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likud anti american propaganda

‘Anonymous’ Likud cellphone text message: “American money is bringing Arabs to the polls. Go vote!”

Likud election poster

“Troubling reports about the jump in percentage of Arab vote. Stop being complacent! Don’t allow the Left to triumph! Vote Likud.”

An Israeli has just sent me some very compelling evidence I hadn’t yet seen about Bibi’s election day shenanigans.  In the sturm und drang over his anti-“Arab” tirade, another important Bibi-meme has gotten lost.  In my election post, I translated the PM’s infamous video exhorting Jews to vote because the Arab masses were storming the election booths.  Bibi also claimed in the video that “foreign governments” were funding his defeat.  This was clearly a reference to V15, the Zionist Camp campaign team consisting of former Obama campaign operatives.

But until now I didn’t realize that the Likud explicitly blamed “American money” for getting all those “angry Arabs” to the polls.  “American” is code for “Obama.”  Linking Obama to the Arab vote is itself racist since it links a Black American president to Israeli-Palestinians (Obama=Arab) in the minds of Israeli Jews.  Yes, Bibi Netanyahu played the race card not just in an Israeli election, but in the American political arena as well.

likud racist facebook posts

Official Likud Facebook page warns of “American money” bringing “Arabs” to polls

I’m featuring here both a cellphone text message and posting to the Likud Facebook page which confirm this.  In addition, there’s another bit of incitement on Facebook featuring an image of Haneen Zoabi and Ahmed Tibi taken almost directly from the pages of Der Stürmer.  It features them swimming in a sea of red (i.e. the color of Jewish blood, get it?).  Their images look like they’re behind bars for murder.  Horrifying and shocking.

The only reason Obama’s picture isn’t included is that it would’ve been a bit too obvious, a bit too blatant.  When you play the race card you don’t want to call attention to it too dramatically.  Even racists can exercise restraint when it’s called for.

If Barack Obama ever begins to doubt his policy of placing Bibi in the deep freeze, let him come look at these images.  They’ll fortify him and remind him that Bibi is one of the world’s great lying racist con artists.  Not to be trusted.

menendez milstein

Adam Milstein, ex-felon, meeting Sen. Bob Menendez, potential future felon (charges are expected next week), at Israeli American Council Washington DC event

A portion of this post deals with UCLA Hillel.  Before I launched into the post, I wanted to juxtapose my own experience as a graduate student at this Hillel back in the 1970s with today’s reality.

Then, I was pursuing an MA in Comparative Literature.  The campus Hillel, led by Rabbis David Berner and Chaim Seidler-Feller, was my Jewish home.  Each week, I davened at the Westwood minyan, an egalitarian service attended by faculty, staff and graduate students.  It was a spiritual, intellectually challenging place of Jewish worship.  I have even heard from some former members of the minyan decades later via this blog.  On the High Holidays, I attended the services at Hillel and still remember the chazan’s hauntingly beautiful rendition of Hineni.  I helped organize the annual Jewish Culture Festival at which I arranged for Israeli poet, Dan Pagis, to give a poetry reading.

My real goal had been to engage Leonard Cohen to offer a concert, but his agent said he was off at a Buddhist monastery, dividing his life between spiritual retreat and engagement with the real world.

In those days, Hillel was a tolerant, diverse place both spiritually and politically.  It was made so because of the leadership offered by Rabbis like Chaim.  But I gather that those days are over, perhaps long over.  Rabbi Seidler-Feller clearly approved of the shenanigans described below and I know from a source he was furious at the negative coverage Hillel received in the media.  I don’t believe the Chaim I knew decades ago would have participated in this scheme (though perhaps I am wrong and didn’t know him as well as I thought).

He is retiring and will be succeeded by a young doctrinaire Orthodx rabbi, Aaron Lerner, who earned smicha at a New York Orthodox seminary.  Lerner does not believe in Jewish diversity.  He’s an implacable ideologue as proven in this email he sent to the Hillel mailing list describing the Jewish community’s enemies on campus.  He’s as much an Islamophobe as Milstein.  In fact, UCLA Hillel rejected the application of the student Jewish Voice for Peace chapter to become part of the official Jewish community. JVP isn’t Jewish enough; or perhaps Zionist enough.  When I participated in the UCLA Hillel community there was no Zionist litmus test.  Now there is.  And even worse things too.

I e mailed Rabbi Lerner with a series of questions about matters described below.  He did not reply.

*   *

I published a post a few days ago about Los Angeles real estate investor and pro-Israel philanthropist, Adam Milstein.  It delved into his past as a convicted felon, his funding of pro-Israel UCLA student government candidates, and his family foundation, which funds NGOs devoted to Islamophobia and pro-Israel advocacy.  Among them, he gives six-figure gifts to Aipac’s program to bring the national political elite on Israel junkets, and to StandWithUs.  He gives five-figure gifts to a host of others of similar ideological outlook.

A glowing profile of Milstein published recently noted that he began his real immersion in the Jewish world with the cult-like group, Aish HaTorah.  It seeks out wealthy Jewish corporate executives and pairs them with rabbis who engage in Jewish study.  The learning comes with a strong dose of pro-Israel political indoctrination.  This is how Aish has built its settler empire which includes a yeshiva next to the Kotel which is preparing for the destruction of the Haram al-Sharif and its replacement with the Third Temple.  Aish also spawned the Clarion Project and its series of Islamophobic film productions.  Milstein’s family foundation gave $60,000 to Aish according to its 2013 IRS 990.

According to a confidential source I interviewed who has knowledge of these matters, Milstein’s interest in UCLA and its campus politics relates to an obsession with defeating the BDS movement (a pro-BDS motion passed the UC Student Association, of which UCLA is a part, last month; UCLA too passed such a motion in 2014).  He, like his allies at SWU, believe that BDS is an anti-Semitic movement, a sort of Trojan Horse, whose goal is to destroy Israel.  For this reason, he believes it must be fought intensively and with all the resources the pro-Israelists can muster.

For at least the past three years, Milstein has donated funds via UCLA Hillel (another comprehensive review of the entire scandal is here) to support the pro-Israel student government slate Bruins United, an affiliate of Bruins for Israel.  Though we know that Milstein personally donated $1,000 to the slate (e-mails confirming this are published here), he also solicited funding from other pro-Israel donors.  Both he, Hillel, and the slate have refused to reveal how much external funding was given.

Milstein was much more than a mere donor.  He held strategy sessions with the executive candidates.  He held a gala fundraising event at his home attended by Hillel staff, prospective donors, and UCLA faculty and staff.  The purpose was to encourage donors to participate in the project to benefit both Hillel and Bruins United and to oppose BDS.  One wonders at the propriety of UCLA faculty and staff attending a fundraising event whose goal was to combat BDS, when such a subject might be a subject of discussion in courses, with some students likely to take positions supporting the movement.

The tweet above suggests Milstein’s enmity towards UCLA’s Center for Near East Studies, which offers courses in a wide-range of fields of study encompassing the varied societies of the Middle East including Israel and Arab states.  His Twitter feed is filled with tweets that broadcast repugnant Islamophobia as well.  Milstein makes common cause with pro-Israel advocates like the Amcha Initiative, which accuse the Center of sponsoring programming that amounts to anti-Semitism in targeting Israel for special opprobrium.

Milstein doesn’t, however, have the same feelings for another UCLA academic unit, the Center for Middle East Development, which is a project founded by, and largely featuring Prof. Steven Spiegel.  In fact, Milstein’s son-in-law Benjamin Radparvar, a member of the local Iranian Jewish community, is a PhD candidate affiliated with the Center.  Milstein gives $50,000 to it each year.

Previous reporting on this story noted that UCLA Hillel likely violated IRS regulations by acting as a conduit for the funds to student government candidates, because the ultimate recipient had no 501c3 status or charitable purpose.  Here is what the Daily Cal had to say:

 The UCLA Hillel is classified under Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C & 501(c)) as a 501(c) 3 non profit.  As a 501(c)(3) non-profit these organizations [ed., and their donors] enjoy exemption from federal income taxes.  However as clearly delineated in the IRS website under The Restriction of Political Campaign, Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations;

 “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds … clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

…If these elements qualify student elections at the UC as political campaigns for public office, then the donations to Oved’s [Bruin’s United] campaign violated federal law.

