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More on the aftermath of recent events in France

Jan 15, 2015

More on the aftermath of recent events in France

Update from AIJAC

January 15, 2015
Number 01/15 #03

This Update contains more important and penetrating analysis of recent events in France, including not only the Charlie Hebdo massacre last Wednesday which was the subject of the last Update, but the subsequent killing of four people at a Paris kosher supermarket on Friday and the massive solidarity rallies in France on Sunday in response to both attacks.

We begin with leading American writer on the problem of Islamist ideology Paul Berman, dealing first with the latest, post-massacre, edition of Charlie Hebdo, and later discussing the conspiracy theories that drive these attacks. He thoroughly approves of the latest Charlie Hebdo cover featuring a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad shedding a tear while holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign and, rather ambiguously, the caption “all is forgiven” over his head. Berman also takes on false claims about Charlie Hebdo – but the piece is most important for what it has to say about the bizarre worldview that is behind the demand that no one should depict Muhammad (which is not even forbidden to Muslims in many Islamic traditions). For this important article in full, CLICK HERE. Also discussing that new Charlie Hebdo cover is Alan Johnson, who cites Islamic hadiths to argue the prophet himself would have approved. A revealing report from France’s Muslim Banlieues on the conspiratorial mindset common there comes from The Daily Beast.

Next up is David Horovitz of the Times of Israel, offering a perspective from Israel. Among other matters, he discusses and clarifies the Israeli controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the Paris rallies on Sunday, and argues that the reason the French were reluctant to have him there was because he insists the world must confront Islamist ideology and the French do not want to do so. Horovitz also has a lot to say about the relationship between the beleaguered French Jewish community and Israel, where many of them seem to be intending to move. For this clear-sighted look at some realities – including the debunking of some myths – CLICK HERE.

Finally, Liel Leibovitz of Tablet magazine argues that the French rallies, despite their feel-good pretence, were in effect a sham because they were marred by the participation of a number of leaders who stand for exactly what the demonstrators were protesting against. He specifically singles out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – who presides over a regime which presents as martyrs the killers of Jews and uses violence against journalists who dissent  – and Turkey’s PM Ahmet Davutoglu, whose country has more journalists in prison than any other and also supports Islamist extremist groups of the sort that inspired the Paris murderers. Leibowitz also mentions representatives of Russia, Bahrain and Qatar as individuals whose participation undermined the message of the march. For his detailed argument on the subject, CLICK HERE. Plus, an anonymous Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah writes an open letter to the French President about the reality that no satire or criticism is permitted under Palestinian Authority rule.

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The Charlie Cover

Slander, ridicule, and terror in post-1968 France

Tablet magazine, January 14, 2015

So here is the new issue of Charlie Hebdo, and the cover cartoon, by Luz, is a masterpiece. On a field of green, a white-turbaned and robed Prophet Muhammad, bug-eyed with horror, a giant tear falling on his cheek, holds a placard saying, “Je suis Charlie,” which is the same slogan that dominated the largest mass protest in the history of the nation that invented the phenomenon of mass protests. And above the cartoon Muhammad’s head are the words, “Tout est pardonné,” or, “All is forgiven.”

The cartoon is inspiring, moving, slightly mysterious, and entirely beautiful. It is inspiring because, in the face of the ultimate in terrorist pressure, the editors and cartoonists have chosen to go ahead and put the drawing on the cover. The cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo is the most defiant newspaper cover in the history of journalism—a bolder cover even than the cover of the 1898 Paris newspaper that presented Zola’s article, J’Accuse (which, by non-coincidence, also bore on the question of what Zola called “imbecile anti-Semitism”). Zola knew that, by publishing his accusation against the enemies of Captain Dreyfus, he ran a danger of persecution, arrest, and imprisonment, but probably not murder. The editors, staff, cartoonists, printers, truck-drivers and kiosk vendors of Charlie Hebdo are in danger of murder. And they are unfazed.

