Israeli paper runs controversial NY Times ‘pinkwashing’ piece

Posted: January 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

A couple of months ago, the New York Times run an op-ed titled “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing,’” which accused Israel of using the issue of gay rights to whitewash its deteriorating human rights record. Quote:

In Israel, gay soldiers and the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights — just as in America, the expansion of gay rights in some states does not offset human rights violations like mass incarceration. The long-sought realization of some rights for some gays should not blind us to the struggles against racism in Europe and the United States, or to the Palestinians’ insistence on a land to call home.

Many Jewish-American writers, including progressive ones, attacked the Times for publishing this piece. Here is J.J. Goldberg and Jay Michaelson at The Forward and Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic; there are more examples. An adviser for Netanyahu even mentioned it in a public letter to the Times in which the PM declined to write an op-ed for the paper.

This seems to be one of those absurd cases in which criticism allowed in the Israeli conversation becomes taboo for the Jewish community in the United States: This weekend, Israel’s liberal paper Haaretz, which has exclusive rights over the Times content, ran a translation of the notorious pinkwashing piece in its news pages, as commentary responding to a feature that reported an online competition in which Tel Aviv was chosen the most desirable Gay destination in the world. “Gay rights became a PR tool for trying to hide violations of human rights in Israel,” was the lead quote chosen by the editors in Haaretz.

In the last few days, Israel’s most popular website, Walla.co.il, had two pinkwashing items of its own, dealing with the growing criticism on the Israeli use of the LGBT issue in its propaganda war with the Palestinians. One of the pieces, which also cited from Sarah Schulman’s Times op-ed, was titled “Israel – the most gay in the world, or just colored in pink?

Read Also:
Rightist Propaganda Min. looking for Arabs, gays to represent Israel


Twitter reveals JNF’s approach toward Palestinian Bedouin

Posted: January 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

In a tweet that was later deleted, the Jewish National Fund says Bedouins in unrecognized villages are “living on someone’s land illegally.” The JNF has been taking part in evacuations of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and in foresting actions aimed at preventing the Bedouin from accessing their lands; last month, a JNF board member resigned, citing “violation of human rights” by the organization

In recent months, we have reported here on the Jewish National Fund’s role in attempts to take over Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and in the evacuations of Palestinian Bedouins from their homes in the Negev desert.

The Fund – originally established to buy lands in the early days of Zionism – is today a quasi-government agency that controls 13 percent of the land in Israel. Since the fund only sells lands to Jews, the government occasionally transfers real estate in disputed areas to the fund, so it can carry out discriminatory policies that the government is forbidden from exercising directly. Such are the cases in East Jerusalem.

In the south, the fund does foresting work on the lands of unrecognized Palestinian villages, aimed at preventing Bedouins from rebuilding their homes. Last week, the Abu al-Qian Bedouin clan protested plans to evacute them from their homes in the Yatir area in order to make room for another JNF forest.

Last Thursday, there was an interesting tweet from the JNF USA office, essentially admitting that the Fund sees the Bedouin citizens of Israel as illegal invaders in their own land:

After several followers re-tweeted this message, the tweet was deleted. A new tweet directed readers to a public statement by the fund, claiming that the Bedouin issue “is too complicated to debate in 140 [characters].”

“The issue” is in fact not that complicated. When Israel was established, it chose not to recognize Bedouin ownership of  lands that they cultivated or lived on, making them illegal residents in their own home – even in cases where those settlements predated the state itself. More than 60 years after, the state still tries to evacuate the Bedouin, while refusing to connect them to infrastructure such as electricity and water. Yet in the world of the Jewish National Fund, its not even a disputed territory: All lands belongs to Jews by default, and people – Israeli citizens! – living there are doing so “illegally.”

The Jewish National Fund is knowingly and willingly taking an active role in taking over the lands of indigenous population in different parts of Israel and the occupied territories. Lately, JNF board member Seth Morrison resigned from the organization, calling its evacuations of Palestinians in East Jerusalem a “violation of human rights.”

