Tag Archives: flotilla

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.”

Will The NY Times Ever Retract Michael Oren’s Falsehoods?

Michael Oren makes stuff up. But the NY Times doesnt have to publish it.

Michael Oren makes stuff up. But the NY Times doesn't have to publish it.

Nearly a month after publishing Israeli Ambassador the US Michael Oren’s apologia for the flotilla massacre, the NY Times has yet to correct two of the most glaring lies Oren made. The first of Oren’s deceptions was his assertion that “religious extremists embedded among those on board were paid and equipped to attack Israelis.” The notion that al-Qaeda affiliated mercenaries were on board the Mavi Marmara was discredited as soon as the IDF Spokesman’s Office changed a headline on a press release about terrorist “mercenaries” to read, “Attackers of the IDF Found Without Identification Papers.” The headline was quietly altered on June 3, the same day the Times published Oren’s op-ed. Shouldn’t their fact checkers and editors been better informed?

The second of Oren’s lies was at least as ludicrous as his first. He wrote:

Also found on the boat were propaganda clips showing passengers “injured” by Israeli forces; these videos, however, were filmed during daylight, hours before the nighttime operation occurred.

If this was true, then where were the clips? Why hasn’t the IDF released any footage to support Oren’s claim? Probably because such clips do not exist anywhere. As far as I can tell, they were never on the website of the IDF Spokesman’s Office or the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The footage is not even available on YouTube. So where are they? Certainly the IDF would have wanted to publish anything that supported its version of events. But they could not conjure anything to bolster Oren’s bizarre claim (which seemed to suggest that the killing and maiming of flotilla passengers by Israeli commandos was simply “propaganda” and therefore never happened).

Unless Oren or the Israeli military can produce the “propaganda clips” Oren mentioned, the New York Times should be compelled to retract the falsehoods it published. The Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt can be reached at public@nytimes.com or (212) 556-7652