Archive for August, 2010

Maariv: Israel a significant importer (and re-exporter) of Iranian goods

August 30, 2010 10 comments

UPDATE: August 31 2010 — Eli Clifton provides some important context.

This is a fairly wide-raging, if shallow, review. I found the section the section describing a botched attempt by an Israeli company to re-export Iranian marble to the US interesting. Particularly insightful was the justification for an Israeli double standard on this issue, as articulated by Danny Catarivas, head of the Division of Foreign Trade and International Relations in the Manufacturers Association of Israel (emphasis mine):


Economic threats are a mainstay of the Obama agenda and fuel the flames between the two countries after every statement on the issue.

The Israeli order banning trade, on the other hand, is not visible. “There’s an advantage to size in this case,” says Catarivas.”The Americans can afford to do things that others can’t.” Catarivas explains that as a small country dependent on foreign trade, Israel needs to separate politics and economics and refrain from economic boycotts. “In the same way that we are outraged against attempts to boycott us , we’re the last ones that should support boycotts of any kind,” he adds.

So until Israeli floors bring about a peace agreement with our neighbors in Tehran, the decision on whether to buy products manufactured in enemy countries is a private one to make. Alternatively, it is up to the quality of camouflage and the creativity of the importer, since Iranian marble is just one example from among dozens of products manufactured in enemy countries and available in the Israeli market.


The trader from Isfahan

Noa Oron, Maariv Friday Business Supplement [page 8; Hebrew original here], August 27 2010

The exquisite lobby of Bank Leumi’s management building on Yehuda Halevy Street in Tel Aviv accentuates the contrast between the ancient and pastoral nature of the restored Mani House, and the modern pace of life.  Perspiring men in button-down shirts walk quickly past the 1930s-style porch, and conversations on mobile phones reverberate in the impressive space.  Heels click on the gleaming marble, and one after another the senior bank officials enter and go up to their offices, which overlook the Tel Aviv cityscape.

It is interesting to consider what the late judge Malkiel Mani would say, if he knew that the directors of the bank—the shares of which are still held by the state—were scurrying about on marble that was quarried in Iran.

Bank Leumi was among the first in Israel to purchase the Iranian Gohare stone, which is named after the ancient city of Gohar-Tappeh in Iran, and quarried mainly in Isfahan, in central Iran.  The marble stone, the hues of which combine beige and gray, became popular among Israeli architects, and was soon purchased by many traders in Israel, along with other Iranian marble stone.

But how did marble reach Israel from Iran, a state with which trade is barred by law?  Through the ultimate transit station — Turkey.  The stone slabs arrive in containers marked “Made in Turkey,” accompanied by Turkish documents, and easily pass through customs agents at the ports.  This is only one of the methods for camouflaging the country of production, for goods coming from countries with which Israel does not have trade relations.  This does not refer only to marble: Other products also make their way to Israel in a similar fashion, including textile, carpets, candy and of course pistachios.

The order banning trade with the enemy defines Lebanon, Syria and Iran as states with which trade is forbidden.  Nevertheless, trade with them takes place on a regular basis, indirectly, through third parties.  Whether it is because of globalization, the drive to develop the Israeli economy, or just because it sells, certain goods from enemy countries are prevalent in the Israeli market.  How much difference does this make to the Israeli economy, to the Americans or to Ahmadinejad’s pocket?

Means of camouflage

When architect Miri Kaiser presented the directors of Bank Leumi with the plans for the new management building, about ten years ago, importing thousands of square meters of Iranian Gohare stone was a minor detail on the way to the dream office.  Members of the bank’s planning team chose the stone with Kaiser’s assistance and also traveled with her to Greece, where the Gohare slabs were chosen carefully.  At that time, the Gohare blocks were shipped to the city of Drama, Greece, where the cutting and finishing of the marble slabs was done.  From Greece, the marble was transferred to Israel, and it is currently imported through Turkey.  The name “Drama,” incidentally, became a common name for Gohare among the Israeli traders.

Bank Leumi sources said that none of the current bank employees had any knowledge of the fact that the origin of the stone was in Iran.  Moreover, the paperwork related to the construction of the management building states explicitly that the stone is Greek stone, without any mention or hint of the fact that the stone is of different origin.  An explanation for such registration could be the cutting stage in the marble production process, so that at times the country in which the marble is cut is ultimately registered as its country of origin. The explanation could be that the country where the stone was cut is sometimes labeled as the country of origin. Another possibility is that Greek containers were used to import the stone, prompting Israeli Customs to mark the the marble as originating in Greece, which is what happens today with Gohare imported through Turkey. In any case, according to informed sources, the architect and importer both knew that the the Gohare had been quarried in Iran. But who has time for patriotism when a multi-million project is at stake?

