Commentary Magazine


Topic: European Parliament

Shining Light on the Israel-Haters

The Jew-haters among the European elite (yes, there’s quite a bit of overlap there) are pitching a fit. Why? Israel is moving ahead with a measure to force NGOs to be more transparent. Nervous that anti-Zionist groups will be unmasked as pawns of anti-Israel figures in European governments, the European Parliament “devoted [a session] to attacking a Knesset bill that seeks greater transparency regarding foreign governmental funding of NGOs operating in Israel.” There is reason for the members of Parliament to freak out:

Gerald Steinberg, the head of Jerusalembased NGO Monitor, told the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the session “was led by a small group of MEPs who work closely with the NGOs involved in the demonization of Israel.”

German Alexandra Thein, one of the European Parliament members who submitted the motion to debate the Knesset bill represents the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and is a member of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). Thein, who is married to an Israeli- Arab, visited the Gaza Strip last January and met with Hamas legislators along with 49 other MEPs.

At one point her party’s Web site contained a link to the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza group. On her own Web site, Thein has a section called “Focus Palestine,” and posts notices about Israeli acts of “land discrimination.”

Steinberg also took time out to blast Human Rights Watch and its founder George Soros (who also provided the seed money for J Street) :

Steinberg said that “HRW claims to be ‘even-handed’ and to publish ‘credible reports,’ but this is contradicted by highly biased activities in the Middle East, particularly on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“Time and again, HRW reports on Israel are based on false or unverifiable claims, and the analysis strips away the context of the conflict, denying Israelis the right to self-defense. George Soros has supported this travesty,” he said.

Well, the Knesset certainly hit a nerve, revealing once again that the political and social ostracism which kept anti-Semitism under wraps in the post-Holocaust years has vanished. It’s about time some light was shed on those who fund the demonization of Israel from the cafes and salons of European capitals.

The Jew-haters among the European elite (yes, there’s quite a bit of overlap there) are pitching a fit. Why? Israel is moving ahead with a measure to force NGOs to be more transparent. Nervous that anti-Zionist groups will be unmasked as pawns of anti-Israel figures in European governments, the European Parliament “devoted [a session] to attacking a Knesset bill that seeks greater transparency regarding foreign governmental funding of NGOs operating in Israel.” There is reason for the members of Parliament to freak out:

Gerald Steinberg, the head of Jerusalembased NGO Monitor, told the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the session “was led by a small group of MEPs who work closely with the NGOs involved in the demonization of Israel.”

German Alexandra Thein, one of the European Parliament members who submitted the motion to debate the Knesset bill represents the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and is a member of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). Thein, who is married to an Israeli- Arab, visited the Gaza Strip last January and met with Hamas legislators along with 49 other MEPs.

At one point her party’s Web site contained a link to the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza group. On her own Web site, Thein has a section called “Focus Palestine,” and posts notices about Israeli acts of “land discrimination.”

Steinberg also took time out to blast Human Rights Watch and its founder George Soros (who also provided the seed money for J Street) :

Steinberg said that “HRW claims to be ‘even-handed’ and to publish ‘credible reports,’ but this is contradicted by highly biased activities in the Middle East, particularly on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“Time and again, HRW reports on Israel are based on false or unverifiable claims, and the analysis strips away the context of the conflict, denying Israelis the right to self-defense. George Soros has supported this travesty,” he said.

Well, the Knesset certainly hit a nerve, revealing once again that the political and social ostracism which kept anti-Semitism under wraps in the post-Holocaust years has vanished. It’s about time some light was shed on those who fund the demonization of Israel from the cafes and salons of European capitals.

Read Less

Pulling Back the Curtain on the NGO Scam

The worldwide effort by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the Jewish state takes many forms. In international bodies, nation-states use the patina of respectability to indict and defame Israel. And a crop of NGOs have made it a full-time job, under the guise of “humanitarian” work, to carry out the same mission. Now Israel is pushing back, endeavoring to find out just who is behind these outfits.

NGO Monitor reports:

In another step towards greater transparency in funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Israel, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee tomorrow will discuss a bill to introduce transparency for NGOS that receive foreign government support. The draft legislation is sponsored by MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), and constitutes a revision of an earlier text introduced in February.

In this hearing, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, will provide background information and analysis on the role played by the European Union (EU) and member states in secretly funding Palestinian, Israeli, and other NGOs and “civil society” organizations.

“This bill is an important step towards protecting Israeli democracy and civil society from manipulation,” Steinberg comments. “While foreign governments allocate funds to many activities and organizations in Israel, the secrecy regarding political advocacy groups stands out, as does the role of recipient groups in demonization through the UN, the European parliament, and foreign capitals.”

“Many political advocacy NGOs, many of which are funded by the EU, distort international law to issue one-sided condemnations of Israel,” Steinberg stated to the European Parliament. “At the same time, they belie their claim to be working for universal human rights by giving very little attention to the rights of Israelis. While EU-funded NGOs have issued hundreds of reports condemning Israel, they have shown very little concern for the rights of the children from Sderot.” …

Steinberg adds, “Israelis, like citizens of all democracies, have the right to know how political advocacy groups receive their funding and how they look to fulfill their missions. Unfortunately, Israeli democracy often is easily exploited and manipulated.  Funding transparency will give Israelis the information necessary to assess these groups and their activities.”

A savvy pro-Israel activist e-mailed me to explain that this is going to upset a lot of Israel’s adversaries:

[T]he bottom line is that the EU governments are funding the delegitimization war on Israel. All these NGO’s you see running around, suing the government in court, lobbying, releasing “studies” about this and that Israeli “crime” or “violation” — where does the money come from? It comes from the EU. It’s a war they’re waging. This bill in the Knesset aims to do something very simple: require transparency in the funding of NGO’s that operate in Israel and bankrolled by foreign governments. The lefty “human rights” crowd is completely freaked out about this. We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars.

In a must-read op-ed, Professor Steinberg explains the insidious work of the NGOs, as well as the EU’s role in funding and enabling the onslaught against the Jewish state. Steinberg writes:

Examples of NGO campaigns are, unfortunately, plentiful. The recent “Free Gaza” flotilla incident demonstrated the sophisticated use of the “humanitarian,” “peace” and “non-governmental” labels to cover a preplanned attack on IDF soldiers, resulting in injuries and deaths. Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation) – a Turkish “charity” with close links to Hamas, jihadist groups, and the Turkish government – led the efforts in this instance.

