Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Israel’s Livni in Boston

March 12, 2008

Israel's Foreign Minister

Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, made the rounds in Boston today. A rising star, she was the subject of a memorable profile in The New York Times Magazine. I caught most of her remarks to a gathering at the Park Plaza organized by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies. She later appeared at the State House and will speak at the Kennedy School later today.

Her speech timed to coincide with Israel’s 60th anniversary, the tone of Livni’s remarks was subdued. Israel faces uncertain borders on at least two fronts — Lebanon to the north and Gaza to the south. “Israel is still fighting for its existence,” she said.

Much, if not most, of Livni’s speech focused on the renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, at least the portion of the PA’s Fatah faction that controls the West Bank. Gaza, Livni acknowledged, is run by Hamas, which showers missiles down upon the Israeli cities of Sderot and Ashkelon.

Livni’s central point that the negotiations are necessary for Israel’s survival. “Time is of the essence,” she warned, adding that “more and more changes in the conflict” are coming. Some of the forces that dictate attempting to make a deal now, she said, include anti-Israel sentiment in Europe, Arab League diplomatic action, and potential United Nations resolutions. She went so far as to allude to “international forces” being inserted into the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. I took that to mean that she fears the international community will attempt to place some kind of international peace-keeping body on Israel’s borders. “Time is not working for us,” she said.

Livni also offered a slightly different take on events which followed the failed conclusion of the Oslo discussions between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak at Camp David. “Frustration can lead to violence,” Livni said. “We faced an intifada after Camp David.” The general pro-Israeli view has been that Arafat and his cronies launched the violence or allowed it to start to distract from their refusal to make peace with Israel. It was, for example, not frustration that prompted Nabil Shaath, a key Arafat ally, to say as early as 1996, according to a story in the Jerusalem Post, that when negotiations eventually deadlocked, the Palestinians would return to the armed struggle and “all acts of violence” would return.

Iran, which I heard so much about during my last reporting trip in Israel, merited very little attention in the organized portion of Livni’s comments. “It needs to be stopped when it comes to its aspiration to have a nuclear weapon,” she said.

The job of being both Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians and top diplomat with members of the often hostile world community is not an easy one. She tempered her remarks with realism, even pessimism, in parts. The substance of her comments reflects the indifference and anger Israel faces from the international community, which seems to be grinding Israel’s will down as it approaches its 60th birthday.

Major Obama Warning Sign: Too Lawyerly on Farrakhan

February 27, 2008

The strength of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is his use of sweeping rhetoric that attempts to bring everyone together. Typically, this is best done in general terms, but with little reference to specifics.

When Obama was drawn into a specific discussion of the Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, he gave an answer that left me cold.

Here it is in part:

“I have some of the strongest support from the Jewish community in my hometown of Chicago and in this presidential campaign. And the reason is because I have been a stalwart friend of Israel’s. I think they are one of our most important allies in the region, and I think that their security is sacrosanct, and that the United States is in a special relationship with them, as is true with my relationship with the Jewish community.

And the reason that I have such strong support is because they know that not only would I not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form, but also because of the fact that what I want to do is rebuild what I consider to be a historic relationship between the African-American community and the Jewish community.”

So, the first part of an answer calling for him to distance himself from Farrakhan amounts, basically, to a “some of my best friends are Jewish” response. And then he devolves into articulating his campaign’s talking point on Israel. Awkwardly, I might add. I mean, what does Obama mean by continuing to repeat “they?” Israel, Israeli Jews, American Jews? I have no idea. Then, since he’s on the topic of Israel, one might think he might make reference to Israel’s security or the threat Israel faces either from terrorism or enemy nations, such as Iran.

But it was bizarre because the primary concern American Jews have about Farrakhan is domestically-based: his record criticizing the Jewish religion and American Jews. Farrakhan’s prominence in the African-American community is relevant to American Jews who live here in this country. Israel is a secondary issue.

