Archive for August, 2011

Stephen Walt blames AIPAC for budget crisis

Friday, August 12th, 2011
Palestinian President Abbas meets with U.S. Congressional Delegation in Ramallah yesterday. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is speaking to Abbas.

Palestinian President Abbas meets with U.S. Congressional Delegation in Ramallah yesterday. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is speaking to Abbas.

Stephen Walt, who has built a career — and it appears to be a lucrative one — on bashing Israel and skirting (maybe) the limits of antisemitism in his attacks on ‘The Lobby’, claims that AIPAC is worsening the US budget crisis:

After congressional shenanigans helped spark a major market sell-off and sparked fears of a double-dip recession, you’d think every single one of them would be heading back to their districts to figure out what their constituents wanted and to try to explain how they were going to help make things better. Or maybe a few of them would even spend the recess taking a crash course in macroeconomics and public finance, so that they could start exercising their public duties more responsibly.

But what did 81 of them decide to do instead? You guessed it: they are off on junkets to Israel, paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, an AIPAC spinoff that has been funding such trips for years. That’s right: during the August recess nearly a fifth of the U.S. Congress will visit a single country whose entire population is less than that of New York City.

Now since these trips will last only one week and cost US taxpayers nothing, one wonders why Walt is so excited. Apparently it’s because they might have the effect of making our congresspersons pro-Israel:

Such trips also expose these visitors to the policy preferences and basic worldview of Israel’s leaders, which is of course why AIEF pays for them.

Scary. But which leaders are they meeting with? Last week, the schedule was revealed in all of its sinister dimensions:

The delegation will visit both Israel and the West Bank, and is scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

And what did they hear from  President Abbas?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with US lawmakers visiting the West Bank and Gaza Strip [sic] and urged them to lend their support to the formation of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, the PA’s WAFA news agency reported on Friday.

Abbas reportedly stressed that the future state must be “empty of settlements” …

The Palestinian president stressed that the PA’s “first, second and third choice is to establish the Palestinian state through negotiations,” adding that Israel’s settlement policy was the main obstacle to the peace process. Abbas also assured the US legislators that his upcoming UN bid for statehood, though unilateral, does not contradict the essence of the peace process.

Abbas is being more than a little disingenuous here, since the obstacle to negotiations has been Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, which continues to demand that Israel agree to give them everything they want before negotiations can start. And it is flat-out false that a unilateral declaration of statehood doesn’t contradict the peace process — it contradicts UNSC resolution 242 (and others), the Oslo interim agreement and the Road Map, all of which call for negotiations between the parties.

But Stephen Walt, who illustrated his article with a picture of known Jewish Zionist conspirators Foreign Minister Avigdor and Senator Joe Lieberman (who is not part of this trip), should be happy. Or perhaps he thinks our representatives should meet with Hamas, too?

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“Nobody asked me, but…” day

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

A few little things:

1) What’s wrong with this picture?

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti said worldwide protests will result from a U.S. veto of a Palestinian state at the United Nations.

Barghouti, who has been imprisoned in Israel since 2002 for murdering Israelis but still remains influential in the Arab world, told an Egyptian news service that a U.S. veto of a Palestinian state would be a “historic, deadly mistake,” the French news agency AFP reported.

“Such a veto will be confronted by millions-strong protests throughout the Arab and Muslim world, indeed throughout the whole world,” he reportedly said.

Hello? He’s a convicted multiple murderer! Why is he “influential” and talking to the press? He should be dead. And so should mass murderess Ahlam Tamimi.

2) Suddenly he gets it (maybe):

British PM David Cameron, speaking in the House of Commons about the lawlessness in the streets,

No “phoney human rights concerns” about publishing CCTV images of suspects involved in rioting would be allowed to “get in the way of bringing these criminals to justice”.

Nope, “no phoney human rights concerns” when his country is attacked by barbarians!

3) Never missing a chance to hurt Israel,

President Obama is pressuring Israel to apologize to Turkey for self-defense. I suppose he’s right — the commandos trying to enforce what a UN commission admits is a legitimate blockade should have all lined up to be beaten, stabbed and shot by Turkish thugs.

How about Turkey apologizing to the Armenians — then we’ll talk.

Why Obama needs to be involved in this issue, when he still is only hinting at making an unequivocal statement that Butcher Bashar must quit, is beyond me.

