Friday, September 18, 2009

Towards a year of renewal and hope

From The Jerusalem Post, September 17, 2009, by Isi Leibler:

...I am ...optimistic about 5770 and believe that for the first time in many a year, the people of Israel are in the process of regaining a new sense of purpose.

... Netanyahu has demonstrated an ability to achieve a stable leadership whilst simultaneously managing a highly sensitive policy involving major strategic initiatives. Moreover he has also succeeded in presenting a course of action which has effectively united the broad mass of the nation whilst neutralizing his right wing critics.

...Benjamin Netanyahu has skillfully created a broad consensus which should enable us to confront the sensitive international political challenges with strength and greater confidence. ...[this] represents a far cry from the abysmal failures and limitations of his predecessors whose ongoing policies of endless unilateral concessions only further emboldened and radicalized our enemies.

Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan address in response to President Obama's Cairo speech was not merely a skillful diplomatic articulation of Israel's policy. It won him the support of the bulk of the national political mainstream. This will without doubt enable us to more effectively face challenges from a less friendly United States administration as well as more confidently confront the threat from Iran.

That the American Jewish leadership is now overwhelmingly supporting the Netanyahu government and even expressing criticism of President Obama's biased treatment of the Jewish state and appeasement of the Arabs is an additional positive development which could not have been achieved in the absence of Netanyahu's sensitive diplomacy.

...There are also hopeful signals that under Education Minister Gideon Saar we may see the implementation of long overdue reforms within the educational system and the reintroduction of Jewish and Zionist values designed to motivate young Israelis to a greater commitment to their national obligations.

...We are obliged to remind ourselves that most of our recent problems were self inflicted by the ineptitude of our own leaders. My optimism for the coming year is based upon the belief that when the Jewish people unite - and this is the direction towards which we are moving - we can and will successfully overcome our challenges.

Hopefully, the leaders of the principal opposition party Kadima will overcome the selfish motivations which dissuaded them from joining the Netanyahu government and they will soon reenter the government, bringing about a genuine unity coalition which is desperately needed during these challenging times.

As we enter the New Year 5770, we have every reason to give thanks and pray that our dreams for peace and security will come closer to realization although we should be under no illusion that genuine peace in our time will be realized only when our neighbors are reconciled to living in peace and harmony with a Jewish state. Until that day comes we must remain strong and resilient.

Rosh Hashanah is a time to review our status as a people. We must constantly remind ourselves that despite all the problems facing us, we still remain the most blessed generation of Jews in 2000 years of exile and persecution. We must ensure that our children and grandchildren appreciate the miraculous progress we have achieved as a nation which only 60 years ago suffered the most devastating horrors and mass murder to become transformed into a modern industrial state capable of defending itself.

In short we have every reason to overcome our dark moods and give thanks to the Almighty for the incredible progress the Jewish state has achieved since its inception. We must also constantly remind ourselves that despite the awesome challenges still confronting us, we are today an empowered people, a haven for Jews seeking refuge from oppression from all corners of the world and with the help of the Almighty, responsible for our own destiny.

Israel still represents the greatest success story of the century.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Goodbye, and good riddance, Julia Irwin

From The Australian, September 16, 2009, by Paul Howes, national secretary of the Australian Workers Union:

FEDERAL Labor backbencher Julia Irwin has announced she will not recontest the ultra-safe southwestern Sydney seat of Fowler at the next election. Let me provide the first political obituary: a negligible contribution to southwestern Sydney and a dangerous contribution to the foreign policy debate.

Irwin's most ungracious act came last year. The member for Fowler chose to boycott the Prime Minister's speech marking the anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel.

This was probably the most embarrassing intervention from a backbencher in the present parliament. She said at the time, "I cannot congratulate a country which carries out human rights abuses each day."

Yet a quick search of Hansard reveals Irwin's concerns for human rights are a little selective. It seems she believes there are two classes of human rights, for two classes of citizen.

Last year, for example, Irwin heaped praise on the Cuban government and its overseas medical assistance programs. But she made no mention of the plight of political prisoners in Cuba, or the daily repression faced by Cuban citizens struggling to live under the repressive communist regime.

Irwin's moral clarity on human rights seemed also to escape her when she travelled to China in 1999. Irwin was in Beijing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that renowned bastion of robust political debate, the National People's Congress.

On her return, the member for Fowler addressed parliament about her trip, thanking the Chinese ambassador in Canberra for his assistance, then turning to the issue of Tibet. "With regard to reconciliation with the Dalai Lama, the delegation was told that this would require the Dalai Lama to give up any claims for independence for Tibet and to stop separatist activities," Irwin declared.