Working with European and American anti-Israel campaigners, including the confrontational International Solidarity Movement (ISM), they tapped into a wider diplomatic and political campaign driven by the false charges of “war crimes” and “collective punishment.”

The possibility that “anonymous officials in European governments” would be exposed as central players in this offensive has understandably set off alarm bells. So naturally, the  Israeli-Arab NGO Adalah (which Steinberg explains is “funded by the New Israel Fund-NIF and the European Union [and] portrays ‘Israel as an inherent undemocratic state’”) and other groups are trying to block the measure. “These groups fear that they too would lose their funding and impact, and placed their private agendas and interests above the right of the public to know who is paying for the de-legitimization efforts.”

Well, transparency would certainly be a step in the right direction. And those on the left here and around the world who say they are oh so concerned about Israel’s democratic character should cheer and support this development, right? Don’t hold your breath — the prospect that these “human rights” and “humanitarian” groups (which provide so much fodder for the daily Israel-bashing) might be exposed as the pawns of garden-variety European anti-Semites and Israel-haters is not one, I assure you, that they are cheering.

The worldwide effort by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the Jewish state takes many forms. In international bodies, nation-states use the patina of respectability to indict and defame Israel. And a crop of NGOs have made it a full-time job, under the guise of “humanitarian” work, to carry out the same mission. Now Israel is pushing back, endeavoring to find out just who is behind these outfits.

NGO Monitor reports:

In another step towards greater transparency in funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Israel, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee tomorrow will discuss a bill to introduce transparency for NGOS that receive foreign government support. The draft legislation is sponsored by MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), and constitutes a revision of an earlier text introduced in February.

In this hearing, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, will provide background information and analysis on the role played by the European Union (EU) and member states in secretly funding Palestinian, Israeli, and other NGOs and “civil society” organizations.

“This bill is an important step towards protecting Israeli democracy and civil society from manipulation,” Steinberg comments. “While foreign governments allocate funds to many activities and organizations in Israel, the secrecy regarding political advocacy groups stands out, as does the role of recipient groups in demonization through the UN, the European parliament, and foreign capitals.”

“Many political advocacy NGOs, many of which are funded by the EU, distort international law to issue one-sided condemnations of Israel,” Steinberg stated to the European Parliament. “At the same time, they belie their claim to be working for universal human rights by giving very little attention to the rights of Israelis. While EU-funded NGOs have issued hundreds of reports condemning Israel, they have shown very little concern for the rights of the children from Sderot.” …

Steinberg adds, “Israelis, like citizens of all democracies, have the right to know how political advocacy groups receive their funding and how they look to fulfill their missions. Unfortunately, Israeli democracy often is easily exploited and manipulated.  Funding transparency will give Israelis the information necessary to assess these groups and their activities.”

A savvy pro-Israel activist e-mailed me to explain that this is going to upset a lot of Israel’s adversaries:

[T]he bottom line is that the EU governments are funding the delegitimization war on Israel. All these NGO’s you see running around, suing the government in court, lobbying, releasing “studies” about this and that Israeli “crime” or “violation” — where does the money come from? It comes from the EU. It’s a war they’re waging. This bill in the Knesset aims to do something very simple: require transparency in the funding of NGO’s that operate in Israel and bankrolled by foreign governments. The lefty “human rights” crowd is completely freaked out about this. We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars.

In a must-read op-ed, Professor Steinberg explains the insidious work of the NGOs, as well as the EU’s role in funding and enabling the onslaught against the Jewish state. Steinberg writes:

Examples of NGO campaigns are, unfortunately, plentiful. The recent “Free Gaza” flotilla incident demonstrated the sophisticated use of the “humanitarian,” “peace” and “non-governmental” labels to cover a preplanned attack on IDF soldiers, resulting in injuries and deaths. Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation) – a Turkish “charity” with close links to Hamas, jihadist groups, and the Turkish government – led the efforts in this instance.

Working with European and American anti-Israel campaigners, including the confrontational International Solidarity Movement (ISM), they tapped into a wider diplomatic and political campaign driven by the false charges of “war crimes” and “collective punishment.”

The possibility that “anonymous officials in European governments” would be exposed as central players in this offensive has understandably set off alarm bells. So naturally, the  Israeli-Arab NGO Adalah (which Steinberg explains is “funded by the New Israel Fund-NIF and the European Union [and] portrays ‘Israel as an inherent undemocratic state’”) and other groups are trying to block the measure. “These groups fear that they too would lose their funding and impact, and placed their private agendas and interests above the right of the public to know who is paying for the de-legitimization efforts.”

Well, transparency would certainly be a step in the right direction. And those on the left here and around the world who say they are oh so concerned about Israel’s democratic character should cheer and support this development, right? Don’t hold your breath — the prospect that these “human rights” and “humanitarian” groups (which provide so much fodder for the daily Israel-bashing) might be exposed as the pawns of garden-variety European anti-Semites and Israel-haters is not one, I assure you, that they are cheering.

Read Less

JCall and the Distress of European Jewry

The new European group JCall raises a disturbing question: how could pro-Israel intellectuals like Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy support a venture that is simultaneously anti-Israel and intellectually incoherent?

JCall presented a petition to the European Parliament this week that asserted that Israel’s future “depends upon” peace with the Palestinians, so the European Union must “put pressure on both parties.” Then, abandoning the pretense of even-handedness, it added: “Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous and does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel.” There was no comparable warning against supporting Palestinian Authority policies, some of which clearly endanger Israel.

Asked to explain this disparity, founder David Chemla told the Jerusalem Post, “As Jews tied to Israel, we speak to the Israelis. So this is a call to the Israelis.”

That is obvious nonsense: if JCall really wanted to address Israelis, it would petition the Knesset — not the virulently anti-Israel European Parliament, which just two months ago backed the Goldstone Report’s allegations of Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza. The U.S. Congress, by comparison, denounced the report as hopelessly biased.