Bank Leumi is not alone.  Hundreds of public buildings and residential buildings in Israel shine thanks to Iranian marble.  In the Avenue conference room of the Airport City project, you can see 2,000 square meters of Gohare; several luxury buildings in northern Tel Aviv boast lobbies courtesy of Khamenei; and even the Pivko building in Tel Aviv, the huge spaceship that can be seen from the Ayalon Highway, displays several hundred square meters of marble from Iran.

The Gohare is also not alone in the fray.  Graphite, onyx and other types of marble are imported from Iran.  However, the Gohare is quarried only in Iran and is unique for its relatively low price and popularity among Israeli architects—a winning formula for marble importers and traders.

“I call the Iranians from here and speak to them directly on their mobile phones,” a salesman explains in a north Tel Aviv flooring shop.  Most sales personnel are not embarrassed to say that this is stone that originates in Iran, sometimes immediately when it is shown to you, and sometimes after you ask.  “I am not always eager to say where everything came from,” the salesman qualifies, “but it doesn’t matter.  People also have a problem with Turkey.  You simply can’t mix politics with this.”

Since it is indeed preferable to avoid a political debate — after all, we are talking about floors — the marble marketers will use a variety of “means of camouflage.” In order to leave the stones nameless (and mainly so that we will not be able to compare prices), the marble companies give the stones original names that are the fruit of their imagination.  “Gray Steel” is one of the names given to the Gohare, for example.  Other traders will say that this is Turkish stone or “imported from Persia.”  If you catch the salesman in a friendly moment, you may be able to extract the information from him.  “I’ll tell you a secret,” one saleswoman whispers, “the Turks import from the Iranians, but let’s not make a big deal of it.”

Statistics provided by the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce show that marble imports to Israel have increased over the past three years, and marble imported from Turkey constitute over 60% of the imports.  The scope of marble imports from Turkey in these years stood at over USD 22 million per year, on the average.  It is impossible to know what percentage of marble originated in Iran, but in light of the popularity of the Gohare stone and other Iranian stones, we can presume that it is a considerable share.  But the most troubling fact was supplied by a senior source in the marble sector: 90% of Gohare stone in Iran is owned by the Iranian government — meaning that the Iranian government is clipping the coupon from the trade with Israel.

“The question is what economic damage is being caused to the Israeli industry,” explains Danny Catarivas, head of the Division of Foreign Trade and International Relations in the Manufacturers Association of Israel.  “In any case, I don’t think that the Iranian economy depends on its marble exports, and if they don’t sell the marble to Israel they will sell it to someone else.”  Catarivas says that in order to continue to maintain a stable economy that is part of the globalization trend, [Israel] has to balance between bureaucracy and regulation to the free market: “I hope that the Israeli government can find the balance.  All in all, I don’t see the Israeli market being flooded by goods from enemy countries.”

“Whoever imports from Iran is a traitor and the State of Israel should make every effort to track down and stop these imports,” Oded Tira, former president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, says angrily.  Tira is opposed to the approach that the business end justifies the means, and says that globalization serves as an excuse for trade relations with enemy countries.  “Even if the imports help us improve our own economy, I would sacrifice this in favor of pressure on the economy of the enemy states,” he explains.  “There should be a moral demand from people not to try to deceive the state, thereby strengthening the enemy.”  He says that giving up solidarity for the sake of business is dangerous, even if the sums involved are small: “Perhaps the tax that the Israeli trader pays will enable the Iranian government to buy the last fuse that it needs to complete the nuclear bomb.  This is an outrage.”

Finance Ministry officials said that no permit had been given to import stones from Iran.  Therefore, if imports were carried out, these importers risk breaking Israeli law.  Moreover, due to the international sensitivity and the sanctions on Iran, there is serious concern that additional laws were broken.

From Israel with love

Us sanctions on Iran have caused increased vigilance in imposing a ban on Iranian imports. As tension mounted between the two countries, our friend in the West banned all commercial ties with Iran in 1997, but the phenomenon of indirect imports via third countries is evident.  US Customs is strict and assertive on this issue, but also faces the same difficulty as Israeli Customs in identifying goods that are not labeled as made in Iran.

