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barenboim west eastern diwan orchestra

Barenboim conducts West-Eastern Diwan Orchestra

Daniel Barenboim is far more than a brilliant orchestral conductor.  He is a human being, a mensch.  Though raised in Israel (but not born there), he has always risen above the insular world-view of many Israelis, especially regarding its relations with its neighbors in the Arab world.  Together with Edward Said, he founded the West-Eastern Diwan Orchestra (WEDO).  It is an amazing project which integrates two halves of Barenboim: the musician and the moral man.  He created a world-class orchestra of Israeli and Palestinian musicians who not only perform together, but also live out their values of peaceful co-existence through their music.  For his efforts he’s been honored the world over.

Barenboim also conducts the Berlin Philharmonic, and persuaded the German government to help organize a concert tour to Iran.  He expected opposition from the Israeli government, which hates everything he stands for.  And he got it.

Israel’s culture minister is former IDF spokesperson, Miri Regev.  During riots against African refugees, called them a cancer in Israel’s body.  When she faced criticism for her statement, she apologized: to cancer victims.  On hearing of Barenboim’s project, she flew into a rage and demanded that German Chancellor Angela Merkel cancel the tour.  She wrote on Facebook:

This melody we must stop.  Barenboim promotes an anti-Israel line against Israel [sic] and takes pains to smear it through culture; using it as leverage on behalf of his political views against the State of Israel.  This is a bad decision by Germany’s Chancellor.

I plan today to write a letter to German’s foreign ministry representatives arguing that Daniel Barenboim’s appearance harms Israel’s efforts to prevent a nuclear agreement and lends strength to the delegitimization of the State of Israel.

Iran supports terror stands behind Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas.  Its [Iran’s] leaders have blood on their hands.  I believe that Germany will act appropriately and cancel the performance of its orchestra and her conductor.  There is no reason for celebration and certainly not for an orchestra.  The notes from Tehran are grating and dangerous

In the comment section below, SimoHurtta makes a point that occurred to me while writing this, but which somehow slipped out of my mind before publication.  Note Regev’s indignation that a Barenboim appearance in Tehran will harm Israel’s efforts to sabotage the deal.  Which is of course true.  But she forgets that Germany is one of the P5 signatories to the deal.  As such, it wants the deal to work and opposes Israel’s position.  So why should Chancellor Merkel give a fig what Regev says on the subject?  This shows Israel’s deep narcissism, by which every issue is refracted in a mirror through which the nation may only see itself; a mirror that obstructs the view of anything or anyone else in the world.

It turns out Regev didn’t need to put in her two cents.

As if on cue, the hardliners in Tehran responded likewise.  Barenboim, the Israeli artist who has done as much as any to chart a different cultural course regarding Israel’s relations with the Arab and Muslim world, has been banned from Iran.  His crime: he is an Israeli.  It doesn’t matter that he’s also a Palestinian, Argentine and Spanish citizen.  It doesn’t matter that he was born in Argentina and only came to Israel when he was 7 years-old. It doesn’t matter that his entire career is based in Europe, he lives in Berlin, and that he is hated in his homeland.  What rankles the hardliners is one of his four nationalities.  The land in which he lived for a decade or so trumps values, as it trumps ideas.  It does not matter what you think or believe.  What matters is what religion you profess or the place where you lived once upon a time.  It is as if the land somehow poisons the person.  This is a tragedy.

I’ve just learned that another problem for Barenboim may be his relationship with the BDS movement.  In 2010, PACBI argued that the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was boycottable because it didn’t take a sufficiently robust position against Occupation.  The claim was that the Orchestra did not incorporate a truly progressive political analysis of the conflict into its cultural-musical mission.  While I’m sympathetic in general to this view after reading Raymond Deane’s post, it also seems a shame that WEDO is subject to an Iranian boycott when it can play an important role in offering a cultural opening for Iran to the outside world.  In the context of all the hate and ignorance offered by the Israel Lobby, Israeli government and media concerning Iran, it would be wonderful to offer a counter-narrative.

Though I’m sure Omar Barghouti would disagree, I prefer Iran promoting its own national interests.  Turning down an appearance by Maestro Barenboim advances the cause of BDS perhaps (though that’s arguable since Iran isn’t even acknowledging its refusal is based on this criteria), but spoils an opportunity to present Iran favorably to the world.

Iran cannot find a braver human being willing to do what is right without regard to nation, tribe or religion, than Daniel Barenboim.  Let’s hope it reconsiders.

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Ehud Barak is cooperating on a new biography about his political life.  As part of the hoopla surrounding the book’s publication, its co-authors and Barak himself are spilling beans right and left.  They’re telling the media about the most intimate of internal cabinet deliberations about going to war with Iran.  They’re exposing secret Mossad operations in Europe (minutes 7-8 in above video) to penetrate Hezbollah’s electronic warfare capabilities.  All for the greater glory of Ehud Barak and book sales.

