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Bibi: Il N’est Pas Charlie

Bibi isn’t Charlie, neither am I.  Neither are most of the world leaders seen in that photo op supposedly linking arms for free speech in the face of the nasty ‘Islamist horde.’ I would have no problem if Charlie and his supporters made this about the scourge of terror.  The massacre of the French magazine artists and the patrons of the Jewish market was a horrible crime all right-minded people must oppose.

But once you turn this into a campaign for free speech, then it gets a lot more complicated, especially for those world leaders attempting to link their faces and reputations to such a principle.  To be clear, I favor free speech.  But the problem is that most of them don’t.  Mahmoud Abbas represses the Palestinian media.  He harrasses and arrests troublesome journalists on a regular basis.  Often because they expose inconvenient truths about the PA.  Among them, the rampant cronyism and corruption that prevails.

And Bibi? Don’t get me started.  I’ve chronicled for years here the erosion of traditional values like free speech and press freedom in Israel.  For example, Bibi’s destruction of independent Channel 10, his fiercest critic, by driving it into insolvency.  As for freedom of the press, Bibi doesn’t have Abbas’ worries on that score since he has a wealthy patron who has bought the presses for him.  Sheldon Adelson, as I’ve recounted here, sinks $40-million every year into Yisrael HaYom (aka Bibiton) which is Israel’s most popular newspaper (in large part because it’s free).

When the government and security services find a reporter particularly troublesome either they arrest him or in some cases try and imprison him.  Uri Blau discovered how that game is played.  Alternatively, they haul in the publisher and warn him that if he doesn’t toe the line the government will withdraw his license to publish.  That makes for a good deal of a priori self-censorship and a willingness to censor material that’s already been published.

And whatever can’t be stopped through legal threat or prior censorship can be stopped by military censorship.  As international rankings of press freedom repeatedly show, Israel doesn’t fare well in these surveys.  If that wasn’t bad enough, during last summer’s Gaza war the IDF murdered ten Palestinian journalists, many if not all of them deliberately, rather than accidentally targeted.

A Haaretz op-ed has noted that Charlie Hebdo could never be published in Israel.  There are stringent laws on the books going all the way back to the British Mandate (following the 1929 Riots) prohibiting any publication that ‘mocks’ religion.  A settler version of Charlie Hebdo even roamed the streets of Hebron plastering the walls with images of a pig trampling a Koran.  Her name was Tatiana Soskin.  After she was apprehended in 1997, she was tried, convicted and jailed for violating these laws. By the way, she would no longer be treated like this.  More likely she’d be carried through the streets of Hebron on the shoulders of settlers (though only by women, not men, since strict gender segregation is enforced).

So in a number of ways, the sensibilities of the Israeli state are the same as those of the Islamists who killed the journalists in Paris.  The difference is that the killers didn’t have the apparatus of a State at their disposal to enforce their will.  Israel is quite capable of preventing any Charlie Hebdos without resorting to murder to do it.

charlie hebdo cover

Mohammed: “I am Charlie. All is forgiven.”

Pres. Obama has come in for a round of criticism for his decision not to attend the Paris march, nor send any major U.S. officials.  While I understand the reasoning behind the criticism, can you imagine how the President would’ve looked in that picture defending free speech?  The U.S. politician who’s done more in the past eight years to attack press freedom and jail reporters than any president before him, including George Bush.  Not to mention, the assaults on constitutional rights represented by the NSA revelations of Edward Snowden.  Of all western leaders, Obama perhaps had the least right to attend this march.

Social media is awash with images of the cover of the upcoming edition of Charlie Hebdo.  You can see it displayed here.  I find it totally disingenuous on multiple levels.  It’s presumptuous, condescending and flagrantly false.  First, no one in the Muslim world identifies with the editorial line of Charlie Hebdo regarding Islam.  So for Luz to portray Mohammed saying “je suis Charlie” is patronizing.  For the cartoonist to claim that Mohammed is crying for the murders is again something Charlie has no right to assume.  Third, and most annoying, the cartoon says “All is forgiven.”  By what right does he speak for the dead and their survivors?  How can he say that the killers have been forgiven for their crime?  Not to mention, that the image carries a conviction that Mohammed (i.e. Islam itself) is the cause of the murders.  That phrase connotes that the magazine and the victims have forgiven Islam for its attack on them.  Jonathan Cook has an excellent post about his take on the cartoon here.

french jewish emigration to israeli garrison state

Israel’s fortress state welcomes French Jews.  (Wolkowski)

This heinous killing was no more an attack by all of Islam than Baruch Goldstein’s mass murder of 29 Palestinians was a crime of the entire Jewish people.