I consulted a lawyer who specializes in non-profit governance and tax regulations.  She said that there is another possible IRS violation involving the Foundation’s designation of its donation on behalf of Bruins United.  Such donations may not be directed to a non-charitable entity.  Donors may suggest gifts be directed to such entity, but the charity is under no obligation to do so.  Since in this case Hillel accepted the gift with the explicit understanding it would be passed-through to Bruins United, this is another possible IRS violation.

The tax lawyer also noted that the Bruins United candidates who accepted the funds, Avi Oved and Avinoam Baral, may be liable for tax penalties.  Officers of the UCLA Hillel board may be subject to financial penalties for approving the pass-through “gift.”  I sent Baral a message via his Facebook account asking if he’d answer a series of questions I posed.  He did not reply.

I also noted in my earlier post Milstein’s felonious abuse of IRS non-profit regulations in the Spinka scam.  There, he and his business partner (along with many other Los Angeles Jews) donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Hasidic sect, received a tax deduction, and then got most of the money back for their personal use.

The profile of the former felon features his own criminal defense lawyer singing his praises (and minimizing his legal offenses) seems part of a public relations “rebranding” effort.  It included this gem:

Milstein says he takes full accountability for his conviction, which originated when he voluntarily took responsibility for a past violation to help a friend. Ed M. Robbins, Jr., Milstein’s attorney, adds, “In retrospect, Adam finds it hard to explain why he would do it when the amount that he was writing off represented a very small fraction of the taxes that he paid.”

This self-serving verbiage sent me to the final legal agreement the defendant made with the Department of Justice.  Here in language clearly drafted by defense counsel, he explained his behavior is greater detail:

Through David [Hager], Adam also began giving to Spinka, the Orthodox Hasidic organization at issue in this case. As Adam admits, David was forwarding Adam’s checks to Spinka and was receiving a kickback from Spinka that he returned to Adam.  According to Adam, David Hager, as a child of Holocaust survivors (Mr. Hager’s wife is also a child of Holocaust survivors) felt compelled to have money “put away” in order to survive future catastrophic events…

Hager also helped Adam rationalize that his contributions to Spinka, notwithstanding the fact that these cash kickbacks were stored, were a way of offsetting the nondeductible donations he was making to his family and others in the United States and Israel.  In retrospect, Adam finds it hard to explain why he would do it when the amount that he was writing off represented a very small fraction of the taxes that he paid.  Although Adam takes full responsibility for his actions, he was clearly swayed by the high esteem in which holds David Hager.

There are several aspects of this passage that are remarkably disingenuous.  First, the idea that a Jew can justify committing a crime based on his experience as the child of Holocaust survivors is offensive.  Second, the notion that Milstein felt justification in taking an illegal tax break because he subsidized his Israeli family is, if you take it at face value, incredibly naive.  The U.S. tax system doesn’t make such allowances and he clearly knew this.  But it didn’t deter him because he felt his own good deeds entitled him to cheat the government. It shows a man easily swayed by his own inner logic.

Milstein’s counsel here does a neat job of blaming his partner for his predicament, while at the same time denying he’s doing so.  At a later point in the legal agreement, the defense claims that his client came forward despite the fact that the government had not yet approached or questioned him.  The real truth here is that Milstein feared that once they had Hager in their sights, it would just be a matter of time before they discovered Milstein’s wrongdoing.  Going to the feds voluntarily and before you’ve been implicated in a crime was a clear motive to avoid a harsher sentence (Hager served six months in federal prison and Milstein three).

His history of gifts to UCLA Hillel given through his foundation also seem to skirt the law, since the money he was laundered through the non-profit and then passed through for a purely political purpose.  This funding helped the Bruin slate win the student election.  Its president, Avinoam Baral, used his new position to spearhead the campus crusade against BDS, which eventually lost.

To exemplify Milstein’s tenuous relationship to the truth, in this profile he takes issue with Abe Greenhouse’s Electronic Intifada piece, which says that the State of Israel formally intervened in the legal case on his behalf.  EI notes that the then-Israeli consul general wrote a letter on official Ministry of Foreign Affairs stationery to the judge requesting leniency. Milstein replies:

…The letter was written by the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles but was simply a personal letter of support and far from an official Israeli government intervention, as The Electronic Intifada claimed.

Any high school senior can explain the difference between a personal and official letter.  Indeed, Milstein solicited hundreds of letters as part of his campaign for leniency.  Many are personal letters, not written on corporate or government letterhead.  A number are written on company or organizational stationary.  But the consul general’s letter is the only one written by any government representative, and it is clearly an official communication (page 207 of the plea agreement).

pro israel mentor student network pimsMilstein has introduced another ‘innovation’ to the pro-Israel toolbox: the Pro-Israel Mentor Student Network (PIMS).  It’s an ingenious program that potentially offers great political benefit to the founder’s political agenda, and material benefit to the student.  His Foundation identifies and recruits potential student leaders who will give pro-Israel campus activism the greatest boost.  As part of the terms of the mentorship agreement, PIMS and the family foundation provide pro-Israel training to the mentee.  They encourage him or her to participate in campus activities, political groups, etc.  And if they run for office, they even offer financial support.  It goes without saying that key elements of expected student activism will involve fighting BDS on campus and pro-Palestinian activists as well.

Here are the guidelines:

Student Eligibility:
Any full-time college student currently enrolled at UCLA who is interested in a “mentorship” program, which will help them towards reaching their career goals.

1. Students must demonstrate that they are (or willing to become) Pro Israel activists.
2. Students must be members of a civic organization on campus.
3. Students will go through an application and interview process to determine eligibility.

Expectation of Students:

1. To initiate the communication with assigned mentors
2. To provide a monthly report about their work with their mentor and their Pro Israel activity.
3. To attend 2 PIMS networking events.
4. To engage in Pro Israel activity on campus.
5. Be a member of a civic organization on campus.

standwithus bds conference
Student participants derive enormous material benefit: they’re teamed up with a successful entrepreneur in his field of professional interest.  The entrepreneur offers job training, mentoring, networking, resume writing and general career guidance.  The value this offers to an enterprising student is incalculable.   Given this fact, it’s entirely possible students will be drawn to this program more for the benefit it offers them, and less for the ideological indoctrination/lobbying which Milstein expects.  Presumably, that’s why candidates are vetted by staff and undergo an application process.

The PIMS website is exceedingly vague about its actual activity. It notes that there were mentor relationships during the 2014-2015 academic year.  But it doesn’t list any mentors or even company names.  It doesn’t given even general examples of student mentees or their campus activities.  The website appears to be a well-kept secret with an Alexa ranking of 8-million.  But an informed source tells me there have been PIMS parings for the past two years at UCLA.

I’ve researched whether PIMS offers paid mentorships and I am not aware of any.  I’ve emailed a series of questions about the project to the Milstein Family Foundation which did not respond.

PIMS is a profoundly troubling phenomenon.  It’s one thing for Rotary International or Kiwanis to offer college scholarships to worthy students.  But to offer young people career advancement in return for turning campuses into ideological free-fire zones appears to be a perversion of the academic process.  I do welcome the college environment as a free-wheeling market of ideas.  I expect vigorous debate about these ideas.  But I don’t expect the Israel Lobby to “fix” this contest by offering blandishments and material benefits to those who will take up the cudgels for Israel.

Thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we’ve sold our political process to the highest corporate bidders (like Sheldon Adelson).  Is that what we want to happen on campus as well?  Do we want Sheldon & Miriam Adelson Pro-Israel Fellowships disbursed to students at many of the major U.S. universities by StandWithUs and under the watchful eye of Adam Milstein?  Do we want paid internships for pro-Israel students with UCLA Hillel, SWU, etc.  This is what is in the offing if we allow things to play out as they have been.

Speaking of Sheldon Adelson, he’s a pal of Adam Milstein, who co-founded the Israeli-American Council.  The Council had its annual fundraising gala last week and raised over twice as much as it’s ever raised, $23-million.  A very sizable portion of that total came from Adelson himself.  We know from Connie Bruck’s New Yorker profile some years back that Adelson thinks Aipac is a bleeding-heart liberal outfit.  There can be only one reason Adelson would be willing to sink such substantial sums into IAC.  He sees it as the successor to Aipac; as the real hard-core pro-Israel Lobby.

