Commentary Magazine


Topic: Haaretz

David Landau vs. Aaron Miller on Haredim

Last week, veteran Israeli-Palestinian peace process negotiator and author Aaron David Miller penned a column for the New York Times in which he wrote the following about Israel: “The country’s demographics look bad — too many ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and not enough secular Jews.” Normally, when someone looks at a country’s ethnic makeup and identifies the “problem” as the proliferation of everyone except his own kind, the very reasonable obvious objections will be made across the board.

Miller’s line did not engender this outrage, because it was aimed at Haredim, to which the normal rules of civility do not apply in the American media. But he came in for a walloping from what may seem an unlikely source: David Landau. Landau, the former editor of Haaretz, has made shockingly offensive comments about Israel, and is currently Israel correspondent for The Economist, a magazine whose Israel coverage includes just this type of casual bigotry toward the Haredim. (Three weeks ago, the magazine wrote that “the hallmark of haredism is intolerance.”) But Landau was so upset by Miller’s apparent ignorance that he rose to a quite effusive defense of the Haredim in an interview with his former newspaper:

“I’m sitting here and thinking to myself, ‘Could a non-Jewish person have written that?’” asks Landau. “Would Aaron David Miller have written in The New York Times that the demographics in Turkey look bad — too many veiled women and not enough secular Turks?’ Could he get away with writing that? I feel like saying to him, ‘Tell me, have you bothered checking the demographics of the Jewish community of Cleveland, Ohio, where you come from? Today, 49 percent of the Jewish children in New York are Haredi, so Aaron David Miller has to look in his own backyard before he makes this sort of statement. This is the kind of know-it-all elitism that has been so characteristic of the Diaspora Jewish leadership and the Israeli elite for so long. It’s pathetic, and if in this Economist piece, I’ve succeeded in making six people of consequence rethink Jewish demographics, then the whole thing was worth it.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to blur the distinctions between Haredim and Orthodox Zionists, maintains Landau, has contributed enormously to his political success. “The fact that it’s been so easy for Bibi to lump together all the Haredi parties with the settlers and make them the bulwark of his coalition — it’s remarkable when you think about it. Has anyone thought about the fact that there are really no Haredim in the West Bank? That in 2005 the Haredim joined Sharon’s government with the full knowledge that this would enable him to move ahead with the disengagement from Gaza? Why hasn’t that left an impact on people?”

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Last week, veteran Israeli-Palestinian peace process negotiator and author Aaron David Miller penned a column for the New York Times in which he wrote the following about Israel: “The country’s demographics look bad — too many ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and not enough secular Jews.” Normally, when someone looks at a country’s ethnic makeup and identifies the “problem” as the proliferation of everyone except his own kind, the very reasonable obvious objections will be made across the board.

Miller’s line did not engender this outrage, because it was aimed at Haredim, to which the normal rules of civility do not apply in the American media. But he came in for a walloping from what may seem an unlikely source: David Landau. Landau, the former editor of Haaretz, has made shockingly offensive comments about Israel, and is currently Israel correspondent for The Economist, a magazine whose Israel coverage includes just this type of casual bigotry toward the Haredim. (Three weeks ago, the magazine wrote that “the hallmark of haredism is intolerance.”) But Landau was so upset by Miller’s apparent ignorance that he rose to a quite effusive defense of the Haredim in an interview with his former newspaper:

“I’m sitting here and thinking to myself, ‘Could a non-Jewish person have written that?’” asks Landau. “Would Aaron David Miller have written in The New York Times that the demographics in Turkey look bad — too many veiled women and not enough secular Turks?’ Could he get away with writing that? I feel like saying to him, ‘Tell me, have you bothered checking the demographics of the Jewish community of Cleveland, Ohio, where you come from? Today, 49 percent of the Jewish children in New York are Haredi, so Aaron David Miller has to look in his own backyard before he makes this sort of statement. This is the kind of know-it-all elitism that has been so characteristic of the Diaspora Jewish leadership and the Israeli elite for so long. It’s pathetic, and if in this Economist piece, I’ve succeeded in making six people of consequence rethink Jewish demographics, then the whole thing was worth it.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to blur the distinctions between Haredim and Orthodox Zionists, maintains Landau, has contributed enormously to his political success. “The fact that it’s been so easy for Bibi to lump together all the Haredi parties with the settlers and make them the bulwark of his coalition — it’s remarkable when you think about it. Has anyone thought about the fact that there are really no Haredim in the West Bank? That in 2005 the Haredim joined Sharon’s government with the full knowledge that this would enable him to move ahead with the disengagement from Gaza? Why hasn’t that left an impact on people?”

Landau makes an important point: identifying Haredim with religious fanaticism shows a disturbing lack of basic knowledge about both Judaism and the state of Israel. Are there incidents of intolerance from the Haredim? Indeed there are, though not on the scale of the hateful blacklisting, threats of violence, and near riot that took place in Tel Aviv when some Chabadniks tried to move into a secular neighborhood.

In truth, neither the yeshiva students nor the secular Jews are accurately represented by the few among them who misbehave. And American Jews probably hope that Israelis don’t think Miller is representative of the level of knowledge and engagement of the Diaspora.

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Haaretz, NYTimes Play Telephone With IDF

Reading the New York Times account of an interview with Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, that was first published in Haaretz is like a children’s game of “telephone.” What Gantz actually said wasn’t reflected in the misleading headline of the Israeli newspaper. That headline, rather than the actual content of the piece, was repeated in the Times article, so what comes out in America’s so-called newspaper of record had more to do with the editorial agenda of the press than the reality of Israel’s security dilemma.

The Haaretz headline was an attention-grabber: “IDF Chief to Haaretz: I do not believe Iran will decide to develop nuclear weapons.” Yet nowhere in the piece was there a quote that matched this startling assertion that was repeated in the Times headline that read: “Israeli Army Chief Says He Believes Iran Won’t Build a Bomb.” What Gantz tells Haaretz is that while the Iranians are actively working on a nuclear program, they have yet to activate the final stage of the project that would convert the material to a nuclear bomb. This is no revelation, as not even the most alarmist account of Iran’s efforts has stated that this final stage has been reached. Nor did Gantz express a belief that Iran wouldn’t build a bomb. Rather, he said the Iranians would do it only if they felt themselves “invulnerable.” He said he thought the ayatollahs were “rational,” but added that a weapon in their hands would be “dangerous.”

So while the tone of Gantz’s interview was not as sharp as the statements made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the substance isn’t very different. Which makes the claims made by the Times and the misleading headline in Haaretz a transparent attempt to portray a stark division within the councils of Israel’s leaders where there may be none.

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Reading the New York Times account of an interview with Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, that was first published in Haaretz is like a children’s game of “telephone.” What Gantz actually said wasn’t reflected in the misleading headline of the Israeli newspaper. That headline, rather than the actual content of the piece, was repeated in the Times article, so what comes out in America’s so-called newspaper of record had more to do with the editorial agenda of the press than the reality of Israel’s security dilemma.

The Haaretz headline was an attention-grabber: “IDF Chief to Haaretz: I do not believe Iran will decide to develop nuclear weapons.” Yet nowhere in the piece was there a quote that matched this startling assertion that was repeated in the Times headline that read: “Israeli Army Chief Says He Believes Iran Won’t Build a Bomb.” What Gantz tells Haaretz is that while the Iranians are actively working on a nuclear program, they have yet to activate the final stage of the project that would convert the material to a nuclear bomb. This is no revelation, as not even the most alarmist account of Iran’s efforts has stated that this final stage has been reached. Nor did Gantz express a belief that Iran wouldn’t build a bomb. Rather, he said the Iranians would do it only if they felt themselves “invulnerable.” He said he thought the ayatollahs were “rational,” but added that a weapon in their hands would be “dangerous.”

