words are weapons.  Social media has accelerated the trend, but this is nothing new.

Etgar Keret, an Israeli novelist, said he had been troubled by some of the terms favored by journalists, politicians and even friends in Tel Aviv. There is no Hebrew word for “assassination,” Mr. Keret said, so killings of Hamas operatives are described with a phrase meaning “focused obstruction.” Instead of “civilians,” he said, slain children and women are sometimes called “uninvolved.”

“There’s something about this ‘uninvolved,’ there’s something passive about it,” Mr. Keret said. “You admit that he is not somebody who is trying to destroy you, but you don’t give him any other identification. It was not a child who wanted to learn how to play the piano,” he said, adding, “it was just somebody who didn’t shoot at us.”

There is a long history here of such euphemisms. The journalist Amos Elon called it “word laundry,” and David Grossman explored the phenomenon in “The Yellow Wind,” his 1987 study of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. “A society in crisis forges for itself a new vocabulary,” he wrote, using “words that no longer describe reality, but attempt, instead, to conceal it.”

via In Gaza, Epithets Are Fired and Euphemisms Give Shelter – NYTimes.com.

More on this “War of the Words” from On the Media.

Ron Dermer: Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S.

It has taken strong determination and intellect to defend Israel, a point illustrated by Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel.  The current Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer has spent much of his career in the same path. According to a recent NYT article:

More than two decades and a renounced American citizenship later, Mr. Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the United States, with such a close relationship to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he has been called “Bibi’s brain.” He is now at liberty to make a full-throated case for Israel.

His connections with Frank Luntz at the University of Pennsylvania, work with Natan Saharnsky to create a new immigrant party in Israel, and “hawkish columns for The Jerusalem Post and informally advising Mr. Netanyahu” all led him to his current position.

By that time, Israel had captured Mr. Dermer’s imagination. “Israel is perceived internationally as this big bully,” he said. “I saw it very differently.”

via Israel’s Outspoken Envoy Is Wise to U.S. Ways – NYTimes.com.

Are the French feeling decapitated?

How can we make sense of France’s place in the new European (and world) order?  Roger Cohen says it has to do with technology and the discombobulation of time and space that occurs as a result of this “modernity”:

France is a modern country as well as a beautiful one. Its attributes, from its health system to its rail system (when not on strike), are well known. But the French dislike modernity. They mistrust modernity. That is the nub of the problem. They dislike and mistrust it for two reasons. Modernity has redefined space and relegated the state. This is intolerable.

The redefinition of space has involved the technology-driven elimination of distance. As Michel Serres, a prominent French philosopher, put it in a lecture last year at the Sorbonne on the digital world, “Boeing shortens distances; new technologies annul them.”

via France Decapitated – NYTimes.com.

James MacGregor Burns on Transformational Leadership

This book left an impression on me in grad school because it made the case that leadership was ethical and a positive force.  As noted in Bruce Weber’s recent NYT obit:

“That people can be lifted into their better selves,” he wrote at the end of “Leadership,” “is the secret of transforming leadership and the moral and practical theme of this work.”

Burns was a biographer, political scientist, and Pulitzer Prize-winner whose 1978 book, Leadership, is a biggie in the field. International relations is concerned with power.  MacGregor wrote that “power is different. Power manipulates people as they are; leadership as they could be.” He got to the crux of the issue, looking at the examples of presidential leadership:

The nature of leadership was his fundamental theme throughout his career. In his biographies of Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy, among others, and in his works of political theory — including “Leadership,” a seminal 1978 work melding historical analysis and contemporary observation that became a foundation text for an academic discipline — Mr. Burns focused on parsing the relationship between the personalities of the powerful and the historical events they helped engender.

via James MacGregor Burns, Scholar of Presidents and Leadership, Dies at 95 – NYTimes.com.

Meet Bradford Smith, the “Tech World’s Envoy”

A lawyer that you can like–and other compliments abound for this corporate leader who combines policy knowledge with negotiation skills.  Bradford Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, plays a key role on both coasts and around the glob–much like a diplomat-in-chief for tech interests.

Coalition building isn’t just for diplomats:

And in the fall of 2013, Mr. Smith and Erika Rottenberg, the general counsel of LinkedIn, the social media company, organized a meeting of general counsels from a half dozen or so major technology companies to talk about further unifying their efforts to press for government change. The meeting, in a private dining room of a restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif., eventually led to the formation of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which counts Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft and LinkedIn as members.

“He’s good glue for those kinds of groups because of his policy skills and general intelligence,” Bruce Sewell, the general counsel of Apple, said of Mr. Smith.

via Microsoft’s Top Lawyer Is the Tech World’s Envoy – NYTimes.com.

Henry Kissinger, Comic Book Villain

A great vignette via @zachbeauchamp at Vox:

In this 1976 issue of the aptly titled Supervillain Team-Up, the Fantastic Four are battling arch-nemesis Dr. Doom. After fighting an army of robots and even the brainwashed superhero Namor, the heroes break into Doom’s castle in Latveria (a fictional European country he runs). They’re about to lay down one of those traditional super-hero smackdowns, but the Four are stopped by an enemy they can’t fight with fists — Henry Kissinger:


via That time Henry Kissinger was a literal comic book villain – Vox.

The Future of the OSCE

What is the OSCE–and why is it having a moment of truth in Ukraine?  Called the “least bad option” by Richard Gowan of NYU, it was common to debate the role of this until-recently-more-obscure, European regional security organization, until Russia chose to takeover Crimea.

More than ever before, the situation in Ukraine — and within the OSCE during this crisis — prove that we must finally adjust the consensus-based decision-making which prevents collective action against blatant violations of OSCE commitments.

The OSCE as an organization must resolve that it will not be taken hostage by any one state to remain silent and helpless while human suffering and brutal aggression continue.

The OSCE as an organization must resolve that it will not be taken hostage by any one state to remain silent and helpless while human suffering and brutal aggression continue. OSCE parliamentarians have long called on the governmental side to consider new rules — perhaps consensus minus one or two, or two-thirds-majority or some procedure that prevents a single country veto by a transgressor. Achieving this change will no doubt be a diplomatic battle royale, but this current episode has demonstrated just how much we need to take it on

via Can Europe’s Security Watchdog Survive the Crisis in Ukraine?.

Gowan explains on CFR.org the past view of OSCE:

The OSCE is the perennial also-ran among Europe’s security institutions. It lacks NATO’s military clout and the European Union’s economic resources. Its main strength is that it includes all the countries of Europe and the former Soviet Union, as well as the United States and Canada, but it is often hard to forge consensus among such diverse and sometimes antagonistic members.

The organization was prominent in the 1990s, when it offered a framework for Western and Eastern states to manage the crises that flared up in Europe after the Cold War: it sent peacemaking missions to the former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Moldova, and other trouble spots. It also handled questions such as the status of ethnic Russians in the Baltic states, which had the potential to spark conflict with Moscow. The OSCE had officials in Crimea in the mid-1990s trying to ease tensions between ethnic Russians and Tatars.

Although the OSCE developed expertise on issues such as minority rights and good governance, it began to lose momentum in the early 2000s. In recent years, it has ended up tending to long-standing conflicts, like the one between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, rather than taking on new challenges. It still has officials dealing with complex, if low-priority, problems like the future of the Serb minority in Kosovo, but the OSCE as a whole has been weakened by the mounting tensions between Russia and the West.

So the OSCE tends to be an afterthought until one of the half-resolved problems left over from the 1990s, like the status of the Crimea, explodes again and makes it relevant.

via CFR Interview, March 2014


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