Barak, the defense minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s last government, told his the co-authors (and they dutifully reported this on network news) there were no less than three separate instances (Hebrew) in which Israel was on the verge of attacking Iran during his tenure.  In all three, various circumstances interfered with the decision and cancelled plans for war.  In the first instance, Israel’s security cabinet turned in 2010 to IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and pressed him whether the army was sufficiently equipped and prepared to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities.  His answer was No, according to Barak.  Due to a furious, long-term feud between the two, this clearly is meant to depict Ashkenazi as an indecisive commander who couldn’t or wouldn’t get the job done.

One year later, a new chief of staff, Benny Gantz, told Netanyahu and Barak that the army was now prepared to undertake the mission.  At that point, the two politicians turned to their security cabinet for approval of the plan.  But after a sobering presentation by military and intelligence officials, which pointed to the difficulties and potential losses that might be involved, two ministers they’d believed were in their camp, Yuval Steinitz and Bogie Yaalon, withdrew their support.  No longer commanding a majority in the eight-member security cabinet, Netanyahu and Barak were again forced to shelve the plan.

Then in 2012, Israel again prepared to launch an attack.  But a major Israel-U.S. joint military exercise had been previously planned for precisely this period.  Israel requested a delay in the exercises, but the U.S. refused.  Even this reckless government was unwilling to begin a war against Iran with U.S. generals and the secretary of defense sitting in its midst.  Especially considering that Israel knew that America opposed such an attack and considered it against our own national interests.

Last May, Barak was interviewed by TV Channel 1 on the 15th anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.  Barak, who reminds me in some ways of Tony Blair, thinks highly of himself and is always keen to defend his record.  He is the smartest guy in the room.  Only he knows how to get the job done.  Everyone else are whiners, cry-babies or political dwarves (no insult intended against actual dwarves).  In actuality, he’s so conniving and unlikable, and his ideas are so unremarkable that he commands no respect in Israeli politics.

The TV interviewer asked Barak to defend against the charge that the retreat from Lebanon emboldened Hezbollah and eventually turned it into the formidable fighting force it is today–with the capability to hit most of the country with rocket fire should there be another war.  The former defense minister argued, correctly, that Israel’s entrance into, and ongoing occupation of southern Lebanon inspired the creation of Hezbollah.  Further, in the early days, Mossad operatives saw Hezbollah as a formidable buffer against Israel’s then number one threat, the PLO.  They traveled to Lebanon and connived to launch the new group, a fact almost unknown today.  In other words, it wasn’t leaving Lebanon that made Hezbollah the powerful enemy it became, but entering it.

In the course of justifying his record, Barak betrays a top-secret Mossad operation in Europe.  One of the Lebanese Shiite group’s key guerilla weapons were IEDs deployed in ambush of Israeli patrols.  To counter these lethal devices, the IAF developed electronic warfare capability that jammed the devices so they could not harm Israeli forces.  But at a certain point, the IAF realized that its electronic jamming was no longer working and the devices were successfully exploding and taking out Israeli military units.  To determine what had happened, the Mossad undertook a top-secret mission in Europe to expose the supplier the Hezbollah micro-processors which were defeating the Israeli jamming.  Once it discovered that, it could take counter-measures to defeat this technology.

In exposing this operation, Barak has done several remarkable things: he’s revealed that the Mossad had penetrated and mastered Hezbollah IEDs.  It knew how they operated and had a pretty good idea of how to defeat them.  Once it obtained the new micro-processors which were defeating the IAF, Mossad could then scour Europe for the supplier, obtain the blueprints, and turn them inside out.  The result being that the IAF could resume its work in defeating the IEDs.

These IEDs may also have been created by Iran, which also used similar weapons in Iraq to attack U.S. troops.  If so, Barak not only tattled on Hezbollah, but he revealed sensitive military intelligence on Iranian capabilities as well.  An even more serious offense.

I’ve often reviled Israel as a national security state in which secrecy is king and transparency is detested.  So many Israelis from Mordechai Vanunu to Anat Kamm to Ben Zygier have paid a terrible price for their own ‘sins’ against the intelligence apparatus.  Zygier is particular is tragically relevant.  He too exposed a Mossad operation involving an espionage cell operating within Hezbollah.  Except for his troubles, the Australian-Israeli was arrested in secret, held incommunicado for months, threatened with decades in jail, lost his wife, and then committed suicide.  All under the ‘watchful eye’ of the prison authorities and their friends in the Mossad.

As you can see, there are exceptions to the rule: if you’re powerful, if you know how to press the levers of influence, if you know where the bodies are buried, you can do or say virtually anything you want.  Generals, spy chiefs, prime ministers leak like a sieve.  They reveal secrets that would land any other Israeli in prison.  And they do it not once or twice, but serially.  Without any cost to themselves or their reputations.

Yes, Barak will be investigated.  The far-right will raise their voices in disgust at his ‘transgressions’ (forgetting that “their” settler ministers do far worse–they spy on IDF units and then betray them to settlers so that they may attack them).  But it will come to nothing. If they prosecuted Barak he’d tell-all to the police and the courts about worse sins committed by prime ministers, presidents and others among the political élite.  It’s a terribly incestuous, corrupt lot.  And there’s no such thing as accountability.  Which is one of the reasons Israel is in the mess it is.

