Tag Archives: netanyahu

The Bibi Connection

“US President Barack Obama is ‘naïve’ and needs to face up to the threat presented by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East, Israel’s National Security Council concluded during a strategic discussion several days ago,” Israel Hayom reported.

The Israeli National Security Council consists of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s closest advisers. And Israel Hayom is not just another right-leaning Israeli tabloid. Referred to by Israelis as the “Bibiton,” or Bibi’s mouthpiece, the paper is an instrument that gives him extraordinary political leverage. The obviously planted article in Israel Hayom rang like a bell sounding the start of Netanyahu’s own campaign in helping the Republican Party oust Obama from the White House.

Israel Hayom’s genesis demonstrates the depth of Netanyahu’s connections in Republican circles. It was created by one of Netanyahu’s top financial supporters, a Las Vegas-based casino tycoon named Sheldon Adelson, who is also a major donor to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Adelson’s closest relationship is with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a longtime ally of Netanyahu who has been running a rancorous campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Netanyahu’s less than subtle intervention has become an open issue in Israeli politics. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party has criticized Netanyahu for damaging the US-Israeli relationship. “Netanyahu spoke about consensus,” Livni said in May, “and if there is a consensus in Israel, it’s that the relationship with the US is essential to Israel, and a prime minister that harms the relationship with the US over something unsubstantial is harming Israel’s security and deterrence.”

But Livni’s warning has been ignored. Rather than hesitating, the prime minister and his inner circle are moving full steam ahead in their political shadow campaign whose ultimate goal is to remove Obama. Bibi’s war against Obama is unprecedented. While Israeli prime ministers have tried to help incumbent presidents, none have ever waged a full-scale campaign to overthrow them.

Netanyahu has engaged enthusiastic allies in the Republican Congress, led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and within the right-wing media. His neoconservative allies in Washington are launching a “Super PAC” to generate emotional attack ads against Obama and any candidate that might be an obstacle to his policies. And his campaign has even broadened into an attempt to discredit The New York Times, whose editorial page and foreign policy columnists, Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen, have been critical of him.

Netanyahu’s shadow campaign is intended to be a factor in defeating Obama and electing a Republican in his place. He opposed Obama’s early demand to freeze settlements on the West Bank as a precondition for reviving the peace process, a process since the Oslo Accord that Netanyahu has attempted to stall or sabotage, despite his signing of the Wye Agreement under pressure from President Clinton. Since his adamant stand against the settlement freeze, Netanyahu has undermined every effort to engage the peace process. He appears dead set on consolidating Greater Israel, or what many Israelis call “Judea and Samaria,” and has signaled a strong desire to attack Iran.

By all accounts, Netanyahu’s personal chemistry with Obama is toxic. Obama bristles at his belligerence. But Netanyahu’s hostility has reaped rewards from him, having stopped the peace process in its tracks. The latest effort by the Quartet seems doomed to failure. And Netanyahu’s rejectionism has put Obama on the defense. Most of the US Jewish establishment has remained a bulwark for Bibi’s policies. Obama, meanwhile, has been forced to declare America’s “unshakable bond” with Israel, even as Bibi thwarts Obama’s initiatives and attacks him in the Israeli press.

As political strategy, by tainting Obama as less than full-throated in support of Israel, Netanyahu bolsters the Republican themes that the president “apologizes” for US power, is weak on national security, and is an agent of “decline.” By depicting Obama as “weak” on Israel, Netanyahu’s campaign excites right-wing Jews and evangelical Christians, who overwhelmingly accept the biblical claims of the Jewish state’s historical right to Greater Israel, Judea and Samaria. Bibi’s deepest attack line against Obama merges theology with ideology.
His campaign against Obama is a high-stakes gambit that will almost certainly color US-Israeli relations well past Election Day. Already, Netanyahu has succeeded in polarizing the political debate, as his agenda is singularly aligned with the Republican Party. Yet Bibi’s short-term objectives are rapidly turning the US-Israel relationship, at least under his aegis, into a partisan issue, another litmus test of conservative ideology rather than national interest.