Rabbis for Human Rights have launched a campaign against the Jewish National Fund’s attempts to take over Palestinian homes and evacuate Bedouins from their lands. You can read more about it here.

Read also:
Protest against settler-friendly JNF expands, raises existential questions
Forced relocation of 30K Bedouin biggest dispossession since ’48


2012: Netanyahu’s shadow war for the GOP begins?

Posted: January 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Israel’s National Security Council calls U.S. President Barak Obama “naïve,” Israel’s pro-Netanyahu daily reports

Israel Hayom, the pro-Netanyahu free tabloid published by Jewish-American gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson, published a story today on recent criticism dealt by Israel’s National Security Council of US President Barak Obama’s policy towards Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

U.S. President Barack Obama is “naive” and needs to face up to the threat presented by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East, Israel’s National Security Council concluded during a strategic discussion several days ago.

The council, responsible for providing the prime minister and cabinet ministers with strategic assessments, said it was concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt, especially in light of the group’s world view and pronouncements from its officials, repeated as recently as this week, that call the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty into question.

As the article states, the NSC is not an independent think-tank but a strategic assessment body, operating under the Prime Minister’s Office. The head of the NSC is retired IDF general Yaakov Amidror, who was a regular contributor for Israel Hayom until his appointment.

According to numerous reports in the Israeli media, Binyamin Netanyahu sees another Obama term as clear political threat to himself, to the point where he is mulling on calling early election in Israel, so that a possible Democratic victory in November doesn’t affect his standing in the polls.

Israel Hayom, which is very supportive of Netanyahu, is likely to throw its weight behind the Republican candidate. The paper has recently launched an English site, with translations of pieces from its Hebrew edition.

The coverage in Israel Hayom of Newt Gingrich’s campaign – who is considered the closest to Netanayhu of all GOP candidates and a personal favorite of Mr. Adelson – is extremely favorable, thought the even paper admitted today that Gingrich’s chances of winning the Iowa caucuses are practically non-existent.

Last year, Israel Hayom’s editor, Amos Regev, conducted a personal interview with Gingrich, in which the former House speaker called a possible Israeli attack on Iran “an act of self defense.” The paper’s response to the candidate’s hostile remarks towards the Palestinians was extremely favorable: One op-ed in Israel Hayom praised Gingrich for his “historical accuracy,” while another was titled “thank you, Mr. Gingrich.”

Sheldon Adelson recently backed Gingrich, saying that calling the Palestinians an “invented people” is correct.


The strategic use of the “anti-Israeli” label in US politics

Posted: December 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Republicans recognize Israel as one of their most powerful tools in the coming elections. Liberals, and especially Jews, shouldn’t fall for this trap

No doubt, American election year is officially here. Two democratic organizations – Center for American Progress (CAP) and Media Matters – are under attack. The charge: anti-Semitism, no less. In a story on Politico, Ben Smith reported on “a rift in the Democratic Party” because of “anti-Israeli” positions expressed by some of CAP and Media Matters staffers. The Washington Post’s neo-con blogger Jenifer Rubin clarified: “These views are not merely anti-Israel, they are anti-Semitic.”

I don’t normally write on the beltway’s inside baseball on this blog, and I wouldn’t have addressed this issue if I didn’t personally know a couple of the people at the center of the Politico story. I consider Matt Duss and Ali Gharib of CAP friends, which would not be the case if they had any hint of anti-Semitism in them. In fact, in all my conversations with Matt and Ali – including those involving too many beers and therefore, less constraints – I don’t remember any one of them referring to the Jewish people in a generalizing political context. I also never heard from them any of those inflammatory statements about Israelis that one sometimes hears in progressive circles.

I haven’t read everything Matt or Ali wrote – they are both very productive people – but I always got the impression that their writing was about Israeli policies. I don’t remember hearing from them or reading anything they wrote that you couldn’t find in the political conversation inside Israel. But even the limited debate taking place in Israel seems rational and open-minded compared to what’s going on in Washington right now.

