Flotilla | New Mavi Marmara pictures raise more questions regarding IDF attack

Posted: June 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Turkish paper Hurriyet published pictures of captive IDF soldiers inside the Mavi Marmara (see them here) during the Israeli raid on the ship. IDF spokesperson already declared that “this is clear proof of Israel’s repeated claims, that the boat was carrying mercenaries, whose sole purpose was to kill the soldiers.”

But to me these pictures raise even more questions. It seems that the people on the Mavi Marmara actually kept the soldiers alive – rather than “lynch” them, as Israel claims. This might also explain why the battle against unarmed civilians took so long: Could it be that the nine casualties weren’t just the result of an attempt to protect the life of the soldiers at the moment they were attacked, but rather the outcome of a violent rescue operation?

Since the Gilad Shalit kidnapping, there is a standing order in Israel not to let any IDF soldier to be captured alive, even if it means risking his own life – let alone the life of the people around him.

Another thought: could it be that the bullet injuries few IDF soldiers suffered occurred during this rescue attempt?  Maybe it was IDF shots that caused them?

Here is another picture, posted on the IHH flickr page, showing passengers treating a wounded IDF soldier. I don’t know if this pic is real or not, but if it is, it might back the claim that the passengers were trying to defend themselves rather kill the soldiers:

flotilla

As long as the IDF doesn’t release it’s version of the events and all confiscated material, we have no way of knowing what happened on the Mavi Maramra. But as passengers’ testimonies are released and more material is coming out, the army’s version seems to have more and more holes in it.

UPDATE: Alon Ben David, channel 10 military correspondent, gave last night an unofficial account of events from army sources: attack on the ship started on 4:30 AM, with 15 soldiers going down the ropes to the upper deck. The first three were captured in the lower deck. After one minute the soldiers opened fire and took control of the upper deck.

At 4:35 another team arrives by helicopter. At 4:50 the army starts taking over the ship. At 5:00 the army announces it has control over the ship’s bridge. The soldiers in the lower deck escape from their captives: two jump to the water, and the third reach the front of the ship and awaits there for the other commandos to rescue him. According to a report from Al-Jessira (quoted here in Ynet), the third soldier didn’t escape; IDF commandos broke into the room he was held in and shot the passengers surrounding him.

There is no official IDF version of the events yet.

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Israel has rejected United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s idea for an international commission of inquiry into the raid. According to this offer, the inquiry committee would have been led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer (an expert on maritime law), with an Israeli representative and a Turkish one serving under him.

Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu informed the government today (Sunday) that he would not agree to such an investigation. Netanyahu also said that the world is beginning to open up to the Israeli view of last week’s events.

The Israeli dilemma is simple: reject an international committee, and you risk having another Goldstone report, based entirely on the evidences of the flotilla’s passengers. Accept the committee, and you risk ending up with a report which will condemn Israel and enjoy world wide credibility. There is also a problem with the IDF, which opposes to having soldiers testify in front of any sort of civilian committee, Israeli or international. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who finally agreed to some sort of investigation in order to ease up the pressure on Israel, still firmly object to having soldiers testify before it.

Israeli leaders also have their own political concerns, which further complicate things: a civilian Israeli committee might force them to resign, while an international inquiry won’t have personal implication on them.

The solution Israel is hoping for is an Israeli-led investigation, with an international observer, preferably an American, sitting on it (but staying out of the room when security issues are discussed). Zeev Segal, Haaretz’s legal expert, wrote in favor of such a solution this morning.

I explained here why the international community should not accept an Israeli-led investigation.

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The talk of the day in Israel was the decision by Boston Rock group The Pixies to cancel their gig in Tel Aviv planned for this Wednesday. The Pixies are very popular with my generation of Israelis (I had tickets), and this was supposed to be their first show in Tel Aviv. But the real issue is that Israelis are extremely troubled by the idea of an international boycott. Producer Shuki Weiss, who booked the show, called the pressure on bands not to perform in Israel “cultural terrorism“.

Most pundits and talking heads I heard today said that it was a PR failure, rather than a policy one, which led to pressure on Israel these days (here is an example from Israel’s most popular columnist). Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman decided, like many Israelis, to put the blame on the left and the Israeli Arabs.

More and more it seems that Israelis simply don’t understand why the world is mad at them. As Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz today, the one place IDF propaganda actually worked very well is Israel, where both the media and the public now views the attack on the flotilla as an heroic success story.

