Sunday, June 18, 2006

Syria Comment in the News: NYTimes - The Nation

Robert Worth of the New York Times, mentions "Syria Comment" in his Week in Review article, "Mideast Analysis, Fast and Furious." He writes:

Another influential Middle East blog, Syria Comment, has drawn similar criticism from bloggers who claim that its author, Joshua Landis, is too soft on the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Badran now writes a blog, Syria Monitor, that highlights the Syrian opposition and portrays Mr. Assad as a cruel autocrat.
Fun. Thanks for the push Robert. Thank you too, Tony. While we are trading barbs, everyone will get a good "Oh-my-God" or "jeepers-creepers" when they read this article in the "The American Conservative" about the new outfit Tony Badran has chosen to work for: The Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, or FDD. (Hat tip Syriana) Here is a taste:

In early 2001, a tightly knit group of billionaire philanthropists conceived of a plan to win American sympathy for Israel’s response to the Palestinian intifada. They believed that the Palestinian cause was finding too much support within crucial segments of the American public, particularly within the media and on college campuses, so they set up an organization, Emet, [which means ‘truth,’ in Hebrew]: An Educational Initiative, Inc., to offer Israel the kind of PR that the Israeli government seemed unable to provide itself.

At first, Emet floundered, without an executive director or a well-defined mission. But that changed after Sept. 11, and Emet changed too, into what is now the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The name is different, but the goal of influencing America’s opinion-forming classes remains.

What makes all of this possible is the support the foundation receives from its billionaire backers. Its nearly $3 million annual budget comes from 27 major donors, most of whom are members of “the Study Group”—also sometimes called the “Mega Group” because of their sizeable contributions—a semi-formal organization of major Jewish philanthropists who meet twice a year to discuss joint projects.

The group’s membership includes, among others, U.S. Healthcare founder Leonard Abramson, New York financier Michael Steinhardt, Seagrams patriarch and Jewish World Congress president Edgar S. Bronfman Sr. and his brother Charles, and Lynn Schusterman, widow of Oklahoma oilman Charles Schusterman. Some of the group’s projects have been establishing and funding Birthright Israel, which provides Jewish youths with free travel to the Holy Land; a synagogue restoration program called STAR (Synagogue Transformation and Renewal); and the renovation and re-invigoration of Hillel, the Jewish campus chaplaincy. More than a few of these projects have generated controversy among some American Jews, who see this small group of mega-donors exercising considerable influence over Jewish-American affairs. But for all the debate that has attended some of these projects, none before has been as overtly political as Emet or FDD.

Leonard Abramson was the point man for establishing Emet. He, Michael Steinhardt, and Edgar Bronfman were the foundation’s board of directors at the time of its incorporation in the spring of 2001. Their original plan called for Emet to have centers in both the U.S. and Israel, with the Israeli branch to be located at Tel Aviv University under its president, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington Itamar Rabinovich. Emet was to have close ties to the Israeli government as well—so close, in fact, that there was some dispute between the mega-donors and the Israeli Foreign Ministry over just whose project this was. [Continue...]
Philip Weiss writing in The Nation has a great article, entitled, Burning Cole, about how Juan Cole was shot down for a job at Yale University by neocons angry over his influential blog. The best they could do was to call him an anti-Semite for his criticism of Israel and anti-American for his criticism of the way the war in Iraq has progressed. Weiss quoted my defense of Cole: "Joshua Landis, a professor at University of Oklahoma, describes Cole as "top notch."
"He was the wunderkind of Middle East Studies in the 1980s and 1990s," Landis says. "He can be strident on his blog, which is one reason it is the premier Middle East blog.... [But] Juan Cole has done something that no other Middle East academic has done since Bernard Lewis, who is 90 years old: He has become a household word. He has educated a nation. For the last thirty years every academic search for a professor of Middle East history at an Ivy League university has elicited the same complaint: 'There are no longer any Bernard Lewises. Where do you find someone really big with expertise on many subjects who is at home in both the ivory tower and inside the Beltway?' Today, Juan Cole is that academic."


At 6/18/2006 06:10:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Here is a small list of the FDD key members. The most noteworthy to mention is board member Billionaire Steve Forbes who’s a huge financial/political supporter of Israel.

Rep. Eliot Engel He was the prime sponsor of the Congressional resolution recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and reintroduced the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman hmm, well this democrat is so hawkish he makes Donald Rumsfeld look like a dove

Newt Gingrich I think the name just speaks for itself

Richard Perle the new godfather of the neo-con thinking and the manifestation of all that is evil in it :D

Anyways you get the idea. But please check out the link for the whole list of Tony’s lovely colleagues. I have to admit it’s a smart move on Tony’s part because he will definitely go far with friends like this and will surly feel right at home among those racist pricks.