We should nevertheless remember the context of  the attacks on CAP and Media Matters. The Republicans have singled out Israel as an issue where they have an absolute advantage over the Democrats – all over the field.

For start, Israel is one of those few topics that can bring together the big business republicans, social conservatives and the neo-cons. Unquestioning support of Israeli policies is also a legitimate way to tap into the growing Islamophobia in American society; but most importantly, it splits the Democratic party into two, and hurts the president at the heart of his political base – Jewish liberals, who overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008. Hitting them with ridiculous talking points about the administration that “betrayed” Israel - when it’s clear that Obama’s policies are is no different then those of previous presidents - or spreading half-baked stories of progressives who are “supportive of Hamas” might not get those Jews to vote for Rick Perry, but it could sure drive away a lot of their political energy, and cast some doubts about “their guy” in the White House. In a close election, that might be all you need.

What troubles me the most right now is that Israel is not a foreign policy issue anymore, but an internal topic in the American culture war. Israel is the only spot on the political map where people like Abe Foxman or Elie Wiesel can find common language with evangelical politicians and neo-con writers – a fact that turns it into a powerful and dangerous tool. Even more than in the case of abortions or health care, the debate on Israel in the US is completely mythical, and has nothing to do with the facts on the ground. Sometimes the loudest “pro-Israeli” politicians are so ignorant of the situation here, that they make absurd statements (Herman Cain for a Palestinian Right of Return?); in other cases, they retreat from long-standing American principles – like the opposition to the settlements, including in East Jerusalem – and at times, conveniently forget their own actions and statements.

Who cares if ending the occupation is the ultimate Israeli interest, and the only way to avoid a South African-style collapse? Nothing matters in the crazy rush to the right, which often ends with American politicians taking positions that are more hard-line than those of the government in Jerusalem, improbable as it that seem with Netanyahu and Lieberman running the show. Want to score some easy points? All you need to do is to throw around the code word “Israel”, dip it in a sauce of anti-Semitism, and watch as the liberals go at each other’s throats.

The solution to this problem is clear: instead of running for cover, Democrats should draw a line in the sand against the cynical use of those charges; otherwise they are likely to come up again and again, targeting more and more people. After all, it’s not a coincidence that some American conservatives and current Israeli legislators share an admiration for one Joseph MaCarthy.

The sad thing is that Jews fall for this trap too easily. Just like the misguided ad Elie Wiesel published after the administration criticized Israel for provocative construction projects in the Palestinian parts of Jerusalem, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which should be the first to worry about the widespread use of allegations of anti-Semitism as a political tool – something which in the longer run renders the term meaningless -  joined the charge on CAP.

Wiesel and the people at the Wiesenthal Center should know better. The rightwing bloggers or the republicans in Congress have no real interest in Israel. It’s just good politics for them. They all push for an attack in Iran, but I don’t think we will see them in the bomb shelters in Tel Aviv when missiles start falling. Just like we are yet to hear from Jenifer Rubin, who recently fell in love with the settlers, about her vision for a solution to the Palestinian issue – one that  extends beyond the ethnic cleansing that Mike Huckabee seems to advocate.

Unlike those political opportunists, Matt Duss and Ali Gahrib are extremely knowledgeable of the situation in the region, and of the dangers in maintaining the current status quo. Not only are they not “anti” – whatever such labels mean when discussing policies – they hold a genuine, deep concern for the future of this place and all those living in it. What I often hear from them is frustration – about the misguided actions of Israeli and American politicians, which might bring disaster on Israelis and Palestinians alike.

It is a feeling I share with them.


Jewish Student Union in Berkeley boycotts J Street

Posted: December 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

The isolation of J Street and other Jewish groups that are critical of Israeli policies is evidence of a growing moral crisis in the American Jewish community

This post was updated.

