Archive for December, 2009

Michael Sfard on the Gaza war and Jewish morality

December 31, 2009 4 comments

This is a translation of an op-ed published in Hebrew on Ynet. The op-ed has also been posted, with commentary, by The Magnes Zionist.

Cast truth

It has been a year, just one year since, but we can already safely say it was not just another Operation Rainbow, Summer Rains, or Autumn Clouds, as IDF operations in Gaza were named in recent years.  Perhaps the officer in charge of naming the operations was replaced by another, or perhaps the IDF ran out of pastoral names.  In any event, our most recent brutal attack against Gaza was given a violent sounding name: Cast Lead.  Looking back, Operation Cast Lead was a turning point in the way Israeli society expresses its values.  There, in besieged Gaza Strip, we exposed ourselves to a crystal-clear, shameless, and unmasked truth that we had thus far avoided by using repression and self-deceit methods that became more complex and clever with every war and operation we waged.  Like that macho man who grew tired of pretending he was politically correct and angrily yelled at his wife to go back to the kitchen, we came out of the closet.  We are who we are and we are proud of it!

For three weeks, during Operation Cast Lead, we sent fighter jets to drop bombs on one of the world’s most densely populated areas.  We aimed our guns at clearly civilian targets.  We used [white?]phosphorous bombs.  We deliberately and systematically demolished thousands of private houses and public buildings, and all the while we maintained a tight siege on the Gaza Strip, preventing civilians who wanted to from fleeing the war zone.  We did not erect a temporary refugee camp for them.  We did not create a humanitarian no-mans’-land corridor for them.  We did not spare hospitals, food repositories, or even UN aid agencies’ buildings.  At the same time, we did not express fake regret.  We did not argue we made tragic mistakes.  We did not even take wounded children to Israeli hospitals.

The results were horrendous.  Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, of which half did not partake in the fighting, 320 were minors, and 120 were women (according to B’Tselem data).  In three weeks, we killed more Palestinians than in the entire first Intifada and all the violent incidents that preceded the second Intifada put together (that is, 1987-2000).  Gaza residents, whom we earlier locked up in a prison we created for them, realized that the jailers set fire to the jailhouse and threw away the key.  We no longer pretended we were meeting standards we did not believe in.  We did not even pay lip service.  Government offices were bombed?  No problem.  They are a legitimate target.  Civilians worked there?  Why should we care if this was the headquarters for civilian life, transportation, agriculture, and social welfare services for 1.5 million humans?  What about the collective killing of more than 100 police cadets who were parading on their graduation day?  No problem there.  They were Palestinians in uniforms.  No biggie.  You say we fired white phosphorus, the kind of substance that keeps burning for days in alleys where children were playing?  Our gut is made of iron.  We can stomach anything.  Our heart is made of steel.  We spare no one.

Operation Cast Lead was our second war of independence.  In the first, we freed ourselves of 2,000 years of living under and being oppressed by foreign regimes.  In the second, we broke the shackles of Jewish morality and heritage that were shoved down our throats for years.  We liberated ourselves of the ancient Jewish ban against killing the innocent with the evil, from the self-evident lessons and inevitable insights we should have reached of the our collective experience as a downtrodden nation that was denied its own civil rights, that was silenced, knocked down, downgraded, and treated as subhuman.  Yes, we violated some of those rules in the past, but we did not even reveal that to ourselves. Read more…


Report: Settlers in uproar over withdrawal of Belgian-French owned bank from West Bank lending operations

December 30, 2009 1 comment

Last Wednesday (December 23 2009) Coteret ran a Yediot report on the exit of a the Swedish company, Mult-T-Lock, from a West Bank industrial zone. This morning (December 30 2009) Arutz 7, a right-wing news service, ran a settler-sourced report (full text below) on the withdrawal of Belgian-French owned bank from lending operations to settlement municipalities.