The office of the US Trade Attaché told Maariv Business that import from Iran to the Us have been in decline since 2007. Imports decreased by 41% between 2007 and 2008 and by 34% between 2008 and 2009. To date, about $35 million of Iranian goods have been transferred to the US in 201o, a a decrease of 48% compared to the previous year, but the year has still not ended.

In any case, when Israel is the one exporting Iranian marble to the Americans it becomes an embarrassing story. About two years ago, the Israeli company Bastones [spelling uncertain] sold two containers of Iranian Gohare marble to the US company Ann Sacks , which specializes in high-end interior design. Bastones promised that the stone was Turkish, in the same way that many traders in Israeli promise their local clients. The two containers full of Gohare made their way from the Mediterranean to the Western giant, but on the way they encountered a “storm” of a type one does not usually encounter at sea.

Ann Sacks’s management became suspicious that the marble was Iranian and started questioning Bastones’ exporters.After a few interrogations and a lot of stuttering Bastones confessed to the Americans that marble was indeed quarried in the Iranian mountains. Ann Sacks immediately cancelled the the deal and the containers made a rapid u-turn back to Israel. Bastones suffered losses, but it appears that it sold the stone in Israel. The Kohler corporation, Ann Sacks’s owner, refused to comment for this story.

Read more…

Categories: Diplomacy, Direct Action

“A silk purse from a sow’s ear”: Israel finds a creative solution for a West Bank land confiscation problem

August 27, 2010 7 comments

As always happens when the diplomatic process resumes, the air is filled with talk of economic and infrastructure projects. For the principals, the buzz helps in creating an “atmosphere of progress.” The bureaucrats and businessmen behind the leaks are usually angling for a share of the funding that could accompany a breakthrough. The rush for headlines is uncoordinated, and occasionally provides a glimpse of the motivation actually driving policy. From the lead story of this morning’s Israel Hayom [full translation at bottom of post]:

This story is a classic example of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear.  About five years ago, it became apparent that the route planned for the fast railway line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv passes through two sections that are located over the Green Line, and goes through land belonging to PA residents.  The need to confiscate Palestinian land created a legal problem, and after consulting with the attorney general, Civil Administration Director Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai proposed to the Defense Ministry to confiscate the land — but use it for the benefit of the Palestinian public.

This gave rise to the plan to connect Ramallah with the railway track of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast line.  The train from Ramallah will connect with the fast line near Mevasseret Tziyon, and from there it will continue northwest to the Modiin area, pass through Ben-Gurion Airport, and then turn south towards Ashkelon, Netivot and Gaza.


Gaza express

Shlomo Cezana, Israel Hayom, August 27 2010 [front-page; Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]

The direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be launched in Washington next week, in which all the core issues will be discussed, including the question of the “safe passage route,” which enables free movement of Palestinians from Gaza to Judea and Samaria.  But even the most optimistic of political officials will find it difficult to believe the next story: Israel is quietly planning a railway line from Ramallah to Gaza.

This story is a classic example of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear.  About five years ago, it became apparent that the route planned for the fast railway line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv passes through two sections that are located over the Green Line, and goes through land belonging to PA residents.  The need to confiscate Palestinian land created a legal problem, and after consulting with the attorney general, Civil Administration Director Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai proposed to the Defense Ministry to confiscate the land — but use it for the benefit of the Palestinian public.

This gave rise to the plan to connect Ramallah with the railway track of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast line.  The train from Ramallah will connect with the fast line near Mevasseret Tziyon, and from there it will continue northwest to the Modiin area, pass through Ben-Gurion Airport, and then turn south towards Ashkelon, Netivot and Gaza.

Sources in Israel Railways confirmed the details of the route and added: “Israel Railways is an executive arm of the Transport Ministry and the Finance Ministry.  We have received instructions to plan a line between Ramallah and Gaza, which will connect the parts of the PA and enable its residents a quick and safe passage.”  It was also said that the plan is in advanced stages of planning and submission.

The plan will enable a Palestinian resident of the territories to board the train in Ramallah and reach Gaza quickly and without roadblocks.  In addition, in a future final status agreement the Palestinians will be able to reach Ben-Gurion Airport, and this will enable them to use the services of an international airport.