So while the tone of Gantz’s interview was not as sharp as the statements made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the substance isn’t very different. Which makes the claims made by the Times and the misleading headline in Haaretz a transparent attempt to portray a stark division within the councils of Israel’s leaders where there may be none.

Here’s the text published by Haaretz:

Asked whether 2012 is also decisive for Iran, Gantz shies from the term. “Clearly, the more the Iranians progress the worse the situation is. This is a critical year, but not necessarily ‘go, no-go.’ The problem doesn’t necessarily stop on December 31, 2012. We’re in a period when something must happen: Either Iran takes its nuclear program to a civilian footing only or the world, perhaps we too, will have to do something. We’re closer to the end of the discussions than the middle.”

Iran, Gantz says, “is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile.”

As long as its facilities are not bomb-proof, “the program is too vulnerable, in Iran’s view. If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken. It will happen if Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response. I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.”

While Gantz expressed some hope that international sanctions might work to influence Iran’s decisions, he said nothing that could be construed as a belief that Iran’s goal wasn’t a nuclear weapon or that Israel could live with the Islamist regime possessing such a capability. Indeed, he made it very clear that it was his job to prepare a “credible” military threat to Iran the purpose of which would be to convince Tehran to back down.

All that can be said of this interview is that Gantz did not mention the Holocaust and that his tone was calm and professional with more attention to the technical business of his specific military responsibility than an emotional call to action. But why would we expect a military leader to sound like a politician even if the substance of his approach left little daylight between his position and that of his boss?

It is true that this sounded a lot different from Netanyahu’s interview on CNN, where he made it clear that international sanctions on Iran had better work quickly lest the Iranians use the time they are gaining from protracted negotiations to get closer to their nuclear goal. But nothing Gantz said contradicted Netanyahu’s assertion that an Iranian nuke was an existential threat to Israel that must be stopped.

There is no basis to claim, as the Times does, that Gantz’s interview meant he agreed with Netanyahu’s critics and others who take a more relaxed view of the Iranian threat. Nor does the paper point out that even former Mossad chief Meyer Dagan, who is among the most vocal of those disagreeing with Netanyahu, believes Iran must be stopped from gaining a nuclear weapon.

The effort to hype Gantz’s interview is part of a campaign on the part of Israel’s critics to portray Netanyahu as being “hysterical” — the term used by the Times — about Iran. But as Gantz said, Israelis “aren’t two oceans away from the problem — we live here with our civilians, our women and our children, so we interpret the extent of the urgency differently.”

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What Happens When You Assume

When I pulled up the home page of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz this morning, I was greeted with a somewhat humorous sight. The top headline, in large print, was: “Israeli security forces evacuate settlers from Hebron house.” Immediately to the right of that headline was this one: “Haaretz Editorial: The Israeli government gave in to the settlers.” Oops.

It appears Haaretz was expecting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to evict the residents of a house in Hebron who the government says are not there legally. So the editors wrote a blistering editorial excoriating Netanyahu for what they assumed he would (or would not) do. It’s true that Netanyahu had recently indicated that he was not yet ready to evict the settlers. But that is a common tactic used by the government to ensure that the soldiers carrying out the evictions are not met with organized resistance. It’s not the first time the Israeli authorities have done this–it’s not even the first time they’ve done this in Hebron. Should Haaretz have assumed that Netanyahu would not evict Jews from Hebron? Just the opposite–Netanyahu has a track record of willingness to move Jews out of Hebron. He even signed an agreement with Yasser Arafat during the Clinton administration relinquishing some control over Hebron.

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When I pulled up the home page of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz this morning, I was greeted with a somewhat humorous sight. The top headline, in large print, was: “Israeli security forces evacuate settlers from Hebron house.” Immediately to the right of that headline was this one: “Haaretz Editorial: The Israeli government gave in to the settlers.” Oops.

It appears Haaretz was expecting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to evict the residents of a house in Hebron who the government says are not there legally. So the editors wrote a blistering editorial excoriating Netanyahu for what they assumed he would (or would not) do. It’s true that Netanyahu had recently indicated that he was not yet ready to evict the settlers. But that is a common tactic used by the government to ensure that the soldiers carrying out the evictions are not met with organized resistance. It’s not the first time the Israeli authorities have done this–it’s not even the first time they’ve done this in Hebron. Should Haaretz have assumed that Netanyahu would not evict Jews from Hebron? Just the opposite–Netanyahu has a track record of willingness to move Jews out of Hebron. He even signed an agreement with Yasser Arafat during the Clinton administration relinquishing some control over Hebron.

Should Haaretz have assumed Netanyahu wouldn’t respond to political pressure to turn parts of Jewish holy cities over to the Palestinians? No again. As the editorial itself notes, during his first term as prime minister Netanyahu “ordered the settlers to evacuate Ras al Amud,” a neighborhood in Jerusalem. (Netanyahu once even indicated, in a 2010 speech, that Jerusalem could be on the table for negotiations–an unprecedented move.)

What else surprised the Haaretz editorialists? They write that Netanyahu was ignoring the West Bank military prosecutor’s opinion, which includes a “warning of violence.” Yet, as the article on the evacuation notes, the mission was carried out “without any unusual events”–code for “peacefully.” It continues to surprise the media that settlers aren’t violent fanatics. (The picture accompanying the article shows a young Jewish mother pushing a stroller with a couple of young children walking peacefully next to her. Because Haaretz would generally post the most violent picture they have of any incident involving settlers, it would appear they were unable to locate anything but peaceful cooperation.)

Personal dislike of Netanyahu by the left has, since the very beginning of Netanyahu’s career, perverted the newsgathering and political processes to such an extent as to present a picture wholly unrelated to reality. In November, after President Obama and French President Sarkozy were caught trying to prove to each other who dislikes Netanyahu more, the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl asked a good question: “Why do Sarkozy and Obama hate Netanyahu?”

He argued that Netanyahu has been responsive all along to Obama’s initiatives, even when Netanyahu didn’t like them. He agreed to settlement freezes, declared he would evict squatters, agreed to immediate negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, and even announced his support for an independent Palestinian state. (The list is even longer than this, but Diehl was on the right track.) But what about the Palestinians? Diehl went on:

Abbas, it’s fair to say, has gone from resisting U.S. and French diplomacy to actively seeking to undermine it. Yet it is Netanyahu whom Sarkozy finds “unbearable,” and whom Obama groans at having to “deal with every day.” If there is an explanation for this, it must be personal; in substance, it makes little sense.

It is personal, not to mention petty and counterproductive. Netanyahu’s commitment to peace and the rule of law is only surprising to those, like the president and the Haaretz editorialists, who allow personal animus, rather than a fair reading of the facts, to guide them.

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Identifying Israel’s “Main Enemies”

The controversy ended almost as soon as it began. Yesterday, Jerusalem Post editor Steve Linde told an audience that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told him a couple of weeks earlier the New York Times and Haaretz were Israel’s “main enemies” because “they set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world.” That comment, made during a private meeting with the journalist, set off a minor furor with many, including Linde, saying they thought it odd those two journalistic institutions would outrank Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran as the Jewish state’s main foes and that such a statement reflects Netanyahu’s Nixon-like paranoia about the press. However, the prime minister’s office immediately denied Netanyahu had said it, and Linde soon backtracked, telling Haaretz the words were merely his interpretation and not a direct quote.