NOTE: I’ve just published my latest Mint Press News contribution, Palestinian-Americans Aren’t Welcome In Israel.  It recounts the ordeal of Prof. George Khoury, deported from Israel because he was Palestinian-American and seeking to go on a religious pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  These widespread deportations are a latter-day from of ethnic cleansing, a phenonenon well-known in Israeli history from the Nakba on.  Please read and promote on social media.

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Iran to Open Israeli Embassy?

iran israel relations

Banner on Tel Aviv street corner: “Here Iran’s embassy in Israel will soon open.”

No, not really.  At least not yet. But since Britain has just reopened its shuttered embassy in Tehran, it seems appropriate to think about what the future may hold for Israel-Iran relations.  Of course, extremists on both sides (the IRG and Israel’s political leadership) will make life miserable for the other side.  They will sabotage normalization and rapprochement.  But there will come a time when Israel and Iran will have to recognize reality and attempt to repair a relationship in which bridges were burned nearly 40 years ago.

That’s why this little bit of guerilla theater (Hebrew) is so wonderful.  Someone unveiled this huge banner on a Tel Aviv street corner.  It says: “Here Iran’s embassy in Israel will soon open. For details call 03-3739000.”  The Facebook entry is here.  It has over 2,000 Likes and 900 Shares!

You can be damn sure as soon as Bibi heard about this the city maintenance crews rushed to take the thing down.  We can’t have messages of love and hope when we’re trying to stir up a war.

Speaking of which, the latest hot story (Hebrew) is a book Ehud Barak is writing with two collaborators.  Apparently, the co-authors cooperated with a TV news producer to reveal the juiciest tidbits.  I wanted to host the video here, but Israeli media websites are unbelievably balky and fickle and I couldn’t get it to display properly. So you’ll have to follow the link to watch it.

Barak reveals for the first time that he came inches from launching an attack on Iran three separate times when he was defense minister.  One of the times, two ministers, Bogie Yaalon and Yuval Steinitz balked and refused to provide the votes necessary to attack.  Yaalon, now playing the role of the chief hawk as current defense minister, denies the story vehemently.  Another time, IDF chief of staff Gadi Ashkenazi wisely told Bibi and Barak that the army wasn’t ready to execute such a complicated military attack.  The third time Barak claims a joint U.S.-Israel military exercise interfered with the war plans.

NOTE: I’ve published a new piece at Mint Press News, It’s Time to Hold Israel, Israelis and American Jews Responsible for Terrorism, outlining a proposal to hold Israel responsible financially for terror attacks by its citizens and military against Palestinians.  Yahoo picked it up and it now has nearly 2,000 comments!  I’ve never seen anything like it.  I will have a new piece published there tomorrow telling the harrowing story of Dr. George Khoury’s expulsion from Israel-Palestine in the context of Israel’s long-standing policies promoting ethnic cleansing.  Please give them both a read.

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The controversial Israeli-Palestinian performer, Jowan Safadi, produced a new song, It’s Hard to Be an Arab, which features a provocative YouTube video.  When I first listened to it without knowing anything about Safadi, I thought he might be a Mizrahi Jew satirizing his own ethnic community’s prejudices.  But after hearing the song’s lyrics, it became clearer that he was a Palestinian commenting on the ironies of being an Mizrahi “Arab” in an Ashkenazi dominated State.

The song is deeply subversive.  It portrays a deep-seated form of self-loathing (or at least inferiority) that besets Mizrahim who seek, above all, to be accepted despite their alienness within a society and culture dominated by Ashkenazi-ness.

Here are the lyrics:

Hardcore homophobes
Are the most gay on the inside
Mizrahi Arabophobes
Are themselves Arabs
Who are just afraid
And prefer to stay in the closet
Because they know, they know best
That to be an Arab is not so great

It’s hard to be an Arab
It’s really hard, just ask me
It’s hard to be an Arab
How much can one be black
Under the rule of the rich and white
In a nation of racists.

Sephardis, Mizrahis
Once they too were Arabs
They changed their names
To change their fate
Because they know, they know best
They know better than anyone
They know, they know best
They paid the bloody price
They learned it on their skin

It’s hard to be an Arab
It’s really hard, ask me
It’s hard to be an Arab
How much can one be black
Under the rule of the rich and white
In the racist state

Listen to me, dude
You need to know where you came from
And where you’re going to
And what you’re gonna find
Standing in the streets and chanting death to Arabs and such shit
You’re an Arab man, more fucked than I am

Hey you imported Arab,
Take it from a local Arab
You were dragged here
To settle in my place

It’s hard to be an Arab
It’s really hard, ask me
It’s hard to be an Arab
How much can one be black
Under the rule of the rich and white
In the land of Palestine.

A portion of the video is fairly static and boring with Safadi singing in the backseat of a car with women swaying and accompanying him.  But the really interesting part of the video includes a side story featuring a Mizrahi dressing himself for confrontation with Safadi.  In preparation, he dresses and makes himself up much like an actor before taking to the stage.  He puts on a t-shirt displaying a Lehava logo (the anti-miscegenation, terror-supporting NGO).  Then he paints a Jewish star on his face and dons a necklace with a Jewish star.  Safadi cleverly shows these to be the affectations Mizrahim must adopt to become part of the Israeli Ashkenazi mainstream.  They are the symbols of separation and hate which divide them from their own Arab roots.

