Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category

The Anti-Defamation League’s history of surveillance and spying

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Mark Ames reports at Pacific Standard:

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Anti-Defamation League and the B’nai B’rith. The theme of the celebration was “Imagine a World Without Hate.”

2013 also marked the 20th anniversary of another key episode in ADL history, but it’s not the sort of milestone National Director Abe Foxman will want you to remember. In 1993 it was alleged that the League had been involved in a grotesque rap sheet of covert activities, including espionage, illegal surveillance, theft, and the treasonous sale of classified information to a foreign government. It’s a hell of a tale, and not just for its cartoonish cast of characters: a corrupt police officer, a bungling “fact finder,” and a McCarthyite from Indianapolis.

I have no choice but to remember the story. In 1993 I received a letter in the mail. It informed me that I was the victim of an illegal spy ring involving members of the ADL and a San Francisco Police Department intelligence detective called Tom Gerard. The letter came with an index card that included my full name, driver’s license, the license-plate number on my shitty old Subaru hatchback, and the Mission District addresses of my apartment and the leftie bookstore where I worked, near Guerrero and 20th Street. My file had been marked “Pinko,” one of five categories that the ADL spymaster used to flag the group’s targets.

At that period I was already at a low point. My stepfather spent most of that year dying of a malignant brain tumor. It was a gruesome, agonizing death, and I put off moving to Moscow to help my mother get through it. That alone was so stressful that we both wound up losing our minds in the process. In the grip of that ordeal, learning that the ADL had spied on me seemed like just one more torment in a personal hell.

But I was not alone. Police had seized thousands of index cards like mine in raids on the ADL’s San Francisco office, and in searches of the homes and storage facilities of the organization’s key figures. According to newspaper reports of the time, 12,000 Americans and 950 groups were victims of the now-forgotten scandal.

The list of victims reads like a Who’s Who of the Liberal Establishment: NAACP, ACLU, Greenpeace, ACT UP!, National Lawyers Guild, Mother Jones founder Adam Hochschild, reporters from the Los Angeles Timesand KQED public television, and scores of local labor unions including the United Auto Works and Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers. The ADL operatives even spied on a handful of U.S. Congressmen, all Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, Senator Alan Cranston, Pete McClosky, Mervyn Dymally, and Ron Dellums of Oakland, head of the House Armed Services Committee. Many prominent Jews were also spied on, including Dr. Yigal Arens, the son of former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens.

A Creative Definition of Anti-Semitism

Dr. Arens, who runs an information technology program at the University of Southern California, was targeted because he supported a two-state solution in Israel and the occupied territories. He toldreporters, “The ADL believes that anyone who is an Arab American … or speaks politically against Israel is at least a closet anti-Semite.”

Dr. Arens was, if anything, understating the case. What the ADL understood by the phrase “against Israel” was to become disturbingly clear as the investigation proceeded.

When I opened that letter, I could not have been accused of “speaking politically against Israel.” I’m a Jew, for Christ’s sake! And back then I was also a Republican, still holding on to at least some of my childhood Zionism. But none of that mattered. As I quickly discovered—a sickening discovery that killed whatever Zionism I still felt—the reason the ADL had set its spies on me was because, while a student at Berkeley in the ’80s, I’d protested against apartheid.

Protesting South African apartheid in the 1980s was practically a middle-class duty in the Bay Area. Even yuppies and mainstream Republicans supported the protest movement. It was an easy choice. No one in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Jim Crow/George Wallace faces in those old black-and-white newsreels.

So why would Israel cozy up to the vilest regime since the Third Reich? One clue can be found in a speech given in 1987 by Eliahu Lankin, Israel’s former ambassador to South Africa, at Tel Aviv University. In it, he warned that South African blacks “want to gain control over the white majority just like the Arabs here want to gain control over us. And we, too, like the white minority in South Africa, must act to prevent them from taking us over.” Then there was the looming specter of divestment. In 1986, thanks to a massive and sustained student-protest movement, University of California Regents were forced to divest $3 billion from investments related to South Africa. Some within the ADL apparently believed the same tactic could be used by U.S. opponents of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Decades later, these concerns would prove to be well-founded.

A recent book by New York Times editor Sasha Polakow-Suransky, Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa, traces the beginnings of Israel’s friendship with apartheid South Africa back even further, to Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres’ secret visit to Pretoria in 1974. This was a meeting that led to arms deals and agreements over intelligence sharing.

In 1976, South African Prime Minister B.J. Vorster was given the red-carpet treatment by Israel’s Labor government leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. They gave him a guided tour of the Wailing Wall and the Holocaust Museum, despite the fact that Vorster had been a Nazi sympathizer in the ’30s, and had even served as a commander in theOssewabrandwag, a pro-Nazi militant group.

By 1986, the relationship between Israel and South Africa had grown so close that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 March 2014 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians

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Juan Cole has a couple of good (albeit depressing) posts on the stance of the current Israeli government toward the peace process and the Palestinians.

Amnesty International Calls for International Sanctions on Israel over Systematic Violence against Civilians

That post is by Sarah Lazare and begins:

Israeli forces are killing Palestinian civilians in the West Bank — including children — with “callous disregard for human life,” enjoying near impunity for likely war crimes, and should be immediately cut off from arms shipments by the international community, declares a damning reportreleased by Amnesty International on Thursday.

“This is a hugely significant development,” says Mike Coogan of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation in an interview with Common Dreams. “This report is unequivocal. It clearly points to the perpetrator of crimes — the Israeli military.”

Entitled Trigger-Happy: Israel’s Use of Excessive Force in the West Bank, the 87-page report documents mounting violence and human rights violations due to Israeli use of “unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal force,” as summarized in an Amnesty statement. The study traces the chilling trail of death and injury this leaves behind.

In the past three years, at least 261 Palestinians in the West Bank — 67 of them children — have been seriously injured by live gunshots fired by Israeli forces. In this same time frame, over 8,000 Palestinians in the West Bank — 1,500 of them children — have been wounded by other weapons wielded by Israeli forces in the West Bank, including rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas, with some dying from their wounds.

The report highlights the murder of 22 Palestinian civilians in the West Bank last year, four of whom were children, and 14 of whom were killed at protests. In some of these cases, Amnesty found evidence of “willful killings, which would amount to war crimes,” according to the summary.

Sixteen-year-old school boy Samir Awad, from Bodrus, . . .

Read the whole thing.

Obama to Netanyahu: Israel faces International Sanctions over “Permanent Occupation of West Bank”

A post by Juan Cole that begins:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, D.C., this week was even more of a disaster for him than might have been expected.

It did not help that the Crimea crisis had broken out, which rather cast a bad light on one country militarily occupying parts of another. Most observers in Europe and even some in the US could see the hypocrisy of the US denouncing Russian troops in Crimea but supporting Israeli troops in Hebron.

Netanyahu’s government has doubled housing starts for Israeli squatters on Palestinian land in the West Bank in the past year, while pretending to negotiate peace with the Palestine Liberation Organization (there is no such process with the Hamas government in Gaza).

He came to Washington to blame the Palestinians for his bad faith, and to demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state (which is sort of like Obama demanding that Israel recognize the US as a White Christian state). Netanyahu said that this demand (the Jewishness of Israel) is similar to the Palestinian quest for a Palestinian state. But a Palestinian state is envisaged as being pluralistic– it would not be Islamic but for Muslims, Christians, Druze and (in the view of Saeb Erekat) even possibly any Jews willing to take Palestinian citizenship. The category “Palestinian” is not analogous to what Netanyahu means by “Jewish”– it is far less narrow, less religiously and racially exclusive.

