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Today, the NY Times published what was essentially an unexpurgated series of IDF intelligence reports claiming Hezbollah had taken over a southern Lebanese town and turned it into a fortress bristling with fortifications.  The story, written by Isabel Kershner, features photos and descriptions of intelligence data received directly from the army intelligence unit, AMAN.

idf intelligence hezbollah

IDF’s “smoking gun” proving…what? That there are holes in the ground in southern Lebanon. And that they may contain something connected to Hezbollah

At no point in the story does Kershner offer any skepticism about the substance of the material or its origins. Nor does she entertain any thoughts about the ultimate purpose of releasing the material to her.  As I read the story, the biggest nagging question was: how did she vet this before publication?  Did she get someone to visit the village to confirm details?  Did she ask a military analyst or consultant to authenticate the documents proffered her?  In response to a tweet to bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, she says she thinks this happened but doesn’t know the details.

The only indication in the report that these issues may’ve  been considered is a statement that none of the information “could be independently verified.”  You’re damn straight they couldn’t be verified.  But how hard did you try?

There is an interview conducted by the Times’ Lebanon correspondent Anne Barnard with a figure representing Hezbollah.  He refuses to address the specifics of the intelligence information and only affirms the Islamist movement’s determination to protect Lebanese sovereignty from Israeli attack.

I tweeted these questions to Jodi Rudoren, the paper’s Israel bureau chief, and she replied that since it was not her story I should contact Kershner directly.  Given that she’s Kershner’s boss, I found the response odd.

UPDATE: I sent a series of questions via e mail to Kershner using the address Rudoren gave me.  Here was my e mail:

Given that it’s not often AMAN offers journalists a Powerpoint presentation with secret documents confirming alleged Hezbollah military activity, I wonder what you did to confirm their authenticity.

Did you attempt to have a Lebanese source visit the village?  Or take any other steps to examine things on the ground than having Anne Barnard contact a Hezbollah representative?  Did you engage a consultant or intelligence analyst to examine the photographs & other documentation to confirm their origin and authenticity?  If so, why isn’t that noted in the article?  If not, why not?

What exactly is the IDF claiming the pictures displayed represented?

How did AMAN approach you with this information?  Did you approach them?  Were any other media outlets approached?  What conditions or limitations were placed upon you in exchange for giving the documents to you?

Why didn’t you connect this article to Yaalon’s speech last week (see below) in which he promised mass annihilation against Lebanese civilians and launched a pre-emptive strike against war crimes charges that would result?  “Avoiding international censure” as you wrote, is one thing.  But pre-empting war crimes charges is quite stronger language and precisely what the IDF is doing.

That message bounced.  Rudoren gave me the correct address, before I could send it, Rudoren decided there would no further comment:

I saw the email, and I think we’re going to let the story speak for itself. attack as you wish. Jodi Rudoren

I responded by reminding her she’d asked me to contact Kershner. In the meantime, she’d changed her mind and closed off any response. Seemed unfair. Here’s her reply:

Yes, well, in the passage of time and upon seeing your Tweets and questions, that’s where we are.
I’ll make sure Isabel sees your email tomorrow, and if we change our minds will let you know,
Jodi Rudoren

She followed this tweet with another in which she explained she would not address my questions because:

…I do not believe you are seriously interested in our work other than fodder for your attacks. I don’t consider you fair assessor.

…I’m not hurt or angry. I’m uninterested and dismissive.

Imagine that, a NY Times bureau chief unnerved by skeptical, challenging questions. It makes you wonder what the standards are at the Times for getting the job. Ethan Bronner, her predecessor, was another one who displayed his thin-skinned nature when he moaned about the leftists who were so unfair to him. Excuse me, but I was under the impression that journalists both asked and answered tough, even uncomfortable questions. I guess not in the Times Israel bureau.

We should also remember that Kershner’s husband is former Jerusalem Post IDF correspondent Hirsh Goodman.  He is a researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank deeply connected to the Israeli military and intelligence apparatus.

I should make clear that I’m not taking any position on the accuracy of the report or the IDF documents.  Instead, I’m most disturbed by the process used in putting this story together.  The IDF and Israeli intelligence in general is well-known for putting forth false or fraudulent claims.  Any Israeli journalist who is half-way honest knows this and would freely concede it.  It is incumbent on any self-respecting journalist to authenticate such data before accepting it at face value.  I don’t see any indication from the story itself that any of this was done.

Another critical aspect of this story you won’t find mentioned by Kershner is that Hezbollah is a Lebanese resistance movement whose goal, at least concerning Israel, is to defend the nation’s sovereignty.  Yes, we can argue about its involvement in Syria diverging from this agenda, but aside from a few skirmishes Hezbollah is not fighting Israel in the Syrian Golan.  Not to mention, that the IDF is complaining about Hezbollah fortifying a Lebanese village from attack by Israel.  In other words, Hezbollah’s purpose is to defend Lebanese territory.  How it does this is not something Israel has a right to complain about.

kirya tel aviv idf

IDF headquarters in the heart of Tel Aviv

As a reader noted in a comment below, Kershner quotes the AMAN source saying:

” ‘The civilians are living in a military compound,’ a senior Israeli military official said at military headquarters in Tel Aviv.”

IDF headquarters is located in the Kirya, the heart of Tel Aviv.  It is surrounded by residential and office towers and a commercial district.  In other words, he was speaking from a “military compound” in the heart of civilian Tel Aviv.  If the IDF was truly concerned about its own civilians’ welfare, it would move the headquarters out of Tel Aviv.  As the reader wrote, the IDF operates in an “irony-free zone.”