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My latest in Al-Akhbar English: Israeli politicians, media and intelligence push for more conflict with Turkey

The “Periphery Doctrine” has been a cornerstone of Israel’s strategic approach to the Middle East since the state’s foundation. Devised by David Ben Gurion and Eliahu Sassoon, an Israeli Middle East expert who became Israel’s first diplomatic representative in Turkey, the doctrine was based on maintaining alliances with non-Arab states and ethnic minorities in the region as a counterweight to pan-Arabism. Though three countries — Iran, Ethiopia, and Turkey — became key regional allies of Israel, Ben Gurion was keenly aware that the relationships were temporary, and could not substitute for peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors (something Ben Gurion ironically tried to manufacture through his “activist” foreign policy of unilateral military strikes and disproportionate force). From Turkey’s perspective, the relationship with Israel was never a proper strategic alliance, but rather a means of establishing leverage against nationalistic Arab governments.

This week’s events delivered the death knell to the terminally ill Periphery Doctrine. Following the Palmer/Uribe report’s factually flawed claims about the legality of Israel’s siege on the Gaza Strip and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to apologize for Israel’s execution-style massacre of 9 activists on the deck of the Mavi Marmara — “We need not apologize!” the Prime Minister boomed three times during a recent press conference — the Turkish government significantly downgraded its relations with Israel. Turkey not only expelled Israel’s ambassador from Ankara, it suspended all military relations between the two states. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested further sanctions will follow, exposing Netanyahu’s bravado as empty and self-destructive.

Read the rest here.

Feeling the Ignorance at AIPAC 2011

On May 22, thousands of supporters of America’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, converged on Washington for the group’s annual conference. For two days they watched Democratic and Republican congressional leaders pledge their undivided loyalty to the state of Israel, and by extension, to AIPAC’s legislative agenda. Speeches by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted the conference, with Obama attempting to clarify his statement demanding that 1967 borders be the “starting point” for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

I interviewed several AIPAC delegates in the streets outside the conference. While few, if any, of them were able to demonstrate the slightest degree of sophistication in their understanding of the Israel-Palestine crisis, they had been briefed inside on how to respond to critics. No one I spoke to would concede that Israel occupied any part of Palestinian territory; none would concede that Israel had committed acts of indiscriminate violence or that it had transferred Palestinians by force; one interviewee could not distinguish Palestine from Pakistan. With considerable wealth and negligible knowledge — few had spent much time inside Israel — the delegates were easily melded by the cadre of neoconservative and Israeli “experts” appearing in AIPAC’s briefing sessions.

As the day wore on, many delegates waded into confrontations with members of Code Pink and Palestine solidarity demonstrators who had set up a protest camp across the street. With conflict intensifying on the sidewalk, Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin invited AIPAC delegates to express themselves from the protest stage. There, their most visceral feelings and deeply held views about Israel-Palestine crisis were revealed. See it for yourself.

After Itamar: Exploring the cynical logic that makes everyone a target

Everyone is rushing to condemn the gruesome murder of a family in the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar. Even President Barack Obama felt compelled to offer his “unequivocal condemnation” of the murders. For what it’s worth (very little), I offer my own denunciation of the killings. Murdering kids can not be justified on any human level. However, even if the motives of the killer seem obvious to everyone, journalists covering the incident must be reminded there is no hard evidence that a Palestinian terrorist committed the crime. No viable armed faction has taken credit, and Israeli police are even treating Thai workers as suspects.

Itamar is heavily guarded, surrounded by an electrified fence, and monitored 24/7 by a sophisticated system of video surveillance. Yet there is no video of the killer. Like it or not, until the identity of the killer is confirmed, the murder can only be described by journalists as an “alleged terror attack.” Legitimate outrage is no excuse to flout the basics of journalism 101.

Given the amount of violence visited upon local Palestinians by the residents of Itamar and nearby settlements, I will not be surprised if the killer turns out to be a rogue Palestinian bent on revenge. In one instance documented in 2007, settlers from Itamar stabbed a 52-year-old shepherd named Mohammad Hamdan Ibrahim Bani Jaber to death while he tended to his flock. Routine attacks from Itamar have prompted the near-total evacuation of the village Izbat Al Yanoon, while settlers from nearby Jewish colony of Yitzhar have staged homemade rocket attacks on local Palestinians and torched their mosques. As I have reported, Yitzhar is home to Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, author of the notorious “Torat Hamelech,” which uses rabbinical sources to justify the killing of non-Jewish civilians, including children, in combat situations.