This demand is just smokescreen for Netanyahu’s obstruction of the peace process. He is demanding that Palestinians recognize the official marginalization of the growing Palestinian-Israeli population of Israel (now 20% of the population and heading toward 30% over the next 15 years) (if Israel is a “Jewish” state, then Palestinian-Israelis are what, chopped liver? Will it be all right for Avigdor Lieberman to ethnically cleanse them then?)

Obama, who has been ambushed repeatedly by Netanyahu during their joint press conferences, this time ambushed Netanyahu instead, with an interview with the fanatically pro-Israel former Israeli prison guard at a notorious prison camp for Palestinians, Jeffrey Goldberg. Obama said, . . .

Continue reading.

And, finally, a look at how the US condemns other nations for doing what the US does:

McCain’s Mind-Boggling Hypocrisy on Crimea at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2014 at 9:57 am

Read the Report Israel Doesn’t Want you To See

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Ben White at Informed Comment:

This week has seen the promotion of yet more anti-democratic legislation in Israel. A new law that received final approval by the Knesset gives, for the first time, separate representation to Muslim and Christian Palestinian citizenson a national employment commission. The bill’s sponsor, Likud MK Yariv Levin, was clear about his motivation: “[the Christians are] our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within.” An editorial in Israeli newspaper Haaretz described it as “racist legislation” by “nationalist zealots”.

Meanwhile, an amendment has been proposed to the NGO Bill – again, by a member of Netanyahu’s ruling party – which seeks to ban certain groups from registering with the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits. Activities targeted by lawmakers include “advocating the boycott, divestment, or sanctioning of Israel or its citizens” and “denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state.” In the words of MK Miri Regev: “Israel is not a regular country that can allow itself to lose its identity”.

These developments take place as the annual Israeli Apartheid Week is marked with dozens of events around the world. The response by the Israeli government and various lobby groups to the accusation of apartheid is a mix of tokenism, whatabouttery, and smears. But there’s one report Israel particularly hopes people don’t read.

The document in question comes from the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and contains the concluding observations following Israel’s periodic review in 2012. It should be read in its entirety, but I will highlight some of its findings. It blows out of water the excuses, obfuscations, and outright denial of international law typically used by Israel and its apologists.

  • “Israeli society maintains Jewish and non-Jewish sectors…[including] two systems of education…as well as separate municipalities: Jewish municipalities and the so-called ‘municipalities of the minorities’”
  • Israel is urged “to make every effort to eradicate all forms of segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities.”
  • “A number of discriminatory laws on land issues…disproportionately affect non-Jewish communities.”
  • “Discriminatory laws especially targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel”.
  • “Increasing difficulties faced by members of [Bedouin] communities in gaining access on a basis of equality with Jewish inhabitants to land, housing, education, employment and public health.”
  • “The proliferation of acts and manifestations of racism that particularly target non-Jewish minorities in the territories under the State party’s effective control.”
  • “policies and practices which amount to de facto segregation”, such as Israel’s implementation “in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of two entirely separate legal systems and sets of institutions for Jewish communities grouped in illegal settlements on the one hand and Palestinian populations living in Palestinian towns and villages on the other hand.”
  • “two groups, who live on the same territory but do not enjoy either equal use of roads and infrastructure or equal access to basic services and water resources.”
  • Israel reminded of “the prevention, prohibition and eradication of all policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid” and urged to “prohibit and eradicate any such policies or practices” which violate Article 3 of the Convention (on “racial segregation and apartheid”).
  • A “discriminatory planning policy, whereby construction permits are rarely if ever granted to Palestinian and Bedouin communities and demolitions principally target property owned by Palestinians and Bedouins.”
  • Israel’s “policy of ‘demographic balance’, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 9:27 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Turkey’s rapid extinguishing of democracy: 3 critical laws

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Ola Claësson writes at Informed Comment:

The government’s response to the Gezi protests in June 2013 and its obstruction of a graft probe targeting ministers in December the same year has tarnished the perception of Turkey as an improving democracy. But the foreign media tend to ignore to report the combined seriousness of the developments currently taking place in the country. I will now present 3 laws put forward by the democratically elected AK Party, in order to illustrate how they are stepwise trying to dismantle the Turkish democracy.

Law no. 1 – the end of judicial independence

A law aiming to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecuters (HSYK) was passed by the parliament on February 15. The HSYK is the legal organ that appoints prosecutors and judges in Turkey and its structure was aligned with EU standard as a part of the accession process to the European Union in 2010.

The new law, once enacted, will dismiss the entire staff of the board and allow the justice minister to directly appoint its new members. It will thus be the end of judicial independence in the Turkey.

Law no. 2 – the last blow to critical debate

Another law passed by the parliament on February 5 will give the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB), a government controlled agency, the power to close down or block any website without a court order. On top of that the law will also enable the agency to store personal data for up to two years, thus raising fears that critical voices on the Internet will be silenced.

The law comes in handy for the government, since incriminating sound recordings of Erdogan and his family has leaked to the Internet. Considering that Turkey already ranks on place 154 of 180 countries in terms of press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders annual list of 2014, this law might as well be the last blow to critical debate in the country.

Law no. 3 – [A Bad Samaritan law - LG]

Last but not least, just to illustrate the ruthless pragmatism practiced by the AK Party in order to stay in power and avoid any criticism, a law making it illegal to give emergency care to an injured person without approval from the health ministry has already been enacted.

This law was tailored as a direct response to the Gezi protests, where many medical students and doctors helped protesters injured by the police brutality. Any one that performs unattained emergency care now risks up to three years in prison. The fact that this law contradicts the very essence of the Hippocratic oath, sworn by doctors all around the world, unfortunately did not stop it from being approved by president Abdullah Gül.

All three laws above have met strong critique from both domestic and international organizations. The government, however, defend them with blatant lies, such as that the Internet law will result in a freer Internet, claiming that the critics does not understand what it means. In meetings with the European Parliament, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan also said that the restructuring of the judiciary also would not harm the judicial independence in Turkey.

This way of responding to critical questions has . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2014 at 11:00 am

Boycott of Israeli Universities by American Studies Assn.

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Interesting post by Alan M. Ward at Informed Comment:

In Memory of Edward Said (1935-2003)

“You cannot continue to victimize someone else just because you yourself were a victim once—there has to be a limit.”
–Edward W. Said, “The Myth of ‘The Clash of Civilizations,’” 1998

“A man once jumped from the top floor of a burning house in which many members of his family had already perished. He managed to save his life; but as he was falling he hit a person standing down below and broke that person’s legs and arms. The jumping man had no choice; yet to the man with the broken limbs he was the cause of his misfortune. If both behaved rationally, they would not become enemies.”
–Isaac Deutscher, The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays, 1968

* * * * *

Imagine my surprise. For decades I have passively endured ritualistic sneering about the irrelevance of nerdy scholars in ivory towers, derision at the notion that we who toil in the archives might have an impact on anything of national significance. Then, on December 16, 2013, the membership of an almost unknown and relatively petite professional organization to which I belong, the American Studies Association (ASA), ratified a convention resolution to participate in an “academic boycott” of Israeli universities to bring to light discrimination against Palestinians.