"As for Tibetans living abroad, the delegation was told that they were free to enter and leave Tibet and that some 10,000 had done so in recent years, with 2000 resettling in Tibet."

Human rights campaigners rejoice. Irwin's been to China and discovered everything is peachy for the Tibetans. As for political prisoners, human rights abuses and the legacy of Tiananmen Square, the keen humanitarian conscience of the member for Fowler must have been missing in action.

During 11 years in parliament, Irwin has given many private member statements on her views of the conflict in Israel and Palestinian territories. In 2005 she gave a short speech where in the space of just a few minutes she accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing" and setting up "a walled ghetto" and "a concentration camp".

Comparing the actions of Israel with those of Nazi Germany is the sort of low-rent tactic preferred by those who seek to perpetuate rather than resolve the impasse in the Middle East. It is divisive and intellectually lazy.

Many decent and upstanding MPs on both sides of the house are passionate about the plight of the Palestinian people. Many have delivered valuable, thoughtful speeches on the failure of Israel to secure peace.

But Irwin is not one of them. In her short-sightedness, she has refused to acknowledge the important role of progressive Israelis and progressive Palestinians. In short, she is more interested in stoking the flames of division than bringing together those who want peace, irrespective of faith and nationality.

Her legacy to the parliament, her electorate and Labor is not a great one.

I suspect few of her constituents could nominate any local achievements. For the Labor Party that protected her preselection, she has shown no gratitude.

Her intervention in the House of Representatives this week announcing her retirement was full of vitriol and put the boot into a political party that has kept her and her family in well-paid employment for many years.

However, Irwin was right to point out many of the flaws that exist in the way the Labor Party operates. That Irwin could remain the holder of an ultra-safe seat such as Fowler for 11 years is evidence that maybe the party could do with some reform.

In our grand Labor family, we tolerate different views and vigorous debate. Her parting contribution only reinforces her utter lack of respect and grace. Hopefully in retirement she can enjoy the company of other exiles, such as Mark Latham.

So goodbye, Julia, I'm sure someone will miss you, but I doubt that your party or your electorate will.

UN's kangaroo court

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Sep. 15, 2009, by Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg, head of NGO Monitor, and member of the political science faculty of Bar-Ilan University [my own emphasis aded - SL]:

In a first quick review, the 575-page report of the Goldstone mission seems as bad as or worse than was expected - the critics who warned of a "kangaroo court" created to find Israel guilty will claim that they were correct.

Goldstone's press conference in New York on Tuesday and the report's recommendations constitute another step in the Durban strategy, in which the language of human rights and international law are misused as weapons in the political war to isolate and demonize Israel.

The tenor of the document, the "balance" between charges of war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas, and the effort to involve the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court all constitute a frontal attack against Israel. As a result, the damage may not stop with the publication of this report, and the Israeli government is faced with a serious and difficult strategic challenge in demonstrating that the committee and its membership were fundamentally flawed from the beginning.

But when the report is examined in detail, a number of basic errors are likely to emerge - perhaps enough to expose the entire process as invalid and morally tainted.

The evidence, as Goldstone stated, was based almost entirely on unverifiable Palestinian claims and publications from politicized pro-Palestinian NGOs - the report cites B'Tselem and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights more than 70 times each, Al-Haq allegations get more than 30 mentions, and there are many more NGO co-authors.

Human Rights Watch is referenced 33 times, including the "Rain of Fire" report co-authored by Marc Garlasco. He was HRW's "senior military expert" (until suspended on Monday after the exposure of his Nazi-memorabilia fetish), but his analyses are tainted by false claims and speculation masquerading as expertise. Goldstone's long association with HRW essentially means that in this report, he is quoting his own highly problematic organization.

More generally, the methodology used in the 36 incidents examined by the committee will give critics of the report and the commission the strongest basis for rejecting its conclusions.

At the same time, Goldstone's report is full of statements of "fact" that defy belief and come without any evidentiary source. For instance, contrary to numerous contemporary reports in media outlets like The New York Times, the report denies, without citing any of the evidence, that Hamas fighters dressed in civilian clothing hid in hospital facilities and used ambulances to transport combatants and for other military purposes.

Even more shockingly, the Goldstone report repeatedly accuses Israel of violating international law by committing acts of terror, while it refrains from directly accusing Hamas of violating those laws. Worse, the report never even admits that Hamas is a terrorist organization.