If true, this may be an even more dramatic development, because the bank would be in breach of contract with the Israeli Ministry of Finance. The Israeli project Who Profits apparently initiated the advocacy leading to the Dexia’s decision.

Dexia Bank severing relations with Judea and Samaria authorities

Dexia Israel Bank, which gives loans to Israeli local councils in cooperation with the treasury, informed the Judea and Samaria authorities it was cutting off relations with them

Shlomo Pyotrokovsky, Arutz Sheva  [settler news service], December 30

Dexia Israel Bank, which gives Israeli local councils loans in cooperation with the treasury, informed the local authorities in Judea and Samaria it was cutting off relations with them, and asked them to pull their accounts out of the bank. Read more…

Categories: Direct Action

For Barak, morality is a matter of geography

December 28, 2009 Leave a comment


From a report on a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee by Defense Minister Ehud Barak today (December 28 2009)

Barak also condemned the Islamic regime’s crackdown on opposition protesters, a day after at least eight demonstrators were killed across Iran.

“These demonstrators are just looking for a normal life,” he said. “It bothers me to say the way the free world is responding to what’s going on there? They are crushing civilians from above, there.”

This, from the man responsible for the suppression of the Palestinian non-violent protest movement.

Not that I’m comparing, but still, glass houses and all that.

Yediot: Israel to launch Gaza war investigation to stem “political and economic tsunami” caused by the Goldstone report

December 28, 2009 1 comment

From an article in the the December 17 2009 edition of The Economist

Despite the indignation, well-placed Israeli observers said Israel, like other countries, would have no choice but to take account of the growing internationalisation of criminal justice when they plan their campaigns and their travels. A report by Richard Goldstone on the Gaza war for the UN Human Rights Council, published in September, and now Ms Livni’s brush with Britain’s legal system, were examples of a trend that Israelis could not ignore.

Indeed, even European pro-Israeli groups have initiated Gaza war related litigation based on universal jurisdiction and the Goldstone report.

This morning’s (December 28 2009) Yediot reports (full text after the cut) that Israel will now initiate it own investigation, in order to stem the “political and economic tsunami” caused by the Goldstone report.

After the international criticism comes the Israeli response. Within two weeks, the government is expected to establish a committee led by a well-known jurist in order to investigate violations of the law during Operation Cast Lead.

The investigative committee’s powers, will however, be limited.

It looks as though the committee that will be established will not have the power to initiate proceedings against soldiers, commanders or politicians, but only to draw system-wide conclusions and make recommendations.

It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to dampen the drive for an international investigation.

An investigation to serve foreign policy

Tova Tzimuki and Itamar Eichner, Yediot, December 28 2009 [page 9]

After the international criticism comes the Israeli response. Within two weeks, the government is expected to establish a committee led by a well-known jurist in order to investigate violations of the law during Operation Cast Lead.

Over the past several days, discussions have been held among the upper echelons of the IDF, the Justice Ministry and the political echelon in order to notify the UN secretary general by the end of January of the Israeli answer to the Goldstone report. The report demanded the investigation of problematic incidents, as he described them, during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip a year ago. Read more…

Categories: Diplomacy, Impunity

Yediot’s defense analyst: Israel gave the PA a “figurative finger” with Nablus killings

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

On Saturday (December 26 2009) the IDF killed three Fatah operatives in Nablus in response the killing of a settler in the northern West Bank on Thursday. Yediot’s defense analyst, Alex Fishman, reckons that the action risks fundamentally destabilizing the PA and should have (meaning it wasn’t) been approved by the political echelon (full text after the cut).

While it is true that the operation in Nablus does not violate any agreement between Israel and the PA, and the IDF is entitled to decide to send large numbers of troops into the city to go in pursuit of suspects, in these sensitive political times and against the backdrop of the persistent security and the ongoing and sincere efforts by the Palestinian Authority to deal with the terror organizations—perhaps an operation on this scale ought to have been approved first by the political echelon in Israel.

