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.


EXCLUSIVE: Report on politics department at Ben Gurion University

Posted: November 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Last week, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth broke a story about a draft report by an evaluation committee commissioned by Israel’s Council for Higher Education (CHE), recommending closing the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University if changes are not made, including to the perceived political leaning of the department. The department has been the target of a campaign by the radical rightwing movement Im Tirzu for its “lefty” political leaning.

Despite pleas from dozens of academics that protested this attempt to supervise the political opinions raised in classrooms, the Council for Higher Education voted to adopt the report yesterday.

Haaretz has revealed that before the committee was formed, one of its members was replaced with a rightwing professor. Furthermore, committee member Prof. Galia Golan refused to sign the report, claiming it was politically-motivated. Instead, Golan  wrote a Minority Opinion (can be read at the end of the report below), in which she wrote that the demand “for a balance (of views) in the classroom… runs directly counter to the principle of academic freedom.”

Here is the full report, made public for the first time:

 

BGU Report


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.

—————–

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.


(Some) Arab Twitterers use anti-Semitic tag in discussing J14

Posted: August 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Comments Off

On Saturday evening, I tweeted a couple of pictures I took at the mass social justice (J14) rally in Tel Aviv. Both drew their inspiration from the Arab uprising – one ordering Prime Minister Netanyahu “GO (in Arabic), this is Egypt,” and the other one, aimed to lift the spirits of the crowd, saying “Walk like an Egyptian.”

IMG_1725

(Haaretz’s Yossi Verter reported that Netanyahu was clearly offended by the protesters comparing him to Egypt’s Husni Mubarak.)

IMG_1715

I liked those signs. They showed that even in a country  that has been dominated by an Islamophobic, anti-Arab tones, and despite of all the security establishment’s warnings about the possible outcomes of removing “friendly” dictators like Mubarak from power, many Israelis identified in an almost instinctive way with the message of hope and freedom in the Arab uprising. It tells you something about the human spirit.

The higher you climb, the deeper the fall is. After a while, I saw that several of the Arab users—mainly Egyptians—who re-tweeted my pictures used the hashtag #thawretweladalkalb. For those who don’t know Twitter, hashtags are meta-tags which allow twitter users to see all the messages on a certain topic.

Thawret Welada-l-Kalb is Arabic “revolution of the sons of dogs.” This is nothing to do with politics – it’s pure anti-Semitism. One of the people using this hashtag tried to explain that he meant Zionist, not Jews in general. Naturally, I don’t buy this, just as you won’t accept an explanation from an Israeli who said “death to all Arabs”, but then clarified he only meant Hamas supporters. Micro-managing your racism only makes things worse.

Yet, at the same time, there were Arabs Twitter users who denounced this hashtag, calling it racist and shameful. And as always in such cases, some of the clearest voices came from Palestinians.


J Post apologizes for editorial following Norway attack

Posted: August 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Right | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

It took them almost two weeks, but the Jerusalem Post finally apologized for the crazy editorial in which the paper called upon its readers to use the opportunity created by Anders Brievik’s terror attack to discuss Europe’s immigration policies.

Perhaps Brievik’s inexcusable act of vicious terror should serve not only as a warning that there may be more elements on the extreme Right willing to use violence to further their goals, but also as an opportunity to seriously reevaluate policies for immigrant integration in Norway and elsewhere.

Better late than never, I guess. Still, even in this apology there is an interesting passage in which the Post struggle to deal with Brievik’s passionate endorsement of Zionism, and of some of the radical rightwing positions expressed by the Post’s own writers (He even cited deputy-editor Caroline Glick):

As Senior Contributing Editor Caroline B. Glick suggested in her column last Friday, the fact that Breivik’s warped mind cited a group of conservative thinkers including herself as having influenced his thinking in no way reflects on them.

“As a rule, liberal democracies reject the resort to violence as a means of winning an argument. This is why, for liberal democracies, terrorism in all forms is absolutely unacceptable,” she wrote. “Whether or not one agrees with the ideological self-justifications of a terrorist, as a member of a liberal democratic society, one is expected to abhor his act of terrorism. Because by resorting to violence to achieve his aims, the terrorist is acting in a manner that fundamentally undermines the liberal democratic order.”

It later emerged that Breivik, a Christian radical, had posted on the Internet an extremely anti-Muslim manifesto that supported far-right nationalism and Zionism.

He apparently feared that a “Muslim colonization” of Europe would destroy Norway.

As Always, wise words from Glick. I am sure she applies the same standards when it’s necessary to separate Islam, for example, from the positions endorsed by certain terrorists. Or to tell the difference between support for the people of Gaza from endorsement of military actions taken by Hamas.   I am positive that in such cases Glick shows the same restraint she now preaches for.


