Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hypocrisy Week

From San Francisco Chronicle, March 4, 2009, by Ishmael Khaldi*:

For those who haven't heard, the first week in March has been designated as Israel Apartheid Week by activists who are either ill intentioned or misinformed. On American campuses, organizing committees are planning happenings to once again castigate Israel as the lone responsible party for all that maligns theMiddle East.

Last year, at UC Berkeley, I had the opportunity to "dialogue" with some of the organizers of these events. My perspective is unique, both as the vice consul forIsrael in San Francisco, and as a Bedouin and the highest-ranking Muslim representing the Israel in the United States. I was born into a Bedouin tribe in Northern Israel, one of 11 children, and began life as shepherd living in our family tent. I went on to serve in the Israeli border police, and later earned a master's degree in political science from Tel Aviv University before joining the Israel Foreign Ministry.

I am a proud Israeli - along with many other non-Jewish Israelis such as Druze, Bahai, Bedouin, Christians and Muslims, who live in one of the most culturally diversified societies and the only true democracy in the Middle East. Like America, Israeli society is far from perfect, but let us deals honestly. By any yardstick you choose - educational opportunity, economic development, women and gay's rights, freedom of speech and assembly, legislative representation - Israel's minorities fare far better than any other country in the Middle East.

So, I would like to share the following with organizers of Israel Apartheid week, for those of them who are open to dialogue and not blinded by a hateful ideology:

You are part of the problem, not part of the solution: If you are really idealistic and committed to a better world, stop with the false rhetoric. We need moderate people to come together in good faith to help find the path to relieve the human suffering on both sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Vilification and false labeling is a blind alley that is unjust and takes us nowhere.

You deny Israel the fundamental right of every society to defend itself: You condemn Israel for building a security barrier to protect its citizens from suicide bombers and for striking at buildings from which missiles are launched at its cities - but you never offer an alternative. Aren't you practicing yourself a deep form of racism by denying an entire society the right to defend itself?

Your criticism is willfully hypocritical: Do Israel's Arab citizens suffer from disadvantage? You better believe it. Do African Americans 10 minutes from theBerkeley campus suffer from disadvantage - you better believe it, too. So should we launch a Berkeley Apartheid Week, or should we seek real ways to better our societies and make opportunity more available.

You are betraying the moderate Muslims and Jews who are working to achieve peace: Your radicalism is undermining the forces for peace in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. We are working hard to move toward a peace agreement that recognizes the legitimate rights of both Israel and the Palestinian people, and you are tearing down by falsely vilifying one side.

To the organizers of Israel Apartheid Week I would like to say:

If Israel were an apartheid state, I would not have been appointed here, nor would I have chosen to take upon myself this duty. There are many Arabs, both within Israel and in the Palestinian territories who have taken great courage to walk the path of peace. You should stand with us, rather than against us.

*Ishmael Khaldi is deputy consul general of Israel for the Pacific Northwest.

Australia threatens withdrawal from Durban 2

From The ABC, 12/3/09:

The Australian Government has threatened to pull out of a United Nations anti-racism conference because of its anti-semitic overtones.

Israel and Canada have already pulled out of the Durban Review Conference, and the US and Italy say they will not attend unless there are major improvements.

A working group is making changes to the conference's draft outcomes, in an effort to prevent other nations from withdrawing.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith says Australia will only participate if there is a marked improvement.

"The Australian Government will give very careful consideration to what, if any, changes are made to the text to see whether it is appropriate for Australia to participate in the conference," he said.

"If we form the view that the text is going to lead to nothing more than an anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic harangue and anti-Jewish propaganda exercise, then Australia will not be in attendance."

Egyptian Cleric Safwat Higazi Calls to Shut Down Starbucks because "Their Logo is the Jewish Queen Esther"

From MEMRI Special Dispatch - No. 2276, March 10, 2009 [This IS NOT a Purim-shpiel...!!]:

Following are excerpts from an address by Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi, which aired on Al-Nas TV on January 25, 2009.