A couple of years ago, while spending some time in the States, I was invited to a dinner at a Jewish friend’s home. “Just one thing,” my friend, a smart liberal lefty, said. “Don’t mention Israel by the table. The inevitable argument will ruin the evening.”

This, and a few similar experiences, led me to offer my editors in Haaretz a story about the Jewish community’s “Israel problem,” i.e., the inability to engage in a serious discussion about Israel. The working title we gave the piece was “Israel – not at the dinner table.” It was published almost year ago, and since then, things seem to have gotten worse.

Last week, the University of Berkeley’s Jewish Student Union rejected a request by J Street to join. This was the first time a Jewish chapter was denied membership in the union. Jacob Lewis, one of the leaders of the opposition to J Street at the Student Union, told San Francisco’s J Weekly that he has been suspicious J Street ever since he attended an event in which the group hosted Assaf Sharon of the Sheikh Jarrah Movement as a speaker. Sharon said that “everything beyond the Green Line is a settlement,” and Lewis concluded that this was “a virulently hateful event about Israel.”

I wonder if Lewis is not that knowledgeable on politics, or if he has joined the war on reality that some advocates for Israel have recently declared. What would you call construction projects east of the Green Line if not “settlements?” And it’s not just Assaf Sharon stating this position, but also every U.S. Administration to date.

The fact is that by Israeli political standards – which have seen a dramatic shift to the right in recent years – J Street’s positions are part of the mainstream. But even the very limited debate that is taking place in Israel seems to be too “radical” for the taste of many Jewish Americans these days (And also for the taste of many Americans. Prime Minister Rabin used to say that the occupation fuels hatred for Israel and for Jews, but repeat this in Washington today and your career might be in danger.)

Still, how could we blame 20-year-old Lewis, if the leaders of his community are too afraid to engage in those questions? Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, executive director of Hillel Berkeley, which funds the Jewish Student Union, wasn’t present at the vote on J Street, and his comments on the matter to J Week were so careful that you need another Rabbi to explain what he meant:

“We have to be very careful in how we talk about Israel and how we define our tent, because the stability and strength of Israel’s future is dependent on the strength of our Jewish community, and by that I mean every facet of our community. We always have to be careful about who we include and exclude.”

If this is all the Rabbi has to say to his students in one of their most important political decisions ever, why do you need a Rabbi at Hillel? And if students are not encouraged to deal with new – and even “radical” – positions when they are in their early twenties, what hope there is of developing a new generation of sensitive, smart and sophisticated leaders?

The debate regarding Israel is probably the greatest moral challenge this generation of Jews will face, and so far, things don’t look very good. In my last visit to the States, I got the sense that many Jews, especially from the liberal side, prefer to walk away from this problem altogether (something which is in direct contradiction to the growing interest non-Jewish liberals find in the Middle East, and in Israel/Palestine in particular). I was repeatedly told of Rabbis who wouldn’t host events on Israel, fearing that the internal debate they would spark would get out of control to a point that would endanger their own position.

The question of J Street in Berkeley is not very important for future political developments in Israel and Palestine. The resistance to the occupation will continue and the pressure on Israel is likely to grow – not because of J Street or anything else American Jews will or won’t do, but due to the simple fact that Palestinians will continue to fight for their rights as long as Israel denies them. What’s at stake in Berkeley – and in many other places all across America – is the moral integrity of the Jewish community, and its ability to examine conflicting values.

I am not a big fan of some of J street’s latest positions (which I have criticized) and still, one has to admit that J Street is trying to offer a space to engage with those issues in a way that goes beyond echoing Israeli talking points. The isolation of J Street, and other progressive Jewish groups is further evidence of the spiritual and moral crisis into which the Jewish community is sinking.