In the article itself, the IDF sources make crystal clear that their military strategy features an invasion of Lebanon.  In other words, the Israeli army is conceding that it intends to violate Lebanese sovereignty.  Yet on the other hand it denies Lebanese the right to defend against such an invasion.  The army also makes clear Israel’s intent to kill civilians, as it has in numerous invasions and occupation over the decades.  The difference this time around is that the IDF is warning beforehand that it intends to do this.  It is telling the world that we will do to Lebanon what we did to Gaza.  There will be no mercy.  No punches pulled.  It will unleash the full fury of its arsenal.  Civilians will be treated no different than combatants.

In the midst of the massive civilian death toll it will trot out Kershner’s stenography and say: See, we told you so.  We warned you that Hezbollah was using civilians as human shields.  We warned you in no less a venue than the NY Times that we would have no choice but to decimate the militants along with the civilians.  Now, you have no right to complain that we did precisely what we told you we would do.

The reporter quotes her intelligence source making yet another mendacious claim about the history of guerrilla warfare:

“Historically, armed forces have separated themselves from the population, in uniform,” the senior Israeli military official said. “This is not the case here or in Gaza.” He accused Hezbollah of cynically using civilians.

This is not only utterly false in general historical terms (remember the 250,000 dead in Leningrad or the two Warsaw Ghetto uprisings?), it’s false in terms of Israel’s own history.  The Palmach and other Jewish resistance groups made extensive use of civilian infrastructure, including synagogues, to hide weapons caches.  Military forces use whatever advantage they can muster which benefit their strategic position.  If the IDF was in the position of Hezbollah it would do nothing different. In such a case, no one could argue Israel didn’t have the right to do so as long as it was defending its territory from invasion, as Hezbollah is doing.

Let’s also not forget the only way to stop this mayhem on both sides is for Israel to agree to return to 1967 borders, return the Golan and Shebaa Farms and any prisoners it holds, in return for peace and recognition from the Syrians and Lebanese.  Anything short of this is utter failure.

Nor is this the only time recently such claims have been made.  Just this past week, Asa Winstanley reported defense minister Bogie Yaalon’s truculent speech to the Israeli lawfare NGO, Shurat HaDin, in which he offered precisely the same argument: Hezbollah and Hamas hide among children, so don’t blame us for those we killed last summer or those we’ll kill the next time around–whether it be Gaza or Lebanon.  Curiously, in his speech he offered no evidence to support his claims that residential homes were turned into rocket launching platforms with families still living inside them.  Kershner’s story answers that question.

Further, Yaalon made another strange aside in answering an audience question.  He implied that in certain strategic circumstances in which the IDF “did not have the answer through surgical operations” against an enemy (presumably Iran), it might use WMD (around 18:00).  Though he added “we’re not there yet.”  Lunatics like Sheldon Adelson, John Hagee, and even Benny Morris, have advocated nuking Iran, but I’ve never before heard this officially discussed by such a senior Israeli figure.  It indicates another red-line has been crossed; and that this government is by far the most reckless and dangerous in Israeli history.

The general purpose of this hasbara offensive seems to be a pre-emptive strike in world media which seeks to permit Israel to set the agenda around questions of culpability for war crimes in the past or future. Israeli generals seem to believe that if they put out an aggressive defense that this will dent the initiative of the ICC and other human rights forces when their time comes to accuse Israel.  Needless to say, this is a fraudulent enterprise.

There is no provision in international law allowing a state to justify deliberately killing civilians if they are in the vicinity of military personnel.  Even if IDF claims are true (and I do not concede they are), there is no exemption saying militants who deliberately hide themselves within a civilian population may be attacked along with these civilians.

Haaretz published an interview with the ICC’s chief prosecutor in which she emphasized the importance of both Israeli and Palestinian sources cooperating with her investigation in providing evidence. She also warned that she might bring cases against officers from the highest to the lowest ranks in order to make her case:

Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, told Haaretz that if she decides to open an investigation of war crimes committed in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli soldiers of low- and middle-rank potentially could be investigated for the purpose of “bringing stronger cases against those most responsible.”

My first reaction when I read Asa’s report was, Yaalon ought to buy a condo in the Hague because he will be spending a great deal of time there.  But he won’t be alone.  He’ll have the company of all the IDF senior command and his prime minister as well.

I note that the ICC often fails in its prosecutions.  Take the example of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.  By refusing to cooperate, he stared down the Court and won.  No doubt, Israel will do the same.  It may win too.  But just seeing these murderers (and a few Palestinians will be among them too) in the dock facing justice will suffice, as the seder song says.

This would be one of the best ways to bring the Israeli public to its senses; since those in the world who can act to stop Israel, refuse to do so.  Right now, Israel believes it can act with impunity.  That no one will intervene on behalf of civilians Israel kills in its ceaseless attacks against frontline states.  Someone finally must stand up and say: enough.  Either it will be the UN recognizing Palestine, or half the world putting Israel in BDS quarantine, or hauling a few prime ministers and generals before the ICC.  Drastic measures must be taken or the message will never get through.

In the meantime, expect thousands more dead in a certain upcoming war between Israel and Hezbollah.

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Tuesday marks the Jubilee of Israel-German diplomatic relations.  In commemoration of this major milestone, German Radio’s Israel correspondent, Dr. Sebastian Engelbrecht, traveled to Kibbutz Yakum and recorded this interview (listen to the original Hebrew) on the state of affairs between the two nations.  Among the most important issues was Burg’s urging the German leadership to take an active role in opposing the most destructive policies Israel pursues against the Palestinians.  He also denounced Germany’s sale of five Dolphin nuclear-armed submarines to Israel.