At the confrontation at the beach, where the Mizrahim take out their clubs and prepare to beat the Palestinians, Safadi begins to lecture them about their second-class status.  Instead of assaulting them, the Mizrahi street-toughs absorb the lesson and even shrink from the truths the singer reveals to them.  But the real kicker is the last word of the last line.  The last lines of the previous stanzas each referred to Israel as a racist state.  But in that very last line, Safadi pulls a switch.  Instead of referring to Israel he ends with the words, “the land of Palestine.”  This shocks the toughs even more than the lecture they’d been previously given by Safadi.  The two camps, the Mizrahim and Palestinians, seem to be frozen at these shocking words.  It’s a stand-off. It’s not clear whether a real riot will ensue.  At this point, the video ends and you don’t find out how it was resolved.  Which is a perfect ending that fits the current situation in Israel-Palestine.

A word on the phrase, “it’s hard to be an Arab.”  Given Safadi’s brilliant subversive skills, I’m certain he knows the Yiddish phrase from which this originates: T’iz shver zu zein a Yid (“it’s hard to be a Jew”).  It is a saying meant to encapsulate hundreds of years of Jewish suffering, but specifically the suffering of European Jewry in the 19th and 20th centuries.  It speaks of pogroms, massacres, blood libels, Inquisitions, Holocausts.  It speaks of poverty, prejudice and second-class status.  Of Sholem Aleichem and Tevye.  It speaks of religious hatred.  All the things that Palestinians (and Mizrahim) suffer in contemporary Israel.

The brilliance of this is its appropriation of the suffering of the Ashkenazi Jews, and then turning it back as a mirror upon itself.  As if to say: once you were the Arabs of Europe.  Now, here in Israel you have become those who despised you.  Remember your history.  If you do, you will not inflict it on others.  If you don’t, you will become the very thing you hated.

Make no mistake: there is a price to be paid for such clarity and fearlessness.  Palestinian artists do not enjoy the liberty of speaking their minds and being free to go about the rest of their business unmolested.  No, the very Ashkenazim he takes on fight back; and they do so with a vengeance.

In 2010, Safadi performed the song, The Search, which contained the ironic lyrics:

“I’m a terrorist, but I have no explosive belt around by waist
I have no bomb under my arm, no machine gun on my shoulder
I’m a soldier in the army of conscience
I’ll shoot you with bullets of poetry
I’ll assassinate you with a monologue
I’ll commit suicide with the bomb of a dance troupe and I’ll torture you with the beat of drums”

Any high school literature student could parse this and understand that it is meant metaphorically and ironically.  But not the far-right settlers.  They deliberately mistranslated the lyrics:

“I’m a proud Arab, a suicide bomber
I will murder your mother and your sister too.”

Apparently, irony is not the strong suit of Israel’s fascist class.  But just to be safe, they mangle the lyrics with literalness.  It took four years before the Israeli judicial system finally cleared Safadi of any wrongdoing.  And it did so only after he sued the State demanding to be declared not guilty of any crime.  Reluctantly and begrudgingly, it conceded his point.

This is what it’s like to be an “Arab” in Israel.  Always a suspect.  Always an enemy.  Always feared and hated.

H/t Iftach Shavit.

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mohammed allan hunger striker

Allan is now in the 65th day of his hunger strike

The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that hunger striking Palestinian prisoner,  31 year-old Mohammed Allan, will be released from administrative detention…but only if medical tests show that he’s suffered “irreversible” damage as a result of his 65-day hunger strike.  Apparently, a healthy Allan was a grave national security threat.  While a near-dead Allan poses no such threat.  While the Court has done the decent, humane thing, it erased any good will it might’ve generated by compelling Allan had to prove that his ordeal had caused damage to his body and mind so severe that it supported freeing him.

If he recovers and shows no sign of permanent damage, he could be rearrested and forced to serve the remainder of his term under administrative detention.  Further, he could be rearrested at any time by authorities under a new order.  Such is the caprice of the Israeli legal system regarding security offenses.  Under administrative detention, a victim need not be charged with a crime.  And such detentions may be extended for six month periods indefinitely.  That is why prisoners have begun to resort to hunger strikes.  Killing themselves seems to be the only message that moves the hardened Pharaonic hearts of Israel’s security services.

Israel was placed in this “awkward” position by a ruling from the national medical association refusing to participate in force-feeding him, which had been the prison service’s plan.  After no doctor would agree, it had to let the hunger strike run its course.  It is a pleasant surprise that the Israeli security police couldn’t mange to find a professional willing to perform such a ghoulish procedure.  Keep in mind, that a number of countries including the U.S. do permit force-feeding of hunger strikers.

This is a cold, brutal judicial decision in line with a string of such judgments offered by this Court since a hardline majority took over in the past several years.  Lest any apologists continue prattling about the liberal views and support for human rights offered by the highest judicial body as a counter to the racism of the legislative branch, the days of Aharon Barak are long past.  Nor are we likely to see such a person on the court in the future.