Nevertheless, this non-story is a reminder of a great truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict. While it would be absurd to actually rank the Times or Ha’aretz higher in the list of Israel’s foes than actual military and terrorist threats, biased media reports are a not inconsiderable problem for a beleaguered Jewish state. So whatever it is that Netanyahu actually said to Linde, his concern about a distorted vision of Israel’s policies being the lens through which most foreigners view his country is neither foolish nor paranoid.

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The controversy ended almost as soon as it began. Yesterday, Jerusalem Post editor Steve Linde told an audience that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told him a couple of weeks earlier the New York Times and Haaretz were Israel’s “main enemies” because “they set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world.” That comment, made during a private meeting with the journalist, set off a minor furor with many, including Linde, saying they thought it odd those two journalistic institutions would outrank Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran as the Jewish state’s main foes and that such a statement reflects Netanyahu’s Nixon-like paranoia about the press. However, the prime minister’s office immediately denied Netanyahu had said it, and Linde soon backtracked, telling Haaretz the words were merely his interpretation and not a direct quote.

Nevertheless, this non-story is a reminder of a great truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict. While it would be absurd to actually rank the Times or Ha’aretz higher in the list of Israel’s foes than actual military and terrorist threats, biased media reports are a not inconsiderable problem for a beleaguered Jewish state. So whatever it is that Netanyahu actually said to Linde, his concern about a distorted vision of Israel’s policies being the lens through which most foreigners view his country is neither foolish nor paranoid.

Newspapers that invariably frame the conflict as one in which Israel is an oppressive state that bullies the Palestinians, violates human rights and responds to alleged threats with disproportionate force do help undermine support for the Jewish state. Journalists who treat the dispute over the West Bank and Jerusalem as one in which only the Palestinians have rights while the Israelis merely have overblown demands for security similarly help create a diplomatic playing field in which Israel is always at a disadvantage. Even worse, those who rarely, if ever, place stories about the conflict in the context of a 100-year-old Arab and Muslim war to eradicate the Jewish presence in the country, or who make any effort to accurately portray Palestinian public opinion about peace or their unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state do their audience and Israel a disservice.

Haaretz reports the news based on its political bias against Netanyahu’s party and ideology. The Times news and opinion sections follow the same script just as slavishly. The influence of these two papers is not inconsiderable, though it must be admitted the bias of America’s newspaper of record has done little to harm the widespread and bi-partisan support for Israel in the United States. However, the misperceptions of Israel and the conflict the Times has helped perpetuate have had an impact on American Jewish opinion. The effort to depict Israel as the Goliath of the Middle East rather than the David is a blow to the self-esteem of some liberal Times readers and has given them a reason to distance themselves from Zionism.

As such, Netanyahu does well to worry about this problem and to seek to counter the influence of those who have a destructive impact on his country’s image. Though the prime minister shouldn’t give in to the temptation to demonize the international media, just because he’s paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get him, or his country.

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Media- and NGO-Fueled Ignorance on Egypt and Tunisia

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

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Birthright Confusion Caps Off Worst Week Ever for J Street

If 2010 was a bad year for J Street, 2011 looks like it’s shaping up to be even worse. In the past week, the organization has been denounced by its most prominent supporter in Congress — Rep. Gary Ackerman — and by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

And now J Street is facing another problem. A few days ago, the group announced it would be sponsoring a Birthright trip to Israel and posted a sign-up page for the program on its website. But now Birthright is denying it was ever involved with the trip:

A Birthright official told Haaretz that about three months ago they were approached by “The Israel Experience,” one of the trip providers, with this idea, but said that they are not interested in trips dedicated to a specific political experience. “Since then we didn’t have any requests from them,” he said. “And then we saw to our astonishment the press release of J Street that they are “leading the trip” — there is no such thing in our practice. We had no direct contact with J Street, no formal request was submitted.”

However, J Street disputes Birthright’s account of the situation. According to Moriel Rothman, president of J Street’s student arm, which reportedly organized the trip, Birthright had initially approved the program.

“[W]e are deeply troubled by Birthright’s abrupt decision to cancel our trip,” said Rothman. “Revoking this previously-approved opportunity, planned in concert with accredited Birthright trip organizer Israel Experience, sends exactly the wrong message to our community and to our students. And it is a painful message to receive.”

A series of e-mails obtained by Haaretz appears to partially back up J Street’s version of the story. The correspondence reportedly shows that J Street had submitted a proposal to an accredited Birthright trip organizer, who responded that the draft was “perfect.” However, it’s unclear from the article whether the trip was ever officially approved:

The pro-Israel lobby submitted to Haaretz email correspondences between an official from The Israel Experience and a J Street Campus representative, which show that JStreet sent the draft regarding the announcement of the trip for approval – and they received it. The Israel Experience official defined the draft as “perfect.” So it seems that the miscommunication occurred somewhere between “Birthright” and one of the trip organizers.‬

So what happened? Was there a missed communication somewhere between the trip organizer and Birthright leadership? Or did Birthright initially approve the program and then back out under outside pressure? At this point, it isn’t clear, and multiple requests for comment from Birthright over the past few days have not been returned.

If 2010 was a bad year for J Street, 2011 looks like it’s shaping up to be even worse. In the past week, the organization has been denounced by its most prominent supporter in Congress — Rep. Gary Ackerman — and by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

And now J Street is facing another problem. A few days ago, the group announced it would be sponsoring a Birthright trip to Israel and posted a sign-up page for the program on its website. But now Birthright is denying it was ever involved with the trip:

A Birthright official told Haaretz that about three months ago they were approached by “The Israel Experience,” one of the trip providers, with this idea, but said that they are not interested in trips dedicated to a specific political experience. “Since then we didn’t have any requests from them,” he said. “And then we saw to our astonishment the press release of J Street that they are “leading the trip” — there is no such thing in our practice. We had no direct contact with J Street, no formal request was submitted.”

However, J Street disputes Birthright’s account of the situation. According to Moriel Rothman, president of J Street’s student arm, which reportedly organized the trip, Birthright had initially approved the program.

“[W]e are deeply troubled by Birthright’s abrupt decision to cancel our trip,” said Rothman. “Revoking this previously-approved opportunity, planned in concert with accredited Birthright trip organizer Israel Experience, sends exactly the wrong message to our community and to our students. And it is a painful message to receive.”

A series of e-mails obtained by Haaretz appears to partially back up J Street’s version of the story. The correspondence reportedly shows that J Street had submitted a proposal to an accredited Birthright trip organizer, who responded that the draft was “perfect.” However, it’s unclear from the article whether the trip was ever officially approved:

The pro-Israel lobby submitted to Haaretz email correspondences between an official from The Israel Experience and a J Street Campus representative, which show that JStreet sent the draft regarding the announcement of the trip for approval – and they received it. The Israel Experience official defined the draft as “perfect.” So it seems that the miscommunication occurred somewhere between “Birthright” and one of the trip organizers.‬

So what happened? Was there a missed communication somewhere between the trip organizer and Birthright leadership? Or did Birthright initially approve the program and then back out under outside pressure? At this point, it isn’t clear, and multiple requests for comment from Birthright over the past few days have not been returned.

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About Those ‘Likudniks’

The theory that a powerful cabal of Jewish intellectuals pressured President Bush into launching wars on behalf of Israel is one that’s become associated with the anti-Semitic political fringe. But it wasn’t long ago that this idea was being promoted in mainstream publications — for example, the 2003 Washington Post cover story entitled “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”

The article was about a so-called group of “Likudniks” — loyalists to the right-wing Israeli government — who allegedly pulled the foreign-policy strings in the Bush administration. According to the report, the faction included Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Elliott Abrams.

