Less Mideast “peace processing” please (& Berlusconi: “Let Israel join the EU”)

February 02, 2010

My article from today’s Wall Street Journal – “Obama misjudges his misjudgment” – is the 8th item on this dispatch (below).

* Hamas operative Mahmoud Mabhouh, who died in Dubai, was a key coordinator for smuggling missiles from Iran to Gaza
* The BBC slips up, and broadcasts a report that includes the Israeli view
* The fact there are signs that the Palestinians are finally beginning to get their own house in order, can only be welcome news for those of us who want to see a viable, independent – and peaceful – Palestinian state
* The Belfast Telegraph: “Israelis are perhaps the only people in the world for whom extenuating circumstances are routinely cited in explanation of their charitable deeds”
* The Financial Times’ poor record on commenting on Israel



1. Israel has “no comment” on Dubai death
2. Perhaps the BBC didn’t know what they were getting?
3. Less Middle East “peace processing” will advance Middle East peace
4. Some people just can’t accept charity as it is
5. No FT, no comment?
6. An Albanian and a Moroccan rescue a synagogue
7. Silvio Berlusconi: “My dream is to see Israel become a member of the European Union”
8. “Obama misjudges his misjudgment” (By Tom Gross, Wall Street Journal)
9. “When good deeds are worse than doing nothing” (By Oliver Worth, Jerusalem Post)
10. “Financial Times 2009: A year of Middle East editorials” (Just Journalism report)
11. “The Shame of Modern Greece” (By Andrew Apostolou, Wall Street Journal)

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


In line with standard policy, Israeli officials are not commenting one way or the other on suggestions that the Mossad was responsible for the death of Hamas terrorist Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai. Mabhouh’s death was reported on Sunday. Hamas says Mabhouh was injected with a drug that induced a heart attack, and his death was not the result of natural causes. Mabhouh’s family claimed he was also strangled. Hamas has already vowed to attack Israeli targets outside Israel in retaliation.

Mabhouh’s known crimes date back as far as 1989 when he masterminded the kidnapping and murder of two young Israelis. More recently, Mabhouh played a key role coordinating the smuggling of missiles and other weapons from Iran to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which has already killed and maimed dozens of Israeli civilians with such weapons, and terrorized thousands more, continues to acquire ever-more powerful rockets from Iran.

Separately, other Hamas officials have suggested that the killing of Mabhouh was likely carried out by agents of an Arab government, and not by Israel. Mabhouh was wanted by authorities in both Jordan and in Egypt. He spent a year in prison in Egypt in 2003. He had flown to Dubai from Damascus a day before his death and it is believed that despite the fact he entered Dubai on a forged passport using an assumed name, he was tracked from the airport to his hotel.

Dubai was a stopover for Mabhouh, whose destination was another country. As a result he stayed at a hotel which was close to the airport and did not plan on staying in Dubai longer than 24 hours, sources say.



Newsnight, the influential program broadcast on the domestic BBC channel, BBC 2, hired an independent production company, Conflict Zones, to make one of (over a dozen) programs the BBC have commissioned to mark the first anniversary of the Gaza war, hosted by celebrated Gulf War veteran British Colonel Tim Collins.

Collins’ report is extraordinary. The BBC actually ended up airing a report that sympathized with Israeli civilians and revealed some of Hamas’s terrorism. It is almost as if the BBC didn’t know what they were getting – and is something utterly unlike the anti-Israel invective regularly broadcast by the BBC’s own reporters in the region.

Colonel Collins is highly regarded in Britain, so it would have caused considerable controversy had the BBC tried to censor this report, as some BBC producers may well have wished.

You can watch it here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8470100.stm

You can read some of the script here: www.conflictzones.tv

(This report does not represent any kind of change in policy by the BBC, which has continued to broadcast terribly misleading and unfair reporting about Israeli conduct in Gaza in January 2009, during its main world news yesterday and today.)



I attach four articles below, with brief summaries first, though I would recommend reading them in full if you have time.

The first is my op-ed piece from last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal. The paper asked me to expand on a note I wrote in one of my dispatches last week. (The piece also runs today in The Australian, one of Australia’s leading newspapers, which like the WSJ is owned by News International.)

I explain that President Obama has gone from one extreme to the other – from being ridiculously optimistic about the prospects for swiftly resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to becoming overly pessimistic now.

In fact, Obama’s first year in office, from late January 2009 until the present, turned out to be one of the most encouraging for Israelis and Palestinians in over 15 years – not that Obama seems to grasp this, probably because it had little to do with him.

In the article I outline various reasons why I believe this to be the case, and conclude that (despite all the problems and pitfalls) the Palestinian Authority is finally doing some state-building instead of engaging in endless hollow “processing” involving talks about talks with foreign leaders. For a Palestinian state to be viable, it is not just a question of what Israel might give the Palestinians, but of the Palestinians getting their own house in order.

The fact there are signs that they are finally beginning to do so, can only be welcome news for those of us who want to see a viable, independent – and peaceful – Palestinian state.