It’s worth noting that Milstein and his friends at SWU will be struttin’ their anti-BDS stuff at a Los Angeles conference next week.  For a mere $400 you too can savor five “gourmet” kosher meals while rubbing shoulders with the ‘intellectual’ elite of the anti-BDS movement like Roz Rothstein, Ken Marcus, Alan Dershowitz, Noah Pollak and Gerald Steinberg.

On a special note, SWU has recruited a “moderate” Palestinian, Bassam Eid, who broke away from B’Tselem to found his own Palestinian “human rights” group, which is apparently in favor with the SWU and the Lobby.  Eid opposes BDS (natch’), UNWRA, and the Right of Return as well, making him an exceedingly pliant Palestinian.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see some of our major pro-Israel donors funding his NGO.  I searched for his NGO, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group and its website is defunct.  It does make one wonder…

boteach codepink

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

I saw this photograph a few days ago and I had to look at it a few times to see the most bizarre aspect of it.  Obvious to anyone is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the left side and CodePink founder Madea Benjamin on the right.  The event was a Washington DC panel Boteach was hosting including Sen. Ted Cruz and Elie Wiesel.

If you look very carefully in the middle of the image a woman holds up both her hands in a strange gesture.  At first you might think it was merely a gesture of disgust or fending off the noxious odor of the CodePink protesters.

mr spock priestly blessingIt took me a few looks before I realized she was holding her hands in a classic Jewish gesture, the birkat ha-kohanim (“priestly benediction”).  Anyone who’s been in Orthodox synagogues on Shabbat will recognize the benediction offered by the kohanim in the congregation.  It’s the same gesture adopted by Mr. Spock on Star Trek.

Knowing this, makes the woman’s impulse even more strange.  Birkat ha-kohanim is a blessing.  Yet she’s definitely not blessing CodePink.  If anything, she’s cursing it.  But more likely she intends it as an amulet seeking to ward off the evil emanating from the CodePink activists.

Someone please help me identify the gentleman sitting next to the woman.  I know he’s a mover and shaker in the Jewish community, but I just can’t place him.

UPDATE: Thanks to Norman Shapiro for identifying the guy as Mort Klein, the head of Zionist Organization of America (and according to the Forward, one of the most overpaid Jewish executives in the country).  So the lady is his wife.  Which makes so much more sense knowing just how paranoiac/delusional their views on on these issues.


Israeli Election Post-Mortem: Rearranging the Deck Chairs

netanyahu election cartoon

(Steve Sack-Star Tribune)

I use the term “post-mortem” deliberately, because the results of Israel’s election have been a sort of death for many Diaspora Jews and even Israelis who hoped finally to be rid of Bibi Netanyahu.  There is a sense that Bibi, with his last minute racist pyrotechnics in effect stole the election, or at least manipulated it in a way that was truly horrifying.  He invoked IDF Order 8, under which Israelis are mobilized to fight wars, in likening this election to a Israeli Jewish jihad against “Arabs” and “leftists.”  In effect, Order 8 was like a dog whistle or Pavlov’s bell, summoning the masses to feed at the trough of hate.

In shreying about the Arab masses running to polling places and foreign governments funneling shovels-full of cash to topple him, he appealed to the worst devils of Israel’s nature, to turn Lincoln’s quotation on his head.

The results cannot but worsen the growing rancidness of the Likud vision of contemporary Israel in the noses of many Israelis, Diaspora Jews and the world at large.  There is a growing sense that Israel cannot get itself out of the mess it’s in.  The only way to do this is by beginning a process of gradual outside intervention.  One way for this to commence is for the Obama administration to re-evaluate its relations with Netanyahu’s government (but not with Israel).  A carefully calibrated set of UN Security Council resolutions that ratchet up pressure could pressure Israel internally into a process of soul-searching about its future.

Major media outlets have bruited the possibility of the U.S. either supporting or refusing to veto a UN statehood resolution.  We could also support a resolution we opposed only recently, to condemn Israeli settlements in Palestine.  All we would have to do is whisper that we no longer look unfavorably on referring Israel to the ICC on a number of potential counts.  Not to mention, the expected Iran nuclear deal.  If there is such a deal and it is presented to the American public successfully, Obama will have another arrow in his quiver to use against Bibi.

How this process goes is dependent on Barack Obama.  For six years, he’s done nothing useful regarding Israel because he wasn’t willing to go to the mat for what was right.  But now, Netanyahu has smeared his face in dogs(&t after the Congressional speech and the robo-calls warning that “Hussein Obama” would force Israel to capitulate to its enemies.  The question is: is Obama riled enough to give Netanyahu the full treatment?

Today’s “congratulatory” phone call (which was more of a spanking) from Obama to Netanyahu bodes well in beginning this process of “reassessment:”

According to a senior White House official, Obama told Netanyahu that the U.S. will need to reassess its options regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in light of the prime minister’s new position rejecting Palestinian statehood.

Such terminology is usually a code-word for: we’re rethinking, as the lyrics of a country song might say, everything we once held as true regarding you.  This coincides with such a process:

On Thursday, the Obama White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, hinted at the practical implications of the current U.S.-Israel crises, making it clear that the U.S. will reassess the diplomatic support it gives to Israel. “Steps that the United States has taken at the United Nations had been predicated on this idea that the two-state solution is the best outcome,” said Earnest. “Now our ally…has said that they are no longer committed to that solution. That means we need to reevaluate our position in this matter, and that is what we will do moving forward.”

So far, as Bibi’s tried to backtrack from his rejection of the two-state solution the day before the election to his interview yesterday with NPR in which he pretended to re-endorse the concept (with significant caveats), Obama hasn’t bitten.  He’s made clear that given the choice between Bibi, the pre-election rejectionist and Bibi, the post-election [re] convert, they choose pre-Bibi.  This entire charade reminds me of the charge against John Kerry in 2004: that he was for the Iraq war before he opposed it–or was it the other way around?

The difference is: everyone knows who Bibi is and where he really stands on the issue.  He’s ag’in it.  Obama too knows who this guy is.  But is he willing to go head to head against him?  Is he willing to bring him down?

As the President contemplates these questions, he should consider Shibley Telhami’s Brookings poll of U.S. public opinion from December 2014.  Then, 39% of Americans said they favored a two-state solution and a shocking 34% said they favored a one-state solution.  In addition, 71% said that if Israel had to make a choice between its Jewishness and its democratic principles, they preferred democracy.  This will only continue on an arc trending toward BDS, toward one-state, and toward an insistence on democracy over Jewish supremacy.  There must be a collision between Israel’s conception of its future and the world’s and Israel must be brought to its senses before it’s too late.

bibi the magician

Bibi the Magician, sawing in half Lieberman, Bennett and Herzog (Biderman)

Let’s correct a few misconception about election coverage: the media is hailing this as a great Netanyahu victory.  It isn’t.  He didn’t, as Barack Obama did in 2008, draws masses of votes from centrist Americans, independents and even Republicans, to signal a great mandate for change (largely squandered, but that’s another story).  What Netanyahu did was rearrange the deck chairs on the Israeli election cruise ship.  There was no massive switch from left or center to right among the voters.  The ideological divide remains as strong as ever.  Israel is about one-third right-wing nationalist; one-third secular liberal; and the rest a combination of Orthodox, Palestinian, and left-wing.  And that hasn’t changed.  Because no party or candidate has come along to persuade people, as Obama did, to nudge their principles in one direction or another.

Here is what Netanyahu did do: he cried out to that 30% of Israel’s right-wing voters to save him from disaster–and they did.  He commanded them to return from the other right-wing parties with which they were flirting (mainly Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beitenu) and return home to Likud.  And they did.  Bayit Yehudi sunk from 12 seats in the most recent Knesset to 8 in the upcoming one.  Yisrael Beitenu sank from 15 seats two elections ago, to 11 seats in the last election, to 6 seats in the coming Knesset.  Likud won 20 seats in the last election and will have 30 in the coming Knesset.  Essentially, those two parties lost those nine seats to the Likud.

Speaking of Bibi as Magician in the accompanying Biderman cartoon, a good Israeli friend of this blog likens Bibi to the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz:

“Making believe!” cried Dorothy. “Are you not a Great Wizard?”

“Hush, my dear,” he said. “Don’t speak so loud, or you will be overheard–and I should be ruined. I’m supposed to be a Great Wizard.”

“And aren’t you?” she asked.

“Not a bit of it, my dear; I’m just a common man.”

“You’re more than that,” said the Scarecrow, in a grieved tone; “you’re a humbug.”