Starting with headlines in the New York Times1 and Washington Post2, the ASA decree became the vote heard round the world. Every wing of the establishment suddenly went thug by playing a new game that might be called “Whac-a-Prof.”

In the Israeli press, the mostly hostile coverage was updated every day for weeks. In the United States, news of the ASA motion elicited not only the predictable effort to silence debate with charges of “anti-Semitism,” but also a torrent of abuse, outrage, and threats of lawsuits.3 Soon it was widely reported that more than 200 college and university presidents had come out opposing the ASA’s vote, along with the American Council on Education, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the Association of American Universities, and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). When I last checked, six American Studies programs had terminated affiliation with ASA, and eleven more asked to be de-listed.4

On January 14, 2014 came a letter of 144 members of the U.S. Congress to ASA President Curtis Marez, charging ASA with creating a “blacklist.”5 Hate mail of the most vile kind was sent to ASA members, especially those with Arab-sounding names, although Jewish supporters of the resolution were grotesquely besieged as well.6 One authority on academic freedom noted that “the American Studies Association has become the Emmanuel Goldstein of our times, the mythical object of the daily two minutes of hate in the novel 1984.”7

Reported the Chronicle of Higher Education, “the Association has itself become the target of widespread criticism and ostracism. It has gone from relative obscurity to prominence as a pariah of the American higher-education establishment.”8

Raging tantrums over the boycott haven’t been confined to the Right. Michael Kazin, a specialist on U.S. radicalism and editor of Dissent, decried the ASA proposal as “idiotic” in a piece featured in the New Republic9, while the Chair of American Studies at Brandeis University, a respected specialist on film in the McCarthy era, ranted on the History News Network that the ASA “has completely gone off its rocker” with its “boneheaded boycott.”10

Luckily, I’m protected by tenure; but the present atmosphere in the academic departments of such senior scholars can’t be very reassuring for any student, lecturer or untenured faculty sharing my view that the aim of the resolution was an inspiring act of political solidarity, even if there might have been glitches in its precise language or the ASA decision-making process. Despite the self-righteous insults, and the demagogic conjoining of “boycott” to “academic freedom,” the actual resolution passed by ASA can be assessed as an effort to expand the academic freedom of Palestinians (and therefore all of us) by what amounts to a symbolic slap on the wrist that draws attention to complicity in discrimination of Israeli educational institutions.11

Ironically, the ASA concept of academic freedom is mostly the same as that of its critics. The ASA document clearly states: “Whereas the American Studies Association is dedicated to the right of students and scholars to pursue education and research without undue state interference, repression, and military violence, and in keeping with the spirit of its previous statements supports the right of students and scholars to intellectual freedom and to political dissent as citizens and scholars…”

The critical difference is that the ASA resolution is for including Palestinians in its concerns: “Whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students…”12

Breaking a Taboo

While the elements and extent of the backlash, suggestions for an appropriate response, and thoughts about strengths and weaknesses of a boycott approach are the subjects of this essay, I must begin by stating that the achievement of ASA ought to be fêted by all supporters of Palestinian (and other) human rights. Its passage dramatically shattered what Edward Said called “America’s Last Taboo,” the prohibition of an open and candid public discussion of the realities of Israeli policy and U.S. support.13

The action was also beneficial in consolidating international ties for defenders of Palestinian rights by bringing strong statements of gratitude to ASA from the Middle East and elsewhere by critics of U.S. and Israeli state policy. For those advocates of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) strategy, from which the ASA took inspiration, the victorious balloting was a clear boost for the movement in this country.14

The explanation for the astounding reaction to the passage of a resolution by such a powerless group as ASA is that BDS, a global non-violent movement demanding compliance with international law and Palestinian rights, is plainly catching on internationally; it now stands as the most effective form of solidarity activity for those who wish to continue the traditions of the U.S. civil rights and South African anti-apartheid struggles, even in these difficult times.15

Prior to the ASA vote, only . . .

Continue reading. Footnotes at the link. And there’s a lot more in the post.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2014 at 11:10 am

Israeli Annexation of Palestinian West Bank, Scarlett Johansson and BDS

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Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

The determination of the Likud Party to annex the Palestinian West Bank is damaging the interests of world Jewry. This harm is clearly visible in the controversy that has engulfed movie star Scarlett Johansson, who was a global ambassador for the Oxfam charity and who also agreed to become a spokesperson for the Israeli company Sodastream, which has a factory in the Occupied West Bank. She will star in a Superbowl commercial for the company.

Oxfam points out that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank is illegal, and it is opposed to trade with settler commercial enterprises based there. The Sodastream factory in set in a 40,000-strong Israeli squatter settlement designed to cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank and make a Palestinian state impossible. Israel squatters divert most of the West Bank’s water and other resources to themselves, leaving Palestinians impoverished.

In the end, Ms. Johansson had to choose between the two, and she gave up her association with Oxfam.

The Israeli Occupation institutions in the Palestinian West Bank are increasingly being boycotted, especially in Europe (Oxfam is based in Britain). Although it is clearly illegal for an Occupying Power to move its population into occupied territory (Geneva Convention of 1949), far right wing Israeli governments have flooded this Palestinian territory with hundreds of thousands of illegal squatters, who have usurped Palestinian property, confined Palestinians to Bantustans, and imposed onerous checkpoints on them. The Jewish supremacist squatter settlements are Jewish-only and no Palestinian can live in them. The militant squatters are often heavily armed and are increasingly attacking Palestinians and their mosques and other institutions, as well as waging economic warfare on them by cutting down their olive trees.

The European Union has decided to use its economic clout to push back against the clear Israeli determination to annex the whole West Bank while keeping its indigenous Palestinian population stateless and without the rights of citizenship.

The European Union has insisted that Israeli institutions and companies based in the Palestinian West Bank be excluded from any Israeli participation in a program of the European Union. (The EU treats Israel like a member, offering it many perquisites, opportunities for technology interchange, and access to EU markets; Brussels is saying, however, that none of that largesse can go to Israelis in the Occupied Weat Bank.)

About a third of Israel’s trade is with Europe (the US and China are its biggest trading partners, and Turkey comes after the EU). The EU imports $300 million a year from the settlements, but is clearly moving toward cutting that trade off.

Norway’s enormous sovereign wealth investment fund has just blacklisted Israeli firms with settlement ties.

This follows on a Netherlands’ investment fund divesting from five Israeli banks that fund squatter settlements on Palestinian territory.

European governments are increasingly warning their companies not to invest in or do business with Israeli firms in the Palestinian West Bank, since they might well be sued in Europe by the Palestinians so harmed. The recognition by the UN General Assembly of Palestine as a non-member observer state (on the same footing at the UN as the Vatican) has given Palestine more standing, even in national courts. Palestine is increasingly being upgraded diplomatically in Europe. The issue is also affected by European Union human rights law and a halo effect from the enactment of the Rome Statute in 2002 and the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

Here’s the problem for Jews in Europe and the United States who, like Ms. Johansson, do business with Israeli companies: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2014 at 9:05 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

New analysis of rocket used in Syria chemical attack undercuts U.S. claims

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It seems that the US government routinely lies to the public in order to launch a war. That was certainly true in the case of Iraq, and most newspapers went right along with the lies, burying countervailing evidence in small stories deep inside the paper. And now it’s revealed that those nerve-gas rockets were not fired by the Syrian government at all, though Obama and his administration were gearing up for war based on misinformation—and the NY Times was going right along.

