Bernie Sanders is aligned with mainstream America on Israel

Dina Smeltz writes: Rarely — if ever — has a presidential candidate been so publicly critical of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians as Sen. Bernie Sanders was last week during the CNN Democratic primary debate in Brooklyn. Media outlets seized the moment, with headlines such as “Bernie Sanders smashes the Israel status quo,” “Bernie Sanders just shattered an American taboo on Israel” and “Why Does Bernie Sanders hate Israel?”

Some writers have pitched this as a “watershed moment” in Democratic Party politics. For the political class, perhaps it is. But public opinion surveys show that Sanders’s views are representative of many Americans, and particularly Democrats, who are critical of some Israeli policies yet remain favorable toward Israel.

At the debate, the senator from Vermont stuck by a previous comment that the 2014 Israeli incursion into Gaza was “disproportionate.” Sanders further advocated a more balanced U.S. role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, saying “there will never be peace in that region unless the United States plays a role, an even-handed role trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people.”

Survey results from the past decade demonstrate that a majority of Americans has consistently favored an impartial role for the United States in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. A CNN-ORC poll from 2015 showed that two-thirds of Americans said the United States should refrain from taking either side, while 29 percent favored taking Israel’s side and 2 percent favored taking the Palestinians’ side. Although this sentiment is strongest among self-described Democrats (76 percent), a majority of independents (70 percent) and even a substantial number of Republicans (47 percent) agree. [Continue reading…]

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Alleged bomber of Jerusalem bus came from a well-to-do Palestinian family

The Washington Post reports: The young man accused of being the first suicide bomber in Jerusalem in a decade doesn’t fit the profile of a desperate Hamas operative — and that worries the Israelis.

His uncles are prosperous merchants. He did not grow up in a refugee camp. He went on shopping trips to Jordan.

But the cover photo on his Facebook page includes the image of Yahya Ayyash, a.k.a. “The Engineer,” the chief bombmaker for Hamas, who likely was killed by an exploding mobile phone planted by Israeli agents in 1996.

On Monday afternoon, 19-year-old Abdel Hamid Abu Srour boarded the Egged No. 12 bus and placed a package between his legs. His uncles think that it might have been his first visit to Jerusalem.

His seat was above the vehicle’s gas tanks, according to Israeli news media. His relatives scoffed at the idea that Abu Srour would know how to make a bomb himself.

His high school grades were poor enough that he wanted to retake subjects and redo his exams.

Who gave him the bomb and how it was detonated is the object of a fast-moving investigation.

Hamas claimed that Abu Srour was a member of the Islamist militant movement, although the Gaza-based terrorist group did not assert direct responsibility for the bombing.

Israeli police announced Thursday that they had arrested several members of a Hamas cell in Bethlehem tied to the case. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. feels ‘overwhelming frustration’ with Israeli government, says Biden

Reuters reports: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Monday acknowledged “overwhelming frustration” with the Israeli government and said the systemic expansion of Jewish settlements was moving Israel toward a dangerous “one-state reality” and in the wrong direction.

Addressing the J Street lobby group in Washington, Biden said despite disagreements with Israel over settlements or the Iran nuclear deal, the United States had an obligation to push Israel toward a two-state solution to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

“We have an overwhelming obligation, notwithstanding our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government, to push them as hard as we can toward what they know in their gut is the only ultimate solution, a two-state solution, while at the same time be an absolute guarantor of their security,” Biden said. [Continue reading…]

The Times of Israel reports: The United States on Monday objected to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli control, reiterating that it does not recognize the Jewish state’s claims to the strategic plateau.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the Obama administration does not consider the Golan Heights to be part of Israel.

“The US position on the issue is unchanged,” Kirby said at a daily media briefing at the State Department in Washington. “This position was maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Those territories are not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations.” [Continue reading…]

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Israeli convicted of Palestinian murder that helped trigger 2014 war

AFP reports: The Israeli ringleader in the beating and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager in 2014 has been convicted of his murder.

Yosef Haim Ben David, 31, was found in November to have led the assault, but a verdict was delayed after his lawyers submitted last-minute documents saying he suffered from mental illness.