"The Girl in the Starbucks Logo is Queen Esther... The Queen of the Jews"

Safwat Higazi: "Today, I would like to talk about the Starbucks coffee shop. Starbucks is to be found in Mecca, in Al-Madina, opposite the King Abdul Aziz Gate in Mecca, opposite the Al-Majid Gate in Al-Madina, as well as in Cairo. Starbucks is to be found everywhere, with this logo. This is the Starbucks logo.

"Has any of you ever wondered who this woman with a crown on her head is? Why do we boycott Starbucks? I will tell you, so you will know why you should boycott this company, and what this logo stands for. As I’ve already said, it is not enough to avoid entering this coffee shop. It is not enough to refrain from drinking this coffee. You must urge people never to go there, but none of you should even consider throwing a stone, breaking anything, or burning [the place] down....

"The girl in the Starbucks logo is Queen Esther. Do you know who Queen Esther was and what the crown on her head means? This is the crown of the Persian kingdom. This queen is the queen of the Jews. She is mentioned in the Torah, in the Book of Esther. The girl you see is Esther, the queen of the Jews in Persia." ...

"The Crown You See Here [In the Starbucks Logo] is the Crown of the Kingdom of Xerxes"

"King [Xerxes] gave an order that the seven most beautiful girls in the kingdom be brought to him. So they held contests and auditions, and selected the seven most beautiful virgins, one of whom was the Jewish Esther, whose uncle, Mordechai - or actually, it was her cousin’s brother - was a villain.

"It was Mordechai who hatched this plot. Esther was one of the seven girls brought before King Xerxes in the palace. When Esther, who was very beautiful, was shown to King Xerxes, she captured his heart, and he chose her to be his queen. He placed a crown on her head, and the crown you see here [Higazi indicates the Starbucks logo] is the crown of the kingdom of Xerxes, and this is Esther, who became Queen of Persia, instead of Queen Vashti."...

"We Want Starbucks To Be Shut Down Throughout The Arab And Islamic World...It Is Inconceivable That In Mecca and Al-Madina, There Will Be a Picture of Queen Esther"

"Can you believe that in Mecca, Al-Madina, Cairo, Damascus, Kuwait, and all over the Islamic world there hangs the picture of beautiful Queen Esther, with a crown on her head, and we buy her products? ..

"We want Starbucks to be shut down throughout the Arab and Islamic world. We want it to be shut down in Mecca and in Al-Madina. I implore King Abdallah bin Abd Al-‘Aziz, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques: It is inconceivable that in Mecca and Al-Madina, there will be a picture of Queen Esther, the queen of the Jews."

Disagreements on Iran Arms Threat

From The Washington Post, Wednesday, March 11, 2009, by Peter Finn [my emphasis added - SL]:

...Iran has not produced the highly enriched uranium necessary for a nuclear weapon and has not decided to do so, U.S. intelligence officials told Congress yesterday, an assessment that contrasts with a stark Israeli warning days earlier that Iran has crossed the "technological threshold" in its pursuit of the bomb.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said that Iran has not decided to pursue the production of weapons-grade uranium and the parallel ability to load it onto a ballistic missile.

"The overall situation -- and the intelligence community agrees on this -- [is] that Iran has not decided to press forward . . . to have a nuclear weapon on top of a ballistic missile," Blair told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Our current estimate is that the minimum time at which Iran could technically produce the amount of highly enriched uranium for a single weapon is 2010 to 2015."

The five-year spread, he explained, is a result of differences in the intelligence community about how quickly Iran could develop a weapon if it rekindled a weapons program it suspended in 2003.

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate panel that Iran is "keeping open that option."

Iran recently announced its first space launch and said Sunday that it had successfully tested an air-to-surface missile with a 70-mile range. Maples said the launch of the Safir space vehicle "does advance their knowledge and their ability to develop an intercontinental ballistic missiles," but he and Blair said there may be no connection between the country's development of missiles and any ambition to have nuclear weapons.

"I believe those are separate decisions," Blair said. "The same missiles can launch vehicles into space. They can launch warheads, either conventional or nuclear, onto . . . land targets, and Iran is pursuing those -- for those multiple purposes. Whether they develop a nuclear weapon which could then be put in that . . . warhead, I believe, is a . . . separate decision which Iran has not made yet."