4) Meet Gabriel Matthew Schivone

Gabriel Matthew Schivone

Gabriel Matthew Schivone

An “Audacity of Hope” passenger, Schivone calls himself a ‘Chicano Jew’ and a ‘person of color’. He doesn’t look colored, but what do I know*.  An undergraduate at the University of Arizona, Tucson and coordinator of Arizona Jewish Voice for Peace, Schivone is uncompromising in his support for the Palestinian Arab ‘resistance’. In an op-ed published in Ha’aretz, he wrote

I am one of a growing number of young American Jews who are determined to shake off an assumed – and largely imposed – association with Israel. Prominent advocacy organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, which proudly proclaim their unconditional support of Israel, for several years have been declaring their “serious concern” over the increasing “distancing” of young American Jews from the state.

But what Israel apologists like the AJC view as a crisis, I see as a positive development for American Jews, who, like other parts of U.S. society, are shifting from blind support for Israel to a more critical position that reflects opposition to our country’s backing for Israel’s policies.

But there seems to be a minor problem. He isn’t Jewish, in any recognizable sense!** Ha’aretz printed a letter from someone who knows Schivone personally, someone who agrees with him politically but felt the need to expose his deception:

Gabriel is not Jewish, whether in terms of ethnic ancestry, religious belief, or cultural identity. He has never identified as a Jew until it became useful in advancing his political agenda. During the High Holiday season of 2007, Gabriel told me that he discussed Israel with campus representatives of Chabad, identifying himself as a Jew. When asked why he did this, he explained that he has a distant Jewish relative and that “you use what you have.”

In all the time I’ve known him, he has never expressed feeling morally conflicted about Israel, nor has he succumbed to pressure to be “silent.” The editorial’s narrative is not Gabriel’s story, but one crafted to lend moral and emotional weight to his argument while appealing to the young, college-aged Jews whose participation is so vital to the pro-Palestinian movement.

In his response, Schivone is angry that his “most cherished sense of personal identity” has been challenged, but he doesn’t deny the substance of the charge.

* Yes, I understand that ‘person of color’ has nothing to do with pigmentation, but rather means that the person in question belongs to a group oppressed by Western colonialists, and is therefore permitted to ‘resist’ in any way he can. I just don’t buy the theory.

** No, I don’t care if he is halachically Jewish. If there is any sense in which ‘Jewish’ is meaningful, he doesn’t fit it.

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Jeremy Ben-Ami, rebel

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
Yitzhak Ben-Ami in the US Army, 1944

Yitzhak Ben-Ami in the US Army, 1944

Earlier this week I wrote about the Bergson Group and their struggle to get the FDR Administration to take action to save European Jews during the Holocaust. I’ve come across an article by Sol Stern that adds something new to the story.

Along with Hillel Kook (alias Peter Bergson) was one Yitzhak Ben-Ami. Kook, Ben-Ami and the others were members of the ‘Irgun’, a right-wing Zionist organization led by Menachem Begin. They had initially come to the US from the yishuv in Palestine to raise money and obtain arms for the clandestine militia, but when they realized what was happening in Europe, the mission changed.

As I wrote, Kook’s group met with resistance from the Jewish establishment in the US. Stern tells what happened:

No single figure did more to undermine the Committee’s work than Rabbi Stephen Wise of Temple Emmanuel [sic], undisputed boss of several national Jewish organizations and often referred to as “King of the Jews.”  On the day that Ben-Ami and his colleagues were leading 100 orthodox rabbis in a demonstration in front of the White House to protest the Roosevelt administration’s inaction on rescue, Wise was advising administration officials that the Bergson group “did not represent Jewish thinking in America.” Wise viewed the young Palestinians and their American supporters as interlopers and even tried to get Ben-Ami and his colleagues deported. Accused by Wise of being a draft dodger, Ben-Ami then enlisted in the American Army.

Yitzhak Ben-Ami, himself the son of pioneer Zionists who were among the founders of Tel Aviv (supposedly he was the first Jewish baby born in the new city in 1911), survived the Battle of the Bulge and came back to the US.

In New York he raised a daughter, Deborah, and a son, Jeremy. Yes, that Jeremy Ben-Ami, Executive Director of the phony ‘pro-Israel’ lobby, J Street.