I wanted to return to Bibi’s insulting call for the Jews of France to leave their fetid hell-hole of a Muslim-infested state (irony alert) and come home to the Jewish homeland, where all Jews supposedly can live a safe and secure life.  I’ve mentioned that the vast majority of French Jews aren’t heeding the call and that a leader of French expatriates in Israel explicitly rejected Bibi’s sentiment, saying it would give a victory to the terrorists.

Another of the arguments I offer to those who, here and elsewhere, claim there’s a massive wave of French Jewish emigration coming is that it’s actually safer for Jews in France than in Israel.  Far more Israeli Jews are killed every year in acts of terror than are killed in similar acts in France.  So let the uber-Zionists rattle on about the alleged scourge of anti-Semitism in France.  But don’t let them forget that the rampant Islamophobia among Israeli Jews, along with Israel’s brutal approach to neighboring Muslim states, has earned it the unyielding enmity of Muslims throughout the region.  In many ways, the idea of French Jews emigrating to Israel is going from the frying pan into the fire.

french views of jews muslims

Favorable French views of Jews, Muslims

Eran Wolkowski’s brilliant satiric cartoon makes this abundantly clear.  In it, arriving French Jews are greeted at the fortified gates of Israel by a “Welcome”sign, Bibi Netanyahu, and Naftali Bennett dressed like a settler and bearing an assault rifle.  Israel is pictured as a garrison state bristling with rockets, guns and cannons.  That’s some welcome!

A recent Pew survey of French attitudes toward Jews and Muslims finds, in fact, that views of these two minority groups in France are the most favorable on the continent.  The country with the second-most favorable views is Britain.  It’s probably no accident that these are the European countries containing the most Jews and Muslims.  This should tell you that the clamor of Euro-‘analysts’ and anti-Semitism ‘experts’ regarding French anti-Semitism is a whole lot of sound and fury signifying (almost) nothing.

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Bibi’s Insult to France

Haaretz reports the astonishing news that Francois Hollande, France’s president, asked both Israel and Palestine not to send representatives to today’s march in memory of the Charlie Hebdo and Jewish terror victims.  The French wished to confine the march and political discussion surrounding the terror attacks to the victims and the suffering nation.  They wanted to avoid having the complicating issues of the Israeli-Palestine conflict muddy the waters.

Hollande was also reacting to Netanyahu’s previous act of bad faith after the Toulouse terror attack, when he joined the funeral service and publicly called for French Jews to leave for Israel before it was too late.  Political leaders don’t forget when foreigners insult their nation, nor did Hollande.

french memorial march

Bibi looks like he wants to be anywhere but where he is and Abbas seems to say: “whatever that asshole does I’ll do him one better.” (AP)

At first, both Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to the request.  But then Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, both in high election campaign mode, announced that they would attend the rally.  This left Netanyahu, at least in his view, with no choice but to defy the French request and insist on attending.  Naturally, the French were unhappy:

…When [National Security advisor] Cohen informed [his French counterpart] Audibert that Netanyahu would be attending the event after all, Audibert angrily told Cohen that the prime minister’s conduct would have an adverse effect on ties between the two countries as long as Hollande was president of France and Netanyahu was prime minister of Israel.

Audibert added that his country would invite Abbas.  Which left us with this bizarre picture of the President of France at a march commemorating the murder of 16 of his own citizens, locking arms with the leaders of Palestine and Israel.  None of those in this picture look happy being in it, least of all Bibi or Abbas.  Considering the tongue-lashing Hollande likely gave Bibi, that’s not surprising.

During the memorial ceremony at the Grand Synagogue in honor of the slain Jewish victims, Hollande made a public show of displeasure by exiting just before Netanyahu spoke.

Lieberman and Bennett’s decision to defy the French will and force themselves on a French nation in mourning is the height of boorishness, a quality Israeli leaders appear to have in abundance.  It’s like a family funeral which the deceased’s ex-spouse insists on attending, despite the fact that no one wants him there.  But it goes beyond thoughtlessness.  Lieberman, Bennett and Netanyahu are deliberately exploiting France’s national tragedy for domestic political gain.  Israel has become a nation based solely on selfishness and narcissism.  I’ve said this many times, but can a country with a political system and leaders so boorish and tone-deaf long endure?  Does it deserve to endure?

This is yet another reason why the world is rapidly losing all patience with Israel.  It’s why movements of resistance like BDS and the PA campaign for statehood will continue to resonate and gain traction.