The cover is slightly mysterious, at least in my eyes, because, looking at it, I am a little puzzled by the words, “All is forgiven.” Who is the speaker saying this? And who is being forgiven? It is not immediately obvious. Are these Prophet Muhammad’s words? If so, is he forgiving Charlie Hebdo for having insulted him in cartoons over the years? Is Muhammad forgiving the entire universe, terrorists included, out of a principal of all-embracing beneficence? Or, alternatively, do the words of forgiveness express the view of Charlie Hebdo itself, the newspaper, which forgives the weeping and innocent Muhammad for having the misfortune of being invoked by the nihilist madmen who have murdered the staff of Charlie Hebdo? The cover: is it an expression of mutual forgiveness, with Prophet Muhammad weeping in sorrow and proclaiming his solidarity with the newspaper, and the newspaper replying by forgiving everyone?

Luz, the artist, has indicated that this last interpretation is his own, and this ought not to be surprising. The interpretation conforms to the tradition of the paper. One of the most famous and controversial of Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad cartoons in the past shows the prophet again in tears, dressed in black on that occasion and saying, “C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons…”, or, “It’s hard to be loved by some assholes…” Another of the famous cover cartoons shows Muhammad being beheaded by a black-masked fanatic under the caption, “If Muhammad returned…” Nor is the message of universal forgiveness foreign to the newspaper’s past. Still another of the famous covers, which ran a couple of years ago after Islamist extremists burned down the newspaper office, depicted a pencil-carrying Charlie cartoonist in a scandalously homosexual embrace with a bearded man in white Muslim dress, under the caption “Love is stronger than hatred.” (This slogan, too, appeared prominently in the “republican march” on Sunday.) But it is good that, on today’s cover, the words of forgiveness are not overtly attributed to anyone in particular. Uncertainty lends majesty.


The accusations that are thrown at Charlie Hebdo are a slander. I mean the accusations that Charlie Hebdo is a racist newspaper, has drifted to the reactionary right, and foments hatred for Muslims and immigrants. No, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists have repeatedly represented the Prophet Muhammad in a sympathetic light, and they have done so in order to draw a contrast with the Islamic fanatics—and, in this fashion, the cartoonists have instinctively made the right distinction. Today’s cover is merely the latest and most moving of the series, the most dignified, the most poignant, not to mention the most heroic. Muhammad weeping a giant tear—weeping because he is a man with a big heart who is overcome with sorrow at the stupid and bigoted murders. Muhammad proclaiming “Je suis Charlie”—proclaiming his solidarity because he is a man of human sympathy, who identifies with the victims of terror. The elegance of the cartoon—the white and green, the lettering below and lettering above, the childlike naïveté of the drawing contrasted to the horror of the occasion—conveys a nobility.

I do not mean to suggest that Charlie Hebdo has displayed a piety toward Muhammad. A while back the newspaper ran a crude cartoon depicting Muhammad performing in a porno film — with the idea being, in that instance, to ridicule the Islamist riots and violence over a movie. To ridicule the Islamist movie riots was, however, a good thing to do. It was also a necessary thing to do. Some events are, after all, ridiculous, and what is ridiculous needs to be named, and the only way to name what is ridiculous is to ridicule it.

Charlie Hebdo is a pure product of the 1968-era radical left – anti-authoritarian, insurgent, impudent, indignant, mocking and self-mocking. The founding figures—François Cavanna (who died a few years ago), the artist Wolinski (who was murdered just now), and others—were fixtures of the ’68-era alternative press in Paris. They were the comrades of Sartre at his own journalistic enterprises. The surviving staff was able to bring out today’s issue because of the solidarity of the Paris newspaper Libération, which offered office space and aid a couple of years ago, when Charlie Hebdo’s offices were attacked, and did so again this week. And Libération did this because, in Paris, it, too, is the institutional product of the ’68 uprisings—even if, in Libération’s case, the decades have come and gone, and likewise the owners, and the newspaper is not entirely what it used to be. Still, historical memories persist, and also something of the old left-wing feistiness and comradeship. Incidentally, this is the corner of the French left that overlaps the most easily with the American left and counter-culture—with the Village Voice of long ago, which was the immediate inspiration for Libération, and with the American cartoons, among which Charlie Brown inspired Charlie Hebdo’s name.