That doesn’t mean the extreme right in Israel is any less angry at this Court.  In fact, one minister said last week the Court should be “bulldozed.”  Apparently, having a court that is obeisant to the right-wing policies of the government as this one is, isn’t enough.  They want a Court that opens its sessions with the Likud anthem and swears allegiance to Rabbis Ginsburgh and Lior.

NOTE: I recently published a long piece for Mint Press News on the fate of Gaza civil engineer, Dirar Abu Sisi, railroaded by the Israeli justice system into a 21-year prison sentence.  I will now be publishing weekly for Mint Press.  My author page is here, where you may find all my articles.  A new piece of mine, calling for holding Israel financially culpable for acts of terror by its citizens, will be published there either today or tomorrow.

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Netanyahu Names Danny Danon as Israel’s UN Ambassador

Israel has had a remarkably “varied” string of UN ambassadors.  Some were distinguished statesmen like Abba Eban, Gideon Rafael and Yosef Tekoah.  Others like Ron Prosor were affable hatchet men doing their country’s biding in the world’s most august body.  Dore Gold was a hatchet man with no affable qualities whatsoever.  With the impending appointment of Danny Danon to this post, Israel has reached a remarkable milestone: it has named one of its most racist, thuggish and corrupt rising young politicians to represent it before the world body in New York.  Aside from these virtues, Danon was fired from his last ministerial post (as deputy defense minister) when he criticized his boss, the prime minister, for not killing more Gazans during Operation Protective Edge.

danon & ben ari

Then MK and minister Danny Danon embraces Kahanist rabble-rouser Michael Ben Ari

danon netanyahu cartoon

In this Haaretz cartoon, Bibi kicks Danon out of a space capsule just over UN headquarters in New York. Danon is currently minister of space, science and technology (!) (Biderman)

Danon also challenged Netanyahu for the Likud party leadership post during the last set of primaries.  He has, like several other far-right politicians (Avigdor Lieberman, Gideon Saar), his sites set on the premiership.  Netanyahu, being the eminent political survivalist he is, knew the surest way to defang his young nemesis was to ship him off to New York.  While it will offer Danon a certain political platform, it will also remove him from the Israeli scene physically and politically.  If you want to topple a prime minister you can’t do it from New York.

We also shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of an explicit quid pro quo between the two men: Danon goes to New York and in return doesn’t mount a challenge to Bibi till the end of his ambassadorial term (four years).  To sell the post, Netanyahu’s aides inevitably pointed to the fact that Bibi exploited his own time as Israel’s UN ambassador to burnish his leadership and diplomatic credentials before returning home to eventual triumph as minister and eventually, premier.  None of that would be lost on the ambitious Danon.

Danon, of course, has no qualifications for his post: he speaks English poorly and is barely understood during interviews to which I’ve listened.  He is not a charismatic politician or public speaker.  He is not known in diplomatic circles, either in the United Nations or in the Obama administration.  He vehemently opposes the two-state solution and is saddled with a host of wildly inflammatory racist statements he’s made over the years.

In the accompanying YouTube video he produced to promote his Likud primary challenge against Netanyahu, he featured himself as a western sheriff riding into town to clean up the mess made by ornery, uppity Palestinians like Haneen Zoabi and her fellow Palestinian MKs.  To the rollicking strains of Oh Susannah!, he swaggers into a “saloon” over whose front door hangs a sign, “Knesset” (the truest part of the video), throws them behind bars and then boasts that his candidacy represents the “return of the real right wing,” the inheritor of the mantle of Jabotinsky and Begin.  Presumably, this means that Netanyahu is simply a placater and poseur. Thanks to Ronnie Barkan for English captions.

Netanyahu has announced two other appointments that will make the heads of veteran Israeli diplomats spin: Mark Regev, Bibi’s English-language spokesperson known for serially lying on behalf of his boss and country on media platforms the world over, will become UK ambassador.  Veteran “moderate” settler activist Danny Dayan, will become ambassador to Brazil.  Dayan pointedly refused to “bring home the [Olympic] gold” for Israel in the Rio Games.  But given his prior experience running the settler political lobby, Yesha Council, the settler should consult with Brazilian oligarchs seeking to dispossess the native tribes of their lands.

The common thread to all these appointments is the desire on Bibi’s part not to mollify or conciliate with the nations and bodies in which these figures will serve, but rather to pour oil on the fires.  On Facebook, Israeli Emilie Moatti, using a verse from the traditional haggadah recited each year on Passover (“spill your wrath upon the nations” [“goyim”]), said Bibi, in naming Danon to his new post wanted to offer him the opportunity to vent his wrath not just within Israel, but upon all the nations of the world.  Something the ambassadorship offers him in spades.

Brazil, ruled by a leftist government, has a thriving activist community supporting the Palestinian cause and BDS.  In the warped mind of a Likudist, the best way to approach such intense anti-Israel sentiment isn’t appointing a diplomat who can win over opponents, or even debate with them on even terms.  No, the best approach is to send over a settler who openly detests Palestinians and supports stealing their land and building Israeli settlements on it.