And that contrast highlights the more serious intellectual incoherence in JCall’s position. JCall, like JStreet, on which it is self-consciously modeled, opposes “delegitimization and boycotts of Israel,” Chemla told Haaretz. But America could reduce support for Israel in many ways short of boycott/divestment/sanctions. Europe can’t.

Unlike the U.S., the EU doesn’t vote against anti-Israel UN resolutions, give Israel financial aid, serve as a major Israeli arms supplier, and publicly defend (or at least refrain from condemning) Israeli counterterrorism measures. Indeed, it makes only one major contribution to Israel’s welfare: it’s Israel’s largest trading partner.

So when you urge European “pressure” on Israel, you’re effectively urging BDS. The EU has no lesser pressure mechanisms left.

Chemla nevertheless insisted that JCall is “actually helping Israel’s image in Europe” by showing that the Jewish community is “not monolithic.” How Europeans’ image of Israel would be improved by learning that prominent Jews also deem Israel the conflict’s main culprit remains a mystery.

But it’s no mystery how that might improve Europeans’ image of European Jews. On a continent where opinion polls consistently show Israel to be widely loathed, even implying that Israel isn’t solely to blame makes you suspect. But if you urge the EU to withhold support from Israel’s government, yet not from the PA; if you even declare that this serves Israel’s “true interests,” so Europeans need suffer no qualms of conscience, then you’ve restored yourself to the European consensus. You’ve showed, to quote JCall’s petition, that you, too, hear “the voice of reason” — at least as Europe currently defines it.

It’s hard being a Jew in Europe today. So it’s understandable that some would seize on anything, however irrational, that labels itself “pro-Israel” while not violating the European consensus. But their Israeli and American brethren must remind them of the truth: being “pro-Israel” in Europe today requires emphasizing Palestinian guilt, which Europeans routinely ignore, rather than reinforcing their “blame Israel” reflex. And it requires lobbying against “pressure” that can only be manifest through BDS.

The new European group JCall raises a disturbing question: how could pro-Israel intellectuals like Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy support a venture that is simultaneously anti-Israel and intellectually incoherent?

JCall presented a petition to the European Parliament this week that asserted that Israel’s future “depends upon” peace with the Palestinians, so the European Union must “put pressure on both parties.” Then, abandoning the pretense of even-handedness, it added: “Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous and does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel.” There was no comparable warning against supporting Palestinian Authority policies, some of which clearly endanger Israel.

Asked to explain this disparity, founder David Chemla told the Jerusalem Post, “As Jews tied to Israel, we speak to the Israelis. So this is a call to the Israelis.”

That is obvious nonsense: if JCall really wanted to address Israelis, it would petition the Knesset — not the virulently anti-Israel European Parliament, which just two months ago backed the Goldstone Report’s allegations of Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza. The U.S. Congress, by comparison, denounced the report as hopelessly biased.

And that contrast highlights the more serious intellectual incoherence in JCall’s position. JCall, like JStreet, on which it is self-consciously modeled, opposes “delegitimization and boycotts of Israel,” Chemla told Haaretz. But America could reduce support for Israel in many ways short of boycott/divestment/sanctions. Europe can’t.

Unlike the U.S., the EU doesn’t vote against anti-Israel UN resolutions, give Israel financial aid, serve as a major Israeli arms supplier, and publicly defend (or at least refrain from condemning) Israeli counterterrorism measures. Indeed, it makes only one major contribution to Israel’s welfare: it’s Israel’s largest trading partner.

So when you urge European “pressure” on Israel, you’re effectively urging BDS. The EU has no lesser pressure mechanisms left.

Chemla nevertheless insisted that JCall is “actually helping Israel’s image in Europe” by showing that the Jewish community is “not monolithic.” How Europeans’ image of Israel would be improved by learning that prominent Jews also deem Israel the conflict’s main culprit remains a mystery.

But it’s no mystery how that might improve Europeans’ image of European Jews. On a continent where opinion polls consistently show Israel to be widely loathed, even implying that Israel isn’t solely to blame makes you suspect. But if you urge the EU to withhold support from Israel’s government, yet not from the PA; if you even declare that this serves Israel’s “true interests,” so Europeans need suffer no qualms of conscience, then you’ve restored yourself to the European consensus. You’ve showed, to quote JCall’s petition, that you, too, hear “the voice of reason” — at least as Europe currently defines it.

It’s hard being a Jew in Europe today. So it’s understandable that some would seize on anything, however irrational, that labels itself “pro-Israel” while not violating the European consensus. But their Israeli and American brethren must remind them of the truth: being “pro-Israel” in Europe today requires emphasizing Palestinian guilt, which Europeans routinely ignore, rather than reinforcing their “blame Israel” reflex. And it requires lobbying against “pressure” that can only be manifest through BDS.

Read Less

Iran’s Oppressed Workers

Today, progressives across the world mark the international labor movement’s official holiday. As trade unions celebrate their remarkable conquests with parades, demonstrations, and speeches, their Iranian comrades languished in jail, guilty of having sought similar working conditions from their government. As for those labor activists who are still free, the mere attempt to join street demonstrations on May Day is inviting a ruthless response by the Islamic Republic.

Much like the Soviet Union boasted of being “workers’ paradise,” Iran claims to stand for the “oppressed of the earth.” Yet, much like the Soviet Union, the Islamic Republic engages in a great deal of oppression. Iranians suffer on account of their views, their faith, or their ethnicity. They are also targeted by the regime if they seek to organize themselves independently. This applies especially to trade unions, a thorn in the side of the regime and among its most vulnerable victims. Iran’s labor market is stagnant, and it remains relatively competitive by exploiting its workers, who are treated, in effect, as slave labor. Iranian workers often do not get paid. When they do, high inflation significantly erodes the purchasing power of their earnings.

Social legislation permits companies to hire workers on short-term, three-month contracts. Under these conditions, wages are usually below the poverty line, and employers are not obliged to contribute to any social benefits. To avoid giving the social payments, Iranian companies regularly fire workers within the three-month period and then re-hire them. This lamentable state of affairs is compounded by the fact that workers, without independent unions, have no recourse. Their sole means of representation are so-called Islamic unions. These unions, in fact, represent the interests of the regime and its state-owned companies, not the working people.