British Author Iain Banks also decided to join the boycott on Israel. He explains why in a letter to the Guardian:

Writers and artists refusing to visit Israel, and the cutting off of as many other cultural and educational links with Israel as possible, might help Israelis understand how morally isolated they really are. It would be a form of collective punishment (albeit a mild one), and so in a way an act of hypocrisy for those of us who have criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in general and those in Gaza in particular, but appeals to reason, international law, UN resolutions and simple human decency mean – it is now obvious – nothing to Israel, and for those of us not prepared to turn to violence, what else can we do? For the little it’s worth, I’ve told my agent to turn down any further book translation deals with Israeli publishers. I would urge all writers, artists and others in the creative arts, as well as those academics engaging in joint educational projects with Israeli institutions, to consider doing everything they can to convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation, preferably by simply having nothing more to do with this outlaw state.

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News and Suggested reading:

NY Times: Washington Asks: What to Do About Israel?

Our own Freedom Fries: A right-wing group has asked Elite, Israel’s largest coffee manufacture, to change the name of its popular  Turkish Coffee [link in Hebrew].


Attack on the flotilla: the day after

Posted: June 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

2:15 AM: As the second day following the attack on the Gaza bound flotilla comes to its end, the Israeli public is standing behind its government and military. But things might still change, as the country will go on facing international pressure and the fingerprinting among top government and army official will increase.

The international community demands an inquiry, again. After its campaign against the Goldstone committee, it’s clear that Israel won’t like an external investigation, but this time it might not be easy to avoid one. The question will be, as always, the White House’s position. So far it’s been a very careful one, expressing regret on the loss of life, but not condemning the raid. Israel couldn’t have hoped for better.

From here it also seems that Israel was able to get some of its message through today, at least in the US. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon briefed hundreds of Jewish community leaders today, and as long as they feel that Israel is under attack, they might try to fight any measures from being taken against it. But the American Jewish community is changing, and it seems that most of it is getting tired from the policies of the current Israeli government. The real effect of the attack on the Mavi Marmara will be felt there once the initial storm passes.

The affair itself is far from being over: Israel has yet to finish releasing the detained passengers, which will finally be able to tell the story from their point of view. It was said that Israel confiscated all cameras and phones, so I don’t know if we will get any new material from the time of the attack. So far, the IDF only released the clips showing the soldiers being attacked, and not anything that followed. I guess they have a good reason for that.

Israel also needs to make public the names and nationality of all casualties. There were reports that at least four of them are Turkish nationals, and possibly one or two others are Arab-Israelis.

2:10 AM Amos Oz in a NYT Op-Ed:

Even if Israel seizes 100 more ships on their way to Gaza, even if Israel sends in troops to occupy the Gaza Strip 100 more times, no matter how often Israel deploys its military, police and covert power, force cannot solve the problem that we are not alone in this land.

1:15 AM Opinion and comments round-up (some of this stuff was posted much earlier today, but I didn’t have time to get to it):

David Grossman (Guardian): “No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed, and no excuse can explain away the stupid actions of the government and the army.” [this article appeared also in Hebrew in Haaretz].

Alan Dershowitz (Huffington Post): “The moment any person on the boat picked up a weapon and began to attack Israeli soldiers boarding the vessel, they lost their status as innocent civilians.” [this article apeared also in Hebrew on Maariv]

Peter beinart (Daily Beast): “Don’t blame the commandos for the flotilla disaster. Blame Israel’s leaders, who enforce the cruel and corrupt Gaza embargo, and their supporters in America.”

Helena Cobban (Just World News): “Israel should also be required to provide a full accounting of what happened to all those who were killed or injured, and to cooperate with the international inquiry.”

Andrew Sullivan (Atlantic): “Time after time, Netanyahu just pwns Obama; and the US president just lets it happen.”

Seth Freedman (Guardian): Flotilla activists had ample opportunity to defuse the situation before the IDF arrived – instead they decided on violence.

M.J. Rosenberg (TPM cafe): “The administration barely uttered a word of criticism yesterday. The whole world was appalled but we only asked for an investigation.”

Read also rep. Anthony Weiner strongly defends Israeli attack on flotilla, in a conversation with the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent.

1:00 AM: Under international pressure, Israel will release most of the flotilla’s passengers, including those who were on the Mavi Marmara. There are conflicting reports as to whether those who attacked the soldiers will be released. Ynet.co.il claims that Israel will go on detaining them, while Maariv and Haaretz say they will be released as well. I estimate that Maariv is right, and only few might be detained any further.