Returning to Danon: he’s known for his fundraising skills among American Jewish circles.  He’s also cultivated ties to the GOP leadership including such dubious characters as ex-Rep. Michael Grimm, who was sentenced to eight months in federal prison for tax fraud, which forced him to resign in disgrace.  Reports allege that Danon is heard on Israeli police wiretaps defending Grimm and deriding his accuser, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto.  Another of Danon’s partners in crime is the New York sleazeball publicist, Ronn Torossian.  It is he and Danon heard discussing ways of keeping their pal, Grimm out of jail.

Torossian also hopped on the Grimm-Pinto gravy train and took a cut of the funds that Israeli porn producer and ex-drug dealer Ofer Biton raised by browbeating Pinto followers into donating to Grimm’s 2012 Congressional campaign.  Many of them did so illegally, having been falsely told that as Israeli citizens they were permitted to give to U.S. political campaigns.  Even worse, they were told that if they donated, the Congressman would help them get their green cards.  This resulted in enriching Grimm’s campaign coffers to the tune of $500,000.

After being alerted by Israeli journalist Amir Zohar, I reported yet another bizarre fundraising scheme in which Danon was involved together with several veteran Likud fixers.  A wealthy American Jewish donor gave $800,000 to a Danon initiative via the Koch Brothers philanthropic vehicle, the Donors Trust.  The attraction of giving through the Donors fund was that the gift was anonymized.  No one can trace this gift back to its source, which launders it nicely for anyone concerned their reputation might be tarnished by association with Danon and his confederates.

The venture in question, Community Action Centers Partnership, while registered as a non-profit in the U.S., is not legally registered inside Israel.  It’s mission is portrayed differently depending on the context.  One such description offered this:

Reduce juvenile delinquency and provide youth education programs and activities with the aim of developing more spiritually aware and diverse individuals who respect Israeli history, culture and traditions.

It received the anonymous donation, but there’s no way to trace how it was spent.  We know that CACP donated several hundred thousand dollars to Orthodox Jewish charities.  One was sponsored by Young Israel, one of the most rabidly pro-settler groups in the Orthodox community.  We also know it sent $45,000 to an unnamed source in Israel on behalf of an “education” project.  But there’s no way to know how the funds were used or by whom.

Another figure prominent in this scheme is Michael Eglash, an Israeli-American publicist and promoter of various Israeli state projects sponsored by the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund, various government ministries, and others.  Eglash is listed as the president of CACP.  But he refused to respond to two separate attempts I made to contact him with questions about his NGO, its mission, and funding.

Eglash is the husband of Washington Post Israel correspondent, Ruth Eglash.  Her husband’s flacking for various pro-Israel causes raised red flags with media watchdog outfits like FAIR and Electronic Intifada, which complained that the Post’s objectivity would be compromised by having one of its reporters so intimately tied to a promoter of pro-Israel causes.  The Post refused to consider the complaint and Eglash, who once worked for the Likudist shmatteh, the Jerusalem Post, continues to contribute regularly to the Post’s Israel coverage.

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eli valley ghosts in the machine

[Eli Valley, New Republic]

A few days ago Amir Oren wrote a persuasive essay arguing that Israeli intelligence’s portrayal of Meir Ettinger, currently under administrative detention and suspected of masterminded several terror attacks, as a threat to the State is vastly overstated.  He asserted that this claim was a mask to conceal the State’s unwillingness to address the broader issues of Jewish terror.  Israel’s political élite has too much sympathy with the aims of this movement to extirpate it, as would be required of any other democratic state.

I’m very sympathetic to this belief because I know that Israeli intelligence (and Israel itself) either doesn’t want to, or can’t root out this poison within.  It’s natural when such terror goes too far, as it has with the two murders by radical ultra-Orthodox Jews, to focus on a single bad apple.  Make an example of him, put him away, then pretend you’ve addressed and eliminated the problem: poof, no more Jewish terror–till the next time.

But I have a lingering doubt about one aspect of this theory: settler terrorism is a real threat.  A significant segment among the settlers really does wish to overthrow Israel’s so-called secular state and replace it with a Davidic monarchy.  They also seek to destroy Haram al-Sharif and replace it with a Third Holy Temple.  They would be more than willing to provoke a final Armageddon-like holy war between Judaism and Islam (or Israel and Palestine).

One may argue, as Oren did in Haaretz that whatever the beliefs of these individuals, they are no match for the power of the State.  If it wished, it could snuff them out like a match.  But I’m not so sure.

Radical Settlers: Turning Outliers into Rulers

In the 1970s and into the 1980s, before the settler movement grew in political power it has today, many Israelis and Diaspora Jews made the mistake of dismissing the views of Meir Kahane.  These settlers were viewed as political extremists, outliers, rabble-rousers.  They were even banned (i.e. Kach) from serving in the Knesset.  They were a few lunatics screaming epithets and possessed of insane religious zeal.  As much as possible, liberal Zionists created a separation between the “real” Israel, the “good” Israel, and the crazy zealots shouting from the hilltops of ancient Judea.  In those days, you could legitimately compartmentalize Israel in this way.