UPDATE: It seems that some people in Berkeley Hillel, including Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, regret not voicing a stronger opinion before the vote on J Street at the JSU. Rabbi Naftalin-Kelman and Barbara Davis, President of the Board of Directors of Berkeley Hillel, have sent this letter to the J Weekly (it is yet to be published):

Dear Editor

Berkeley Hillel is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State with secure and recognized borders and as a member of the family of free nations.  Berkeley Hillel supports a range of student groups whose activities advance our mission.  The JStreetU chapter adheres to our Israel policy and Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines and will receive the support of Berkeley Hillel as do the broad spectrum of other Israel-focused groups working with Berkeley Hillel including, Bears for Israel (AIPAC group), Tikvah: Students for Israel,  Israel Action Committee, Tamid, and Kesher Enoshi.

We respect the right of the Jewish Student Union, an organization sponsored by UC Berkeley student government, to make its own decisions, but we encourage JSU to reconsider its vote and include JStreetU as a member.

Berkeley Hillel is committed to creating a pluralistic community that embraces the diversity of our Jewish tradition.  In honoring the spirit of college students, we work to guide, mentor, and facilitate their unique Jewish expression. At a time when Jewish students are seeking community, we are careful not to exclude Jewish students, and we embrace the wisdom of our namesake Hillel by embodying the value of an inclusive community.

Barbara Davis
Board President on Behalf of the Board of Directors of Berkeley Hillel
Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman
Executive Director

As I said, I have a feeling we will witness many more such cases in the months and years to come.

———————

Further reading on this issue:
Bradley Burston in Haaretz: When Jews in Berkeley vote to cut support for Israel


Despite denials, JNF to continue eviction effort of Jerusalem Palestinians

Posted: November 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A recent comment by the Jewish National Fund makes it clear that previous statements by its US office were lies

The Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), one of the most respected and well-known institutions in Zionist history, has become involved in a controversy over the attempted evacuation of an East Jerusalem family from its home. After denying its major part in the affair, the JNF has now gone back to threatening legal action against the Sumarin family, unless all family members leave their home in Silwan immediately.

Over the last two decades, Silwan, the biggest Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, has been the target of major colonization efforts by Jewish settlers.

Most people know the JNF because of its tree-planting campaigns. On its site, the JNF invites donors to sponsor a tree in Israel, or plant one on their own. It also takes pride having planted 240 million trees in Israel. Yet the JNF’s primary function is keeping state land exclusively in Jewish hands. The JNF now controls 13 percent of the land in Israel. As a policy, the fund – a non-profit which is run by the Israeli government – markets its land only to Jews.

Now it turns out that the JNF also takes an active part in evacuating Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, east of the Green Line.

The current affair began in the 1980s, when the original owner of the Sumarin home, Musa Sumarin, passed away. Israel did not recognize the family members living in the house at the time as Musa’s heirs, and instead had the Custodian of Absentee Properties take control over the home. This was and still is the most common practice in the ongoing “legal” campaign to uproot Palestinians from their homes.

The Custodian of Absentee Properties gave the asset, along with other properties in Silwan, to Himnuta, a subsidiary wholly owned by the JNF. Himnuta launched a legal battle alongside the settlers’ organization Elad to remove the Sumarin family from its home.

You can read more about Himnuta and the effort to move the Sumarins here, here and here.

Following the exposure of the story by Haaretz a couple of weeks ago, several organizations started a campaign aimed at stopping the evacuation. Rabbis for Human Rights, Solidarity and Yachad urged activists to write letters to JNF officials, demanding they let the Sumarin family continue living in the house.

Concern over the damage to their image led the JNF’s American office to post this sarcastic message on their site, denying all involvement in the affair:

JNF has been the topic of a recent petition put out by Rabbis for Human Rights. In a world in which everyone is tearing each other apart it would have been nice to show a little civility and menschlichkeit, by handling their concerns in a different way. A phone call or meeting to learn the fact would have been nice.

KKL-JNF leased the land to Elad in the early ‘90’s. The reason for leasing the land was because of the ongoing City of David excavations that began in the aftermath of the ’67 war.