Israeli officials have a different view of Iran's goals.

"Reaching a military-grade nuclear capability is a question of synchronizing its strategy with the production of a nuclear bomb," Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israel's chief of military intelligence, told cabinet ministers, according to a senior Israeli official briefing reporters in Jerusalem. "Iran continues to stockpile hundreds of kilograms of low-level enriched uranium and hopes to use the dialogue with the West to buy the time it requires in order to move towards an ability to manufacture a nuclear bomb."

Blair said Israel was working from the same facts but had drawn a different interpretation of their meaning. "The Israelis are far more concerned about it, and they take more of a worst-case approach to these things from their point of view," he said.

A similar difference of opinion surfaced last week, when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen said he thought that Iran had enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on the same day that Iran was "not close to a weapon."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hostile drones disrupted Iranian satellite launch

From Haaretz 10/3/09, by Yoav Stern:

Hostile unmanned aerial vehicles overflew Iran last month and disrupted the communications systems at the launch site of a missile carrying Iran's first satellite to space, according to the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian leader was quoted by an Iranian news agency as having said in recent discussions that the disruptions of communications caused a delay of several hours to the launch of the rocket, which had to be operated with the use of a backup system.

Ahmadinejad said drones flew at very high altitude and used sophisticated electronic equipment to jam ground-based systems. He also said that a decision was made to shoot down the drones with fighter planes, but it was decided not to do so for reasons he did not explain.

Meir Javedanfar, an expert on Iran, told Haaretz on Monday that Israel is presumed to be the No. 1 suspect for this operation. "The intelligence war against Iran is intensifying and becoming more public. It seems that the aim is not only to foil Iran's military developments but also to embarrass the leadership and put pressure on it. This may be an important tool for Ahmadinejad in the coming presidential elections," the analyst said.

Monday's report suggests that Iran had planned to launch a satellite into orbit on January 20, the day Barack Obama assumed office. However, the launch was delayed by two weeks because of difficult atmospheric conditions.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Talk With Iran? Then Move Fast

From The Washington Post, Sunday, March 8, 2009; by David Ignatius:

There's wide support, in principle, for a process of "engagement" between the United States and its adversaries in the Middle East. ...

...Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's invitation last week to Iran to join talks on Afghanistan is the latest signal. But as they review Iran and Syria policy, administration officials are focusing on several key issues that will shape how the engagement process proceeds.

Let's start with Iran. The first challenge is what might be called the "two clocks" problem. Administration officials want a slow clock, in the sense that they favor a careful process of sustained, direct dialogue. But they also realize that a fast clock is ticking on the Iranian nuclear program and that by next year the Iranians could have enough fuel to make a bomb.

Efraim Halevy, a former chief of Mossad, the Israeli spy service, highlighted this problem in a recent e-mail to me. "The strategy of engagement will succeed only if the Iranians realize they do not have all the time in the world to negotiate." He argued that the United States should "limit the dialogue to a very few months." A senior Israeli official made the same argument in an interview last week: "If you want to engage, do it now, with a date certain."

The Obama team doesn't want a time limit on talks, but officials believe that Iran should move on its own to ease time pressure. "If they would like to have a more leisurely process, they need to take some steps that stop the clock," says a senior official. The administration hasn't decided yet what those steps should be, but they might begin with the International Atomic Energy Agency's demands that Iran provide more transparency and allow new inspections of its nuclear program.

Beyond the two-clocks problem, there's the larger issue of deciding on a bargaining position on the nuclear question. A few years ago, the United States and Israel hoped that they could stop the program before the Iranians mastered fuel enrichment, but in the past few months that effort appears to have failed. A fallback position would be to demand that the Iranians not cross the bomb-making threshold and that they allow inspectors to verify that enrichment remains at the low levels consistent with a civil nuclear program.

According to one Israeli official, this threshold option has support from one faction in Tehran that includes Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister and now a senior adviser to Khamenei. But the official said that the Israelis oppose this approach, arguing instead for a rollback of Iranian technology.

The Syrian track is less complicated, but it has the same phasing issue. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wants a firm assurance that Israel will return the Golan Heights before he moves to direct negotiations. The United States and Israel want a firm assurance that Syria will moderate its support for Hamas and Hezbollah before the Golan card is played. Each side is waiting for a show of the other's good faith.