“Exactly so!” declared the little man, rubbing his hands together as if it pleased him. “I am a humbug.”

…”Doesn’t anyone else know you’re a humbug?” asked Dorothy.

“No one knows it but you four–and myself,” replied Oz. “I have fooled everyone so long that I thought I should never be found out. It was a great mistake my ever letting you into the Throne Room. Usually I will not see even my subjects, and so they believe I am something terrible.”

Returning to the election, the results hold true as well for the center-left coalition, the Zionist Camp, for which liberals the world over held out so much hope.  In the past Knesset, Labor had 19 seats and Livni’s Ha’Tenuah held 6.  In the next Knesset, the combined Zionist Camp will hold 24 seats.  That’s actually a net loss for them of one seat.

The other major loser was Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, which went from 19 seats in the past Knesset to 11 in the upcoming one.  Many of those lost seats went to the new Flavor of the Month, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party.

That’s why I alluded above to Bibi rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  He will move from a governing coalition consisting of far-right nationalists and center-right “moderates” to one shorn of virtually all the moderates (Lapid and Livni’s parties will be gone).  Instead, he will probably have to turn to the religious parties like Shas or United Torah Judaism, whom he spurned in the last coalition.  What’s the difference?

The other option is a “national unity” government as advocated strongly by President Rivlin.  This would be an abomination and betray the votes of both those on the left and right who supported their parties based on the ideological platforms.  But as we know from the past, Israel politicians barter their principles as often as they trade stocks on the Tel Aviv stock exchange.

Finally, and in league with what I wrote above: those who put their faith in Israeli electoral politics to bring the changes needed in Israeli society and its foreign policy are deluding themselves.  Even had the Zionist Camp won, there would’ve been little real change inside Israel: possibly some new economic reforms and a few bones thrown to the moderate left and maybe even some to Israeli Palestinians.  There’d be a few less evictions from Bedouin villages in the Negev, a few less illegal settlements (perhaps), maybe a shorter war with Hamas or Hezbollah than under Bibi.  But the changes would’ve been nibbling around the edges of the real problems.  A centrist government would’ve been no more able to sign a peace deal with the Palestinians than Bibi has been.  And it would have little interest in making the fundamental changes needed to transform Israel into a truly democratic society.  Changes which will be necessary to ensure its long-term survival as a democratic state.


A condensed version of this post was published at Middle East Eye.

 Al Jazeera English (AJE) published a treasure trove of secret “spy cables” it appears to have procured from a South African intelligence source.  Almost all the documents either originated in that country or refer to it in some explicit manner that indicates the likely origin.

A significant portion of the documents refers to the Mossad’s relationship with South African intelligence and the Israeli agency’s role in other African nations as well. The cables, written by South African intelligence (SSA) officials or written to them by other intelligence agencies, are of varying quality and credibility. Those which detail events concerning the Mossad and countries outside South Africa, at times, have the ring of rumor or exaggeration. For example, one cable speaks of the aftermath of an al-Qaeda terror attack (pgs. 42-43) in Kenya that killed Israeli tourists:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pledged to avenge the killings of the Israelis in Kenya and has deployed agents from Mossad to Kenya. Mossad agents in Nigeria have provided important details on al-Qaeda in that country. Katsas in South Africa have joined colleagues in Mombasa. Rome, Malta and Cyprus went to Kenya to assist in the investigation. Dagan also sent kidon [Mossad’s assassination unit] to find and kill the man behind the three suicide bombers. He said that no one knows for certain what success the Mossad team had. But sources in a number of intelligence services say it did kill several suspected terrorists and dumped their bodies in crocodile-infested swamps.

Kenyan media deems this story credible enough that several outlets covered it.

In contrast, those cables which relay current information about recent events in which SA intelligence was directly involved, are without doubt highly credible.
south african apartheid voerster and israeli leaders

South Africa and Israel: a Fraught Relationship

Israel has had a tempestuous relationship with South Africa (SA) fraught with numerous reversals and radical changes of policy.  In the 1950s, the Ben Gurion government sought to counter the isolation it faced from the Arab states.  It bolstered its credentials within the non-aligned world, establishing strong ties with recently-independent African states.  That meant Israeli support for anti-colonialism and the fight against Apartheid-era South Africa.

But after 1967, as both countries faced ever-mounting criticism from the international community over their policies toward ethnic minorities, Israel and SA began to discover mutual interests.  In the 1970s, they traded and exchanged the materials each needed to produce nuclear weapons.  Seymour Hersh even wrote that SA and Israel jointly tested nuclear weapons.

Israel became one of SA’s few allies.  Conversely, the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela adopted the Palestinian struggle as its own.  In this case, the enemy of one’s enemy became one’s friend.  So this fortified the sense of mutual dependency the two states had for each other.

When the Apartheid government fell in the 1990s, Israel was quick to try to change sides.  It wanted to maintain good relations with the new democratic nation.  But despite Mandela’s public statements of forgiveness for past transgressions toward South African Blacks, not everyone felt the same way.

Ronnie Kasrils, the former military leader of the ANC in exile and new intelligence minister, wanted as little as possible to do with Israel, and especially the Mossad.  He supported the Palestinian struggle, and was even believed by some within SSA to support the armed resistance.

Since this early period in the history of democratic South Africa, relations between the two nations and their respective security apparatuses have been rocky.  There has been some sharing of information and a recognition that each nation faces security threats from potential Islamic radicals.  But contentious history and new conflicts continue to rankle on both sides.  The SSA cables offer a window into the Mossad’s intelligence operations in South Africa.

Mossad in South Africa

The Mossad, wherever it operates, builds a network of local assets which both amass intelligence and assist espionage operations.  These local assets aren’t the same as those used by other intelligence agencies.  They’re often not paid for their services.  They’re called sayanim (volunteer aides) in Hebrew.  And often they’re local Jewish communal leaders or businessmen, who perform such roles out of a sense of devotion to Israel.  In SA, even members of the Board of Deputies, the highest governing body of the national community, played this role.

By means of detail [cell phone] billing it was determined that [agent’s name redacted] had regular contact with members of the South Africa Board of Deputies. It is a known modus operandi of the Mossad to utilise the Jewish community around the world…in its intelligence activities. The contact between [agent] and these members of the South Africa Jewish community can be an indication that the Mossad utilised them in its covert collection activities.

It was also established that [agent] had constant contact with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies… This body has a direct influence over the Jewish community in South Africa, with strong emotional bonds with the State of Israel.

Sayanim perform duties from the most mundane to the most strategic.  They arrange medical care, find housing, arrange logistics and finance operations.  They are in regular contact with their Mossad intermediary.  They are also asked to keep their ear to the ground and listen for any information that might assist the agent:

Sayanim also collect technical data and all kinds of overt intelligence: a rumour at a cocktail party, an item on the radio, paragraph in newspaper, and provide leads for katsas [collection agents].

The idea is to have a pool of people available when needed who can provide services but will keep quiet about them out of loyalty to the cause.

Though sayanim are upstanding regular members of their community, they carry on a double-life intimately involved in Israeli spycraft.  There are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of them around the world.  The spy cable estimates in 1998 there were 4,000 in the UK alone.

This co-optation of the local Jewish community sets a terrible precedent.  In many Diaspora societies, they are accused (often because of statements by Israeli leaders themselves implicating them in Israeli policy) of double loyalty; of having stronger loyalty to Israel than their native country.  In most cases, Jews dismiss such claims as anti-Semitic propaganda.  But with the exposure of the Mossad’s sayan culture, and turning local Jews into Israeli intelligence assets, these charges rear their ugly heads once more.  And this time with justification.

El Al as Mossad Cover

The SSA reveals in the cables it is fully aware of the role El Al plays as a major Israeli intelligence asset.  According to a SA TV documentary and the cables themselves:

“South Africa’s spy agencies concurred…that Israel uses its flag-carrier, El Al Airlines, as cover for its intelligence agencies.”

[The Israeli] spies conducted clandestine searches [at airports] on the belongings of people they deemed suspect, in violation of South African law, which only authorises police, armed forces or personnel hired by the transport ministry to carry out such searches.

Canada’s intelligence agency, clearly concerned to learn this, due to similar activity at its airports, asked the SSA to elaborate on what it had learned.  The Canadians had hired a private security firm to document that Israel intelligence was using El Al personnel in the same manner there.  The firm verified that the suspicions were true.