Medical Xray of live ammunition lodge in the skull of Ussayed Qadous, shot at point blank range by Israeli troops near Itamar in 2010

Medical x-ray of live ammunition lodged in the skull of Ussayed Qadous, shot at point blank range by Israeli troops near Itamar in 2010

A year ago in nearby Palestinian farming villages Awarta and Iraq Burin, Israeli soldiers were accused of executing local youths during riots against settlement expansion. As Jesse Rosenfeld reported, despite the clear evidence of execution style killings, none of the soldiers who held the Palestinians in custody at the time they were shot were convicted of any crimes. And to my knowledge, no official American response followed. Thus the besieged villages near Itamar have been left without any recourse or legal means to redress their harassment and murder.

Israel’s method of occupation and its military rules of engagement — which are supported by the US in spirit and through acts like the recent UN settlement resolution veto — openly skirt international law, eliminating any outside mechanism for mediating conflict or redressing the grievances of civilians harmed by war. Under these terms, where distinctions between civilians and combatants are deliberately blurred in order to deepen Israel’s control over land gained through military conquest, horrific attacks like the kind allegedly witnessed in Itamar become all the more possible.

To establish an ethical basis for military operations aimed at consolidating the occupation, the Israeli army has turned to Zionist academics like Tel Aviv University philosophy professor Asa Kasher. In the service of the army, Kasher churned out elaborate manifestoes justifying Israel’s tactics during Lebanon II and Operation Cast Lead. Kasher’s concepts of warfare are best defined by his explicit justifications for killing unarmed civilians in any instance when an Israeli soldier believed that they were in danger. Kasher strained his logic to the point that he highlighted the 2004 US invasion of Fallujah in Iraq, when American troops fired white phosphorous shells into the city center and demolished hundreds of homes, to justify Israeli actions in Gaza. “If it’s between the soldier and the terrorist’s neighbor, the priority is the soldier,” Kasher said. “Any country would do the same.”

Another academic with close ties to the Israeli military-intelligence apparatus, Professor Arnon “the Arab Counter” Soffer of Haifa University, urged the army to massacre Palestinian civilians after the withdrawal from the illegal settlement of Gush Katif in Gaza. Soffer, who devised the separation wall policy in order to confine the Palestinians of the West Bank to what he called “three sausages,” reasoned that mass murder was the only way to maintain the security of the Southern Israeli perimeter communities while avoiding political concessions to the Palestinians of Gaza.

Prof. Arnon Soffer: "Kill, kill, kill."

Prof. Arnon Soffer: "Kill, kill, kill."

“When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe,” Soffer argued. “Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” And that is exactly what Israel did when it followed Soffer’s logic in Operation Cast Lead. (Note the use of the word “animal” in Soffer’s language and in the language of Israelis responding to the murders in Itamar; the word is essentially a signal to kill Palestinians indiscriminately).

While Soffer and Kasher have both served as outside consultants for Israeli governments and the army, another advocate for slaughtering Palestinian civilians, Yaakov Amidror, has been appointed to serve as Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor. “That’s a totally illegal order,” Amidror once snapped at Israeli news anchor Haim Yavin, who had said that Israeli soldiers were instructed to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon. “What should be said is ‘kill more of the bastards on the other side, so that we’ll win.’ Period.” Amidror has criticized Kasher for formalizing the army’s ethical code — “I said this should remain unwritten, so there wouldn’t be anything written, as [then] it would become technical,” he declared — and even called for the on-site execution of Israeli soldiers who refused to advance in battle. (Amidror also happens to be a religious settler who lives in the West Bank.)

Kasher, Soffer, and Amidror’s arguments relating to the killing of civilians are eerily similar to those advanced in a halakhic context by religious nationalist rabbis. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira of Yitzar, a settlement that neighbors Itamar, has written in his book “Torat Hamelech” that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and should be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” A guide for anyone pondering when killing goyim is permissible, the book has been described by Rabbi Dov Lior of the settlement Kiryat Arba as “very relevant, especially in this time.” Lior, who has said that “gentile sperm leads to barbaric offspring,” is also a firm advocate of slaughtering Palestinian civilians. In 2008, when the IDF’s chief rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Ronski, brought a group of military intelligence officers to Hebron for a special tour, he concluded the day with a private meeting with Lior, who reveled the officers with his views on modern warfare: “no such thing as civilians in wartime.” (For his part, Ronski has urged Israeli troops to show Palestinian civilians “no mercy.”)