Thanks to Avrum Burg for his support in republishing the interview. It was translated from German (which itself was translated from Hebrew) by an Israeli raised in Germany who wishes to remain anonymous:

INTERVIEW DER WOCHE /  10.05.2015

German Broadcasting Radio

The former Speaker of the Israeli Parliament, Avraham Burg, has encouraged Europe and Germany to openly criticize Israeli Settlement Policies. As long as Germany is afraid to openly state it’s opinion, nothing will change, says Burg to DLF [German Radio].

The Israeli leadership encourages the trauma of the Holocaust.

Sebastian Engelbrecht [interviewer]:

Next Tuesday, the 12thMay, the governments of Germany and Israel celebrate a major Jubilee marking the inauguration of diplomatic relations exactly 50 years ago. President Rivlin is expected in Berlin for the celebration. A few days before this, I am now with Avraham Burg at Kibbutz Yakum, north of Tel Aviv.

Avraham Burg was Speaker of the Knesset from 1999 to 2003 representing the Labor Party. In 2004, he withdrew from politics and is now an author, journalist, and internationally-acclaimed speaker. At the beginning of the year he joined Hadash, a Communist Party in Israel.

Avraham Burg’s father Yosef Burg came from Germany was a minister and one of the most significant politicians in the country for many years.

Q: Mr Burg, German-Israeli relations are very intense. What is powering these relations – pragmatism or attraction?

Avraham Burg:

I think pragmatism is only a practical issue, when you can do it. I think there is a very complex engine, an engine with plenty of cylinders. The central cylinders are the feelings of guilt, very very deep feelings of guilt on the German side and the feelings of the Israelis, which correspond to the German guilt. They are two post-traumatic societies, each for opposite reasons. We deal with the most post traumatic societies in the West today. One reflects the post trauma of the other. Israel is the mirror of Germany and Germany is the mirror of Israel. And I think that underneath, in the depths, there is a formidable curiosity, which began within German Jewry; and continued in Germany all through the phase of the Weimar Republic, and of course ended with the rise of the Nazis to power. This fascination of Jews and Germans existed before the Holocaust and has remained today, with a role change. But there is an enormous fascination in the relations between the two.

“Jewish Israel is an ethnic society”

S.E

There are many who use the word “miracle” in this context.

Avraham Burg:

I don’t believe in miracles, because the word “miracle” refers to something which occurs beyond the laws of nature and I believe that all of life is nature. I am a rationalist of the 17th and 18th century variety. I have emotions and feelings, but a “miracle” would mean that the sun ceased to set in the West and that water dropped from earth skywards. I don’t believe in such matters.

There is a strong rationalism in this relationship, the existence of mutual needs. Germany cannot be redeemed without the redemption of Israel and Israel cannot be redeemed without the redemption of the Germans. But let’s regard the issue from a deeper perspective. One of the greatest angers of the Nazis concerning the Jews was their cosmopolitism, their Europeanisms. Stefan Zweig is maybe the best known figure today, but there where many, Walter Benjamin and others. But the ethnic German said: “We want our folk, our ethos”. What is the internal reasoning which recognizes national loyalty only versus cosmopolitism? Now 70, 80 years have passed. Jewish Israel is an ethnic society and Germany is a cosmopolitan one. Look at the German National Football team: Two Poles, one North African, and one Turk. This was unthinkable 70 years ago. It means, we play the “Trip to Jerusalem” [Musical Chairs] together, and that is very important.

S.E.:

In 1952 Israel and Germany joined the Luxembourg Agreement, which regulated so-called “Reparations” after the Holocaust. Astonishingly, in the years that followed, it was Israel that urged the start of diplomatic relations before 1965, while the Federal Republic hesitated. How can one explain this?

“The new Germany”

Avraham Burg:

In order to answer your question, we have to look at two developments, which are very difficult for radio and reality. We have to go back in time and consciousness, and that is not easy.  But let us try.

We are at the beginning of the 50’s. The Cold War begins. The states are aligning with blocs. The USA needs Germany. Israel needs the USA and in some way the West. So we already were in one camp. We have a common friend: America. Secondly, it was clear that World Jewry was an important factor in this power game: the Jewish World Congress. Nahum Goldman and so on. And it was not only a game between Israel and Germany, but a chess game of three players. Israel, Germany and World Jewry with all its opinions, ideologies and exigencies.

Germany had not completed its internal transformation process. Yes, there was a mixture of Willy Brandts and Adenauers, who had not directly tainted themselves and had returned. But the internal world of official and bureaucrats, the teachers, the municipal clerks and the water-meter readers, they came from the epoch of the war.

Israel was completely new. A State that did not exist before. New immigrants. Sure, everybody carries their own trauma with him, but it was a new State. Therefore these were not relations as between Germany and Austria, between France and Germany, England and France. They were relations between new and old. And as long as the transformation was not complete and mutual trust had not developed, each one of them was at a different energy. This continued until the late 70’s, when the significant change began, when terms like “the other Germany”, “the new Germany” were minted.

S.E.:

50 years of German-Israeli relations – in Germany celebrated as a major Jubilee- in Israel, no big deal. Why doesn’t it interest Israelis?

Avraham Burg:

Israel 2015 is not the Israel of 1950 or 1960, not in view of its leadership as well as its existential status. In what respect? Germany came out of the war as a closed society and became an open society. Today, Germany is a very open country. The word Volk today means more the citizens, not only the nation. There is a much greater understanding. And I speak not only of the people of the former DDR, but about immigrants from Turkey, Northern Africa and Africa etc. A very open State which excels through the citizenship and the culture of the place.

holocaust memorial

Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial

Israel is locked and further segregates itself. What does it separate itself from? Israelis are deeply convinced, which of course is a vague claim, that the whole world is against them. Secondly, that Europe is driven by anti-Semitism; and thirdly, that the second Shoah is at the door.  From my viewpoint all these are – and I phrase it with caution –nonsense. But we don’t know it.  There is an indoctrination on the political level. The Holocaust is a national strategy; or rather, trauma is a national strategy. The leadership promotes trauma, since it enables many things which an secure State and a secure society would not tolerate. Then we look at Germany and the 50-year Jubilee. Germany celebrates its openness and its ability to deal with the past without hiding it. After 50 years, Israel marks the relationship as part of the past. It doesn’t develop beyond it, it is still drowning in it. This is the difference in approach toward this subject.