But McClatchy, which also provided much coverage that revealed that the reasons the Bush Administration was giving for invading Iraq were totally bogus, has this story by Matthew Schofield on the nerve-gas rockets:

A series of revelations about the rocket believed to have delivered poison sarin gas to a Damascus suburb last summer are challenging American intelligence assumptions about that attack and suggest that the case U.S. officials initially made for retaliatory military action was flawed.

A team of security and arms experts, meeting this week in Washington to discuss the matter, has concluded that the range of the rocket that delivered sarin in the largest attack that night was too short for the device to have been fired from the Syrian government positions where the Obama administration insists they originated.

Separately, international weapons experts are puzzling over why the rocket in question – an improvised 330mm to 350mm rocket equipped with a large receptacle on its nose to hold chemicals – reportedly did not appear in the Syrian government’s declaration of its arsenal to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and apparently was not uncovered by OPCW inspectors who believe they’ve destroyed Syria’s ability to deliver a chemical attack.

Neither development proves decisively that Syrian government forces did not fire the chemicals that killed hundreds of Syrians in the early morning hours of Aug. 21. U.S. officials continue to insist that the case for Syrian government responsibility for the attack in East Ghouta is stronger than any suggestion of rebel involvement, while experts say it is possible Syria left the rockets out of its chemical weapons declaration simply to make certain it could not be tied to the attack.

“That failure to declare can mean different things,” said Ralf Trapp, an original member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and a former secretary of the group’s scientific advisory board. “It can mean the Syrian government doesn’t have them, or that they are hiding them.”

In Washington, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said its assertion of Syrian government responsibility remains unchanged.

“The body of information used to make the assessment regarding the August 21 attack included intelligence pertaining to the regime’s preparations for this attack and its means of delivery, multiple streams of intelligence about the attack itself and its effect, our post-attack observations, and the differences between the capabilities of the regime and the opposition. That assessment made clear that the opposition had not used chemical weapons in Syria,” it said Wednesday in an email.

But the authors of a report released Wednesday said that their study of the rocket’s design, its likely payload and its possible trajectories show that it would have been impossible for the rocket to have been fired from inside areas controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In the report, titled “Possible Implications of Faulty U.S. Technical Intelligence,” Richard Lloyd, a former United Nations weapons inspector, and Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argue that the question about the rocket’s range indicates a major weakness in the case for military action initially pressed by Obama administration officials.

The administration eventually withdrew its request for congressional authorization for a military strike after Syria agreed to submit to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the weapons. Polls showed overwhelming public opposition to a military strike, however, and it was doubtful Congress would have authorized an attack.

Lloyd and Postol’s report is the most recent installment in a months-long debate among rocket and weapons experts, much of it carried out in detailed papers posted on the Internet, about the nature of the munitions used in the Aug. 21 attack on rebel-controlled suburbs of Damascus.

The report’s authors admit that they deal only with one area of the attacks, the eastern suburb of Zamalka, where the largest quantity of sarin was released that night. They acknowledge that smaller rockets likely used in areas southwest of the capital could have come from government-controlled territory. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2014 at 11:46 am

Why conservatives go crazy over Benghazi

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I’ve been puzzled by the full-court press of plainly false stories (Lara Logan and “60 Minutes”, I’m looking at you) on Benghazi pushed by conservatives such as Darrell Issa and others. Benghazi seems of major importance to them, and I couldn’t figure out why. David Kirkpatrick’s excellent (and thorough) report in the NY Times not only did not settle it for them, it led immediately to a ludicrous effort to smear Kirkpatrick based on an item from a spoof issue of his college newspaper 24 years ago, when he was a student. (That issue also included an appearance by Elvis Presley to lead a singalong (Elvis was long since dead), aliens (from other planets), and a report that the student government has absconded to Rio with student fees. (Kevin Drum blogged a good summary of the smear effort.)

I posted a comment asking why conservatives are so weirdly determined to ignore the facts on the ground, and I received an excellent answer that makes a lot of sense from pyrocantha51:

The “Innocence of Muslims” video, which ignited some of the riots used as cover for the attack in Benghazi, was translated into Arabic and uploaded by Coptic Christian supporters of the Romney campaign, hoping trouble in the Middle East would feed into the “Obama as Jimmy Carter” meme. When it blew up in their faces and an American ambassador was killed, they realized they needed to do everything possible to muddy the waters, pin responsibility on Obama and make any connection to Romney seem like defensive lies from an administration on the ropes. And I think Mitt was aware of the plan. On the 47% tape, before those remarks, somebody asks him how he’ll campaign on foreign policy. Instead of the party line answer (“Obama apologizes for America”) Romney immediately jumps to stating that he’ll do all he can to “capitalize on any Obama missteps in the Middle East.” And as we all know, Romney was out in front of the press before the attack was even over, almost as if he, um, anticipated it.

That certainly would explain the frenzied efforts by the Right to make this an Obama problem. And I do recall conservative denials that the film had anything to do with it—but it did, as Juan Cole pointed out in a lengthy and interesting post that includes:

. . . The ginned up Islamophobic attack “film” on the Prophet Muhammad probably produced secretly by the Islamophobic network in the US in hopes of causing trouble abroad for President Obama in an election year did provoke demonstrations at the US consulate, which morphed into the attack on it. In fact, in my darker moments I suspect that some US GOP officials knew about the “film” and the likelihood it would get the Muslims’ goat, and had a narrative ready to go that Barack Obama on the Middle East was another helpless Jimmy Carter. Whatever the origin of their narrative, they clearly weren’t willing to let go of it simply because it flew in the face of the facts as known.

US officials in Benghazi knew that there were dangerous fundamentalist militias in the city. But they had dozens of CIA operatives at a nearby safe house, who they were sure could protect them. And they had allied with the fundamentalists against Gaddafi and so expected if not gratitude at least tolerance for their presence.

The Republican attack propaganda on President Obama and his team maintained that the consulate attack was the work of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda, that it was preplanned, and that the “Silence of the Muslims” film had nothing to do with it. Sen. Lindsey Graham alleged that “everyone knew” that Benghazi was controlled by al-Qaeda in summer of 2012. Rep. Mike Rogers, who is more of a prevaricator even than most politicians, asserted the same thing.

I was in Benghazi in late May of 2012 for a few days and gave a talk at a community center there. The city most certainly was not in the control of “al-Qaeda.” There were a few fundamentalist militias, but they were not representative of the city, which had municipal elections in late spring. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2014 at 12:58 pm

Benghazi revisited—literally

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David Kirkpatrick visited Benghazi and interviewed many residents there, including participants in the attack, to determine what was behind the attack, what drove it, and how the Libyans view it. His account is one of the NY Times magazine-style feature articles with animated graphics and the like, and it is absorbing and informative. Highly recommended.

And read Juan Cole’s piece, also lengthy. It begins:

David D. Kirkpatrick at the New York Times has settled the controversy over events in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, by actually going to Benghazi and digging into the story. Admittedly, it was a somewhat dangerous assignment, but Kirkpatrick risked it.

The take-away of this careful investigation, depending on a range of interviews with Libyans who had been at the scene of the attack on the US consulate in the Libyan port city, is that al-Qaeda had nothing to do with it.

