AIPAC, the Kremlin of American Jewry

o13-iconGideon Levy writes: It’s the biggest convention of Israel-haters, attended yearly by some 15,000 representatives, and the damage, historically speaking, that it has done to Israel is perhaps graver than any done by Iran. The convention is held once a year, and time seems to stop. It’s always the same wheeler-dealers, the same kitsch, the same hollow applause, and the same standing ovation for every Israeli prime minister, no matter his policy. The world turns round and round, but this never changes. Even Israel changes, but not in their eyes. Here, Israel is worthy only of applause, blind and automatic applause, now and forever.

Like at similar conventions held in Romania by Nicolae Ceausescu, all they do is praise the great leader. Welcome to Bucharest in Washington, to the Kremlin of American Jewry, behold the yearly AIPAC conference. Only here can Netanyahu use his old tricks and gimmicks and be met with a full auditorium on its feet. “I bring you a message from the unified Jerusalem” – applause; Israel built a hospital for victims of the Syrian war, which Netanyahu visited, and he even spoke to a Syrian – cheers; the whole world is knocking down Israel’s door – applause; we will never abandon Israel’s security – the hall rumbles. “BDS is BS,” and this bullshit was praised as well, even though Netanyahu devoted a large portion of his speech to BDS, which was a bigger gift than the organization could have dreamt of.

Behind Netanyahu sat a young American woman who rose to cheer him when everyone else did. I said to myself, Why exactly did she get up and cheer? For the ongoing occupation? For the undermining of Israeli democracy? For the ever prevalent racism in Israel?

“I’m pro-Israel, I’m AIPAC,” says the organization’s slogan. Pro-Israel? The organization’s critics claim that it sometimes acts against U.S. interests; that it also acts against Israeli interests. Yes, it has caused Congress to pass resolutions congratulating Israel on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War. AIPAC also prevented the sale of air defense systems to Saudi Arabia, as well as any weapon to any Arab state. No fewer than 259 Congress members and 79 senators signed the organization’s petition condemning aid for the Palestinian Authority.

Bravo, AIPAC. Seek out the conservative right among American Jewry. But long ago, Israel should have said, “No, thanks.” Not every show of loud and pushy, even crazed support is a display of friendship. Sometimes caring and friendship mean criticism. But that is not in AIPAC’s playbook. [Continue reading...]

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Israeli spies find it increasingly difficult to enter the U.S.

n13-iconIntelNews.org reports: Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed.

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Obama: The U.S. may soon be unable to defend Israel from international isolation

n13-iconJeffrey Goldberg writes: When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House tomorrow, President Barack Obama will tell him that his country could face a bleak future — one of international isolation and demographic disaster — if he refuses to endorse a U.S.-drafted framework agreement for peace with the Palestinians. Obama will warn Netanyahu that time is running out for Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy. And the president will make the case that Netanyahu, alone among Israelis, has the strength and political credibility to lead his people away from the precipice.

In an hourlong interview Thursday in the Oval Office, Obama, borrowing from the Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel, told me that his message to Netanyahu will be this: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” He then took a sharper tone, saying that if Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach.” He added, “It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.”

Unlike Netanyahu, Obama will not address the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, this week — the administration is upset with Aipac for, in its view, trying to subvert American-led nuclear negotiations with Iran. In our interview, the president, while broadly supportive of Israel and a close U.S.-Israel relationship, made statements that would be met at an Aipac convention with cold silence.

Obama was blunter about Israel’s future than I’ve ever heard him. His language was striking, but of a piece with observations made in recent months by his secretary of state, John Kerry, who until this interview, had taken the lead in pressuring both Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to agree to a framework deal. Obama made it clear that he views Abbas as the most politically moderate leader the Palestinians may ever have. It seemed obvious to me that the president believes that the next move is Netanyahu’s. [Continue reading...]

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Why Israelis are content to live in a bubble of denial

o13-iconJonathan Cook writes: The 24-hour visit by German chancellor Angela Merkel to Israel this week came as relations between the two countries hit rock bottom. According to a report in Der Spiegel magazine last week, Ms Merkel and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netan­yahu have been drawn into shouting matches when discussing by phone the faltering peace process.