Due to the mountainous terrain and the necessity for the train to travel without inclines and sharp angles, most of the route passes through tunnels at a total length of about ten kilometers, and on eight bridges that will make it possible to cross riverbeds.  In part of the route, the train will use existing tracks.  As of now, the only stations where the train will stop and enable passengers to board and alight are Ramallah, Ben-Gurion Airport and Gaza.

In the political echelon, there are those who try to present the plan as an initiative of the professional echelon alone.  Transport Minister Yisrael Katz is notable for his silence on the plan, and preferred not to comment on it.

The plan is adamantly opposed by the Environmental Protection Ministry, which is leading the green organizations in its wake, mainly due to the damage to the landscape and creation of huge surpluses of dirt.  Environment Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel Hayom that he was working against the plan.  “Damage to the environment has no territorial borders and areas of control.  Just as we will not waive strict environmental demands in Israeli construction, we will act the same way with Palestinian construction that could damage and destroy natural areas and would have serious environmental consequences,” Erdan said.

The Justice Ministry spokesman said yesterday: “We were told by the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria that as part of the planned railway route between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem there were two sections that pass through Judea and Samaria.  Regarding the two sections, the planning and confiscation processes ended several years ago.  In addition, planning processes have ended for two additional sections that serve for access routes and logistical areas, and for these two, confiscation processes have ended for one section and the second is underway.”  The Civil Administration stated: “We are the body responsible for regional development within Judea and Samaria.  In light of the planning work that the Civil Administration was required to carry out in the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv railway route that passes through Judea and Samaria, the Civil Administration director made the authorization of the plan contingent upon promoting a railway network that will serve the residents of the region in the future.”  A senior Civil Administration source added that the guiding line of the plan was the ability to serve Jews and Palestinians alike in the future.

Read more…

Categories: Diplomacy

Yediot publishes minutes of White House negotiations briefing for Jewish-American leadership

August 27, 2010 4 comments

UPDATE: August 30 2010 — Spencer Ackerman provides some important context.

Agreement now, peace later

Shimon Shiffer, Yediot, August 27 2010 [front-page]


The Obama administration intends to present Israel and the Palestinians with a new outline for ending the conflict.  Yedioth Ahronoth has learned that the Americans will pressure the sides to sign a framework agreement for a final status arrangement within a year — but the agreement would be only implemented within a number of years, apparently up to ten years at the most. The US administration intends to invest all possible efforts to ensure that the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which will be officially launched next Thursday, will end in an agreement and not in a crisis, as happened in the previous rounds of negotiations.  Barack Obama, whose standing in the polls is at a low, very much wants to score a first success in the Middle Eastern arena — in light of the ongoing bloodbath in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For this purpose, the US president intends to become personally involved this time: Director of the Middle East department at the National Security Council Dan Shapiro told leaders of Jewish organizations in the US that Obama intends to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the course of the coming year.  The US president wishes to take advantage of his visit to persuade both peoples to support painful compromises for peace.

A few days ago, the leaders of Jewish organizations in the US held a conference call with three of the most senior figures who set the administration’s Middle East policy.  The most senior of the three, Dennis Ross, has been a partner to all the talks between Israel and the Palestinians since the Oslo Accords.  Ross is currently considered Obama’s number one expert on Middle East affairs.  Alongside Ross, the participants of the conference call included Dan Shapiro and David Hale, deputy of special envoy George Mitchell.


Yedioth Ahronoth has obtained the summary of the minutes of the conference call, which were prepared by the White House.  The document provides a fascinating glimpse into the administration’s plans for the coming period.  According to the American plan, the negotiating teams of Israel and the PA will conduct intensive talks with the aim of reaching a framework agreement on a final status arrangement within a year.  The intensive talks will be held in isolated locations, so that the teams will be able to quietly discuss the core issues of the final status agreement: The future of Jerusalem, borders, settlements and refugees.  Binyamin Netanyahu and Abu Mazen will be called upon to meet frequently in order to resolve problems and move forward the stages of negotiations.At points in which the negotiations meet an impasse, senior administration officials will intervene in the talks and will present bridging proposals to the sides.  In addition, the US will try to persuade the moderate Arab states to make gestures towards Israel and influence the Palestinians to compromise.

At the end of the intensive year, the framework agreement for ending the conflict is supposed to be signed.  From that moment onward, the agreement will be implemented gradually over a number of years.