The second piece is by Oliver Worth, a past observer at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, who is now based in Britain. Worth picks up on the theme in one of last month’s dispatches about media coverage of Israel’s crucial role in helping Haitians after the recent earthquake.

I had criticized the way The Times of London covered this. Worth points out that Britain’s Guardian newspaper too, in effect attacked Israel’s Haiti mission in a piece titled “Israel’s double standards over Haiti”

As Kevin Myers writes in The Belfast Telegraph: “Israelis are perhaps the only people in the world for whom extenuating circumstances are routinely cited in explanation of their charitable deeds”.

Incidentally, the IDF has now flown back a five-year-old boy from Haiti for emergency heart surgery by top Israeli heart surgeons.



In the third item, the British-media watchdog “Just Journalism” publishes a report about The Financial Times, a British paper with a wide international readership.

The group analyzed all 121 of the newspaper’s editorials relating to the Middle East in 2009, and reveals a number of important trends.

While the FT was sympathetic towards some of the world’s worst human rights abusers, like the regime in Saudi Arabia, its criticism of Israel was sweeping, sustained and harsh.

The FT downplays the threat of Palestinian terrorism, disunity within Palestinian ranks and the Palestinians’ failure to accept Israel as a Jewish state, while obsessing with Israeli settlement-building (even though it was largely put on hold last year) which the FT refers to as “colonization” in nine editorials

The prospect of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is referred to in five editorials, yet no Financial Times editorial in 2009 makes reference to the murderous rhetoric from Iran’s President Ahmadinejad against Israel.



The last piece below is by Andrew Apostolou, a longtime subscriber to this email list. I attach it as a follow-up to the 13th note in this dispatch last month

Apostolou, who is of Greek origin but is now based in the U.S, notes the almost complete indifference of Greek society to the high levels of anti-Semitism in the country. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he observes, it was non-Greeks who saved Crete’s historic synagogue when it was twice attacked last month. An Albanian immigrant was the first to call for help following the arson attack and an Albanian caretaker of the synagogue and a Moroccan immigrant also rendered vital assistance in putting the fire out.

The vast majority of Greece’s historic Jewish communities were murdered during the Holocaust, some with the assistance of Kurt Waldheim, who later served as UN Secretary-General. Greece’s media is among the worst in the world when it comes to making comparisons between democratic Israel and Nazi Germany.



My note in the dispatch of January 17, titled “Italian companies – with Rome’s backing – have equipped Iran’s military and contributed to the regime’s satellite and possibly nuclear programs,” has come to the attention of Hillary Clinton, through senior U.S. officials who subscribe to this list.

Clinton has now raised the matter with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Frattini has promised Clinton that Eni (the Italian energy giant that is reportedly Iran’s largest business partner in Europe) will stop investing in Iran and will freeze its current deals.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is currently visiting Israel (bringing an extraordinary seven cabinet ministers with him), today made a number of statements strongly supportive of Israel and said that his “dream is to see Israel become a member of the European Union”.


I attach four articles below and hope you have time to read them.

-- Tom Gross



Obama misjudges his misjudgment: Too much Middle East peace processing
By Tom Gross
The Wall Street Journal
January 28, 2010


Last week, in an “exclusive” interview granted to Time magazine, U.S. President Barack Obama admitted he erred during his first year in office by raising unrealistically high expectations of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I’ll be honest with you, this is just really hard,” Mr. Obama said when asked about the Middle East.

“This is as intractable a problem as you get,” he went on, noting that while Israel had showed a willingness “after a lot of time” to make “some modifications” in policy, it “still found it very hard to move with any bold gestures.”

“I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high,” Mr. Obama added.

Judging from these remarks, the American President appears almost as lost on this issue as he is on how to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. He has gone from one extreme to the other – from being ridiculously optimistic about the prospects for swiftly resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (did he think he could just wave a magic wand and solve a 100-year-old-dispute?), to becoming overly pessimistic now.

In fact, Mr. Obama’s first year in office, from late January 2009 until the present, turned out to be one of the most encouraging for Israelis and Palestinians in over 15 years – not that Mr. Obama seems to grasp this, probably because it had little to do with him. Indeed his initial policies were unhelpful to both Israeli and Palestinian moderates, but luckily both groups generally ignored him.

There were several factors that made the first 12 months of Obama’s presidency better for peace prospects (for those of us who want a two-state solution) than previous years.

Firstly, there was less violence, both between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Palestinians and Palestinians, than there had been for years. Among other landmarks, 2009 was the first year in a long time without any successful suicide bombings against Israel.

In addition, the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank have finally started to behave like a security force rather than like a terrorist group. For example, last week they rescued an Israeli settler who was trapped under her overturned car near Qalqilya in the northern West Bank. They used special equipment to extricate the seriously injured woman, and provided her with initial emergency treatment until Israeli medics could arrive. In previous years (and especially when Yasser Arafat lorded it over the Palestinians), they would probably have shot her instead.

