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Netanyahu, Kerry Make Peace…Between Palestinians!

palestinian unity government

Mahmoud Abbas, Qatari emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and Khaled Mashal (AP/ Osama Faisal)

The unthinkable has happened!  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary Kerry have made a remarkable achievement.  They made peace…between Hamas and Fatah  (video).  They’ve bridged the unbridgeable, intractable hostility that has festered between the two Palestinian factions for seven years, since a U.S. fomented Fatah coup failed.  The result was a rump Fatah faction controlling the West Bank and Hamas controlling Gaza.  Many previous attempts by Egypt and Gulf States to broker a truce or compromise have failed.  But Israel’s refusal to honor the framework agreed to during earlier negotiations has driven the Palestinian groups into each other’s arms.  It’s quite an achievement (for the emir of Qatar and Egyptian officials, who brokered the agreement); one of which Bibi and Kerry should be proud, though I doubt they’ll see it that way.

Given the two previous failures, it’s proper to exercise caution and wait to see whether the deal holds.  There are many elements to the agreement and it could founder on any of them.  But if it holds, it will have multiple ramifications for future negotiations (if there are any).

First, neither Israel nor the U.S. wants reconciliation.  They want a docile PA upon which they may exert pressure and get a favorable deal.  The PA alone is far more likely to accede to Israeli demands.  A united government will force the PA to come up with an agreement that will also be acceptable to Hamas and its followers, a considerably more demanding constituency.

fatah hamas reconciliation deal

Fatah-Hamas delegation which signed reconciliation agreement (Reuters)

This means Israel may refuse to negotiate at all, as the prime minister indicated when he cancelled the next round of talks.  If Israel’s rejectionist position holds over the long term, then the rest of the world will adopt a far more aggressive position against the Occupation and in favor of BDS.  This will also revive, and add credibility to the Palestinian effort to achieve recognition on the world stage.  You can expect another campaign for recognition of statehood before the General Assembly in the coming months.

This is Abbas’ vote of no confidence in both Kerry and this Israeli government.  It also bodes ill for U.S. policy towards the region.  It certainly signals the failure of the Kerry-led talks.    Till now, our policy has been predicated on a quiescent PA.  With a revived Palestinian movement, it will prove much harder to attain a deal.  This may seal a U.S. decision to commence a period of ‘benign neglect’ regarding the I-P conflict.

The U.S. response was less than enthusiastic:

The U.S. State Department said the timing of the Palestinian reconciliation deal was “troubling” and that it was “disappointed” by the announcement.

“It is hard to see how Israel will negotiate with a government that does not recognize its right to exist,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

Psaki might want to brush up her Shakespeare and ‘ancient’ Israel-Palestine history: in the past this issue was finessed by determining that the PLO would conduct peace negotiations while the Palestinian legislative body, which would include Hamas representatives, would accede to the PLO in this matter. The final deal, if there is one, would be put to the entire Palestinian people, upon which Hamas would agree to go along.

If the U.S. wants to remain the only party in Israel’s rejectionist camp refusing to recognize such a government as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, then we risk making ourselves the laughingstock of the rest of the world.

Israel’s demand of veto power in determining which Palestinian government it will negotiate with brought to my mind an historical analogy: imagine if when Britain announced it was ready to negotiate its surrender in 1783, George Washington had announced he would only do so if King George expelled a political party from the ruling coalition.  Or if the French in 1962 refused to negotiate peace with the Algerians till the latter’s ruling party expelled leaders whom France disliked.  It’s simply absurd.

The wild card will be how Islamic Jihad and radical Palestinian elements will react.  They may be under no obligation to respect the agreement and may see it as giving them carte blanche to pursue an independent approach that might include terror attacks.  But if those impulses can be reigned in, then the Palestinians may actually eschew armed conflict for a period to determine how the world reacts to their new-found unity (or at least, conciliation).  This would be a real opportunity for the world to step forward and accord Palestine the recognition and respect it deserves, including removing Hamas from terror lists should it continue to eschew armed conflict.  In truth, for there ultimately to be peace, Palestinians must be united in order to maintain any possible agreement they might make.  Without such consensus, there can be no agreement with Israel.