“Many people will try to sabotage the talks.  Our challenge will be to ensure their success,” Ross assessed.  “What can be learned from the mistakes that caused the previous attempts to resolve the conflict to fail,” the Jewish leaders asked.  “I have learned that a situation must not be accepted in which the sides speak one way inside the room and another way outside the room,” Ross replied.  In other words: The administration will not look kindly upon a situation in which the senior Israeli and Palestinian figures cast muck at each other outside the conference rooms.  “Is Netanyahu capable of reaching an agreement that will receive political support in Israel?” the Jewish leaders asked.  Hale replied that Netanyahu had assured [the administration] that he was capable of doing so.  “We consider him a strong partner who is committed to the process,” Hale said.

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Categories: Diplomacy

Is Im Tirzu planning to sue author Meir Shalev?

August 26, 2010 3 comments

In February, I joined a number of other activists — Roy YellinYuval YellinNoam Wiener, Edan RingAri RemezTal Niv and Noam Livne — in establishing a Facebook group aimed at exposing the personae and motivation behind the  Im Tirzu smear campaign against the New Israel Fund. Entitled Im Tirzu — A Fascist Movement, the group served as an effective bulletin board for information and ideas, and it is still active today with over 3,065 members.

Ronen Shoval, Im Tirzu’s Chairman, was not happy. He personally demanded that we immediately drop the descriptor “fascist” from the group’s name. We refused, of course. To our delight, he proceeded to sue us for NIS 2.5 million, a rather extraordinary sum by Israeli standards. If the court does not reject the suit outright on free speech grounds, we look forward to demonstrating that the shoe fits.

Following Im Tirzu’s ill-advised attack on Ben Gurion University last week, a series of high-profile Israeli public figures have publicly agreed with our description of the movement.


It began last Friday, with this blunt statement in author Meir Shalev‘s Yediot column [full translation of section at bottom of post]:

A few months ago the Education Minister appeared at an Im Tirzu conference and voiced his support for their path. Since then, it become clear what kind of movement and values we’re dealing with. Not just Zionist love for the motherland, but run-of-the-mill fascism accompanied by threats against the universities.

On Tuesday, political scientist Yaron Ezrahi asserted in a Yediot op-ed (Hebrew original here) that:

The concerted effort by far-right activists, supported by elements of the government and Knesset, to subject professors students and artists to loyalty tests that they design, is no other than a vain attempt at the fascization of Zionism.

On Wednesday, Prof. Hannan Hever was similarly unambiguous in Haaretz:

These are clear symptoms of fascism: Enforcement of unified opinion and suppression of any criticism regarding the founding myth of the state.

In this morning’s Maariv (Hebrew original here) Prof. Dan Caspi chose an arguably even more loaded term:

The Im Tirzu organization functions as the right’s “Cultural Guard.”

Since all of the above appeared in the mass media and, therefore, undoubtedly damaged Shoval and his colleagues much more than our lowly Facebook group could, Im Tirzu’s lawyers must be working overtime this week.

And for dessert

Excerpt from column, Meir Shalev, Yediot Friday Political Supplement, August 20 2010 [Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]

A few months ago the Education Minister appeared at an Im Tirzu conference and voiced his support for their path. Since then, it become clear what kind of movement and values we’re dealing with. Not just Zionist love for the motherland, but run-of-the-mill fascism accompanied by threats against the universities.

Its too bad that the universities woke up too late and without assertiveness required. In this respect, the Rector of Haifa University, Prof. Yossi Ben Artzi, should be complimented for speaking up clearly and courageously about this phenomenon before all his colleagues. The statement by the Council of University Heads, who do not need to prove their love for the country, is also completely superfluous. Universities do not need be tested for their love of the motherland and do not need to advocate for it. At most they need to teach the study of the land among other subjects, and they must forcibly reject any aggressive political attempt to scrutinize their curriculum.

But the main question is the way the Minister of Education has conducted himself. The Minister began by supporting Im Tirzu and he is now as silent as a fish. His only reaction to Im Tirzu’s threat to approach university funders was to express his opposition to any targeting of funding. Thus Mr. Saar proved that while he may be a worthy Deputy Director General for Finance in the Ministry, he is not a Minister of Education. A very strange smell emanates from the way he has conducted himself.

Read more…

Yediot reports on damage to settlement industry caused by targeted boycott

August 26, 2010 13 comments

The Politics of economics: The boycott on Israel is expanding

Daniel Bettini, Navit Zumer and Ofer Petersburg, Yediot, August 25 2010 [Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]

The decision made on Monday by the Norwegian oil fund to divest from Africa Israel and Danya Cebus on the grounds that they are involved in illegal construction in the territories, is only the latest in a long series of decisions by governmental and private companies in Europe to boycott Israeli companies for political reasons.