In the past, workers defied the state through strikes and the establishment of independent unions, much like Solidarity did in Poland in 1980. In 2008, workers struck (in spite of government threats) at the Khodro car factory and at the Haft Tapeh sugar mills. To the Western ear, their demands are far from extravagant. They sought the right to establish independent unions, forbid security forces from storming the plants, halt compulsory overtime, receive benefits linked to productivity, and have their wages linked to the cost of living. They also demanded an end to the iniquitous three-month contract, combined with an end to the practice of running employees through revolving doors to avoid having to make social-welfare payments. In addition, workers sought basic social benefits, including a salary above the poverty line, a reduction of pressures on workers through the expansion of the work force, worker participation in factory committees, and improved measures to protect them from work accidents.

The regime’s response was further repression. Ali Nejati, the leader of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Trade Union, was arrested and kept incommunicado for months. Mansour Osanloo, the leader of the bus drivers’ union, was repeatedly arrested and abused in prison. Jailed on the eve of a delicate eye surgery, he was allowed to go to the hospital after considerable pressure from international organizations but was denied the time needed to recover and immediately sent back to jail. After a prolonged period of detention at Evin, he was transferred, along with a colleague, Ebrahim Madadi, to a common criminals’ ward. They are still there, both being denied basic health care – though Osanloo suffers from a heart condition and Madadi is diabetic. They are frequently held in solitary confinement and denied the right to see their families and their lawyers. Osanloo and Madadi are not the only victims – this week, to discourage May Day demonstrations, the regime rounded up more trade unionists and jailed them as a warning. Their predicament reveals that, even in the field of social justice, repression remains the prevailing theme of the Islamic Revolutionary Republic.

Caring for them should be a foregone conclusion for the European left and America’s labor unions. Promoting their cause should be part of the agenda of those who seek to undermine Iran’s regime and help its fledgling opposition gain strength.

What could be done to help Iran’s unionists?

Though much has been done already, labor unions could seek to further isolate Iran by highlighting the plight of their comrades in international forums like the International Trade Union Federation and its branches. Governments – especially Western governments led by social-democratic parties – should use the International Labor Organization and other international forums to isolate and expel Iran on account of its dismal record. Imprisoned activists such as Osanloo and Madadi should become household names in the struggle for freedom – the European parliament, for example, should consider awarding them with the prestigious Sakharov prize this year.

Iran’s unionists are paying with their freedom, health, and life to demand rights that the Socialist International has considered sacrosanct for over a century. For any decent progressive, this should be a call to action – especially on May 1.

Today, progressives across the world mark the international labor movement’s official holiday. As trade unions celebrate their remarkable conquests with parades, demonstrations, and speeches, their Iranian comrades languished in jail, guilty of having sought similar working conditions from their government. As for those labor activists who are still free, the mere attempt to join street demonstrations on May Day is inviting a ruthless response by the Islamic Republic.

Much like the Soviet Union boasted of being “workers’ paradise,” Iran claims to stand for the “oppressed of the earth.” Yet, much like the Soviet Union, the Islamic Republic engages in a great deal of oppression. Iranians suffer on account of their views, their faith, or their ethnicity. They are also targeted by the regime if they seek to organize themselves independently. This applies especially to trade unions, a thorn in the side of the regime and among its most vulnerable victims. Iran’s labor market is stagnant, and it remains relatively competitive by exploiting its workers, who are treated, in effect, as slave labor. Iranian workers often do not get paid. When they do, high inflation significantly erodes the purchasing power of their earnings.

Social legislation permits companies to hire workers on short-term, three-month contracts. Under these conditions, wages are usually below the poverty line, and employers are not obliged to contribute to any social benefits. To avoid giving the social payments, Iranian companies regularly fire workers within the three-month period and then re-hire them. This lamentable state of affairs is compounded by the fact that workers, without independent unions, have no recourse. Their sole means of representation are so-called Islamic unions. These unions, in fact, represent the interests of the regime and its state-owned companies, not the working people.

In the past, workers defied the state through strikes and the establishment of independent unions, much like Solidarity did in Poland in 1980. In 2008, workers struck (in spite of government threats) at the Khodro car factory and at the Haft Tapeh sugar mills. To the Western ear, their demands are far from extravagant. They sought the right to establish independent unions, forbid security forces from storming the plants, halt compulsory overtime, receive benefits linked to productivity, and have their wages linked to the cost of living. They also demanded an end to the iniquitous three-month contract, combined with an end to the practice of running employees through revolving doors to avoid having to make social-welfare payments. In addition, workers sought basic social benefits, including a salary above the poverty line, a reduction of pressures on workers through the expansion of the work force, worker participation in factory committees, and improved measures to protect them from work accidents.

The regime’s response was further repression. Ali Nejati, the leader of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Trade Union, was arrested and kept incommunicado for months. Mansour Osanloo, the leader of the bus drivers’ union, was repeatedly arrested and abused in prison. Jailed on the eve of a delicate eye surgery, he was allowed to go to the hospital after considerable pressure from international organizations but was denied the time needed to recover and immediately sent back to jail. After a prolonged period of detention at Evin, he was transferred, along with a colleague, Ebrahim Madadi, to a common criminals’ ward. They are still there, both being denied basic health care – though Osanloo suffers from a heart condition and Madadi is diabetic. They are frequently held in solitary confinement and denied the right to see their families and their lawyers. Osanloo and Madadi are not the only victims – this week, to discourage May Day demonstrations, the regime rounded up more trade unionists and jailed them as a warning. Their predicament reveals that, even in the field of social justice, repression remains the prevailing theme of the Islamic Revolutionary Republic.

Caring for them should be a foregone conclusion for the European left and America’s labor unions. Promoting their cause should be part of the agenda of those who seek to undermine Iran’s regime and help its fledgling opposition gain strength.

What could be done to help Iran’s unionists?

Though much has been done already, labor unions could seek to further isolate Iran by highlighting the plight of their comrades in international forums like the International Trade Union Federation and its branches. Governments – especially Western governments led by social-democratic parties – should use the International Labor Organization and other international forums to isolate and expel Iran on account of its dismal record. Imprisoned activists such as Osanloo and Madadi should become household names in the struggle for freedom – the European parliament, for example, should consider awarding them with the prestigious Sakharov prize this year.