Israel has no real foreign policy.  It has no broad issues that it pursues.  It is almost totally confined to fighting the chimera of delegitimization and getting politicians re-elected.  No country in the world, including the U.S., can respect such a fellow member of the international community.

kouachi brothers

Kouachi brothers, who mass murdered 12 French journalists

UPDATE: Thanks to Middle East Eye for publishing an earlier version of this piece here.

The mass murder yesterday in the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in which 10 staff members and two policemen were gunned down, represents a gross failure of so many. Most obviously, it represents a failure of the French security forces who failed miserably in their job.  It represents the failure too of Francois Hollande and the nation’s political class, which have done little to address both Islamophobia, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiments that seethe just beneath the surface of French life.

Now let me say a few controversial things: it represents a failure of the French Muslim community from which the killers sprang.  It represents a failure of the French press and public which fostered the puerile satirical farce represented by the magazine’s portrayal of Islam.  It represents the failure of the French right which simmered the cauldron of Islamophobia to which the killers, at least in part, responded.

charlie hebdo anti semitism islamophobiaElaborating on the failures I listed above: one of the mass-murderers served a three-year prison sentence for recruiting French Muslims to join Middle East jihad.  It’s now being reported that one of the brothers trained with Al Qaeda in Yemen in 2011.  Why didn’t the security services raise his level of threat assessment to the highest one possible?  Why wasn’t he monitored and surveilled intensively?  Why did they not ensure he didn’t get access to firearms?

Charlie Hebdo was under constant threat from Islamists.  Yet the police offered two officers to guard the offices, both of which gave their lives doing their duty (one of the murdered policemen was a Muslim).  And is it possible that two men can commit mass murder in broad daylight in France’s capital and manage to get away without any security force (except the two guards) intercepting them?

Remember the same lapses that occurred in the case of the Toulouse Jewish school attacked by a different Islamist gunman.  That individual managed two separate attacks which killed both French Jews and soldiers.  He too had a history of association with Islamist terror which should have flagged him and drawn much greater attention from the authorities.

As for the failure of the French political class, Angela Merkel last week nationally denounced anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant fever which was gripping her country.  She stood up for what was right.  What have French politicians done in the face of the surge in racism from the National Front?

No doubt, this attack will draw even stronger support to this Party which thrives on hatred of the Other in French society.  The blood of these French men and women fertilizes the soil of racism and hatred on which Marie Le Pen thrives.  We shouldn’t forget that Israel’s far right too has made common cause with her in their joint jihad against the “Muslim hordes.”

The statement above in which I noted the failure of the French Muslim community was not made to cast blame on all Muslims. I understand that there are killers in the name of God among all religions and ethnic groups.  The acts of the psychopathic few aren’t the fault of the many.  But just as I do soul-searching when I read of the murders committed by mad-dog settlers Jews, and mourn their perversion of Judaism as I know it, it becomes more important than ever for the real Muslims to rise against this hate and fight it with every fiber of their being.

charlie hebdo

Charlie Hebdo cover

Regarding Charlie Hebdo itself…during the Jyllands Posten controversy, I wrote critically about the deliberate provocations of the cartoonists which led to the attack.  Not that I dismissed their right to draw what they liked.  Not that I dismissed freedom of speech and the press.  But both the Danish and Hebdo cartoons were perverse provocation for its own sake.

charlie hebdo blasphemy

Title (rough translation): “Yes to wearing the burqa…in the ass.”

Political satire through the medium of cartoons is a hallowed tradition, which I both admire and support.  Think of the moral, social crusades fostered by such distinguished satirists as Honore Daumier, Thomas Nast and Herblock.  And the power and empathy that Art Spiegelman brought to the Holocaust in Maus.  But why waste such a sharp instrument on such a dull subject as Hebdo did?  Why employ this exalted art in the service of base, degraded sentiments?

For example, there is much in Judaism and especially some of its adherents which I criticize.  I regularly display cartoons that ridicule and lampoon not just Israeli policy, but the religious tenets of settlers and their ilk.  But why would I attack the founders of my religion: Moses, the Biblical prophets?  There are plenty of anti-Semites to do that.  Similarly, unless you’re the equivalent of an anti-Semite, why would you debase the founder of Islam and its foundational tenets?  Why would you not distinguish between Mohammed and those of his followers who’ve deviated from the right path, unless you hated all Islam and all Muslims?  And if you do, what right do you have to the support of the news-consuming public?