After an El Al security agent in 2007 became a whistleblower and informed SA TV that El Al was essentially a front for Israeli intelligence, a major scandal erupted.  It caused a major rift between the two nations.  SA threatened to cancel El Al’s landing rights in the country.  As a result, one Israeli airline security official was deported.

Further, the cable details the methods by which Mossad exploited El Al cover to assist Israeli intelligence gathering:

It was a known modus operandi of the Israeli intelligence services to utilize El Al as cover for intelligence members…45 people are employed by El Al as their security personnel at the JHB [Johannesburg] International Airport and 8 are employed at the Cargo and Passenger side…El Al has the privilege of not being searched at the restricted areas. El Al officials are also allowed to travel freely with their weapons…When a flight from Tel Aviv arrives… El Al personnel, carrying hidden handset two-way radios, disguise themselves as passengers. At check points they simply flash their EL AL cards and are allowed to go through any restricted area in the airport [as] has been agreed to by [South African security].

… El Al is of the opinion that they are responsible for the security…of Israeli planes and passengers at the airport, and therefore all the above mentioned privileges are afforded to them by.

…An lsraeli intelligence officer can enter South Africa and under…disguise as an El Al member go through all the checkpoints at the airport without presenting any documentation…One of the members of El Al has also been identified as a courier for the Mossad…His status…provides him with freedom of movement that will make it easy for him to act as a courier.

The cable notes that the recently appointed chief of El Al security at Oliver Tambo Airport was suspected of being an intelligence agent.

El Al security officers routinely harass South African travelers at airports.  A vice president of the national municipal workers union, traveling to Israel to attend an anti-Occupation conference in the West Bank village of Bilin, was strip-searched, interrogated and detained before his flight departed.  He was escorted by Israeli security to his plane one-minute before take-off.

Besides El Al, the cable notes it is an “internationally-known practice” that Israeli defense companies like Elbit and Israel Aircraft Industries play key roles in assisting the Mossad in its operations in countries where it operates.

Further, the SSA also suspects the Mossad of using the South African affiliate of the Israeli company, AMDOCS as a front for its activities in the country.  Two of AMDOCs largest customers in the country are national cell phone carriers.  Presumably, this would allow Israeli intelligence to monitor telecom traffic inside the country.  As we’ve seen with the NSA spying on the leaders of Germany and Brazil, it’s possible the Mossad could monitor the communications of the country’s political, military and intelligence leadership as well as those it suspects of terror activity.

The Mossad also facilitates the weapons needs of some of its major allies through covert activities in SA.  SSA noted in its cable that an Israeli works as a “procurement agent,” serving as a conduit for armaments Israel wants to ship throughout the African continent and to India as well.  Through him, India sought “nuclear, chemical, laser and conventional technologies & hardware” that may be procured in covertly there.  Because India understood S.A. would not sell such material directly, India set up a “parallel” procurement system.  Among items Israel has offered, are early warning and trigger systems for Indian rockets.  Some of these local Israeli companies are staffed in S.A. by ex-Mossad agents believed to be working as fronts for the agency.

Lieberman: Humanitarian Aid as a Front for African Arms Dealing

avigdor liberman kenya kenyatta

Avigdor Lieberman shakes hand of Kenyan president and accused war criminal, Uhuru Kenyatta, during Africa tour.

In 2009, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman visited five African countries, ostensibly on a good will mission to offer aid in relieving hunger, water shortages, malnutrition and improving public health.

But a SA intelligence assessment offered a darker portrait of the visits.  As you read this, keep in mind that Israel is ranked the sixth largest arms exporter in the world:

Tel Aviv’s promises to African states could be seen as the gloss on an exercise in cynicism, eg that Israel’s military, security, economic and political tentacles have reached every part of Africa behind a philanthropic facade. Africa’s 54 nations have rebuffed Israel’s diplomatic overtures for decades. Today the Netanyahu administration believes it stands a chance to breach that wall.

Tel Aviv fully appreciates the vast potential that Africa offers, in addition to copious natural resources, Africa represents strategic depth for [a buffer to] the Arab world, for which reason Israel has been allegedly instrumental in arming some African regimes and allegedly aggravating crises among others, including Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and South Africa.

Sudan offers a possible proof of this. Accused by Israeli officials of arming and supporting the Palestinian resistance [Hamas], Tet Aviv is working assiduously to encircle and isolate Sudan from the outside, and to fuel insurrection inside Sudan.

Israel has long been keen to capitalize on Africa’s mineral wealth. It plans to appropriate African diamonds and process them in Israel which is already the world’s second largest processor of diamonds. And if the composition of Lieberman’s entourage was anything to go by, lsrael is also interested in African uranium, thorium and other radioactive elements used to manufacture nuclear fuel. In addition it is looking for new markets for its range of lightweight weapons. It also appears that a few Israeli military pensioners are on the lookout for job opportunities as trainers of African militias, while other members of Lieberman’s delegation were facilitating contracts for Israelis to train various militias. The huge oil reserves in a number of African countries are also high on Israel’s agenda, with Tel Aviv seeking a share in exploration extraction and export operations.

Since the 1950s, lsrael has sought to compromise Egypt’s water security by consolidating its influence over countries straddling the sources of the Nile in the central African great lakes and the Ethiopian highlands. By keeping Egypt preoccupied with its water security Israel imagines that it can diminish Cairo’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Towards this end Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology conducted extensive experiments and eventually created a type of plant that flourishes on the surface or the banks of the Nile and that absorbs such large quantities of water as to significantly reduce the volume of water that reaches Egypt.

The cable also notes that Israel is eager to block Iranian inroads into Africa via the latter’s efforts to sponsor major development projects on the continent (much as China has been doing) to build good-will.  A major purpose of the Israeli humanitarian effort to counter Iran is Israel’s belief that the continent’s raw materials could be used to fuel Iran’s nuclear program.

Blocking Alleged Hezbollah and Iranian Terror Activities in South Africa

A major focus of Mossad activities in South Africa is to identify potential Islamist threats and planning for terror attacks that may take place outside SA.  The Mossad even embarrassed the SSA by publicly claiming that Hezbollah operatives had planned much of the Burgas attack in SA.

In 2007, the Israeli intelligence agency identified a specific Iranian in Capetown as a terror threat, because he had close contact with a suspected Hezbollah operative in Lebanon.  At a meeting between a senior Mossad official and the SSA, the Israeli asked for a quid pro quo.  In return for alerting the South Africans, Mossad expected they would monitor him and inform the Israelis on a regular basis about his activities.  The SSA officer told his counterpart that this was against protocol and could not be done.  In reply, the Mossad official stormed out of the meeting.

Further, Mossad suspects senior S.A. political figures of having sympathy for Iran and a willingness to aid its nuclear program.  Nevertheless, it would like SSA to collaborate with it in countering efforts to support Iran’s nuclear program that originate inside S.A.

The agency also believes S.A. charities like the Al Aqsa Foundation and African Muslim Agency are conduits for supporting Palestinian terrorism.  Therefore, the Israelis monitors these groups and anyone who might be considered an Islamist radical.  Agents are known to recruit assets in the local Muslim community and have been observed communicating with them covertly in rest rooms and other locations.

In order to ensure the loyalty of Palestinian and other Arab assets it recruits in South Africa, the Mossad has engaged prostitutes to “entertain” them.  The trysts are photographed and recorded in case the intelligence asset has a change of heart about collaborating.

By 2009, relations between the two national intelligence services had deteriorated to such an extent that the Mossad told the South Africans it had withdrawn its field officer from the country.  The report notes the name (redacted) and personal information about the individual it claims is the current agent overseeing S.A. affairs (though he isn’t based there and serves in Israel).

Mossad and Conflation of Security, Terror and Anti-Semitism

Israel has found a convenient method of maintaining pressure on the South African government to advance Israel’s interests: it conflates the issues of terror, security and anti-Semitism.  The Board of Deputies and Israeli embassy have reported alleged incidents of domestic terror targeting their institutions.  The AJE spy cable notes skepticism on the part of SSA, which believes these may be false flag operations:

“The South Africans even accuse Mossad of staging a bombing “to attract more attention to safety at the Israeli Embassy and other Israeli Companies”.

“A briefing on relations between South African and Israeli intelligence discussed a petrol-bomb attack at an Israeli company in South Africa in June 2001, saying another “pipe bomb” had also been found and disabled.

It also highlights a number of bomb threats made to the Israeli embassy which culminated in a man walking in to the embassy to make the same threat in person.

