UK | Nick Clegg on Israel, Gaza

Posted: May 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, war | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How might the rising power of Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, reflect on the UK’s Middle East policy?


Four days to go to Britain’s general elections and the Tory majority is far from being certain. It is clear that the conservatives will end up with more votes than any other parties – and it seems that Labour will eventually come second – but the nomination of the PM might still depend on Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats.

The UK is not the most important actor in the Middle East, but it still carries some weight, especially due to its close relations with the US. Many of the calls for boycott and the attempts to arrest and prosecute senior IDF officers come also from Britain.

Mr. Clegg has been a bit ambiguous on Middle East issues recently, echoing the White House’s position that “Israel’s long term peace and security will depend on reaching a settlement with the Palestinians”. But he did have clear positions in the past, especially on Gaza, where he doesn’t share the American administration’s support for the Israeli-Egyptian siege.

On December 22, Mr. Clegg wrote in an op-ed for the Guardian that:

The legacy of Operation Cast Lead is a living nightmare for one and a half million Palestinians squeezed into one of the most overcrowded and wretched stretches of land on the planet. And as Israel and Egypt maintain a near total blockade against Gaza, the misery deepens by the day.

This is not only shocking in humanitarian terms. It is not in Israel’s or Egypt’s interest, either. Confining people in abject poverty in a tiny slice of territory is a recipe for continued bitterness, fury and radicalism.

And what has the British government and the international community done to lift the blockade? Next to nothing. Tough-sounding declarations are issued at regular intervals but little real pressure is applied. It is a scandal that the international community has sat on its hands in the face of this unfolding crisis.

Mr. Clegg’s signature was the first in a letter to the editor of the Guardian on December 2009, which called for “British government and the international community to apply meaningful pressure upon Israel to abide by UN security council resolution 1860, to end this flagrant abuse of international law and lift the blockade.”

During operation Cast Lead itself, Mr. Clegg went even further, calling for Britain to stop arming Israel, and for the suspension of the Israel/EU agreement.

…for too long the EU has been an economic giant which acts as a political pygmy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. EU Foreign Ministers have the chance this evening for once to take action and not just issue words.

“EU Foreign Ministers must immediately suspend the proposed new agreement with Israel. The deal cannot proceed until there is a transformation of the conditions on the ground in Gaza.

It is my opinion that only fierce diplomatic pressure might cause Israel’s leaders to confront the rightwing and the settlers and withdrawal from the West Bank (with or without an agreement) or, alternatively, annex the territories and give full citizen rights to the Palestinians. This is in the long term interest of both Israelis and Palestinians. I also believe that Israel should lift its siege on Gaza and end the humanitarian crisis there. I support Mr. Clegg’s positions, and hope he will stick to his words after the elections as well.

The frontline of Palestinian protest: a Friday visit to Naalin and Nabi Salih

Posted: April 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right, The Settlements, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Friday was full of events for Israeli lefties: the usual afternoon demonstration took place in Sheikh Jerrah, the NIF held a gathering in south Tel Aviv which happened to take place on the same day another smearing article against them appeared on Maariv; and I joined activist/blogger Joseph Dana on the weekly protest in the Palestinian villages of Naalin and Nabi Salih.


Naalin, West Bank – The first thing that strikes you in Naalin is how small the protest is. Listening to the Israeli media describing the demonstration against the security barrier, one imagines thousands of Palestinians, accompanied by violent leftwing and international activists, marching on the nearby settlements and from there to Tel Aviv. In reality, there are several dozens of young Palestinians and a handful of activists who desperately try to keep the fight to get their village’s lands back alive.

The story in Naalin is very simple: the village was one of the victims of Israel’s decision to construct its security barrier well inside the West Bank, on Palestinian land and around most big settlements. A fence – and later on, a wall – was built a few hundreds meters from the houses of Naalin, separating the village’s poor farmers from about a quarter of their land.

