Monthly Archives: June 2011

Was Israeli unit Shayetet 13 behind the sabotage of Gaza-bound flotilla ships?

Shayetet 13, the Israeli naval commando unit, contains an underwater sabotage division

Shayetet 13, the Israeli naval commando unit, contains an underwater sabotage division

Two boats among the fleet of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla have been sabotaged. Passengers scheduled to sail on the second boat, the Saoirse, which hails from Ireland, discovered that the propelled had been cut and “dangerously  bent.” “If this boat would’ve gone to sea, it’s almost certain we would’ve lost lives, this boat would’ve sank,” said Fintan Lane, an Irish coordinator of the flotilla.

While Israel has not taken credit for the sabotage, all signs point in its direction. The Israeli military boasts an elite underwater sabotage division, Yaltam, that operates out of Shayetet 13, the naval commando unit that raided the Mavi Marmara last year and killed 9 of its passengers. According to SpecWarNet, an online database of international special forces units, “For underwater sabotage missions, each [Shayetet 13] diver can carry a limpet mine to attach to the hull of enemy watercraft or docks.”

The Guardian reported on Shayetet 13′s history of sabotaging civilian ships in international harbors:

[Shayetet 13], the Israeli naval commando unit that intercepted the Gaza Freedom flotilla, is one of the country’s elite military formations, with rigorous selection and training procedures and a reputation for ruthless efficiency. It is known to have been involved in numerous clandestine seaborne operations, including many raids on neighbouring Lebanon. It works closely with the Mossad secret service.

It was also involved in a curious foreshadowing of the Gaza incident in February 1988, when Flotilla 13 is reported to have sabotaged an attempt by the PLO to highlight the issue of Palestinian refugees by sailing a ship to an Israeli port, forcing Israel either to sink it or board it or let it land the refugees. The night before the vessel, al-Awda (“The Return”) was due to sail, it was blown up and sunk in Limassol harbour, Cyprus — with no loss of life or political embarrassment.

Israeli Army can’t provide me evidence of flotilla’s violent plans, story unravels (Updated)

Israelis woke up on June 27 to a front page Jerusalem Post story claiming flotilla passengers planned violence against soldiers. The story has completely unraveled.

Israelis woke up to a front page Jerusalem Post story claiming flotilla passengers planned violence against soldiers. The story has completely unraveled.

Update: Neues Deutschland reported that chief army spokesperson Avital Liebovich claimed Israel infiltrated the US boat to Gaza with naval intelligence agents, who relayed the IDF with a report of the passengers’ violent intentions. The passengers denied the claim as baseless and hysterical. The ludicrous nature of Liebovich’s claim is underscored by my interview (below) with the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, where she works. A robot translation of the ND article is here.

On June 27, the Israeli army released a highly suspect claim that passengers on the flotilla planned to kill and maim Israeli soldiers. The claim looks like yet another anti-flotilla hoax emanating from Israeli government channels.

Today, I reached an official from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit after placing several calls and an email to the office requesting proof to support the army’s claim. The official was unable to supply me with one piece of evidence. Instead, she said, “Basically there’s a trust between the IDF and reporters. And like in any other army, you know, a senior IDF source says something, people are inclined to believe it because this is somebody high up, this is somebody that has a lifetime of experience and credibility and this is like any other army.”

When I asked why anyone would report such a claim without seeing any firm evidence, the army spokesperson said, “If there were something we probably would give it but because of sensitivities we can’t expand further.”

Listen to the whole interview here:

Despite an apparent lack of evidence, the army’s disinformation found its way into top Israeli newspapers through a select group of military correspondents including the Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz. Katz reported that flotilla passengers planned to kill Israeli soldiers and that they were bringing “bags of sulfur” to attack the soldiers. “This is a chemical weapon, and if poured on a soldier it can paralyze him,” an unnamed army source told Katz. “If the sulfur is then lit on fire, the soldier will light up like a torch.” Yedioth Aharanot’s Hanan Greenberg also reported, “IDF fears flotilla activists will try to kill Israeli soldiers.” And Haaretz hyped the claim in Hebrew.