The court ruling on Tuesday said that Ben David “was not psychotic, fully understood the facts, was responsible for his actions, had no difficulty in understanding reality and had the capacity to prevent the crime”.

A sentencing hearing has been set for 3 May.

The family of the teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, welcomed the decision but said they hoped judges followed through with a life sentence for Ben David.

At the hearing Mohammed’s mother wore a heart-shaped pendant containing an image of her son wearing a baseball cap, and his father said the decision “should have been made a long time ago”.

“We knew that he wasn’t mad,” Hussein Abu Khdeir told Agence France-Presse. “It was all a big lie to get off from the crime which he carried out. Even if they sentence him for life, this will never bring Mohammed back again. Our hearts are wounded from what happened.”

In February, a court sentenced Ben David’s two young Israeli accomplices to life and 21 years in prison for the killing, which was part of a spiral of violence in the run-up to the 2014 Gaza war. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu vows that Israel will never give up Golan Heights

The Washington Post reports: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to the occupied Golan Heights on Sunday to declare that Israel will retain full control of the mountainous plateau forever and will never return the strategic highlands to neighboring Syria.

As talks on the future of Syria are underway in Geneva, Netanyahu convened a symbolic meeting of his cabinet on a mountaintop in the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War.

In a lead-up to the Geneva talks, representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signaled that they wanted the discussions to include a possible return of the region.

Netanyahu was having none of it.

“The time has come after 40 years for the international community to finally recognize that the Golan Heights will remain forever under Israeli sovereignty,” he said.

Whatever the outcome of the peace talks, he added, “the border will not change.” [Continue reading…]

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Bernie Sanders smashes the Israel status quo

At CNN, Jeremy Diamond writes: Bernie Sanders is taking a sledgehammer to the political status quo on Israel.

Sanders refused to back down Thursday night from his claim that Israel in 2014 used “disproportionate” force to respond to Hamas rocket fire from Gaza while calling for the United States to stop being “one-sided” in the conflict there. In doing so, he upended a long-standing tenet of American politics: that unflinching support for Israel is non-negotiable.

Sanders’ unorthodox remarks at CNN’s Democratic debate came just days before voters head to the polls in New York, where Sanders is fighting to narrow the significant, but not insurmountable, deficit he faces against former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The Empire State’s 19.79 million residents include the country’s largest Jewish population — some 1.8 million of the country’s 6.8 million Jews live there, according to the 2014 American Jewish Year Book — and one of the most active pro-Israel constituencies.

Sanders’ nationally televised stance could represent a watershed moment in Democratic politics, as the sole Jewish candidate in the race — and only one to have lived in Israel — smashed a taboo that could lead others to follow suit. [Continue reading…]

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Criticizing Israel, Bernie Sanders highlights split among Jewish Democrats

The New York Times reports: It was the sort of question — Does Israel have a right to defend itself as it sees fit? — that had often caused candidates, especially those with designs on winning a primary in New York, to produce paeans to the strength of the Israeli-American relationship and a stream of pro-Israel orthodoxy.

But Senator Bernie Sanders dug in.

“There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time,” Mr. Sanders said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, amid cheers from the crowd at Thursday’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn. He added: “All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue.”

Jewish Democrats, like the rest of the party, have been struggling for years over the appropriate level of criticism when it comes to Israel’s policies in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. But that debate burst onto a big national stage this week thanks to Mr. Sanders, the most successful Jewish presidential candidate in history.

Mr. Sanders’s comments, in the de facto capital of Jewish American politics, buoyed the liberal and increasingly vocal Democrats who believe that a frank discussion within the party has been muzzled by an older, more conservative Jewish leadership that is suspicious of criticism of Israel. [Continue reading…]

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The Israeli Right’s historic ties to European fascism

Noam Rotem writes: The heads of the Freedom Party of Austria, an extremist, far-right political party, are currently visiting Israel following a formal invitation from the ruling Likud party.

This isn’t the first time top right-wing Israeli politicians have supported the Freedom Party of Austria, which was established by high-ranking members of the Nazi regime and SS officers. They themselves are deemed “Nazis” by Austrian politicians, publish anti-Semitic propaganda, and promote an Islamophobic, racist agenda. Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation Ayoob Kara (Likud), for instance, participated in a 2010 ceremony alongside members of the party, while head of the Shomron Regional Authority in the West Bank, Gershon Mesika, took part in a conference organized by right-wing organizations, which included the Freedom Party of Austria.

