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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.


Hamas billboard Israeli prisoner

Hamas billboard shows blank image promising an unidentified Israeli prisoner

Last October, I reported that Hamas had captured an Israeli-Ethiopian who’d crossed the border into Gaza.  Shabak ordered the story placed under gag and warned the family not to notify any media about it.

Hamas rubbed its hands with glee at the capture of an Israeli citizen, believing it would give it leverage in negotiating the release of further Palestinian prisoners.  Last October, I featured a photo of a Hamas billboard boasting of a mystery prisoner it held who would lead to freedom for more Palestinian detainees.

Israel knew this and deliberately refused to acknowledge the capture or negotiate for his release.

Hamas tired of this game and today released a statement via Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV (Arabic) publicly confirming that it’s holding the Israeli citizen.  Al-Mayadeen is a source known to be sympathetic to both Hezbollah and Hamas.  According to the report, he was swimming in the sea near Ashkelon, his home, and was swept out to sea.  When he came ashore in Gaza, Palestinians captured him and handed him to Hamas, where he has remained.

Hamas, attempting to shame the Israelis, says that the government has refused to negotiate for his release because he’s African.  It also says the statement that the prisoner is mentally ill is another stratagem to reduce the price of exchange.

Actually, racism is probably one of the major components in Israel’s lack of response to this situation.  Another, is that clearly since the Shalit prisoner exchange, Israel has put in place a Draconian new approach: it will not negotiate in such circumstances.  It would rather kill IDF soldiers, as it did during Protective Edge, than allow them fall into enemy hands.  And if a citizen is kidnapped, especially a civilian for whom the State feels no special responsibility, it will refuse to deal.

I tried contacting various Israeli government ministries about the story.  I could not read anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office after being on hold several minutes.  After several attempts at the foreign ministry, I reached Paul Hirschson, the deputy press officer and he said he was “aware of the story” and “had nothing more to add about it.”  I’ll let you be the judge whether this is a country that cares about its citizens when they’re neither Ashkenazi, Mizrahi or IDF.

Above I featured an Israeli 2010 TV comedy skit which portrayed a Hamas cell which captures an IDF soldier.  The commander praises his fighters and their heroism in bringing such a gift which will free so many Palestinian prisoners…until they remove the soldier’s hood and discover that he’s an Ethiopian-Israeli.  That’s when they realize that no Israeli government will pay anything for an Ethiopian.  The commander berates the cell members for kidnapping the wrong type of Israeli and tells them to do better next time.

They decide to free the prisoner, but he won’t leave.  They fear they’ve insulted him and consider telling him they’ve already received prisoner’s in exchange for him.  But they reject the idea, realizing that even he won’t believe Israel would’ve done this on his behalf.  Finally, the soldier asks for a ride to the border and they ask why he needs one since “his kind” knows how to run so well.


lindsey graham bibi netanyahu

Sen. Lindsey Graham to Bibi: we take our lead from you. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

The only way to describe the threats coming from the U.S. government to cut funding for the PA in the aftermath of its application to join the International Criminal Court is: the death of irony (I stole the general idea from the brilliant, Billmon).

First, in joining the ICC, the PA is doing what the international community generally approves: creating accountability among nations for their deeds (and misdeeds).  After all, isn’t that the very foundation of the United Nations itself: building a matrix of responsibility and trust among member states? What can be wrong with holding member states responsible for their behavior?

Second, isn’t there a delicious irony in the PA joining an international body we, the U.S., has refused to join for fear that we will be held accountable for our own war crimes?  By what right do we determine to curtail funding for the PA, when we ourselves are black sheep in this regard?

Third, it’s ironic that Israel plans to withhold transfer of tens of millions in tax receipts it collects on behalf of the PA for imports handled by Israeli ports.  These are funds that belong to the PA and which Israel has signed an agreement to transfer.  But we can see how binding Israel finds such agreements.

I was especially tickled when Sen. Lindsay Graham, fresh from a consultation with his political mentor, Bibi Netanyahu, threatened that the Senate would suspend all U.S. support for the UN if it accepts the PA into the ICC.  So essentially, Graham is telling that body to suspend its rules and prohibit the PA from joining an international body simply because the U.S. and Israel don’t want it there.

On a related subject, Graham told Bibi during their tete a tete intime that his fellow GOP senators would take their lead from Israel regarding Iran sanctions and the P5+1 nuclear talks.  That surprised a number of observers who’d been under the mistaken impression that U.S. foreign policy was supposed to be devised in this country and in our own interests.

Returning to the ICC, what really angers Israel and the U.S. is that the PA will file a case against Israel for war crimes after the 60-day waiting period ends.  Last summer’s Gaza massacre would be a perfect first case, which is why the IDF is scurrying to produce reports and investigations excusing its forces from any potential violations.  They do this in the false belief that if the nation accused of war crimes has conducted an investigation, then the ICC has jurisdiction over the matter.  What the IDF refuses to realize is that a sham investigation is not the same as a legitimate one.  An investigation whose sole purpose is to whitewash war crimes, as the IDF’s is, does not pass muster with the ICC.

The NY Times’ Jodi Rudoren yesterday published an especially meretricious article on this subject which confused and erred far more than it enlightened.  But it’s useful to know how the MSM is portraying this issue, even when it’s wrong (especially when it’s wrong).