Today, the army’s story was exposed as disinformation. First, Yedioth Aharonot military correspondent Alex Fishman reported, “There is no information that there is going to be a group of radicals on board that will form a hard core of violent resistance against IDF soliders. Nor is there any clear information about live weapons that will be on board the ships.” Then, a group of Israeli government ministers accused the army of “media spin” and “public relations hysteria” for claiming the flotilla passengers planned to attack soldiers with chemical weapons.

And now, an Israeli army official (who curiously did not want to give me her name) has refused to supply me with any evidence to support the army’s wild claims. As I wrote during Israel’s disinformation spree in the wake of last year’s flotilla, nothing the Israeli army says can be trusted. Unfortunately, many reporters still accept the army’s claims on trust, while others do not even bother to investigate.

Israel Law Center behind harassment of flotilla funded by homophobic End Timer Pastor John Hagee

Pastor John Hagee is a major financial supporter of Shurat Hadin, the Israel Law Center behind the legal campaign against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla

Pastor John Hagee is a major financial supporter of Shurat Hadin, the Israel Law Center behind the legal campaign against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla

On June 24, Joseph Dana, a journalist who will traveling aboard the US boat to Gaza, discovered that an anonymous private legal complaint had been filed against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The complaint alleged that US boat, “The Audacity of Hope,” was not sea worthy and therefore was unfit to sail. In response, the harbor master in Athens, Greece, where the boat was docked, told the crew that he could not allow them to leave until the complaint was resolved.

Two days later, the Israel Law Center, Shurat Hadin, accepted responsibility for the complaint, which was essentially a baseless but startlingly successful exercise in legal harassment. Who is Shurat Hadin, and what is their agenda? According to the group’s website, Shurat Hadin is a Tel Aviv-based law center that specializes in lawsuits against “terrorists.” Its founder, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, describes herself in her bio as a “human rights activist.”

Darshan-Leitner began her harassment of the US boat to Gaza began weeks ago when it filed a civil action against “perceived supporters of Hamas” on behalf of Alan Bauer, an American doctor who was injured along with his son in a 2002 Jerusalem bombing attack. The action also threatened maritime insurance companies with legal consequences if they insured any of the boats involved in the flotilla.

I have discovered that a major donor to Shurat Hadin is the homophobic far-right Pastor John Hagee. In March 2010, I reported that Hagee appeared beside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a major rally in Jerusalem to denounce the two state solution and announce the financial contributions he and his supporters were making to Israeli organizations. Among the organizations Hagee said he had bankrolled was Shurat Hadin.

Who Is Hagee Funding In Israel? from Max Blumenthal on Vimeo.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican Senator John McCain repudiated Hagee’s endorsement as soon as Hagee’s statements describing the Holocaust as a fulfillment of divine prophecy came to light. Hagee has also asserted his belief that the anti-Christ was “partially Jewish, as was Adolph Hitler.” As the researcher and reporter Bruce Wilson has documented, Hagee preaches that the Jewish Rothschild family controls the US economy through the Federal Reserve and conspires to attack the American middle class by devaluing the dollar. In his 2006 book Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee claimed that a lineage of “half-breed Jews,” descended from Esau and which included Adolf Hitler, have persecuted full-blooded Jews throughout history. Hagee prophesied that God intended to exterminate that “half-breed Jew” line.

These statements — and countless more demonizing gays, Muslims, and anyone else Hagee deems to be allied with “the Enemy”  – have been widely reported. However, nothing Hagee says or does seems to deter the “human rights activist” Darshan-Leitner and Shurat Hadin from embracing him and benefiting from his riches.

Anti-Flotilla video fraud linked to PM Netanyahu’s office, official Israeli hasbara agents (Updated)

What is Netanyahu aide Guy Seemann's role in the anti-flotilla pinkwashing hoax?

What is Netanyahu aide Guy Seemann's role in the anti-flotilla pinkwashing hoax?

