Archive for February, 2010

On not saying you’re sorry

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Everyone seems to want Israel to apologize, or ‘clarify’, or in some way abase itself today.

In connection with the Dubai assassination, the Dubai police chief has called for the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, to be arrested. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has called the use of British passports in the operation an “outrage”, and called in the Israeli ambassador to discuss the incident.

If the Mossad did kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, then good for them — nobody deserved it more than Mabhouh. Hamas admitted that Mabhouh was responsible for the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, has helped plan Hamas terrorism for years, and was recently involved in bringing Iranian weapons to Gaza. Israel doesn’t need to apologize; in fact the Mossad should expand its activities and kill more Hamas leaders.

Israel is at war and doesn’t need to apologize for shooting back.

In a somewhat less sensational affair, a number of US congresspersons got their noses out of joint when Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon refused to meet with them when they visited Israel on a J Street sponsored trip:

“It was with real surprise and disappointment that we read a headline in this morning’s paper saying, ‘Foreign Ministry Boycotts Members of Congress,’” said [Rep. William] Delahunt, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to Israeli journalists at a Tel Aviv press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“In our opinion this is an inappropriate way to treat elected representatives of Israel’s closest ally who are visiting the country – and who through the years have been staunch supporters of the US-Israeli special relationship. We would respectfully ask the government for a clarification of its stance toward this and future delegations.”

Ayalon expressed what many of us feel about J Street when he said:

I don’t have to agree with J Street ideologically… but it bothers me when they present themselves as something they’re not. They can say they’re Jewish, or pro-peace, or whatever, but they can’t [say] they are a pro-Israel organization. They’ve bashed Israel on many occasions.

Bashed, and also worked directly against Israel’s interests. Is that clarified enough?

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Good intentions aren’t enough: Rabbis for Human Rights

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

I’ve written a lot recently (here, here, here, and here) about the controversy surrounding the New Israel Fund (NIF) and the accusations against it made by Im Tirtzu, a student Zionist organization, which claimed that 16 NIF-funded organizations were responsible for the majority of the documentation supporting the anti-Israel conclusions of the Goldstone report.

One of the 16 was “Rabbis for Human Rights” (RHR), a group founded and run by Rabbi Arik Ascherman (whom I met some years ago in another context. He seemed like a nice guy). RHR is probably one of the least offensive of the 16 groups cited by Im Tirtzu. Unlike the Israeli Arab groups Adalah and the Mossawa Center, it does not work toward the “de-Judaization” of the state, nor does it specialize in slandering the IDF throughout the world, like Breaking The Silence. I’m sure Ascherman doesn’t want to see Hamas attain its goal of replacing Israel with an Islamic state.

Here’s how NGO Monitor, a harsh critic of many Israeli NGOs, summarized its 2005 report on RHR:

RHR is an example of a human rights organization that, while critical of Israeli government policies and prone to political statements that are out of the human rights sphere, refrains from engaging in the language of demonization. RHR, however, also works in coordination with and lends support to many of the most active anti-Israel NGOs, and focuses most of its resources on Palestinian issues, while failing to address many of the complex issues involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to its website, RHR works to “promote the upholding of Palestinian rights in a variety of areas, in east Jerusalem, the west bank and Gaza,” which it does by legal action and “on the ground,” which sometimes includes civil disobedience. It works with Palestinian Arabs and ‘internationals’, volunteers from outside of Israel. It protects Arab farmers from “violent settlers” when they harvest olives, files lawsuits when it believes that the security barrier is encroaching on land worked by Palestinians, and tries to prevent the demolition of illegally-built Palestinian structures (alleging that Israeli policies preclude legal building).

Protecting anybody’s rights is laudable and there’s no doubt that there is a lot of unfairness in the relationship of the Israeli authorities toward Palestinians in particular cases.

But — yes, there had to be a ‘but’ — there are several problems.