Haaretz: The White House demanded a “credible and transparent” investigation into the Israel Navy raid of the flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip.

00:50: IHH launches an information site on the Gaza flotilla.

10:45 PM: Something I couldn’t avoid noticing since yesterday: all the material released by Israel is from one minute (!) during the battle. The soldiers’ testimonies refer to this timeframe as well. But events on the Mavi Marmara lasted, according to reports, several hours. Even at this early stage, if Israel wants its version to have some credibility, it needs to start explaining what happened from the minute the soldiers took their first shot, until they held their fire.

10:15 PM Ynet’s military correspondent has a report claiming that the people who attacked the soldiers on board the Mavi Marmara had “direct and indirect ties” to the Global Jihad. According to the IDF, they pre-planned the assault, and even had bullet proof vests and light weapons.

Some of the suspects were found to be carrying large sums of money. Others had Kevlar vests and gas masks; and all were found to be carrying weapons such as knives, metal clubs and slingshots. Several of the suspected were wounded by IDF fire.

Investigators have already concluded that this was the group that planned the violent resistance, which centered on the Marmara’s top deck.

IDF also released another clip, this time a recording of the radio transition prior to the moment when the soldier opened fire. While I post it here, I must say that it’s very hard to conclude anything from these clips, as the IDF doesn’t reveal any material concerning the actual shootout, and according to reports, even confiscated all recording devices the passengers on the Mavi Marmara had.

10:05 PM Labor junior MK Daniel Ben Simon joins the calls for the resignation of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

10:00 PM Another diplomatic crisis on the way? Ireland officially requested Israel to let the Rachel Corrie, with 15 activists on board, into Gaza. Haaretz reports:

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen urged Israel to let the vessel to finish its mission. The ship was carrying 15 activists including a northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate.

“The government has formally requested the Israeli government to allow the Irish-owned ship … to be allowed to complete its journey unimpeded and discharge its humanitarian cargo in Gaza,” Cowen told parliament in Dublin.

21:50 PM A few small pro-IDF rallies took place in several towns in Israel, including Jerusalem, Kiryat Shmone, Karmiel, Gush Etzion (West Bank), Beer Sheva, Maalot, Raanana, Netivot and Natanya. Each of the rallies had between a few dozens to a few hundred protesters. Demonstrations against the attack on the flotilla took place in the Arab town Arabe, in Jaffa, and in several other Arab towns. Pro-IDF protesters clashed with Palestinian supporters of Raed Saleh in Ashkelon, were the Shikh was brought before a district judge.

4:20 PM Amos Oz: Israel is turning into the new South Africa.

Celebrated Israeli author Amos Oz said today on IDF radio that Israel is becoming the new South Africa:

“We are placing ourselves under an international siege, which is more dangerous for us than the siege on Gaza in dangerous to Gaza.

“Israel is turning into South Africa in the Apartheid days – a country which the world’s nation wouldn’t want to buy its goods, wouldn’t want to visit, and that will be thrown out of international organizations. We will become a pariah state that nobody wants anything to do with

Oz said that there was no reason to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza, and added that Israel is not only losing the media battle, but also the moral battle.

4:00 PM The flotilla got its first victory: The siege on Gaza have been partly lifted, after Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing until further notice, allowing goods and people to travel in and out of the strip.

Egypt has been facing mounting pressure from pro-Palestinian groups and opposition elements for its support for the Israeli siege on the strip. So far president Hosni Mubarak allowed Rafah crossing to be opened only on for limited periods, claiming that he wouldn’t let Israel make Gaza an Egyptian problem.

2:30 AM Guardian: Journalists on the flotilla were censored and arrested by Israeli forces.

Irish Times reports that Rachel Corrie, the last ship of the Gaza flotilla is due to arrive at Gaza territorial waters. No official word has come out of Israel concerning this ship, but army sources told Maariv that the ship would be treated in the same way the other ships were handled.

2:00 AM Maariv is reporting that unnamed “senior ministers” are calling for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s resignation over the Mavi Marmara fiasco [link in Hebrew].

Some more commentary from the world:

Glenn Kessler (Washington Post): Condemnation of Israeli assault complicates relations with U.S.

Jeffrey Goldberg (Atlantic): the disappearance of Jewish wisdom.

Stephen Walt (Foreign Policy): Will the Obama administration show some backbone on this issue?