The South African agent authoring the report questions whether the event was all that is seemed, asking “did he actually walk-in at the Israeli Embassy or was this staged to ensure more protection,” and, “was the bombing incident also staged to attract more attention to safety at the Israeli Embassy and other Israeli Companies?”

The Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement in South Africa particularly rankles Israel and its intelligence service.  Historically, Israel understands the international role a similar movement played in the eventual toppling of the Apartheid regime.  For that reason, it’s especially vigilant about countering what it perceives as the growing momentum inside SA against Occupation and Israeli apartheid.

In July 2012, SA’s finance minister received a mysterious, hand-delivered letter. It alleged to be from an anonymous group of ex-Mossad agents, who claimed credit for creating the Stuxnet and FLAME viruses.  They threatened cyber-attacks against major S.A. financial and banking targets unless the country’s justice and police system cracked down on the BDS movement and arrested its leaders within 30 days. The cable notes the capability to implement such an attack might lie with Israelis in the SA telecom and IT sectors who might participate in such a project.

Israel fears if left unchecked, pro-Palestine activism will develop unstoppable momentum, leading S.A. to sever diplomatic relations with Israel.  This could be the beginning of the precisely the sort of domino effect that eventually brought down the Apartheid era regime.

Other protests which have alarmed Israel are:

  1. A. universities which have cancelled talks by Israeli diplomats and announced their support for the academic boycott. Palestinian solidarity groups have also hosted campus events with Arab speakers Israel alleges helped organize acts of terror in Israel.
  1. SA ministers have advocated that nation policy endorse BDS. Some have urged that South Africans not visit Israel.

The local Jewish community, according to the cables, has been co-opted into Israel’s security agenda.  SA Jews founded a security consultancy, the Community Security Organization (CSO) which functions somewhat like paramilitary organization.  It provides security for communal leaders, events and institutions.  Should the Jewish community come under attack from radical Islamist or pro-Palestinian elements, the SSA report raises the fear that the CSO may take the law into its own hands and strike back against targets viewed as the cause of violence against Jews.  It also raises the suspicion that CSO has close contacts with Mossad and plays a role in protecting Israeli interests in SA as well.

As I noted earlier, the merger of the interests of Israel with those of the local Jewish community poses a serious and unappreciated problem.  When Israel bombs Gaza or Lebanon; or murders Iranian nuclear scientists or Iranian generals, or steals Palestinian land, the Arab world may not understand the nuance that distinguishes Israeli actions from Diaspora Jewry.  If these Jews (and Israel’s leaders as well) do not create a separation between themselves and Israel—if, in fact they deliberately conflate the two—then how can they expect non-Jews to make that distinction?

In other words, much of the world understands that a Jew in Copenhagen should not be blamed or attacked because Israel killed 2,100 Gazans last summer.  But there are hundreds of millions of people who don’t read the New York Times or listen to the BBC.  They may not even listen to their own local TV news.  They may learn about the world from terribly unreliable sources.  Don’t South African Jews provide more fodder for such erroneous attitudes to survive and thrive?

south african anti tank missile mossad

South African anti-tank missile, whose plans Mossad stole

The report also raises the fear that Israeli-affiliated businesses in the country might step up their own “offensive espionage activities.”

Mossad Stole South African Anti-Tank Missile Plans

In 2010, the Mossad, through an Israel businessman and possible Mossad asset, Yitzhak Thalia, bought the blueprints for the new Mokopa air-to-ground anti-tank missile manufactured by the SA arms maker, Denel.  A senior Denel employee and the managing director of a subcontractor were offering it to intelligence agents of various countries willing to buy it.

After SA discovered the theft and sale, it demanded from the Mossad an explanation of the procurement of the secret documents and their return.  The agency responded by refusing to investigate the crime or reveal anything about it.  But it did “magnanimously” offer to return them (no doubt keeping a copy for itself) as a gesture of good faith in light of the excellent relations between the two countries.  SA intelligence kept Israel’s involvement in the crime a secret, until the AJE leak which exposed it.

Even when the two contractors were tried for selling the plans, the role played by the suspected Mossad agent (acting under an assumed name) who bought them was suppressed.  In fact, the State prosecutor lied saying the plans had never been compromised.

Mossad Lobbies SSA against Goldstone Report

In 2009, Mossad chief, Meir Dagan broke protocol and called his counterpart in the SSA.  At the time, the UN General Assembly was considering a resolution to endorse the Goldstone Report and refer it for possible investigation of Israeli war crimes during Operation Cast Lead.  Dagan sought South African support against the resolution.

Such a direct call, made to the unlisted cell phone of the SA security chief was a breach of protocol.  No one had given the Mossad his cell phone number and no one knew how Dagan had procured it.

During his conversation, Dagan told his counterpart that Mahmoud Abbas, head of the PA, opposed the referral, fearing it would strengthen Hamas, his political rival.  This, according to Abbas as relayed by Dagan, would weaken the chances for the Palestinian people to achieve their aims.  A claim that strains credulity, no doubt.

Dagan also argued that if Israel’s attack on Gaza should be found to constitute a war crime, then other terror groups around the world would be emboldened to bring similar charges against other countries fighting against them.  The Goldstone Report would, in that case, represent a “victory for terrorism.”  The Mossad chief also claimed that if Israel was found guilty of war crimes it would reduce Israel’s interest in pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

SA voted in favor of referring the Report to the UNGA, despite Dagan’s blandishments.

Mossad Contradicts Netanyahu Claims Regarding Iranian Nuclear Program

The Mossad appears to have sent its assessment of the Iranian nuclear program to the SSA.  This cable exposes the profound rift between Israeli intelligence and its leader, Bibi Netanyahu.  Instead of the latter’s repeated predictions of an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon, the Mossad’s evaluation was much more sober.

It conceded the Iranians had enriched uranium to both the 5% and 20% level.  But weaponization requires 90-95% enrichment, about which the Mossad wrote “it does not appear to be ready to enrich it to higher levels.”  If further added that “the amount of 20% enriched uranium is…not increasing.

Instead of mad mullahs bent on dragging the region into a nuclear conflagration, the Mossad suggested Iran was carefully calculating the moves it made in its nuclear program.  Progress (from the Iranian perspective) was being made.  But in calibrated ways that suggested not a nation moving full-speed toward WMD, but rather one considering its options.

Most decisively, Mossad concludes that:

Bottom line: … Iran at this stage is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons…”

Mossad’s Quest for the “Moderate,” Pliant Muslim

Al Jazeera published a 2014 Mossad survey of the “successes” of repressive Arab states in combating Islamic radicalism.  According to AJE, the document “assesses attempts across the Arab world to promote what it calls a ‘moderate’ interpretation of Islam.”  It describes the creation of government-funded theological associations of Muslim clerics, imams for hire, whose mission is to undercut the religious message of al Qaeda and other militant groups.  The network offers “paid mechanisms of political control rather than exploration of religious scholarship, to reinforce their own rule.”

The report cites a new Saudi strategy:

…Developed in 2010 under the name “Ideological Security”, whose purpose is to “restrain the spread of Salafi ideology and to formulate a…moderate perception of Islam which will be inculcated with the population”.

The Mossad recognises the power of religion as a tool to shape politics, noting that Saudi Arabia “pursues the ‘brainwashing’ of thousands of al-Qaeda detainees in order to persuade them to give up their radical thinking”. The report also notes that the Saudi authorities are “increasing supervision of the internet and social media” to stop the spread of “radical Islamic ideology.”

Israeli intelligence portrays the very Saudi government which originally boosted al Qaeda with financial and logistical support, as now having turned its back on Muslim militancy.  The Saudis are described as ardent fighters against “global jihad.”  But it’s unclear how the report squares the same regime’s generous funding of Sunni militants affiliated with ISIS and al Qaeda who are now battling against Assad’s Shiite regime.

In a phrase which speak volumes about the attitudes of Mossad officers toward their own Jewish fundamentalists (Haredim), the report describes Saudi Wahabism as the “ultra-Orthodox school” of Islam.

Egypt’s Al Azhar Islamist university sends its clerics at the behest of the military junta into the Sinai to preach sermons aimed at combating the influence of radical Islamists who have allied themselves with indigenous Bedouin in mounting terror attacks against regime security forces.