There are quite a few security officials who now lament the fact that Israel destroyed Fatah and all of its institutions during the second Intifada. The dosage, they say, was excessive. Fatah hasn’t been able to recover, and the Palestinian Authority, which relies on it, headed by Abu Mazen, has been trying for the past five years to gain momentum, without much success. On the way, it also lost one of its wings in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority was not negligent in its investigation. Dozens of people were arrested, including people who fled the IDF’s manhunt in Nablus. The law and public order that has been maintained in Nablus is considered to be one of the most salient achievements of the Palestinian security forces and the Israeli security policy. Israel has an agreement with the PA: Israel will refrain from taking dramatic action in Nablus and other cities, except under irregular circumstances. The PA has asked to be given more and more security responsibilities in Area A. This weekend Israel gave them the figurative finger. The operation in Nablus overtly undermines the standing of the Palestinian Authority. Is that in Israel’s interest?

Note that Btselem has called for an investigation into charges that the IDF force had no intention of arresting the operatives and executed them unarmed.

Another settler, a 16 year old girl, was moderately injured by a firebomb in the southern West Bank this evening (December 27 2009.) Haaretz reports that Netanyahu has vowed that the IDF will continue to “aggressively” defend Israeli citizens, despite the “US rap” for Saturday’s killings.

Walking a fine line

Alex Fishman, Yediot, December 27 [page 6]

The people who decided on the way the operation was going to be carried out walked a very fine line. From the Israeli point of view of combating terrorism, the operation was fully justified. The operation dealt immediately, decisively and resoundingly with terrorists. But the killing of the three wanted men in Nablus might prove to be that final, last nail that knocks the horseshoe out, causes the horse and rider to fall, the battle to be lost and the city to be sacked.

The operational achievement is clear: within a very short amount of time after the murder of Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai, the murderers, or the people who were involved in the murder, were located and became the subjects of an operational plan that culminated in their deaths. This operation—regardless of whether it was planned as a “targeted killing operation” or not—ended on a powerful note that sent a clear message to a number of target audiences. Read more…

Categories: Diplomacy, IDF, Impunity

Dershowitz: The case for Adelson (with Sharansky and Foxman)

December 27, 2009 9 comments
Sheldon Adelson


Sheldon Adelson, an American billionaire casino tycoon, has long been trading money for political influence in the Israeli sphere. He’s the underwriter of the  Shalem Center, for example, Israel’s neoconservative nexus. It numbers among its alumni many of the senior staffers at the current Prime Minister’s Office, including Ron Dermer, a leader of the ongoing campaign to suppress Israeli human rights groups, and Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, who recently boycotted the J Street conference  and continues in his attempts to de-legitimize the the organization.

In 2007, Adelson went a step further and established a newspaper, Israel Hayom. Obviously not for profit, the new venture was quickly dubbed the “Bibiton”, Hebrew for “Netanyahu paper”. On December 4 2009, Coteret quoted Israel prize laureate Nahum Barnea of Yediot, who, in a recent Globes interview, bluntly warned that Adelson was a clear and present danger to Israeli democracy. On December 10 2009, we reported on a new bi-partisan Knesset bill aimed at outlawing foreign ownership of Israeli newspapers, obviously aimed at Adelson and Israel Hayom.

The proposed legislation has put Adelson on the defensive. On December 17 2009 he gave an interview to the JTA’s Jacob Berkman (The Funderamentalist), in which, ironically, he argued that Israel Hayom was “fair and balanced.” The public war of words has escalated as Maariv, which Haaretz reports was intimately involved in drafting the bill, has been running op-ed pieces decrying the threat to democracy posed by Israel Hayom on a near daily basis.