The chief suspect is an eccentric local militia leader, Ahmad Abu Khattala and his Obeida Ibn Al Jarra Brigade, which fought against Muammar Gaddafi in the 2011 revolution. Abu Khattala had no gratitude to the Americans who helped his people against the dictator, and is viewed as one bulb short of a chandelier by many of his acquaintances. He, like many Benghazi fundamentalists, had spent years incarcerated by the Gaddafi government in the notorious Abu Salim prison, where in the 1990s Gaddafi dealt with a prison revolt by just having hundreds of inmates mowed down.

Another fundamentalist organization in the city, Ansar al-Sharia, was also involved, though it continues to deny involvement in the consulate attack.

The ginned up Islamophobic attack “film” on the Prophet Muhammad probably produced secretly by the Islamophobic network in the US in hopes of causing trouble abroad for President Obama in an election year did provoke demonstrations at the US consulate, which morphed into the attack on it. In fact, in my darker moments I suspect that some US GOP officials knew about the “film” and the likelihood it would get the Muslims’ goat, and had a narrative ready to go that Barack Obama on the Middle East was another helpless Jimmy Carter. Whatever the origin of their narrative, they clearly weren’t willing to let go of it simply because it flew in the face of the facts as known.

US officials in Benghazi knew that there were dangerous fundamentalist militias in the city. But they had dozens of CIA operatives at a nearby safe house, who they were sure could protect them. And they had allied with the fundamentalists against Gaddafi and so expected if not gratitude at least tolerance for their presence.

The Republican attack propaganda on President Obama and his team maintained that the consulate attack was the work of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda, that it was preplanned, and that the “Silence of the Muslims” film had nothing to do with it. Sen. Lindsey Graham alleged that “everyone knew” that Benghazi was controlled by al-Qaeda in summer of 2012. Rep. Mike Rogers, who is more of a prevaricator even than most politicians, asserted the same thing.

I was in Benghazi in late May of 2012 for a few days and gave a talk at a community center there. The city most certainly was not in the control of “al-Qaeda.” There were a few fundamentalist militias, but they were not representative of the city, which had municipal elections in late spring.

On the occasion of the appearance of Kirkpatrick’s important reportage, I’ll leave you with my own deconstruction of the false GOP narrative, from last year. I think it is largely vindicated by what Kirkpatrick was able to find out on the ground.

“Top Ten Republican Myths on Benghazi:

1. Republican senators keep saying that it should have been “easy” to find out what happened on September 11, 2012, by simply debriefing US personnel who had been there. John McCain, Ron Johnson and the others who make this charge are the most cynical and manipulative people in the world. The Benghazi US mission was very clearly an operation of the Central Intelligence Agency, and that is the reason that the Obama administration officials have never been able to speak frankly and publicly about it. McCain and the others know this very well, and they know that their public carping cannot be “simply” answered because the answers would endanger sources and methods. The consulate was amazingly well-guarded by some 40 CIA operatives, many of them ex-special forces, in a nearby safe house. These were viewed by consular officials as “the cavalry.” It is still not clear what Ambassador Chris Stevens and the CIA were doing in Benghazi, and unless we know that we can’t know why they were attacked. (They were not overseeing the shipping of weapons to Syria; the Syrian revolutionaries complain bitterly that the US *prevents* them from getting medium and heavy weapons).

2. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2013 at 8:51 am

Patrick Cockburn: U.S. Turns Blind Eye as Saudis Fund Jihadists in Syrian Conflict

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Odd. I don’t recall reading anything about that in the NY Times. Amy Goodman interviews Patrick Cockburn on Democracy Now! The blurb:

To discuss the role of foreign powers fueling the ongoing conflict in Syria, we are joined by Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent. “It is clearly a proxy war. This might have started off as a popular uprising in Syria, but by now it has four or five different conflicts wrapped into one,” Cockburn explains. “You have an opposition, but an opposition that is fragmented and really proxies for foreign powers, notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey plays a role.” He recently wrote the article, “Mass Murder in the Middle East Is Funded by Our Friends the Saudis: Everyone Knows Where al-Qaida Gets Its Money, But While the Violence is Sectarian, the West Does Nothing.” Reporters Without Borders has just revealed at least 10 journalists and 35 citizen-journalists have been killed in Syria in 2013. In addition, another 49 journalists were abducted in Syria — more than the rest of the world combined. Reporters Without Borders blamed the spike in killings and kidnappings on jihadi groups.

Video and transcript.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2013 at 1:12 pm

Top 10 errors in Netanyahu’s Speech Demanding Iran give up ‘Genocidal’ Policies

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Interesting analysis by Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu demanded on Sunday that the world community constrain Iran to change its “genocidal policy” toward Israel, in the course of a speech in which he attacked President Obama’s current round of negotiations with Iran over its civilian nuclear enrichment program.

The rhetoric Netanyahu uses is not just sprinkled with falsehoods, it is pure propaganda, every word of it. It has been crafted to deceive. In that it is not very different from thousands of speeches given by thousands of other politicians around the world. But note that other prominent Israeli politicians seem perfectly capable of discussing Iran without invoking various forms of apocalypse or foaming at the mouth. Here is what the prime minister said on Iran:

 Transcription 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Address to the Saban Forum
December 8, 2013…

…Ladies and gentlemen,
Our best efforts to reach Palestinian-Israeli peace will come to nothing if Iran succeeds in building atomic bombs.

A nuclear-armed Iran would give even greater backing to the radical and terrorist elements in the region. It would undermine the chances of arriving at a negotiated peace.

I would say it would undermine those peace agreements that we have already reached with two of our neighbors.

Just three days ago Iran’s representative to the U.N. reiterated the regime’s refusal to even recognize Israel. This came a fortnight after the ruler of Iran referred to Israel as a “rabid dog” and to us as not worthy of being called human. He said we were doomed to “failure and annihilation”.

And earlier in November, Khamenei called Israel “an illegitimate and bastard regime”. So the Iranian regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons makes these remarks more than a simple matter of “sticks and stones”.

People tend to discount rhetoric from rogue regimes, from radical regimes. They said, well, it’s just talk, but talk has consequences.

We’ve learned that in history, especially when the regime that makes these statements is actually building the capability to carry it out.

This same regime supplies its terrorist proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, with thousands of rockets, rockets that are aimed at Israeli civilians, rockets that are precision-guided munitions that are increasingly lethal and deadly.

This is a regime committed to our destruction. And I believe there must be an unequivocal demand alongside the negotiations in Geneva for a change in Iranian policy. This must be part and parcel of the negotiations.

In other words, I’m saying that what is required is not merely a shift and a diminution of Iran’s capability and elimination of its capability to produce nuclear weapons, but also a demand to change its genocidal policy. That is the minimal thing that the international community must do when it’s negotiating with Iran…

And here are the falsehoods in what he said:

1. Israel is not making peace with the Palestinians. It is actively stealing Palestinian land on the West Bank and it has Gaza under a barbaric and creepy blockade intended to keep people on the edge of hunger.

2. Netanyahu frames his speech with the assumption that Iran is seeking a nuclear warhead, when all the indications are that it simply wants a breakout capacity (i.e. the deterrence that comes from outsiders knowledge that they could if they wanted to). The Supreme Leader of Iran, a theocrat, has forbidden making, stockpiling or using nuclear weapons on many occasions, which rises to the level of a hukm or theocratic decree.