Furthermore, despite the praise that Obama is winning on MSNBC and elsewhere for “cleaning up” a potentially unfortunate answer, I found his rejoinder to Clinton’s call that he “reject” Farrakhan’s support disturbing: “I have to say I don’t see a difference between denouncing and rejecting. There’s no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the word ‘reject’ Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word ‘denounce,’ then I’m happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.”

What is this, the Harvard Law Review? To me, the Farrakhan question called for a straight-forward rejection without this lawyerly “concede the point” business.

Despite numerous e-mails from concerned relatives and some hysterical e-mail traffic, I’ve refrained from opining on the questions of Obama and the Jewish community and Obama and Israel. Most of it is way, way out of line. But there’s no question that Obama seems completely out of his comfort zone here, which, coupled with some of his foreign policy advisers, makes me worry about where a President Obama would come down when he is tested in the Middle East. His comments singling out a political party in Israel — again without reference of Israel’s security position– for criticism were also bizarre.

Sickening WordPress “Hawt Post”

February 15, 2008

 

I find it sickening that for the second day the WordPress “Hawt Post” comes from the vitriolic “Desert Peace” blog.

The “Hawt Post” is typically a WordPress blog post with the most hits that particular day, but it can be one that WordPress technicians deem hot based on their own criteria. My blog is also a WordPress blog.

This particular post, titled “Legal Slave Trade in Israel” combines a routine criticism of the security wall between Israel and the Palestinian Authority along with a critique of the treatment of non-Arab foreign workers in Israel. The post makes no reference to the wave of suicide bombing terrorist attacks which prompted Israel to construct the barrier; nor does it mention the fact that it succeeded in curbing violence against innocent victims.

It then segways into an indefensible rant against Israel and everything connected to Zionism. “Israel does not discriminate in who they discriminate against… racism, exploitation, occupation, and now slavery are an integral part of their system… I wonder what Abe Foxman would say about all of this…. I’m sure one of his cronies will direct him to this post.”

Typical of the site are the comments the post draws. Consider this from “Sharpinchitown”: “Why do they always have animal names like Foxman, Wolfson, Wolfowitz? Are they human or animals? by their behavior our answer is received.

“I understand that comments do not reflect the views of the blogger. I don’t agree with many of the comments made by commentators to Gitell.com. Having said that, I do note that the likening of Jews (such as the names listed in the comment above) to animals was a classic component of Goebbels-Hitlerite anti-Semitic propaganda.

Catching Up From the Bay Area

September 20, 2007

Jerusalem Defender

I’ve been out in San Mateo County, CA, on family business. I’ve been remiss in posting a couple of recent pieces about Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Earlier in the week, I wrote a news analysis on how Clinton is once again playing the Jerusalem card. Back when she was gearing up for her Senate run in 1999, Clinton sent a letter to the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America calling Jerusalem “indivisible eternal capital of Israel.” Last week, on the eve of the Jewish high holiday season, Clinton’s campaign sent out a position paper on Israel, saying ” Hillary Clinton believes that Israel’s right to exist in safety as a Jewish state, with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, secure from violence and terrorism, must never be questioned.” I analyze the politics of the move here.

It’s interesting to see that Clinton may be to the right of members of Israel’s government on this. Haim Ramon proposed giving way part of Jerusalem earlier this month.

Later in the week, I wrote about Hillary Clinton and Sister Souljah moments. Joan Vennochi revisits the Sister Souljah episode here.

Boston Lawyer Takes on the “Israel Lobby Gang”

September 10, 2007

The authors of “The Israel Lobby”, Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer, are getting a lot of press these days. These are the university professors who contend that “The Israel Lobby” has hijacked American foreign policy and proved the U.S. war with Iraq. To me, this smacks all too much of anti-Jewish scapegoating at a time of an unpopular war.

