Transcript: CNN grills Netanyahu on Israeli “war crimes” (& other items)

September 23, 2009

* Helmsley Hotel in New York cancels tomorrow’s lavish banquet for Ahmadinejad
* Jimmy Carter’s former national security advisor: U.S. may have to shoot down Israeli planes
* Arabic media: Egyptian candidate for UNESCO chief admits helping to organize the escape from Italy in 1985 of the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro

This dispatch is a short-follow-up to my dispatch on Monday about the Goldstone report.



1. CNN grills Netanyahu on Israeli “war crimes”
2. Transcript of Netanyahu’s interview on CNN yesterday
3. A different, unintended consequence?
4. Cartoon
5. Gaza withdrawal: a reminder
6. Brzezinski calls for Obama to shoot down Israeli jets
7. Egyptian who called for the burning of Israeli books loses bid to head UNESCO
8. Helmsley Hotel in New York cancels dinner for Ahmadinejad
9. Argentine president: I will challenge Iran over AMIA bombing during UN speech
10. “For world leaders to meet Ahmadinejad is a stab in the back to Iranians”

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


Below is a transcript of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interview on CNN yesterday, in which he is repeatedly asked by Wolf Blitzer about Israeli “war crimes”.

(To remind readers, since CNN doesn’t, Netanyahu wasn’t even in government at the time of the Gaza offensive earlier this year, and he opposed the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza precisely because he foresaw the kind of attacks on Israel that then followed from Gaza.)

Netanyahu was being interviewed on the occasion of his meeting in New York with U.S. President Barack Obama and Palestinian leader Mohammed Abbas, who wasn’t, incidentally, asked about war crimes.



BLITZER: You know this United Nations commission, which just came back with a scathing report suggesting that Israel, your military, committed war crimes or something close to that, crimes against humanity, perhaps, even, during the fighting in Gaza. And I know you strongly disagree, but I want you to react to that United Nations report.

NETANYAHU: Now you’re being a diplomat. I strongly disagree? I think this is preposterous. It’s absurd. Israel was rocketed, pummeled for eight years by thousands of rockets that came from Gaza. We vacated all of Gaza, hoping that this thing would stop, and they fired not one rocket, but thousands of rockets, after we left Gaza.

So, what’s a country to do? I mean, what would you do if thousands of rockets fell on – Where are you talking from, Wolf, Washington, right? – Washington, D.C., or any part of the United States? You know what the United States would do.

BLITZER: The argument, though, Mr. Prime Minister, in this U.N. report is that you overreacted, and, in the process, you killed a lot of civilians.

NETANYAHU: We overreacted, did we? Well, let me tell you, after a million or so of our people were under rocket fire, progressively larger and larger circles of rockets falling on our cities, we did what every reasonable country would do. We tried to get at the rocketeers, those terrorists firing those missiles and rockets who placed themselves, embedded themselves in homes and schools and mosques, and you name it.

And we tried to target these people. We even sent them SMS text messages, telling the Palestinian civilians, please get out of harm’s way, cellular phones, you name it. So, we did everything possible to minimize the loss of innocent civilian lives.

And yet the Hamas actually was committing a double war crime, firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians. That’s a double war crime. They’re the ones who sort of get a free bill out of this biased U.N. report, and Israel, that is defending itself, is accused.

BLITZER: All right.

NETANYAHU: So, the terrorists are exonerated. The victims are accused. That’s an upside-down world. And I think this does grievous harm to the battle against terrorism, because the terrorists are basically being told, you get a free ride. All you have to do is fire at a democracy from built-up areas, from residential quarters, and you will get a clean bill of health. And I think it does a great disservice to peace, too, because we’re asked to take risks for peace. The international community says, if you take risks for peace, we will support your right of self- defense. And yet we did just that. We vacated Gaza in the hopes that this would advance peace. And when we’re rocketed with thousands of rockets and missiles from the places we vacated, people say Israel is the war criminal.

BLITZER: All right.

NETANYAHU: Come on. I mean, this is absurd.

BLITZER: If there is a trial at the International Court and the accusation is that Israel committed war crimes, or crimes against humanity in Gaza, will you cooperate with that?

NETANYAHU: Well, the question is, will any serious country cooperate with it?

I took note of the fact that the leading democracies that were in this U.N. commission, they opposed this. They were against this mandate, because it looked like a kangaroo court in the first place, where Israel was basically hanged, drawn, and quartered morally and given an unfair trial to boot right at the start of these proceedings.

I think this is wrong. But understand this. It’s not only we who will be damaged. It’s you, too. I mean, American pilots, NATO pilots, let alone Russia and other countries that are fighting terrorists, are going to be put on the dock, too, because it’s said that you cannot fight terrorists.

It means that all the terrorists have to do is put themselves in a residential quarter, and they receive immunity. And that’s not something that any country fighting terrorism can accept. And I don’t think you can accept it either.



Rich Lowry, the editor of The National Review, writes at The Corner concerning Goldstone’s suggestion Israel be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Goldstone’s Unintended Benefit?

Tom Gross has a very thorough dispatch on reactions to the UN’s Goldstone report that accuses Israel of “war crimes” and gives its enemies a pretext for bringing the country before the International Criminal Court. The dispatch is worth reading mainly for the critiques it includes of the very dubious methods employed by the report.