KKL-JNF has no rights, control, or responsibility in this issue at all. This would be as if we leased the land to someone who built a shopping center and one of the storeowners didn’t pay rent to the developer. It is strictly between the Sumarins and Elad, not KKL-JNF. Elad, as the one who has full legal rights over the entire area, has exercised the due process of the legal system of Israel.

Yet as legal documents reveal, the JNF took part in all the proceedings against the Sumarins. In fact, it is the JNF-owned Himnuta that signed the warrant for the evacuation of the Sumarin family. A lawyer for the family told Haaretz that Elad, the settler organization, is not even mentioned in the warrant.

And here comes the interesting and little-noticed part: In a comment to today’s piece on Haaretz, the JNF no longer conceals its involvement in the affair (my emphasis):

The JNF said that “in 2006, after a legal battle, the court determined that the Sumarin are to evacuate the asset in Silwan. The family refuses to carry out the court’s order and have rebuffed efforts to engage in a dialogue that would resolve the case. Out of the company’s (JNF) responsibility and sensitivity, it was decided that the evacuation would not be carried out right now, and a new attempt for dialogue would take place; if this fails, the company would turn to the legal authorities so that they would carry out the verdict.”

(For some reason, the important sentence at the end of the comment wasn’t translated in Haaretz’s English edition.)

So, what do we have here? (a) JNF Israel lets it be known that JNF America simply lied in its public announcement and (b) JNF Israel makes it clear that if the Sumarins cannot be persuaded to leave their home, they will be kicked out – soon.

So much for the talks about excavations and leasing. The JNF is openly trying to get Palestinians out of their homes, and bring Elad’s settlers in.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem court has froze the eviction of the Sumarin family, thus giving the JNF a chance to reconsider their position. Will they use it?

————————-
Read more about this story, and about the JNF’s involvement in pushing Palestinians from their homes and lands:

The JNF: Planting Trees or Uprooting Families?
JNF involvement in the repeated destructions of the Beduin village El-Araqib


Haaretz’s publisher: US president can’t act against Israeli Apartheid

Posted: November 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Haaretz’s publisher Amos Schocken had a very strong op-ed this weekend titled “The necessary elimination of Israeli democracy.” Schocken is referring to the settlers’ ideology as “promoting Apartheid” and accuses all Israeli governments, except Rabin’s during Oslo and Sharon’s during the disengagement, of playing along.

Schocken has also something to say about the United States’ role in the process (my bold):

… The fact that the government is effectively a tool of Gush Emunim and its successors is apparent to everyone who has dealings with the settlers, creating a situation of force multiplication.

This ideology has enjoyed immense success in the United States, of all places. President George H.W. Bush was able to block financial guarantees to Israel because of the settlements established by the government of Yitzhak Shamir (who said lying was permissible to realize the Gush Emunim ideology. Was Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan University speech a lie of this kind? ). Now, though, candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination are competing among themselves over which of them supports Israel and the occupation more forcefully. Any of them who adopt the approach of the first President Bush will likely put an end to their candidacy.

Whatever the reason for this state of affairs – the large number of evangelicals affiliated with the Republican party, the problematic nature of the West’s relations with Islam, or the power of the Jewish lobby, which is totally addicted to the Gush Emunim ideology – the result is clear: It is not easy, and may be impossible, for an American president to adopt an activist policy against Israeli apartheid.


Read the rest here.




Haaretz’s publisher: US president can’t act against Israeli Apartheid

Posted: November 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Haaretz’s publisher Amos Schocken had a very strong op-ed this weekend titled “The necessary elimination of Israeli democracy.” Schocken is referring to the settlers’ ideology as “promoting Apartheid” and accuses all Israeli governments, except Rabin’s during Oslo and Sharon’s during the disengagement, of playing along.

Schocken has also something to say about the United States’ role in the process (my bold):

… The fact that the government is effectively a tool of Gush Emunim and its successors is apparent to everyone who has dealings with the settlers, creating a situation of force multiplication.