3. An Iran with a breakout capacity could not force Egypt and Jordan to revoke their peace treaties with Tel Aviv. In fact, Netanyahu knows very well that Israel is arguing behind the scenes to Egypt and Jordan that they are in the same boat in confronting Iran. Neither Jordan nor the Egyptian generals are at all well disposed toward Iran, and they wouldn’t become more well disposed if Iran seemed more powerful!

4. Netanyahu accuses Iran of seeking what Israel already has. Israel sneakily and with French help constructed its own nuclear bomb, and now has hundreds of them. Israel refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel has repeatedly brandished its nukes in the region to cow others. Iran has signed the NPT and is regularly inspected by the United Nations, and doesn’t have a single atomic bomb, nor is there any proof that they have a military nuclear program.

5. In a 2003 proposal sent to the US through the Swiss embassy, President Khatami of Iran suggested the possibility of a full peace with the US and Israel. The Bush administration threw this proposal in the trash can. It demonstrates that there are forces in Iranian politics that can imagine recognizing Israel under the right circumstances.

6. Netanyahu says that Iran presently refuses to recognize Israel, and later suggests that this stance is genocidal. But Netanyahu refuses to recognize Palestine as a state. Is he being genocidal toward the Palestinians?

7. . .

Continue reading. I think “falsehoods” is a stretch for some of these, which amount to more having a double standard: actions and statements are judged according to whether they come from Israel or Iran: something that’s perfectly acceptable when done by Israel is, in Netanyahu’s eyes a grievous transgression when done by another country such as Iran. It’s the kind of hypocrisy that shows complete lack of self-awareness.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2013 at 8:59 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Seymour Hersh: Obama “Cherry-Picked” Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike

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Reminds me of Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud!!!” – C. Rice. But I guess once a tactic is found to work, it will inevitably be repeated, especially since the last time there was no accountability for the false stories that got the US to invade Iraq. Amy Goodman interviews Seymour Hersh at Democracy Now!, where the interview is available on video or as a transcript. The blurb:

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration’s claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year. Writing in the London Review of Books, Hersh argues that the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.” The administration failed to disclose it knew Syrian rebels in the al-Nusra Front had the ability to produce chemical weapons. Evidence obtained in the days after the attack was also allegedly distorted to make it appear it was gathered in real time.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 December 2013 at 3:09 pm

Did Obama lie about the Syrian gas attack?

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2013 at 4:48 pm

More on Goliath and the state of the State of Israel

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Just read this column and watch the video.

I wonder if he’s getting pressure to take that video down. What do you bet?

UPDATE: I went to YouTube to pick up the video (below) and saw that comments for that video have been disabled. Touchy issue.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2013 at 3:13 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Interview with Max Blumenthal, author of Goliath

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UPDATE: Wow! Read this column and watch that video.

Very interesting interview by Natasha Lennard in Salon:

Thousands of protesters worldwide joined in a “Day of Rage” late last week to decry Israel’s despicable Prawer Plan, a government policy (wildly underreported in this country) to destroy 35 Arab villages in the Negev desert, which will lead to the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Bedouin Israeli citizens.

The plan is further vindication of Max Blumenthal’s central thesis in his new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, namely that Israel’s raison d’etat is the maintenance and expansion of a colonial ethnocracy — the expansion of the Jewish Israeli demographic, the containment of all others.

While Israeli government policies like aggressive West Bank expansion, the Gaza occupation, the warehousing of non-Jewish Israeli Africans and the Prawer Plan fiercely bear out Blumenthal’s point, the author has, since Goliath’s publication, run the gamut of predictably fervid criticism from Israel’s attack dogs within the U.S. commentariat.

But Max Blumenthal is not surprised. The 35-year-old author and journalist knew what he was getting into with “Goliath.” It’s a bold, personal and unapologetic book. Its central thesis — that the very logic of the Israeli state is essentially that of a settler colonial ethnocracy — was, as Blumenthal well knew, bound to draw some flustered censure. On cue, following “Goliath’s” publication, Eric Alterman has written a whopping nine critical pieces (many of them ad hominem in nature) against Blumenthal; BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray compiled a decrial of Blumenthal; Alan Dershowitz wants Blumenthal’s father, Sidney Blumenthal, former aide to President Clinton (and Salon alum), to be personally denounced by the Clintons for his son’s book.

The younger Blumenthal was ready for the onslaught, which, he says, has played out with absolute predictability. While en route to his parents’ D.C. home (sorry, Mr. Dershowitz, Sid has yet to disavow his progeny), Blumenthal spoke on the phone to Salon about life in the Israel lobby’s cross hairs, and the unique challenges and importance of critiquing the Israeli government’s sugar-coated state narratives, buoyed by its unquestioning supporters in the U.S. The conversation has been lightly condensed for brevity.

“Goliath” does not just tell a story, or a series of stories, it offers a very specific critique of the very logic and ideology undergirding the Israeli state. Was this a hypothesis that you held before immersing yourself in Israeli life and politics to research for “Goliath,” or did your conclusions about Israel emerge while reporting?

My understanding of Israeli society was not upended or altered in any significant way by my immersion in it. I understood what I was getting into when I embarked on my first extended reporting trip to Israel and Palestine in May 2009. This was right after Israel elected the most right-wing government in its history. I decided to do this book because I had been following the situation for years and watching the religious nationalist and extremist trends in Israel and understanding its roots — the foundational structure of the state as a settler colonial ethnocracy. What spurred me to do this book was not some sort of epiphany or sudden understanding of what Israel had become but just a moment in history that, to me, marked the culmination of a transitional period into a permanent right-wing majority in Israel and a permanent right-wing future.

That moment was the national elections carried out during Operation Cast Lead — the three-week massacre of the Gaza civilian population. The assault and the elections propelled one another. You had a defense minister from the Labor Party competing against extreme right-wingers like Avigdor Lieberman, who was openly campaigning to strip Palestinian citizens of Israel of their citizenship rights. There is pretty clear evidence that defense minister at the time, Ehud Barak was running up the body count in Gaza in order to win over the Russian vote and outflank Lieberman as the tough guy. Tzipi Livni, who was running as a centrist, declared “our troops in the Gaza strip behaved like hooligans, which I demanded of them.”

“Goliath” highlights a number of highly specific examples of explicitly racist rhetoric employed by key Israeli politicians. These comments rarely get air in the U.S. media, despite being part of very public Israeli politicking.

That was another reason I decided to do this book. The rhetoric of mainstream Israeli politicians, which is bellicose, paranoid and racist, is so rarely conveyed to the American public. Meanwhile the issue of Palestinian incitement is a constant feature of mainstream American reporting on Palestinian society. There was a comment that formed the title of a chapter in my book, “This belongs to the white man.” And that chapter has been criticized or assailed by liberals like Eric Alterman and J.J. Goldberg.Of course, they don’t address the content of the chapter, and if they did it would probably throw them into some sort of personal existential crisis since their identity as Jews revolves around the ethnocratic state of Israel. And that chapter title is inspired by a quote by Eli Yishai, who served as interior minister from 2009 to 2013, and what he said was that, “these black Africans” — refering to the 60,000 non-Jewish African asylum-seekers living in Israel — “are Muslims who do not recognize that this country belongs to us, the white man.”