S.E.:

You have just mentioned the meaning of the Holocaust in this connection. One of the strongest bonds between Israel and Germany is, paradoxically, the Holocaust. In your book The Holocaust is over, you take the view that Israel must free itself from the fixation on the Holocaust in order to be able to confront the challenges of the present. In view of relations with Germany, I think, this would be a mistake – to slip into forgetting history. What do you think?

“Germany consists of various Germanys”

Avraham Burg:

I am not a person that says one has to forget – not to mention that Google doesn’t allow one to forget! My argument is simply that the past exists, but it cannot be that we only live in the past. Israel lives in the past. Everything is high-tech, all is modern, Tel Aviv is a wonderful city. Tel Aviv and Berlin are Sister Cities, if you judge by their inner energy. All this is true.

On the level of the national psyche, we are caught up in the past: partly in the Holy Temple of 2000 years ago, partly in the pogroms 500 years ago or in the expulsion of the Spanish Jews and – most of all- in the Shoah.

I claim: Yes, all this is here, indisputably, but it cannot be the only strategy. We have to create a movement from the strategy of trauma towards the strategy of trust, and this we have not mastered yet. I am not sure – as I am very sure of some of my greater failures – but I thought that through my book I would open the debate on the Holocaust in Israel. I took a lot of fire, but the debate has begun. Today one can speak differently on the issue. But I failed to reach Germany. Everywhere I have been told: “Herr Burg, it is too difficult for us. It is dangerous, too explosive. Please leave.” I did not reach Germany.

I feel that two different things have happened. In Israel everybody chatters about the Holocaust – the student, his mother from Iraq and his father who came from Afghanistan – all conscious of the Holocaust. Also, the ones who had no connection to it [the debate] are Holocaust survivors here. However, in many families in Germany it is still a secret, what we call a Black Hole in astronomy, which has not been opened yet. In public, the leadership speaks about it, there are ceremonies and Willy Brandt went to Warsaw in a mighty gesture – but not at home. In many homes of my friends the topic is still locked. When Israel will close the issue, Germany will begin it. We are not at the same level in the spheres of private, familiar and societal treatment of this topic.

Aside from this, I am not sure that I am right. I am not sure if the dispute about the Holocaust in the German educational establishment in the countryside or in the former DDR – the DDR had triumphed over Hitler – reaches the same conclusions. Also, Germany consists of a few Germanys. One has to wait. It takes time.

S.E.:

Now there seems to be a group that has reached beyond this issue, Israelis who are moving to Berlin since the beginning of the [20th] century. About 10-20 thousand Israelis, many hold a German passport, one cannot count them exactly. One hears Hebrew on the streets. How do you explain this phenomena?

Avraham Burg:

Firstly, Berlin is a very attractive city, very contemporary. It was important for me to run the Berlin marathon. An important city. Very simple: an important city.

S.E.:

You ran the Berlin marathon?

“The presence of the Holocaust in Berlin has made it into a tolerant city”

Avraham Burg:

I ran the Berlin marathon in 2008. I have run in Berlin many times. There is something deeper. I am not sure that the Israelis attracted by Berlin for its culture, openness, energy and beauty have left their trauma behind. Berlin has succeeded in something of great magnitude. The trauma is present on the streets, – the Stolpersteine, the line where the wall once stood, the Jewish Museum and the controversial Holocaust memorial, but also at street corners and in the missing houses – the Holocaust is present, but not in an aggressive manner. It is a reminder for the future. Actually I can say: The presence of the Holocaust has turned Berlin into a tolerant city.

And in Israel the Palestinian past is not present. Therefore one is not tolerant towards it. Our Jewish past is over-represented. It stands alone. For this reason we do not move forwards. Very many Israelis, of course the intellectuals, sensitive people, artists – feel that Berlin offers an balance of past and present, trauma and hope, reality and memory, which is right. This is a mighty achievement, a mental and spiritual achievement of Berlin. This does not exist everywhere in Germany. You and I know that there are places in Germany where it is difficult to tread.

S.E.:

Do you think that the Germans have learned from Jewish tradition? So that they now bring the past so strongly into the future?

Avraham Burg:

You are opening an issue which occupies me more than others and I have still not managed to understand it. There are two big models of world Jewry. 78 percent of the Jews of the world live in either Israel or the US. Judaism in the US is based on religious identity. The Passover seder at the White House, the Hanukkah lights on Times Square etc. I call that “religious-style”.

Judaism in Israel revolves around the Nation. Judaism in Western Europe and, at its centre the Jewry of Germany, since Moses Mendelssohn, cannot be categorized in such fashion. It was a corpus of ideas, a strong generator of ideas, general European, general German and general Jewish ideas. All these renewal movements – they all happened in Germany. What is missing today between the American “Religious Style” and the Israeli national centralization is a body of ideas and values. I think we lack that in Judaism today.

In Germany there are interesting ideas, after the war there was the Group 47 of writers. What an important group! What immense influence. Think of the time before the war. The Frankfurt School. Adorno was part of it even before the war, but his influence holds up to today. The Germans listen to Hanna Arendt. Even today. She is much more respected there [in Germany], than here. I can continue endlessly. I think the Jewish-German conversation from before the war was severely damaged, but it is not dead. It is like Hawking. He is paralyzed, he can hardly move, but he is full of inspiration. In Israel there is no Jewish-German conversation.