Yitzhak did well in America, and Jeremy’s life was much easier than that of his father (who died in 1984), including private school and Princeton. After a job as regional director for the anti-Zionist New Israel Fund (if you have a problem with my adjective, please read the linked post),  Jeremy went to work for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign and then for Fenton Communications.

Fenton is a PR firm that specializes in progressive causes. Indeed, they proudly write “We only represent causes we believe in ourselves” on their website, and they claim to have helped “galvanize public opposition to end apartheid” and “save the North Atlantic Swordfish from the brink of extinction.”

Apparently they also believe in helping Hamas, because — as I reported here last June — they did extensive work for a propaganda enterprise called the Al Fakhoora Project, paid for by Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, wife of the Emir of Qatar, and which calls for the ending of all restrictions on goods and transit to the Gaza Strip, as well as dispensing the usual demonization of Israel.

According to Mandy Katz, Ben-Ami began to work on J Street while he was an Executive Vice President at Fenton:

When Dean’s campaign folded in 2004, Ben-Ami took up in earnest his father’s focus on Israel. Bringing his experience and a list of progressive donors acquired since his Clinton years, he sought advice from David Fenton of Fenton Communications, a consultancy for progressive non-profits. “David convinced me to do the incubation as a project of Fenton,” Ben-Ami says. Now based in Washington, Ben-Ami consulted for other Fenton clients on issues like climate change, while pushing for a new organization—possibly a merger of existing groups, that would also be the Zionist left’s first registered lobby.

Ben-Ami left Fenton to become executive director of J Street in late 2007, before the Al Fakhoora project contract was signed (2009, per J Street’s Myths and Facts page), and claims to have no knowledge of it. Ben-Ami also claimed that J Street had received no funds from George Soros — until it became public knowledge.

J Street was helped a great deal by Ben-Ami’s relationship with the Obama Administration, which in 2009 invited the new organization to a meeting of ‘Jewish leaders’ at the White House — a traditional gathering from which the right-leaning Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) was dropped for the first time.

It’s ironic that Jeremy Ben-Ami, welcome in the White House the way his father was not,  sees himself an outsider struggling against a powerful establishment. Stern writes,

But it takes a huge historical leap and considerable conceit to suggest that there is any valid comparison between J Street’s political movement of today and Jeremy’s father’s struggles in the 1940s to alert Americans to the ongoing destruction of European Jewry. For daring to advance their own ideas about the best way to rescue the endangered Jews of Europe, Yitzhak Ben-Ami and his Irgun colleagues were subjected to calumny and dirty tricks directed against them from mainstream Jewish leaders like Rabbi Wise.  These leaders betrayed their moral obligation to forcefully advocate the rescue of Jews in Nazi occupied Europe because of their lack of political imagination and a cowardly unwillingness to challenge a popular American president.

The situation today is almost reversed. Whatever else one might say about AIPAC and the current “establishment,” American Jewish leaders have apparently learned the dreadful lessons of the 1940s. On the other hand it is the J Street “dissidents” who seem indifferent to the fact that Israel’s five million Jews are threatened with either physical destruction or politicide by a new international coalition of Jew haters. In that circumstance it is perfectly reasonable for American Jews to express their solidarity with whatever government Israelis have chosen (at the ballot box) to lead them in the current emergency…

… Ben-Ami’s father exhibited true courage when he stood up to Rabbi Wise in the 1940s and championed the lost cause of the European Jews. On the other hand, it is truly an Orwellian moment when Ben Ami anoints Peter Beinart as courageous for writing an article for the New York Review of Books (which Beinart followed up on by bagging a six figure book advance and lucrative Passover speaking engagements at Jewish resorts). It became all the more grotesque when Beinart, in his J Street speech, cited Rabbi Wise as his own liberal Zionist hero.

Jeremy Ben-Ami’s reflexive response to criticism is to accuse his critics of being “right-wing” (the phrase appears five times on J Street’s “myths and facts” page).

I wonder what Yitzhak Ben-Ami would say to that?

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NIF go home

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011
Protest movement in Israel includes disparate elements

Protest movement in Israel includes disparate elements

Hundreds of thousands of protesters in the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities can’t be ignored, although one should keep in mind that there are more than 5 million registered voters in Israel (in 2009, 65% of them voted), and most of them are not in the streets.