That may be one of the reasons, Netanyahu hates such a prospect.  With it, the world will take Palestinian interests much more seriously and Israeli interests (as interpreted by its ultra-nationalist government) less so.

The success of this new venture depends on the seriousness and adaptability of the parties.  It remains to be seen how strongly Hamas and Fatah are committed to it.  If they are, and there are elections in six months with the winning faction governing the revived PA, it will change the attitude of international leaders to Palestine, and further diminish Israel’s status.

A recent poll by An-Najah University indicates strong support both for a unity government and talks with the Israelis.  The poll found that if elections were held now Fatah would hold a plurality and Hamas would come in a distant second.  If those are the actual election results, it remains to be seen whether Hamas will be willing to allow the PA to govern in Gaza.  All this will be a new adventure in what one hopes will be responsible governance.


Israel’s Visa Waiver Fraud

For the past few months, Congress has debated whether to permit Israel to join the U.S. visa waiver program which would permit Israelis and Americans to visit each country for 90 days without the traditional need for visas and other formal travel procedures and documents.  One of the main sticking points which human rights and pro-Palestine activists have advanced is the complaint that Israel conducts racial profiling of Arab and Middle Eastern travelers, especially those seeking to visit the West Bank.  This means that most Arab-Americans seeking to visit Israel are treated roughly the same as Israeli Palestinian citizens who travel to and from Israel.  That is, they are treated, regardless of profession, gender, or age uniformly as security threats.  They are searched, interrogated, isolated, detained, surveilled, disrobed, and harassed at an extraordinary rate.  Often Arab-Americans are simply refused entry and deported.  Israel doesn’t have to give a reason other than a vaguely-worded statement that the traveler was seen as a potential security threat.  No evidence is ever offered, nor is none needed under Israeli law.

Nour Joudeh, an Arab-American teacher, is an example of how the system works.  While teaching at the Ramallah Friends School, she returned to America for the winter holidays.  When she attempted to re-enter Israel in order to resume her teaching during the second semester she was refused entry.  Randa Jarrar suffered a similar fate.  Even families with young children are sundered and deported.  These are representatives of a class of as many as 120,000 individuals similarly denied entry into Israel.

But if Israel wishes to be included in the visa waiver program, it will need to change its tune…or will it?  Haaretz reports that PM Netanyahu has appointed deputy foreign minister and settler extremist, Zeev Elkin, as his point person to negotiate with U.S. authorities on the provisions of a deal that would enable Israel to join this select club.  One of the U.S. demands is that Arab-Americans be treated no differently than any other American traveler coming to Israel.

In response, Haaretz notes the Israeli officials have come up with a cockamamie explanation for the high refusal rate for Arab-American visitors: the Oslo Accords.  That’s right.  That Labor Party-led conspiracy to destroy Israel and hand it over to Palestinian terrorists–it’s responsible for yet another evil.  You’ve got to read this to believe it:

According to the [Israel] official, the problem is the Oslo Accords…Under the agreements, Palestinians who hold foreign citizenship but are registered in the Palestinian population registry, and who seek to visit the West Bank, must cross into Israel via the Allenby Bridge from Jordan, not through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Under this clause, Israel has refused to admit many Palestinian-Americans who arrive at Ben-Gurion and say they intend to visit the West Bank. But other Americans who arrive on the same flight are allowed to enter. The passports of Palestinian-Americans entering at the Allenby Bridge receive a stamp stating that their entry is restricted to the West Bank.

So if you follow the logic here: Americans who enter the West Bank through the Allenby Bridge are cool.  But those who try to enter Israel through Ben Gurion and are suspected of seeking to visit the West Bank are rejected because of…Oslo.  Right.