Jeff Robbins, a partner at the Boston law firm of Mintz, Levin, has a terrific op-ed in The Wall Street Journal rebutting this thesis. He reports an anecdote about Saudi Arabia’s attempt to purchase positive opinion in America in the wake of 9/11.

“Not long after Sept. 11, 2001, I received a call from a major defense contractor asking for a favor. I was serving as president of the Boston chapter of the World Affairs Council, a national organization that debates foreign policy, and the defense contractor was one of the Council’s principal sponsors.

The Saudi Arabian government was sponsoring a national public relations campaign to cultivate American public opinion, and was sending Saudi emissaries around the country to make the case that Saudi Arabia was a tolerant, moderate nation worthy of American support. Would the Council organize a forum of Boston’s community leaders so that the Saudis could make their case?

While this was patently no more than a Saudi lobbying effort, we organized the forum, and it was well-attended by precisely the slice of Boston’s political and corporate elite that the Saudis and their defense contractor benefactor had hoped for. The Saudis maintained that their kingdom should be regarded as a promoter of Middle East peace, and that the abundant evidence that Saudi Arabia was in fact promoting a virulent brand of extremist Islam should be discounted.

Saudi Arabia paid for the trip of its emissaries to Boston, for the Washington-based public relations and lobbying company that organized the trip, and for the Boston public relations and lobbying company that handled the Boston part of the visit. And it drew upon the resources and relationships of the defense contractor, which sells hundreds of millions of dollars of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, to support and orchestrate its public relations effort.”

Here is Robbin’s essential point: “It is apparently the authors’ position that, even in the face of the overwhelming leverage of an Arab world swimming in petrodollars, with a lock on the U.N. and an unlimited ability to pay for pro-Arab public relations, American Jews are obliged to stay silent. In essence, Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer have repackaged the “the-Jews-run-the-country” stuff which has long been the bread and butter of anti-Semites.”

Two other important points. Longtime readers will remember this 2002 story.

“A series of radio advertising spots ran in 30 cities across the United States in early April. One, titled “Occupation,” extolled the Arab League’s “fair plan to end the senseless violence in the Mideast.” The plan, according to the advertisement, involved Israel’s “withdrawal from the Palestinian land it has unjustly occupied for years…. There will be no more midnight raids and random searches, no more violence.” It did not condemn Palestinian terrorist bombings aimed at Israeli civilians. Another ad, titled “Peace Plan,” stated: “To stop the cycle of violence, we must first end the military occupation of Palestinian towns and neighborhoods.” Again, no mention of Palestinian terrorism and no mention of the peace offer made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, which would have given the Palestinian Authority possession of 97 percent of the West Bank — an offer Yasser Arafat turned down in 2000. Both ads concluded with the slogan “Start the peace — end the occupation,” followed by the words “paid for by the Alliance of Peace and Justice.”

Must be just another grassroots group fighting to get Israel out of the West Bank, right? Not exactly. The ads were placed by Sandler-Innocenzi, a political-advertising agency that has done spots for Republican House majority whip Tom DeLay and the Republican National Committee, among others. A Sandler-Innocenzi staffer contacted by the Phoenix acknowledged involvement with the ad and gave a phone number and address for the Alliance of Peace and Justice. The address — 8484 Westpark Drive in McLean, Virginia — is the home of media firm Qorvis Communications. Where does this complicated trail lead? To the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which, according to the federal government’s Foreign Agents Registration Act office, hired Qorvis on March 6. Qorvis did not respond to phone calls requesting comment on the ads.”

I will post a link to my feature story on a new book rebutting the “Israel Lobby” thesis. Here’s my write-up of a June encounter with Stephen Walt.

Daniel Pearl and Moral Equivalence

July 16, 2007

Daniel Pearl

Judea Pearl, the father of slain Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, has a stunning review of A Mighty Heart in the latest issue of The New Republic. The words of the elder Pearl are a welcome corrective to the rampant moral relativism that renders America and our enemies the same.