“Some Middle East hands who disagree with these supporters of Israel refer to them as ‘a cabal,’ in the words of one former official,” reported the Post. “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.”

“The Likudniks are really in charge now,” the story quoted an anonymous senior U.S. official as saying.

In certain circles, the term Likudnik has been used interchangeably with neoconservative, and both have carried allegations of dual loyalty to Israel.

“What these neoconservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel,” wrote Pat Buchanan in the American Conservative. “They want the peace of the sword imposed on Islam and American soldiers to die if necessary to impose it.”

Obviously, these charges were nonsense. And this is illustrated, once again, by the very different positions the Israeli government and neoconservatives have taken on the crisis in Egypt.

As Max has pointed out, Israel has come out in support of the Mubarak regime:

The newspaper said Israel’s foreign ministry told its diplomats to stress that it is in “the interest of the West” and of “the entire Middle East to maintain the stability of the regime in Egypt.”

“We must therefore curb public criticism against President Hosni Mubarak,” the message sent at the end of last week said, according to Haaretz.

The newspaper said the message was sent to Israeli diplomats in at least a dozen embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries.

And yet the alleged “Likudniks” from the Bush administration haven’t been out disseminating pro-Mubarak propaganda of some sort on Fox News.

Instead, Abrams has come out strongly in support of the Egyptian people. As have Wolfowitz and Feith. In fact, neoconservatives are overwhelmingly in favor of democratic reform in Egypt, just as they were under Bush. And that makes the old allegations of dual loyalty look even more shameless.

The theory that a powerful cabal of Jewish intellectuals pressured President Bush into launching wars on behalf of Israel is one that’s become associated with the anti-Semitic political fringe. But it wasn’t long ago that this idea was being promoted in mainstream publications — for example, the 2003 Washington Post cover story entitled “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”

The article was about a so-called group of “Likudniks” — loyalists to the right-wing Israeli government — who allegedly pulled the foreign-policy strings in the Bush administration. According to the report, the faction included Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Elliott Abrams.

“Some Middle East hands who disagree with these supporters of Israel refer to them as ‘a cabal,’ in the words of one former official,” reported the Post. “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.”

“The Likudniks are really in charge now,” the story quoted an anonymous senior U.S. official as saying.

In certain circles, the term Likudnik has been used interchangeably with neoconservative, and both have carried allegations of dual loyalty to Israel.

“What these neoconservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel,” wrote Pat Buchanan in the American Conservative. “They want the peace of the sword imposed on Islam and American soldiers to die if necessary to impose it.”

Obviously, these charges were nonsense. And this is illustrated, once again, by the very different positions the Israeli government and neoconservatives have taken on the crisis in Egypt.

As Max has pointed out, Israel has come out in support of the Mubarak regime:

The newspaper said Israel’s foreign ministry told its diplomats to stress that it is in “the interest of the West” and of “the entire Middle East to maintain the stability of the regime in Egypt.”

“We must therefore curb public criticism against President Hosni Mubarak,” the message sent at the end of last week said, according to Haaretz.

The newspaper said the message was sent to Israeli diplomats in at least a dozen embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries.

And yet the alleged “Likudniks” from the Bush administration haven’t been out disseminating pro-Mubarak propaganda of some sort on Fox News.

Instead, Abrams has come out strongly in support of the Egyptian people. As have Wolfowitz and Feith. In fact, neoconservatives are overwhelmingly in favor of democratic reform in Egypt, just as they were under Bush. And that makes the old allegations of dual loyalty look even more shameless.

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The Guardian Spins a ‘Jewish State’ Endorsement from PaliLeaks Snark

For some misleading language, there’s no excuse. Elder of Ziyon catches the UK Guardian misrepresenting the reality behind one of the most widely repeated claims about the Palestinian Papers: that they show Palestinian negotiators accepting the principle of Israel as a “Jewish state.” (H/T: Daled Amos)

The Guardian puts it this way: “Palestinian negotiators privately accepted Israel’s demand that it define itself as a Jewish state.” But here is the relevant passage of the 2009 Palestinian Paper cited by the Guardian (Saeb Erekat is in conversation with several Palestinian officials):

Xavier Abueid (XA): Mitchell said that the US will defend the right of Israel as a Jewish state.

Saeb Erekat (SE): Not a single American said Jewish State to our faces. I can’t stand guard on their lips.

X (Redacted): He [Mitchell] said it openly.

SE: In UN Resolution 181, it is mentioned a Jewish state and an Arab state.

Mohamed Shtayyeh (MS): “A majority of Jewish people” is how Americans might say it.

SE: I don’t care. This is a non-issue. I dare the Israelis to change name to write to the UN and change their name to the “Great Eternal Historic State of Israel.” This is their issue, not mine.

Elder of Ziyon points out that Erekat used language even more sarcastic and dismissive to address this question in a forum sponsored by Haaretz in 2009. The Guardian characterizes Erekat’s performance as “signaling acquiescence” to the proposition of Israel as a Jewish state. To my ears, it just sounds like Erekat had better hang on to his day job; he’d never get hired to write for South Park. Only biased journalism would pass his snide comments off as meaningful policy statements. Minus the dance routine, Erekat comes off like a Jets gang member taunting Officer Krupke in West Side Story.

For some misleading language, there’s no excuse. Elder of Ziyon catches the UK Guardian misrepresenting the reality behind one of the most widely repeated claims about the Palestinian Papers: that they show Palestinian negotiators accepting the principle of Israel as a “Jewish state.” (H/T: Daled Amos)

The Guardian puts it this way: “Palestinian negotiators privately accepted Israel’s demand that it define itself as a Jewish state.” But here is the relevant passage of the 2009 Palestinian Paper cited by the Guardian (Saeb Erekat is in conversation with several Palestinian officials):

Xavier Abueid (XA): Mitchell said that the US will defend the right of Israel as a Jewish state.

Saeb Erekat (SE): Not a single American said Jewish State to our faces. I can’t stand guard on their lips.

X (Redacted): He [Mitchell] said it openly.

SE: In UN Resolution 181, it is mentioned a Jewish state and an Arab state.

Mohamed Shtayyeh (MS): “A majority of Jewish people” is how Americans might say it.

SE: I don’t care. This is a non-issue. I dare the Israelis to change name to write to the UN and change their name to the “Great Eternal Historic State of Israel.” This is their issue, not mine.

Elder of Ziyon points out that Erekat used language even more sarcastic and dismissive to address this question in a forum sponsored by Haaretz in 2009. The Guardian characterizes Erekat’s performance as “signaling acquiescence” to the proposition of Israel as a Jewish state. To my ears, it just sounds like Erekat had better hang on to his day job; he’d never get hired to write for South Park. Only biased journalism would pass his snide comments off as meaningful policy statements. Minus the dance routine, Erekat comes off like a Jets gang member taunting Officer Krupke in West Side Story.

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Don’t Ignore the Politics of Mossad’s Iran Assessment

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

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Did the Media Get Played by New ‘Pallywood’ Hoax?

The reports of a Palestinian activist who allegedly died from inhaling IDF tear gas at a pro-Palestinian demonstration have sparked an outpouring of condemnation from the international community. But it looks like the story — or at least the version told by Palestinian activists — may have been a total fabrication. An IDF investigation revealed multiple inconsistencies in the woman’s medical report, and some officials now believe she may have been terminally ill long before the rally began:

Military sources said, however, that there was no evidence that Abu Rahmah even participated in Friday’s demonstration against the security barrier in Bil’in — nor that she died from inhaling tear gas.