Despite their smiles to the cameras during the visit, tension behind the scenes has been heightened by a diplomatic bust-up earlier this month when Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament and himself German, gave a speech to the Israeli parliament.

In unprecedented scenes, a group of Israeli legislators heckled Mr Schulz, calling him a “liar”, and then staged a walkout, led by the economics minister Naftali Bennett. Rather than apologising, Mr Netanyahu intervened to lambast Mr Schulz for being misinformed.

Mr Schulz, who, like Ms Merkel, is considered a close friend of Israel, used his speech vehemently to oppose growing calls in Europe for a boycott of Israel. So how did he trigger such opprobrium?

Mr Schulz’s main offence was posing a question: was it true, as he had heard in meetings in the West Bank, that Israelis have access to four times more water than Palestinians? He further upset legislators by gently suggesting that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was preventing economic growth there.

Neither statement should have been in the least controversial. Figures from independent bodies such as the World Bank show Israel, which dominates the local water supplies, allocates per capita about 4.4 times more water to its population than to Palestinians.

Equally, it would be hard to imagine that years of denying goods and materials to Gaza, and blocking exports, have not ravaged its economy. The unemployment rate, for example, has increased 6 per cent, to 38.5 per cent, following Israel’s recent decision to prevent the transfer of construction materials to Gaza’s private sector.

But Israelis rarely hear such facts from their politicians or the media. And few are willing to listen when a rare voice like Mr Schulz’s intervenes. Israelis have grown content to live in a large bubble of denial. [Continue reading...]

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Israelis caught by U.S. trying to sell arms to Iran

n13-iconKathimerini reports: Israeli arms dealers tried to send spare parts for F-4 Phantom aircraft via Greece to Iran in violation of an arms embargo, according to a secret probe by the US government agency Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) carried out in cooperation with the drugs and weapons unit of Greece’s Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE).

According to the probe, which Kathimerini has had access to, the operation was carried out in two phases – one in December 2012 and the second in April 2013. In both cases, officials traced containers packed with the F-4 parts on Greek territory. The cargo had been sent by courier from the Israeli town of Binyamina-Giv’at Ada and had been destined for Iran, which has a large fleet of F-4 aircraft, via a Greek company registered under the name Tassos Karras SA in Votanikos, near central Athens. SDOE officials established that the firm was a ghost company, while the company’s contact number was found to belong to a British national residing in Thessaloniki who could not be located.

According to HSI memos, the cargo appears to have been sent by arms dealers based in Israel, seeking to supply Iran in contravention of an arms embargo, and using Greece as a transit nation. [Continue reading...]

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Syria’s disintegration alarms Israel

a13-iconIan Black writes: Nearly three years into the war in Syria, the Israeli government is getting used to the idea that its northern neighbour is changing beyond recognition as the bloodiest chapter of the Arab spring takes its bloody course with no end in sight.

Unlike Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, Israel – Syria’s enemy for 65 years – has not been inundated with hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing the conflict. But it is increasingly alarmed about the disintegration of the country and the rise of Jihadi-type groups in the uprising against Bashar al-Assad. Eventually, the fear is, they will turn their attention to Israel.

On the occupied side of the Golan Heights, wounded Syrians are being treated by the Israeli military – which has allowed limited media coverage to advertise its humanitarian activities. Outside Israel, it was reported this week that injured fighters are being questioned about the strength, weaponry and structure of Islamist brigades – indispensable detail on these little-known “new players” in the region.

Israeli officials, including the head of military intelligence, have been warning for months of the growing strength of groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. This has fed into European fears of “blowback” from Islamist fighters returning home after being bloodied in Syria. Israel is also talking up the risk from “Global Jihad” in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – a local “war on terror” narrative that frames its view of the region and deflects pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. [Continue reading...]

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Star Wars-style laser shield aims to protect all of Israel from short-range rockets

n13-iconThe Associated Press reports: An Israeli state-owned arms company developing a laser-based missile shield that evokes “Star Wars” style technology says its deployment over the country is closer to becoming a reality.