National Security Advisor appointee Yaakov Amidror: kill civilian "bastards" and shoot non-compliant soldiers on the spot

National Security Advisor appointee Yaakov Amidror: kill civilian "bastards" and shoot non-compliant soldiers on the spot

So what is the difference between rabbis like Lior and Shapira and secular academics like Kasher and Soffer? I put this question to a 20-something settler (he is the last guy I interviewed in this video) during a rally in defense of the publication of “Torat Hamelech.” “Well, the difference is that someone like Kasher is speaking from his kishkes [guts],” the settler told me. “But Yitzhak Shapira is speaking from Torah; he’s speaking from Hashem.” In other words, the philosopher and the rabbi share a philosophy that justifies killing non-Jewish civilians, but the ethicist uses rational arguments rooted in secular Enlightenment thought, while the rabbi claims to be translating for God from ancient documents. In the end, both are working to cultivate an environment in which legal and moral protections for civilians are discarded in order to advance the maximalist goals of Jewish nationalism.

During his opening statement in his debate against Judge Richard Goldstone at Brandeis University on November 5, 2009, former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold claimed that the Goldstone Report was in fact an attack on Israeli society. In a section entitled “Maligning Israeli Society,” Gold and Lt. Col. Jonathan Dahoah Halevi wrote: “The language used by the UN Gaza report — and the gravity of its allegations about “deliberate” Israeli attacks on civilians — maligns Israeli society as a whole, for the Israel Defense Forces is a citizen’s army, an army which is made up of the people of Israel.”

In Gold’s own words, there is no difference between Israeli civilians and soldiers — the army is society. Without knowing it, Gold deployed the very same argument Palestinian militant factions have used to justify suicide attacks inside Israel and the murder of the children of settlers in the West Bank. Thus Gold revealed the extent to which the process of comprehensively militarizing Jewish Israeli society — a central goal of Zionism since the days of Joseph Trumpeldor — had obliterated the distinction between civilian and combatant, transforming every human being into a possible target.

In such an environment, horrific violence against the innocent is not only possible, but inevitable. Of course, most of the violence will be meted out against the Palestinians, who live under a seemingly permanent occupation with negligible deterrent capacity and no political rights. But Israelis must also live in this moral wasteland and face the depressing consequences. Having to someday accept that they were responsible for its creation might be the cruelest fate of all.

The Settlement Freeze That Never Was, And Never Will Be

Linda Forsell's photos of ongoing construction in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa expose the illusion of a settlement freeze

Linda Forsell's June 21 photos of ongoing construction in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa expose the illusion of Netanyahu's settlement freeze

With the Israeli settlement moratorium scheduled to expire on September 26, the right-wing parties in Israel’s coalition government are exerting maximum pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block the policy’s renewal. “Let’s get rid of the freeze and get back to building,” declared Israeli Minister of Public Affairs and the Diaspora Yuli Edelstein on Israel National Radio yesterday. “It’s our land anyway!” (Edelstein lives in the settlement of Neve Daniel).

Back in the US, the former Israel lobbyist and ex-Clinton Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk took to the Washington Post’s op-ed page to praise Netanyahu and Barack Obama for ensuring that “there were zero building starts in the West Bank settlements.”

During the week of June 21, I traveled through the West Bank with Swedish photojournalist Linda Forsell to document new settlement construction and the settlers’ theft of water from Palestinian towns. Forsell took a series of photos at Har Homa, a massive Israeli settlement towering over the Palestinian town of Beit Sarhour. Her photos show ongoing construction of hundreds of new settlement units — documents of the settlement freeze sham.

har homa2Netanyahu authorized the building of new settlement units just days after he announced the freeze in November 2009. He attempted to disguise new settlement construction by drawing a false distinction between the West Bank and “parts of Jerusalem” like Har Homa that actually lie outside 1967 lines. As Israeli government flack Mark Regev remarked in December 2009, “We’ve made a clear distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is our capital and will stay as such.” With a few exceptions, Obama allowed this scheme to go forward.

According to the Washington Post, Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu this week will have more to do with reassuring Jewish Democrats than with halting the wholesale colonization of the West Bank. As the Post’s Anne Kornblut reported, “The White House meeting will not dwell on some of the most difficult time-sensitive issues, including the expiration of a moratorium on Israeli settlement construction in September.” This may mean an end to the settlement freeze, but it was only an illusion after all.