Following repeated requests from Israel’s defense establishment, the Palestinian Authority on Monday turned over the medical report on Abu Rahmah’s death. IDF officials say the medical report contradicts the family’s version of events.

According to information obtained by Haaretz from Palestinian medical sources, in the weeks before Abu Rahmah’s death she was taking drugs prescribed for a medical condition. It is not known whether these drugs, combined with the tear gas and the “skunk bombs” used by the soldiers, could have caused her death.

Her family says Abu Rahmah’s death was caused by the Israel Defense Forces’ use of a particularly lethal type of tear gas, but they cannot explain why other demonstrators affected by the tear gas did not need medical care.

Rahmah’s brother also confirmed that she had been suffering health problems in the weeks leading up to the rally:

Abu Rahmah’s brother Samir said that for several weeks his sister had complained of bad headaches, mainly near one ear. He said she also had dizzy spells and problems keeping her balance and had unusual marks on her skin.

Whatever the cause of Rahmah’s death, it’s extremely premature to blame the IDF’s use of tear gas, to say the least. This case holds a striking resemblance to the 2000 Al Dura case, where the shooting of a young Palestinian boy was falsely blamed on the IDF. In light of that incident — and other similar “Pallywood” (Palestinian + Hollywood) hoaxes — the media should treat reports like this with proper scrutiny. Read More

The reports of a Palestinian activist who allegedly died from inhaling IDF tear gas at a pro-Palestinian demonstration have sparked an outpouring of condemnation from the international community. But it looks like the story — or at least the version told by Palestinian activists — may have been a total fabrication. An IDF investigation revealed multiple inconsistencies in the woman’s medical report, and some officials now believe she may have been terminally ill long before the rally began:

Military sources said, however, that there was no evidence that Abu Rahmah even participated in Friday’s demonstration against the security barrier in Bil’in — nor that she died from inhaling tear gas.

Following repeated requests from Israel’s defense establishment, the Palestinian Authority on Monday turned over the medical report on Abu Rahmah’s death. IDF officials say the medical report contradicts the family’s version of events.

According to information obtained by Haaretz from Palestinian medical sources, in the weeks before Abu Rahmah’s death she was taking drugs prescribed for a medical condition. It is not known whether these drugs, combined with the tear gas and the “skunk bombs” used by the soldiers, could have caused her death.

Her family says Abu Rahmah’s death was caused by the Israel Defense Forces’ use of a particularly lethal type of tear gas, but they cannot explain why other demonstrators affected by the tear gas did not need medical care.

Rahmah’s brother also confirmed that she had been suffering health problems in the weeks leading up to the rally:

Abu Rahmah’s brother Samir said that for several weeks his sister had complained of bad headaches, mainly near one ear. He said she also had dizzy spells and problems keeping her balance and had unusual marks on her skin.

Whatever the cause of Rahmah’s death, it’s extremely premature to blame the IDF’s use of tear gas, to say the least. This case holds a striking resemblance to the 2000 Al Dura case, where the shooting of a young Palestinian boy was falsely blamed on the IDF. In light of that incident — and other similar “Pallywood” (Palestinian + Hollywood) hoaxes — the media should treat reports like this with proper scrutiny.

Of course, it’s far too much to ask for some news outlets to behave responsibly, especially when it comes to demonizing Israel. One of the worst offenders on the Rahmah story was the NYT’s Isabel Kershner, who unquestioningly regurgitated the claims of Palestinian activists in an article headlined “Tear Gas Kills Palestinian Protester”:

A Palestinian woman died Saturday after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli forces a day earlier at a protest against Israel’s separation barrier in a West Bank village.

A hospital director, Dr. Muhammad Aideh, said the woman had arrived on Friday suffering from tear-gas asphyxiation and died despite hours of treatment.

The article didn’t question why one protester would die from non-toxic tear gas in an open, outdoor space while the hundreds of people around her remained unharmed. There was also apparently no attempt to get a comment on the death from any official Israeli sources.

Other outlets that blindly swallowed the original story were the Washington Post and the JTA.

But it wasn’t just the media that hyped the original allegations. Multiple NGOs were also quick to issue premature condemnations of Israel, according to NGO Monitor.

“NGO officials and media outlets made serious allegations about Jawaher Abu-Rahmah’s death, without verifying claims or checking the many inconsistencies in the reports,” said Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, in an e-mailed press release. “We again see that NGOs issue statements and condemnations consistent with their own political agendas, but lack the ability to verify any of the details.” Some of these groups included B’Tselem, Yesh Din, and Physicians for Human Rights in Israel.

The fact that so many organizations and media outlets jumped the gun on this issue is revealing. They’re obviously eager, for whatever reason, to attack Israel whenever possible, no matter how shoddy the allegations. An immediate correction should be demanded from the New York Times and any other publication that picked up the original story.

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A Case Study in the Goldstone Report’s Fundamental Dishonesty

As Omri Ceren noted last week, the Goldstone Report on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza has already prompted numerous detailed rebuttals. But with the report hitting the Israeli headlines again this month in honor of the war’s second anniversary, one cannot help being struck anew by its fundamental dishonesty.

A lengthy Haaretz piece published this weekend offers a salient example. Ironically, reporter Shay Fogelman tried hard to back Goldstone’s accusations. Thus, in an 8,000-word dissection of Israel’s attack on Palestinian police stations on December 27, 2008, the war’s opening day, he somehow didn’t find space to mention Hamas’s own recent admission that most of these policemen belonged to terrorist organizations, just as Israel had claimed all along. But he had plenty of space to quote such unbiased sources as an Al Jazeera reporter (“it was a massacre”).

Where it all falls apart, however, is when he comes to a detailed study submitted to the Goldstone panel that identified 286 of the 345 policemen killed — fully 83 percent — as members of terrorist organizations, based solely on public sources like Palestinian newspapers, the Palestinian Interior Ministry’s website, and the websites of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, where the policemen’s affiliation with various terror groups had been reported. Fogelman then writes:

The Goldstone Report also took note of this phenomenon, and suggested that in some instances militant organizations retrospectively recorded on their rosters the names of children or civilians who clearly had no connection to warfare or security work. The panel adds that bereaved families did not oppose this phenomenon; among other things, the “adoption” of a casualty by a militant organization entitled the family to economic assistance.

Now, as anyone familiar with the Goldstone Report knows, many of its alleged Israeli war crimes involved incidents like the attack on the Al-Maqadmah Mosque, in which Israel claims to have fired at armed combatants just outside the mosque even though the Palestinians claim no combatants were in the area. In all those cases, Goldstone chose to believe the Palestinians’ claim.

When you contrast that with the panel’s handling of the attack on the policemen, the methodology becomes clear: when Palestinians claim someone is a civilian, they are believed. But when Palestinians claim someone is a combatant, they are disbelieved. In short, Palestinians are always innocent victims, no matter what. It’s hard to imagine a more dishonest methodology than that.

This same axiom led Goldstone to conclude that fewer than 300 of the Palestinians killed were combatants, even though Hamas’s own interior minister recently admitted that Israel’s figure, of about 700 combatants, was in fact accurate. After all, the corollary to the assumption that Palestinians are always innocent victims is that Israel must be lying if it claims the opposite.

Unfortunately, there are a great many people out there who share Goldstone’s fundamental assumption of Palestinian innocence and Israeli guilt. And with people like that, no amount of evidence will ever suffice to change their minds.