Satirize Islamist terror?  By all means.  Criticize sects of Islam like Wahabism? Certainly.  But imagine if Charlie Hebdo drew a big-nosed Moses sitting amid buckets of cash.  Does no one understand why if one is wrong the other is as well?  In fact, a Hebdo cartoonist derided Nicholas Sarkozy’s son for “doing well” by converting to Judaism to marry a wealthy Jewish heiress.  The cartoonist was fired.  But cartoonists ridiculing the Prophet are now folk heroes (see Latuff’s cartoon above).

Let me clear, nothing I’ve written above justifies in any way the murder of ten French journalists.  But I am questioning the value, wisdom and quality of their enterprise as they pursued it before this attack.

The final and equally sad failure in this tragedy is that Bibi Netanyahu will, if he hasn’t already done so, release a statement to the French and the world saying: I told you so.  He’ll dance a silent hora and thank his lucky stars that carnage like this has been thrown into his electoral campaign.

The real reward for tasteless political exploitation of mass slaughter goes this time to Tzipi Livni, who said this:

“We [Israelis] feel the same anger when terror hits us – and that is why we will not accept any attempt to sue our soldiers in The Hague.”

If you think this is overly cynical, not at all.  If you can think that, you don’t understand the way his mind works.  After 9/11 he publicly said that that sort of attack was what it would take for the world to understand what Israel faces every day.  In a perverse way, he was right.  The Israeli right has reaped a bitter harvest from Islamism and the west’s war on terror.  It put back the Palestinian cause by years if not decades.  Islamist terror is the bitter fruit on which Israeli extremism feeds.

I’ve been noting a significantly different response in progressive circles between the earlier Mohammed cartoon controversy and this one.  Back in 2006, I felt like I was one of the few progressives trying to walk a fine line between denouncing the threat to Jyllands Posten while also denouncing the disgusting taste and Islamophobia of the cartoons.  As I recall, reaction in some quarters especially among Jews was extremely hostile.  But in the aftermath of the Hebdo attack, there have been thoughtful, nuanced pieces written both by cartoonists themselves like Joe Sacco and political journalists like Glenn Greenwald.  This piece in The New Yorker is also terrific.  That may be because the world has more distance from 9/11 and more sensitivity to the danger of Islamophobia.

Finally, it’s interesting to remember that way back in 2006, in response to an Iranian Holocaust denial cartoon contest, Israeli graphic artist Amitai Sandy created the Anti-Semitic Cartoon Contest.  Despite what you might think, it was mostly hilarious and dead-on (with some nasty exceptions of course).  It’s worth revisiting it.  The point is: there are ways to satirize religious traditions that are sharp, cutting and honest without being gratuitously hateful.

mahmoud abbas

Mahmoud Abbas: throwing up his hands and dissolving PA? (AP)

That may seem like a radical headline, but it’s not.  But first let’s offer some perspective.

The U.S. government offers $400-million per year in aid to the PA.  These are essentially funds that go into a hole that supports the PA, pays salaries, probably helps maintain Fatah’s favored few in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.  It’s akin to the hundreds of billions we’ve sunk into Iraq, out of guilt and  a false hope that money will substitute for what’s really necessary to create a functioning state.  As in Iraq, our funds prop up a failed, corrupt, dysfunctional PA and its bloated bureaucracy.  It’s meant to prevent a total collapse of government control in the West Bank.

Similarly, Israel collects $100-million per month in VAT from Palestinians purchasing goods abroad which move through Israeli ports.  It does so according to a treaty Israel signed which directs it to refund the money to the PA.  However, whenever Netanyahu has been peeved at Mahmoud Abbas he’s halted the payments.  Now that Ban Ki Moon has notified UN member states that Palestine’s application to join the ICC will become effective April 1st, this is one of those moments.

U.S. legislators and Israeli rightist politicians have issued dire threats about cutting off the funds.  Bibi’s lobbying his GOP pals to cut the spigot ASAP.  I think they should be careful what they wish for.  Further, Israel has threatened to cut off electricity to the West Bank due to alleged PA debt to Israel’s national power company.  It seems that driving Ramallah into the same desperation and penury suffered by Gaza is Israel’s aim.

To me, it’s not so bad: yes, Palestinians will suffer from the cut-off of aid.  But what is the alternative? To continue playing Stepin’ Fetchit in an Israeli-sponsored minstrel show?  Are conditions for Palestinians so good that they’re willing to continue under Israel’s boot forever?