“The Germans listen to Hanna Arendt!”

S.E.:

Since the murderous attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January, the discussion on the question, should European Jews leave Europe has re-emerged. Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked them to. You were head of the Jewish Agency and of the Zionist World Organization between 1995 and 1999. Do you share Netanyahu’s views?

Avraham Burg:

This is a controversial question, since as you know I do not share any views with him. But Netanyahu follows a long, sad and horrible line, which I call “”Catastrophic Zionism”: the greater the catastrophes are for the Jewish people outside Israel, the more will immigrate to Israel. I think this is absolutely wrong. In addition I think it is a paradox. One addresses European Jewry. 750 million people live in Europe. Not even 5% are Muslims. Out of the 5%, 90% are wonderful citizens and a few are problematic.

Because of this one says to the Jews: leave this place of values, the tolerant and humanistic institutions and come to Israel, where 20% of citizens are non-Jews for whom discrimination is integral, while between the Jordan and the [Mediterranean] sea there are 50% non-Jews. There is twisted logic in this claim. Upon deeper reflection it is wrong. In what respect? I think that there is a significant struggle for the future of the West–about its dialog with the “Other” who is non-Western–going on in Europe. The “Other” can be various types of “Other”.

This is not happening in the US, Australia or Japan. It happens in Europe. And it is not an cliched multi-culti [conversation]. It is a daily challenge. It is the neighbour, the colleague at work, the cabdriver, everybody. This struggle is after all led by the development of new models of a new West and of a new tolerant Western Islam, which do not exist today. If this struggle were to take place in a Europe “empty” of Jews, if the struggle for a new “Other” would take place in a Europe without Jews, it would be the failure of the West and a strategic failure of Judaism – therefore Netanyahu’s speech is utter nonsense.

merkel netanyahu

Chancellor Angela Merkel with PM Netanyahu

S.E.:

The quality of Israeli-German relations will also, in the future, depend on the internal development of both countries. Here are some developments that sometimes worry the German partner. Israel isolates itself noticeably through its Settlement policies. The alienation of its closest allies, Germany included, is growing. The Israeli government doesn’t seem to take this criticism seriously. Can this continue?

Avraham Burg:

It cannot continue. But as long as Germany fears expressing its opinions publicly – Merkel phrased it very politely last year – and as long as Germany thinks that the delivery of U-boats [Dophin submarines] is to be understood as part of the moral relations between the countries, nothing can change. It concerns all of Europe, but in the heart of Europe is Germany, from every perspective. As long as it is not able to express its opinions loud and openly – it has three terrifying complexes: The complex of post colonialism towards the whole Middle East, the complex of post-Holocaust towards the Jews, and an inferiority complex towards the US. –Europe cannot be a political player. And if Europe is not a political player, Israel can do what it wants. Europe has to understand that beyond financial power it has political power. And Europe should say: Within our value system of equality, post colonialism, repentance and acts of reconciliation, we cannot accept a country in our midst which occupies another country. As long as Europe does not say this, all will stay the same and the relations will be based on guilt and weapons. And that is not good!

S.E.:

Will this issue be a heavy burden on German-Israeli relations in the future?

Avraham Burg:

That depends on Germany. I think that the current German leadership still lives in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and allows Israel to do as it pleases. And the Israelis are taking advantage of this. I am not sure, that 20 and 30 year-olds today, when they join the leadership will have the same memories. They will follow other interests, and this whole conversation will change.

S.E.

Avraham Burg, Thank you very much for this talk and Aufwiedersehen – maybe in Kibbutz Yakum or somewhere else, maybe Berlin.

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GOP’s Go-To Jews

Over the past week, the media has exposed several critical relationships between major GOP presidential candidates and their key Jewish donors, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Scott Walker.  Though I didn’t coin this term, it’s apt to call these individuals “go-to” Jews; or in older parlance, they are the Court Jews who provide access for the pro-Israel community to the arenas of power.

Rubio has for years enjoyed the patronage of Norman Braman, a wealthy Miami auto-dealer.  Braman has not only heavily financed the Senator’s campaigns for state and federal office, he’s employed both Rubio and his wife and engaged in an extensive set of financial relationships with them involving gifts, loans and other support.

But in just the past week or so, an even greater Jewish (blue and) white knight has emerged to bless Rubio’s candidacy: none other than Sheldon Adelson.  It seems the self-made fat cat Jews who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps are enamored by Rubio’s life story of growing up poor as a Cuban immigrant and making something of his life in the contemporary version of the American Dream.  The media report that Adelson has decided to go “all-in” with Rubio, as he did with Newt Gingrich in the last presidential campaign.  Politico adds that Paul Singer, the Likudist hedge fund billionaire, is joining Rubio’s camp as well.

I’m wondering when Adelson’s involvement with the Chinese mob, including offering his blessing to Chinese triads engaged in gambling, prostitution and loansharking at his Macau casino, will catch up to him.  GOP presidential candidates are delighted to take his $100-million (in the last election cycle–likely to rise to $200-million in the 2016 cycle).  But when will the moment come when the public will realize how dirty Sheldon’s money is and severely penalize candidates who’ve availed themselves of it?  This is a ticking bomb for Republicans.  Adelson is a golden teat, till he isn’t.

Another disturbing issue involving Adelson’s patronage is his ultra-extremist views on Israel.  How does a presidential candidate explain taking money from a man who denies the existence of Palestine and publicly supports “nuking” Iran?  These are not abstract issues.  If such a GOP candidate becomes president, he will not be able to wave away these positions with a bit of political hocus-pocus.  Adelson’s quid pro quo for his money is unquestioning support for the most racist, genocidal policy in the Middle East.  It is critical to keep this issue before the media and American people.