This links back to why Tony refuses to comment on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Because if he shows backing to the Israelis it would deal a lethal blow to his repute in the Middle East. And if, god forbid, he might voice support to the Palestinians it would anger his wealthy right-wing patrons.

At 6/18/2006 10:17:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

hmm ... Tony joining the other names at FDD is contradictory to this scientific claim

Tony, I hope one day to see you back to purely academic work. Things are much more pleasant, honest, and constructive there.

And I disagree with IC's belief that it is a smart move on your side. Here is a simple but necessary smart move for you...In about two years you'll also agree.

At 6/18/2006 06:36:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Joshua you are also quoted in this piece from Egyptian junalist Ashraf Fahim

On Syria, The Empire Holds Back

Ashraf concludes: "Either through luck or design, Assad now looks, if not quite as wily as his father, certainly like more of a survivor than many imagined. He has, for the present, called America's bluff and lived to tell the tale"

At 6/18/2006 06:38:00 PM, Blogger ugarit said...

It's interesting how Tony Badran addresses none of the issues relating to the unethical affiliation of Syria Monitor with the FDD. Tony Badran is going to make it even harder for the political prisoners by his affiliation. Perhaps T. Badran would like to have a continuation of political oppression in Syria.

Mr. Badran please tell us why are you affiliated with a zionist outfit such as the FDD?

At 6/18/2006 08:39:00 PM, Blogger Syriana said...


I would like to thank you for shedding more light on the affiliation of Tony Badran with Zionist organization such as the FDD. Thanks God it was on the American Conservative, otherwise Tony would have discredited us all and reduced us to Bashar lovers.

I reminded Mr. Badran of his affiliation on his blog as well, but he did not have the scholarly ethics or the courage to keep my comment, and instead he deleted it. You can run but you can’t hide Tony.

While it is important to keep track of human rights violation under the dictatorship of Mr. Assad, however it is necessary to do it for the right reasons..which is not the case with Mr. Badran.

Mr. Badran, represent a current in lebanese politics, that allies its self with Israeli interests. He is a fierce opponent of Arabism (good or bad) and ofcourse Islam…

For him, all what matters, is for Lebanon to ally its self with the west and Israel, stop history at 1000 B.C. and proof a linage to Phoenicians (although maronites are Syriacs that came from Syria). All to distance themselves as Christians from their Arab neighborhood, and live off on inflecting harm on the struggling arab nations. more or less like Israel.

Mr. Badran, is mistaken, we are not apologist for the regime of the Assads, in fact all Arab reformist would love to see Assad down,, but that by no means should be a reason for us to forget about our rights or not to defend our interests (which the Assads by no means serve ).

Syrians want the Golan back (which I don’t see Mr. Badran advocating for), they want a friendly neighborhood in which they could develop. We had enough misery because of the creation of the State of Israel. And we would never want to see a self hating raciest neighbor next door.

At 6/18/2006 10:18:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...


That was NOT Tony's comment. the same guy who spams Josh's website. i.e SRP, Lebanese Geeks, JAM and many others creates comments in other's names. In this case it was Tony's. You can see it by simply clicking on the nickname and seeing that there is no link to Across the Bay and the profile views are only a handful.

The comment was just a copy and paste of Tony's earlier post.

At 6/18/2006 10:30:00 PM, Blogger Syriana said...

but why delete Beirute liberal comment?

At 6/18/2006 11:26:00 PM, Blogger Enlightened One said...

Lol the comentary here is all comical. Why dont we just ask Tony as well if he is affiliated to the right wing phalangists as well? Those lovers of democracy who drew inspiration from the nazis and fascists of the 1930's.

Does it really matter who is funding him? Why is this an issue?
Isnt "Free Speech" more important?

I am sure if Tony expressed his views in Downtown Beirut or Damascus, he would have a few weeks holiday in on of the baath party resorts, er i mean jails....

At 6/19/2006 12:48:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

The smoking gun...?

Group tied to Al-Qaida holds position near Lebanese border
Haaretz, March 13, 2006

By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

Immediately after the Katyusha fire, Israel had only partial intelligence with regard to those responsible for the attack. In response, the Israel Air Force bombed a base belonging to Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, and it was subsequently claimed that members of Usbat al-Ansar had trained at the base and had received instruction from PFLP-GC activists.

(quoted by me here.)

At the time I thought that this was just an example of the usual propaganda (well, it probably is), but the fact that Hussein Khattab was a member of the PFLP-GC makes this all the more interesting...

At 6/19/2006 12:39:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

========Syrian state workers 'fired for saying what they think' ======

378 words
19 June 2006

Agence France Presse

DAMASCUS, June 19, 2006 (AFP) -

Syrian Prime Minister Mohammed Najri Otri has fired 17 state employees for having expressed political opinions, human rights organisations said Monday.