But it raises another important point. Will the ICC accept the case? If it refuses, there will be an outcry among the vast stage army of NGOs, human rights groups, and international law professors who are the ICC’s main constituency. But if it accepts, there could be a highly controversial prosecution of Israel playing out at exactly the moment when the Obama administration is trying to quietly edge the U.S. into the Court. And Goldstone sinking the ICC is a very delicious prospect.



The cartoon below is by Dry Bones, who was for over three decades, until recently, the cartoonist for The Jerusalem Post. Dry Bones is a subscriber to this email list, and I reproduce this cartoon with his permission.



A photo essay here:



Zbigniew Brzezinski, who bares the heavy responsibility of having advised Jimmy Carter on national security and helping usher in the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran (the effects of which the poor people of Iran and the rest of the world are still living with), offers some advice to President Obama in an interview with Tina Brown’s influential website, the Daily Beast.

He suggests that Barack Obama can do more than just refuse to support an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites and that he should give an order to shoot down Israeli aircraft as they cross Iraqi airspace:

Daily Beast: How aggressive can Obama be in insisting to the Israelis that a military strike might be in America’s worst interest?

Brzezinski: We are not exactly impotent little babies. They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch?

Daily Beast: What if they fly over anyway?

Brzezinski: Well, we have to be serious about denying them that right. That means a denial where you aren’t just saying it. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a Liberty in reverse.

(The USS Liberty was a U.S. ship that the Israelis accidentally attacked during the Six Day War in 1967 – although anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists say the attack was deliberate. Is Brzezinski a conspiracy theorist, or is he suggesting that he would like to see the U.S. shoot down Israeli planes accidentally?)



The following item of mine was posted yesterday evening on the website of The National Review.

Controversial Egyptian loses UNESCO vote
By Tom Gross
September 22, 2009

Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian favorite to run UNESCO has in the last hour failed in his attempt to become head of what is supposed to be the world’s leading educational and cultural organization. Among other things, he had called for the burning of Israeli books.

But then running a state censorship operation, as he has done for decades, ought to be a disqualification from the post in the first place.

Also, the generally reliable Arabic-language website, on Saturday published what it said were private admissions by Hosny that when he was the Egyptian cultural attaché in Rome, he helped to organize the escape from Italy in 1985 of the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. In that episode, a retired American Jewish tourist in a wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer, was shot and pushed into the sea where he drowned.

Below, an item just posted on The New York Times website.

September 23, 2009
Controversial Egyptian Loses Unesco Vote
By Steven Erlanger

PARIS — In a fifth and final round of voting, a Bulgarian diplomat narrowly defeated Egypt’s culture minister for the leadership post at Unesco on Tuesday night, ending a bitterly fought contest in which critics of the Egyptian candidate accused him of anti-Semitism and censorship.

The victor, Irina Bokova, 57, won by a vote of 31 to 27 to be the new director-general of Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Her opponent, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny, 71, had been considered the favorite to win.

A race that began with nine candidates, with Mr. Hosny in the lead, was affected by charges against him that he was in favor of burning books by Israelis and keeping restrictions on Egypt’s carefully edited press – incompatible with a United Nations agency that is supposed to defend press freedom.

An alliance of Unesco board members opposed to Mr. Hosny finally coalesced around Ms. Bokova, a former Bulgarian Foreign Minister and currently Bulgaria’s ambassador to France and Unesco, which is headquartered in Paris.

Someone from the Arab world or Eastern Europe has never run Unesco. The new director general replaces Koichiro Matsuura of Japan.

(Background here:



A leading New York hotel has canceled a banquet it was scheduled to host tomorrow evening after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced he was to speak there. The Helmsley Hotel banquet suite had been booked by an Iranian student group.

A spokesman for the hotel said: “Neither the Iranian Mission nor President Ahmadinejad is welcome at any Helmsley facility. The Helmsley organization is grateful to United Against Nuclear Iran for bringing this matter to its attention so that appropriate action could be taken.”

“United Against Nuclear Iran” is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition in the United States.

Ahmadinejad is expected to stay at the Barclays InterContinental Hotel in New York.

By contrast, Ahmadinejad was given a warm welcome at his hotel in Switzerland in April, and the Swiss president was among those honoring the Iranian despot only days after he again called for the destruction of Israel. For more, see the dispatch: Swiss government requisitions 40 lavish hotel rooms for Ahmadinejad (& Elie Wiesel abused at Durban II) (April 23, 2009).

I suggest you also watch the important videos on that dispatch.

At the time, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a longtime subscriber to this email list, was manhandled by Swiss federal agents and forced out of the hotel where Ahmadinejad and Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz were meeting, after he announced plans to challenge the Iranian leader over his views on the Holocaust.



Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner says that in her speech to the UN General Assembly in New York this week, she will challenge Iran over its connection to the 1994 AMIA center bombing in Buenos Aires that killed almost 100 Argentinean Jews.

Interpol has issued arrest warrants for several senior Iranian officials, including President Ahmadinejad’s new defense minister, over that attack.



Israel’s bestselling newspaper Yediot Ahronot writes in an editorial:

“It doesn’t really matter what Ahmadinejad will say in his UN speech. The fact that they are giving the stage to a serial Holocaust denier, who defrauds elections in his own country and murders opposition demonstrators, is a scandal. Any contact with the Iranian president, direct or indirect, is like a stab in the back of the freedom-striving Iranian people as well as being a moral crime against the Jewish people.”

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.