But the settlers were smart and the liberal Zionists were fools.  With the Likud election victory in 1977, the settlers came to power along with the conventional Likudnik factions.  They used this power incrementally to encroach both on Palestinian land and Israeli democracy.  Within thirty years, they had bested not only the liberal Zionists, but the “liberals” within Likud (like Dan Meridor and Benny Begin) who refused to do their bidding.  The Old Guard was gone and replaced with the new Kahanists, who now ran the major ministries.

While old-line Likudists may claim that Menachem Begin or even Bibi Netanyahu are the legitimate heirs of original Revisionist strongman, Zeev Jabotinsky, there is another figure scarcely mentioned as an inheritor of this legacy.  Meir Kahane is as much a disciple of Jabotinsky as they are.  And for the purposes of today’s Israel, Kahane is a much-more long-lasting, critical figure in the rise of Israeli authoritarianism.  Begin is from the past.  Netanyahu too within a day or a month of leaving office will be consigned to historical oblivion.  But Kahane will live on.  If Israel goes the way of theocracy or dictatorship it will be Kahane who inspired and envisioned it.

The current Israeli government, the most brutal, racist and extremist in the nation’s history, is a product of this settler victory.

Meir Ettinger, Settler Terrorist Du Jour

As we come to learn more about Meir Ettinger, it’s critical to understand the milieu which nurtured him.  Of course he was shaped in critical ways by the trauma of having his grandfather assassinated on the streets of New York and his uncle and aunt assassinated on the streets of the West Bank.  When your flesh and blood is cut down, it tends to turn some into implacable homicidal avengers, which is apparently something like what Ettinger has become.

Earlier, I noted that Ettinger’s father, Mordechai, teaches at the radical settler yeshiva, Ateret Cohanim (which the Times of Israel typically mislabels as “politically aligned with the state”).  This is a religious institution which advocates ethnic cleansing of the Temple Mount and restoration of the ancient priesthood and animal sacrifices.  In fact, it is training hundreds of Israeli Jews for this priesthood.  If it is “politically aligned” with the State then the State has become an outright theocracy.

Ettinger’s aunt, Nitza Kahane (married to one of Meir’s sons), is no shrinking violet herself.  When asked about her nephew’s views on Army Radio she defended them vociferously:

“He wants to change the laws of the country to the laws of the Torah; that’s his right. If he persuades enough people, he can do it. The fact that someone wants to change the laws or wants the state to conduct itself differently has never been a cause for arrest in a democratic country.”

No, my dear Mrs. Kahane, this is sedition.  You don’t “change” the laws of a secular state to those of the Torah.  It’s not an easy, gentle transition from one legal system to another.  It would involve a wrenching revolutionary putsch in which democracy would be snuffed out and a religious dictatorship (aka “monarchy”) would replace it.  To claim that Ettinger is a reformer or someone seeking to change the system from within is ludicrous.  He’s the guy yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  He’s the guy perfectly prepared to see a few trampled underfoot to achieve his greater objective.

Settler Rabbis Envision Davidic Kingdom Replacing Secular Democracy

yitzhak ginsburgh

Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh

Ettinger’s father, rather fatuously, blames his son’s radicalization on Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, the chief of the radical Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in Yitzhar.  He complained of the settler religious leader:

“[Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh] drew him into such terrible things. We love our son and of course we wish he would return to the decent path.”

Ginsburgh, like so many of the worst extremists in Israel, is a product of American Jewry.  In his teenage years, he turned to various Hassidic sects and eventually became a baal teshuva, a Jewish “convert” to religious Orthodoxy.  Though he earned a BA in mathematics and philosophy from the University of Chicago and an MA in mathematics from Yeshiva University, he quickly determined to devote himself solely to religious studies.  He made aliyah and, after the 1967 War, was one of the first Jews to settle Jerusalem’s Old City Jewish Quarter.  This was the earliest manifestation of the ethnic-cleansing which takes place now in East Jerusalem on a much larger scale.

After the War, Ginsburgh returned to Brooklyn and had his first personal audience with the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Schneerson.  Hebrew Wikipedia portrays him as a follower of Chabad as is another popular extremist settler rabbi, Dov Wolpe.  In 1983, he began teaching widely about Kabbalah and other religious subjects.  Eventually, this led to his become rosh yeshiva at Od Yosef Chai.  If you conceive of such a place as a place of scholarly refuge and intense Talmudic study, you are only partly right.  Its dormitories have also been used by students to launch crude Qassam-type rockets at a neighboring Palestinian village.  Two teachers at the seminary published Torat HaMelech, a book which advocates the murder of Palestinian babies (because they will undoubtedly grow into adults who will kill Jews).

Ginsburgh endorsed the book wholeheartedly.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Wikipedia summarizes his views thus:

Ginsburgh advocates the reinstitution of Jewish monarchy in the Land of Israel.He advocates “Hebrew labor” − the idea that Jews should only employ other Jews — and believes that Gentiles should not be allowed to live in the Land of Israel, unless they become the “righteous of the nations,” accepting Jewish dominion.