The peak of the protest was during the work on the fence, around 2008. The army’s responds was brutal: 5 protesters, including an 11 years old kid, were killed, many more injured. Most Palestinian activists were arrested and are kept under Administrative Detention. Israelis who tries to help the villagers are constantly harassed and arrested as well, international activists are deported.

In the early afternoon, a few dozens Palestinians, men and boys, walk with flags walk to the wall at the edge of the village. They start shouting in Arab, Hebrew and English “this wall will fall”. Behind the wall is the security fence itself. The protesters try to plant a flag on the wall and some throw stones on the fence. The soldiers on the other side of the fence respond immediately with tear gas. The protesters move back, than some throw stones, the soldier respond with more gas, the protesters move back, and this goes on for a couple of hours.

The handful of Israelis and international activists are not throwing stones nor shouting. Most of them just stand quietly; some take pictures and videos of the events. The assumption is that their presence helps tame the soldiers and brings comfort and moral support to the village’s people. The soldiers keep shooting tear gas, four or five grenades at a time. From time to time the wind carries the gas in our direction. At one point, my eyes and mouth burn real bad, but the effect lasts just for for a few minutes.

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The demographic war / will voting rights for world Jews be the next move?

Posted: February 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

The government is reviving the old idea of absentee votes, but Netanyahu and Liberman might lose the Knesset battle over this one

There isn’t anything I hate in Israeli politics more than the talks on the so-called “demographic battle”. More than ever, I see this concept as the source of all evil here: from the discrimination of Arab citizens to the shameful Knesset bill which will make it illegal to give aid or shelter to the refugees who crosses the southern border.

Viewing Jewish hegemony as a necessity is something that all Zionist parties have in common: it’s the pretext for Liberman’s plan for ethnic separation, as well as for Meretz’s and Labor’s believe in the two states solution as the only way to promise a permanent Jewish majority within the Green line. In both cases, none-Jews are seen as a national threat. And while there is no doubt that Meretz and Labor are much more committed to democratic values than Liberman, all of them share the demographic obsession.

It is in this context that we should see the government plan, announced Sunday, to grant voting rights to 750,000 Israeli expatriates. This idea was raised several times in the past by rightwing politicians, who saw it as the easy way to ensure a permanent “national majority” (the common belief is that most expatriates support the right), but it has always failed to pass the Knesset votes. The left was able to block all legislative attempts, usually with the help of some rightwing MKs who believed that the right to vote should be given only to those people who face the consequences of their political choices. The fact that the idea was never popular with the general public, who still views the Yordim is deserters to the national cause, left Israel as one of the few democracies which don’t allow absentee voting.

Maybe not anymore. Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beitenu has put forward a bill that if accepted, will grant voting rights to all Israelis who left the country in the decade prior to the elections. With Netanyahu’s support, the coalition stands a better than ever chance of completing the legislation effort in a short time.


But why now? The right enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Knesset, and risking it would be a foolish move. After all, the estimates on the way the absentee vote might break are no more than not-so-educated guesses, and polling of expatriates is almost impossible. What seems like a good idea now might easily turn out to be a disaster. If the right was in the opposition and desperate for new voters, this would have been an understandable move, but this is clearly not the case now.

The answer, as in so many cases, is demography. Discriminated as they are, the Arab citizens are still viewed as a threat by the public. The new generation of Arab leaders is more vocal in demanding its rights and in challenging the state’s ideological foundations. What’s more important is that right now, the Arabs reach only half of their voting potential. A Knesset with 22-24 non-Zionist MK’s (instead of the 11 we have now) would be much harder for Israeli nationalists to swallow. Half a million more Jewish votes could be a nice counter measure. Read the rest of this entry »

Israeli media goes after New Israel Fund: “responsible for Goldstone Report”

Posted: January 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, media, Polls, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments »
the anti NIF add from Sunday's Jpost

the anti NIF add from Sunday's Jpost

The New Israel Fund (NIF), the American based progressive organization that sponsors social justice projects in Israel, is the victim of a new smear campaign launched by the right-wing movement “Im Tirzu” (אם תרצו) and picked up by Israeli media. Im Tirzu, together with right-wing MK’s and even IDF and Shin Beit seniors, are demanding Knesset and government actions that will prevent the NIF from transferring funds to Israeli human rights and peace organizations – and possibly even ban the organization altogether.