“Moral relativism died with Daniel Pearl, in Karachi, on January 31, 2002,” Mr. Pearl writes. “There was a time when drawing moral symmetries between two sides of every conflict was a mark of original thinking. Today, with Western intellectuals over-extending two-sidedness to reckless absurdities, it reflects nothing but lazy conformity. What is needed now is for intellectuals, filmakers, and the rest of us to resist the dangerous trend and draw legitimate distinctions where such distinctions are warranted.” Amen. I’d say Mr. Pearl’s words should also be heard by the gorgeous actress who plays his daughter-in-law, Angelina Jolie, whose public comments on the film were well-meaning but entirely morally-muddled.

He concludes: “My son Danny had the courage to examine all sides. He was a genuine listener and a champion of dialogue. Yet he also had principles and red lines. He was tolerant, but not mindlessly so.” Bravo.

Read what I wrote in The Boston Phoenix when the paper posted the video recording of Pearl’s execution by clicking here.

United Church of Christ Softens Position on Israel

June 25, 2007

Since 2005, the UCC has been among the most shrill of the Mainline Protestant churches on the subject of Israel. The Church passed two vehemently anti-Israel resolutions that year. Two years later there has been something of a shift. The Church’s governing body moved forward a resolution calling for “balance” on the Middle East.

I write in The New York Sun of the shift:

“One of [the prior resolutions] — the ‘Tear Down the Wall” resolution — called for the dismantling of the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank. The other — the divestment, or ‘Economic Leverage,’ resolution — urged church members to divest from companies that do business in Israel.

‘Because the ‘Tear Down the Wall’ resolution focused solely on the actions of Israel, we also have a responsibility to more fully understand and name the ways other nations and forces have contributed to the situation,’ the resolution reads.

It also mentions Palestinian Arab children ‘being exposed to hatred and intolerance in textbooks and the media” and violence between “Fatah and Hamas, especially in the Gaza strip, in spite of the fact that Israel disengaged from Gaza in September 2005.’

The UCC’s Committee on Reference referred the measure to the executive council for implementation. It would establish a task force to study the ’causes, history, and the context of the conflict,’ which will report to the next gathering of the synod in 2009.”

Incidentally, Senator Obama, a UCC member who spoke to the group on Satuday, distanced himself from the Church’s position on the Middle East: ” ‘Senator Obama has been a consistent and stalwart supporter of Israel, our strongest ally and only democracy in the Middle East, throughout his career in public service and his entire life,’ a spokeswoman for the campaign, Jennifer Psaki, said. ‘While he is a proud member of the UCC church and values its tradition of openness and diversity, he strongly disagrees with the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presented by individual members of the church.’ ”

Bloomberg for President?

June 22, 2007

Two Great Mayors

Michael Bloomberg has garnered reams of press after having his name floated as a potential independent presidential candidate. Bloomberg, reportedly, is willing to spend $500 million on a presidential race. While money solves a lot of problems, it doesn’t do everything for the New York mayor. (With that said, it’s better to have $500 million, than not.) In my piece today in the New York Sun, I report on the myriad of practical difficulties that lie ahead of Bloomberg — despite the fact that he lacks what I call “the whiff of the weird” that usually accompanies third party candidates.

“Mr. Bloomberg’s favor has plenty of money to throw at this chore, but that’s only part of the problem. He must find competent individuals who are unaffiliated with either of the major parties and who can devote time, energy, and passion to him. Independent candidacies are often the refuge of the extreme activist, the fringe enthusiast, and the agitator.

“It’s organization, it’s organization, it’s organization,” the co-founder of the New York State Independence Party and an expert in ballot access around the country, Laureen Oliver, says. Ms. Oliver, who worked on the gubernatorial campaigns of Thomas Golisano in New York and Kinky Friedman in Texas, advised Mr. Bloomberg to hire a top national election attorney, who, in turn, could supervise 50 attorneys to navigate the labyrinthine set of state election laws.”