It’s the same argument pro-apartheid whites made in the face of the 1980s South African sanctions movement.  Cutting aid and relations with the white government would hurt Blacks most.  Whites will hardly suffer and the policy will fail.  Actually, many factors contributed to the fall of apartheid, but sanctions were certainly one.

So will Palestinians suffer, in the short term?  Yes.  But in the long time it will bring the downfall of the Occupation regime quicker. How so? Unable to support itself, the world will look to Arab regimes to take up the slack.  Nations like Qatar like making pledges but don’t fulfill them.  That will leave the PA with little choice but to dissolve itself.  And that’s a good thing.  Even Palestinian leaders such as Mustafa Barghouti agree.

The world will not allow the West Bank to collapse into chaos.  Not only would the subsequent suffering shame the world, it would offer a horrible photo op to contrast the relative stability of Gaza with the economic ruin of the West Bank.  Though Israel would be dragged screaming and kicking to resume its administration of the territory, it would have no choice.  The world would force it to.

That too is a good thing.  Once Israel takes over there is no fig leaf; no PA to offer the illusion of Palestinian authority or control.  The world never bought the South African claim that bantustans were legitimate independent Black states.  It knew them for what they were: Potemkin villages to allow apartheid to continue.  For some reason, the world has accepted the PA as a legitimate authority when it never had any.

Let’s throw the PA to the winds and make Israel pay the piper.  If it wants to maintain the Occupation, let it do so not just in name only.  Let’s see Israeli soldiers running civilian affairs and the entire kit and caboodle in the West Bank as they did for many years.  That will give the world even less opportunity to excuse the injustice of Occupation.  Israel’s own apartheid regime will fall that much quicker, giving Israelis and Palestinians the long overdue opportunity to determine their future as two states or one (though the former appears a hopeless option).

For these reasons, the Obama administration will resist the aid cutoff, in the mistaken impression that setting Palestine adrift will harm Israeli interests and cause unrest in the region.  If it does manage to keep the aid intact it will be doing a grave disservice to all parties.  But it wouldn’t be the first time.

naftali bennett idf lebanon kafr qana

Capt. Bennett back in the days when his military freelancing caused an Israeli war crime.

Israeli journalist Yigal Sarna, writing in Yediot, has unearthed a troubling scandal from Naftali Bennett’s past service in the IDF.  And just in time for the upcoming Israeli elections! How convenient!

His article is called Colonel Kurtz, Captain Bennett.  In April 1996, he was Capt. Naftali Bennett of the elite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal.  He commanded 67 soldiers who were a special paratroopers unit that often fought behind enemy lines and engaged in covert operations.

During Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon, Bennett was filled with contempt for a military command marked by hesitation and timidity  and as cautious as the then-prime minister, Shimon Peres.  Following eight days in which Bennett followed Hezbollah forces and scouted their rocket launch locations, he took it upon himself to deviate from his orders.  He acted like a man with a knife in his teeth, according to a friend’s account: someone who sought action, engaging the enemy, and killing.  At the time, he boasted proudly that about changing his operational mission without consulting his superiors.

He was a field commander in the mold of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, skilled, violent, daring and rash.  He believed it was in his power to vanquish the enemy if he could only free himself from the limitations of the orders given him by politicians and commanders too timid for his taste.  Kurtz wanted to do it his way: to kill and prevail.  But it ended badly for him.

That April day, Bennett’s force met with highly effective mortar fire of a Hezbollah unit near Kafr Qana.  It was then that he realized he couldn’t prevail on his own.  He needed a battery of IDF 155mm howitzers [to come to his rescue], which hit a refugee camp and killed 102 civilians.

naftali bennett cartoon

Capt Naftali Bennett, Israeli war hero, war criminal and future PM? (Globes)

Sarna refers to IDF fire, which struck a refugee camp in which hundreds of Lebanese were taking shelter.  Nearby was a UN facility housing peacekeepers.  Besides the civilians, four UN troops were killed.

In a Facebook post last night, Israeli journalist Raviv Drucker recounts a story he heard from an IDF officer and eyewitness of the events of that day.  According to him, a hysterical Bennett pressured his superiors to bring far more firepower than necessary to bear save his ass.  The result was this “terrible catastrophe.”

The massacre, like a similar one that occurred in the same place during the 2006 Lebanon war, shocked the world and led to the end of the conflict.  However, Israel refused in both instances to apologize for the huge death toll.  Shimon Peres, prime minister at the time of the first Kafr Qana massacre said: “We regret, but we will never apologize.”  But apologize he did, in the form of bowing to the enormous pressure exerted on him by the international community, which was shocked by the carnage.  Peres quickly ended the operation, to the disgust of then-Captain Bennett.