As the new Free Gaza flotilla prepares to sail to Gaza, a suspicious video has emerged by an unknown “gay rights activist” claiming that he was rejected by the flotilla activists because of his sexuality. The anonymous activist, who had no previous online history, produced no evidence to support his claim. Within minutes, Benjamin Doherty — the man who helped expose our friend Tom MacMaster — was able to cast serious doubt on the video’s authenticity. It appeared pretty clear that the video was a pinkwashing hoax.

Since then, Doherty and I have gathered evidence suggesting that the video has links to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, or is at least being promoted through an official government hasbara operation.

The video was promoted early on — if not initially — by someone named Neil Lazarus, who shared it on Facebook (see screenshots here and here). I happened to have met Neil Lazarus during my Taglit/Birthright Israel trip in 2001. Lazarus was brought before my group to present the Israeli government’s hasbara and to demonize the Palestinian Authority. He was as slick as any good used car salesman. Since then, Lazarus has become a major figure in the world of hasbara. From Neil’s bio:

His client list is extensive and includes; The Prime Minister’s Office, The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Israeli Ministry of Tourism, Jewish Federations…

He acted as the Israel advocacy policy advisor for Israel’s leading reality television program, “The Ambassador

Earlier today, the Israeli Government Press Office promoted the apparent hoax video on Twitter. In the tweet, @GPOIsrael cited @guyseemann. I headed over to Guy Seemann’s twitter feed and found that he had only tweeted one item in his entire history: the pinkwashing anti-flotilla hoax. In fact, Seemann only joined Twitter on June 15, 2011. Then I took a look at Guy Seemann’s bio:

Guy Seemann studied government, international policy, philosophy and physics at American University in Washington, DC. Before moving to Israel, Guy worked for United States Senator Robert Menendez, and then as a special projects coordinator in the North Eastern campaign for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Since the campaign and moving to Israel, Guy was awarded a fellowship to work with international journalists and diplomats at the Prime Minister’s Office, served as the international director for Lev Echad, and volunteered for the IDF. Guy will soon begin a new job at the Prime Minister’s National Security Council working on Iranian, US and UN policy.

Why would the Israeli GPO have tweeted at Guy Seemann, a Netanyahu aide who seems to have created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of promoting the pinkwashing hoax? And what was Seemann’s role in the video’s creation? How did Lazarus know about the video before it had garnered any media interest — and only a small handful of hits? These questions remain unanswered. However, the video’s promotion by an exclusive cadre of official Israeli hasbara entities and figures suggest the hoax was part of a desperate government operation designed to discredit the Free Gaza flotilla. I will be updating here as I learn more.

Update: Guy Seemann’s twitter page has disappeared and his bio has changed. Seemann told Ali Abunimah that he promoted the hoax video but had no role in its production. Meanwhile, the character in the video has been identified by EI as Omer Gershon, an Israeli actor.

Amb. Michael Oren dishes out anti-flotilla “marching orders” in Jewish Federations call

Amb. Michael Oren dished out the flotilla talking points in a private call organized by the Jewish Federation's multi-million dollar "Israel Action Network"

Amb. Michael Oren dished out the flotilla talking points in a private call organized by the Jewish Federation's multi-million dollar "Israel Action Network"

On June 22, the Jewish Federations of America’s new, multi-million dollar “Israel Action Network” hosted a conference call with Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. The call was an urgent response to the flotilla preparing to cruise towards Gaza in order to challenge Israel’s maritime blockade of the destitute coastal strip. David Sherman, the vice chair of the Federations’ board of trustees, introduced the new initiative and Oren’s involvement in it as a key to combating Israel’s “delegitimization.”

Throughout the call, Oren seemed more concerned about the Arab Spring, Israel’s relations with Turkey, and the Palestinian unity arrangement than the upcoming flotilla. He opened his remarks by launching into a fast paced survey of the myriad regional threats Israel supposedly faced, then explained how the state would tamp down on each one:

Egypt – Oren was convinced that the only parties that are poised to win upcoming elections are “well funded, well led extremist movements.” Presumably he meant the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Egyptian army’s stance reassured Israel. “The army has been telling us that they have every intention of maintaining Camp David and that there will be no substantive change in Egypt’s foreign policy,” Oren said. Israel’s biggest concern at the present moment was attacks on gas pipelines in the Sinai Desert, which Oren claimed were being carried out by Bedouins to extort protection money. He said that Israel’s gas supply was only at 2/3 capacity, forcing it to import environmentally hazardous coal.