One of them is that the philosophy of the group seems appropriate for a social change club on a university campus in the US, not a Middle Eastern nation at war.  Rights exist in a societal context: the Mideast isn’t Berkeley, California, and Israel’s struggle to survive in a very hostile world isn’t a student demonstration. An occupied territory with a hostile population isn’t a minority neighborhood in an American city. Like the “messianic crazies” that they decry on their website, RHR too has a one-dimensional view of right and wrong.

Yehoyada Amir’s exposition of the ideology of the group sees the “post-national approach” as the pinnacle of political evolution, although he somehow wants to leave room for an attenuated tribalism called a “familial and national partnership.”  Unfortunately he comes down way too far on the multicultural and “pan-human” side for today’s (or even tomorrow’s) Middle East. It’s a kind of unilateral disarmament in a hostile and well-armed neighborhood.

Another problem is the possible consequences of RHR’s actions. If a bunch of college students oppose, say, the gentrification of a poor neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin then they might or might not help anyone, but in any event there will be little damage. But an Israeli  human-rights group taking the  position that the IDF’s intentions in Gaza must be investigated may have far-reaching consequences for Israel’s ability to defend itself.

RHR sees the conflict as a struggle between “two peoples”, by which I presume they mean Jews and Palestinian Arabs. But there is a much wider context which can’t be ignored, in which the Jewish state is considered an abomination, illegitimately existing in the midst of land forever belonging to Muslims, by literally hundreds of millions of Arabs and other Muslims whose fondest desire is to see it disappear.

This rejectionist opposition is also extremely well-organized and well-financed, today primarily by Iran, which is moving to surround Israel by proxy armies. It also supports terrorist groups in the territories and even extremists among the Arab citizens of Israel. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Israel is in existential danger from these forces, even leaving aside the nuclear threat.

From RHR’s myopic point of view, the Jewish state is a behemoth oppressing powerless Palestinians; but in fact it is a very small and vulnerable island in a hostile sea. One of the strategies of Israel’s enemies is to remove the props of international support and reduce the world’s tolerance of its efforts at self-defense, in order to make it easier to physically destroy it. Thus the delegitimization campaign of which the Goldstone report is emblematic can have very real consequences for Israel’s future.

Palestinians in particular understand quite well the Western attitude toward human rights, and do their best to help make the news from the territories and Jerusalem fit the narrative of a noble people victimized by a soulless oppressor. RHR serves as a perfect megaphone for this.

Even if its complaints were not unbalanced or exaggerated, RHR  applies Berkeley standards to a Middle Eastern nation which has essentially been at war since its founding. It amplifies and focuses attention on human-rights issues which — in context — are not issues. By doing so it provides real ammunition to Israel’s enemies.

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Dr. Klafter’s dilemma

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Dr. Joseph Klafter has a problem. He’s president of Tel Aviv University (TAU), where Dr. Anat Matar and Prof. Rachel Giora are members of the faculty, and Omar Barghouti is a graduate student.

Matar, a professor of Philosophy has called the IDF a ‘criminal army’, agrees with the conclusions of the Goldstone report that accuses Israel of deliberately targeting the civilian Palestinian Arab population for violence, and supports the boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) movement — including the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. She was arrested at a violent demonstration against the security barrier in Bili’in in 2005.

Giora, about whom I wrote previously, also a stalwart of the BDS movement, is member of the Linguistics Department. Her name appears first (followed, of course, by Matar’s) on a petition calling for “civil society institutions as well as concerned citizens around the world” to

  • Integrate BDS in every struggle for justice and human rights by adopting wide, context-sensitive and sustainable boycotts of Israeli products, companies, academic and cultural institutions, and sports groups, similar to the actions taken against apartheid South Africa;
  • Ensure that national and multinational corporations are held accountable and sanctioned accordingly for profiteering from Israel’s occupation and other Israeli violations of human rights and international law;
  • Work towards canceling and blocking free trade and other preferential agreements with Israel;
  • Pressure governments to impose a direct and indirect arms embargo on Israel, which will guarantee end-user compliance with international law and human rights principles.