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems said development of the system was advanced enough for the company to be comfortable with publicizing it at this week’s Singapore Airshow, which is Asia’s largest aerospace and defense exhibition.

The laser technology behind the missile shield called Iron Beam is not that far removed from fiction.

“It’s exactly like what you see in Star Wars,” said company spokesman Amit Zimmer. “You see the lasers go up so quickly like a flash and the target is finished.” [Continue reading...]

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Chase Madar: The folly of arming Israel

Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s pledge to sell advanced antiaircraft weapons to Syria, noting that it would have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.”  And really, who could argue that pouring more weapons into a heavily-armed corner of the globe, roiled by conflict, convulsed by civil strife and civil war, could do anything but inflame tensions and cost lives?

Yet Kerry’s State Department, in coordination with the Pentagon, has been content to oversee a U.S.-sanctioned flood of arms and military matériel heading into the region at a breakneck pace.  In December, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment, announced that it had approved the sale of more than 15,000 Raytheon-produced anti-tank missiles to Saudi Arabia under two separate agreements worth a combined $1 billion.  Last month, potential deals to sell and lease Apache attack helicopters to the embattled government of Iraq were also made public, in addition to an agreement that would send the country $82 million worth of Hellfire missiles.  At about the same time, the DSCA notified Congress of a possible $270 million sale of F-16 fighters to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  All of this was on top of a potential $600 million deal to train 6,000-8,000 Libyan military personnel and a prospective $150 million agreement for Marines to mentor members of the UAE’s Presidential Guard Command, both of which were announced in January.  And let’s not forget that, last month, Congress also turned on the spigot to allow automatic weapons and anti-tank rockets to flow to rebel fighters in — wait for it — Syria.

Of course, Muslim nations around the region aren’t alone in receiving U.S. support.  The U.S. also plies Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, with copious amounts of aid.  Since World War II, the Jewish state has, in fact, been the largest beneficiary of U.S. foreign assistance, almost all of it military, according to the Congressional Research Service.  Yet the topic is barely covered in the U.S.  Today, TomDispatch regular Chase Madar provides a remedy for that collective silence, taking us on a deep dive into what that aid means in Israel, Palestine, and Washington.  In the process, he explains why you’re unlikely ever to hear John Kerry suggest that sending weapons to Israel might have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.” Nick Turse

Washington’s military aid to Israel
Fake peace process, real war process
By Chase Madar

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28% of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10%. In actual fact, barely 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain, or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid — nearly all of it military since 2008 — has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming.  In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel — for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse — who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

[Read more...]

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BDS: A campaign that is gathering weight

n13-iconThe Economist: Once derided as the scheming of crackpots, the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, widely known as BDS, is turning mainstream. That, at any rate, is the fear of a growing number of Israelis. Some European pension funds have withdrawn investments; some large corporations have cancelled contracts; and the American secretary of state, John Kerry, rarely misses a chance to warn Israel that efforts to “delegitimise” and boycott it will increase if its government spurns his efforts to conclude a two-state settlement of its conflict with the Palestinians. Israel, says Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, is approaching the same “tipping point” where South Africa found itself in opposition to the rest of the world in the dying days of apartheid. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” he told a conference of security boffins recently in Tel Aviv. “The world listens to us less and less.”

BDS has begun to grab the attention of some of the world’s largest financial institutions. PGGM, a big Dutch pension fund, has liquidated its holdings in five Israeli banks (though the Netherlands’ largest has affirmed its investments). Norway’s finance ministry has announced that it is excluding Africa Israel Investments and its subsidiary, Danya Cebus, a big building firm, from a government pension fund.

The campaign is drawing support from beyond northern Europe. Romania has forbidden its citizens from working for companies in the West Bank. More churches are backing BDS. An American academic association is boycotting Israeli lecturers. The debate turned viral after Scarlett Johansson, a Hollywood actor, quit her role as ambassador for Oxfam, a charity based in Britain, in order to keep her advertising contract with SodaStream, an Israeli drinks firm with a plant on the West Bank.