This ideology has enjoyed immense success in the United States, of all places. President George H.W. Bush was able to block financial guarantees to Israel because of the settlements established by the government of Yitzhak Shamir (who said lying was permissible to realize the Gush Emunim ideology. Was Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan University speech a lie of this kind? ). Now, though, candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination are competing among themselves over which of them supports Israel and the occupation more forcefully. Any of them who adopt the approach of the first President Bush will likely put an end to their candidacy.

Whatever the reason for this state of affairs – the large number of evangelicals affiliated with the Republican party, the problematic nature of the West’s relations with Islam, or the power of the Jewish lobby, which is totally addicted to the Gush Emunim ideology – the result is clear: It is not easy, and may be impossible, for an American president to adopt an activist policy against Israeli apartheid.


Read the rest here.


More pepper spray fun: Testimonials go wild on Amazon.com

Posted: November 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, the US and us | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Photoshop mania wasn’t the only creative response to the “casually pepper-spraying cop” incident: Check out what happened to the Amazon.com page for Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream – “the most widely used pepper spray in law enforcement and corrections”.

Here is one of the recently-added testimonials for the product:

Whenever I need to breezily inflict discipline on unruly citizens, I know I can trust Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray to get the job done! The power of reason is no match for Defense Technology’s superior repression power. When I reach for my can of Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray, I know that even the mighty First Amendment doesn’t stand a chance against its many scovil units of civil rights suppression.

This guy wasn’t satisfied, and with a good reason:

I casually used this product to try to disperse a small band of non-violent campers who had locked their arms together. Although initially it seemed to be effective, it took two applications! The worst part is that the next day they multiplied exponentially! Now what?

And it goes on, and on, and on – 244 reviews and counting.

This pepper spray is awesome! When used in a public area for the whole world to see, it causes Republicans to instantly forget the basic principles of freedom the country was founded upon. Their pea brains start creating hypocritical arguments supporting the oppressors like “the protesters are acting really mean by sitting on the grass”. They don’t realize how “mean” their beloved Founding Fathers were during their protests hundreds of years ago, or how “mean” the Civil Rights Movement was, or how “mean” the Vietnam War protests were, etc.

The product itself seems to be selling well – only six items left at the time of writing.


Hasbara: Why does the world fail to understand us?

Posted: November 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: media, the US and us | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

I have used the word “Hasbara” pretty freely recently, and so do more and more people, without stopping to explain what it actually means. The use of this term has been widespread in Israeli Hebrew for many years now, usually with a positive meaning, though not always in a positive context – there is a never-ending debate on “the failure of Hasabra” – yet I often wonder how many people outside Israel actually know it, let alone understand what it stands for. So here are a few words on Hasbara.

Hasbara is a form of propaganda aimed at an international audience, primarily, but not exclusively, in western countries. It is meant to influence the conversation in a way that positively portrays Israeli political moves and policies, including actions undertaken by Israel in the past. Often, Hasbara efforts includes a negative portrayal of the Arabs and especially of Palestinians.

The Hebrew meaning of the word Hasbara (הסברה) is “explanation” (the term “propaganda” has a different word in Hebrew – תעמולה). I believe that the popular use of this term also reflects a widespread public notion that a better effort of explaining Israel’s actions to the world will generate better understandings of Israel’s policies, and more international support. A less common use of the verb “to explain” (להסביר), which has to do with welcoming someone, was used in the past by the Tourism Ministry in campaigns urging Israelis to show a hospitable approach to tourists.

Hasbara represents only one side of propaganda, as it is mostly aimed at foreign audience. The use of the Hebrew term Hasbara in a critical context, rather than “propaganda” or “public diplomacy” (the title of the Wikipedia entry on the issue), is necessary, because Hasbara efforts are wider and their goals much more ambitious than any similar activities taken by all democracies and most non-democracies. Hasbara targets political elites, opinion makers and the public simultaneously; it includes traditional advocacy efforts as well as more general appeals made through mass media, and it is carried out by government agencies, non-governmental organizations, lobbying groups, private citizens, students, journalists and bloggers.