Iran’s unionists are paying with their freedom, health, and life to demand rights that the Socialist International has considered sacrosanct for over a century. For any decent progressive, this should be a call to action – especially on May 1.

Read Less

Palestinians See Netanyahu as a “Man of His Word”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

Read Less

Iran’s Law

Saeed Jalili, the Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, visited Brussels last week, to engage in dialogue with European counterparts. Little did he know that Members of the European Parliament would be particularly keen to have a candid exchange of views on the way Iran customarily hangs people from cranes in the public square. Though he did not answer, Jalili must have taken the outrage to heart, because barely a week later, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, has banned all public executions unless he personally authorizes them. He has also banned photographs and films of the executions, though not the executions themselves. This is a far cry from abiding by the moratorium on public executions called for by the UN on December 18 of last year. It is just a way to avoid embarrassment of the kind suffered by Jalili last week. According to the BBC,

Correspondents say it appears Ayatollah Shahrudi wants to lower the profile of executions as Iran has been widely criticised by Western countries and international organisations.

Since the UN moratorium, Iran has carried out 62 executions in 40 days, many of them in public, including two minors, two women and two political prisoners. More will no doubt be soon scheduled, though far from the public eye. Far from the eye, far from the heart, as they say—and the international outrage that so impedes Iran’s dialogue with Europe.

From now on, the international community will not be able to easily see the brutality of Iran’s regime as previously possible, courtesy of Iran’s official press agencies. So, before the lights go out, readers should take a look at the pictures below the jump (not for the faint of heart) and remember what Iran’s regime is truly about. (The three UNIC hangings are from a hanging on August 2, 2007 in Tehran; the hangings in the snow were public executions in Qom, on January 2.)

Read More

Saeed Jalili, the Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, visited Brussels last week, to engage in dialogue with European counterparts. Little did he know that Members of the European Parliament would be particularly keen to have a candid exchange of views on the way Iran customarily hangs people from cranes in the public square. Though he did not answer, Jalili must have taken the outrage to heart, because barely a week later, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, has banned all public executions unless he personally authorizes them. He has also banned photographs and films of the executions, though not the executions themselves. This is a far cry from abiding by the moratorium on public executions called for by the UN on December 18 of last year. It is just a way to avoid embarrassment of the kind suffered by Jalili last week. According to the BBC,

Correspondents say it appears Ayatollah Shahrudi wants to lower the profile of executions as Iran has been widely criticised by Western countries and international organisations.

Since the UN moratorium, Iran has carried out 62 executions in 40 days, many of them in public, including two minors, two women and two political prisoners. More will no doubt be soon scheduled, though far from the public eye. Far from the eye, far from the heart, as they say—and the international outrage that so impedes Iran’s dialogue with Europe.

From now on, the international community will not be able to easily see the brutality of Iran’s regime as previously possible, courtesy of Iran’s official press agencies. So, before the lights go out, readers should take a look at the pictures below the jump (not for the faint of heart) and remember what Iran’s regime is truly about. (The three UNIC hangings are from a hanging on August 2, 2007 in Tehran; the hangings in the snow were public executions in Qom, on January 2.)

otto-1-final.jpg

otto-2-final.jpg

otto-3-final.jpg

otto-4-final.jpg

otto-5-final.jpg

Read Less

Deny, Deny, Deny

As we fast approach the sixth anniversary of 9/11, conspiracy theorists who believe the atrocities were the work of the U.S. government are multiplying in Europe, and, what’s more worrisome, their views are being endorsed by voices that are more mainstream—at least by European standards.

Until recently, there had been only one instance of such denial: Thierry Meyssen’s book, L’Effroyable Imposture, published in 2002 to popular acclaim. Now, this somewhat isolated, if hugely popular book predictably finds itself as the first of a new genre.

A salvo from the Euro-truthers recently appeared in the British daily the Independent, penned and signed by Robert Fisk. To many in America, Fisk is not the most credible source. But in Europe, he’s highly regarded; his recent column on 9/11 may well grant a new legitimacy to 9/11 denial. Fisk writes that

I am increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11. It’s not just the obvious non sequiturs: where are the aircraft parts (engines, etc) from the attack on the Pentagon? Why have the officials involved in the United 93 flight (which crashed in Pennsylvania) been muzzled? Why did flight 93′s debris spread over miles when it was supposed to have crashed in one piece in a field? Again, I’m not talking about the crazed “research” of David Icke’s Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster—which should send any sane man back to reading the telephone directory.

I am talking about scientific issues. If it is true, for example, that kerosene burns at 820 degrees Centigrade under optimum conditions, how come the steel beams of the twin—whose melting point is supposed to be about 1,480 degrees Centigrade—would snap through at the same time? (They collapsed in 8.1 and 10 seconds.) What about the third tower—the so-called World Trade Center Building 7 (or the Salomon Brothers Building)—which collapsed in 6.6 seconds in its own footprint at 5:20 p.m. on 11 September? Why did it so neatly fall to the ground when no aircraft had hit it? The American National Institute of Standards and Technology was instructed to analyze the cause of the destruction of all three buildings. They have not yet reported on WTC 7. Two prominent American professors of mechanical engineering—very definitely not in the “raver” bracket—are now legally challenging the terms of reference of this final report on the grounds that it could be “fraudulent or deceptive.”

Read More

As we fast approach the sixth anniversary of 9/11, conspiracy theorists who believe the atrocities were the work of the U.S. government are multiplying in Europe, and, what’s more worrisome, their views are being endorsed by voices that are more mainstream—at least by European standards.

Until recently, there had been only one instance of such denial: Thierry Meyssen’s book, L’Effroyable Imposture, published in 2002 to popular acclaim. Now, this somewhat isolated, if hugely popular book predictably finds itself as the first of a new genre.