How can it be, then, how is it possible, that a leftwing paper like Charlie Hebdo has just now been labeled as racist and reactionary? We are forever being told that to offer any visual image at all of the Prophet Muhammad is a terrible thing to do, oppressive to masses of people and disdainful of them, and is therefore a racist act—even when, as in the present instance, the visual image in question happens to be a defense of the Prophet Muhammad. (I note in passing the obscene quality of this accusation, under the present circumstance—the racist massacre of Jews merely because they were Jews.)

But is it so terrible, in fact, to depict the prophet? Really is it racist? It is true that pious Muslims who adhere to an old fashioned Sunni school of thought would never depict the prophet. Still, pious Muslims who adhere to other schools of thought do depict the prophet. An Islamic consensus on this point does not exist. In any case, the history of Western art does not adhere to pious Sunni traditions, and the history of ribald satire that descends from Rabelais does not adhere to any pious traditions at all.

Why has the issue become so controversial, then? The explanation ought to be obvious. Depictions of Prophet Muhammad have become controversial because, beginning with Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in 1989 and his call to murder Salman Rushdie and his publishers, the Islamist movement has set out to impose its categories of analysis and judgment on the rest of the world. And the Islamists have enjoyed a massive success. The Islamists have set out to impose these categories on grounds that are positive (so to speak) and negative. The positive grounds add up to a chiliastic dream of imposing an Islamic caliphate on the entire world, which is an entirely mad idea; and a first step in the mad idea is to forbid people in the rest of the world from thinking thoughts that would be forbidden under the caliphate.

The negative grounds add up to a paranoid theory, which counts for a lot more than the dream of the caliphate. The paranoid theory is the belief that sinister forces in the West and among the Jews are conspiring to crush the Muslims and annihilate Islam. This theory is worse than mad: It is, in its consequences, criminal. Still, it is popular.

The belief in a vast anti-Islam conspiracy accounts for why so many Muslims around the world, having heard that in a far-away place somebody has drawn a picture of the prophet, respond so furiously. The existence of a cartoon is taken to be evidence of the diabolical conspiracy. And the same paranoid theory accounts for the desire to massacre the Jews. The accusation against the Jews goes far beyond saying that Zionists have stolen Palestinian land or have bombed Gaza or in other ways have wronged the Palestinians.

The Jewish crime, paranoically conceived, is not a local crime, nor a recent crime. The belief is that, beginning in the 7th century, Jews have been conspiring to destroy Islam. The crime is cosmic. And the Jews must be destroyed in turn. That is why, to the terrorists, it does not matter whether their Jewish victims are infants, as in the Toulouse murders, or museum-goers, as in Brussels, or grocery shoppers, as in Paris.

The paranoid theories account for the genuine popularity of the terrorists in some of the French Arab neighborhoods. There are people who would never dream of becoming terrorists or jihadis, but who nonetheless feel in a vague way that sinister forces are conspiring against Islam, and who are therefore bound to look upon the jihadis as sympathetic rebels. And there are people who are bound to feel intimidated by the climate of violent jihadi opinion around them.

Terrorism directed against “the other” is always a pressure directed at one’s own population. And the popularity of these thoughts naturally spread outward to neighborhoods of well-meaning people, Muslim and non-Muslim, who are impressed and frightened by Islamism’s rise and who look for ways to adapt and accept, and end up repeating to themselves one or another of the Islamist claims—especially the claim that Muslims are the victims of a terrible and overbearing bigotry. Acting on these impulses, the well-meaning people begin to tell themselves that anti-obscurantist protests, which used to be progressive, are now reactionary; leftism is rightism; and rightism is leftism. The well-meaning people shake their heads in sorrow at the murders of various people, and, even so, convince themselves that to publish a cartoon defending Prophet Muhammad must surely be a terrible act of anti-Muslim racism. And the well-meaning people remind themselves that, even if the Jewish shoppers in a Paris grocery store are not directly guilty, there are other Jews, thousands of miles away, who are certainly guilty of terrible crimes, and therefore the racism that we should worry about is the racism directed at the perpetrators of the racist massacre.