And Israel is going to fix this because it makes a solemn vow to do so:

At the meetings, Elkin said Israel would ensure egalitarian treatment of Palestinian-Americans if Israel were included in the visa waiver program. He said Israel would change procedures so that Palestinian-Americans would be exempt from the clauses in the Oslo Accords that discriminated against them.

This is utter dreck.  Israel discriminates against Arab-Americans at Allenby and at Ben Gurion.  It will continue to discriminate against them after it is admitted into the visa program.  It will, if it’s subtle, seek ways to disguise the discrimination.  It will use new terminology to hide visa rejections saying they’re based on other grounds than security threats.  But if any American official can be suckered into believing Israel will all-of-a-sudden drop its prejudice against dark-skinned Arabs simply because it made a promise to the former to do so, then I’ve got a bridge to sell them.

Another interesting development regarding this matter, is the Roll Call story quoting U.S. intelligence officials expressing their concern that easing travel restrictions for Israelis will make it far easier for Israeli agents to infiltrate U.S. territory:

“The U.S. intelligence community is concerned that adding Israel to the Visa Waiver program would make it easier for Israeli spies to enter the country,” a senior House aide said.

Several congressional aides said that members of the intelligence community, as well as officials from the State and Homeland Security departments, expressed those concerns in a classified briefing to lawmakers and staffers on the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over visa issue.

Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., “has heard reservations from the intelligence community about allowing Israel into the visa waiver program because of concerns that it would allow in Israeli spies,” a House Foreign Affairs Committee aide said.

Removing visa requirements will make it more difficult for U.S. counter-intelligence to monitor the whereabouts of Israeli agents.  It will give them 90 days inside the country without any accountability to anyone.

Those members of Congress who are carrying water for the Israel Lobby on this issue should consider that they are opening this country to the penetration of Israeli agents into our academic, industrial, and technological  infrastructure.  They will be allowing them carte blanche to wander the country at-will ferreting out our secrets and seeking to assert Israeli influence in key areas of our political, social and economic life.  For anyone who doubts this, they must read the stories which documented that Israel was the third most intrusive foreign power (after Russia and China) in terms of its espionage operations in this country.


Haaretz Promo for IDF Cyber-War Unit 8200

I’ve chronicled over the past few months a serious promotional campaign on behalf of the IDF’s cyber-war Unit 8200.  It includes a slew of flattering profiles of Israel’s top computer warriors which examine the Unit’s mission from various angles as to the benefits they offer to Israeli society.  Matthew Kalman wrote this shameless puff piece for The Guardian that boasted of the technological innovation and business start-ups generated by 8200 veterans.  Now Inbal Orpaz has generated yet another portrait that examines the career success stories of those who served there.

flame virus

Flame virus code: this too is the bounty of Unit 8200

If you read her story, you won’t find a single fact that illuminates what Unit 8200 does.  Not a whiff about its fearsome offensive capabilities in wiping out enemy enemy computer infrastructure or telecommunications capacity (as it plans to do should Israel attack Iran).  Nothing about the most aggressive, destructive computer viruses ever unleashed on the world: Stuxnet and Flame.  Nothing about the ongoing relationships between the Unit and its veterans in terms of ongoing intelligence operations which exploit civilian cover.  Or the computer programs produced by Unit veterans which enable political repression in African dictatorial regimes; and the surveillance-monitoring activities of the NSA.  Somehow, Inbal forgot about what is actually newsworthy about the Unit, focusing instead of the glossy Polaroid displaying its warm and fuzzy side.

There were several unintentionally astonishing admissions in the article.  Among them that the chief scientist of the economics ministry, who not just admits, but proudly affirms that he continues recruiting for a “classified” division of 8200.  His cooperation with his former comrades doesn’t stop there:

Hasson, the chief scientist…is involved in the classification process in the unit [8200].