There’s no doubt that many of the demonstrators’ complaints are justified. It’s just Economics 101 that monopoly or oligopoly-dominated markets result in higher prices. It’s a fact that a great degree of income inequality creates dissatisfaction. And it’s a fact that there is a real problem finding affordable housing, and not just in the most desirable parts of Tel Aviv.

But there is also no doubt that some are trying to turn the protests into a movement to replace the government with one more to their liking, and not just because of economic issues. As I wrote last week, connections between protest leaders and not only anti-Bibi but even anti-Zionist elements have been evident from the beginning.

In particular, the American New Israel Fund (NIF) has been playing a central role in financing the protests and advising their leaders. The NIF has always been arrogant about its ‘right’ to directly interfere in the politics of another nation, and the arrogance is openly on display in a fundraising letter sent to American donors by Daniel Sokatch, NIF CEO and Rachel Liel, his Executive Director in Israel, which includes this:

150,000 of my fellow Israelis went into the streets Saturday night to demand a better, more just Israel…

Our Shatil organizers are in the field, lending expertise at protest sites all over the country. And our emergency grants help sustain the activists in their ongoing protest.

I just bet.

The NIF has supported — and continues to support — various groups which engage in demonization of the IDF, call for the ‘dezionization’ of the state and boycott-divestment-sanctions of Israel. This is described in detail in my earlier post, “The New Israel Fund — the bad and the ugly.”

The NIF’s “better, more just Israel” is not the Jewish state that the great majority of Israelis, or even the majority of demonstrators, want.

If the protest leaders want their legitimate demands taken seriously, then they should tell the NIF and its “Shatil organizers” to go home.

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Israel and the LGBT community

Monday, August 8th, 2011
Pro-Palestinian contingent marches in Tel Aviv's Gay Pride parade

Pro-Palestinian contingent marches in Tel Aviv's Gay Pride parade

A man who was thought to be the last surviving person sent to a Nazi concentration camp for being gay has died at 98. Hitler’s oppression of homosexuals is well known, but it’s interesting to note that the totalitarian Left has also been less than gay-friendly:

During the time of the Soviet Union there were two decisive repressive measures of the State against homosexuals: the notorious article 121.1 which punished myzhelozhestvo (a man lying with another man) with up to five years of imprisonment, and psychiatry which made it possible to forcibly confine lesbian women in a psychiatric clinic. When a lesbian love relationship was reported to the authorities by the parents or another legal guardian, the former could see to it that a psychiatric problem was diagnosed, usually a disorder of personality. The young women (most of them 15 to 19 years old) were then held in a psychiatric clinic for three months. In the following they would then receive a mind-bending drug treatment before being forced to register with a local psychiatrist as mentally ill. Once they were registered, any chance of a professional career or even of getting a driver’s license was denied to them.

In the 20s, the Soviet psychology specially developed a typological theory for recognizing “active lesbians”. According to this theory, they could be recognized by their personal initiative and their success in male professions, by their smoking, drinking alcohol and use of dirty language, their manly appearance, their liking horseback riding [!] and their careers in the Red Army. Although since 1988 forcible psychiatric confinement has been outlawed, in the province they are still quite possible, since even contemporary sexual pathologists and psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as an illness. — Anne Buetikofer, “Homosexuality in the Soviet Union and in today’s Russia

Although Stalinist laws restricting abortion, marriage and divorce were liberalized shortly after his death, section 121.1 remained in effect in Russia until 1993!

I think I can say unequivocally that the degree of tolerance for gays and lesbians in a society is directly proportional to the degree to which it is a free society. Israel is an (unfortunately rare) example of how it is possible for a religious tradition which opposes homosexuality to coexist with a temporal authority that does not interfere with the private lives of its citizens. In fact, you could call Israel the San Francisco of the Middle East, or — pardon the expression — the ‘Mecca’ for gay people of any ethnicity in the region.

You would think, then, that the gay community in the US and even Israel would recognize this. Some of its members do, but by in large it has bought the Palestinian myth of victimization and oppression lock, stock and barrel.

One reason is that seeing themselves as an oppressed minority, they tend to identify with another such group. In addition, as a marginalized group, they see, hear and read a great deal of ‘alternative’ — that is, leftist — media that is suffused with lies about Israel. For example, in the US there is probably more specifically ‘LGBT’ programming on the Pacifica network (KPFA, Berkeley CA, etc.) than anywhere else. But that network is also home to sustained, vicious daily attacks on Israel. The same is true of print and Internet media, like the Daily Kos or Huffington Post.