Sarna points out that if Bennett ever becomes prime minister it will mean that Israel will have had three leaders in a row with combat experience in Sayeret Matkal.  While military heroes often make attractive political leaders, the journalist argues that this particular elite force, schooled in secrecy, discipline and absolute command, makes for exceedingly bad prime ministers as proven by Ehud Barak and Netanyahu himself, both veterans of this special forces unit.

Successful political leaders consult with both allies and opponents.  They compromise.  They decide when it’s wise to fight and when it’s wise to withdraw.  For the good politician, discretion is the better part of valor.

A Sayeret Matkalnik knows only one gear: forward.  He doesn’t hesitate, he charges forward.  He acts and worries about consequences afterward.  He knows his bosses will have his back and doesn’t worry about those vacillators in sitting in ministries.  The very contempt for compromise that makes a good special forces commanders makes for a bad commander in chief.

That’s why the failures of Naftali Bennett as a soldier are instrumental and instructive as to what sort of political leader he might be.  This is not to say that Israeli voters will mind.  They’re exceedingly forgiving when it comes to carnage, as long as Arabs are the ones killed.  In fact, Arabs are like “Indians” in American frontier military lore.  The more scalps you have under your belt the more highly regarded you are.

Incidents like this are far more important to foreigners like many of you reading this, who view events in Israel through a broader perspective.  For many of us, the thought of an Israeli leader who caused a war crime is repugnant.  Let that be clearly marked on his record, so that those of us who care will know, and not let others who are more forgiving, forget.

If Bennett does rise to the highest seat of power it wouldn’t be the first time an Israeli leader arose from the ranks of terrorists and war criminals.  The examples of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir precede him.


This is the second (here’s the first) in a series about the Israeli judicial system dishonoring the fundamental democratic value, freedom of speech.

censored Israeli blog post

A WordPress-hosted blog post banned by Israeli court

Recently, an Israeli district court in Tel Aviv found that a blogger had written posts that defamed various Israeli government officials and senior corporate executives.  The judge ordered (this is the English language order) that several specific posts, including eleven web pages from four different websites, which were found libelous be taken down by the web host.  There are several issues that make this case interesting.  One of them is that the blogs are hosted by WordPress, the largest blog platform in the world (this blog uses the WordPress platform but is not hosted by WordPress, as the Israeli blogs are).  The Israeli judge directed the complainant’s attorney to demand that WordPress immediately remove the offending pages.

I’ve tried several times to contact WordPress, whose holding company is called Automattic, to ask how they approach such matters.  The “offending” blogs have published a joint response to the judicial decision which unfortunately doesn’t illuminate the original reason the complainant brought the matter to court.  But the post claims that WordPress will not remove material from its server at the behest of foreign parties unless they can prove that it violates provisions of U.S. law.  In other words, the complainant’s attorney would have to prove that the material didn’t just violate Israeli law, but U.S. law as well.

But I reviewed the Automattic website and found this rather alarming passage:

We aim to promote freedom of expression around the world, and are also mindful of local laws that might impact that expression. When we receive an order to remove content, we may block it in only those jurisdictions where it violates local law, so that it remains accessible in areas where it may not be illegal. For example, if we receive a takedown demand from Russia, we may comply with it by blocking the content at issue only from site visitors with IP addresses originating in Russia.

On another page of the site, it notes that in response to takedown requests:

If we receive a complaint and are not in a position to make a determination (for example whether something is defamatory or not), we defer to the judgment of a court.

So I’m not so sure the respondent in this case is correct in having such confidence in Automattic.  He’s very likely to be disappointed.  And if Automattic does accede to the Israeli judicial demand, it would prevent Israelis from reading the posts.  Though the company makes it appear that the damage is limited by the fact that readers outside Israel could read the posts, since they’re written in Hebrew very few people will read them.  This in effect silences the bloggers in question.

As those who know Israeli libel law can tell you, it’s much easier to prove libel in Israel than here.  The standards are much lower and are more favorable to complainant than respondent.  So despite the blogger’s confidence he will not be censored, it is possible that Automattic might allow Israel’s lax libel law to trump U.S. law.  Any Israeli who hosts a blog outside Israel for this very reason, to protect him or herself from having his site held hostage by Israeli courts, now has to fear that this safe foreign harbor has been removed.