If this were a real court process, and not a façade based on a political mandate from the inherently biased United Nations Human Rights Council, both Goldstone and Prof. Christine Chinkin would have been disqualified from participating. As UN Watch noted in its 28-page legal brief to the UN, Chinkin's bias was reflected in statements that "categorically rejected" Israel's right to self-defense against rocket attacks from Gaza and accused Israel of "aggression" and "prima facie war crimes." But without any due process, this brief was simply dismissed.

In parallel, the choice of Goldstone was seen as an insurance policy against charges of anti-Semitism. Indeed, when the issue came up at the press conference in New York, Goldstone invoked his Jewish background and his involvement with Israel as a defense. He expressed sadness over Israel's being found (at least by his committee and its allies) to have committed war crimes.

Near the end of his statement, Goldstone told his audience that they should "rejoice that we are living in a world today in which there is accountability for war crimes."

Sadly, the rejoicing will come from exactly those quarters that fear true accountability. The Hamas leadership and its supporters, including the Iranian regime, will gladly accept the result, but few Israelis or fair-minded individuals will view this mission, its report or its recommendations as having provided accountability or restored the morality of the United Nations.

Monday, September 14, 2009

UNRWA: a cause, not a solution

From The Hill, 9/9/09, by Lanny Davis*:

...Here are a few facts about UNRWA:

It was originally founded in 1949 as a temporary agency to provide relief services to Palestinian refugees and is the only United Nations agency dedicated to one specific group of refugees. (For example, there were millions of refugees after World War II, but the U.N. set up only one — UNRWA — dedicated to serve Palestinians and Palestinians alone.)

UNRWA’s definition of the refugees to whom it devotes its time and attention are well beyond the original 900,000 Palestinian refugees who were identified in 1950. Today the number served is over 4.5 million. Why? Because UNRWA has defined its mission to serve the descendents of the original 900,000. This means grandchildren or even great-grandchildren of the original Palestinian refugees are the focus of UNRWA’s attention — in refugee camps located in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. (Some might ask: Why haven’t the Saudis, with all their oil money, contributed to finding homes for the great-grandparents, parents, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original Palestinian refugees over these 60 years?)

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the agency tasked with resolving refugee problems worldwide, employs approximately 6,300 staff to care for a global refugee population of 11.4 million — not counting the 4.5 million Palestinians served exclusively by UNRWA. Yet the UNHCR gets along with a worldwide staff of approximately 6,300 people. And how many staff does UNRWA employ for less than one-half the number of refugees in a concentrated area in the Middle East? The latest estimate: over 24,000 people, and most of them Palestinians — with a total budget in 2008 of over $400 million. (Some might ask: Why do the Palestinians require more almost four times the number of paid staff in the Middle East to serve less than one-half the number of people served by the UNHCR globally?)

According to the UNRWA Report of the Board of Auditors for the biennium ended Dec. 31, 2005, UNRWA does not track recording, deleting, renaming or manipulation of financial information by staff members or volunteers, and therefore has no means of detecting the alteration of financial data or other types of redirection of UNRWA funding. (Some might ask: Why not? Why doesn’t the U.N. require an independent auditor to track all use of funds and put everything on the Internet for all to see — especially U.S. taxpayers?)

These and other facts are all contained in a resolution introduced this year by Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) along with over 20 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. The legislation is aimed at requiring, at the very least, full transparency and accountability by UNRWA. And in two specific areas — support of terrorism and the teaching of anti-Semitic and -Israeli hate — Rothman demands answers.

For example, there is significant evidence that members of Hamas, an organization that the U.S. lists as terrorist — meaning it intentionally kills Israeli civilians to achieve its announced goal of destroying the state of Israel — are on UNRWA’s payroll. According to Rothman’s resolution, in 2004, Peter Hansen, then the commission-general of UNRWA, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., “I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, and I don’t see that as a crime.”

Moreover, there is indisputable evidence that anti-Semitic and anti-Israel textbooks are being used in UNRWA-sponsored schools — including texts that contain negative references to Jews and omit entirely the state of Israel from maps.

Rothman’s resolution would urge the secretary of State to take all necessary measures (including, presumably, a full investigation) to determine whether UNRWA is using, contrary to U.S. law, U.S. tax dollars for Hamas terrorists on its payrolls or to further terrorist propaganda; to publish online copies of all educational materials used in UNRWA-administered schools; and to use terrorist name-recognition software to ensure that UNRWA staff and volunteers are not terrorists or affiliated with terrorist organizations.

And then there is the question of the anti-Israel bias of UNRWA’s top officials, also paid in large part by U.S. taxpayers. The record of UNRWA press spokesman Chris Gunness for biased statements against Israel is widely perceived.