Mr Lapid, who favours a two-state solution, reels out figures to show how sanctions could hit every Israeli pocket. “If negotiations with the Palestinians stall or blow up and we enter the reality of a European boycott, even a very partial one,” he warned, 10,000 Israelis would “immediately” lose their jobs. Trade with the European Union, a third of Israel’s total, would slump—he calculates—by $5.7 billion. [Continue reading...]

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The parallels between American slavery and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians

o13-iconEva Illouz writes: [T]he critiques of Israel in the United States are increasingly waged by Jews, not anti-Semites. The initiators and leaders of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement are such respected academics as Judith Butler, Jacqueline Rose, Noam Chomsky, Hilary Rose and Larry Gross, all Jews.

If Israel is indeed singled out among the many nations that have a bad record in human rights, it is because of the personal sense of shame and embarrassment that a large number of Jews in the Western world feel toward a state that, by its policies and ethos, does not represent them anymore. As Peter Beinart has been cogently arguing for some time now, the Jewish people seems to have split into two distinct factions: One that is dominated by such imperatives as “Israeli security,” “Jewish identity” and by the condemnation of “the world’s double standards” and “Arabs’ unreliability”; and a second group of Jews, inside and outside Israel, for whom human rights, freedom, and the rule of law are as visceral and fundamental to their identity as membership to Judaism is for the first group. Supreme irony of history: Israel has splintered the Jewish people around two radically different moral visions of Jews and humanity.

If we are to find an appropriate analogy to understand the rift inside the Jewish people, let us agree that the debate between the two groups is neither ethnic (we belong to the same ethnic group) nor religious (the Judith Butlers of the world are not trying to push a new or different religious dogma, although the rift has a certain, but imperfect, overlap with the religious-secular positions). Nor is the debate a political or ideological one, as Israel is in fact still a democracy. Rather, the poignancy, acrimony and intensity of the debate are about two competing and ultimately incompatible conceptions of morality.
[...]
[W]hat started as a national and military conflict has morphed into a form of domination of Palestinians that now increasingly borders on conditions of slavery. If we understand slavery as a condition of existence and not as ownership and trade of human bodies, the domination that Israel has exercised over Palestinians turns out to have created the matrix of domination that I call a “condition of slavery.”

The Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Ministry has documented that between 1967 and 2012, Israeli authorities arrested some 800,000 Palestinians by power of the “military code.” (A more conservative assessment from Israeli sources documented that 700,000 Palestinians were detained between 1967 and 2008.) This number is astounding, especially in light of the fact that this represents as much as 40 percent of the entire male population. When a large part of the adult male population is arrested, it means that the lives of a large number of breadwinners, the heads of a family, are disrupted, alienated and made into the object of the arbitrary power of the army. In fact, which nation would create a Prisoner Affairs Ministry if imprisonment was not such a basic aspect of its life?

These facts also mean that a significant portion of the non-incarcerated population lives under the constant fear and threat of imprisonment. [Continue reading...]

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Will the gas fields of the Levant Basin become Israel’s next warzone?

a13-iconChristopher Dickey reports: When Israel looks at the greatest threat to its long-term hopes for the future, these days it’s looking out to sea. The old issues are on the table, of course: Iran’s nukes, the Palestinians, the Syrian slaughterhouse next door and growing regional instability. But if there’s a place where a sudden, out-of-control war is likely to erupt, it’s probably not going to be called the Sinai, the Golan, the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria). It’s going to be called Leviathan, Dalit or Karish — the vast fields of natural gas and oil discovered in the deep waters between Israel and Cyprus over the last five years.

Who controls that wealth is likely to dominate the economic future of the region for generations to come. The Israelis know it. So do their allies, their rivals and their enemies. And tensions are mounting by the day.

“All the elements of danger are there,” says Pierre Terzian, editor of the oil industry weekly Petrostrategies: there is competition for huge resources, there are disputed borders, and, not to put too fine a point on it, “this is a region where resorting to violent action is not something unusual.”

The United States government is watching warily, trying to broker diplomatic settlements and, so far, failing. No longer inclined to be the region’s policeman on land or in the air, much less at sea, Washington is scaling back its presence in the Middle East while just about everyone else is increasing theirs.