Im Tirzu’s campaign against NIF started in the cover story of Maariv’s political section this weekend. An article by Maariv’s senior political correspondent, Ben Caspit, quoted a claim put forward by Im Tirzu, according to which human rights and peace groups are responsible to more than 90 percent of the evidence against Israel in the Goldstone report. This was a gross misrepresentation of the facts to begin with, because as even Im Tirzu’s representatives admit, the Goldstone report was based mainly on evidence collected form Palestinians and international sources. From the data provided by Israeli sources, 42 percent came form human rights groups.  It didn’t bother Mr. Caspit to make it sound like it was Israeli NGO’s who were behind the entire report.

Israel’s image is at an all-times low. International pressure is mounting, and with it the calls for boycott. All this was fueled by the Goldstone report, which was in itself fueled by Israeli sources. The funding for these sources is provided by, amongst others, the NIF. The question is whether the New Israeli Fund is indeed for Israel.

Caspit mentions 300 grassroots and social organizations receiving funds through the NIF, and asks: “is all this activity just intended to serve as a front for radical subversive activity, acting against the very foundations of the state?”

Caspit never bothered to call anyone in the INF or other NGO’s to discuss this story. The fund was only given a few words of official comment at the bottom of the article, and the notion that “more than 90 percent of the Goldstone report is based on Israeli sources” has become a “fact” used by the mainstream media.


During the weekend, Im Tirzu activists demonstrated in front of the house of former MK and the chairman of the NIF, Naomi Hazan. They were dressed with Kafia’s and carried signs saying “I hate the IDF, and I support Naomi Hazan.”

Today (Sunday), the popular host of channel 2 news, Avri Gilad, interviewed on his morning show one of the heads of Im Tirzu, and while doing so, referred to this demonstration as a left wing one against the IDF. “The signs say it all,” Gilad said. “They hate the IDF.” Had channel 2 bothered to check the clip before airing it, or to host in their studio someone from the NIF, they would have found out immediately that this is a right wing hoax. But Gilad was in such a rush to denounce the left, such details never bothered him, and he even repeated his mistake on his radio show on the IDF station.

You can watch the interview here. The protest comes after 4:40 min.


Today, Im Tirzu wrapped things up in a Der Strumer-style add at the Jerusalem post aimed against Naomi Hazan and the NIF (shown above). Meanwhile, in Maariv, Ben Caspit reported that the Knesset will discuss “the involvement of the NIF in the Goldstone report”. MK Yisrael Hasson  (from opposition party Kadima!) called to investigate all NGO’s “which aid Hamas with their activities.”

As Didi Remez pointed on Coteret blog, Maariv’s story this morning reveals that even IDF and Shin Beit officials are involved for sometime in efforts to introduce measures against Israeli human rights organizations:

Now it turns out that the materials exposed on the weekend are familiar to the IDF authorities and the legal authorities in Israel. Some of them were given half a year ago to the Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit.

He checked the material and gave it to the Atty. Gen., with a recommendation to open an official investigation. No such investigation has been made so far. The Israel Security Agency [Shin Bet; GSS] is also familiar with the material and the sensitive issue. Taking action against this is not simple because NIF is a registered association in the US. Also, it is noteworthy that a large part of the fund’s activities in Israel are devoted to social and public issues of the first order.

At the time of writing, following Maariv, other right wing media organizations in Israel are joining the campaign, and even the Examiner is now claiming NIF and Naomi Hazan (“former Member of Knesset for the semi-Marxist Meretz Party”, as they refer to her) are in fact front men for Hamas.