Rothman has the right idea — turn the lights on, ramp up transparency and accountability, and then U.S. taxpayers and voters can decide whether they still want to send their hundreds of millions of dollars to support UNRWA.

*Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton from 1996-98, served as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2005-06.

Not Settlements, but Terrorism ...

From The Washington Post, Tuesday, September 8, 2009, by Elliott Abrams*:

...The question is not whether Palestinians would prefer to see Israeli soldiers leave; no doubt they would, and no doubt those soldiers would rather be at home.

...after Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, it did not quickly institute a restricted road network or travel restrictions on Palestinians, nor did it build its security fence. Those came decades later, in the face of vicious acts of terrorism.

What puts ...a two-state solution at risk is not settlements, but terrorism.

It is terrorism that prevents Israel from leaving the West Bank entirely in Palestinian hands today, for Israelis learned a lesson after leaving Gaza and South Lebanon. A negotiated settlement is still possible, and it does not require a settlement freeze; instead it requires that Palestinian terrorists stop trying to kill Israelis, or that a Palestinian government be in place that is ready, willing, and able to prevent them from succeeding.

*The writer, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, served as a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush

Carter - you're dreaming...

From The Washington Post, Tuesday, September 8, 2009, by Elliott Abrams*:

In an op-ed on Sunday ["The Elders' View of the Middle East"], former president Jimmy Carter, speaking on behalf of a self-appointed group of "Elders," described a rapacious Israel facing long-suffering, blameless Palestinians, who are contemplating a "nonviolent civil rights struggle" in which "their examples would be Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela."
As with most of Carter's recent statements about Israel and the Palestinians, instead of facts we get vignettes from recent Carter travels. And while he finds "a growing sense of concern and despair" among "increasingly desperate" Palestinians, polls do not sustain this view. The most recent survey by the leading Palestinian pollster, Khalil Shikaki (done in August, the same month Carter visited), shows "considerable improvement in public perception of personal and family security and safety in the West Bank and a noticeable decrease in public perception of the existence of corruption in [Palestinian Authority] institutions." This does not sound like despair. In fact, positive views of personal and family safety and security in the West Bank stood at 25 percent four years ago, 35 percent two years ago and 43 percent a year ago, and they have risen to 58 percent in the past year, Shikaki reports. There are other ways to measure quality of life in the West Bank: The International Monetary Fund recently stated that "macroeconomic conditions in the West Bank have improved" largely because "Israeli restrictions on internal trade and the passage of people have been relaxed significantly."

The IMF predicts that "continuation of the relaxation of restrictions could result in real GDP growth of 7% for 2009 as a whole," a rate of growth that would be far in excess of ours -- or Israel's.

Carter's efforts to portray life among the Palestinians as unbearable and getting worse are belied by data. His efforts to blame Israel for all the problems that do exist are equally unpersuasive, and the best example is Gaza.

Carter states that Gaza is a "walled-in ghetto" and that "Israel prevents any cement, lumber, seeds, fertilizer and hundreds of other needed materials from entering through Gaza's gates." But Gaza is not an enclave surrounded by Israel; it has a border with Egypt. Every commodity that Carter says is needed can be supplied by Egypt, a point he overlooks in his efforts to blame Palestinian problems exclusively on the Jewish state.

Similarly, he says that "[s]ome additional goods from Egypt reach Gaza through underground tunnels," phrasing that suggests the "additional goods" may help reduce shortages. In fact, they include missiles and rockets, thousands of which have been fired into Israel since its troops left Gaza in 2005. While Carter warns that a Palestinian "civil rights struggle" is in the offing, he says nothing about Palestinian violence in the real world -- in which Palestinian terrorist groups continue to attack Israel and where all of Gaza is, of course, in the hands of one such group, Hamas.

Carter claims that the expansion of Israeli settlements is "rapidly" taking Palestinian land. Yet four years ago Israel gave up the Gaza Strip and all the settlements there (plus four small West Bank settlements); moreover, Carter presents no data suggesting that Israel's West Bank settlements are actually expanding physically. Their population is growing, but new construction is almost all "up and in," meaning that the impact on Palestinians is limited -- and that the picture Carter paints of a rapidly disappearing Palestine is inaccurate.