Obama sent two emissaries last week to talk with Assad, so that process is beginning. The strategic rationale for the Syria track is that it may help separate Damascus from Tehran, but the senior U.S. official cautioned that this issue "is not the starting point" for U.S. talks and that a break with Tehran can happen "over time, as Syria sees the benefits of contact with the West."

These diplomatic subtleties are important, but you can overthink them. "There is an awareness that time isn't on our side," said the senior administration official. The reality is that if Obama wants dialogue, he will have to take the plunge -- soon -- and see where the process leads.

Netanyahu will focus first on PA, not Syria

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Mar. 10, 2009, by Herb Keinon:

Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu has no intention of sidelining the Palestinian track in favor of a Syrian one, Dore Gold, one of Netanyahu's top foreign policy advisers, said Monday.

...Gold ... said he believed "Netanyahu has made it clear that presently he would like to focus on the Palestinian track."

He added that those who "suggest that he will begin by working on the negotiations with Syria are basing themselves on an inaccurate reading of Netanyahu's diplomacy in 1998, during his contacts with Damascus." According to Gold, "there is an unfounded mythology that has gained some currency" that Netanyahu was willing to withdraw fully from the Golan Heights in 1998. "It is not true," he said.

...Gold said that while contact with Arab countries was positive, it was necessary to see what the Syrian policy was, whether it could change, and whether Damascus would continue to support terrorist organizations. The new government, he said, would conduct a policy review and determine a position.

He said, however, that there seemed to be more opportunity on the Palestinian track at this point...

Monday, March 09, 2009

Getting human rights wrong

From Haaretz, 8/3/09, by Dan Kosky*:

...Amnesty's treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict has long been troubling. Its statements about the Gaza operation were highly critical of Israel, and although its recent report highlighted Hamas' brutal treatment of political opponents, this does not detract from the one-sided tone of Amnesty's commentary.

Last week, the organization released "Fueling Conflict," its first substantive report on the Gaza operation, which purports to analyze the legality of weapons used by both Israel and Hamas. Yet the report is tantamount to placing Israel on trial in a kangaroo court, where Amnesty plays both prosecutor and judge, providing a paucity of evidence in the process. "Fueling Conflict" should prompt Amnesty's members, including those in Israel, to ask serious questions regarding the organization's moral fiber in a world where warfare is increasingly complex. The blurring of lines between combatant and civilian requires that government decisions are judged with an understanding that the best choice is often the lesser of two evils.

The report itself accuses Israel of having committed "war crimes" in Gaza, and subsequently calls for an international arms embargo. Amnesty also demands the same restrictions be placed on Hamas, yet this is entirely irrelevant for a terrorist organization with no official trade links. The real problem is that "Fueling Conflict" constitutes nothing more than an inventory of weapons used. There is no doubt that there were civilian casualties in Gaza, but Amnesty mistakenly treats this fact as proof of Israel's criminality, when it really is nothing of the sort. International law accepts civilian deaths as a tragic reality of war, particularly when fighting an enemy that has intentionally embedded itself in densely populated areas. The question of legality, however, rests upon whether an operation's expected casualties outweigh its perceived military advantage.

"Fueling Conflict" tells us plenty about the weapons used by the Israel Defense Forces, and carefully documents where shells were found weeks after the conflict, sometimes in houses and schools. Yet, despite its dramatic claims, Amnesty leaves us none the wiser over the critical factor that would determine whether Israel's actions were legal or not and whether war crimes were committed. Are these the same houses and schools from which Hamas launched rockets or where it stored weapons, something that would have transformed them into legitimate military targets? Amnesty provides no answer and has seemingly failed to ask the organization that would likely be most able to shed light on the issue, the IDF.