Leslie H. Gelb (Daily Beast): Israel was right.

12:30: Israel might have sabotaged the engines of some of the vessels in the Gaza flotilla, but not the Mavi Marmara’s. Haaretz reports that in a testimony in front of the Knesset’s Foreign and Security affairs committee, Colonel Itzik Turgeman of the IDF command stated that some of the ships were treated in what he described as “a gray way”.

According to colonel Turgeman, the Mavi Marmara wasn’t sabotaged so a humanitarian crisis wouldn’t break in it when the ship will run out of food and water, and because towing it to Israel would have taken too long.

Head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, said in the Knesset that “Israel is becoming from an asset to a burden on the US”.

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11:00 AM: During the night, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla and calling for an investigation, as well as the immediate release of the captured vessels and the their passengers. It seems that Israel will not complicate things further and all foreign passengers will be deported in the next few days.

The Israeli passengers might face charges (though most of them have been released by police). MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) was interrogated twice and proceeding against her, which began in the Knesset prior to the attack, will probably resume. There are also calls to press charges against Sheikh Raed Saleh, already one of the least popular Arab public figures with the Jewish public. Saleh is still under arrest.

Israel is yet to release the names and nationality of the passengers killed in the attack. Yedioth Ahronoth reported this morning that most of them are Turkish nationals. The paper claimed that six of the 9 casualties were identified as ones who took part in the assault on the soldiers.

Attorney Avigdor Feldman filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding the immediate release of the flotilla passengers, and allowing them to sail to their original destination in Gaza. Feldman claim the attack on the flotilla was done without legal authority (my guess is that it’s more of a political move. The court will not intervene in these matters, and Feldman knows that).

Israel’s morning papers frame the entire incident as a trap the government stepped into. Yedioth’s front page headline is “the trap” and Maariv follows with “The failure and the heroism”, referring to the soldiers that were put in risk. The rightwing Israel Hayon also view the events from the soldiers’ perspective: “Soldiers facing Lynch“, the headline says. as one might expect, the only ecception is the Liberal Haaretz, which calls for a state inquiry committee which will investigate the decision-making process, and “decide who should pay for this dangerous policy”.

opinion round-up:

Jerusalem Post’s editorial is dismissing some of the public and internationl outrage, caliming “IDF response to violence could have been worse.”

Ari Shavit (Haaretz journalist known until not very long ago for his good relations with Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu): “During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.”

Zvi Mazel (Foreign Office veteran writing for Jpost): “We are facing a full-blown diplomatic crisis (…) we can’t expect help or even assistance from anyone. But if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. The biblical words from Numbers 23:9 come to mind: wLo, the people shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations.’”

Gidon Levi (Haaretz): “If Cast Lead was a turning point in the attitude of the world toward us, this operation is the second horror film of the apparently ongoing series.”

Caroline Glick (Jerusalem Post): “A straight line runs from the anti-Israel UN resolution passed last Friday and the Hamas flotilla.”

Yossi Sarid (former minister and head of Meretz, writing in Haaretz): “Seven Idiots in the Cabinet.”

(Sarid is refering to the top decision making forum in Netanyahu’s government, whose members are Barak, Netanyahu, Liberman, Eli Yishay (Shas), Beni Begin and Dan Meridor (Likud) and deputy PM Moshe Yaalon from Likud. The final go ahead to yesterday’s operation was given in the “7 forum” prior to Netanayhu’s departure for North America – an issue that will surly be discussed in the days to come).

Ofer Shelah (Maariv military correspondent): “Israel is being portrayed as a country which acts violently, without thought, and out of a permanent existential fear” [Hebrew].

Yedioth Ahronoth’s top political correspondent, Nahum Barnea, and senior pundit Sever Plotsker are attacking the government this morning, and Plotsker – that reveled yesterday that Yedioth didn’t publish information regarding vast concerns the army had over the operation – is calling for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s resignation. Military correspondent Alex Fishman is claiming that the even with its consequences, “the operation was the right thing to do.” (Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read daily paper, doesn’t post editorials online, so I can’t link to its articles).

Amnon Abramowits, Channel 2 senior political commentator, is calling in an op-ed in Yedioth for PM Netanyahu to immediately form a different coalition that would have new diplomatic policies, both in Gaza and in the West bank.


Hasbara talking points won’t work here

Posted: May 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

This letters exchange between ADL’s Abe Foxman and Peter Beinart following Beinart’s much discussed NYRB article on the failure of the American Jewish establishment, is definitely worth reading.