Michael Goldman, the senior consultant of the Government Insight Group and a former host on Bloomberg Radio, bemoans the potential impact of a Bloomberg candidacy on Democrats. (Goldman is supporting John Edwards.) “If he gets in, he badly hurts the Democrats,” Goldman tells Gitell.com. “The social conservatives never would support him.”

Goldman also makes another point about Bloomberg. Like Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut in 2004, Bloomberg would be a Jewish presidential candidate. While I think the series of issues surrounding the War on Terror complicates a Jewish candidacy, particularly one by a Jewish media mogul!, it is important to point out that there are big differences between Bloomberg, a secular Jew, and Lieberman, Sabbath-observant. I heard Benjamin Netanyahu, citing Mitt Romney’s status a Mormon, quoted on WTKK radio saying that America would welcome candidates of a variety of religious backgrounds. (Having the okay of the Israeli prime minister is probably as harmful as helpful these days.)

I’d say Bloomberg’s organizational difficulties far outweigh the reigious issues.

Silence on Gaza

June 19, 2007

Some of you might remember the name Adam Shapiro. He was the so-called American peace activist who rushed to the side of Yasser Arafat when Israel’s Defense Forces surrounded the Palestinian Authority compound in 2002. An even more controversial name is Rachel Corrie, who went to the Middle East under the auspices of Shapiro’s International Solidarity Movement. She died in what an Israeli inquiry determined was an accident when she got in the middle of Israeli demolition efforts in Gaza. The Israelis were destroying shrubs, used to conceal explosives and IEDs, and looking for tunnels used for weapons smuggling. Corrie said she was there to protect Palestinian homes from demolition.

I noticed I didn’t see any of these types rushing to help the Fatah leadership last week in Gaza as Hamas’s armed gangs began executing them. In 2002, when Israel was the bad guy, Westerners hurried to the defense of Palestinians. Now, with Islamic fundamentalists carrying out much more heinous intentional executions, the hard left in America and around the world is missing in action.

“As Hamas stormed Fatah strongholds in Gaza and began slaughtering members of its rival organization last Thursday, there were no Adam Shapiros racing to Fatah compounds to protect its members. Mr. Shapiro was the “peace” activist who made a beeline for Arafat’s compound in 2002 when Israel attempted to isolate the Palestinian leader in response to terrorism.

The Web site of a group Mr. Shapiro helped found, the “International Solidarity Movement,” was promoting “Freedom Summer 2007: Confronting Apartheid,” a campaign opposing Israel’s security fence.

Posts to the site, contemporaneous with the Hamas campaign in Gaza, display support for the effort to boycott Israel’s academic establishment and memorialize Israel’s “Occupation” since 1967.

A statement decrying last week’s violence was not found, if there even was one.

The television news channels and newspapers reported no present day version of Rachel Corrie rushing to place herself in between the Fatah and the Hamas gunmen. Corrie, purportedly in defense of a Palestinian home, was killed accidentally when she placed herself in front of an Israeli bulldozer, which was clearing brush and destroying arms smuggling tunnels.

On Friday, a Haaretz reporter, Avi Issacharoff, reported a few acts of violence in Gaza: “Two days ago, Hamas activists fired at a procession of unarmed citizens and killed two of them. On Tuesday they killed three women and a child. On Monday they threw a Fatah activist from the 18th floor of a high-rise building.”

Following these reports of Hamas violence, protesters did not take to the streets of cities in America or around the world. The television news was notably bereft of footage of candlelight vigils mourning the impending disaster.”

I write about this dynamic in my New York Sun column.

6:30 a.m. Appearance with Michael Graham on WTKK

June 18, 2007

I will appear as a guest on WTKK with Michael Graham Monday morning at roughly 6:30 a.m. — give or take a few minutes. The subject will be the upheaval in Gaza and the broader Middle East.