Sharansky and admirer

On Friday (December 25 2009) Israel Hayom threw a lavish 700 guest bash in Tel-Aviv to celebrate the launch of its weekend edition. Adelson used the podium to promise he would not surrender and to reiterate the “fair and balanced” message. This morning’s (December 27 2009) edition of the paper devotes half of a page to the speech. The rest of the page is devoted to criticism of the new bill by three high-profile advocates of Israel: Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency; Abraham Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL); and Alan M. Dershowitz (full text after the cut).

As much as I dread Adelson’s undue influence on the Israeli public sphere, I oppose the new bill. As Noam Sheizaf points out, the dangers this type of legislation poses to the remains of Israeli democracy far outweigh Israel Hayom’s damage. The neoconservative rush to Adelson’s defense, however, is worthy of scrutiny because of the insight it provides into their unique brand of influence peddling, rife with hypocrisy and factual omission.


Sharansky, who indignantly states that “this act does not add dignity to societies that pass such laws,” conveniently neglects to disclose that he is materially beholden to Adelson. He found a comfortable home at the Shalem Center to pass the time between his resignation from the Knesset in 2006 to his controversial appointment to the Jewish Agency position in 2009. He was appointed to head the Center’s “new strategic studies program,” soon after christened The Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies after the billionaire’s foundation made $4.5 million donation.

Foxman is quoted as warning (presumably the bill’s backers) “do not harm US Jews.” The question of why this issue is the the ADL Director’s business is, unfortunately, moot, given the fact that he has overseen an incredible and highly problematic expansion of the organization’s mandate. The interest of honesty and ethics would, however, still be served if Foxman mentioned the fact that he and Adelson are “friends” and that he has made use of the tycoon’s private jet on occasion.


Dershowitz has no overt material links to Adelson, at least not any that I could find. His statement, however, is a cynical classic. Dershowitz is incensed, decrying  the bill as “an unconstitutional act.” If he was a consistent and vocal critic of Israeli domestic legislation one would be inclined this latest from the Harvard legal scholar. But the man who opens his bio with “one of [the United State’s] ‘most distinguished defenders of individual rights,'” has been silent on Israel’s latest constitutional civil rights crisis and a host of other threats to Israeli democracy. The ease in which Dershowitz chooses to tether his reputation to financial interests, just because they share his political views, is testament to how pro-Israeli advocacy has warped the intellectual standards of some Jewish-Americans.

Sharansky: Believe the bill will not pass, competition for freedom of opinion must not be restricted

The Jewish Agency chairman and former prisoner of Zion: “The bill they are trying to get through the Knesset is designed against a single person only, Sheldon Adelson, which is an outrage”; American lawyer Alan Dershowitz: “This is an unconstitutional law that will give Israel a bad name”; Abe Foxman: “Israel needs aid not just from governments, but also from the world Jewry”

Yuri Yalon and Boaz Bismut, Israel Hayom, December 27 2009

“The bill is redundant at best, and impairs on individual civil rights in the worst case,” said Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, who strongly opposes the bill that is meant to prevent foreign ownership of an Israeli newspaper.

“As a society, we are interested in greater competition in the media, but once people are prevented from investing in them, worldviews are restricted,” said Sharansky, who served many years as a prisoner of Zion under the Soviet regime and suffered gag attempts first hand.  “There must not be a media monopoly, but as many views as possible should be expressed,” he added.  “We should accept the fact that newspapers may be ideologically-motivated, just like Haaretz holds one set of views and Makor Rishon, has another.” Read more…

A little sanity from Jeffrey Goldberg

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Commenting on the latest bout of indignation, from people who have made sanctimonious outrage their profession — this time about the elevation of Pope Pius XII to sainthood

The Catholic Church today is respectful of Jews and Israel; it also adores its former Popes. I don’t see a contradiction. I’m not sure why I’m so unmoved by these Jewish protests — maybe because I think Jews should keep their powder dry for actual problems. Or maybe because excessive whining is just so damn annoying.

Those ‘actual problems’ include the obliteration, in Israel, of so many values I was brought up to believe were what Judaism was all about.