As a result, it’s common to see angry denunciations of any attempt to present the Israeli case as ‘pinkwashing’ — the process of covering up ‘crimes’ against Palestinian Arabs by changing the subject to gay rights. So we get oxymoronic organizations like “Queers for Palestine”. These groups may even admit that Israel respects gay rights and that Arab and Muslim nations in the Mideast are institutionally homophobic, but still consider it their duty to passionately support the ‘Palestinian cause’.

A local writer, Lillian Faderman, has just published an op-ed in the largest national LGBT publication, The Advocate, in which she takes the gay community to task for its pervasive anti-Israel bias. Faderman writes,

Americans have every reason to envy Israel’s enlightened policies toward its LGBT citizens. So it puzzles me deeply when I hear of LGBT groups lending their sympathy to opponents of Israel.

The rights we have been fighting for and still have not fully achieved in the United States, LGBT Israelis already enjoy. I came out in the middle of the last century and witnessed firsthand the persecution and oppression of LGBT people. It was because of those early experiences that I devoted the last 40 years of my life to writing books and articles about our community’s history and progress…

My partner and I have been together for 40 years. Like 18,000 other same-sex couples in California, we got married in 2008. Though all 36,000 of us are still married as far as the state of California is concerned, Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage for all others. Because federal laws don’t recognize our marriage, our legal bond doesn’t do us much good anyway. If we should decide to move next door to Arizona or Las Vegas or Oregon — or almost anywhere else in America — we wouldn’t be considered legally married. We both pay federal income tax, of course, but under the law we get none of the federal benefits that opposite-sex couples receive. In fact, the only result of our marriage with regard to taxes is that we have to pay our accountant triple: once for doing our state income tax as a married couple, a second and third time for doing our federal income tax as two single payers. And if one of us should die, that’s the end of her Social Security benefits for which she’d paid in for more than half a century; the surviving spouse gets absolutely nothing of those benefits.

If we’d lived in Israel, we’d be much better off. In 1994 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of granting spousal benefits to same-sex couples. In 2004 the court ruled that LGBT couples could qualify for common-law marriage status. In 2005 legislation was passed in Israel recognizing all same-sex marriages that are performed abroad.

So there can be no explanation for LGBT groups participating in wrong-headed actions such as the BDS movement that seeks boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Outside of Israel, everywhere in the Middle East, LGBT people are utterly despised under the law. Indeed, official treatment of LGBT people in other Middle East countries makes the bar raids and job losses and police entrapments that we experienced in the 1950s and ’60s seem like coddling. If a family wishes to rid itself of the embarrassment of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender member by “honor killing” there would be no legal consequences in the area governed by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, or in Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, or Syria.

Needless to say, and as even the Amnesty International LGBT website shows, there’s no Middle Eastern country other than Israel in which lesbian or gay couples can receive spousal benefits, none other than Israel in which lesbians and gays can serve openly in the military, none other than Israel that protects lesbians and gays from discrimination or hate crimes. In Iran and Saudi Arabia we’re put to death. In Syria we’re thrown in prison for three years. In Egypt we’re prosecuted under lewd conduct laws, and we’re illegal in Lebanon and Libya too.

All of this is true, but I’m afraid that for the anti-Zionists in the gay community, it’s beside the point. For example, here’s a random comment posted in response to Faderman’s article:

Granted Israel treats its Jewish LGBT citizens (though not Arab: Christian or Muslim or Atheist), better than other countries in the Middle East. But so what? That should be of absolutely zero moral value when judging its policies of occupation and aggression against the native Palestinians.

It doesn’t hurt to explain, as Faderman does so well, just how great the contrast is between Israel and the various monarchies, hereditary or military dictatorships and Islamic ‘republics’ that make up the Middle East, or even the contrast between Israel and the US. But until we can also explain that ‘Palestinians’ are no more ‘native’ to the region than Jews, that the land is not ‘occupied’ and that the aggressors in the conflict are not the Israelis — until it’s possible to break the stranglehold that the anti-Zionists have managed to place on ‘progressive’ thinking and media — our explanations will fall on deaf ears.

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