As Omri Ceren noted last week, the Goldstone Report on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza has already prompted numerous detailed rebuttals. But with the report hitting the Israeli headlines again this month in honor of the war’s second anniversary, one cannot help being struck anew by its fundamental dishonesty.

A lengthy Haaretz piece published this weekend offers a salient example. Ironically, reporter Shay Fogelman tried hard to back Goldstone’s accusations. Thus, in an 8,000-word dissection of Israel’s attack on Palestinian police stations on December 27, 2008, the war’s opening day, he somehow didn’t find space to mention Hamas’s own recent admission that most of these policemen belonged to terrorist organizations, just as Israel had claimed all along. But he had plenty of space to quote such unbiased sources as an Al Jazeera reporter (“it was a massacre”).

Where it all falls apart, however, is when he comes to a detailed study submitted to the Goldstone panel that identified 286 of the 345 policemen killed — fully 83 percent — as members of terrorist organizations, based solely on public sources like Palestinian newspapers, the Palestinian Interior Ministry’s website, and the websites of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, where the policemen’s affiliation with various terror groups had been reported. Fogelman then writes:

The Goldstone Report also took note of this phenomenon, and suggested that in some instances militant organizations retrospectively recorded on their rosters the names of children or civilians who clearly had no connection to warfare or security work. The panel adds that bereaved families did not oppose this phenomenon; among other things, the “adoption” of a casualty by a militant organization entitled the family to economic assistance.

Now, as anyone familiar with the Goldstone Report knows, many of its alleged Israeli war crimes involved incidents like the attack on the Al-Maqadmah Mosque, in which Israel claims to have fired at armed combatants just outside the mosque even though the Palestinians claim no combatants were in the area. In all those cases, Goldstone chose to believe the Palestinians’ claim.

When you contrast that with the panel’s handling of the attack on the policemen, the methodology becomes clear: when Palestinians claim someone is a civilian, they are believed. But when Palestinians claim someone is a combatant, they are disbelieved. In short, Palestinians are always innocent victims, no matter what. It’s hard to imagine a more dishonest methodology than that.

This same axiom led Goldstone to conclude that fewer than 300 of the Palestinians killed were combatants, even though Hamas’s own interior minister recently admitted that Israel’s figure, of about 700 combatants, was in fact accurate. After all, the corollary to the assumption that Palestinians are always innocent victims is that Israel must be lying if it claims the opposite.

Unfortunately, there are a great many people out there who share Goldstone’s fundamental assumption of Palestinian innocence and Israeli guilt. And with people like that, no amount of evidence will ever suffice to change their minds.

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West Bank Shows There Is a Military Solution to Terror

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

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What Vietnam Should Teach Us About Iran

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

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The Public Be Damned

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

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A Refreshing Change

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

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New Reports Show Another Freeze Won’t Buy Israel Quiet with U.S.

When the emerging U.S.-Israel deal on another three-month settlement freeze was first reported, I could understand the argument (ably made by  Jonathan) that despite the freeze’s many negative consequences, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should acquiesce. But if subsequent reports are true, another extension would be disastrous. If Israel is going to spend the next two years fighting with Washington over construction with or without the deal, it can so do more effectively without another freeze.

Yesterday, Haaretz reported that contrary to previous reports, Barack Obama isn’t promising not to seek further moratoriums: his proposed letter to Netanyahu would merely say that “progress over the next three months would render another freeze unnecessary.”

Yet the chances of progress during these months rendering “another freeze unnecessary” are nonexistent. Nothing less than a signed-and-sealed deal on borders would let Israel build in “its” parts of the West Bank without Palestinian objections, and even Washington doesn’t believe that’s achievable in just three months. Thus, when the three months end, Palestinians will once again object to Israeli construction on “their” land — and Obama will once again back them by demanding another freeze.

Then came today’s report — again contradicting earlier ones — that the U.S. won’t really exempt East Jerusalem from the moratorium. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that even if Israel extends the freeze, “we will continue to press for quiet throughout East Jerusalem during the 90 days.”

The official added that President Barack Obama had committed in an oral message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last April that the U.S. expects both sides to refrain from “actions that would seriously undermine trust,” including in East Jerusalem, and would respond with “steps, actions, or adjustments in policy” to any such provocative actions as long as negotiations are underway.

The U.S. administration has defined “actions that would seriously undermine trust” as including major housing announcements, demolitions, or evictions in East Jerusalem.

“This policy will continue if the negotiations resume under a 90-day moratorium and the Israelis know it”, said the US official.

In other words, even if Israel extends the freeze, it won’t get quiet: it will spend the next three months fighting with Obama over Jerusalem, followed by another major fight over the West Bank when the three months end.

And if so, better to have the fight now, when Netanyahu can still reasonably argue that the original 10-month freeze was a one-time gesture that Abbas wasted by refusing to negotiate, and that the onus is therefore now on Abbas, not him, to make the next gesture.

But the minute Netanyahu agrees to another freeze, he accepts two dangerous principles: that the freeze wasn’t an exceptional one-time gesture but instead a tolerable long-term policy, and that it’s never Abbas who needs to make gestures; it’s always and only Israel’s turn. And that leaves him no justification for not extending the freeze again in another three months.

For two years of quiet with Washington, another three-month freeze might be worth it. But if what Israel will really get is just two more years of continued fighting, the only sensible answer is “no.”

When the emerging U.S.-Israel deal on another three-month settlement freeze was first reported, I could understand the argument (ably made by  Jonathan) that despite the freeze’s many negative consequences, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should acquiesce. But if subsequent reports are true, another extension would be disastrous. If Israel is going to spend the next two years fighting with Washington over construction with or without the deal, it can so do more effectively without another freeze.

Yesterday, Haaretz reported that contrary to previous reports, Barack Obama isn’t promising not to seek further moratoriums: his proposed letter to Netanyahu would merely say that “progress over the next three months would render another freeze unnecessary.”

Yet the chances of progress during these months rendering “another freeze unnecessary” are nonexistent. Nothing less than a signed-and-sealed deal on borders would let Israel build in “its” parts of the West Bank without Palestinian objections, and even Washington doesn’t believe that’s achievable in just three months. Thus, when the three months end, Palestinians will once again object to Israeli construction on “their” land — and Obama will once again back them by demanding another freeze.

Then came today’s report — again contradicting earlier ones — that the U.S. won’t really exempt East Jerusalem from the moratorium. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that even if Israel extends the freeze, “we will continue to press for quiet throughout East Jerusalem during the 90 days.”

The official added that President Barack Obama had committed in an oral message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last April that the U.S. expects both sides to refrain from “actions that would seriously undermine trust,” including in East Jerusalem, and would respond with “steps, actions, or adjustments in policy” to any such provocative actions as long as negotiations are underway.

The U.S. administration has defined “actions that would seriously undermine trust” as including major housing announcements, demolitions, or evictions in East Jerusalem.

“This policy will continue if the negotiations resume under a 90-day moratorium and the Israelis know it”, said the US official.

In other words, even if Israel extends the freeze, it won’t get quiet: it will spend the next three months fighting with Obama over Jerusalem, followed by another major fight over the West Bank when the three months end.

And if so, better to have the fight now, when Netanyahu can still reasonably argue that the original 10-month freeze was a one-time gesture that Abbas wasted by refusing to negotiate, and that the onus is therefore now on Abbas, not him, to make the next gesture.

But the minute Netanyahu agrees to another freeze, he accepts two dangerous principles: that the freeze wasn’t an exceptional one-time gesture but instead a tolerable long-term policy, and that it’s never Abbas who needs to make gestures; it’s always and only Israel’s turn. And that leaves him no justification for not extending the freeze again in another three months.