I was amused by this comment from John Weaver, a veteran GOP consultant and former McCain campaign operative:

“Hopefully, foreign policy discussions are not driven by a need to capture fundraising dollars,” Weaver said. “I’m skeptical about that, but hopefully that’s not the case.”

This guy is too smart and experienced not to know that what he’s saying is a crock.  Everything that’s happening right now in the GOP camp regarding Israel is nothing but positioning for the maximum fundraising benefit.  And Israel/Middle East policy is all that Jewish mega-donors care about.

Politico has profiled yet another wealthy GOP Jew , Larry Mizel, who’s paving the way for Scott Walker’s visit to the Holyland, where he will presumably make a pilgrimage to the Stations of the GOP pro-Israel cross.  Those would include visits to the prime minister’s office, the IDF chief of staff, Yad Vashem, the Kotel, Masada (where hopefully he’s not asked to commit suicide if he loses the race), and some appropriately extremist settlement.  Walker, having no previous pro-Israel credentials given his role as Wisconsin governor, is strongly in need of a pro-Israel heksher (kosher certification), which Mizel provides.

Among those Mizel has scheduled to meet Walker is Jewish Agency chair and neocon hero, Natan Sharansky (see tweet above).

All of these court Jews share one thing in common: they’re each either on the board of, or an active member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is a political country-club for the fat-cat set. Note the above tweet is from Matt Brooks, the RJC’s executive director (who earns over $500,000 annually).

The GOP is not alone in using Jewish power-brokers to act as gatekeepers and fundraisers for presidential candidates.  Abe Feinberg is reputed to have been a key player in Lyndon Johnson’s career starting with his first, notoriously corrupt run for the Senate.  Feinberg funneled wheelbarrows full of cash to all manner of Democratic candidates for many decades.  Nor was he the only one.

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Israel’s Newest Form of Hasbara: Mommy-washing

On Mother’s Day, the IDF devised a new hasbara meme for social media.  It published the above photo on Twitter, which pictures an Israeli Air Force officer breast-feeding her baby in uniform.  Exploiting the tenderest of bonds for the sake of Israeli propaganda seems to be a new low in the hasbara universe.  It, as @columbiasjp tweeted, militarizes motherhood, recruiting it on behalf of the war goals of the State. The picture attempts to erase awareness that this same officer, once her baby has been sated, will return to work helping kill Palestinian mothers and babies (including 550 children during Operation Protective Edge).

For that reason, I’ve coined my own new form of pro-Israel propaganda.  We already have pinkwashing, Blackwashing, greenwashing and faithwashing.  Now we have Mommywashing.  I also like the alternate form, which I call hasba-momma.

I’m delighted to report that my tweet has driven several hasbara-Twitterati around the bend with one jackass tweeting this means I wasn’t breastfed!  At least my mother never killed Palestinians.

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Amir Benayoun is one of Israel’s most famous Mizrahi pop stars.  The closest thing to him here might be Ted Nugent, if Nugent had remained popular and sang songs calling Pres. Obama Hitler and wishing for his death.  For that’s what Benayoun, a darling of the political far-right, has done.  He wrote a new song about Pres. Obama.  It’s an execrable song, not just the lyrics.  He sings it with a croaking voice in the tempo of a soporific dirge, which I suppose is meant to offer it some portentous sense of meaning, which it entirely lacks.  This is a translation of the lyrics, found here in Hebrew:

I bought a crow with a cute little mustache
Even though there are many like it you can buy free in the street
Because of my love for Obama I will only say
That I called the crow by the name of that disgusting President

The reason I bought this cruel crow was to try
to inject into this traitorous creature a few drops of heart
In the meanwhile, I lost an eye, I suffer from stupidity and an evil crow
I wish for the death of this wicked creature.

That’s why it was so hard for me to choose a special name for him
There have already been a few other crows who’ve tried to wipe us out forever
That’s why it was so hard for me to choose an original name for him
To illustrate just what disgusting garbage he is.

He pesters me at home, caws, pesters the neighbors
His pals vandalize the street and terrify the pigeons
The crow is a betrayer from the days of that terrible Flood
Even then he refused to be Noah’s messenger and bring news.

…That’s why it was so hard to choose a name for this creature
I have no idea why he lives and breathes…

In subsequent interviews he’s further “clarified” his views and defended the song, though he removed it from his Facebook page where he originally published it.  In this interview, he acknowledged he wished for the death of all haters of Israel, among which he included Obama, but says he can’t understand where anyone got the idea he wants Obama to die:

“I long for the death of the wicked one, who currently represents the peak of evil in the world, which for me is Obama,” said Benayoun. “It is not specifically Obama. I mean the death of the creature who wants to kill us all the time, and the one who currently works hardest at this is Obama.”

“…I wanted the name of someone whose favorite sport is the destruction of Israel. So I thought of a few names. The name came to me last, and the one that was the most legitimate, was Obama, because he has been very busy with this activity in the recent past,” he continued. “He has armed Iran, he immediately gives them the stamp of approval, and Iran wants to destroy us. I pray for the death of this creature called the hater of Israel, I wish for the death of a crow called Pharaoh, called Hitler, called Stalin, names like that. It’s not so much Obama. I mean the death of the creature who all the time wants our death. The one who currently works hardest at it this Obama. I do not know how articles got out of that Netanyahu’s singer wants Obama to die”.