Most inaccurate of all, and most bizarre, is Carter's claim that "a total freeze of settlement expansion is the key" to a peace agreement. Not a halt to terrorism, not the building of Palestinian institutions, not the rule of law in the West Bank, not the end of Hamas rule in Gaza -- no, the sole "key" is Israeli settlements. Such a conclusion fits with Carter's general approach, in which there are no real Palestinians, just victims of Israel. The century of struggle between moderate and radical Palestinians, and the victories of terrorists from Haj Amin al-Husseini to Yasser Arafat, are forgotten; the Hamas coup in Gaza is unmentioned; indeed the words "Hamas" and "terrorism" do not appear in Carter's column. Instead of appealing for support for the serious and practical work of institution-building that the Palestinian Authority has begun, Carter fantasizes about a "nonviolent civil rights struggle" that bears no relationship to the terrorist violence that has plagued Palestinian society, and killed Israelis, for decades. Carter's portrait demonizes Israelis and, not coincidentally, it infantilizes Palestinians, who are accorded no real responsibility for their fate or future. If this is "the Elders' view of the Middle East," we and our friends in that region are fortunate that this group of former officials is no longer in power.

*The writer, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, served as a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration.

A nation grieves Assaf Ramon

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Sep. 14, 2009, by Amir Mizroch:
The day after space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry under a blue Texas sky in 2003, editorial cartoonist Mike Keefe from The Denver Post drew six stars and one Star of David on a black canvas, representing the seven astronauts lost in the disaster.

Today we add an eighth star, another Star of David, to that cartoon, in honor of Assaf Ramon.

In our national narrative, Assaf was always going to be our second astronaut. And so we don't just mourn the death of a young, promising pilot cadet, we mourn the sudden death of a national dream rekindled, of a promise unfulfilled.

Assaf was the eldest son of Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut. Ilan, and Assaf after him, represented our finest, our "best of the best."

This file photo shows Assaf Ramon, z"l, in 2003.
Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
As the youngest member of the squadron that carried out the daring bombing raid on Saddam's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, Ilan Ramon was more than just an ace pilot. He was what many young men, then and now, aspire to be. To many, inside and outside the country, he was the manifestation of the new Jewish warrior, determined never to let evil men attain weapons that could annihilate us.

When Ramon, son of a Holocaust survivor, took an artifact from the Theresienstadt ghetto with him into space, Jewish hearts all over the world filled with pride.

"I was born in Israel and I'm kind of the proof for them, and for the whole Israeli people, that whatever we fought for and we've been going through in the last century (or maybe in the last two thousand years), is becoming true," he said.

Ilan Ramon was "our astronaut," our national pride. When he was chosen by NASA, we walked a little taller. We had our very own astronaut - very few countries in the world could boast of that.

...When we gathered around the TVs to watch his imminent landing, our hearts pounded with excitement. When contact with Columbia was lost, we bit our nails, in denial, tortured in disbelief. Our anxiety slowly turned into angst, our hopes dashed, our hero fallen.

In real time, we all watched our dream shatter into tiny pieces across the Texan sky...
...And then came Assaf. Smart, strong, confident, just like his father. As a teenager in a Texas high school, it was clear Assaf was Ilan's son through and through. His grades in mathematics, geography and physics were near perfect.

In 2006, we saw Assaf enter the IAF pilot's course. He was following in his father's footsteps, and we dared to dream again. A little glimmer of that light that went out with Ilan sparked within our hearts.

When we heard news that Assaf had skillfully maneuvered his training jet out of a dangerous, spiraling descent, barely saving his skin but managing to control the massive machine, the glimmer of light grew brighter and warmer. He was destined for greatness; he was a hero in the making. He was a Top Gun.

And on that sunny day just three months ago, when Assaf graduated as the most outstanding cadet in his pilot's class, we collectively burst again with pride.

See, we said to each other, the dream is still alive. The son is taking his father's place. He could take us all the way to the top again, and who knows, maybe he'll go into space, and the whole world will hear our music again. Assaf fit so naturally into the narrative we had written for him.

So when rumors started spreading that the pilot killed in a training crash on Sunday morning was Assaf Ramon, our first reaction was one of adamant disbelief. Surely not...

"J" for what?


J Street seems to pop up in all the right places lately, buoyed and immunized by indulgent, adoring and uncritical journalists. The upstart lobby was invited to join other Jewish organizations in a July meeting with US President Barack Obama; a month later it attended a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Yesterday's New York Times magazine published the latest paean to J Street, portraying it as brash and brave, representative of 92 percent of American Jewry, and a young and open organization willing to take on a monolithic and paleolithic AIPAC and other veteran American Jewish organizations.

Frankly, the Times article is missing so many components and questions about the "pro-Israel" organization that it cannot be viewed as anything other than J Street puffery.

For instance, the writer, James Traub, devotes considerable effort to show how J Street is in touch with American Jewish opinion on issues such as Israeli settlements and American engagement in the peace process. J Street commissioned "an extensive poll of Jewish opinion on Middle East issues," Traub wrote.