A salvo from the Euro-truthers recently appeared in the British daily the Independent, penned and signed by Robert Fisk. To many in America, Fisk is not the most credible source. But in Europe, he’s highly regarded; his recent column on 9/11 may well grant a new legitimacy to 9/11 denial. Fisk writes that

I am increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11. It’s not just the obvious non sequiturs: where are the aircraft parts (engines, etc) from the attack on the Pentagon? Why have the officials involved in the United 93 flight (which crashed in Pennsylvania) been muzzled? Why did flight 93′s debris spread over miles when it was supposed to have crashed in one piece in a field? Again, I’m not talking about the crazed “research” of David Icke’s Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster—which should send any sane man back to reading the telephone directory.

I am talking about scientific issues. If it is true, for example, that kerosene burns at 820 degrees Centigrade under optimum conditions, how come the steel beams of the twin—whose melting point is supposed to be about 1,480 degrees Centigrade—would snap through at the same time? (They collapsed in 8.1 and 10 seconds.) What about the third tower—the so-called World Trade Center Building 7 (or the Salomon Brothers Building)—which collapsed in 6.6 seconds in its own footprint at 5:20 p.m. on 11 September? Why did it so neatly fall to the ground when no aircraft had hit it? The American National Institute of Standards and Technology was instructed to analyze the cause of the destruction of all three buildings. They have not yet reported on WTC 7. Two prominent American professors of mechanical engineering—very definitely not in the “raver” bracket—are now legally challenging the terms of reference of this final report on the grounds that it could be “fraudulent or deceptive.”

Fisk is hardly alone in Europe: there is also now a new book, Zero, edited by Italian Member of the European Parliament Giulietto Chiesa, with contributions from the novelist and essayist Gore Vidal and the philosopher David Ray Griffin, and published by the very mainstream publishing house Piemme. Zero offers 400 pages of “exposure” of the alleged U.S. government conspiracy behind 9/11. Reviewers of Zero have highlighted troubling parallels with Holocaust denial techniques. The book does not deny the general outline of events, but questions the established, specific facts. It seeks to discredit reports, evidence, and eye-witnesses, and it denies that the attacks were the work of Islamic fundamentalists.

Having proceeded to plant the seeds of doubt, it then asks the usual question: who benefits? You can take your pick from Zero’s conspiratorial cosomology: the military-industrial complex; the Jews (and any variation thereof); the neoconservatives; George W. Bush; or any other lurking evil.

The urge to deny the undeniable spreads like a wildfire, especially when it serves ulterior motives. It’s been only six years since 9/11. But efforts to blame the victims of a heinous crime and exculpate the perpetrators are already, it seems, migrating into mainstream discourse.

Read Less

More on the CEI Conference

Last week, the European Parliament hosted a conference sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (or CEI), a group with a long name and a short agenda: demonizing Israel. But it was the first time that the European Parliament played host to such shrill vulgarity—a further sign of Europe’s lack of credibility as Israel’s viable partner for peace.

The outcome of the conference was predictable. The most common accusation against Israel was that it is an apartheid state, a claim shared by most attendees. Still, there was innovation in the repertoire, as Daniel Schwammenthal notes in today’s Wall Street Journal Europe. Clare Short, a British MP and former minister who resigned over the Iraq war, blamed Israel for global warming. Her reasoning was that, since Israel distracts the world with its unruly behavior, the world does not spend enough time, attention, and resources on the real issue: man-made climate change. Meanwhile, Belgian Pierre Galand was concerned that Israel’s attempts to shield itself from missile threats would be harmful to peace. (A missile shield might be harmful to Iran’s desire to destroy Israel, on the other hand, which makes Galand’s conception of peace seem a bit strange.)

In the midst of this spectacle, one could see an old man—Aharon Cohen, a member of the radically anti-Zionist Hasidic sect Neturei Karta, who recently attended a Tehran Holocaust denial gathering—walking about with a small laminated Palestinian flag pinned on his chest. Cohen was not among the speakers, but his presence was telling enough. Rubbing shoulders with him in the crowded hall meant that participants were two degrees of separation away from Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and white supremacist David Duke. Could it be that this closeness inspired University of Wisconsin professor Jennifer Loewenstein to accuse Israel of genocide—further proof of the distance, in the world of pro-Palestinian advocacy, between facts and rhetoric?

Last week, the European Parliament hosted a conference sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (or CEI), a group with a long name and a short agenda: demonizing Israel. But it was the first time that the European Parliament played host to such shrill vulgarity—a further sign of Europe’s lack of credibility as Israel’s viable partner for peace.

The outcome of the conference was predictable. The most common accusation against Israel was that it is an apartheid state, a claim shared by most attendees. Still, there was innovation in the repertoire, as Daniel Schwammenthal notes in today’s Wall Street Journal Europe. Clare Short, a British MP and former minister who resigned over the Iraq war, blamed Israel for global warming. Her reasoning was that, since Israel distracts the world with its unruly behavior, the world does not spend enough time, attention, and resources on the real issue: man-made climate change. Meanwhile, Belgian Pierre Galand was concerned that Israel’s attempts to shield itself from missile threats would be harmful to peace. (A missile shield might be harmful to Iran’s desire to destroy Israel, on the other hand, which makes Galand’s conception of peace seem a bit strange.)

In the midst of this spectacle, one could see an old man—Aharon Cohen, a member of the radically anti-Zionist Hasidic sect Neturei Karta, who recently attended a Tehran Holocaust denial gathering—walking about with a small laminated Palestinian flag pinned on his chest. Cohen was not among the speakers, but his presence was telling enough. Rubbing shoulders with him in the crowded hall meant that participants were two degrees of separation away from Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and white supremacist David Duke. Could it be that this closeness inspired University of Wisconsin professor Jennifer Loewenstein to accuse Israel of genocide—further proof of the distance, in the world of pro-Palestinian advocacy, between facts and rhetoric?

Read Less

Israel and the U.N.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, plans to turn itself into the U.N. General Assembly for a few moments next November, when it will reenact the fateful November 29, 1947 U.N. General Assembly vote. Israeli officials hope to have the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, preside over the ceremonial reenactment, alongside the representatives of the original 33 nations who supported the vote.