However the ties between the Jewish-Israeli right and racist European movements goes back many years. [Continue reading…]

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Russia almost delivers S-300 missiles to Iran soon really perhaps

Sputnik News reports: Russia has delivered the first batch of the S-300 air defense systems to Iran, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Monday. [Continue reading…]

Mehr News Agency reports: Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jaberi Ansari who was speaking in his weekly press conference announced the implementation of first phase of S-300 missile contract between Iran and Russia.

Hossein Jaberi Ansari also reaffirmed the upcoming visit of EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini who is scheduled to arrive in Tehran on Sarturday. Mogherini will head a 7-member delegation of High-ranking EU officials.

In response to a question on delivery of Russian advanced defense missile system S-300, of which the first part is reportedly delivered to Iran through Caspian Sea, Jaberi Ansari confirmed that the first phase of the Iran-Russia contract on the systems is implemented; “we had already announced that despite several times of change in time of delivery, the deal is on its path of implementation and today I should announce that the first phase of the agreement is implemented and the process will continue.” [Continue reading…]

Sputnik News reports: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday declined to comment on reports that deliveries of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Iran have begun. [Continue reading…]

Tasnim News Agency reports: The head of Russia’s industrial conglomerate Rostec had said last month that Iran would take delivery of the first shipment of S-300 missile defense system in August or September this year.

“I think we will deliver the S-300 by the end of the year,” Sergei Chemezov said on March 11. “The first delivery will be in September or August.” [Continue reading…]

The Times of Israel reports: The incident sowed confusion in both English and Persian media. [Continue reading…]

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Barack Obama: Israel’s most loyal protector

Lara Friedman writes: With the Obama administration in its final year, several officials have said that the president has grown so frustrated with trying to revive Middle East peace talks that he may lay down his own outline for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state peace agreement, in the form of a resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

If that happens, count on two reactions: Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will oppose it, and a chorus of American politicians and commentators will suggest that it would be unprecedented — even unthinkable — for an American president to support a Security Council resolution that Israel opposed, rather than veto it.

Last spring, when similar reports circulated, Senator John McCain of Arizona said that such an action would “contradict American policy for the last at least 10 presidents of the United States.” The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat of the House Foreign Affairs Committee joined in a letter protesting that “for decades the U.S. has used its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Israel from undue pressure at the world body.” A bipartisan group of senators agreed, seeking assurances that the policy would not change.

Remarkably, the assumption beneath those protests — that President Obama would be committing an unprecedented betrayal of the American-Israeli relationship if he did not block every Security Council resolution that challenged the actions or positions of Israel’s government — has gone unchallenged.

Yet it flies in the face of truth. Over seven years, Mr. Obama has not permitted passage of any Security Council resolution specifically critical of Israel. But a careful examination of the record shows that, since 1967, every other American president allowed, or even had America vote for, Security Council resolutions taking Israel to task for actions and policies toward the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors. [Continue reading…]

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Hundreds of Israelis exposed in Panama Papers financial scandal

Haaretz reports: Some 600 Israeli companies and 850 Israeli shareholders are listed in the leaked documents of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, a leader in creating shell companies that often serve to conceal ownership of assets.

The leaked files, which were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with Haaretz and other media organizations, provide a glimpse of the economy that until now had been hidden from the Israeli public.

There is a number of prominent names among the shareholders. It is important to note that as long as holdings in the companies and their revenues — if any — are reported as required to Israeli tax authorities, owning the company is not against the law.

Mossack Fonseca’s branch in Israel is headed by attorney Amir Maor. Callers to the branch are informed by a voicemail message that they have reached the offices of “The Company for Establishing Companies.”

Reached by telephone, Maor stated that Mossack Fonseca informed its Israeli branch last week that files had been stolen after its computer systems were breached. “Any information you use [from these files] is like using stolen data,” he said, refusing to give further comment.