Syria — Oren expressed frustration with rumors that Israel was urging a “go slow” approach to the Syrian revolt against the Assad regime. He referred indirectly to an article by Jerusalem Post military correspondent Yaakov Katz (he did not cite Katz by name, but was clearly pointing in his direction) claiming Israel’s military and political establishment would quietly support Assad because he was “the devil we know.” Complaining about Assad’s recent failures to keep the Israeli occupied Golan frontier quiet (Oren misleadingly described it as “Israel’s border”), Oren claimed that “no one in Israel will shed a tear” if Assad is gone.

Iran — Oren claimed Israel possessed intelligence showing that Iran had enriched uranium past the 20 percent level. “The 90 percent dial where they can develop nuclear grade material is a short leap,” he said. He went on: “We are in communication with the Obama administration about another round of sanctions. They are effective; they have taken a major chunk out of Iran’s economy, resulted in high inflation and high unemployment. This is a direct result of sanctions, but they have not had a big impact on nuclear program — we haven’t seen that yet. So in the next round the administration will announce various designations this week that will impair [Iran's] ability to import and export oil; that will hurt transportation and the airlines of Iran. It promises to be quite painful. Throughout, the policy of the State of Israel and America remains that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from developing nukes, the policymakers in Iran believe us when we say that. Look at Gaddafi: he was convinced by a credible military threat from the United States to stop developing nuclear weapons.”

Turkey — Israel’s greatest source of friction with Turkey, according to Oren, was Turkey’s demand that Israel formally apologize for killing several of its citizens on board the Mavi Marmara last year. “We’re trying to find some language to satisfy them that holds up to the unwritten constitution of the democratic state of Israel,” he remarked. He said Netanyahu had congratulated Erdogan for preventing the Mavi Marmara from sailing with the new flotilla. “The Marmara was too large and we couldn’t stop it with technical means,” said Oren, suggesting that the cruise boat’s exclusion from the upcoming fleet to Gaza was a source of great relief to both Israel’s military and diplomatic corps.

The new flotilla — Oren attacked the organizers of the flotilla as “radical anti-Israel organizations…known also for anti-American activities.” He cited statements by the US State Department and UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon criticizing or condemning their actions. Then Oren claimed that the flotilla could simply deliver its aid through a “responsible organization” like UNRWA, or bring their materials through El Arish and allow Israel to offload it. “It’s not a fight between us and the people of Gaza,” Oren claimed. “It’s between us and the group Hamas which is determined to destroy the state of Israel.” (Never mind this Israeli government document). He went on to claim that Israel’s maritime blockade was “in full accord with international law,” though he did not explain how besieging a civilian population that was not actively engaged in a full-scale war against Israel comported with the 4th Geneva Convention or the San Remo Accords.

Next, Oren proudly announced that Israel had tentatively authorized an aid shipment to Gaza containing construction materials for 1200 new buildings and 18 new schools (UNRWA officials were skeptical that the aid would actually arrive as Israel said). The timing of the shipment and Oren’s promotion of it suggested that the flotilla had already made an impact. Would Israeli authorities have authorized the aid in without outside pressure? Whether or not they would have, Israel was seeking to extract as much propaganda value as it could from its agreement.

The Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood — The ambassador seemed far more troubled about the Palestinian Authority’s plan to introduce a statehood resolution at the United Nations General Assembly in September than about any other issue. Oren suggested that Israel would attempt to force the Palestinians back to the negotiating table in order to keep them away from the UN. In other words, the peace process would be Israel’s tool for blocking Palestine from winning statehood on a unilateral basis. In this effort, Oren described Dennis Ross, the White House special advisor on Middle East affairs, as Israel’s ally.

