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

December 27, 2009 9 comments
Sheldon Adelson

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.

Foxman

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

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…

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High Court petitioned on “Handbook for the Killing of Gentiles”

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

The Jerusalem Post reports that a liberal orthodox group is petitioning the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to order the indictment of the author of the “Handbook for the Killing of Gentiles

Rabbi Elitzur, Author of the "Handbook for the Killing of Gentiles"

A group of petitioners on Sunday called on the High Court of Justice to indict two Yitzhar settlement rabbis for writing and marketing a book in which they say Jewish religious law permits the murder of Palestinian babies and that at times it is preferable to deliberately kill innocent people.

“There are reasons for killing babies even though they have not violated the seven sins, because of the danger that will be caused if they are allowed to live and grow up to be as evil as their parents,” the petitioners quoted from the book, “The Torah of the King.”

Attempts to criminalize expression in Israel never succeed. The Attorney General interprets the incitement law very narrowly in accordance with a landmark HCJ ruling from 2000. In the few cases that an investigation is opened, it rarely results in an indictment. The courts are also reluctant to convict and when they do, usually years after the event, the sentences are so light that they have no deterrence value.

Liberal Israelis should be happy that this is the legal state of affairs. It’s no accident that the petition on which the HCJ ruled was submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Strict limits on freedom of expression undermine democracy and provide a handy tool for government to suppress political opposition — already an emerging problem in Israel.

The petitioners are undoubtedly well intentioned, but they have chosen an ineffective, and ultimately dangerous, mode of action. Their cause would have been better served if they focused their energies on blocking government funding of the yeshiva in question or rescinding federal tax exemptions for its US supporters.

US tax dollars at work: TV interview with Rabbi Dov Wolpe

December 20, 2009 2 comments

Background

  • On December 1 2009 a front-page investigative report in Haaretz revealed that Machanaim a US 501c3 tax exempt charity was funding the Task Force to Save the Nation and the Land (aka SOS Israel,) an Israeli NGO paying soldiers to refuse orders to move against settlements and settlers.
  • Ami Kaufman

    On December 9 Coteret reported that SOS Israel had also begun paying soldiers bounties for dead Palestinians. On the same day, the Israeli Attorney General ordered police to investigate the NGO.

  • Progressive US bloggers, such as Richard Silverstein, have begun questioning the legality, morality and wisdom of continued tax exemptions for charities supporting settlementand radical right-wing activities. On December 16, the Forward’s Gal Beckerman reported that Machanaim was simply a front with a PO Box maintained by Rabbi Dov Wolpe, the head of SOS Israel, and that it was in violation of US tax law.

This post — Ami Kaufman, an Israeli journalist and editor, recorded and subtitled an Israeli television interview with Rabbi Wolpe, which provides chilling insight into the kind of man US tax dollars are funding.  Cross-posted from Kaufman’s blog, Half & Half. Read more…

US tax dollars fund rabbi who sanctioned killing gentile babies and incited torching of Yasuf mosque

December 15, 2009 9 comments

Rabbi Elitzur

UPDATE: Yaniv Reich provides a handbook for journalists and activists interested in exploring this issue further.

Friday’s (December 11 2009) torching of a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf, did not take place in a vacuum.  The “price tag” terror tactic has been public knowledge for more than two years. Rabbis publicly sanction and encourage these attacks.

The Od Yosef Hai yeshiva in Yitzhar is a notable example. Its head, Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg,  is the author of Baruch Hagever, an ode to Cave of Patriarchs murderer Baruch Goldstein. In early November the yeshiva’s dean, Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, published the “Handbook for the Killing of Gentiles.” On December 4 he published an article with specific instructions for terror activities in response to the “settlement freeze.”

Investigative reporting by Haaretz has been following the funding sources behind the yeshiva. On November 17, it exposed generous financial support from the Israeli government. This morning (December 15 2009,) it uncovers US federal tax exemptions for its American donors and slams the US administration for sanctioning this practice.

Below is a key excerpt. An annotated full text of the report is provided after the jump. The original yeshiva report to the Israeli Registrar of Associations can be downloaded here. Mondoweiss’s investigative reporting on the Central Fund of Israel can be read here.

This is the same yeshiva whose rabbi said it is permissible to kill gentile babies because of “the future danger that will arise if they are allowed to grow into evil people like their parents.” In his latest book, the head of the yeshiva, Yitzhak Shapira, who bears the honorable title of rabbi, even permits killing anyone “who, through his remarks and so forth, weakens our kingdom” (Obama, beware!)…According to the fund’s latest financial statement, it gave some $8 million to religious organizations in 2006, earmarked for establishing synagogues and schools, aiding the needy and “urgent security needs.”…So the next time the White House spokesman condemns the torching of a mosque near Nablus, some reporter ought to ask him why respectable American citizens contribute to the Od Yosef Chai Shechem yeshiva, one of whose leading rabbis wrote the following incendiary words of incitement: “[Civil] Administration inspectors have not dared to enter Yitzhar since the freeze edict. Their experience with Yitzhar, and its heat, are responsible for the fact that every entry into the settlement by hostile elements requires large forces and ends with extensive damage to army and police equipment, even greater damage to Arab persons and property, and a region that continues to burn in every direction for several days” (Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, Hakol Hayehudi, December 4, 2009).