The former CEO of Israel’s Channel 2 News unironically informs the interviewer that Israeli army cyber-intelligence prepared him wonderfully for a media career:

Adin agrees that his service in the unit exercised a dramatic effect on his career. “Without a doubt, service in 8200 opens doors,” he says. “I never imagined that I would become the CEO of a news and media company, but the truth is that service in an intelligence unit prepared me optimally for work in a news company.

Neither of these individuals has the least awareness that serving in military intelligence, specially promoting Israel’s cyber-war capabilities, might compromise their independence and objectivity in their civilian jobs.  In fact, there is no separation between the two in Israeli society.  National security and civilian service bleed into each other.  If you advance the former, you advance the latter.

Can you imagine the chief scientist in the Treasury Department recruiting NSA agents as part of his job?  Or participating in debates about the mission of the agency or its classification of intelligence data?  Can you imagine the chief of the CBS news division or Google chief technologist proudly noting his service in the NSA?

Inbal’s profile trumpets the wonderful alumni network that guarantees those departing from the cyber-intelligence service will have a “soft landing” in the civilian world.  There is a Good Ol’ Boys network which relentlessly champions insiders.  I’ve written about one such alum, Uri Leventer-Roberts, who is the Israel director of the UJA Federation of New York.  As part of his job, he promotes both American Jewish philanthropy and business opportunities in Israel.  One wonders whether he too may be recruiting from his lay leaders for those who may aid Israel’s cyber-intelligence gathering network.

The Network doesn’t include many Israelis from what the article euphemistically calls “the periphery” of the country, that is the north and south.  In other words, 8200 recruits from the well-educated Ashkenazi elite living in Tel Aviv and environs.  There are far fewer recruits from the disadvantaged regions where more Israeli Palestinians and Mizrahim reside.  The reporter notes this as a social problem, but doesn’t call it by its real name: racism.  Educational opportunities and infrastructure are far more developed in Tel Aviv, where the oligarchic elite, and the professional-entrepreneurial classes live.  Few expect much of the poor and the outliers in Israel.  That’s reflected in the social, economic and geographical background of those serving.

The IDF has established several technical high schools, which again reinforce this geographic-class-ethhnic bias, from which it does its technology recruiting.


Female IDF Drone Jockeys Kill Gazans Remotely

In 2008, the IDF created a new weapon (Hebrew) in its arsenal and trained a new group of fighters to use it.  It was a remote-operated gun mounted on an IDF security tower along the Gaza border.  The guns are operated by female IDF soldiers trained, like drone jockeys, to monitor the border area by video feed and shoot to kill pretty much anything that moves there.

idf remote control gun

IDF remote control gun on Gaza border

While I’m not an expert in military weaponry, this strikes me as a new development in the lethality of the IDF.  Now, it doesn’t even need shooters on the ground to patrol the border and kill in face-to-face situations.  It can all be done by remote control.  It’s drone warfare transitioning to the ground.

This begs the question: how long will it be before Israel can delegate all its fighting to machines?  Then it can maintain the Occupation by remote control and even fight its wars against Hezbollah and Hamas from computer screens.  No, or hardly any soldiers need be killed at all.  It’s a perfect example of taking the fight to the enemy, while suffering no casualties yourself.

In 2010, the IDF released the above “promotional video” which can undoubtedly be used to sell the weapon to suitably dodgy clients like Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Uganda or Azerbaijan (all major Israeli weapons customers with suspect human rights records). It’s a bit queasy to use video of an actual human being killed with actual bullets to sell military products. But not above the IDF I’m sure. You won’t see video of the gun killing Gaza civilians (though this is a common phenomenon along this stretch of border). That wouldn’t provide the needed boost to Israeli morale or its export industry.

IDF remote control gunner

IDF remote control gunner

This Ynet story tells us that the IDF drone jockey who played such a key role in the ‘kill’ received a letter of commendation from President Shimon Peres himself.

The Haaretz article profiling the remote control weapon (linked above) notes the stress under which the women are placed who operate it, but says they’ve proven up to the task:

The psychic pressure is great, but the IDF claims that all the women chosen for the task have stood the test.