“We are working closely with the Obama Administration in trying to find a common framework that would enable the European Union to support negotiations in the framework to get them back to negotiations and keep them away from General Assembly,” Oren commented. “Dennis Ross is in Israel today conducting negotiations so we have reasons for some optimism. But we have to prepare for the worst. [With the statehood resolution] we are preparing for various scenarios of unrest in the West Bank, further attempts by the P.A. to use their improved status to delegitimize israel a la Goldstone type initiatives. Netanyahu has been meeting with the Italian government about this, and they are working tirelessly. And he is working closely with the Canadians who are very supportive.”

When Oren finished his remarks, the administrators of the call allowed time for a few questions. One caller asked Oren what Jews in the United States could do about the flotilla. “Stress that there’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the border is open for all materials, there is no shortage of food or medicine, and that our maritime blockade is upheld by the United States as completely legal and necessary for Israel’s defense,” Oren said.

Before I could ask a question about the legality of Israel’s siege of Gaza, Martin Raffel, the director of the Israel Action Network, came on the line to conclude the call. “I want to echo [what Oren said],” Raffel remarked. “Our role is not to be passive observers. We have to shake the public discourse so we’re sending message points and program guidance to everyone involved. And we hope you have some marching orders for when you go back to your communities.”

Fraudmeister Tom MacMaster calls me a self-hating Jew

After threatening to sue me, the fraud Tom MacMaster has declared that I’m a self-hating Jew and that he is the pure-hearted savior of “the Palestinian cause.” He raised these issues — including my Jewishness — out of the blue. He then ended his diatribe in almost exactly the same way the angry troll “Robert Smith” did in a comment on one of my previous posts.

The floor is yours, Tom (and orderlies in white lab coats are waiting for you in the hallway):

Screen shot 2011-06-17 at 8.31.42 PM

“Amina” Fraud Tom MacMaster Threatens To Sue Me (Updated)

Screen shot 2011-06-17 at 4.56.39 PMUpdate: I traced the IP address of angry commenter “Robert Stein” to Istanbul, Turkey. Did MacMaster, who has said he is currently on vacation in Istanbul, create a new fake online persona to attack me and my factual reporting about him?

Tom MacMaster, the married white man who posed as the Syrian lesbian “Amina,” didn’t like my factual reporting about him and his Facebook page. He seems to be threatening legal action against me if I don’t remove the post. He also thinks I’m “considerably worse” than him.

I could not help noticing the similarity in tone and content between MacMaster’s note and the comments on my previous post by “Jim Smith” and “Robert Stein.” Has MacMaster created more fake online personas?

Our exchange is below:

Screen shot 2011-06-17 at 4.20.50 PM

Inside Tom MacMaster’s Facebook world, where friends and family support his hoax

Tom MacMaster and his new bride, Britta Froelicher

Tom MacMaster and his new bride, Britta Froehlicher

Since Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada and Benjamin Doherty unmasked Tom MacMaster, a married 40-year-old graduate student, as the fraud who pretended to be Amina, the “Gay Girl in Damascus,” MacMaster has been denounced by gay Syrian dissidents for doing untold damage to their struggle. By deceiving journalists and human rights activists around the world, it is possible that MacMaster harmed the entire Syrian opposition, enabling the Assad regime to tar them as Western-influenced charlatans. He also carried on a false online romance with a woman in Canada, duping her into believing she was having a relationship with a Syrian lesbian. Considering MacMaster’s professions of sympathy for the Arab Spring and frustration with “liberal Orientalist” attitudes, it is hard to understand what motivated him. Why did he take his hoax so far when it seemed obvious that it could damage a cause he claimed to care about?

While MacMaster has said he was driven at least in part by vanity, I have gained additional insight into his mentality by accessing his private Facebook page. I was able to view the page because at some point in the past, MacMaster friended me. Since I don’t recall ever meeting MacMaster and therefore didn’t know who he was until two days ago, he must reached out because he liked my work.