The Israeli government encourages all citizens to actively engage in Hasbara. Recently, it even distributed brochures with talking points to all Israelis traveling abroad (a Hebrew web version of the campaign can be viewed here). Israelis are asked to engage in politically-oriented conversations with their hosts and contacts abroad. Rather than discuss the Palestinian conflict, they are advised to cite Israeli technological achievements, mention environmental policies and take pride in notable cultural works. The West Bank is to be discussed – under its ancient Hebrew name, Judea and Samaria – as a potential tourist marvel.

Until a few years ago, the main government agency carrying out Hasbara work was the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through its Media and Hasbara department. Under Ehud Olmert’s government, and more so under Netanyahu’s, there was a considerable increase in Hasbara efforts. Prime Minister Netanyahu has launched for the first time a Hasbara Ministry, headed by a government minister (the current hasbara minister is Yuli Edelstein). The Hasbara Ministry includes a situation room, which operates in five languages; it has a new-media team that can reach, according to the office’s web page, 100,000 volunteers on social media networks, as well as many bloggers.

UPDATE: The Ministry of Hasbara is hiring! “Advantage to minorities and representatives of the gay community.” More details here.

On top of the Hasbara Ministry, there is a Hasbara branch in the Prime Minister’s Office (in charge of both local and international PR). The IDF Spokesperson has an international arm with a new media branch, which makes Hasbara efforts and does not limit itself to providing information on army activities. Other government agencies, such as the Ministry of Tourism or the Ministry of Culture, also take part in ad-hoc Hasbara activities. There are other agencies that have gradually moved into greater involvement in Hasbara – perhaps the most notable is The Jewish Agency, which used to serve as a liaison to Jewish communities abroad, and now trains its envoys to American campuses to engage in propaganda.

Under Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Ministry was instructed to take a bigger role in the Hasbara effort (a popular rant against the foreign ministry for many years was that it deals with peacemaking instead of advocacy, and Lieberman has promised to solve that). I was contacted awhile ago by a private agency that won a contract with the foreign ministry; they were looking for professionals to play hostile journalists in simulations with Israeli diplomats.

Much of the Hasbara work carried out outside official channels – but with heavy official influence – is carried out through non-governmental organizations such as Stand With Us, The Israel Project and more. These organizations produce resources – booklets, slideshows, flyers, maps, polls and more – and spin news events in ways which are favorable to the Israeli government. A lot of thought is put into influencing opinion-makers: journalists and bloggers are flown on a regular basis to tours in Israel, accompanied by government officials, while Israeli representatives – former diplomats, journalists, soldiers and officers – are brought to give lectures at campuses, think-tanks, conferences and other public events around the world. Organizations also try to influence the grassroots level by granting Hasbara fellowships to international students in Israel.

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There is an interesting tension in Israel between the tremendous efforts put into Hasbara – Israeli advocacy is probably the most widespread and ambitious state-run propaganda effort in the world today – and a sense of “Hasbara failure” in the Israeli public. Rants about the fact that Israel is misunderstood and complaints about the incompetence of those dealing with Hasbara are often heard in the popular media. In my opinion, “the failure of Hasbara” is actually a failure of policy – especially, but not limited to, that relating to the occupation and the control over the Palestinians.

Understanding this point could shed light on a self-defeating element in the Hasbara battle: as Israel loses interest in finding a solution to the Palestinian question that would meet the minimal moral standards of the Western World – either “one man one vote” or complete Palestinian sovereignty over a contiguous territorial unit – Hasbara efforts are just likely to draw more attention to the ongoing Israeli failure to live up to the promise of its talking points, and will shed more light on the ever-growing gap between the model, picture-perfect democracy reflected in brochures and the grim reality on the ground.