The leaked files mention Sapir Holdings, a company registered in 2002 in the Virgin Islands. The owner and its only director was top-ranking lawyer Jacob Weinroth. He was indicted for money laundering in late 2009 and acquitted two years later of all charges against him. During the trial, it emerged that the company had received 30 million shekels ($7.95 million) for services rendered from Uzbek-Israeli entrepreneur Michael Cherney and Russian-Israeli businessman Arcady Gaydamak.

The fraudulent real estate deal of 2002 with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was also brought up in the trail. The failed deal, in which expensive lands in Jerusalem were offered to the State of Israel for a 999-year lease, was intended to be carried out by Christian Lands of Israel, a company created by Mossack Fonseca, which Weinroth represented. Company documents, like those requesting power of attorney for Weinroth, are among those found in the leaked files. [Continue reading…]

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Is Mohammed Dahlan likely to replace Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian leader?

Adnan Abu Amer writes: The most important world capitals that provided Dahlan with this regional and international network are Cairo and Abu Dhabi, where Dahlan enjoys undeniable influence since he is considered the security adviser of UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This position has provided Dahlan with influence that many UAE officials may not enjoy within the state.

Dahlan also enjoys considerable influence in Egypt through his direct ties with Sisi, which allows him to influence Egyptian media. In addition, he has been deploying efforts to buy some news websites in Jordan.

Ahmed Youssef, former political adviser to former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, told Al-Monitor, “Dahlan is welcomed on the regional and international levels. As long as elections are not the only criterion on the Palestinian scene — in light of regional and international pressure to export this leader and sideline others — Dahlan may have better chances at accessing high Palestinian positions than others. This is considering Israel’s [relative] satisfaction with him and his special ties with the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Syrian opposition. The international relations that a Palestinian official has may allow him to climb to rungs of the leadership ladder.” [Continue reading…]

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Leahy asked State Dept. to investigate Israel and Egypt’s human rights ‘violations’

Politico reports: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and 10 House members have asked the Obama administration to investigate claims that the Israeli and Egyptian security forces have committed “gross violations of human rights” — allegations that if proven truei could affect U.S. military aid to the countries.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry dated Feb. 17, the lawmakers list several examples of suspected human rights abuses, including reports of extrajudicial killings by Israeli and Egyptian military forces, as well as forced disappearances in Egypt. The letter also points to the 2013 massacre in Egypt’s Rab’aa Square, which left nearly 1,000 people dead as the military cracked down on protesters, as worthy of examination.

Leahy’s signature is particularly noteworthy because his name is on a law that conditions U.S. military aid to countries on whether their security forces are committing abuses. [Continue reading…]

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Soldier’s shooting of Palestinian sets off uproar in Israel

The Associated Press reports: Amateur video appearing to show an Israeli soldier killing an already wounded Palestinian attacker sparked uproar in Israel on Sunday, reflecting the deep divisions in the country following six months of violence.

As the Israeli military pressed on with an investigation, nationalistic politicians accused the army of abandoning the soldier, while political doves bemoaned the erosion of the nation’s morals. Palestinians, meanwhile, said the shooting proved their claims that Israel is guilty of using excessive force and carrying out extrajudicial killings.

The shooting took place last Thursday in Hebron, the volatile West Bank city that has been a focal point of the latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The military said two Palestinians stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops shot and killed the pair. [Continue reading…]

Human Rights Watch reports: The B’Tselem volunteer who filmed the video, Imad Abu Shamsiyyeh, told Human Rights Watch in a phone interview that Israeli forces had threatened him both at the scene and later, when he went to give a statement to the military. A few minutes after he filmed the shooting from the roof of a nearby building, he said, “more journalists gathered on the roof, and the Israeli soldiers noticed us. They pointed their guns at us and screamed at us to get down. Soldiers came into the building and told the [owner] not to allow people there or the family would pay the price.”

Abu Shamsiyyeh said that after B’Tselem shared the video with military investigators, the military asked him to give a statement. During questioning at a military office in Hebron, Abu Shamsiyyeh said he felt the interrogator was trying to intimidate him to make him say that he had not filmed the video:

He told me, ‘How will you benefit from this video? It got a lot of publicity. Your name is known to everyone. Who is going to protect you and your family from right-wing Israelis? Remember you live in [Tel Rumeida], surrounded by Israeli settlers, who will be able to protect you there?’ I felt that I was being threatened. They took the original footage from me.