For two years of quiet with Washington, another three-month freeze might be worth it. But if what Israel will really get is just two more years of continued fighting, the only sensible answer is “no.”

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The Military Elephant in the Room

Here’s a topic that wasn’t on the agenda at this week’s United Jewish Communities General Assembly, but should have been: how young American Jews’ ignorance of military matters affects their relationship to Israel.

Speaking in an unrelated context, after his film Lebanon was named a finalist for six European Film Academy awards last week, Israeli director Samuel Maoz told Haaretz he was surprised at how “young audiences in Europe, particularly Britain and Scandinavia,” reacted to the film, which depicts an Israeli tank crew’s experiences on the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War:

A lot of people who saw the film [abroad] told me they were sure the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer who goes around Gaza killing children, and all of a sudden, when they see “Lebanon,” they understand he is a person like them, thinking and agonizing over what to do, dealing with conflicts and situations forced upon him.

What Maoz said of young Europeans is equally true of young American Jews. Most have never served in the army themselves, nor have most of their friends: neither Jews nor their circle of liberal, highly educated non-Jewish peers are prominently represented in America’s all-volunteer military. Consequently, they have no concept of the agonizing dilemmas combat entails, especially against foes who deliberately fight from among civilian populations, or the mistakes that inevitably happen amid the fog of war.

Thus when they see pictures of dead children in Gaza, they lack the knowledge and experience to understand that in wartime, children can be killed despite the best intentions and the most careful precautions. As a result, they all too easily believe, like their European peers, that “the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer.” And that inevitably fosters alienation from Israel: how could any self-respecting, moral individual identify with a nation of killers?

This issue doesn’t exist for American Jews of my parents’ generation. Back then, America still had the draft, so most Jews either served themselves or at least knew people who did. Thus they know that most soldiers are decent people like themselves, not ruthless killers, and they understand that civilians often die in wartime despite not being intentionally targeted.

But America isn’t likely to reinstate the draft, nor are American Jews likely to start volunteering for the military in large numbers. And Israel’s need to fight wars is unfortunately not likely to disappear anytime soon. Thus if the American Jewish community wants to address the growing alienation from Israel of some of its younger members, it must start thinking about how to give young Jews some understanding of what combat entails despite the fact that neither they nor their friends are ever likely to serve.

Films like Maoz’s might be one option. Bringing Israeli soldiers — or American Jewish veterans — to talk to young Jews about their own experiences might be another. American Jewish leaders can doubtless come up with many other creative ideas.

But first, they have to acknowledge that this elephant in the room exists, and must be dealt with. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Here’s a topic that wasn’t on the agenda at this week’s United Jewish Communities General Assembly, but should have been: how young American Jews’ ignorance of military matters affects their relationship to Israel.

Speaking in an unrelated context, after his film Lebanon was named a finalist for six European Film Academy awards last week, Israeli director Samuel Maoz told Haaretz he was surprised at how “young audiences in Europe, particularly Britain and Scandinavia,” reacted to the film, which depicts an Israeli tank crew’s experiences on the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War:

A lot of people who saw the film [abroad] told me they were sure the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer who goes around Gaza killing children, and all of a sudden, when they see “Lebanon,” they understand he is a person like them, thinking and agonizing over what to do, dealing with conflicts and situations forced upon him.

What Maoz said of young Europeans is equally true of young American Jews. Most have never served in the army themselves, nor have most of their friends: neither Jews nor their circle of liberal, highly educated non-Jewish peers are prominently represented in America’s all-volunteer military. Consequently, they have no concept of the agonizing dilemmas combat entails, especially against foes who deliberately fight from among civilian populations, or the mistakes that inevitably happen amid the fog of war.

Thus when they see pictures of dead children in Gaza, they lack the knowledge and experience to understand that in wartime, children can be killed despite the best intentions and the most careful precautions. As a result, they all too easily believe, like their European peers, that “the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer.” And that inevitably fosters alienation from Israel: how could any self-respecting, moral individual identify with a nation of killers?

This issue doesn’t exist for American Jews of my parents’ generation. Back then, America still had the draft, so most Jews either served themselves or at least knew people who did. Thus they know that most soldiers are decent people like themselves, not ruthless killers, and they understand that civilians often die in wartime despite not being intentionally targeted.

But America isn’t likely to reinstate the draft, nor are American Jews likely to start volunteering for the military in large numbers. And Israel’s need to fight wars is unfortunately not likely to disappear anytime soon. Thus if the American Jewish community wants to address the growing alienation from Israel of some of its younger members, it must start thinking about how to give young Jews some understanding of what combat entails despite the fact that neither they nor their friends are ever likely to serve.

Films like Maoz’s might be one option. Bringing Israeli soldiers — or American Jewish veterans — to talk to young Jews about their own experiences might be another. American Jewish leaders can doubtless come up with many other creative ideas.

But first, they have to acknowledge that this elephant in the room exists, and must be dealt with. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.

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Turkey Co-opts NATO Missile-Defense System to Hurt Israel and Help Iran

That Turkey has grown unrelentingly hostile to Israel, and cozy with Iran, is no longer news. But it is news, of the most disturbing kind, that Washington has chosen to actively collaborate in both the hostility and the coziness. Yet that’s what emerges from today’s Haaretz report on NATO’s planned missile-defense system: the U.S., it says, has agreed to Turkey’s demand that no information gathered by the system — whose primary goal is countering threats from Iran — be shared with Israel.

President George W. Bush, who conceived the system, had planned to station it in Eastern Europe. But due to Russia’s vehement opposition, President Barack Obama decided to relocate it to Turkey.

Ankara, reluctant to damage its burgeoning romance with Tehran, said it would agree only if four conditions were met. One, Turkish sources told Haaretz, was that “information gathered by the system not be given to any non-NATO member, and especially not to Israel.”

Moreover, the sources said, Washington has agreed to this demand. In other words, Washington has agreed that potentially vital information about Israel’s greatest enemy, gathered by a NATO facility that America conceived and will doubtless largely finance, won’t be shared with Israel.

Nor does the official excuse cited for this capitulation hold water: it’s true that Israel has information-gathering systems of its own devoted to Iran, but that doesn’t mean it has no need for NATO information. The new facility may well have capabilities Israel lacks.

The real reason, as the Turkish sources noted, is most likely that Washington had little choice: without Turkey’s consent, the project couldn’t go forward, and Ankara threatened a veto if its conditions weren’t met. Yet it was Obama’s own choice to relocate the project from two staunch American allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, to an increasingly hostile Turkey that left him vulnerable to this blackmail.

But Ankara posed another condition that may be even more worrying, given its coziness with Tehran: “direct Turkish access to any information gathered by the system.”

In May, Hakan Fidan became the new head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan, Haaretz reported at the time, “played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran, especially on the nuclear issue.” He defended Iran’s nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency and was one of the architects of the uranium-transfer deal that Turkey and Brazil concocted with Iran in May in an effort to avert a planned UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran.

Thus Turkey wants its intelligence service, whose chief’s main goal has been to tighten ties with Iran, to have direct access to a system whose main goal is to gather information about Iran. Does NATO really want to gamble that Fidan will not pass this information on to Tehran, thereby letting it know exactly what NATO knows about its capabilities?

Under these circumstances, the system could end up doing more harm then good. At the very least, Congress should be asking some tough questions about it — and, even more important, about the utility of continuing the pretense that Turkey is still a Western ally.