U.S. tax dollars fund rabbi who excused killing gentile babies

Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

The White House condemns the torching of a mosque, yet respectable Americans contribute to a yeshiva whose rabbi said it’s okay to kill gentile babies. It is no surprise that the American administration tacitly, if unenthusiastically, accepted the excuse that the map of national priority zones the cabinet approved on Sunday does not violate the decision to freeze construction in the settlements.

Read more…

The Knesset move against Sheldon Adelson and the remains of Israeli democracy

December 10, 2009 10 comments

Adelson

UPDATE/ADDENDUM: December 10 2009 — Noam Sheizaf at Promised Land and Bryan Altinski by e-mail both point out that by supporting this legislation, I’m ultimately undermining the same freedoms I’m trying to defend. Point taken. No end justifies the means. Especially when freedom of speech is at stake. I wrote, “in this atmosphere one is tempted to clutch at straws,” and I have.

On Friday (December 4 2009) we surveyed US casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson’s ongoing intervention in local politics, trading American money for Israeli influence. Engaged for nearly two decades in building a highly effective local network of neo-conservative institutions, Adelson wanted more. In July 2007 he launched Israel Hayom, a blatantly pro-Netanyahu newspaper engaged in highly uncompetitive practices. We quoted Israeli 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.

This morning’s (December 9 2009) Maariv reports (full text after jump) that a bi-partisan Knesset bill seeks to bar foreign ownership of Israeli newspapers

A large group of Knesset Members is seeking, through new legislation, to restrict control of the Israeli media by people who live abroad. The bill calls to ban people who are either not citizens or residents of Israel to receive a license to own a newspaper.

Good news.

Lieberman

This has been a terrible year for Israeli democracy. Already fundamentally flawed — more than three million stateless and right-less Palestinians under effective Israeli control for42 years; institutionalized discrimination against an “enfranchised” Arab minoritysevere restrictions on religious freedom — what is left is being undermined. The freedom of expression and association of Israeli citizens has driven an extraordinarily open public debate for a country at war. Since the the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, however, these rights have been constantly questioned by the security establishment and right-wing partisans . The Gaza war accelerated the process exponentially. Dissent was systematically silenced and the domestic media debate was all but monolithic.

Read more…

US tax dollars at work in the West Bank: Bounty money

December 9, 2009 13 comments

UPDATED AT BOTTOM

Last Tuesday (December 1 2009) an investigative report in Haaretz  revealed that Machanaim a US 501c3 tax exempt charity is funding the Task Force to Save the Nation and the Land (aka SOS Israel)

the organization that offered every soldier refusing to evacuate a settlement, and the Kfir Brigade soldiers who publicly demonstrated their opposition to evacuation, NIS 1,000 for every day they spend in military prison

Bounty award ceremony

The report criticized the Government for not taking action against a registered association inciting mutiny, noting also that it might be a good idea to ask the US to cease providing tax-exemptions for the funder.

Perhaps in an attempt to improve its image in the eyes of the Israeli public, SOS Israel has expanded its range of monetary awards to IDF soldiers. Arutz Sheva, a settler news service, reports that

A soldier holding the rank of Corporal, was awarded 1,800 shekels ($475) by the SOS Save the Land of Israel group Sunday for shooting a terrorist who tried to kill two Jews at a gas station 10 days ago.

This was too much even for the IDF leadership, which usually avoids any kind of confrontation with the fundamentalist establishment: Channel Ten TV News reported Monday night that legal action could be expected against SOS Israel.

Still no word on the tax-exempt funding from the US, however.

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Further info on the “gas station incident”: (1) Haaretz news report; (2) Video of the Palestinian attacker being run-over by a settler after he had been shot and disabled.

UPDATE: December 9 2009 — Israeli attorney general orders investigation of SOS Israel. Better late than never. Will that be enough for the IRS to rescind tax-exempt status for the US charity funding it?

Exposing Gerald Steinberg and NGO Monitor

November 27, 2009 56 comments

Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, and his associates in government, have entered a new phase in their campaign to suppress Israeli human rights NGOs. This morning (November 27 2009) Haaretz’s English edition ran an op-ed by Steinberg. No longer satisfied with de-legitimization, Israeli neoconservatives have begun taking concrete parliamentary action to silence internal dissent. Because of a sense that some of the remaining freedoms of Israeli democracy — expression and association for Israeli citizens — were under dangerous assault I agreed, for the first time in years,  to byline an op-ed addressing Steinberg’s (both op-eds, side-by-side, can be viewed here). Below is an annotated version of the op-ed, with comprehensive links to supporting documentation.

Read more…