But Traub failed to report the recent and shocking exposé, written in Commentary by Noah Pollak, that J Street's poll was conducted by J Street's own former vice president, Jim Gerstein.

"J Street not only commissions polls," Pollak wrote, "it writes the questions, conducts them, analyzes the results and then carries out promotional campaigns with the findings. If you were wondering how it was possible that J Street could repeatedly produce 'polling data' that almost perfectly complements the group's political agenda, now we have one important clue."

...THE TIMES'S Traub failed to report on the identity of J Street's broader leadership and decision-makers. To whom does director Jeremy Ben-Ami answer or consult? Who sits on the organization's board of directors? Who are the organization's funders? Traub reports on the 50-member finance committee, the existence of which was revealed in a Jerusalem Post article last month.

The Post revealed names of some of the members: "The finance committee with a $10,000 contribution threshold," the Post wrote, "includes Lebanese-American businessman Richard Abdoo, a current board member of Amideast and a former board member of the Arab American Institute (AAI), and Genevieve Lynch, who is also a member of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) board."

J Street's Web site presents its distinguished 170-member "advisory council," a display case of wealthy progressive Jews and former US diplomats to the Middle East, including several who became foreign agents working the halls of Washington for Arab countries. Perhaps J Street's ultimate leaders are among these advisers, but there's no way of knowing who they are.

The Post article revealed that J Street's PAC was the recipient of donations from Arab-, Islamic- and Iranian-Americans, but Traub doesn't mention that controversial fact. The existence of these donations is understandably played down by Ben-Ami, but that information certainly should have been made available to the Times's readers.

J Street's finance committee list only reflects contributors to the PAC as they appear in public records of the Federal Elections Commission. The list of donors to J Street's main organization is secret.

Traub should have asked what role George Soros plays in the organization. A National Journal article written in April 2008 prior to J Street's launch reported that "billionaire and controversial activist George Soros, a party to the early talks about forming a new group, is reportedly no longer involved, in part, sources say, because concerns that his participation might be a lightning rod for critics."

J Street's disturbing alliance with the Iranian lobbying group, the National Iranian American Council, is also ignored by the Times's tribute. J Street and NIAC directors coauthored a Huffington Post article earlier this year arguing against new sanctions on Iran.

When Congress was considering anti-Iranian legislation a year ago, J Street went into action. In the words of one anti-Israel blogger at the time, "J Street played a key role in dealing that astonishing defeat to AIPAC in Congress - in which a coalition of peace groups and religious groups spearheaded by the National Iranian American Council lobbied effectively against a belligerent resolution."

One fact the Times magazine seems to get right: "J Street shares the Obama administration's agenda." But the Times should have gone on to ask the nature of J Street's relationship with senior officials in the Obama administration. The National Review article on organizational meetings prior to J Street's launch - and at the height of the Democratic primaries - listed advisers including "several activists with ties to Democratic contender Barack Obama of Illinois." At the height of Israel's Gaza operation in December 2008, J Street's evenhanded statement on the fighting was very similar to that of David Axelrod, Obama's senior adviser, who, speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, avoided endorsing Israel's military action.

J STREET just launched an initiative to "bust" anti-Obama smears within the pro-Israel community. Volunteers to the "Obama Smear Busters" must take a pledge that approaches a vassal-like fealty: "Pledge right now to reply-all [sic] to every smear e-mail you receive about President Obama, Jews and Israel with the truth by filling out the form below."

The New York Times article avoided asking the hard questions and failed to examine who was funding, directing and supporting J Street. I have spoken to several senior reporters in Washington who admitted that they wanted to avoid writing J Street exposés. Can it be that news agencies fear that taking on J Street would be viewed as an attack on Obama? Ben-Ami himself, admitted to the Times, "Our No. 1 agenda item is to do whatever we can in Congress to act as the president's blocking back."

*The writer served as a senior diplomat in Israel's embassy in Washington. He worked for AIPAC in Washington and Israel, and today is a consultant on public affairs. He blogs at

Iran: Sanctions NOW!!! - talk later

From GLORIA, September 13, 2009, by By Barry Rubin, Director:

...By accepting the Iranian proposal for negotiations, the Obama Administration has just made ... a very bad mistake, a very bad one indeed.

True, the idea of engagement was a U.S. idea. The Iranian regime ignored it for months. And then at the very last moment, the Tehran government sent a five-page letter calling for talks. The letter didn’t even mention the nuclear program as a topic. Shouldn’t that be enough to reject it as insufficient?