And Barghouti — well, he is a leader of the BDS movement, a founder of PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural boycott of Israel. PACBI claims to want to apply pressure to make Israel ‘change its ways’, but in reality its goal is to destroy the Jewish state. It is absurd that this person is benefiting from a university built from contributions given in good faith by Zionists in order to strengthen the Jewish state. And it is beyond absurd that he is studying ethics.

Dr. Klafter’s problem takes the form of a dilemma. On the one hand, he seems to believe that the words and actions of Matar, Giora and Barghouti are protected by the concept of academic freedom. On the other hand, some big donors to TAU have said that they will zip up their wallets if subversive academics like the above are not fired or expelled.

While Klafter finds the BDS campaign and particularly the academic boycott “odious”, he is opposed to taking action against the boycotters because to do so would

subvert the very same principle by which we oppose the boycott and will undermine our best efforts to thwart it. If we impose severe sanctions against dissident faculty and students, we will play into the hands of those who lead the boycott drive by compromising on our own core value of academic freedom.

According to Klafter, Academic freedom is an absolute value, because without it the university would not be able to perform its functions. So even if a teacher or student agitates for the destruction of the state, he or she can’t be stopped. One can oppose the academic boycott itself, because it  limits academic freedom. But doing anything about the perpetrators is forbidden. So the donors should fight the boycott by increasing their contributions, because this will strengthen the university and the state.

Here are a few facts Dr. Klafter seems to have missed:

  • The state of Israel is more important than Tel Aviv University. BDS is not just an academic boycott — although the fact that it includes one makes student Barghouti a hypocrite — it is part of a campaign to delegitimize and weaken the state so that it can be physically destroyed.
  • Academic freedom, like freedom of speech in other contexts, is not an absolute value. It can be limited without destroying it.
  • If the university becomes a bastion of anti-Israel activity, then Zionist donors can better support the state by sending their money elsewhere.

It’s not just the BDS people. TAU is also home to Shlomo Zand, whose ‘scholarship’ attacks the very notion of a Jewish people, and a number of others. It’s time for Israeli academia to wake up, smell the coffee, and think about what their academic freedom would be like in the Arab state that Matar, Giora and Barghouti want to replace Israel with.

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Outside funding of NGOs threatens sovereignty

Monday, February 15th, 2010

News item:

NGOs that receive funding from a “foreign political entity” would have to register with the Political Party Registrar and declare in all public appearances that they represent an organization that receives funding from such an entity, according to a bill sponsored by Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin that received government backing from the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday…

According to the bill, no organization in Israel would be allowed to receive money from a foreign political entity unless it registers with the Registrar of Political Parties. The registrar would be responsible for the registry completely independent of his registry of political parties.

The NGO would have to list the aims of the organization, its address and the identification number of every key activist, including directors, members of the executive committee, active directors and those authorized to sign checks…

This would seem to apply both to foreign governments, fronts for same, and charities like the New Israel Fund (NIF).

Something like this is necessary, because of the massive worldwide concentration of interest in what happens in this tiny little country. Israel’s ‘footprint’ in the world’s news media on any given day is greater than that of the whole continent of Africa, whose population is about 142 times larger. This is matched by an obsessive interest in controlling affairs in Israel, especially on the part of European nations. And this seems to express itself in an anti-Zionist direction.

Some of the reasons are psychological. Holocaust guilt is often redirected as anti-Zionism, while shame resulting from Europe’s colonialist past seems to express itself as pro-Arab leanings. Other reasons include the relationship of Christianity to Jerusalem — perhaps part of the reason that the US State Department has never been comfortable with Israeli control of any part of the city — and of course economic connections between Europe and oil-producing nations. The large Muslim populations in many European countries are beginning to have political effects, too. Finally, we can’t ignore the really pathological anti-Zionism of the Left, both in Europe and the US.