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Ex-classmate of accused Israeli spy Ilan Grapel: He “was a standard campus pro-Israel…type”

Accused Israeli spy Ilan Grapel in Egypt's Tahrir Square

Accused Israeli spy Ilan Grapel in Egypt's Tahrir Square

I received the following from a friend who says he was personally acquainted with Ilan Grapel, the man Egyptian authorities are accusing of having spied for Israel:

knew the guy as we all worked for the security department at johns hopkins. the school provided these shuttles taking students/faculty/employees within a mile radius or so of campus, for safety. he was a dispatcher if i remember right, i was a driver of the vans. i’d say we were friendly acquaintances, the drivers would come into the office a couple times a night on the shift, drink slurpees with the other employees, that kind of thing. they used to call him screech, came from queens if i remember right.

was a fairly standard campus pro-israel rally attendee type in those days, when those groups were a lot louder than they are now. not really remarkable, same canned lines and the whole lot back then. other friends knew him a bit better. i don’t think bragging about wanting to join the israeli army some day was remarkable back then or even now.

last i heard about him from a friend was he got shot in the shoulder during the lebanon war in 2006 and couldn’t raise one of his arms over his head anymore, may have gotten some kind of compensation for that. there were a couple of kids i knew who had aspirations to go to the middle east in the future to learn arabic, to help “understand the enemy” in hopes of being of some use to israeli society.

i don’t want to misrepresent myself as someone close to him, i knew him casually and found him mildly interesting, but that’s about it, and it was more than 7 years ago. i think it’s entirely plausible that he was indeed motivated by nothing other than pro-israel romaticism, going to egypt for whatever reason, to talk up israel or do something that he thought would help that cause of his in some way.

Neocon Queen Bee: Weiner/Abedin marriage was a creeping Sharia conspiracy (and Breitbart blogger compares Weiner/Abedin to the Holocaust)

Update: The Washington Times has pulled Benador’s piece “for review,” but it can still be viewed here.

My friend Katie Halper just alerted me to a really remarkable screed about Anthony Weiner’s marriage by the neocon queen bee Eleana Benador. Writing in the Washington Times, (the last time I picked up that paper was probably when I was working on my report about the white nationalist cabal that was running its newsroom at the time), Benador portrays Weiner’s marriage to Huma Abedin as an Alinskyite union between a leftist (read: self-hating commie) Jew and a taqiyyah-practicing Muslim who are conspiring to put the United States under the control of Shariah law:

When looking broadly at the Anthony Weiner–Huma Abedin union, we have to wonder if the coupling of a Jewish American man and a Muslim woman of her pedigree was fostered by love or by a socialist political agenda…

Less than a year ago, in July 2010, Huma Abedin married Jewish U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY). Attesting to the strength of her relationship with the Clintons, former President William J. Clinton officiated at the ceremony. Not unlike President Obama, the Clintons, as well as powerful politicos such as George Soros, are devotes of Saul Alinksy, who is considered “the founder of modern Community Organizing.” From my position, I clearly see that the actions of this group signal their socialist agenda, which includes domination of the U.S. by a Muslim ruled world.

Which begs the question of whether Huma Abedin been groomed by family and political leaders to carry this agenda forward? It’s noteworthy that Time Magazine listed Huma Abedin in its “40 under 40” list of the new generation of civic leaders and “rising stars in American politics.” That certainly puts her in a position to move the Alinsky-group agenda forward.

The author of this piece, Benador, is not some Gellerite crank. She is the former CEO and founder of Benador Associates, an outfit that handled PR for a who’s who of the neocon movement, from Richard Perle to James Woolsey to Frank Gaffney. Is this what Beltway neocons are saying about Weinergate?

Also at the Washington Times, Eric Golub, a professional nobody who says he “only dates Republican Jewish women” (unsurprisingly, he is also an Andrew Breitbart blogger), claims that Weiner hates Jewish women. Golub goes on to compare Weiner’s marriage to the Holocaust, writing that Weiner and other Jews who marry non-Jews are doing “what Hitler failed to do.” As pathological as Weiner’s behavior might have been, the right seems determined to outdo him.