In most cases, the argument is that the products were manufactured over the Green Line, and are therefore in the “occupied territories.”  At times, this refers to a political protest against Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians, for example, in response to the flotilla events.  One thing is not in question: In recent months, there has been an escalation in the boycott of Israeli brands for political reasons.

“Since the Palestinians announced a boycott on products from the territories, I have had a 40% drop in production in recent months,” said yesterday Avi Ben-Zvi, owner of Plastco, a glass plant in Ariel, “exports to Europe have completely stopped, and traders in the territories have stopped working with us.  The damage is huge.”

Ariel Mayor Ron Nahman said that this was causing great damage to the factories in the area: “Large-scale governmental action should be taken in order to go to the boycotting countries and threaten that they will not be partners to the peace process.”

Norway’s decision from Monday was preceded in March 2010 by the decision of a large Swedish pension fund to boycott Elbit Systems, an Israeli company, due to its part in building the separation fence.  The fund announced that it had sold its holdings in Elbit following a recommendation of the fund’s ethics committee not to invest in shares of companies that are involved in violating international conventions.

Elbit also suffered from a boycott beforehand: the Government Pension Fund of Norway announced last September that it would stop investing in Elbit due to its part in building the fence.  At the end of last May, the Deutsche Bank announced that it had sold all of its shares in Elbit, apparently after heavy pressure that was applied to the bank’s management by representatives of anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian organizations.

Two years ago, the Swedish giant Assa Abloy, owner of the Israeli Multi-Lock, apologized for operating its factory in the Barkan Industrial Zone, Beyond the Green Line. The company promised to move the factory “into Israel” following pressure from a Swedish human rights organization.

Chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Israel Shraga Brosh said yesterday that “from time to time, various bodies, mainly Scandinavian, boycott one company or another from Israel.  In the end, these are pinpointed events that do not affect trade with Israel as a whole.”

Soda Club has also been hit by the boycott: After receiving threats by pro-Palestinian groups, the Paris Municipality was forced to deny that the Israeli company was participating in a large fair promoting the us of tap water.

In July 2009 it became known that the French transport company Veolia, operator of the the Jerusalem light rail, decided to sell its hares in the project. Veolia did not cite the reason for the sale, but a hint may be found in the agreement of a French court a few months earlier to hear a petition against Veolia for building parts of the line inside East Jerusalem, in order to connect Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city with the west.

Africa Israel stated: “Africa Israel and its subsidiaries have not been involved for quite some time in real estate development or residential construction in the West Bank.  Therefore, the allegations are groundless.”

Read more…

Categories: Direct Action

Im Tirzu becomes a right-wing liability (and sparks a neocon-theocon proxy war?)

August 24, 2010 6 comments

Ronen Shoval, Im Tirzu Chairman

Im Tirzu apparently overplayed its hand when it went after Ben Gurion University (BGU). Even the usually timid heads of the Israeli academe felt they had to react: Their institutions were under threat. One by one they gave interviews and published op-eds. As Hebrew University’s Avner de-Shalit writes in this morning’s Haaretz, these students have simply gone too far:

But now the cat is out of the bag. Im Tirtzu is no longer calling for changes in curriculum content; it is waging an ugly political battle over staffing: It wants the lecturers replaced.

The movement’s campaign has thus undergone an enormous shift. At first, it complained of (leftist) political considerations in the appointment of lecturers and said this must not be permitted. Now, it says (rightist) political considerations should govern the appointment of lecturers.

De-Shalit is careful, however, to frame his criticism patriotically and to imply that they have joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (!):

Moreover, Im Tirtzu prides itself on its Zionist orientation. This writer is also a Zionist, and proud of it. But Zionism, like any national movement, has different shades and expressions. And Im Tirtzu’s shade appears to be blatantly anti-patriotic. Instead of being proud of the scholarly achievements of Israeli researchers, the movement is threatening to stop donations by Jews abroad.

Maybe this is a Zionist act, according to their understanding of Zionism, but it is certainly not a patriotic one. In practice, Im Tirtzu is joining those who call for a boycott of Israeli universities.