Benayoun went a step further and compared the U.S. President to Hitler. “I intended to speak about the kinds of people who want our destruction. I say that if he wants the annihilation of Israel, then it is especially intended for him…Only reality will prove if Obama is the worst of all time, but in my opinion he is the worst of the worst…”

“Whoever calls aloud that he wants to destroy the people of Israel so that there will not remain any Jews, and he will erase us because it is written in a book somewhere, I’m afraid of him,” the singer added.

You can imagine that the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv isn’t terribly happy with this news.  It released the following statement:

“We were sorry to hear the repulsive descriptions. We condemn any provocative and racist language, whether it is against the president of the United States or against anyone else, and we believe that most Israelis think like us.”

The settler publication, Arutz Sheva, in covering the story made this remarkably clueless comment:

“How the song constitutes “racist language” as phrased by the embassy’s condemnation remains unclear.

Benayoun appears to realize that the U.S. Secret Service might not take kindly to his making a visit to these shores any time soon:

When asked if he was worried he might not be let into the US due to the song, Benayoun responded, “not only am I not concerned (that will happen), I G-d willing hope and pray that they won’t want to see my face there. By the way, I didn’t have plans to travel there, to the land of plastic.”

Last month Benayoun was an honored guest at Likud Party headquarters on Election Night, where he sang Israel’s national anthem, HaTikvah.  If you’re nostalgic and want to hear a true Israeli fascist butcher HaTikvah, give a listen:

H/t Ofer Neiman.

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naftali bennet

Naftali Bennet: kingmaker (for the moment)

Israeli politics is damn screwy.  During the campaign everyone believed Labor was going to win.  Then Bibi shreyed gevalt and rallied the troops and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.  He won a convincing victory and everyone tried to parse the many ways he could put together a ruling coalition.  The possibilities seemed endless.  Until they weren’t.

We should’ve realized when Bibi asked for an extension from the president that negotiations weren’t going swimmingly.  But yesterday, at the last hour, Lieberman pulled the rug out from under Bibi.  Instead of having a comfortable, relatively stable government with 67 votes, he was left with 53 and no easy way to get past 60.  That put Naftali Bennett in the driver’s seat.  He demanded the Justice ministry for Ayelet Shaked and got it.  This is a woman who’s called for genocide against Palestinians and openly derided the Supreme Court.  It’s like putting James Watt, an anti-environmentalist, in charge of the nation’s national parks.  Only worse.

Netanyahu will be prime minister and foreign minister in the new government.  The Guardian claims he’s holding onto that card to offer it to Isaac Herzog when the time is right.  Were Herzog to accept it he should have his head examined.  For this faux-left party to join the ruling coalition would likely mean the dissolution of the Zionist Union as currently constituted.  This of course would suit Bibi just fine.  He delights in co-opting and neutering his rivals.

But until that happens, Bibi rides on the razor’s edge with a single seat majority.  This means that anyone among these four or five disparate parties can on a whim or on principle break up the government and force new elections.  Should that happen, Bibi can also try to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic and bring a new party into the coalition like the Zionist Union or Yisrael Beitenu.  Then Bennet will no longer be sitting in the cat bird seat.  It will be his turn to be on the outs.  But barring that happening it should be a wild ride.

We should spare a word about the implications of this new government for relations with Washington.  It’s gonna be a long, dark, bleak winter as far as that’s concerned.  Almost no one in this cabinet believes in a two-state solution.  To a man or woman they’re not just tacitly opposed, they’re publicly opposed.  And the U.S. is not pleased:

According to the State Department official who spoke to BuzzFeed News, U.S. officials have since been sending warnings to Netanyahu that should he choose to form a narrow, right-wing government that did not support a peace process with Palestinians, they would have “deep concerns.”

“The prime minister needs to show that he is still committed to a two-state solution,” the official said. “There were, and are, deep concerns that this is no longer the case.”

It puts Pres. Obama in an awkward situation.  He’s promised to review U.S. policy and threatened to adopt a more muscular, independent approach in the UN and elsewhere.  If this was spoken out of more than a fit of pique, then this new government will offer a test of his will.  People said the last government was the most extreme in Israel’s history.  That’s now no longer true.  This current one is easily the worst.  If there was any time for Obama to stand up against Israel for its extremism, it’s now.

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Last weekend, Pamela Geller hosted a “Draw Muhammad” competition in Garland, TX under the banner of her Islamophobic hate group, American Freedom Defense Initiative.  The promotional material for this event prominently featured the Charlie Hebdo cartoons which provoked outrage among European Muslims and led to the mass killings of the magazine’s editorial staff.

pam geller & charlie hebdo

Pamela Geller wrapping herself in pages of Charlie Hebdo

After the Paris attack, Geller wrapped herself in Charlie Hebdo and promoted photographs of herself reading it with the magazine banner prominently featured.  The French magazine’s editors aren’t returning the favor.  On the Charlie Rose Show (video), one of them specifically rejected any comparison between the work of his publication and Geller:

While he [editor Jean-Baptiste Floret] described the [Geller] event in Texas as part of an “anti-Islamic movement”…Thoret said the motives of Charlie Hebdo are “absolutely not the same.” For the magazine, he said it “was a question of criticizing” all religions, not Muslim people “in particular.”

This “Je ne suis pas Pamela” is at best disingenuous.  Hebdo rarely criticizes Israel.  When it does, it offensively uses the term “Jew” in place of “Israeli.”  While it sometimes satirizes Orthodox rabbis, I’ve never heard of it skewering Judaism as a religion.  In fact, one cartoonist was fired by Hebdo when he lampooned Nicholas Sarkozy’s son for converting to Judaism.  One can never imagine it firing Luz for his drawings offending Muslims.