The Mossad falsely depicts the Arab Spring as being allied with, or advancing the cause of Islamic fundamentalism.  Since Islamist forces in a few countries helped topple repressive Arab strongmen, al Qaeda and its various “affiliates” like the Muslim Brotherhood, are purportedly behind the Arab Spring.

The report finds that repressive Arab regimes (Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia) first began to appreciate the danger of “radical Islam” during the Arab Spring.  This is false, as many Arab dictators were fighting al Qaeda long before this popular uprising.  In truth, the Arab Spring was the enemy of Arab autocrats, who themselves are Israel’s best allies in the region.  That is why Israel portrays movements for democracy in Arab lands as enemies to it, not because they are Islamist in nature.

Israel sees its interests served by pliant autocrats: either generals like Egypt’s al-Sisi or monarchs like Jordan’s King Abdullah.  Democracy, or the notion that the “Arab street” will have a meaningful say in their own affairs scares the hell out of Israeli intelligence and military analysts.

The report does not note Israel’s own support for the al Nusra front, which is affiliated with al Qaeda, in Syria.  Nor does it note that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab states have contributed to radical Islamists fighting the Assad regime, to ISIS and other al Qaeda groups in Iraq and elsewhere

AJE’s Clayton Swisher notes the problematic nature of this Israeli approach to the Arab world:

“Co-opting the Western “war on terror” narrative and directing it broadly against those who oppose Arab autocracy and Western policies in the region, actually suppresses the people of the Middle East from developing indigenous, sustainable answers to the region’s many dilemmas.”

Mossad Sought Intelligence from SSA on Muslim Brotherhood

Along with a general obsession with the role Islamism played in the region, the Mossad narrowed its focus specifically to Egypt.  As the tradition leader of Arab world, it has always played a major role in Israeli policy.  From the days of Nasser up to al-Sisi, Israeli leaders have either feared, connived, contained, fought, or co-opted various Egyptian leaders.

The rule of Hosni Mubarak was quite congenial.  Mubarak “handled” Hamas on Israel’s behalf.  He contained the Muslim Brotherhood and held radical Islam in check.  He was, as Margaret Thatcher famously said of Gorbachev, someone with whom we can do business.”

The irony, of course, is that Israel prides itself as a democracy.  It tells the world proudly about religious and press freedom.  Its “Arab” citizens enjoy more freedom, to hear Israeli leaders tell it, than any others in the region.  If that is indeed so, why does Israel make common cause with al-Sisi (Egypt), Abdullah (Jordan), and Salman (Saudi Arabia)?  Why does it tout democracy at home and authoritarianism abroad?

As Mubarak’s regime disintegrated during the thaw of the Arab Spring, Israeli military and intelligence analysts were in a panic.  Israel always prefers a single strongman it can buy, rather than an entire nation it can’t.  The prospect of facing the combined will of tens of millions of Egyptian citizens democratically empowered left Israel deeply fearful of the result.

That is why Mossad wrote this cable to the SSA only a month after Mohammed Morsi, the new Muslim Brotherhood president, took power.  The Israeli agency not only wanted to know what to expect from Morsi and his Brotherhood allies, it wanted to know, in its own inimitable way, what the weak points were.  Where were the levers of power?  Who controlled what?  If we need to reach or buy someone, who could it be?

The Mossad requested the following information from their South African colleagues:

“Further steps you expect the Muslim Brotherhood to take to weaken the influence of the military, the courts and Egypt’s Deep State.”

“Details on relations between President Mursi [sic] and the Muslim Brotherhood…What is the decision making process in he presidency.”

“Details on Mursi’s circle of advisors; names, functions in the presidency, ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, ties with Mursi himself.”

“Details on the steps the Muslim Brotherhood is taking to penetrate the security system (military, defense mechanisms, and police), legal system, and civilian bureaucratic system. People in these systems who are known to have/are suspected of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Al Jazeera further notes:

 …The Israelis sought detailed information on decision-making in the Egyptian leadership, and…domestic policy plans. Mossad even asked for the identities of people within the security services, judiciary and bureaucracy perceived as loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Such information would give Israeli decision-makers an extremely detailed picture of political dynamics in Cairo. It would also be very useful to anyone hatching plans to topple a government. It’s not the clear equivalent of a burglar seeking the pass code to his neighbor’s home alarm – but a suspicious mind might interpret it in that way.

After the Egyptian military overthrew Morsi, Israel was delighted.  Al Jazeera’s Swisher quotes Ehud Yaari, a fellow at the Aipac-friend Washington Institute for Near East Peace and analyst close to Israeli intelligence circles raved about the new regime:

Yaari hailed Sisi’s “intimate” friendship with Israel. “We have co-operation, unprecedented in scope and intensity and if I may say so, intimacy between Israel, the Egyptian military and the intelligence service”, Yaari told an audience in Australia . It was an unparalleled partnership, “the best ever. It never reached this point under President Mubarak, not under President Sadat”.

But it has never been clear whether the Israelis played any role in the events that brought him to power.


Israeli Election I: Likud Victory

netanyahu election victory

Encore, Bibi!

UPDATE: With 95% of the vote counted, Likud’s victory is even more sweeping than reported in this post I wrote earlier.  Jerusalem Post reports 30 seats of Likud, 24 for Labor.  Kulanu (10), Bayit Yehudi (8), Yisrael Beitenu (6), Meretz (4), Joint List (14), Yesh Atid (11).

*  *

Common wisdom says your first impression is always best.  This holds true about the Israeli election.  A week ago I wrote a post predicting that whatever the result, the Likud and Israeli far-right would win the election, cobble together a governing coalition, and things would go from bad to worse in terms of Israel’s relations with the Arab world, U.S., and rest of the world.

Then earlier today, just a few hours ago, I began hearing about desperate speeches Bibi was making via social media and the press, in which he was pulling out all the racist stops in a last-ditch effort to appeal to the nationalist base and stave off a disaster.  My mistake was to believe the polls saying Bibi was finished.  I thought his last-minute effort would fail and Bibi would be history.

But the old battle-axe fooled all the analysts and pollsters, who predicted as recently as last Friday a centrist victory and Likud disaster.  As usual, Bibi knew his constituency better than the liberals and leftists who hoped for something different.  He knew what motivated the average voter.  He knew the red-meat phrases that set them salivating.  He knew, in short, that fear and racism trumped the public’s growing impatience with his rule.

Bibi’s closing message was, modeled on Louis XIV, “Apres moi, les Arabes!”  And it worked.  The Guardian reports that Likud has picked up from four-five seats and is either equal to the Zionist Camp of even one seat ahead.  Despite the fact that President Rivlin has voiced his strong preference for a national unity government, I think he won’t be able to ignore the huge momentum which caused a 20% shift in voting patterns in the past four days that drew this last-minute surge to the Likud.  It has the momentum.  Despite my despising Likud and all it stands for, they deserve the right to form the next government.

If they do, it puts a huge windfall in the hands of Moshe Kahlon, who won nine seats.  He holds the cards, especially since he’s the only portion of the rightist coalition that bends even slightly toward the center.  Kahlon is a Likudist at heart, but a shrewd pragmatic politician.  As a minister, he helped break down the cell phone monopoly, which appealed to Israeli consumers and gave him a largely undeserved reputation as a populist concerned with social justice issues.

The last election’s Flavor of the Month, Yair Lapid, tried to take on this issue after his victory.  But he took on an economic portfolio without any real power or experience necessary to introduce real reform.  If Kahlon is smart, he will negotiate a deal to give himself real power, as opposed to a fig leaf.  This will mean that Kahlon could be a provocative member of the governing coalition.  He’s also someone with great ambition who wants to be the next prime minister.

If he takes on the social justice-economic reform agenda and succeeds, he could topple the current government at will, bring on elections, and crown himself the next PM.  This, of course, depends on his success in the ministerial portfolio he chooses for himself.

There are several losers in this election: Lapid’s causes was reduced from 19 seats to 11.  The Joint List only won 12 seats instead of the 13 expected in polls.  Lieberman barely crossed the electoral threshold.  Though other Israeli politicians have staged comebacks in the past, his days may’ve passed.  Labor is a major loser here.  It coasted on the polls saying to was sure to win.  It, in the form of its campaign leader, Isaac Herzog, offered little new other than an improved relationship with the U.S., continued talking with the Palestinians (but no peace deal), and a turn away from confrontation with Iran to economic issues.  Labor’s main platform was: we’re not him.  That’s not a platform.  That’s an avoidance mechanism.  It doesn’t offer a way forward.  It offers a way to walk away from the past without pointing to a future.