IDF drone gun Bethlehem

Israel’s drone gun atop Bethlehem Separation Wall

I tell you, it’s one of the measures of feminist liberation that Israel has brought to western civilization that now, not only men can kill by remote control, but women can too. Israel must be proud.

972 Magazine reports that a version of the weapon has been mounted on the Separation Wall in Bethlehem. This weapon will “only” fire toxic Skunk ooze and tear gas at protesters who frequent this portion of the Wall for demonstrations. The IDF reassures us that the gun will not fire live ammunition. To which I would add “yet.”

The reason the drone gun fires live ammunition in Gaza is because the human value of Gazan life is diminished. By choosing Islamists like Hamas to rule them, they’ve become persona non grata with western governments and so their lives may be forfeited with little cost. The West Bank is different since it’s ruled by the PA. Nor are there many terror attacks emanating from there. Lives in the West Bank have slightly more value and there is a somewhat greater cost to Israel for taking them. But it’s only a matter of time before Israel automates every aspect of the Occupation that it possibly can.

H/t to Max Blumenthal for noting the documentary, To See If I’m Smiling, which profiles the IDF’s women warriors, including those portrayed here.


There’s a fascinating drama playing out at the NY Times thanks to public editor, Margaret Sullivan.  Sometime after the Shin Bet removed the gag order on the reporting of the Majd Kayyal case, Jodi Rudoren appointed her beat reporter, Isabel Kershner to write about the story.  She did a rather decent job and even interviewed Kayyal to add his perspective to the story.  I was rather surprised by this element, because the Times rarely interviews Palestinians who aren’t considered political leaders.  It almost never interviews those accused of security offenses.

Now, after Ali Abunimah complained about the Times’ collaboration with the Israeli security apparatus on gag orders, Sullivan’s column was published excoriating Rudoren for abiding by the gag order.  Thus it becomes more clear why Kershner’s reporting was so careful and comprehensive.  Undoubtedly, Rudoren knew she was under scrutiny and had to ensure the story would be fully reported and balanced.

I’m rather shocked by the entire brouhaha because it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain who follows Israel reporting by domestic Israeli and foreign media, that they all abide by gag orders.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve approached reporters for both the Times and other foreign papers with stories under gag, asking if there was any way they or a non-local reporter could cover the story.  Specifically, in one case where I offered a gagged story to a U.S.-based NYT reporter he specifically asked me if I’d brought the story to Rudoren’s attention.  Which seemed either a naive response or a way of getting himself off the hook.  Of course I wouldn’t offer the story to Rudoren because she wouldn’t or couldn’t report it.

At any rate, all reporters inside Israel are bound by gag orders.  Technically, as a non-Israeli you are not bound by a gag, but since you are physically within Israel’s jurisdiction, both the censor and courts consider you subject to Israeli gags.  If a locally-based foreign reporter violated a gag by writing a story, not only could their own personal credentials be yanked, but the existence of an entire bureau could be jeopardized.

But why wouldn’t a paper like the NYT assign a non-local reporter to cover such stories?  After all, there would be no jeopardy for such a reporter since he or she is not based in Israel.  However, despite the separation between the Israel-based and U.S.-based reporters, the Israeli security apparatus would take such a violation as a breach of domestic journalistic protocol.  It could either refuse to renew the bureau chief’s credential or it could make the bureau persona non grata and refuse to cooperate on any stories.

All this is written from the perspective of the Israeli government and the news agencies.

But what would happen if a number of the foreign bureaus united to announce they would refuse to abide by gags in future.  They wouldn’t have their local staff write these stories, but they’d be written by foreign-based reporters.  They could even say they wouldn’t rely on any locally-based reporting.  This of course would still anger the government, but what could they do if there was a united front presented by major foreign presses like the Times, Washington Post, Guardian, etc.?

self censorshipAs anyone who reads this blog knows, my major beef with the Israeli and foreign media is that they’re too quiescent regarding authority.  They view themselves more as conduits for official policy statements than as investigative reporters breaking stories.  While the Times staff does some feature writing that has some interest, they almost never do original investigative stories which break new ground.  So given this level of collaboration and back-scratching it seems unlikely the foreign press would stand up for such a principle.  Though it’s wonderful for Sullivan to hold Rudoren’s feet to the fire.