Everyone should understand the timing of this letter. On one hand, it came after the most extreme government in two decades took over that country; after a stolen election; after the repression of peaceful demonstrations; after the show trials of reform-minded oppositionists, and after the appointment of a wanted terrorist as minister of defense.

Never have prospects for negotiations resolving U.S.-Iran differences, including the nuclear program, seemed poorer.

At the same time, the United States was finally on the verge of raising sanctions against Iran. True, the increase was insufficient and neither Russia nor China was on board. Yet this was going to be a major step.

Never have prospects for the Obama Administration making some real effort to confront Iran and press for ending the nuclear program seemed better.

Now this whole U.S. strategy has been swept away by no one other than the U.S. government itself.

Few people in the U.S. government think that the talks will lead anywhere. They will eat up months and months, as the Tehran regime consolidates control and surges forward in its nuclear program. The timing of sanctions will presumably be put off until “after” the talks are finished, meaning the Iranian regime will be able to string along America for as long as it wants.

Not to mention the fact that this is a repressive, extremist, anti-American, antisemitic, terrorist-sponsoring government which is going to remain so in every respect no matter how many sessions are held with U.S. delegates.

But it gets worse. After all, what does the Iranian offer, entitled “Cooperation, Peace and Justice,” say? Well, it calls for a reform of the UN to abolish the veto powers, a Middle East peace settlement without Israel’s existence, and universal nuclear disarmament, the last being another idea with which Obama saddled U.S. policy...

...How about this basic [alternative] concept: First, raise the sanctions and only then start the talks. Make it clear that the sanctions will continue as long as Iran doesn't change its behavior but that the United States is happy to negotiate from a position of strength rather than from one of weakness....

Iran's counter-offer ignores international alarm

From the Washington Post Foreign Service, Friday, September 11, 2009, by Thomas Erdbrink:

TEHRAN, Sept. 10 -- Iran is not prepared to discuss halting its uranium enrichment program in response to Western demands but is proposing instead a worldwide control system aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top political aide said in an interview Thursday.

In a set of proposals handed to the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany on Wednesday, Iran also offered to cooperate on solving problems in Afghanistan and fighting terrorism and to collaborate on oil and gas projects, Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi said. A longtime confidant of the president's, Samareh Hashemi is reportedly being considered for the key post of first vice president in Ahmadinejad's new government.

As described by Samareh Hashemi, Iran's offer is similar to a call by President Obama in April to eliminate the world's nuclear weapons. Later this month, Obama is scheduled to chair a special session of the U.N. General Assembly's annual meeting aimed at seeking consensus on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, rather than targeting individual nations such as Iran and North Korea. Ahmadinejad is also scheduled to attend the U.N. meeting and has said he is ready to debate Obama publicly.

"It's not really responsive to our greatest concern, which is obviously Iran's nuclear program," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said of Tehran's package of proposals. "Iran reiterated its view that as far as it is concerned, its nuclear file is closed. . . . That is certainly not the case. There are many outstanding issues."

But Crowley did not shut the door completely. He said the United States was consulting with its negotiating partners -- Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany...

...The negotiating group, known as the P5-plus-one because it includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, has sought since 2006 to reach a deal with Iran on its nuclear program...

...Earlier this year, the group offered to provide economic and security benefits to Iran in return for suspension of Tehran's enrichment activity and international oversight. The proposals delivered Wednesday amounted to Iran's counteroffer.

...Samareh Hashemi also called on the United States to apologize for "interfering in Iran's election and other instances of meddling," attacked America's two-party political system and denounced "liberal democracy" in Western nations. "Both the internal and external signs of this Western liberal democracy show that it's approaching defeat and collapse," he said.

Ahmadinejad began a second term last month after his government effectively crushed opposition protests over his disputed reelection in June. He has accused the West of orchestrating the protests.

...Iran maintains that archenemy Israel possesses nuclear weapons, and it has often accused the West of having a double standard regarding Israel's nuclear arsenal.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

UN does nothing to prevent rockets from Lebanon

From Ynet News, 13/9/09, by Roee Nahmias:

UNIFIL forces in south Lebanon were warned in advance of the possibility that Katyusha rockets would be fired toward Israel, Lebanese newspaper An Nahar reported on Sunday.

Friday afternoon saw two 122-mllimeter rockets hit open areas in the Western Galilee region....

...According to the Lebanese newspaper, a number of sources informed UNIFIL of the attack 10 days before it was launched, and even specified they type of rockets that would be fired. UNIFIL, the report said, relayed the information to the Lebanese army two days before the attack. The report did not mention whether the Lebanese army had acted on the information.