In two weeks, the European Parliament is also going to play host to U.N.-sponsored, Israel-related activities—this time of a different sort. Then, the EP’s gates will open to welcome, for two days, a “conference” organized by the so-called “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” or CEI. Lest there be any confusion, the CEI is a relic of the cold war; it was established by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3376 in 1975, alongside the infamous Resolution 3379, which stipulated “Zionism is a form of racism.” 3379 was repealed, but CEI lives on, in its own parallel universe of hatred.

Read More

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, plans to turn itself into the U.N. General Assembly for a few moments next November, when it will reenact the fateful November 29, 1947 U.N. General Assembly vote. Israeli officials hope to have the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, preside over the ceremonial reenactment, alongside the representatives of the original 33 nations who supported the vote.

In two weeks, the European Parliament is also going to play host to U.N.-sponsored, Israel-related activities—this time of a different sort. Then, the EP’s gates will open to welcome, for two days, a “conference” organized by the so-called “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” or CEI. Lest there be any confusion, the CEI is a relic of the cold war; it was established by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3376 in 1975, alongside the infamous Resolution 3379, which stipulated “Zionism is a form of racism.” 3379 was repealed, but CEI lives on, in its own parallel universe of hatred.

The upcoming conference in Brussels reflects this highly partisan, biased, anti-Israel spirit, as well as the organizational hypocrisy of such international forums, where onesidedness is coated in neutral language. Thus, the conference title is “United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace” and the theme is “Civil society and parliamentarians working together for Middle East peace.” Rest assured, though—its participants will whistle a very different tune.

The speakers are vetted to prevent anyone from airing anything but the party line. Among the Israelis apparently invited to attend (the highly secretive program does not list names yet) are, for example, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Michel Warschawski, and Amira Hass.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan is a peace activist and one of the founders of the Bereaved Families for Peace. After Elhanan’s thirteen-year-old daughter died in 1997, Elhanan became an outspoken critic of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; she has said that in Israel, “People are either Jews or non-Jews, and it doesn’t matter what they are if they are non-us.” Michel Warschawski is a journalist who writes frequently for extreme left-wing European magazines. Amira Hass writes for the daily newspaper Ha’aretz, and is known for reporting from the Palestinian perspective.

These are interesting speakers, no doubt, but they do not accurately represent Israeli civil society or Israel’s parliament. They speak for themselves and the Palestinian viewpoint, which they have all preached heartily.

All of this and more will take place in less than two weeks, courtesy of the European Parliament and Europe’s taxpayers, who bear the burden of its running costs. So far, only Polish parliamentary members have spoken against the event, announcing they will boycott it for its slanted nature and the harm it will do to the cause of peace. Kudos to the Polish delegation, then, for standing up against the CEI’s abuse of the prestigious platform. It is unfortunate, though, that so far only one of 27 members has spoken against the event, and that an official representative of the Parliament is listed among the speakers for the opening session (alongside a representative from “Palestine,” but not one from Israel).

It is perhaps too much to expect the European Parliament to withdraw its sponsorship of this partisan event, whose aim is everything but the goal its title describes. As for the U.N., let’s just hope there is no scheduling conflict, and that on November 29, U.N. Secretary General Ban, who was already at the opening annual session of CEI last February, will be in Jerusalem, and not at one of the many Israel-bashing events CEI no doubt plans to hold on that day in New York, Geneva, or Vienna.

Read Less

The EU and the Palestinians

At the beginning of May, during a visit to Ramallah on the West Bank, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany declared that

Realistically, one must say that there are opportunities now that were not there in the past, but at the same time the risks are just as high. The opportunity lies in the fact that the Arab world is being much more constructive—the Arab League’s decision to renew its peace initiative was more than helpful—and I am pleased that it was also welcomed by the Israeli government.

Steinmeier—who made this statement during a session with President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr—was referring to the Arab peace initiative, whose envoys are soon expected in Israel for talks. Given the circumstances on the ground, this may yet be another signal that the Europeans are warming up to the idea of trying to renew the Arab-Israeli peace process. In theory, the new initiative would make possible an agreement between Israel and the larger Arab world while bypassing and imposing a settlement on the recalcitrant Palestinian factions.

Read More

At the beginning of May, during a visit to Ramallah on the West Bank, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany declared that

Realistically, one must say that there are opportunities now that were not there in the past, but at the same time the risks are just as high. The opportunity lies in the fact that the Arab world is being much more constructive—the Arab League’s decision to renew its peace initiative was more than helpful—and I am pleased that it was also welcomed by the Israeli government.

Steinmeier—who made this statement during a session with President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr—was referring to the Arab peace initiative, whose envoys are soon expected in Israel for talks. Given the circumstances on the ground, this may yet be another signal that the Europeans are warming up to the idea of trying to renew the Arab-Israeli peace process. In theory, the new initiative would make possible an agreement between Israel and the larger Arab world while bypassing and imposing a settlement on the recalcitrant Palestinian factions.

Though under its German presidency—due to end on June 30—the EU made a strong commitment to advance the Middle East peace process, it has been cautious in dealing with the Palestinian Authority, and has so far stuck to its embargo on aid. Even after the establishment of the Hamas-Fatah national unity government, the EU did not budge, limiting itself to contact with non-Hamas ministers, dialogue with Abbas, and a renewed commitment to the temporary aid mechanism instituted by the EU after the elections in January 2006. As recently as late April, EU Commissioner Louis Michel said

There is no change as long as you have in the government a party that refuses to leave its armed wing and armed action. . . . We cannot deal with people who have an armed wing. It would be a very dangerous precedent.

But calls for a change of direction are mounting, with EU parliamentarians taking the lead. A delegation of them recently visited Gaza and met with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, defying the EU ban on direct contact with Hamas ministers. And a new petition, signed by dozens of members of the European Parliament, calls for recognition of the Hamas-Fatah government and for direct EU engagement with it.

Unfortunately for the parliamentarians, Palestinian reality quickly reasserted itself. Less than a week after their visit, two members of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade were gunned down in a Gaza ambush during which an additional fourteen were wounded. (Revealing, perhaps the true colors of Palestinian “moderation and maturity,” to quote one of the European parliamentarians arguing for direct engagement.)

Factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah has increased; the survival of the unity government hangs in the balance; efforts by both Abbas and Haniyeh to secure the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston have failed; and Palestinian society is on the brink of implosion. Given these circumstances, it is no wonder that EU officials—ever a cautious lot—should ignore the wishes of Europe’s parliamentarians and attempt to carve out a diplomatic path that bypasses the Palestinians altogether.