Israel is rushing to create “the most technologically advanced fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean,” according to a report in Tablet Magazine. Turkey is flexing its maritime muscles with plans to spend as much as a billion dollars on a multi-purpose amphibious assault ship that will give its fleet blue water capabilities like never before. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, meanwhile, is known to have naval missiles, and has used them in the past, sinking a cargo vessel and holing an Israeli warship during the Lebanon war of 2006. Russia is expanding both its naval and commercial presence in Syrian waters, despite the Syrian civil war. It inked a $90 million, 25-year exploration deal with Damascus last Christmas Day. [Continue reading...]

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On sanctions, Israel hasn’t seen anything yet

o13-iconDaniel Levy writes: Israel’s governing coalition has been much seized of late by the issue of potential boycotts and sanctions in response to its policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. The centrist and rightist wings of Netanyahu’s coalition have been trading accusations over how severe the threat is, and who is to blame – is it the Livni-Lapid camp for acknowledging that boycotts are a problem, thereby encouraging the phenomenon?

Or is the Bennett-Miri Regev camp to blame for shouting from the rooftops about annexing the territories rather than quietly building on Palestinian hilltops as all Israeli governments have done for four decades? Israel’s cabinet even considered convening to officially respond to this threat. Public ministerial statements have followed familiar lines around whether to play nice with the peace process and deflect criticism (the centrist position) or to conduct a more effective PR and hasbara push-back campaign (the rightist position).

In the short term the right is correct in downplaying any sense of imminent economic disaster due to a boycott tsunami. In the longer term, the centrists get it in asserting that the globally connected Israeli economy and lifestyle will prove unsustainable as sanctions slowly but inevitably advance. But both sides are promoting an ill-informed and misleading discussion, perhaps intentionally. Much of that misinformation revolves around Europe’s role, unsurprising given Europe’s position as Israel’s leading trade partner and as the likely source of most sanctions momentum.

Israelis need to know five things about this so-called boycott debate that are too often obscured. [Continue reading...]

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The latest threat to Jewish continuity

n13-iconThe Times of Israel reported in late January: Yair Netanyahu is “spitting on the grave of his grandfather and grandmother,” Dr. Hagai Ben-Artzi, brother of Sara Netanyahu, said Monday of his nephew’s relationship with a non-Jewish Norwegian woman.

News that the prime minister’s son, who is 23, is dating Sandra Leikanger, 25, was first reported by the Norwegian daily Dagen. The tall, svelte blonde met the younger Netanyahu at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, where the two study.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week that his son traveled with Leikanger in Norway over the summer, and that the two had been dating for months.

In an interview with ultra-Orthodox website Kikar HaShabbat, Ben-Artzi urged his nephew to cut ties with his new girlfriend, and warned him that should he choose to pursue the relationship, Ben-Artzi would personally see to it that he would not be allowed near his grandparents’ graves.

“It’s terrible,” Ben-Artzi said. “Just terrible, and the son of the prime minister no less. It is the worst thing that is threatening and was a threat throughout the history of the Jews.”

Should his nephew marry Leikanger, Ben-Artzi said he “would bury myself, I don’t know what I would do with myself, I’d take to the streets and rip the hair out of my head — and here it’s coming true.”

If his father was alive, Ben-Artzi added, that is precisely how he would respond too.

Ben-Artzi and Sara Netanyahu have not been in touch for years for undisclosed reasons.

Earlier on Monday, ultra-Orthodox Shas MK Arye Deri responded to news of the relationship by saying, “If God forbid it’s true, then woe to us, woe to us.”

Deri told the Kol Barama radio station the relationship was no mere personal matter because Netanyahu is a “symbol of the Jewish people.”

“I know friends of mine who invest tens of millions and more, hundreds of millions to fight assimilation in the world,” Deri said. [Continue reading...]

Elianna Yolkut, a Conservative Rabbi in New York City, writes: Though it might sound fatalistic, if our Jewish leadership and institutions do not stop obsessing over demographics and statistics, we will lose the true fight. Judaism will lose its wisdom, its value and its meaning. We must, as a community, dedicate our resources, time, money, leadership and energy to being the voice for the powerful messages Judaism can bring to the world, and to Jewish community; message of love and responsibility, of hope and possibility, of compassion and commitment.