"The prime minister on Wednesday issued a circular saying 17 state employees from various ministries (electricity, health, oil, information and agriculture) have been dismissed from their posts," the Association of Human Rights in Syria said in a statement.

It said the workers were understood to have "signed a petition calling for 10 human rights activists arrested in May to be released" for putting their names to the Damascus-Beirut Declaration, which urged normalisation of relations between Lebanon and Syria.

"This arbitrary decision was based on labour laws allowing for the dismissal of state employees for no reason," the association added.

The National Organisation of Human Rights in Syria confirmed the workers had "signed the Damascus-Beirut Declaration, expressing their support for it".

Ammar Qorabi, the association's president, condemned the government move.

"It is an illegal and unconstitutional decision, violating the principles of the separation of powers and control over the judiciary," Qorabi said.

According to the Syrian branch of the Arab Human Rights Organisation (AHRO), most of the dismissed employees "are rights activists who signed the Declaration".

"This decision is a blatant violation of human rights," it said. "It punishes people who say what they think and who want to take part in resolving crises affecting the country."

Among the Declaration signatories detained in Syria are AHRO secretary general Mahmud Merhi, prominent rights lawyer Anwar Bunni and opposition writer Michel Kilo.

The Damascus-Beirut Declaration was issued in the Lebanese capital on May 11. Signed by nearly 300 Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals, it called for respect for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon and Syria.

It also insisted on "the need for a definitive recognition by Syria of Lebanon's independence, the first steps in that direction being a demarcation of borders and an exchange of ambassadors."

Also behind bars are writer Ali Abdullah, a member of the Committees for the Rebirth of Civil Society in Syria; Kamal Labwani, founder of the Liberal Democratic party in the country and Mohammed Mahfud of the banned Marxist Revolutionary Workers Party.

At 6/19/2006 07:39:00 PM, Blogger reminiscor said...

Mr Landis, I don't see anything in this article that should make Tony Badran blush, apart for a few Jewish names - was that your point? I personally regret that Tony Badran writes on Syria Monitor, but only because he has less time working on his fine blog.

"For him, all what matters, is for Lebanon to ally its self with the west and Israel, stop history at 1000 B.C. and proof a linage to Phoenicians (although maronites are Syriacs that came from Syria). All to distance themselves as Christians from their Arab neighborhood, and live off on inflecting harm on the struggling arab nations. more or less like Israel."

Syriana, Syriacs are not Arabs, and I should know since I am one. Maronites are well aware of their Syriac roots, but the links between the Syriacs and the modern Syrians is less evident, at least from a cultural and linguistic point of view. Besides, your comparison between Lebanon and Israel is ludicrous. First of all the Lebanese and Middle Eastern Christians have been living on their lands for thousands of years. They did not invade their neighbours and did not expell former inhabitants (I would tend to say that it is the other way around). Second, nobody in Lebanon want to harm anybody, but Lebanese are determined to live in a peaceful country, free from foreign bombs and backward ideologies, whether Baathist, Islamist or other. It may be too much for the Syrians to handle, but saying that Lebanon want to inflict harm on their Arab neighbours is a little bit far-fetched.

At 6/19/2006 07:56:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...


I agree with your comment about the fundamental difference between Israel and Lebanon.

However, I would say that the Nation article goes beyond listing Jewish names. You can argue that the article is wrong, you can argue that Zionism is a fine ideology, or that an allaiance with Israeli interests is not a problem for a mid-east analyst, but please do not pretend that there is no point to the article.

If an article shows that Dr Landis is financed by the Baath Conservation Fund, would you say that it is just a list of Arabic sounding names.

On the culture issue, are you suggesting that there is a closer link between the Lebanese dialect and culture today and the Phoenicians than there is between the Syrian dialect and culture and the Syriacs?

At 6/20/2006 02:05:00 AM, Blogger Syriana said...


First, Lebanon is not only for christians. and Granting that Maronites are not arabs and instead are Syriacs, then Shiite, Druze, and Sunnis, Greek Orthodox and Catholics, are Arabs!!!

So here you go the Majority is Arab, Oh and Maronites are closer to arbas than to Syriacs in the cultural sense...As Lebanon has been a center for Arab culture for Centuries.

Second and speking of your naive "living in Peace"

Check The Lebanese Forces Symbol

What Does that remind you with? Nazi Germany?
Descent Syrians want a democratic and free Lebanon..but poilitcs is not charity, we would never allow Pro-Israel, Anti Arab Lebanon to exist.

Anyways, Tony and Co. are a minority in Lebanon, Genral Aoun who represents the majority of Christians, recognizes Lebanon's Arab Idenitiy, and the need for Lebanon to act as a good neighbor.


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