Read Less

The Centrist and the Nationalist

On Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the last in a series of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. His longer and more in-depth look at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY, and is now available on our website.

François Bayrou—a devout Catholic, a horsebreeder, and the holder of advanced degrees in historyis a centrist. Politically, he belongs to a Christian-Democratic sub-current that was very powerful in the 1950’s before being crushed by the polarized Right-Left system forced upon the country by Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic. While many Christian Democrats joined the Gaullist Right, and others the socialists, a small group managed to survive under several successive names and acronyms. The UDF (Union for French Democracy), originally a conservative coalition supporting Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, is now Bayrou’s base. Having served as minister of education from 1993 to 1997, he represented the UDF in the 2002 presidential election and surprisingly gathered almost 7 percent of the vote: not bad for the “non-candidate” of a “non-party.”

Bayrou was convinced he stood a real chance for the presidency—provided he could distance the UDF and himself entirely from the traditional Right. This he proceeded to do, at some cost in supporters—but he didn’t care. Once a declared presidential candidate, he stubbornly railed against the disproportionate (in his opinion) media coverage of Sarkozy and Royal, finally winning his point and (according to some reports) garnering more coverage on radio and TV than any other candidate.

Read More

On Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the last in a series of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. His longer and more in-depth look at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY, and is now available on our website.

François Bayrou—a devout Catholic, a horsebreeder, and the holder of advanced degrees in historyis a centrist. Politically, he belongs to a Christian-Democratic sub-current that was very powerful in the 1950’s before being crushed by the polarized Right-Left system forced upon the country by Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic. While many Christian Democrats joined the Gaullist Right, and others the socialists, a small group managed to survive under several successive names and acronyms. The UDF (Union for French Democracy), originally a conservative coalition supporting Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, is now Bayrou’s base. Having served as minister of education from 1993 to 1997, he represented the UDF in the 2002 presidential election and surprisingly gathered almost 7 percent of the vote: not bad for the “non-candidate” of a “non-party.”

Bayrou was convinced he stood a real chance for the presidency—provided he could distance the UDF and himself entirely from the traditional Right. This he proceeded to do, at some cost in supporters—but he didn’t care. Once a declared presidential candidate, he stubbornly railed against the disproportionate (in his opinion) media coverage of Sarkozy and Royal, finally winning his point and (according to some reports) garnering more coverage on radio and TV than any other candidate.

But the decisive factor for Bayrou was that Royal’s candidacy began to fall apart. As some socialists came to see the UDF as a lesser-of-two-evils alternative to Sarkozy, parts of the electorate switched to Bayrou’s side. By the beginning of March, he was at over 20 percent in the polls, and it began to seem possible that he might outstrip Royal on the first ballot, and then, as the only challenger to Sarkozy, begin to attract the centrist, the left-wing, and even the far-Right vote to beat the UMP candidate.

What would Bayrou’s politics be as president? He has contended that only a national-unity government—“like de Gaulle’s in 1944, which included the democratic Right as well as socialists and Communists”—will be able to deal with the French domestic crisis. In his belief, this national government should be balanced by stronger regional and local powers, their configurations based on history and culture as well geography. A supporter of a federal Europe, Bayrou nevertheless opposes the accession of Turkey to the EU. He has also expressed adamant support for Chirac’s anti-Iraq-war line, as do most French citizens. Regarding Israel, he has stated that “in the wake of the Shoah, all of mankind is a partner in the Jewish people’s decision to recover a land,” while adding that “We must . . . find some balance between the state established by yesterday’s humiliated Jews and the one that today’s humiliated Palestinians must establish.”

In February, alarmed by the prospect of Bayrou’s rise, Royal and Sarkozy resolved to bring in a fourth man whom they had hitherto kept at bay: Jean-Marie Le Pen.

It had seemed up to this point that Le Pen might not muster enough endorsements to qualify for the first ballot, but Bayrou’s surge prompted both camps to hint publicly that to deny Le Pen a chance to run would be bad for democracy. The needed signatures were finally gathered, and the National Front rose in the polls from 12 percent of the putative votes to 14 percent by the end of March. Some suspected that Le Pen’s real level of support was even higher, between 16 and 20 percent. (At that point, Bayrou’s numbers had stalled at about 20 percent, and both Sarkozy and Royal stood at 26 percent.)

There was, however, more to Le Pen’s resurrection than mere political jockeying. The old man had embarked on a drastic makeover: from a reactionary nativist whose main concern was to stop immigration and clear the reputation of the wartime Vichy regime to a Hugo Chavez-style populist promoting a Europe-third-world alliance against America. As long ago as 1999, Samuel Maréchal, one of Le Pen’s sons-in-law, had stated that one had to admit that France was becoming “a multiethnic and multireligious society,” and that “Islam was now France’s second religion.” This was greeted with an outcry of protest among the Front’s rank and file.

Seven years later, Jean-Claude Martinez, a National Front member of the European Parliament and Le Pen’s “strategic adviser,” reiterated Maréchal’s challenge, arguing that the National Front must adjust to globalization, forget about some of its founding myths, and welcome immigrant blacks and Arabs into the national fold. He even expressed enthusiasm for hip-hop, a form dominated in France by Arab and black performers, as long as the lyrics were sung in French. This time, there was no outcry. In the wake of the extended European crisis over the Danish “Muhammad” cartoons, the National Front sided with the Muslims, demanding that “religious sensibilities must be respected.”

Le Pen’s shift has led to breakaways from the National Front but also to new arrivals in the form of young men and women nurtured in France’s anti-American and anti-Zionist pop culture, Muslims who relished Le Pen’s anti-Semitic innuendos and his support for Saddam Hussein, and black-power militants. At the outset of the 2007 presidential campaign, the National Front went a step further, putting up large billboards featuring a sexy young girl of North African descent and a sharp anti-elitist caption: “They’re all wrong!” Chavez could not have put it better.

And so to Sunday’s balloting, from which two front-runners will emerge to battle it out in the second round of voting on May 6.

Read Less