After all, what Rudoren and the Times are practicing is a form of self-censorship.  They won’t report a story they could report because they know it will inconvenience their professional lives.  But if the Times had followed the same rule regarding the Pentagon Papers, it would never have published them.  If the Times China bureau followed the same rule it would never have reported the amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning stories of high-level Chinese corruption, which caused a huge uproar and the expulsion from the country of one of the NYT reporters who wrote it.  In that case, the fear of repercussions didn’t deter the Times.  What’s the difference between Israel and China?  The difference is the Special Relationship.  Times reporters simply will not take an adversarial position to Israeli authorities.

I was tickled by Jodi Rudoren’s explanation of her choice to abide by gag orders as a simple agreement to abide by the local laws of the land, just as you abide by traffic laws.  As if issues like press freedom and censorship are as insignificant as jaywalking or speeding.  This shows not only Rudoren’s faulty grasp of the big issues involved, it shows her absolute buy-in to her role of journalistic cipher for the national security state.  She spoke hopelessly in this passage quoted by Sullivan:

If there had been a major story and a longstanding gag order, Ms. Rudoren said, she is convinced that The Times would find a way to publish, despite the legal restriction.

Indeed there have been many such longstanding gag orders which the Times did not violate including the Anat Kamm and Ben Zygier stories.  Especially in the former case, the Times had no excuse since I’d been reporting the story for months while the gag was in place.  The first U.S. reporter who broke that story was not Jodi Rudoren or Ethan Bronner her predecessor, but Judith Miller, who reported it for the Daily Beast and FoxNews.

It was also delightful to read the hypocritical statement by the managing editor that he “wasn’t aware” that the Times abided by Israeli gag orders.  Of course you weren’t aware if you chose to make yourself unaware.

You’ve heard me here excoriate the media who have finally reported this story, for forgetting that the only reason they are reporting it is because of the work of blogs like this one (and Electronic Intifada, who wrote its first report a day after mine) which first broke it.  Zvi Barel, writing in Haaretz never mentions the international campaign to free Kayyal.  Even Phil Weiss in sloppy fashion credits Ali Abunimah with “repeatedly scooping” the Times with its story.  My thanks to a number of those readers in the comment thread who linked to my reporting and offered credit.  Weiss also credits Matt Lee’s questioning of the State Department about Kayyal incarceration as instrumental in raising the visibility of the issue.  If he read this blog, he’d know that I tweeted such a request to Lee, who graciously acceded to it.  Abunimah himself didn’t link to my own original report until I’d tweeted to him about the omission.  He was so defensive about my tweet and our subsequent debate that he’s declared me persona non grata.  Which I suppose earns me excommunication from the anti-Zionist left caucus, another branch of which has drummed me out of the corps for being a racist.

All of which is my way of saying that while the Israeli national security state has much to answer for in its egregious violation of press freedom, the progressive left media often does a less than stellar job at research and reporting these stories as well.  Just as the Rudorens and Kershners of the journalist world rely on their pre-selected group of analysts and talking points in doing their reporting, so the left often reports stories according to its own prepared script.  Though outlets like Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss add a great deal to our knowledge of the issues, their own prejudices and omissions are evident, but often unacknowledged.

My own quarrels with both blogs don’t prevent me from crediting their work.  I wish they’d return the favor.



It isn’t often there are victories to report in the struggle for justice for Palestine.  But through the combined efforts of U.S. bloggers, reporters and Israeli activists, the Israeli state has backed down from its persecution of Israeli-Palestinian journalist and political activist, Majd Kayyal.  Today, he was released from prison and placed under house arrest.  The secret police also dropped the most serious charges against him of contact with an enemy agent and hostile organization (Hezbollah).  Now, he is charged with visiting an enemy state.