Foxman works along the talking points of Israeli Hasbara: Camp David, Barak and Olmert’s generous offers, Arab rejectionism, etc. (sometimes I feel that I can recite those lines from my sleep, and so can probably Foxman). What I like about Beinart’s answer – as well as on his original article – is his sensitivity to the tones coming out of Israel – and how they sound to the ears young and liberal people (my Italic):

…Palestinian rejectionism cannot explain Avigdor Lieberman’s crusade to humiliate, disenfranchise, and perhaps even eventually expel Arab Israelis, the vast majority of whom want nothing more than to be accepted as equal citizens in the country of their birth… When do American Jewish organizations plan to start forcefully opposing Lieberman and the forces he represents? When he becomes prime minister?

(…)

In the real Israel, as opposed to the imaginary one that American Jewish leaders conjure, there is no consensus on a Palestinian state. There are Israelis who believe that such a state is a demographic and moral necessity. And there are Israelis—like Lieberman, Effi Eitam, and the leaders of Shas—who are doing their best to make a Palestinian state impossible, for instance by ringing East Jerusalem with settlements. American Jewish leaders cannot profess solidarity with the first group while serving as intellectual bodyguards for the second.

After the NYRB published Beinart’s article, he was attacked for supposedly misrepresenting some issues or being inaccurate on a certain topic. While even this criticism is debatable, it simply misses the point: Beinart captured the spirit of the moment in Israel – and the way it reflects on his own community. The usual answer – “it’s the Palestinians’ fault” – simply won’t work here, because he wasn’t talking about the Palestinians, but about what Israel has become.


Of all people, it is Dennis Ross who comes to Netanyahu’s aid

Posted: March 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

800px-Dennis_RossLaura Rozen has an excellent story in Politico.com on the internal battle in the administration regarding how to approach the Israeli government from now on.

Apperantly, while several people close to special envoy George Mitchell believe that the US must continue putting clear demands before Netanyahu’s extreme-right government in order not only to get some results, but also to restore the administrations credibility in the Arab world, some Oslo veterans, led by Dennis Rose, believe that the White House should avoid steps that might put Netanyahu’s coalition in danger. In other words, Dennis Ross actually thinks that the president of the US should be careful not to agitate Eli Yishay or Avigdor Liberman, because that might make the Israeli government fall.

This is what one of Laura Rosens’ anonymous sources had to say:

“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu’s coalition politics than to U.S. interests… and he doesn’t seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this Administration.”

What some saw as the suggestion of dual loyalties shows how heated the debate has become.

Last week, during U.S.-Israeli negotiations during Netanyahu’s visit and subsequent internal U.S. government meetings, the official said, Ross “was always saying about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi’s coalition’s red lines.”

This development shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who follow Denis Ross closely. While I do think Ross truly whishes end the occupation and advance the two state solution, he is clearly a man living in the past, and his involvement in the Oslo process might stand in the way of his better judgment. He blames the Palestinians and the Palestinians only for the failure to reach peace in the end of the previous decade, and consequently, believes that the US must apply constant pressure on the Arab side in order to get results. This was the exact attitude taken by the Bush administration, and anyone can see where it got us.

Ross dedicated a chapter of his recent book, Statecraft, to the steps which should be taken by the US in order to promote a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinian. His ideas would have won him praises in the AIPAC convention, as they all deal with ways to deal with the Palestinian side. The only thing the administration have to do with regards to Israel, according to Ross, is declare its commitment to the two state solution – something even George W Bush didn’t have a problem saying.

Reading this book, I got the feeling the Denis Ross thinks that the Israeli PM is still Yitzhak Rabin. The notion that US policy should fall in line with a government ran by radical nationalists like Liberman and Yishay is so absurd, that I don’t even understand how he rationalizes it for himself. As Gidon Levi wrote today in Haaretz, President Obama did better service for both Israelis and Palestinians in the last two weeks than any other politician in the last decade. We should all pray he doesn’t let Denis Ross disrupt him.


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.

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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 »


Israel Deputy Foreign Minister stages public humiliation of Turkish Ambassador

Posted: January 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , | Comments Off
deputy minister Ayalon (taller, on the right) and Turkey's ambassador

deputy minister Ayalon (taller, on the left) and Turkey's ambassador

The arrogance of Israeli diplomacy under Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was demonstrated today again, when his deputy, Danny Ayalon, staged a public humiliation of the Turkish ambassador.