That Turkey has grown unrelentingly hostile to Israel, and cozy with Iran, is no longer news. But it is news, of the most disturbing kind, that Washington has chosen to actively collaborate in both the hostility and the coziness. Yet that’s what emerges from today’s Haaretz report on NATO’s planned missile-defense system: the U.S., it says, has agreed to Turkey’s demand that no information gathered by the system — whose primary goal is countering threats from Iran — be shared with Israel.

President George W. Bush, who conceived the system, had planned to station it in Eastern Europe. But due to Russia’s vehement opposition, President Barack Obama decided to relocate it to Turkey.

Ankara, reluctant to damage its burgeoning romance with Tehran, said it would agree only if four conditions were met. One, Turkish sources told Haaretz, was that “information gathered by the system not be given to any non-NATO member, and especially not to Israel.”

Moreover, the sources said, Washington has agreed to this demand. In other words, Washington has agreed that potentially vital information about Israel’s greatest enemy, gathered by a NATO facility that America conceived and will doubtless largely finance, won’t be shared with Israel.

Nor does the official excuse cited for this capitulation hold water: it’s true that Israel has information-gathering systems of its own devoted to Iran, but that doesn’t mean it has no need for NATO information. The new facility may well have capabilities Israel lacks.

The real reason, as the Turkish sources noted, is most likely that Washington had little choice: without Turkey’s consent, the project couldn’t go forward, and Ankara threatened a veto if its conditions weren’t met. Yet it was Obama’s own choice to relocate the project from two staunch American allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, to an increasingly hostile Turkey that left him vulnerable to this blackmail.

But Ankara posed another condition that may be even more worrying, given its coziness with Tehran: “direct Turkish access to any information gathered by the system.”

In May, Hakan Fidan became the new head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan, Haaretz reported at the time, “played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran, especially on the nuclear issue.” He defended Iran’s nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency and was one of the architects of the uranium-transfer deal that Turkey and Brazil concocted with Iran in May in an effort to avert a planned UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran.

Thus Turkey wants its intelligence service, whose chief’s main goal has been to tighten ties with Iran, to have direct access to a system whose main goal is to gather information about Iran. Does NATO really want to gamble that Fidan will not pass this information on to Tehran, thereby letting it know exactly what NATO knows about its capabilities?

Under these circumstances, the system could end up doing more harm then good. At the very least, Congress should be asking some tough questions about it — and, even more important, about the utility of continuing the pretense that Turkey is still a Western ally.

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Memo to Incoming Congress: Support Iran’s Opposition

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a hero’s welcome in Lebanon last week, with hordes of Lebanese lining the streets to cheer his pledge of another $450 million in aid, he sparked wall-to-wall outrage among another country’s citizens — his own.

Haaretz reported this week that the aid pledge infuriated not just the opposition but even the hard-line conservatives, who are normally Ahmadinejad’s closest allies: “How is it possible, they wanted to know, that Iran is going to help Lebanon while people stand in line in the streets of Tehran to fill reserve containers with gasoline in anticipation of the expected cut in government fuel subsidies.”

And, of course, this latest pledge is merely the tip of the iceberg: Israeli intelligence estimates that Iran gives Hezbollah $1 billion every year, along with $100 million to Hamas and $50 million to Islamic Jihad. It spent additional billions reconstructing southern Lebanon after Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel.

This isn’t the first time Iranians have protested the money its leaders devote to fomenting terror overseas instead of fostering development at home. But it’s a useful reminder that Iran’s policy of exporting terror and radical Islam reflects the will of a small ruling clique, not of the Iranian people. Thus regime change in Tehran could well reduce or even eliminate the threat Iran currently poses.

That is why Washington’s failure to support Iran’s opposition last year was such a horrendous missed opportunity. But it’s also why reversing this policy must be the No. 1 foreign policy priority of the new Congress elected in November.

Very little time remains to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Olli Heinonen, who monitored Iran for the International Atomic Energy Agency until his retirement this summer, warned in an interview with Haaretz this week that “we have about a year, until the end of 2011, or perhaps the start of 2012,” until Iran achieves “break-out capacity.” And then it will be too late.

Nobody seriously thinks the latest Swiss-cheese sanctions will produce an Iranian about-face by then. That leaves two choices: a military strike, which everyone professes to oppose, or regime change — which probably wouldn’t end the nuclear program but would mitigate the threat it poses. After all, the problem isn’t a nuclear Iran per se but a nuclear Iran that exports terror and radical Islam worldwide. A nuclear Iran whose government preferred to discontinue those particular exports would be much less problematic.

Unfortunately, with the momentum of 2009 having been lost, regime change is also probably impossible by then. But since it remains the best long-term solution, Congress must do everything possible to facilitate it.

At a minimum, that means offering vocal and unequivocal moral support — something protesters made clear they wanted last year when they chanted “Obama: either with the murderers or with us.” It may also mean technological support, like software that makes it easier for opposition communications to evade regime surveillance.

What Congress must do is find out from movement organizers themselves what they need — and then give it to them. There’s no excuse for continuing to waste this precious opportunity.

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a hero’s welcome in Lebanon last week, with hordes of Lebanese lining the streets to cheer his pledge of another $450 million in aid, he sparked wall-to-wall outrage among another country’s citizens — his own.

Haaretz reported this week that the aid pledge infuriated not just the opposition but even the hard-line conservatives, who are normally Ahmadinejad’s closest allies: “How is it possible, they wanted to know, that Iran is going to help Lebanon while people stand in line in the streets of Tehran to fill reserve containers with gasoline in anticipation of the expected cut in government fuel subsidies.”

And, of course, this latest pledge is merely the tip of the iceberg: Israeli intelligence estimates that Iran gives Hezbollah $1 billion every year, along with $100 million to Hamas and $50 million to Islamic Jihad. It spent additional billions reconstructing southern Lebanon after Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel.

This isn’t the first time Iranians have protested the money its leaders devote to fomenting terror overseas instead of fostering development at home. But it’s a useful reminder that Iran’s policy of exporting terror and radical Islam reflects the will of a small ruling clique, not of the Iranian people. Thus regime change in Tehran could well reduce or even eliminate the threat Iran currently poses.

That is why Washington’s failure to support Iran’s opposition last year was such a horrendous missed opportunity. But it’s also why reversing this policy must be the No. 1 foreign policy priority of the new Congress elected in November.

Very little time remains to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Olli Heinonen, who monitored Iran for the International Atomic Energy Agency until his retirement this summer, warned in an interview with Haaretz this week that “we have about a year, until the end of 2011, or perhaps the start of 2012,” until Iran achieves “break-out capacity.” And then it will be too late.

Nobody seriously thinks the latest Swiss-cheese sanctions will produce an Iranian about-face by then. That leaves two choices: a military strike, which everyone professes to oppose, or regime change — which probably wouldn’t end the nuclear program but would mitigate the threat it poses. After all, the problem isn’t a nuclear Iran per se but a nuclear Iran that exports terror and radical Islam worldwide. A nuclear Iran whose government preferred to discontinue those particular exports would be much less problematic.

Unfortunately, with the momentum of 2009 having been lost, regime change is also probably impossible by then. But since it remains the best long-term solution, Congress must do everything possible to facilitate it.

At a minimum, that means offering vocal and unequivocal moral support — something protesters made clear they wanted last year when they chanted “Obama: either with the murderers or with us.” It may also mean technological support, like software that makes it easier for opposition communications to evade regime surveillance.

What Congress must do is find out from movement organizers themselves what they need — and then give it to them. There’s no excuse for continuing to waste this precious opportunity.

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‘Why Saigon Fell and Jerusalem Hasn’t’

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

Read Less