Israelis haven’t elected a Labor government in fifteen years.  And there’s a reason for that.  What did Labor offer except a slightly more centrist version of the status quo?  There are no Obamas (2008 Obamas, that is) in Labor.  There are only stolid organization men and women.

Though Bibi won a victory, he really pulled victory from the jaws of defeat.  That’s no great achievement considering this is his third term in office.  It’s very likely this will be his last.  It leaves the future open to the next rightist demagogue to dominate Israeli politics for the next 20 years.  It could be Kahlon or Bennett.  It likely won’t be Lieberman.  This isn’t a very hopeful prospect.  But given the history of the past twenty years, I wouldn’t bet on the hope and change thing for Israel any time soon.

Bibi made a promise to his voters over the past few days that there would be no Palestinian state in his next term.  He’s pointedly and publicly renounced his own previous two-state policy and U.S. policy since 1967.  Already, Likud hasbara mavens like Gidi Grinstein of Reut Institute have been telling the NY Times that since Bibi is a largely “pragmatic” politician he may yet come back to the two-state position.  And the universe may start over with a second Big Bang!

Let’s just say Bibi has an infinitely malleable relation with the truth.  He can say anything to anyone and at any time and what he says is worth about as much as the paper it’s written on (or less).  In other words, and as Sarkozy told Obama during an unguarded moment: “I can’t bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar.”  To Bibi, of course, truth is relative.  His own political interests and the survival of Israel (the two are almost always one and the same) predominate.  Truth must serve them.  When truth is useful, use it.  When it’s not, make up something that sounds like the truth.  Enough people will buy it so you can get by.

Given this, there is no room for a relationship with the Obama administration, especially given his Congressional speech and the fallout it evoked.  Considering Likud robo-calls which warned voters that “Hussein Obama” would dictate an Israeli capitulation in peace talks, I don’t think there will be any congratulatory phone calls from the White House.

The world will continue turning away from Israel.  There will be another war in Gaza or Lebanon (the link is to strategic analysis from a security think tank closely associated with Likudist ideology).  After all, Bibi has routinely used Gaza as a punching bag whenever needing to burnish his security credentials.  With his shaky government and hold on power, he will have to play the war card, perhaps more than once.  While Israel needs war for domestic political purposes, the world doesn’t.

BDS will strengthen.  Israel’s isolation will worsen.  The UN will continue the process of formalizing Palestinian statehood, perhaps even making it official.  The question is which way with the “Hussein Obama” administration go.  Will Obama continue the process he’s started of getting a spine?  Will he change U.S. policy in the United Nations?  Will he allow a statehood vote?  Will he change his approach to referral of Israel to the ICC?  These are all wild cards.  But remember Martin Luther King’s “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice?”  Obama’s borrowed it in his second inaugural address.  Maybe he’ll remember that the next time he has to make a decision regarding policy toward Israel.


Israel’s Election: Bibi and Blood in the Water

A translation of Bibi’s press conference statement:

All day, politicians speak to the media, Tzipi, Bougie, leaders of the left, they…make crude election propaganda.  The party of “Just Not Bibi” [Labor] speaks ceaselessly to the media.  It’s no surprise, the only one they decided to prohibit from speaking to the media is me, the Likud prime minister.   No one will shut our mouths.  In a democratic country, even a Likud prime minister has the right to speak his mind.

Here are the things they don’t want you to hear.  I say them to you on the internet.  There they can’t stop us.  We are at a fateful juncture.  There remains a significant gap between the Likud and Labor.  The only way to reduce it is to go to the polls and vote Mahal [Likud].  This gap arises from foreign money streaming in vast sums to leftist NGOs.  Its goal is to replace the Likud government under my leadership with a leftist government supported by the Arab List.  Ayman Oudeh, chairman of the Joint List, who supports Herzog, said it’s not just his intent to replace me, but to put me in jail for endangering the lives of Israeli citizens and soldiers.  This is the same List which says Hamas is not a terror organization, which supports Herzog; the same List with which Herzog created an agreement.  A leftist government involved with such acts will surrender everything: 1967 borders, Jerusalem, everything.

That’s why there is such a monumental effort by the leftist NGOs to bring leftist voters, especially those from the Arab sector and leftist strongholds, to the polls.  There is nothing wrong in voters, whether Jewish or Arab making their choice known.  What’s wrong is major funding from foreign sources, from foreign NGOs and governments, bringing voters to the polls in an organized fashion.  This foreign funding distorts the true will of Israeli citizens, to the benefit of the left and gives excessive strength to the external Arab List.

This may impede the right-wing bloc, so that it may not be able to form a government, despite the fact that most of the citizens of Israel support the nationalist camp with me as its leader.  We don’t have such NGOs.  We don’t have V15 [campaign group calling for ending Likud government].  We only have you, voters of the nationalist camp.

Go to the polls.  There’s still time.  Go vote Mahal to close the gap between Likud and Labor.  Vote Mahal so I can form a government to protect the State of Israel and our children’s future.  That’s why I hope the responsibility will placed with me to form a government from the nationalist camp.

We will not form a government together with Labor because there is no way to close the gaps between us.  Therefore, I turn to voters of the nationalist camp: if you want me and not Bougie to form the next government, you must vote only for Likud, only for Mahal.  There is no other party [a reference to Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi].  There are still a few hours left.   With God’s help and yours, we may still close the gap.  I ask you: stop everything, go vote, vote Mahal.

Bibi is runnin’ scared.  In fact, I’d say he’s heard from his pollsters that the situation is dire, perhaps even hopeless.  There can’t be any other reason to conduct the sort of press conference he just did, in which he sounded like a desperate, clutching-at-straws, pol about to go down with the ship.

His robo-calls warn of “Hussein Obama” dictating a shameful peace deal to the new Labor prime minister.  He cries that mysterious “foreign money” and “foreign governments” (you know who that is) have rigged the election against him.  Likud election callers warn voters of an “Arab” defense minister and Arab voters being bused to the polls by Bougie.  It’s the onslaught of “Arab horde.”  The same racist mantra used by desperate right-wing politicians the world over.  The only reason for Bibi to invoke this shameful rhetoric is if he believes the gig is up and he has no other choice.

Sheera Frenkel writes in Buzzfeed that the latest polls she’s seeing have Likud down to 20 seats and the Zionist Camp as high as 26.  While it’s possible that this is optimistic, it does indicate a trend, and a troubling one for the far-right nationalist camp.

Of course, a loss by Likud doesn’t mean all’s right with Israel.  It means the possibility of a Labor-led governing coalition for the first time in 15 years.  But will it be different?  The NY Times ran a profile of Isaac Herzog, the potential next prime minister, in which he was asked about his political influences.  Instead of choosing Yitzhak Rabin or Shimon Peres (a close family friend), he turned to an old party warhorse, Levi Eshkol.  This is the prime minister who fought the 1967 War.  The one who brought not just decisive victory, but the settler regime.  Eshkol is responsible for the incipient rise of settlerism in Israeli society.  Though he died in office in 1969, before the Greater Israel movement had swept the nation, he allowed the groundwork to be laid for this national disaster.

Bougie, as Herzog is popularly known, is a similar sort of colorless, uncharismatic figure as Eshkol was.  He’s an organization man.  His organization is the Zionist middle.

Much has been made in the media about the rise of the Joint List.  It’s polling 13 seats.  Bibi is screaming from the rooftops: “The Arabs are coming, the Arabs are coming!”  He invokes the specter of the Arab Fifth Column getting cabinet seats; even an Arab defense minister.

But let’s be realistic: it ain’t gonna happen.  It should happen, but it ain’t.  Herzog, even if he wanted to, could not call on Palestinian parties to join his governing coalition.  It would drive the far-right insane.  There would be a repeat of the 1995 rallies that led to Rabin’s assassination.  They’d dress Herzog and Livni is SS uniforms once again, as they did Rabin.  They’d march around with coffins marked “Zionist dream” as they did with Rabin.

There is a political taboo in Israel.  “Arabs” may be seen but not heard.  They may exist, but not too robustly.  They may live in Umm al Fahm, but not sit in the cabinet in Jerusalem.  To violate this taboo is too painful, too shocking for Israeli Jews to contemplate.  This is why Bibi’s decline doesn’t mean real change is one the way.