I will report more on this issue in the next few days.

The problem with Benjamin Netanyahu

Posted: December 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why the PM’s brilliant political moves this week won’t help him


This was one of the strangest weeks I can remember in Israeli politics. It started with everybody waiting for a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas that could change the diplomatic reality in the entire region – just to forget it immediately as PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s move against Kadima was reveled. Gilad Shalit was back in his cave in a split of a second, and all attention was turned to the seven backbenchers who supposedly agreed to deflect from Kadima to Likud, thus making Netanyahu’s coalition – which is fairly strong as is – significantly more stable.

Even as it turned out that Netanyahu wasn’t able to split Kadima (only one Knesset Member, the unimportant Eli Aflalo – known mostly for his impressive mustache – announced his departure from the opposition party), it seems that he handed his political opponent the blow of her career. Now Tzipi Livni has to chose between abandoning her entire political strategy and accepting Netanyahu’s offer to join his coalition, to trying to keep her party together in the opposition – a task which seems much more daunting by the day, if no entirely impossible.

In the last couple of days, many pundits were praising the PM for his brilliant move. Here is for example Amir Mizroch, news editor at The Jerusalem Post, on his blog:

If he had managed to pull it off, Netanyahu would have stepped up a level as a political operator. This was a Sharon-like move. In fact, this was the move designed to counter Sharon’s establishment of Kadima. Sharon undone. Disengagement from Kadima. If he had managed to pull it off…

But to what end?

When Yitzhak Rabin was split Tzomet party in 1995 he did it to pass the Oslo agreement in the Knesset, once it was clear that the Orthodox Shas would vote against it; and when Ariel Sharon split the Likud he did it to carry out his plan of unilateral withdrawal from the Palestinian territories. Netanayhu, it seems, is trying to break Kadima for little more than getting even at his political opponents. The only reason that would really require Netanyahu to strengthen the left flank of his coalition is some sort of diplomatic progress with the Palestinians or with Syria. With regards to Iran, the Goldstone report, the Hamas and Gilad Shalit, the Knesset and the public are more than likely to support whatever decision the PM would take.

Right now there are no negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians, and in any case, all indications are that Netanyahu wouldn’t go one step further than where the White House forces him. He accepted the two state solution because of president Obama’s speech in Cairo, and he agreed to a partial settlement freeze only after tremendous pressure from Washington. As even some of Netanyahu’s supporters recognized, in both cases, his move came too late to hand him real political gains, and the world remained suspicious of the Israeli PM’s agenda.


This is something that characterized Netanyahu’s approach to politics throughout his career: he (almost) never initiates moves. He always reacts. This has nothing to do with ideology, Left or Right. There are leaders on the right who try to shape reality themselves (Ariel Sharon and George W Bush come to mind, and maybe that’s part of the reason they had such good personal relations), as there are some leaders on the Left who tend to react to events. It’s a matter of personality. Read the rest of this entry »

Yedioth Ahronot poll: Netanyahu’s approval ratings higher than ever

Posted: October 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »

Publishing public opinion polls when there are no elections in sight is not a common practice in the Israeli media, but Yedioth Ahronot has one this weekend. Basically, it confirms what I’ve been writing here for some time: Benjamin Netanyahu has been able to contain all outside pressure with regards to the peace process and the settlement freeze. The PM and his government enjoy very high approval ratings, and although Defense Minister Ehud Barak has suffered some blows recently, Netanyahu’s coalition remains very stable.

If elections were held today, Netanyahu’s Likud party would have got 33 Knesset seats (it has 27 today), while Tzipi Livn’s Kadima would have stayed with 28 seats. Libernma and Israel Beitenu drops to 12 seats; Barak and Labor crashes from 13 to 7. Read the rest of this entry »

No Partner

Posted: October 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

MK Daniel Ben Simon, who resigned yesterday from his post as Labor’s whip, explains his decision in an article for Haaretz [Hebrew]. This is a must-read for those who still think that Israel is pursuing peace. Ben Simon is not some ultra-Lefty, but rather a moderate rookie MK, who supported Barak’s decision to enter the Netanyahu government after the general elections. it took him only eight months to understand what’s going on.