A word about the blogs named in this case: I haven’t read them in great detail, but what I have read indicates that they are indeed angry, vituperative, vengeful and even hateful blogs which attack many of family law judges and social welfare officials, as well as local municipal personnel.  The main respondent, Yaakov Ben Issachar, runs an NGO, Our Children’s Future, advocating for fathers’ rights in divorce proceedings.  It’s likely he bears a grudge against Israeli officialdom for losing his parental rights in a divorce proceedings.  Divorce and child custody disputes are among the most contentious of all human conflicts.  It’s clear both why someone would write a blog to try to shame those who you felt had wronged you.  And it’s clear why those attacked by such blogs would want to defend themselves.

Further, there’s a whole lot of garbage published in the blogs in question.  Ben Issachar clearly harbors deep, bitter grudges.  He rails, for example, against “feminazi social workers” who take kids away from their dads.  This is not a pleasant man.  I’d be pissed if he was writing about me.

But the fact of the matter is that sometimes people who harbor such obsessive motivation serve useful purposes in society (I’m not saying Ben Issachar is one of these people).  The specific grudge in this decision involves complainant, Yuval Gavish, senior executive vice president of Israel Bank Discount, and head of its banking division.  The proximate cause of Ben Issachar’s hate (he calls Gavish “a senior criminal”) is that the bank cooperates with social welfare services to garnish the wages and bank accounts of delinquent fathers.  But in the particular post that’s been banned, the blogger also notes that Gavish built a personal fitness center without the required approvals of his neighbors.  I don’t know if this claim is true.  But if it is true, it does seem that this be considered protected speech in the U.S.

As I wrote a few days ago in another Israeli case involving free speech and libel claims, the venue for resolving these matters shouldn’t be the courts.  There are many platforms in which individuals who are wronged may defend and explain themselves, and publicize the misdeeds of their attackers.  Indeed, that’s one of the reasons I actively participate in social media like Twitter and Facebook.

Censorship doesn’t work.  It only brings more attention to the offending individual and whatever insult or outrage they’ve done.  I spoke to Gavish’s attorney, Moshe Yacov, of the powerful Israeli firm, Herzog Fox Neeman.  He agreed, but noted that in Google searches for his client’s name, the first result was often the offending posts.  This caused potential clients to believe Gavish might actually be a corrupt criminal, as Ben Issachar claimed.

I understand the concern, but I don’t buy it.  If an important corporate executive finds negative Google results, his bank employs IT personnel or can hire consultants who can engage in SEO activities which will ensure more favorable results display.  Further, I’d like to think that potential clients surfing the web for information about him would be able to distinguish between sites like Bloomberg, Reuters and Business Week, which have written about him, and an obscure Israeli blog.

Yaacov told me that Google has already responded affirmatively to the request to remove Ben Issachar’s posts from its searches.  When I asked what his client planned to do if WordPress refused his request to remove the posts, he noted that WordPress has subsidiaries with assets in Israel and that it would be possible to take action against them.  Further, he might apply to U.S. courts to recognize the authority in U.S. jurisdictions of the Israeli court order.

This case is even more problematic because the Israeli court has demanded that a U.S. company conduct its business according to Israeli, rather than U.S. law.  It’s entirely possible Automattic will agree to do so though they haven’t yet.  There are even more disturbing cases involving far more populous and powerful countries than Israel, like China and Russia, which have succeeded (in China’s case) in compelling U.S. companies to give in to similar demands for censorship as the price of doing business.

It’s interesting to note that some of these companies like Facebook and Google break down the number of takedown requests they receive by company and in how many cases they agree with such requests.  In half the 111 cases in which Israeli jurisdictions requested that Facebook produce or censor material, it did so.  In 15 cases, it removed material that violated Israeli law involving Holocaust denial.  Google received 29 such requests.  It complied with half of the judicial requests (including this one) and all of the law enforcement requests.

It’s unlikely, after the NSA revelations about the pliancy of U.S. internet companies to government demands, that you harbor any illusions about the robustness of corporate resistance to such intrusions.  But if you do, this post proves that the bar for protection of free speech is even lower than you might think.  U.S. companies are far more interested in doing the bidding of the nations in which they do business than in defending “abstract” principles like free speech.


Dahlan: living the good life in Dubai

Israeli media reported in the past few hours that an Israeli minister met several times with former Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan.  My Israeli source confirms the meetings and tells me the minister was Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister.  The meeting was in Paris as confirmed by this Maariv report which noted Lieberman had been spotted in a hotel frequented by Arab leaders and people from the Gulf.  Lieberman had been telling Israeli journalists that he was meeting Qatari officials (Hebrew) there as a “cover” for his actual plans.  Dahlan, one of the most brutal and corrupt of ex-Fatah strongmen, was exiled by the PA and now lives in Dubai under the protection of the royal family there.