I should note that every Israeli Jewish journalist who has done the same (and there are at least three I can think of) has been threatened with investigation by the police, but no case was ever pursued.  A clear double-standard.

Besides coverage here, at Electronic Intifada, and at the brave Israel blog, O139, Matt Lee, AP’s State Department correspondent raised a timely question on Kayyal’s behalf at this week’s press briefing.  Jamil Dakwar of the ACLU first brought the case to my attention.  And Israeli activists protested the Palestinian reporter’s arrest in Tel Aviv on April 16th (see video).  Adalah, the Israeli-Palestinian NGO and Majd’s employer, defended him. After the fact (naturally), even the NY Times has gotten into the act. It interviewed Kayyal as part of its report, which is unusual for the Times in such Palestinian security cases.

Now, I would challenge those Israeli Jewish journalists like Lisa Goldman and Ron Ben Ishai, who visited “enemy states” but were not charged with a crime to make their voices heard on Majd’s behalf.

UPDATE: Lisa Goldman wrote about Majd’s case for the liberal Zionist site, 972 Magazine.  She’s apparently unaware of the international campaign for Kayyal and didn’t acknowledge it in her post.  Nor did the other two 972 posts on the case.  In fact, Goldman wrote this inaccurate statement:

And a judge granted the Shin Bet’s request for a gag order, so the media did not report on the arrest either.

Kayyal’s name was published in the Israeli blog to which I linked above, plus Rotter and another site.

Zvi Barel wrote an impassioned plea on Kayyal’s behalf in which the Haaretz columnist noted that he had violated the law the Palestinian was charged with numerous times, and not received so much as an invitation from the secret police to regale them with any of his travel stories.  But the glaring omission from Barel’s piece was an acknowledgement that the sole reason he could even write this story was the intrepid work of largely foreign journalists who rejected the Israeli gag and compelled the security police to remove it and free its prisoner.  Israeli journalism has a strong case of amnesia.  All that it does it does on its own merit.  It owes nothing to anyone.

Though this is a victory, it was one earned only through the help of foreign groups.  It can’t be emphasized enough that the Israeli system, if left to itself, would trample democratic rights, especially those of Palestinians.  This makes the efforts of outsiders critical to protect the vulnerable inside Israel.  I wish it weren’t so, but it is.  And let no liberal Zionist or Israeli nationalist dare make the claim that Israeli democracy “worked” in this case.  It didn’t.  If Israeli democracy worked it wouldn’t have charged him to begin with.

I have also contacted Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists along with Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.  None have taken any action that I know of on Majd’s behalf.   It would be helpful for them to weigh in even now to protect Majd’s rights to practice journalism undeterred by criminal charges.

I founded a Facebook group on Majd’s behalf as well.  I invite you to join, post updates on this case and Israeli press freedom in general, and invite others to join as well.


temple institute

Temple Institute’s Passover priestathon

An Israeli friend has found an amazing YouTube video (apologies that it is in Hebrew without English captions) of the quasi-religious ceremony at which settler paraded scores of white tunic-clad (also called “kittels”) men of various shapes and sizes as the coming generation of kohanim (priests), who would assume duties when (not “if”) the State destroys the Dome of the Rock and replaces it with a rebuilt Holy Temple.  All this is under the auspices of the Temple Institute.  In a related incident, Israeli police arrested radical settler activists attempting to bring goats to the Temple Mount for the ritual Passover sacrifice.  No sooner were they released than one of them was rearrested bringing yet another goat into the Old City for sacrificial purposes.