Ambassador Oguz Celikkol was summoned to Ayalon to hear Israel’s protest on another anti-Israeli show aired on Turkish TV these days.

When the Turkish representative arrived, he was made to wait otside the room with the reporters. when he finally got in, Ayalon ordered reporters to leave the room so he can keep “a respectable conversation” with the ambassador. But before they left, he instructed them to shot the meeting “so it would show that he is sitting low and we are high, and that there is only one flag in the room… and that it would show that we are not smiling.”

It is not clear whether Ayalon realized that he was being recorded while speaking to the reporters. Most chances he knew, and was aiming to win some points with the israeli public.

Channel 2 aired the video of the meeting tonight, including Ayalon’s instructions. Later on, sources in the Foreign Office told Haaretz that Foreign Minister Liberman is deliberately trying to escalate relations with Ankara prior to Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s visit to Turkey.

For some reason, embeding the video didn’t work. you can watch it here.


Liberman’s “loyalty law”: an effort to push Arabs out of the Knesset

Posted: January 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Knesset’s ministerial legislative committee is about to vote today on Israel Beitenu’s (Avigdor Liberman’s party) “loyalty law”, which will change the oath all MK’s take at the beginning of each Knesset term, from swearing loyalty to “the State of Israel and its laws,” to swearing loyalty to the State of Israel as a “Jewish democratic state.”

UPDATE: The decision whether to back this bill was moved to the coalition managing body (in other words – it will be Netanyahu’s decision).

The important thing here is the change from the term “Israeli” to Jewish. The name “Israel”, points to an inclusive political model, which emphasizes the “Jewishness” of the state, but at the same time offers room for all the state citizens. Declaring loyalty just for “a Jewish state” will be another symbol for the new model the Israeli Right is trying to establish –one of ethnic superiority of the Jews over all other minorities.

An Arab cannot become – and is not expected to become – a Jew. When he pledges loyalty to Jews, he vows to be loyal to others, to a community he can never be part of. But an Arab can become an Israeli, and can certainly pledge loyalty to Israel – as all Arab MKs have been doing since the state was born. This is not just a cosmetic change. Liberman and his party expect the Arab MKs to reject the new law, what will open the way to banning all none-Jewish MKs from the Israeli parliament.

This move by Yisrael Beitenu – undoubtedly the most dangerous party in Israel right now – should be seen in the context of the current surge in anti-Arab legislation. This has nothing to do with security measures. It is an effort to change the nature of the state, making it, in the words of the Arab MK Ahmed Tibi, “a democracy for Jews and a Jewish state for all others”.

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The Jewish-American paper Forward published an op-ed by me on the future of the Israeli left. It touches exactly this point, of Arab-Jewish relations.


End of the wasted decade / slightly optimistic analysis of the current moment in Israeli politics

Posted: December 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Fireworks1

Almost two weeks of intense political maneuvering ended yesterday. Many people on the Left got worried by Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to split the opposition Kadima party or to have it join his coalition. Both options, it seemed, would have made the PM even stronger, and everything that’s good for Netanyahu is surly bad for the peace process. Or isn’t it?

While I write here regularly against the current Israeli policies, and consider myself to be a part of the Left, I think that the last year have moved us closer to the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, possibly also to the end of the siege on Gaza. The current political circumstances are pretty favorable, to the point that if I could have replaced Netanyahu with other Israeli leaders – say Livni or Barak – I probably wouldn’t go for it.

To understand why, we need to dive into the depth of the complex political dynamics in Israel.

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If left to do as he wishes, I have no doubt PM Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t make one step towards the end of the Israeli occupation. His ideological background is one that views the West Bank as part of the land of Israel; he believes that an independent Palestinian state would put Israel’s national security in danger; and his political base has always been on the Israeli right.

But political leaders have to consider political circumstances and limitations, and Netanyahu – unlike the two other PMs from Likud, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon – is extremely sensitive to outside pressure. And pressure came from the first moment Netanyahu entered his office.

First, there was the new approach from Washington. It’s not just Obama, but the whole backlash against the Middle East policy of the Bush administration. Furthermore, the world knew Netanyahu, and remembered him as the man who succeeded Yitzhak Rabin and almost single handedly buried the Oslo accord. And if somebody was ready to consider the idea of “a new Netanyahu”, along came the appointment of Avigdor Liberman to the Foreign Office and fixed the image of this government – quiet rightly, I must say – as the most extreme Israel ever had. Even Israel’s supporters are having troubles in the last year explaining the PM’s fondness for settling in the West Bank or defending the daily gaffe by the Foreign Minister.