In fact, a comparison between Geller and Hebdo is apt.  Just as Hebdo cartoons featured Muhammad engaged in sex acts and bestiality, among the cartoons featured in Geller’s competition was one depicting Muhammad wearing a toilet-paper turban and pissing on the Quran.  The winning cartoon, which earned the artist a $12,500 award, depicted The Prophet as a werewolf.

Earlier this week, two Islamist gunmen drove from their home in Phoenix to Texas armed with assault rifles and equipped with body armor.  When they arrived at the event site they opened fire on a traffic policeman who promptly shot both of them dead.  Though little is known so far about their exact plans, it’s safe to say they intended to attack the event and kill as many people there as they could.

Before anything further is said, it’s critical to note that murder is not a legitimate way to battle the hate that Pamela Geller and Charlie Hebdo peddle.  In fact, any act of violence in furtherance of religious or political motives is odious.

But I believe it’s also important to consider a perspective few have offered.  If instead of Muhammad, Hebdo pictured the Jewish God, Yahweh, pissing on a sacred Torah scroll can you imagine liberals and free speech advocates like PEN rushing to defend them?  If Geller dared to picture Jesus engaging in an act of bestiality would the same Christian evangelicals who welcomed her to Garland view her in the same way?

Clearly, the answer in each case is No.  So if defaming the Jewish God would be unthinkable for Hebdo and defaming the Christian God unthinkable for Geller, why is Islam in a different category?  Why is it acceptable to picture Islam’s founder in ways but unacceptable to engage in the other forms of bigotry I outlined?

There is a double standard in the west which few are willing to concede.  Islam is treated as a religion of subhumans, while western religions largely get a pass.  Violence endemic to western religions gets a pass, while the violent acts of a small number of Islamist fundamentalists represent the entirety of Islam.

If the results of such ignorance and hatred of Islam weren’t so murderous, it would be best to ignore Islamophobes like Hebdo and Geller.  Before the Paris attack, Hebdo was a magazine struggling financially and creatively.  I only wish it could’ve sunk into eventual deserved oblivion.  One might argue the same about Geller.  If we could just ignore her long enough, whatever resonance she has for a certain cross-section of lunatic haters out there might dissipate.

But unfortunately, a few hot-heads with guns have decided to take matters into their own hands.  This should force the hand of authorities who must address issues both of public safety and free speech.

I think we lose when we try to fight this battle on the issue of free speech.  Clearly, idiots have the right to spout off in democratic societies.  No one should argue their speech should be criminalized or sanctioned.

But remember the bright red line drawn by Justice Holmes’ Supreme Court decision on protected speech.  No one is permitted to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater.  This is what Geller and Hebdo have done.  They have shouted anti-Muslim slurs in a crowded theater and caused stampedes which have led to the deaths of scores of people, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

Their views are a danger to public safety.  When they speak, people die and lives are threatened, both the lives of the bigots and lives of innocent citizens.  Do municipalities like Garland and public institutions have a duty to open their facilities to public events featuring provocative hate that almost guarantees violent outbursts?  I think not.

Of course, any such public entity that wishes to, do so should.  It goes without saying that private institutions, which already have the right to permit or refuse use of their facilities to speakers of their choice, can permit Pamela Geller to shout anti-Muslim obscenities to the world.

But any institution or individual hosting, sponsoring or promoting such views must now take into account the reality that these views, which are violent in themselves, promote violence in response.

Garland chose to compel Geller to pay $10,000 for security at her event.  She was surrounded by SWAT teams, private security and all manner of protection.  If institutions and elected officials wish to call out the National Guard to protect themselves in such situations they should do so.

But I think any municipality which contemplates renting a hall to Geller (and don’t kid yourself, now that she’s infamous she wants to replicate her hate fests everywhere) should ask themselves a great many questions: do they wish to turn their jurisdiction into an armed camp bristling with weapons and Rambos bruising for a fight?  Do they wish to place their own residents in almost certain danger?  Do they wish to become known as the place where hate is welcomed?

Any town or city considering hosting her should demand a multi-million dollar security bond and be prepared to offer hundreds of security personnel to protect Geller, her guests and the rest of its community.  Just because Pam Geller may wish to become a martyr for her cause, does this mean that America much enable her?

There may be some who argue that Geller is merely and purely an advocate for free speech and that her campaign should be seen solely on those grounds.  But in truth, Geller knows what happened to the Charlie Hebdo editors.  She deliberately chose to create an event even more insulting toward Islam.  What did she expect would happen?  She provoked this attack.  In some sense, she has a death wish.  Or else she wants to provoke a vicious official response to it that will further her own goals of criminalizing Muslims and Islam.  In that case, she is a radical extremist who wants to turn this country into something heinous.

Returning to the toll that Islamophobia takes in society, it’s important to note that scores of Muslims were killed in the wake of the Jylland Postens Muhammad cartoons, and Hebdo’s editors were killed, and the Garland gunmen died.  Rabid Islamophobia of this sort kills.  It kills the good, the bad and the innocent.  Society has no obligation to promote the ideas of psychopathic Islamophobes nor should it have to pay for their dissemination with the lives of its members.

PEN honors Charlie Hebdo

This week, PEN America honored the editors of Charlie Hebdo with an award for “courage” and “free expression.”  After six writers who were table hosts of the evening withdrew in protest, 200 other writers joined them in penning a letter objecting to it.  They reasoned that while the publication had a right to publish anything it chose, there was no affirmative obligation for PEN to honor it for doing so.

In fact, just as tabloids in the past were called scandal sheets, Hebdo is a hate sheet.  No one should die because they peddle hate.  But no one has an obligation to honor them either because of what they peddle or because they died peddling it.

Both Glenn Greenwald, Teju Cole, and Garry Trudeau have penned eloquent critiques of Hebdo.  Trudeau’s is especially important because he himself is a cartoonist and political satirist.

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