Despite the inconvenient lack of evidence, Amnesty rules that Israel is guilty as charged and calls for an immediate "UN Security Council arms embargo on Israel." Almost half the report is devoted to detailing Israel's arms imports. Were Amnesty to focus solely on Israel's alleged use of controversial weapons, such as white phosphorus, the report might contribute to a valuable debate. Yet amazingly, it details Israel's procurement of aircraft, tanks, light weapons, ammunition and electronic equipment, all of which would presumably also be subject to Amnesty's suggested boycott. What emerges is an unspoken but shocking conclusion that in Amnesty's view, Israel is unfit to possess weapons and thus should be stripped of the right to self-defense.

Amnesty appears to subscribe to a fairy-tale worldview in which all non-combatant deaths and the use of all weapons under any circumstances are by definition immoral, wrong and illegal. Were the organization's stringent standards to be enforced, there would be no such thing as a just war and all democratic leaders who seek to defend their citizens against aggression and terrorism, as is their responsibility, would be deemed "war criminals."

Possibly in the forlorn hope of appearing even-handed, Amnesty often appears at pains to condemn both Israel and its enemies in equal measure, however contorted the calculation involved may be. "Fueling Conflict" is no different and although it devotes 12 of its more than 30 pages to Israel's "misuse" of conventional arms, compared to one page describing Hamas' unlawful rocket attacks, it concludes with parity that "Both Israel and Hamas used weapons supplied from abroad to carry out attacks on civilians - thus committing war crimes." This creates a dangerous and dishonest moral equivalence between Israel, which makes every effort to avoid civilian deaths and is apologetic when they occur, and Hamas, which regards the spilling of innocent blood itself as a victory. But to conclude with anything other than a manufactured evenhandedness would require Amnesty to make an ethical judgment - which it is reluctant to do.

For their work to have meaning, human rights organizations are by definition required to display moral clarity rather than hide behind a convenient veneer of impartiality. They must be able to clearly distinguish between legitimate and illegal use of arms, ethical warfare and terrorism. If it seeks to remain relevant, Amnesty must engage in the increasingly complex realities of asymmetric warfare and global terrorism and move beyond simplistic condemnations of war and conflict.

*Dan Kosky is communications director of NGO Monitor (, an organization monitoring human rights NGOs in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Iran Looms

From The New York Times, March 5, 2009, by MARK LANDLER:

...After three days of meetings in Egypt, Israel and the West Bank, Mrs. Clinton said she was struck by the depth of fear about Iran and the extent to which officials say it meddles in their affairs.

“There is a great deal of concern about Iran from this whole region,” she said to reporters on Wednesday. “It is clear Iran intends to interfere with the internal affairs of all of these people and try to continue their efforts to fund terrorism, whether it is Hezbollah or Hamas or other proxies.”

Mrs. Clinton specifically mentioned the Palestinians, saying that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was trying to undermine the Palestinian Authority ....

...Later, as Mrs. Clinton flew to Europe for meetings at NATO and with the Russian foreign minister, she again invoked Iran, saying the threat of a missile strike by Iran could be a basis for cooperation between the United States and Russia on the contentious issue of missile defense...

...Mrs. Clinton did not comment on a letter President Obama sent to Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, in which Mr. Obama noted that the United States would not need to deploy missile interceptors in Eastern Europe if Russia joined in a successful effort to prevent Iran from developing nuclear warheads and long-range missiles.

But she said she hoped to put negotiations with Russia on missile defense “on a serious track.” Russia, she said, is beginning to accept the argument that the missile defense system is not intended to harm Russia, but to protect it and Europe from a host of threatening neighbors...

...Mrs. Clinton’s hawkish words seemed intended to keep Iran on the defensive while the Obama administration completed its review of Iran policy. In a meeting with an Arab foreign minister in Egypt on Monday, Mrs. Clinton expressed skepticism that Iran would respond positively to the administration’s offer of direct negotiations.

Her announcement on Tuesday that the United States would send envoys to Syria might also have been intended, in part, to put pressure on Iran. Syria is viewed by many experts as a conduit for Iranian influence in the region. While Mrs. Clinton declined to elaborate on the mission, she said, “We believe that there is an opportunity for Syria to play a constructive role, if it chooses to do so.”

...When she was asked in Jerusalem about the Gaza border crossings, Mrs. Clinton said Israel faced a dilemma in loosening its controls, since Hamas continued to launch rockets at Israeli towns....

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Taghreed El-Khodary from Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.