And there was the war in Gaza. It’s hard to grasp how differently the international community and most Israelis view operation Cast Lead. Israelis see the war as a justified, even heroic, act against Hamas’ aggression – which was the Palestinian response to the good fate we showed in withdrawing from the Gaza strip – while most of the international community sees Cast Lead as a barbaric attack on (mostly) innocent civilians. And while the Goldstone report might never be adopted by the UN Security Council, the respond it initiated made it clear that in the near future – and unless something very dramatic happens and change everything (we always have to add this sentence in the post 11/9 world, don’t we?) – there won’t be another Cast Lead. The world won’t allow it.

All these elements – the change in Washington, the suspicious welcome the world gave Netanyahu and the respond to the war in Gaza – are forcing Netanyahu to do something he never planned to – at least with regards to the Palestinians: to act. That’s why he announced the settlement moratorium, and that’s why he is willing, according to today’s reports, to negotiate a Palestinian state on the 67′ borders, and even to talk about Jerusalem’s statues. And this is the man that won the 1996 elections after he accused Shimon Peres of agreeing to divide the Israeli capitol.

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Yes, I would have preferred a Hadash-Meretz government. But this isn’t, and won’t be an option in this generation. Right now, the political leaders with a shot at the PM office are Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, maybe Shaul Mofaz, and god forbid, Avigdor Liberman. Next in line after them are people with basically the same agenda.

I don’t trust Ehud Barak. I don’t know what drives him, I don’t think anyone understands what his views are, and I believe he has at least partial responsibility for the failure of the Camp David summit and the negotiations with the Syrians – and all that followed this failure.

With Kadima and Livni, it’s even worse. Under Ehud Olmert, this party brought to perfection the art of talking about peace and declaring wars. Read the rest of this entry »


2008 Sikkuy report: huge socioeconomic gap between Jews and Arabs (with this government, it’s likely to grow)

Posted: November 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Diplomacy has caught most of my attention lately, and I haven’t written in a while about Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Unlike the Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza, the situation of the non-Jewish minority in Israel is not receiving enough of the world’s attention, so in a sense it’s even more important to follow it closely.

About a week ago, Sikkuy, The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel, published its annual report. The report is an Index measuring the socioeconomic gap between Arab and Jews in Israel; from what I gather, it uses a similar statistical method to the one the National Urban League uses to measure the gap between Blacks and Whites in the US. All the data Sikkuy uses comes from official government sources.

There is almost widespread agreement in Israel that the gap between Arab and Jews is a critical issue that should be addressed as soon as possible (the Government-appointed Or committee wrote so explicitly). Yet there was little interest in Sikkuy’s findings this week. Only a few Journalists came to the Press conference in Tel Aviv I attended, and in the following day’s papers, their reports were hard to find. Many media organizations in Israel don’t even have a reporter covering the Arab population, even though it makes up to 20 percent of the citizens.

In short, the situation is not good – and it’s getting worse. Out of the five elements the 2008 Sikkuy report checks, in four – housing, health services, welfare services and employment – the gap between Arab and Jews has widen. In education there has been a slight improvement, but it was more due to a decline in the Jews’ achievements.

The socioeconomic gap is not the result of a lack of effort on behalf of the Arab population, like some people like to think, but of government policy, dating back decades. Evan today, the money invested by the state for social services for each Jew is 1.5 times the sum invested in an Arab citizens – even though the Arabs are the poorest people in Israel.

More Arabs go to university than ever – but they can’t find jobs, not on the private sector but also not on state agencies (the number of Arabs employed by the state is much lower than their proportion in the population). Arab Unemployment is much higher than Jewish one, especially unemployment among university graduates. And these figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

The 2008 Sikkuy index will soon be uploaded to the association’s English site. The reports from 2006 and 2007 can be found there as well. It should be noted that preliminary data from 2009 is even worse. It shows, among other disturbing figures, an unusually sharp drop in the number of Arabs entitled for a high school diploma.

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There is another important point to make here. The previous government didn’t do enough to promote equal opportunities, but this was still part of its declared policy, and Ehud Olmert himself said several times that he is committed to fighting discrimination against Arabs.