This strange American obssesion with “the return of the Israeli left”

Posted: August 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Left | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

What is it that makes so many American reports on events in Israel end up with the question of “the return of the Zionist Left?” Ethan Bronner’s recent story on the cost of living protest in Israel is yet another example of this trend. By cherry picking a few comments and mixing them with the warm memories of Rabin’s government, the recent social justice movement becomes for Bronner the vessel of “a possible opening for the defeated left.”

I can’t help but think that those American who are so obsessed with this question recognize “their Israel” in a certain image that the Israeli left has projected, one which very rarely had anything to do with its politics. Like a constant search for something that was never there. After all, you won’t see so many stories in American press about “a return of the revisionist Right” in Israel, or about Shas.

It’s time to face facts: Rabin’s second government was an historical accident, no more. This was the only time in 35 years that the left won a Knesset majority – and even then, it wasn’t even close to a majority of the Jewish public. Liberalism, in the American sense, never took real hold in Israel.

The current social protest is a unique event with tremendous potential, but if it’s a return to the Jewish democracy dreamland that Americans hope for, you are up for a major disappointment. There won’t be a “return” – all we can and should hope for is something completely new.


Brievik couldn’t have said it better: Jpost wants us to use Oslo attack to reevaluate immigration policy

Posted: July 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

Is it only me that find this quote particularity sick? This is from the Jerusalem Post’s editorial, no less (my bold):

Perhaps Brievik’s inexcusable act of vicious terror should serve not only as a warning that there may be more elements on the extreme Right willing to use violence to further their goals, but also as an opportunity to seriously reevaluate policies for immigrant integration in Norway and elsewhere.

If you can stand it, read the rest here.


Flotilla: Even state officials say Netanyahu, IDF spread lies

Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

According to government sources, the army doesn’t have any evidence that the flotilla activists are planning violent resistance, yet it publicly accuses them of conspiring to murder soldiers

Flotilla activists preparing weapons for their encounter with IDF soldiers (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Flotilla activists preparing weapons for their encounter with IDF soldiers (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

The top story in two of Israel’s leading daily papers yesterday was a bombshell: The IDF unveiled plans by flotilla passengers to kill soldiers trying to stop the ships from getting to Gaza.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read paper, ran a headline declaring “Flotilla activists set to kill,” which was attributed to military sources (but only in the fine print). The story declared, “Intelligence information revealed violent plans.” In the inside pages, the headline declared that this flotilla is considered to be “more violent than the previous one.”

Maariv’s top story covered the same topic: “IDF intelligence reveals: Lethal acid on flotilla boats.” The free paper Israel Hayom had a smaller headline in the front page. “Fear: Flotilla activists will try to kill soldiers.” Haaretz is the only paper that didn’t give the story such prominence in its print edition, but it was the top headline on the paper’s website throughout the previous evening. The Jerusalem Post’s headline read “IDF: Some flotilla activists planning to kill soldiers.

You can view all front pages of the Hebrew papers in this pic, taken from the media blog Velvet Underground. Yedioth and Maariv are the bottom two.

Front Pages of Israeli papares, June 28 2011 (photo: velvet underground blog)

Front Pages of Israeli papares, June 28 2011 (photo: velvet underground blog)

Chemical Weapons? Against the Israel Navy Seals, Air Force and war ships? Even as a suicide mission, it sounded too fantastic. And how could this flotilla be “more violent,” when the notorious IHH, whose members were on the Mavi Marmara last year, cancelled its participation? Who exactly is going to execute the soldiers with the lethal acid, 64- year-old Alice Walker? It was the kind of propaganda no thinking person could believe, yet the entire Hebrew media – even Haaretz! – went for it.

Luckily, it didn’t take Max Blumenthal to debunk this one. The media’s tone today was entirely different. Government sources have told Maariv that the so-called “intelligence information” was a spin by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reflecting “a Hasbara [propaganda] hysteria.”

“It’s unthinkable that in cabinet meetings we receive information according to which there are no threats of violent actions from the flotilla activists or [indication of] the presence of terror elements on the ships, and that at the same time, senior political sources, including the army, feed the media with information that is the exact opposite of what we were given.”

Information that the media was only to eager to swallow, one should add.

A day too late, Yedioth Ahronoth’s military correspondent was the voice of reason in his paper:

“There isn’t a shred of evidence that extreme elements will initiate resistance against IDF soldiers. There is no knowledge of the existence of firearms on the ships.”