While there is some pro-Zionist money flowing from the US — for example, from evangelical Christians and a few right-wing American Jews — it is dwarfed by the left-wing support for “human rights” groups and others which seem to support every imaginable ‘right’ for Arabs while working against the right of the Jews to self-determination: i.e, the state of Israel.

Here is a table from NGO monitor, which has been sounding the alarm about the activities of these groups for years (it took the NIF controversy to get people’s attention). They document a total of over $18 million contributed by European governments in 2006-9 to de facto anti-Zionist NGOs in Israel. And this is a minimum figure, because amounts of many such donations are unspecified. The NIF also donates large amounts, with almost $8 million going to the ‘dirty sixteen’ organizations cited so often in the Goldstone report.

Adjusting for population, this would be as if the governments of Russia, China, etc. contributed about $1.1 billion to anti-state organizations in the US. Can you imagine the outrage?

The proposal in the Knesset should become a law. It’s just part of a nation’s sovereignty that it should have control of money spent by foreign governments for political purposes inside its borders.

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Sanctions, shmanctions

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

News item:

Visiting U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen declared Sunday that Washington was committed to Israel’s security, voicing concern over the “unintended consequences” a war in the Middle East over Iran’s contentious nuclear program would bring.

“I worry a great deal about the unintended consequences of a strike,” he told reporters during a visit to Tel Aviv, referring to Iran’s threats to retaliate against Israel and U.S. sites in the Gulf. “I think the Iranians are very difficult to predict.”

Translation: he’s worried about Israel’s security so much that he really doesn’t want Israel to attack Iran. This makes little sense. Nobody is more aware than Israel of Iran’s ability to retaliate in many unpleasant ways, and so it’s very likely that it would not take that step unless there was absolutely no alternative. It would only attack if the consequences of not attacking were judged to be worse.

The US has said over and over that it wishes to deter Iran from proceeding with its program by applying sanctions. So far, sanctions aimed specifically at the nuclear program have been spotty and easily bypassed. The international sanctions now being contemplated would be applied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and businesses and institutions associated with it.

Now consider that the nuclear program is top priority for the Iranian leadership. Ahmadinejad has diverted an enormous amount of resources which could have been used to improve the local economy into a crash program to develop nuclear weapons, and has brutally repressed popular anger at resulting problems. Iran has managed to get its hands on critical technology despite embargoes on it.

Is it likely that Tehran will reverse course at this point as a result of more economic sanctions? Is it not more likely that they will be countered by a further diversion of resources, and simply exacerbate the problems of the general population? The ability of a dictatorial regime to shift resources at will and suppress popular opposition makes sanctions a poor way of influencing its behavior.

The US House and Senate have passed bills calling for US sanctions on international companies which export refined fuel to Iran. This would bite very hard, since at present Iran lacks sufficient refining capacity of its own — although a Chinese consortium is planning to build a refinery in Iran to help solve this problem.

But even if refined fuel sanctions could be implemented (the bills would need to be reconciled and signed by the President, and there is serious opposition from various quarters), there’s no reason to think that they would have much effect on the nuclear program. The result would probably be even more trouble for the Iranian populace, who can nevertheless be kept in line by the same vicious oppression that allowed the regime to steal the last election.

So here are the facts:

  • Nuclear weapons development is of the highest priority for the Iranian regime;
  • The ability of the dictatorial regime to shift resources means that sanctions are unlikely to be effective, even ‘painful’ ones;
  • Therefore, unless something totally unexpected happens, only military action can be effective in preventing or delaying the Iranian bomb.

I’m pretty sure all parties involved understand this — even the Obama administration. Therefore the debate (at least in the US — in Israel they know the answer) should be expected to shift to variations of “how bad would a nuclear Iran really be?” See my take on one example of this genre here.

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