It’s an interesting comment given that he is of Tunisian descent and would not be considered white in the U.S. but, as a Jew, it marks him as part of the ethnic overclass and in his own mind he’s therefore “white.” That comment was printed but buried in the bottom of a New York Times article by Isabel Kershner on page A15 or A23 about a massive race riot in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2012, against the African population in which literally hundreds of vandals and thugs smashed the storefronts of African-owned businesses, attacked any African they found in the street and smashed African cars. That story was completely whitewashed in the U.S. — this was a riot encouraged from the highest level of Israeli government after a rally in South Tel Aviv attended by thousands where major Israeli government figures called Africans “a cancer in Israel’s body” and the crowd chanted, “nigger, nigger you’re a son of a bitch.” So there is a clear effort, a concerted effort by American correspondents in Jerusalem, to conceal from the public the horror — and the real horrific state of Israel society — the Moloch that Israel has become. What I sought to do with my book was merely fill the void and show Americans the Israel that Israelis know.

You’ve mentioned that the backlash you’ve received from writers like Alterman and Goldberg did not surprise you. Can you expand a little bit on the shape of the attacks you’ve received and in what ways they have and have not been predictable?

I fully expected the playbook of the pro-Israel propagandists to unfold as follows. First, they would attempt to ignore me and hope the book wouldn’t generate any attention, so that it would just go away, then there would be a freakout. I predicted two months before the book came out that if the Nation gave it any attention (I predicted this in a Real News Interview with Paul Jay two months before the book came out) that Eric Alterman would freak out. That’s exactly what happened. So I expected that.

Alterman broke the Jewish boycott on my book and what he attempted to do was to portray me as an unreliable narrator who didn’t understand Israel and got the facts and the history wrong. But he was dealt a really harsh blow when people like [Charles] Manekin, who is a professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, or Corey Robin at Brooklyn College, who is Alterman’s colleague, tore his argument apart and showed that it was he who got all the facts wrong. So Alterman was flailing; he had been pretty much knocked through the ropes. He started calling on his few allies like J.J. Goldberg at the Jewish Daily Forward and they got everything wrong and had to issue a correction. So from the second phase — trying to portray me as an unreliable narrator who got his facts wrong — it moved to a third phase, which was to smear me and smear my family and anyone associated with me. This culminated with BuzzFeed’s completely false smear piece, which should be retracted on the basis of its factual errors, by Rosie Gray.

Then Free Beacon attacked my father for hosting a party for me. I attempted to alert them to the fact that my mother ordered pizza for the book party, which means that she provided material support for delegitimization!

Alan Dershowitz called on the Clintons to denounce my father, since he worked in the White House with Bill Clinton, and he called on my father to denounce me. Of course, none of that happened. The final stage of this terminal phase was to point to a review on [white supremacist] David Duke’s website that was positive about my book, which is just the most pathetic and desperate tactic ever. So there are the three phases: ignore, undermine and smear. And then when all three of those failed, anything goes. So now we are in the anything goes phase. And I don’t know what that means but there are people who are less privileged than me who have experienced the devastating consequences for their work to counter Israeli human rights abuses.

A number of writers and theorists — philosopher Judith Butler comes to mind — have written about the dangers of conflating critiques of Israel or Zionism with anti-Semitism. As Butler wrote last year, “[T]he Jewish people extend beyond the state of Israel and the ideology of political Zionism. The two cannot be equated. Honestly, what can really be said about ‘the Jewish people’ as a whole? Is it not a lamentable stereotype to make large generalizations about all Jews, and to presume they all share the same political commitments?”

You have been smeared as anti-Semitic and extremist for your critiques of Israel. What do you think is the effect (social, cultural, political, ideological) of charging Israel’s critics with anti-Semitism? . . .

Continue reading. Click the link and read the full column, which includes a spirited rejoinder from Eric Alterman.

It’s worth noting that this is a polarizing book. Here are the current Amazon.com reader reviews:

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 11.17.12 AM

Here’s a sample positive review:

406 of 472 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars

The awful truth  September 26, 2013

By Pamela Olson

I’ve been following Israeli news and politics and visiting the region for ten years, so there was little in this book that was fundamentally new to me. But for anyone who didn’t have time to keep up with the evolution of Israeli culture and politics over the last several years, this book is an excellent (and grimly entertaining) way to catch up.

An increasingly proudly racist segment of Israeli society has become mainstreamed and acceptable, saying things about Palestinians (or rather ‘Arabs,’ since they won’t deign to use the word ‘Palestinian’) that would make any Jim Crow partisan cringe with shame, kicking Bedouin off of land they have lived on for generations and into ghettos/reservations simply because they are not Jewish, forming vigilante groups to keep Jewish women from dating Arab men, and marching provocatively through Muslim neighborhoods in shows of force, contempt, and intimidation.

And this is in Israel proper. In the Palestinian territories, the situation is even more dire. From “price tag” operations to rabbis who advocate the killing of non-Jewish children, it’s a parallel universe, a parade of horrors of blind hatred and violence likened in many cases to “pogroms” even in the Israeli press.

When the vast majority of the Jewish Israeli public supported the grisly, pointless slaughter of Operation Cast Lead, it was truly a new low. The US government supports the Israeli government and its policies to the tune of $8 million every day, yet the American press tells us virtually nothing about these trends.

There are good people and great activists in Israel doing terrific and genuine work toward peace. But to understand what they are really up against — not to mention what the Palestinians are up against — this is an important book to read and an important set of realities to understand.

And here’s a sample negative review:

14 of 75 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars

more of the same ‘we hate israel & Jews’    November 12, 2013

By B. Nitzberg “tired of racism” (united states) - See all my reviews [I took a look: all one-star reviews so far as I looked - LG]

I put it down after 123 pages because it was just a laundry list of ‘the evils of the modern world’ using Israel and jews as a proxy or microcosm for capitalists and the West generally. It’s a dishonest book; and not the first.

The real problem is the biased and prejudicial cherry-picking of anecdotes. The ‘real Israel’ and real Israelis are actual, living human beings who are bright, optimistic, and caring people. Just like most people in this world. Finding a dozen bad apples in a barrel of 7 million people is neither challenging nor honest.

A few years back I was at a chess tournament in Philadelphia. We were sharing a hotel room in a youth hostel kind of way (different people on different days and all chipping in) and one guy was an Israeli. At about 4am the Israeli guy got a phone call (no one was happy about that !!) and he was told there was a terrorist attack in Israel. Well, he spent about the next 4 hours calling around to find out how he knew several of the dead victims. That’s what Israelis do. They are like a big community; all sharing acquaintances, friends and family.

I don’t recognize my friend in any of the anecdotes found here.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2013 at 10:52 am

Posted in Books, Mideast Conflict

Israeli Blockade of 40,000 Gaza Fishermen Briefly Broken by Youth Protesters

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This post by Juan Cole is highly disturbing. I do not see how the Israeli government is working toward a peaceful resolution.

And take a look at this post, “Israel to Ethnically Cleanse 70,000 Palestinians in Massive Negev Land Grab,” also by Juan Cole.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2013 at 11:04 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

The Middle East warmly welcomes Iran Deal, sees it as Step toward Denuclearizing Israel

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Very interesting post by Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

Israel and Saudi Arabia have loomed large in reporting about the regional reaction to the UN Security Council plus Germany’s preliminary deal with Iran as they negotiate an end to the international boycott of Iran in return for practical steps permanently forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon. Israel is a small country of 7.5 million with a GDP around the same as Portugal’s, and it isn’t actually all that important in the Middle East, which contains 600 million people if you include North Africa– and with which the US does $400 billion a year in trade.