That is where we find ourselves today. It is an enraging situation. It is horrifying. It is also an extravaganza of ideas and doctrines that are ridiculous. What is ridiculous needs to be ridiculed. I am Charlie.

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The death-cult ideology that France prefers not to name


Op-ed: Of course Hollande didn’t want Netanyahu in Paris. The Israeli PM annoyingly insists on speaking about the dangers of Islamist jihad — the murderous ideology that many of those 3.5 million marchers desperately didn’t want to talk about

Times of Israel, January 12, 2015

France rallied on Sunday like its life depended on it. Three and a half million people took to the streets in an unprecedented show of solidarity with the 17 victims murdered by three Islamist gunmen last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. “I am Charlie,” “I am a police officer,” “I am a Jew,” their placards asserted, identifying in turn with each category of victim — the journalists, the cops, the Jews. “We will not be divided,” “We will not be terrorized,” “We will not give up our freedom,” they declared.

We will fight Islamist terrorism with every sinew of our being, in order to ensure the protection of the freedoms that we cherish and that it seeks to destroy? That, they didn’t say.

Within France’s large Jewish community, emotions were mixed. Shaken as never before since World War II by the accumulation of murderous and violent attacks in recent years, some were cynical about the display of French public will. Millions would not have marched in France had only the Paris kosher supermarket been targeted, and only the Jews killed, they said. There was no such vast outpouring of concern and empathy, for instance, after precious Jewish children were murdered in Toulouse three years ago, they noted. Look how few “I am a Jew” posters were on display, they pointed out, as compared to all those “I am Charlie” signs.

But others were impressed and genuinely moved by what proved to be a far larger show of force than anticipated in Paris and nationwide, and by the dignity and the determination on display. Maybe the decent people of France are concerned for their Jews after all, some concluded. Maybe there’s a future for the community yet.

Viewed from Israel, the weight of discussion divided into two areas: Would French Jewry now further accelerate its relocation to the Jewish state, and had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu handled his participation in the day’s events appropriately.

As regards immigration, clearly the figures — already at record levels — are going to keep rising. Increasing numbers of French Jews had decided even before Friday that if you’re going to be targeted by Islamist terrorists, you might as well be targeted in a country where you can at least keep your kippa and your Magen David on. Being deliberately picked out again on Friday, by a gunman who had apparently also plotted to attack one or more Jewish elementary schools, can only have persuaded more French Jews to make the move.

“We shouldn’t flee, but we should calmly prepare to leave,” a lady named Lorine said in an Army Radio interview on Monday morning. It’s not as though there are gangs of murderers on every street corner, another interviewee clarified on the same show, but the norm is that men are not comfortable wearing kippot in public and you don’t read Hebrew on the Metro. Intermittently synagogues and Jewish institutions and stores are attacked. And then, every now and again, come the acts of murderous terrorism.

A major obstacle to immigration, members of the community have been noting, is simple economics. This may not be an impoverished refugee community helplessly seeking salvation, but not all its members are financially comfortable, and they need jobs and affordable housing — neither of which are in plentiful supply in the Jewish homeland whose leaders have been so blithely exhorting them in recent days to relocate. Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman walked the solidarity walk in Paris on Sunday, and then talked the aliya talk. But there’s real preparatory work to be done if the current thousands of annual French immigrants are to swell to tens of thousands of successfully absorbed new arrivals.

Given that Israel is barely two months from general elections, many Israeli commentators have been obsessing over the prime minister’s actions in France. However improbable this may sound, it seems clear that French President Francois Hollande did not want the prime minister of the world’s only Jewish state to attend a rally organized in at least partial solidarity with a Jewish community that had just seen four of its members gunned down. While the Prime Minister’s Office is, unsurprisingly, not formally confirming that this was the case, details of the exchanges Saturday between Hollande’s National Security Adviser Jacques Audibert and his Israeli counterpart Yossi Cohen have been leaked — and not from Paris — and they tell a sorry tale. Hollande feared that Netanyahu’s presence would be divisive, shifting focus from solidarity in and with France to such complex issues as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wider Jewish-Muslim relations. Far better for both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to keep away. Hollande also apparently feared that Netanyahu would seek to utilize the day’s ceremonies to bolster his election campaign, as the French president is said to have complained Netanyahu did in Toulouse in 2012.