To my surprise, my rightist readers didn’t pooh-pooh earlier coverage of this incident by saying these are a bunch of crazy marginal extremists.  Instead, a few readers argued that this ceremony is an entirely mainstream ritual with no extremist overtones.  I’d hoped at least a few readers would try to argue the marginal angle so I could respond by noting how insane Ariel Sharon’s plan to settle hundreds of thousands of settlers in the Territories appeared in the late 1970s, when there were only 20,000 settlers there.  One could retreat even farther in history to 1968 and speak of the small spark that was the settler movement then.  No one could foresee that from a tiny protest in Sebastia led by Shimon Peres, this incipient movement would, in effect, become a hidden elite actually controlling the Israeli government and political system.

So, when a bunch of seeming fanatics parade a bunch of fat, balding middle aged men through the streets of Jerusalem and tell us they’re the Jewish High Priests of the future, I sit up and take notice.  This is friggin’ scary.  Not because the rest of world Jewry will respond in any positive way to this rump attempt to revive the priestly elite.  But rather because the combination of this religious movement allied with State power will send Israel even farther in the direction of religious holy war.

There may be readers and policymakers in the U.S. and Europe who believe that this is a case of the boy who cried, “wolf.”  But I assure any sensible analyst or policymaker that this is a lot worse than a silly visual farce (which it is).  It could rapidly spin out of control, just as Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount led directly to the second Intifada.  If anyone thinks Muslims throughout the world will react with equanimity to news of Jews encroaching on the Haram al-Sharif, they should have their heads examined.  Israeli Jewish fanaticism will be met with strenuous Muslim resistance.

I also urge Jewish religious leaders around the world to soundly reject this project.  There must be a loud, united voice saying Jews do not want this.  We do not want priests, we do not want sacrifices, we do not want Jews raising their arms in a priestly salute that reminds some of us other similar past racist salutes, we do not want a Temple.  The poor goat sacrificed is worthier than those who would slaughter it.  The blood flowing from its veins which they bless with a bracha is nothing more than a travesty and needless animal cruelty.  Their ritual project is nothing more than what the impatient Jews did in Sinai with the Golden Calf.  It is avodah zarah, worship of strange gods.  We want values and ideas, not sacred relics.

If there is anyone out there who objects, let them think back in Jewish history to the age of the Temple.  Remember the corruption, violence, unrest, class divisions.  Remember when the Romans destroyed the Temple and Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai escaped to found his school at Yavneh and ushered in the era of rabbinical (rather than priestly) leadership.  Since that historical moment Jews have rejected centralized authority in the form of monarchy or priesthood.  Instead, Jews have embraced a decentralized, democratic form of leadership led by rabbis and lay leaders.

We don’t need priests.  We don’t need kings.  We don’t need a theocratic state.  As Jews, we need Israel to be a democratic state.

Speaking of the Judaism (and Israel) I want, a group of African refugees celebrated a seder in an Israeli concentration camp along with Israeli human rights activists:

holot passover seder

Behold the bread of affliction. Let all who are hungry come and eat. (Roi Edan)

Outside the Holot detention center, migrants sat with Israeli activists amid the dust of the vast desert and listened to speeches about the lessons of the weeklong Passover holiday: the meaning of freedom and the importance of showing hospitality to strangers. They ate matzo, the unleavened bread meant to commemorate the Jews’ hastened flight from Egypt, when they did not have time to wait for their bread to rise. There was no wine, a main fixture of the holiday, out of respect for Muslim migrants who refrain from drinking alcohol.

“(Jews) asked to leave Egypt. We also asked to leave our countries because the situation there is very difficult,” said Anwar Suliman, a migrant from Sudan’s Darfur region who has been held at Holot for the past month. “We are in the same situation.”

During their Passover ritual they, just like Jews, asked for their freedom. They asked why, if Jews could gain their liberation from bondage in Egypt, today’s refugees can’t be treated with dignity and respect in modern Israel. Why they can’t be sheltered as international law demands instead of being sent to countries like Rwanda and Uganda, where they are stateless.

Poignant questions deserving of answers. Instead of the hostility and moral obtuseness with which they’re normally met by Israel’s racist government.