Ginsburgh also supports the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, believing that this would facilitate spiritual elevation and hasten redemption. He favors the practice of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, the site of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

In his Kabbalah-inspired universe, Jews are part of the divine order.  They are above nature.  Non-Jews are part of nature.  But not just any part of nature, they are animals.  That is, they are not human.  For this reason, Ginsburgh goes so far as to say that theoretically, if a Jew needed a liver transplant (p. 134) and a non-Jew could provide a matching organ, it would be permissible to seize the latter and take the liver “by force.”

The commandment prohibiting murder does not apply, in this rabbi’s view, when a Jew kills a non-Jew, since God intended this to apply only in the case of human beings and, as we’ve seen above, only Jews are human.  In case you non-Jews were wondering, there’s a way for you to become human.  You just have to accept the laws of Moses and Jewish sovereignty.  Then you too become part of Jewish divinity.

Ginsburgh’s most controversial work, Barch HaGever, was an ode to Baruch Goldstein, who he viewed as a hero for saving Jewish lives.

There is, as I wrote above, a temptation to minimize the significance of these individuals.  To say that they’re crackpots, that no one believes them except for a few similarly skewed followers.  But such a view is mistaken.

Outliers in Israel have a habit of becoming rulers.  While Israel is currently in dire straits, it could always be worse, and probably will be.  For that reason, it is critical that Israel arrest not just Ettinger and the few pogromists who burned a baby alive and a historic church; but that there be a campaign to rid Israel root and branch of this fetid stew of homicidal rage that is settlerism.  Chabad rabbis like Ginsburgh and Dov Wolpe should be arrested and prosecuted.  Groups like Chabad, Lehava and Honenu should be outlawed as terrorist organizations.  Their followers should be proscribed as well if they’ve advocated or perpetrated violence.  Send these criminals and terrorists to jail or underground, where they belong.

Israel must be a secular democracy.  There can be no compromise on this matter.  Those who wish to replace a secular state with a monarchy should be labelled traitors, subversives.

All this is pie-in-the-sky of course.  Israel has no intention of mounting such a campaign.  It will muddle along as the worst of the settlers creep ever closer to their goal of overthrowing the State as we’ve known it.  When the time comes, Israeli secular democracy will go not with a bang, but a whimper.  Because those at the levers of power would be just as happy (or more) being King or High Priest, as prime minister.

Yuval Diskin and the Tale of Two States: Israel and Judea

israeli cartoon

Caption: “Seen anything?” (Wolkowski)

On a related subject, Yuval Diskin, former Shin Bet chief, has written an intriguing, though problematic essay (Hebrew) claiming that there are now two Jewish states: the one you know, of course, is Israel.  The one you may not know about is Judea.  Forget Palestine, it doesn’t exist.  Never has, never will.  There may be a non-Jewish minority in Judea, but it will either be driven out or become a minority without rights since Judea will not be a democracy.  And the leaders of Judea will not be constrained by the limits of western democracies.  They will maintain a state by and for Jews.  A state led by zealots and messianists, slightly older, more mature versions of Ettinger and the Hilltop Youth.  It will be a state based on violence, racism, and terror, says Diskin.  There is no question which of the two Jewish states will dominate the other: Judea without a doubt.

Diskin sees the setttler rabbis as key ideological visionaries in birthing this deformity called Judea.  The fundamental, and ultimately fatal flaw in this vision is to replace the sanctity of the [Jewish] people with the sanctity of the land.  The land becomes the be-all and end-all of Jewish existence.  Despite his great love for the land of Israel, Diskin says he harbors an even greater love for the Israeli people.  These are human beings, not rocks or hills or rivers.  Humans should always trump land.

Despite the great dangers Diskin sees in Islamist terrorism and Iran’s nuclear threat, the worst threat by far is Jewish extremism.  How to combat this?

My conclusion is that we must wait until it gets worse in order for it to get better…The people will only begin to see things as they are, to my sorrow, when things become far worse.  So we must wait for that time.  Only then will we internalize our obligation to save this mighty Zionist enterprise which we call the State of Israel.  Something which is growing ever more distant from the vision of the Founding Fathers.

There is much flawed thinking in this analysis, mainly in that it ignores the existence of the Palestinian people as a nation with its own rights.  The fundamental flaw in the ideology of such Zionists is that they believe that Israel can exist in isolation from its neighbors and the rest of the Middle East.  That it can be what Ehud Barak called, the “villa in the jungle.”  We should also never forget that Diskin, when he ran the Shin Bet argued that Palestinian nationalism within Israel should be a crime.  This is a view that is unforgivable and fundamentally wrong.

One also shouldn’t discount the possibility that Diskin sees a political future for himself in one of the opposition parties.  This could be a sort of election manifesto.  If that’s so, then these could be empty words, since no Israeli politician ever operates according to deeply-held principles.  Any politician who has them, sheds them if he wishes to get elected and take a share of power.

Nevertheless, Diskin is an important figure as a former security chief.  He knows where the bodies are buried.  He knows the system from the inside.  He knows its weaknesses.  It’s one thing for Avrum Burg to renounce Zionism.  It’s another matter entirely when Yuval Diskin renounces settlers, settlements and the Greater Land of Israel.

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