Shaul Mofaz, a populist former IDF Chief of Staff and current rival for the leadership of Kadima, is also patriotically appalled: “Im Tirzu thugs” went after BGU’s funding. From an op-ed in this morning’s Maariv [full text translation at bottom of post; Hebrew original here]:

The members of this organization clearly love the State of Israel. They speak of Zionism with sparkling eyes and are prepared to fight for it. But the main difference between them and the folks of the university is precisely the main difference between Ben-Gurion and others who speak daily about the importance of settling the Negev: they spoke, he acted. So one moment before somebody rushes on a journey to stop the donations from America, he or she will be better off undertaking a Zionist act and going for a journey across the Negev. The journey will end with a tour of the university. Anyone seeing and getting to know this glorious and important institution will realize that no lecturer, as anti-Zionist as he or she may be, can bring it down. The most important and powerful Zionist movement in Israel today includes more than twenty thousand students, and it both researches and creates social involvement. It’s name is Ben-Gurion University.


This is too much for Pastor Hagee, a major Im Tirzu funder (and, the Jerusalem Post reports this morning, also a contributor to BGU) and he drops them like a stone:

“Im Tirtzu misrepresented its focus when they told us their mission was strictly Zionist education,” Ari Morgenstern, the spokesman for JHM [John Hagee Ministries], said.

“We had no prior knowledge of Im Tirtzu’s political actions and we never seek to involve ourselves in Israel’s internal political debate.”

Has this sparked a kind of American conservative donor proxy war? Shuki Balas of Latma, Caroline Glick’s Hasbara outfit, which is funded by Frank Gaffney‘s neoconservative Center for Security Policy does not mince words to describe what he thinks of the Christian Zionist leader (emphasis mine):

Following the storm, the central funder of the Im Tirzu movement has stopped the flow of funds [link in original to Hebrew version]. Let’s ignore, for now, the repeated lie that Im Tirzu demanded the dismissal of lecturers at Ben Gurion University, and that they were critical of “left-wing bias” when their letter talked about “right-wing bias”. Natasha Mozgoviya [Haaretz’s DC correspondent] that Preacher John Hagee, the same one who was called “marginal”, “extremist”, “apocalyptic” and many other compliments, will stop his contributions to Im Tirzu. (In my opinion, that’s a good thing and it’s about time.) But this seems proof that Im Tirzu’s agenda, in contrast to what left says in its criticism, is incompatible with the agenda of the infamous Hagee.

Only in Israel, as they say.


Im Tirtzu thugs

Op-ed, Shaul Mofaz, Maariv, August 24 2010

Settling the Negev has always  been one of the guiding principles of the Zionist movement. The man to have exalted this principle more than all others was David Ben-Gurion, the most wise and Zionist leader the state could have sought. Ben-Gurion viewed the settlement of the Negev as a primary social, economic, and national undertaking. Contrary to those who speak eloquently about values and Zionism but in practice do nothing, Ben-Gurion acted according on his belief and joined Kibbutz Sde Boker.

Recently an organization called Im Tirtzu has begun a tough campaign directed against the university named after Ben-Gurion. This organization has even informed the university’s president Prof. Rivka Carmi that in the event that she fails to dismiss faculty members with “left wing agendas” it will approach foreign investors and ensure that they cut off their donations to the university. This organization has been conducting its campaign in the name of Zionism. In the name of Zionism it is threatening to harm one of Zionism’s most beautiful, important and successful enterprises in Israel.

Ben-Gurion University and the adjacent Soroka Hospital are among Israel’s most successful and great institutions. The university is the main reason that youth leave central Israel and move to the Negev. The university conducts extensive and invaluable social activity among Israel’s southern communities. Beer Sheva’s university students are the most socially active, the most familiar with their communities and involved in them.

I am not familiar with these youths of the Im Tirtzu movement. It may be fairly presumed that they are indeed conducting their activity with the profound belief in the justice of their ways and love for the State of Israel. I believe, truly and honestly, that Israeli lecturers who publish articles that call for an academic boycott on Israel are unworthy of academic posts that are financed by the Israeli taxpayer. But from here to attacking Ben-Gurion University and to employ thuggery that may jeopardize the very existence of the university and its students, the distance is great. Very great.