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Why Israel fears the boycott

OpinionOmar Barghouti writes: If Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority fail because of Israel’s continuing construction of illegal settlements, the Israeli government is likely to face an international boycott “on steroids,” as Mr. Kerry warned last August.

These days, Israel seems as terrified by the “exponential” growth of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (or B.D.S.) movement as it is by Iran’s rising clout in the region. Last June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively declared B.D.S. a strategic threat. Calling it the “delegitimization” movement, he assigned the overall responsibility for fighting it to his Strategic Affairs Ministry. But B.D.S. doesn’t pose an existential threat to Israel; it poses a serious challenge to Israel’s system of oppression of the Palestinian people, which is the root cause of its growing worldwide isolation.

The Israeli government’s view of B.D.S. as a strategic threat reveals its heightened anxiety at the movement’s recent spread into the mainstream. It also reflects the failure of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s well-endowed “Brand Israel” campaign, which reduces B.D.S. to an image problem and employs culture as a propaganda tool, sending well-known Israeli figures around the world to show Israel’s prettier face. [Continue reading...]

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Tzipi Livni: Naftali Bennett’s Israel would look worse than apartheid South Africa

OpinionEarlier this week, Ron Kampeas wrote: On Facebook today, Tzipi Livni, the Israeli justice minister and the top negotiator in talks with the Palestinians, posted an attack aimed at her coalition partner Naftali Bennett.

Bennett, Israel’s economy minister and leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, had the night before delivered a speech in which he apparently argued that Israel’s problem was one of hasbara, or PR. This is not a new argument from him — it’s not a new argument at all — but something set Livni off this time.

So in a Facebook post that was dripping with sarcasm, she proposes a PR campaign for Bennett’s vision of an Israel that has rejected of Palestinian statehood, and wonders if it could be even worse than apartheid South Africa.

Livni is not the first Israeli politician to warn that a failure to arrive at a two-state solution could lead to apartheid; she is not even the first scion of the “fighting family” of right-wing Revisionists who once stood for a Greater Israel to do so — that would be Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister.

But I’ve never seen any Israeli leader so senior describe so brutally an erosion of democracy in the country, nor have I seen anyone use real-time examples to posit an apartheid analogy. Olmert and Ehud Barak before him said that demographic realities could lead to Apartheid; Livni sees it looming before her in the radical Hilltop Youth settler movement and the “price tag” attacks on Palestinians. [Continue reading...]

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Israel needs to learn some manners

OpinionAvi Shlaim writes: On Jan. 14, the Israeli defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, told the daily Yediot Aharonot, “Secretary of State John Kerry — who arrived here determined, who operates from an incomprehensible obsession and a sense of messianism — can’t teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians.” Even by Israeli standards, Mr. Yaalon’s comments were rather rude. Mr. Kerry’s crime was to try to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began last July and to stipulate a nine-month deadline. This is the kind of talk that gives chutzpah a bad name.

The episode also reveals a great deal about the nature of the much-vaunted special relationship between the United States and Israel. It suggests that this relationship is a one-way street, with America doing all the diplomatic heavy lifting while Israel limits its role to obstruction and whining — repaying Uncle Sam’s generosity with ingratitude and scorn.

Israeli leaders have always underlined the vital importance of self-reliance when it comes to Israel’s security. But the simple truth is that Israel wouldn’t be able to survive for very long without American support. Since 1949, America’s economic aid to Israel amounts to a staggering $118 billion and America continues to subsidize the Jewish state to the tune of $3 billion annually. America is also Israel’s main arms supplier and the official guarantor of its “quantitative military edge” over all its Arab neighbors.

In the diplomatic arena, Israel relies on America to shield it from the consequences of its habitual violations of international law. The International Court of Justice pronounced the so-called “security barrier” that Israel is building on the West Bank to be illegal. All of Israel’s civilian settlements on the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, but Israel continues to expand them. [Continue reading...]

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