But despite the fear-mongering and hysteria of Israeli politicians [see below], the general reaction in the region has been much more positive than the Likud government would have us believe. Moreover, far from there being an Israel-Arab consensus against the agreement, much of the Arab world welcomed the Iran deal and saw it as a first step toward getting nuclear weapons out of the Middle East altogether. That is, they are hoping that once Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is restructured as permanently peaceful, the United Nations Security Council will turn up pressure on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons.

Turkey, a NATO ally of the US that has some disputes with Iran (notably over Syria) nevertheless warmly greeted the announcement. Turkey has a population of 76 million, as does Iran, i.e., both are just a little less populous than Germany.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Twitter on Sunday,

 “I welcome today’s agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. I have been advocating a solution through diplomacy and we hosted many diplomatic efforts in Turkey to this end . . . This is a major step forward. I hope it’ll be sealed with a final agreement soon. I congratulate all parties for their constructive engagement.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a doctrine of seeking good relations with neighbors in order to expand trade. After AK came to power in 2002, Turkey’s foreign trade expanded a great deal ( it was $239 billion in 2012) and trade with the Middle East expanded from almost nothing under the nationalist, secularist generals to 22%. (Turkey’s GDP is $788 billion in nominal terms, more than that of the Netherlands and just behind Indonesia, making it the 17th largest economy in the world, lagging behind not only Indonesia but Mexico and South Korea).

The new commerce of the past decade is worth billions to Ankara and comes as cream on top of expanded trade with Europe and Asia. By 2011, Turkey’s trade with Iran had gone from almost nothing to $16 bn. Some 2500 Iranian companies have invested in Turkey. But in 2013 the value of the trade has fallen from the previous year, largely because of international sanctions that make it difficult for Iran to develop its oil and gas production and difficult for Turkish banks to interface with Iranian ones. Turkish officials view the level of trade with Iran as far below what could be achieved, and as currently almost insignificant. They would like to expand the trade to $100 billion, and had aimed for $30 billion by 2015.

International sanctions were therefore extremely inconvenient for Turkey’s policy of trade expansion in the region. Moreover, Turkey depends on inexpensive natural gas from Iran for some of its own electricity production. Compared to the Turkish-Iranian tiff over Syria, the possible cooperation in energy and trade expansion is much more important to Ankara. Likewise, the AKP supports the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and has that in common with Iran. Turkey is champing at the bit to trade unhindered with Iran and to invest in it, as well as to welcome further Iranian investment in Turkey. The Kerry-Zarif deal could not be more welcome in Ankara.

Iraq, with a population of over 30 million and a GDP of $212 bn., also enthusiastically greeted the news. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2013 at 10:35 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

‘If you don’t like negotiating with Iran what you’re really saying is you want to go to war’

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Let me point out a highly relevant and cogently argued interview on the diplomatic progress with Iran.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2013 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Israel military favors Iran deal, says it will improve regional stability

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Very interesting report at ThinkProgress from Ben Armbruster:

An Israeli military intelligence assessment appears to dramatically undercut arguments by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. hawks about the danger of a proposed nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1. An Israeli military official said that based on the report’s conclusions, a deal resulting in the easing of economic sanctions on Iran could serve to boost regional security and stability.

Speaking about the contours of the report, the official also said, according to the Christian Science Monitor, that Israel’s military intelligence does not think the demand that Iran end all uranium enrichment — one promoted by Netanyahu and hawks here in the United States — is realistic:

Tehran has already become a “nuclear threshold” country, building the infrastructure, fissile material and know-how necessary to build a nuclear weapon within a relatively short time if it decided to do so, the intelligence officer said.

Iran has not made that decision yet, according to the assessment – likely because US threats of attack deterred Iranian officials, he said.

“We see a bit of a possibility, although it’s quite problematic, of more … stability,” said the Israeli military officer, adding that that stability depends on the success of the negotiations with Iran “over the nuclear project, but more than that, over the relief of the sanctions on the Iranian economy.”

Saying that Iran was one of several countries that could buck the general turmoil across the region, according to the Monitor, the official explained that a successful negotiation would shore up domestic support for new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but that without one, he “would likely see a major dip in support and possible unrest, according to the military’s calculations.”

CAP expert Matt Duss recently highlighted one aspect of this point:

[A] nuclear deal offers the best hope of improvement on human rights in the near term. A successful negotiation that eases Iran’s economic situation while also securing what Iran sees as its nuclear rights could create momentum that would help Rouhani’s administration address these broader issues. “It would give [Rouhani] and his team more bargaining power with the hard-liners,” Iranian activist Taghi Rahmani said recently. “A successful deal would definitely, positively impact social and political conditions inside of Iran.”

“The intelligence assessment is that we think Iranian regime has legitimacy problems,” the Israeli intelligence officer said. “The fact that economic numbers are not good and that there is some kind of noise among the public – at least about the economic situation – makes challenges for the regime. That’s probably why Rouhani was elected in such large numbers more than anything else.”

Members of Israeli security establishment has warned for years about the negative consequences of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. This report from Israel’s military intelligence is the latest example of the Israel security establishment pushing back against Netanyahu’s campaign to derail what he thinks is a “bad” nuclear deal with Iran.

Former Israeli intelligence chiefs have said they are keeping the door open to a possible deal, with one, retired Gen. Amos Yadlin, saying it’s “reasonable” to achieve a nuclear deal that allows Iran some uranium enrichment capabilities. The former head of Israel’s domestic security service said earlier this month that the current U.S. policy on Iran “is a policy of wisdom.”

UPDATE  Editor’s note: this post has been updated for clarity. Some aspects of the Israeli military report have already been reported. The Christian Science Monitor’s story included a new analysis of the report from an unnamed Israeli official.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2013 at 10:59 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Israel’s policies toward Gaza need some re-examination

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Just read this post by Juan Cole at Informed Comment. It begins:

The health minister in the Gaza Strip has warned that the territory is on the verge of a major health catastrophe.

Children are risking cholera and worse because they have to walk through raw sewage to get to school. The sewage has flooded the streets in Gaza City because the sewage treatment plant has no electricity. It has no electricity because the Israelis are blockading the strip, including its children (50% of the population). The Israelis are not letting cheap fuel in. Some inexpensive fuel used to come in from Egypt, but the military there has blocked smuggling tunnels leading into the strip from the Sinai Peninsula.

The Israeli military has since 2007 punished the whole Palestinian population because the Hamas Party won the 2006 elections. It actually produced figures on how much nutrition could be let in while keeping both children and adults among the Palestinians “on a diet.” US State Department cables revealed by Wikileaks show that the Israelis are deliberately keeping the Palestinians of Gaza just on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. As a result, 56 percent of residents are “food insecure.” They aren’t starving but they are just one or two lost paychecks away from starving. This kind of social engineering experiment on human beings (i.e. keeping Palestinians “on a diet”) is unconscionable to anyone in their right mind. It is also illegal in international law to impose collective punishment on an Occupied politician. Some 70% of the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza are from families expelled from what is now southern Israel by the 1948 ethnic cleansing campaign of Jewish settlers. Many could walk home in an hour or two but they are kept in refugee camps by the Israeli military. They are besieged on three sides by Israel and on one by Egypt, whose officers are cooperating with the Israeli-imposed blockade.

Here is a paraphrase of a report on the situation in the Palestinian Gaza Strip from AP: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2013 at 8:48 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

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