Netanyahu apparently acceded initially to the request to stay at home, but changed his mind when he realized domestic rivals Liberman and Naftali Bennett would be attending — a volte face that infuriated the French, who threatened dark consequences. (Presumably they’ll vote in favor of a Palestinian resolution at the UN Security Council seeking to impose a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.)

Whatever had gone on behind the scenes, what the world saw on Sunday was Netanyahu elbowing his way out of the second row of notables in the arms-linked solidarity march and into the front line, with only Mali’s president between him and Hollande, and Abbas just a little further along. It saw Netanyahu waving to the crowds, when other statesmen (and Angela Merkel) had been refraining from doing so. It saw Hollande and other French notables exit the Grand Synagogue before the prime minister’s speech later Sunday. It saw Netanyahu encourage French Jews to consider emigration, though in mild language, evidently designed not to further ruffle French government and French Jewish leadership feathers. And it saw him conclude with the declaration that “Am Yisrael Chai” — The People of Israel Lives — a formulation that Hollande reportedly considered inappropriate when he encountered it in Toulouse.

The obsession with Netanyahu’s words and deeds in Paris, and with what Hollande did or didn’t want, might seem trivial in the context of the day’s great exhibition of determined resistance to terrorism. The question of whether France would have mobilized in the way it did solely for Jewish victims might seem jaundiced and small-minded after a day of such grand display.

But now that the 3.5 million marchers have all gone home, we are left with the question: What are the French actually going to do about the mounting challenge of Islamist terrorism? More security? Evidently so. More vigilance?  Doubtless, at least for a while. More substantive action, truly designed to eliminate the danger? Don’t bet on that.

France promised the world to its Jewish community after the murderous Toulouse attacks. Hollande vowed time and again that France would do everything to counter anti-Semitism, to fight hatred, “to tear off all the masks, all the pretexts.” This time, too, he pledged unity and vigilance in the battles against racism and anti-Semitism. What he didn’t explicitly promise, then or now, however, was to tackle violent Islamic extremism. On Friday, indeed, he asserted in an address to the nation that “these terrorists and fanatics have nothing to do with the Islamic religion.”

It would be nice to think that they didn’t. But it is their perverted interpretation of obligation to that religion that they invoke in carrying out their acts of terror and fanaticism. And it is the growing brutal resonance of their kill-and-be-killed ideology, and the failure of mainstream Islam to effectively challenge it, that led Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to appeal to Muslim clerics in a remarkable speech on January 1 to promote a more “enlightened” interpretation of Islamic texts. As things stand, el-Sissi warned, the Islamic world is “making enemies of the whole world. So 1.6 billion people (in the Muslim world) will kill the entire world of 7 billion? That’s impossible … We need a religious revolution.”

Islamist jihad cannot and will not be defeated if it is not honestly acknowledged. The enemies of freedom will not be picked out at border crossings, tracked on the internet, targeted, thwarted and ultimately marginalized if insistent self-defeating political correctness means those enemies are not even named.

Does anybody seriously believe, for instance, that France is about to launch a crackdown on Islamist groupings at its higher-education institutions, or devote serious resources to investigating potential incitement at local mosques? Are France and the rest of Europe about to introduce passenger profiling at EU entry points, in the way that Israel does? Is the EU set to sanction Turkey for facilitating the flow of radicalized European Muslims to and from the Islamic State terror group in Syria and Iraq?

Not terribly likely, is it, when the French president declares that “these terrorists and fanatics have nothing to do with the Islamic religion”? Not terribly likely, is it, when the French president, reportedly, didn’t want his day of dignified identification with the victims of terrorism spoiled by the presence of those, like Netanyahu, who might distract from the solemn harmony and focus furious attention, instead, on the specific cause, that great big elephant stuck in among the masses in central Paris: Islamic extremism?