It seems especially appropriate for these two individuals to meet.  Lieberman was a nightclub bouncer back in his native Moldova and is known for his hot temper and beating up teenage boys at his settlement home in Nokdim.  Dahlan is known as Fatah’s enforcer.   His jails in Gaza before Hamas’ ascendancy, were well known for their brutality and torture chambers.  The two have much in common.

A bit of context is in order: whenever Israel gets particularly pissed at Mahmoud Abbas they trot out Dahlan as a bogeyman.  And man are they ever pissed with his joining the International Criminal Court.  This means that Israel may have the added headache of preparing for international trials against its generals or ministers in the coming year or so.

When Abbas gets particularly nettlesome, Israel re-“discovers” a Palestinian “alternative.”  They treat Dahlan like a king, hold “high-level” meetings with him, consult with him as if he carried the divine tablets from Sinai, etc.  They’ve held such Dahlan tetes a tete in the past with other senior ministers.  The goal is to spook Abbas into believing that Israel might seek a more pliable Palestinian partner; or alternatively to drive Abbas into a rage.

The tactic is beyond pathetic: who in their right mind in Israel or Palestine believes Dahlan is a serious interlocutor among Palestinians?  Who does he represent?  All the gunmen, bouncers (a nod to Lieberman’s past), enforcers, torturers and anyone else who can be bought off in Palestine?

Apparently, there are a few Israeli journalists and U.S. neocons who believe Dahlan represents someone other than thieves and hitmen.  Avi Issacharoff, writing for the Likudist-neocon Times of Israel, writes:

Dahlan, a longtime opponent of Abbas who was expelled from Abbas’s Fatah party in 2011, is considered a legitimate contender by some Palestinians and PLO leaders to replace the president…

Let’s take a look at the link in the above passage.  It leads to a National Interest story bruiting the idea that Dahlan is a legitimate rival to Abbas.  But the article was written by Grant Rumley of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.  This is a pro-Israel neocon outfit whose mission is to peddle nonsense like this.

In fact, the National Interest published another nugget by a different FDD “analyst” claiming, preposterously, that Iranian clerics are in fear of American Islam because its level of moderation might tempt Iranians to abandon their own Shiite revolutionary zeal.  Just because the National Interest appears to be giving free rein to FDD staff to opine in its pages, doesn’t mean we have to accord any credibility to any of this garbage.

So returning to Issacharoff, he falsely claims there are ‘Palestinians and PLO leaders’ who consider Dahlan a “legitimate contender,” linking to Rumley as his source.  Rumley himself offers exceedingly thin proof of this claim:

Thousands marched in the streets of Gaza last Thursday in support of Mohammad Dahlan, a longtime rival of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas who has lived in the UAE ever since Abbas forced him into exile in 2011. Protesters blasted Abbas, whom they accused of corruption, tyranny and even treason, while at the same time cheering the exiled former leader.

…Dahlan…appears to have some support among ordinary Palestinians. Indeed, last week’s demonstration was not the first time pro-Dahlan supporters hit the streets. When thousands of Abbas supporters previously marched in Gaza in early 2013 for Fatah’s anniversary they were  disrupted by swarms of Dahlan supporters.

Note, this rally was in Gaza, not the West Bank.  Gaza was formerly Dahlan’s stronghold, but it’s also now the bailiwick of Hamas.  It would naturally be in Hamas’ interest as a rival of Fatah, to allow, even encourage rallies for Dahlan.  So the fact that Gazans protested for Dahlan means very little.  Now, if they protested in the West Bank right under the PA’s nose, that would be notable.

Rumley also claims Dahlan recently met with two senior former PA officials who are now Abbas rivals.  But he also notes that the officials not only denied the report, but threatened to sue journalists who printed it.

The effect of all this that Israeli policy strategists and their journalistic scribes are a self-enclosed echo chamber.  Bibi turns to the Times of Israel which turns to FDD and they teach each other what they want to hear.  They want to hear there is a viable quiescent Palestinian leader who will bought and stay bought like other Arab strongmen past and present: Mubarak, Al-Sisi, Gemayel, Hussein and Abdullah, among others.  This has nothing to do with Palestinian reality nor with any real prospect of a successful policy that will advance Israeli interests.  Instead, it’s more like a block and parry move in fencing.  It may stave off a single hard blow, but it does nothing to win the match.

UPDATE: Maariv has published this story here.