In that sense, the difference from Netanyahu’s government is striking. It’s the first time in many years that promoting equal opportunities for none Jews is not part of the official agenda for the coalition. Furthermore, some cabinet ministers are doing their best to harm the Arab minority, to limit its rights and to insight against it. If once Israelis used to take pride in the rights Palestinian citizens enjoy here – as opposed to other countries – these rights are seen by many today as a burden. As I claimed on the first post of this blog, and repeatedly since, racism is the best currency in Israeli politics right now, one which is likely to bring a politician immediate publicity and support.

Just to give an impression of the dangerous slop we are on, here are a few proposals and declarations made by cabinet ministers in the few months the Netanyahu government has been in power:

● The minister of transportation, Israel Katz (Likud), is promoting an initiative according to which all Arab names on road signs will be replaced with Jewish ones.

● The minister for Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov (Israel Beytenu), demanded that the pope cancel meeting with the Arab mayor of Sakhnin on his visit to Israel.

● The Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) called to stop Arab “spreading” in Wadi Ara, a region densely populated by Israeli-Arabs. he is currently pushing a plan for a city for orthodox Jews in the area.

● The Education Minister Gidon Saar (Likud) ordered that Arabs won’t be allowed to teach the term Nakba, referring to their national disaster of 1948.

● The minister of the Police, Yitzhak Aharonowitz, has told an undercover agent he “looks dirty like a real Arabush” (a Hebrew slang word that carries a cultural meaning very similar, or even worse, than “nigger” in the US).

● The Finance Minister, Yuval Shtainitz, declared that one of Israel’s problems is that Arab women “don’t want to work”.

● and finally, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman – a man who disgraces not only the state, but the entire Jewish people – promotes plans for striping Palestinians of their Israeli citizenship or from the rights is gives them.

By its actions, the Israeli government is currently doing more than any of Israel’s enemies to bring life to the claim that Zionism inevitably leads to racism.


What moratorium? Netanyahu playing games

Posted: November 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The top news item this evening on walla.co.il – Israel’s most popular web site – reads as follows: “Netanyahu in a message to Obama: Abu-Mazen has no more excuses”. I think this sums it all up. The settlements moratorium PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced was never intended to re-ignite the peace process. It’s not a step toward the Palestinians. It is, as Netanyahu all but put it himself, a message to the White House, asking it to get off our back, and start blaming the Arabs for the occupation, like they did until a year ago.

Netanyuahu and Barak know very well that the Palestinians won’t settle for this. A moratorium that does not include Jerusalem, does not include public buildings, does not include projects already under construction, does not include “security needs”? – what is it exactly that it does include? No wonder all the Right wing’s ministers but one voted for it!

In the State Department’s briefing today, George Mitchell was walking a thin line: wanting to praise Netanyahu, but at the same time being very careful not to say that the Americans got what they asked for:

The steps announced today are the result of a unilateral decision by the Government of Israel. This is not an agreement with the United States, nor is it an agreement with the Palestinians. United States policy on settlements remains unaffected and unchanged. As the President has said, America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

We recognize that the Palestinians and other Arabs are concerned because Israel’s moratorium permits the completion of buildings already started and limits the effect of the moratorium to the West Bank – concerns which we share.

As to Jerusalem, United States policy remains unaffected and unchanged. As has been stated by every previous administration which addressed this issue, the status of Jerusalem and all other permanent status issues must be resolved by the parties through negotiations.

And if the US thinks that’s not enough, how can a Palestinian leader agree to negotiate with Netanyahu now? It will be as if he is saying “go ahead, do your stuff in Jerusalem. I’m cool with that.”

Abu-Mazen can barley hold on to his post right now, with Israel is doing all it can to undermine him. This week Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman declared again that the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to invade Gaza. Imagine what happens to the Palestinian president if he sits to talk with Netanyahu and Liberman, when they not only humiliate him this way, but declare that they will go on settling East Jerusalem?

Here is a naïve question: why is it the world that has to beg Israel to stop building the settlements? The whole goal of this 42 years old project was to prevent the establishing of a Palestinian state or handing back the West Bank to Jordan (it was funny to hear Sarah Palin says that the settlements has something to do with housing needs for Jews. Then again, I wonder if she can find the West Bank on a map, or the entire Middle East for that matter). Now, if Israel is going to evacuate most of the area anyway – and Netanyahu said so himself, didn’t he? – Why go on building there? Why move there people that you will have to evacuate and compensate in a few years?

Israel is playing games, and it’s all too familiar. Read the rest of this entry »