Three and a half million people took to the streets of France on Sunday in a show of solidarity for the latest fatalities of a ruthless ideology. But they couldn’t bring themselves to call that death-cult by its name.

Do the last few days of Islamist murder in France constitute a watershed moment for one of the Diaspora’s largest communities? The beginning of the end? I rather think so.

A watershed moment in the Western battle against Islamic extremism? I fear not.

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Paris’ March of Folly

Inclusion of leaders like Abbas and Turkey’s Davutoglu turned a symbolic moment into a farce

By Liel Leibovitz

The Tablet, January 12, 2015

This Sunday, a gaggle of world leaders rushed to France to march along with hundreds of thousands of Parisians to commemorate the murders of 17 civilians by Islamic terrorists last week. It was, according to reports, the largest public gathering the city has seen since booting out Hitler and his gang in 1945, an inspired moment of global communion proving that our species could yet prove capable to come together in peace.

Scratch that. The rally was a sham, mired by the presence of invited guests who represent precisely the kind of behavior the marchers purported to protest.

Just slightly to the left of Francois Hollande, for example, strode Mahmoud Abbas. If the rally in Paris was organized to decry the killing of Jews and the violent silencing of journalists, Abbas’s inclusion is a farce. As the President of the Palestinian Authority, he’s presided over a fiercely restrictive regime, arresting journalists for covering his Fatah movement unfavorably and engaging in other censorious behaviors that had won his government the dismal mark of 83 out of 100 on Freedom House’s Press Freedom score, 100 being the worst. Late last year, when an armed gunman did in Jerusalem exactly what men sharing his convictions did in Paris last week, shooting an Israeli rabbi for expressing controversial opinions, Abbas sent a letter of condolence to the man’s family after the terrorist was apprehended and killed by Israeli security forces. The shooter, Abbas waxed poetic, was a martyr whose death will be added to the crimes of the Israeli occupation.

A few rows back, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, ambled as well, celebrating, perhaps, the fact that, in 2013, his country had more journalists behind bars than any other nation in the world. Things got worse in 2014: according to Freedom House, harassment and intimidation of journalists are common in Turkey, as is censorship. It’s unlikely that any of this occurred to Davutoglu as he took in Paris’s charms. It’s also unlikely that he’d given any thought to the fact that his government, to an unknown extent, supports the very same murderous organization to which at least one of the Paris terrorists had pledged his allegiance.

Shall we praise other famous marchers? Lavrov of Russia, where offing offensive journalists is nothing out of the ordinary (see under Politkovskaya, Anna)? Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the foreign minister of Bahrain, which has sentenced an award-winning photojournalist to a 10-year sentence on what, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, are trumped-up charges? Sheikh Mohamed Ben Hamad Ben Khalifa Al Thani, another funder of terrorism and champion of repression?

That these men marched in Paris—while Israel’s prime minister, alone among world leaders, was asked by the French president to sit the march out—is more than just the casual hypocrisy that is an inevitable part of global diplomacy. It’s an indication that in our zeal to appear united, we’ve forgotten the cardinal rule of standing on principle, namely that we must first clearly define our boundaries and then invite only those who share our convictions to join us. Otherwise, our beliefs are no deeper than a hashtag, and every bit as ephemeral.

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Image: Shutterstock

Faith: Shavuot

Image: Shutterstock

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Image: X/Twitter

AIJAC expresses appreciation to PM, Leader of the Opposition, for bipartisan stance against extremism and antisemitism


“The reason we don’t get to a two-state outcome is the continuing extremism of the Palestinians”: Colin Rubenstein on Sky News


Much of the Arab world knows Hamas ‘is the problem’: Colin Rubenstein on Sky News

Image: Shutterstock

Faith: Shavuot

Image: Shutterstock

Australia must never be a party to cynical, pro-Hamas lawfare

Image: X/Twitter

AIJAC expresses appreciation to PM, Leader of the Opposition, for bipartisan stance against extremism and antisemitism


“The reason we don’t get to a two-state outcome is the continuing extremism of the Palestinians”: Colin Rubenstein on Sky News