The damage, however, was done. The reports of the murderous intentions of the flotilla activists traveled around the country and across the world. Not for the first time, a group of unarmed European and American activists traveling on old yachts was presented as a threat to the security of the region’s superpower. The only question is: for how long will the world continue to buy these kind of stories?

Maariv’s story today offers a comment from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, claiming the information that was passed to the media came from IDF spokesperson unit. In response to my question today, the IDF spokesperson’s office made it clear they stand behind the information that was released yesterday.


The racist Facebook rants of Netanayhu’s son

Posted: June 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: media, racism, The Right | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

Haaretz’s Uri Blau uncovered today racist comments and extreme right-wing rhetoric on Yair Netanyahu’s Facebook page. Yair, the eldest son of PM Netanyahu, is currently in mandatory IDF service, in the army’s spokesperson unit. He called for the boycott of Arab businesses (he was even the admin of a Facebook group for that, but only 23 members joined him), made racist comments about Muslims and Arabs, and expressed fierce opposition to a Palestinian state.

In the information section of the boycott group – formed after sectarian clashes between Arabs and Jews in Akko on Yom Kippur two and a half years ago – the young Netanyahu said:

“The Arab sons-of-bitches desecrated our holiest day… it is our duty to do the minimum to save our honor and boycott every Arab business or product. Beside, I boycotted those shits even before.”

A lawyer for the Netanyahu family told Haaretz that the comments were those of a “teenager,” and should be taken as such. He called Haaretz’s article unfair.

About two years ago, aides to Netanyahu also told the press not to think much of other racist comments about Arabs, made in an interview to Maariv by the PM’s father, 99 year-old Ben-Zion Netanyahu:

“The bible finds no worse image than this of the man from the desert. And why? Because he has no respect for any law. Because in the desert he can do as he pleases. The tendency towards conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetuate war.”

Which leaves us wondering: At what age is a member of the Netanyahu clan responsible for his actions?


Sheldon Adelson: Obama’s moves liable to bring the destruction of Israel

Posted: May 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

The gambling billionaire, who publishes the pro-Netanyahu “Israel Hayom” tabloid, said he objects to an agreement with any of the current Palestinian leaders

Sheldon Adelson, Israel Hayom publisher (photo: 7th Eye / cc-by-nc-sa)

Sheldon Adelson, Israel Hayom publisher (photo: 7th Eye / cc-by-nc-sa)

Unlike the confrontation between the White House and Jerusalem over the settlements during the administration’s first year, I think that the current rift has more to do with tones and personal mistrust than actual policy differences. More than anything, it seems that President Obama’s Middle East speech was meant to help Israel avoid isolation at the UN, but Netanyahu overreacted, and later decided to play tough, mainly for political reasons. As I wrote yesterday, it worked out for him quite well.

What do people around the prime minister really think of Obama? A good example was given just before Netanyahu’s visit to the United States, in a phone interview Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt conducted with Gambling Billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Apart from being a personal friend of the Netanyahus, Adelson is the publisher of the pro-Netanyahu tabloid Israel Hayom (“Israel Today”), currently the most widely read paper in Israel (speculations held that the paper was started by Adelson to help Netanyahu personally). Many of Netanyahu’s men were on Adelson’s payroll until recently: The head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Nathan Eshel, was a deputy manager at Israel Hayom before joining the Neyanyahu campaign; former National Security Advisor Uzi Arad was part of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Research; the current NSA, Yaakov Amidror, was a pundit for Israel Hayom; the ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, was a fellow at Adelson’s conservative think-tank, the Shalem Center.

And what does Adelson think of Obama? Here it goes:

Any of the Republican hopefuls “are going to be 180 degrees” different from President Obama in terms of “what’s good for this country and for Israel,” Adelson said, adding that Obama is “the worst president” for Israel.

“All the steps he’s taken against the state of Israel are liable to bring about the destruction of the state,” he asserted.

Like Netanyahu, Adelson will praise peace, but object to the international community’s definition of the two-state solution:

“Can you make peace with people whose sole mission is to destroy you?” he asked. “You don’t have someone who wants to make peace with you.”

He said that for the Palestinian leadership, “the two-state solution is a stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people,” and he sees no distinction between Hamas, the terror group that controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

“They sat with [PLO leader Yassir] Arafat for 40 years,” Adelson said of Abbas and Fayyad. “When he was planning terror, did they recuse themselves and leave the room?”

He said he saw no chance for peace as long as Palestinian children from the age of 3 are taught that “a Jew is a swine and ape” and should be killed.

“I favor peace,” he said, “but to be pro-Israel you also need to have a position vis a vis Israel’s enemies. And no reasonable person would make Israel sign with people pledged to destroy them.”

(h/t rotter.net)