Ben Simon describes his useless attempts to convince Defense Minister and head of Labor Ehud Barak to respond to Obama’s peace initiative:

“Look, Ehud, there is no peace process, there are no negotiations, there’s no settlement freeze or outpost evacuation. We haven’t done anything we promised the public,” I told him. “What will we tell the Israeli public?”

To my astonishment, he said we have no partner, that there’s no one to talk to. I remembered that nearly a decade before, when we heard similar lines from Barak, they sank the country into despair and brought a series of misfortunes in their wake.

Is it possible Ehud Barak hasn’t changed? Is Ehud model 2009 really the same as model 2001? Read the rest of this entry »

The end of the road for Avigdor Liberman?

Posted: July 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cross -posted with FPW.

liberman_avigdorThe Israeli daily papers got into some sort of a fight this week over the state of foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s criminal investigation. While Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that the police finished its work and the decision whether to file charges against Liberman is now at the hands of the legal counselor for the government, Meni Mazuz (who serves in Israel as the head of the prosecution as well), Maariv daily paper insisted that the investigation is not over yet. But both papers agree on the basic facts: according to sources in the police, substantial evidences of corruption was found, and a criminal charge against Liberman is all but inevitable.

Is the political career of the person labeled is “Israel’s Jorg Haider” is about to reach its end? It’s hard to tell. First, in a week marked by the return to politics of the star of the 90′s, Shas’ legendary leader, Aryeh Deri, one can only repeat the lesson given by Israel’s biggest comeback kid ever, Ariel Sharon: stay on the big wheel, because the ride never really ends (a somewhat ironic idea, considering Sharon’s years of coma, which have yet come to an end). Second, it is clear that Liberman won’t leave without a fight.

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Four more Years: Ahmadinejad Wins

Posted: June 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

cross-posted with FPW.

Events are still rolling in Iran, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared winner in the presidential elections, and there are no indications that the demonstrations of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s supporters can change that. Not with the supreme leader Ali Khemenei and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on the president’s side.

Here are some of my initial thoughts on the matter.

● Some people might see the election’s outcome as a blow for president Obama. This is true only to a certain extent. I don’t believe the American president was thinking that his speech in Cairo – inspiring as it was – will result in immediate political changes in the region. Things just don’t work this way, so we shouldn’t credit Obama for the success of the pro-western coalition in Lebanon, nor for the reformists’ failure in Iran.

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Everything is Personal: How Jerusalem Lost Contact with Washington

Posted: June 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cross-posted with FPW.

Is the Israeli government ready to come out of its shell and respond to President Obama’s Middle East plan?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting that he will present his answer to Obama’s speech in Cairo next week. The PM intends to hold his own “major diplomatic speech,” in which he will discuss “our principles for achieving peace and security.” According to Haaretz, the speech will probably be given in the Bar Ilan university near Tel Aviv, where Netanyahu will receive an honorary doctorate on June 16th.

In the past few weeks, Netanyahu has faced growing criticism– even from his supporters – for not preparing himself for the shift in the American administration’s policy. When Washington started sending signals – and later on, explicit demands – with regards to the settlements issue and the two-state solution, the Israeli government responded with panic. Instead of presenting his own vision of the future of the Middle East – even as some sort of lip service, just to get the Americans off his back – the PM made it seem like there is no partner in Jerusalem.

It is clear today that the new Israeli government has failed to appreciate the magnitude of the changes happening in Washington. Part of the reason is poor timing: the Obama team has been preparing a new policy since November. Netanyahu had just a month in office before he met the new president. One could guess that the fact that the first person to leave office after the Israeli elections was the Israeli ambassador in Washington didn’t do much good either.

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