The donations received by the universities are used for research and development. Many students from southern Israel study at the university for whom it is the only possibility to pursue studies in a top ranking institution and still remain in their parents’ home. The donations also help create scholarships for poor students. Anyone with clear vision can see that such a process [attacking the university] spells throwing out the baby together with the bath water, and causing damage to a great many people. These students are the ones who hear the very lecturers against whom Im Tirtzu’s campaign ranted. Some of them are no less Zionist than the members of Im Tirtzu. Most of them served in the army, continue to serve in the reserves and care about Israel. They understand no less than many of us the essence of Zionism, as they live in the Negev on a daily basis. Does anyone believe that these students lack the ability to tell right from wrong? Does anyone believe that some delusional lecturer like Niv Gordon will cause this or that student to stop doing reserve duty? Are Im Tirtzu the only Zionists left out there? The answer is no. Unequivocally no.

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Hudson’s co-founder, the Israeli academic purge and the subversion of US Middle East policy

August 22, 2010 10 comments

Evidence is mounting that the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS) — an Israeli NGO at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to purge Israeli Universities of faculty and programs deemed “left-wing” — is a creature of  The Hudson Institute, a major Washington based neoconservative think-tank, which played an active role in shaping the Bush administration’s Middle East policies.

Hudson is the primary financial backer of the IZS, providing at least half of the organization’s total reported multi-year funding, but the connection does not end there.

Max Singer

Max Singer, co-founder of the Hudson Institute, its former President and current Senior Fellow, is also the IZS’s Research Director. At least according to his bio on the Hudson website: The IZS site only identifies him as a member of the Advisory Committee. Its 2006 brochure (page 8), however, states that he is a member of the International Board of Governors and is one of the ex-officio members of the Projects Committee, which “as such, are invited to all deliberative sessions and events.” According to the IZS’s verbal report to the Israeli Registrar of Associations for 2008 (the last one filed), Singer’s wife, Suzanne, is one of three members of the NGO’s “Council”, the sovereign decision-making body under Israeli law.

As the IZS’s Research Director, Singer would presumably be responsible for the research that pressured the President of Tel-Aviv University to take the extraordinary step of examining the syllabi of his institution’s Sociology Department for “left-wing bias”. The introduction to the IZS’s 2006 brochure (page 1), which Singer co-signed, indicates that he saw this type of activity as part of the organization’s strategic purpose:

IZS 2006 Brochure

The IZS will help liberate the public discourse in Israeli society from the self-imposed constraints of the prevalent dogma and internalized notions of the politically correct. Israeli society needs to be freed from the acceptance of double standards so that we can become comfortable asserting our own national purpose as a sovereign Jewish community.

This goal would fit well within the stated purpose of a Hudson Institute project, which was launched at the same time as funding of the IZS began (emphasis in the original):

The Future of Zionism. The Center for Middle East Policy is launching a multi-year project to examine the future of Zionism and its implications for the State of Israel. Israel faces an ideological crisis: As the recent Gaza pullout showed, societal divisions between secular and religious Israelis and between left and right wing camps have become so pronounced that they threaten to overpower the Zionist consensus that traditionally unified the nation. [Hudson Institute Form 990 Report to the IRS for 2005, page 23].

For a generation, Singer has been involved in designing and promoting aggressive US foreign policy. In the early 1980’s he was on the board of Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America (PRODEMCA), a controversial organization involved in the Iran-Contras scandal. In 2002, he published The Many Compelling Reasons for War with Iraq.

A Democratic administration is in power in Washington and Singer has moved to Jerusalem, so he has found a new instrument for beltway influence: The government of Israel. From a July 17 policy note published by the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University (emphasis mine):

To prevent Obama from bringing America behind his different view of the world, Israel needs to help Americans appreciate the way that Obama sees things differently than they do. The views of most Americans, and of most of the American political world, are much closer to Israel’s understanding of Middle Eastern realities than to Obama’s perceptions. Israeli actions can help Americans to recognize the conflicts between what they believe and the premises of Obama’s proposed policies. The critical element in Israel’s policy concerning the US is the degree to which Israel is able to recognize, stimulate, and get the benefit of the parts of the American policy-making system that do not share President Obama’s radically different ideas about the world. Israel does not have to act as if Obama’s views will necessarily determine the policy of the US, and it certainly does not have to assume that Obama’s current views will dominate US policy-making for many years. Israel has the power, if it has the fortitude, to influence the degree to which Obama is able to make the tectonic change in American policy that he would like to make.

Netanyahu’s Senior Diplomatic Adviser, Ron Dermer, seems to have acted on this advice, incurring the wrath of Rahm Emanuel. From Ben Caspit’s August 19 column in Maariv:

Emanuel was angry, he claimed, because Dermer briefed certain Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, against the President and Emanuel himself.