Abu Shamsiyyeh said he had received two phone calls on March 24 from a Hebrew-speaker, calling from a private number, but did not understand what was said. “I feel in danger and my children are afraid,” Abu Shamsiyyeh told Human Rights Watch. “I’m not letting them out of the house. I’m afraid of walking in the street.” [Continue reading…]

Anshel Pfeffer writes: It was a moment made for television. Abed Fatah al-Sharif could be seen lying on the ground in Hebron, after he and a friend had been shot while trying to stab Israeli soldiers. Still moving, 21­-year-old Sharif lay there without receiving medical attention for several minutes, until a helmeted Israeli soldier, in the presence of his officers, walked up and shot him in the head.

Just like that – what looks like a summary execution in the middle of the day, on camera.

You would have expected the killing of Sharif to be headline news around the world, not only an internal debate over the battlefield morals of the Israel Defense Forces, as it has in the last four days. The IDF Spokesman Unit was prepared for a media onslaught, notified in advance through operational channels of the incident.

By the time the footage, taken by a field worker of human rights NGO B’Tselem, landed in the journalists’ inboxes, a statement had already been prepared announcing that the soldier had been arrested and his actions, which were contrary to “the IDF’s values,” were under criminal investigation. It took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few hours but eventually he came out with a similar statement, distancing the IDF and its values from what was seen on the screen.

But as far as the foreign media was concerned, they need not have bothered. The foreign correspondents stationed in Israel dutifully filed their reports, but in a week in which Europe was still in shock from the devastating Brussels attacks their story barely had a chance. Add to the continent’s news agenda that day the conviction in The Hague of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for charges of genocide and the American media’s preoccupation with Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency as well as with their current president, Barack Obama, watching baseball in Cuba and doing the tango in Argentina, while trying to get as far as possible from the Middle East.

When the officials in charge of Israel’s global PR saw on Friday the daily summaries of the previous 24 hours in the world media, they heaved a sigh of relief. With the exception of Al Jazeera, the Hebron killing didn’t feature prominently on any of the main news channels, in the news bulletins of major networks or on the front pages of influential newspapers. It was relegated deep in to the inside pages and low down on the websites’ home pages.

“My report got quite a lot of clicks” said one reporter for a top news-site. ”But it didn’t make it into our top-ten news stories. There was just way too much happening elsewhere.” And if the media isn’t interested, then foreign politicians and diplomats won’t be making much of a fuss either. Perhaps even if it hadn’t taken place on a such a heavy news day we may have been surprised at the relatively low level of international media interest. After all, the global audience has become inured in the last three years to much more distressing images of ISIS beheadings, immolations and explosions of prisoners.

The improved professionalism in recent years of the IDF Spokesman’s Unit’s foreign media branch also played a role. They didn’t try to duck the issue or stonewall the reporters. Any hint of a cover up would probably have generated a few more headlines. But then after all, the world has also grown sick of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hardly expects better of us anymore.

Some Israelis are certainly happy that the world has more burning issues to deal with and may even be experiencing a feeling of schadenfreude that this time the Europeans have too many dead bodies of their own to be interested in those here. Not only is such an attitude ugly and callous, but Israelis may find that living in one of the areas where the world media has lost interest in its cruelties is not such a great a thing, even if the coverage is sometimes biased and disproportional.

A world which is no longer shocked by Israeli cruelty towards Palestinians probably won’t be that excited when the cruelty goes the other way either. [Continue reading…]

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How Israel assisted Russia’s military intervention in Syria

The Daily Beast reports: Russia’s sort-of-but-not-really withdrawal from Syria passed without the world noticing that it featured aerial technology from a surprising source —Israel, which provided the high-tech surveillance drones that apparently help the Russian warplanes find and strike their targets on the ground.

The Russian air force acquired a number of 20-foot-long Searcher drones from Israel Aerospace Industries, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of unmanned aerial vehicles, starting in 2010.

Russia also acquired from IAI, which is wholly owned by the Israeli government, a license to make its own copies of the propeller-driven Searcher, a rough equivalent of the U.S. military’s own Predator drone. [Continue reading…]

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