Israel filed a complaint with the United Nations on Friday evening, saying the Lebanese government was responsible for the incident.

Lebanese news agencies said Saturday that eyewitnesses in southern Lebanon reported that the terrorists who fired Katyusha rockets at Israel arrived on the scene of the launch in a truck, wearing civilian clothing.

The witnesses said four men arrived at a forest near the village of al-Kalila and planted three rockets, then set a timer and fled the scene....

Israel bashers, their media lapdogs, and their cheer squad

From THE WEB SITE OF Michael Danby MHR Monday September 7, 2009, reporting a speech in Parliament, on Israel-bashers Antony Loewenstein and Michael Brull:

(See also The Australian 12 September, Headlined Creepy vitriolic bigotry of the internet's fringe-dwellers)

THE editorial bias of the online publications for which they write clearly puts them on the fringe of Australian politics. ...they are completely outside the mainstream ...

The thrust of my previous speech and tonight's lies with the creepier bigotry that their articles and other articles unleashed in these two online publications (Crikey and New Matilda), which apparently had no problem with publishing them.

Our toughest critique must be of their unadulterated racism: the perverse nature of their criticisms and the vitriol that is not present in the appraisal of other conflicts; the use of terms such as ethnic cleansing and Nazi; and the dropping of all pretence of anti-Zionism by openly discussing Jews and so-called Jewish proclivities.

It is clear in my view that New Matilda and Crikey disgraced themselves and the wider circle of Australian journalism and the tolerant ethos that characterises Australia by publishing clearly bigoted comments in the comments sections of their publications in the first three months of this year...

U.N. Gaza Inquiry Challenged for Bias

From a UN Watch Briefing Vol. 201 September 13, 2009:

Geneva, Sept. 13, 2009 — An unprecedented team of fifty British and Canadian lawyers is challenging the refusal of a U.N. investigator to step down from an inquiry on the recent Gaza conflict, arguing that London School of Economics professor Christine Chinkin’s participation on the panel — after she declared Israel guilty prior to seeing any evidence — “necessarily compromises the integrity of this inquiry and its report.”

...In submissions filed separately from both countries, prominent attorneys from law firms and human rights organizations in Great Britain and Canada are challenging the U.N.’s rejection of a request that Chinkin be disqualified due to her January condemnation of Israel on the very disputed issues that the inquiry is meant to impartially examine.

In early May, UN Watch, a Geneva non-governmental organization that monitors the world body’s human rights system, appeared before the U.N. panel to urge Goldstone and the other members to disqualify Chinkin, invoking “the impartiality principle that Goldstone promised to uphold,” and “the due process requirements of morality, logic and international law.”

Despite the NGO’s additional filing of legal briefs in July and August, as reported by Agence France Presse and Deutsche Presse Agentur, the Goldstone mission took 3 months to respond, in the end summarily rejecting the petition without addressing its arguments. UN Watch’s appeal last week to the new president of the Human Rights Council, Belgian ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen, received no response. The team of 50 lawyers has now launched a direct appeal to Chinkin to demand that she step down.

In an August interview with South Africa’s Business Day, Goldstone admitted that “If it had been a judicial inquiry, that letter [Chinkin] signed would have been a ground for disqualification.”...

Apart from Chinkin, the other three members of the panel -- Goldstone, Hina Jilani, and Col. Desmond Travers -- also implied Israeli guilt prior to their seeing any evidence, declaring in March that "The events in Gaza have shocked us to the core."

No one has ever disputed that the Arab-controlled Human Rights Council deliberately selected individuals who had made up their mind well in advance -- not only that Israel was guilty, but that a democratic state with an imperfect but respected legal system should be considered the same as, or worse than, a terrorist group.

Such moral equivalence regrettably underlies this week's blitz campaign by Human Rights Watch to demand that Western states support the Arab campaign to turn the Goldstone report into an ICC indictment of Israel.

"Both Israel and Hamas have poor records in conducting thorough and impartial investigations into alleged serious violations of the laws of war," said the group this week with a straight face, in an open letter to the European Union. The same bizarre equivalence also pervades Friday's op-ed by Human Rights Watch's Joe Stork.

The comparison is perverse in scale and in principle: killing civilians during battle is for Israel, the U.S., and other NATO allies an unintended tragedy of war that they seek to avoid; for Hamas, Hezbollah or Al Qaeda, it is a triumph that embodies their very raison d'etre and modus operandi. Blurring that distinction is moral blindness, mischief or malice....

Click here for appeal by 50 British and Canadian lawyers
Click here for PDF of original UN Watch legal brief

For more information, see