Then, there was the strong economic growth in both Israel and the Palestinian territories relative to most of the rest of the world, for which 2009 was a bleak year. (While Gaza is not undergoing the same kind of economic growth enjoyed by the West Bank, the standard of living there is nonetheless considerably better than you would suppose from the distorted picture provided by certain partisan journalists and NGO workers, and much better then in many other areas of the world.)

And most importantly, 2009 was the year that a Likud Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, not only recognized the principle of an independent Palestinian state, but also made the most sweeping freeze on Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank since 1967.

Yet barely any of this seems to have registered with Mr. Obama. Instead, in his remarks to Time, even when he acknowledged there had been mistakes, he implied that the responsibility for the mistakes always rested with others, not with him.

Try telling that to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hardly a day goes by without Mr. Abbas privately pointing the finger of blame at Mr. Obama for his clumsy approach.

Occasionally, Mr. Abbas airs his exasperation in public. For example, in an interview published on Dec. 22 in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat, he explained that he could not afford a situation in which Mr. Obama appears more Palestinian than the Palestinians.

“[Mr.] Obama laid down the condition of halting the settlements completely,” he noted, even in areas which Palestinian negotiators have already agreed in principle will form part of Israel. “What was I supposed to say to him? Should I say this is too much?”

Every informed observer knows that for a realistic two-state solution to be achieved, Israel cannot return to what Abba Eban famously referred to as Israel’s “Auschwitz borders” (i.e., borders that were indefensible), and that there will be land swaps between Israelis and Palestinians so final borders will more closely reflect demographic and security considerations. Indeed as long ago as 1967, the international diplomats who carefully crafted U.N. Resolution 242 acknowledged that the 1967 borders would not and should not necessarily constitute Israel’s final boundaries. They made clear in the wording of their text that they believed that not all of the land previously occupied by Jordan (land that has come to be known as the West Bank) should necessarily be relinquished by Israel.

And yet Mr. Obama stepped in and tried to insist on just that, much to the consternation not only of Israelis, but of Mr. Abbas.

What has been happening on the ground in the past year – brought about by both Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders effectively ignoring Mr. Obama and the other so-called “peace processers” – is that the Palestinian government in Ramallah, with quiet assistance from Israel (assistance which I outlined in some detail in a piece on these pages last month), is finally doing some state-building instead of engaging in endless hollow “processing” involving talks about talks with foreign leaders. For a Palestinian state to be viable it is not just a question of what Israel might give the Palestinians, but of the Palestinians getting their own house in order.

And even if Mr. Obama isn’t quite aware of this accomplishment, those of us who want to see a viable, independent and peaceful Palestinian state can only welcome it.



“When good deeds are worse than doing nothing”
By Oliver Worth
The Jerusalem Post
January 25, 2010

When sending two jumbo-jets of aid, and setting up a field hospital with hundreds of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel is met with scorn, you know something isn’t right.

While most of the mainstream American and British news networks reported extensively on Israel’s reaction to Haiti’s devastating earthquake, unfortunately we were also reminded just how entrenched some of the world’s hatred for the Jewish state really is.

While the fact that most of the Arab world donated mere pennies or nothing at all, has escaped mention Israel’s attempt to save lives has been labeled by many as nothing but a PR exercise. The sad truth is that the anti-Israel hard left has done such a great job of dehumanizing Israelis, that the idea they could be doing good deeds is totally incomprehensible. It’s true – Israel’s actions in Haiti are creating good press, but that’s what happens when you do good things.

The assertion that Israel should somehow have to apologize for coming across positively is absurd and grounded in anti-Semitism. As Kevin Myers writes for the Belfast Telegraph “They are perhaps the only people in the world for whom extenuating circumstances are routinely cited in explanation of their charitable deeds”.

While it’s no surprise that the Islamist anti-Semitic Iranian mouth-piece Press TV accuses Israeli doctors of using the Haiti emergency to harvest organs one should not expect to read the headline “Israel’s double standards over Haiti,” in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, except, of course in the comparison between Israel’s efforts in Haiti and the efforts of any of Israel’s neighbours. Unfortunately it comes as no surprise to those regularly inflicted with the Guardian’s bias that the piece is, of course in reference to Israel’s treatment of Haitians and those it is at war with.

Israel’s commitment to saving lives in disaster zones has nothing to do with Gaza. Israel has shown its amazing commitment to the preservation of life in India, Indonesia, Kenya and many other nations, Gaza war or no Gaza war.

There is simply no comparison between the response shown to a people at the mercy of horrific natural events and a people who have effectively been at war with Israel since its birth.

It’s truly astonishing that part of the mainstream British press has found itself unable to differentiate between a helpless Haitian people in desperate need of aid, and the Palestinian people who elected a terrorist organization into power.

While no one in their right mind would deny the widespread suffering of the Gazan people, drawing any moral equivalence between Israel’s relationship with them and those trapped under rubble in Haiti is truly perverse. When the attitude toward Israel is so widely based on anti-Semitism and hate, what evidence is there to believe things would change with an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement? For peace to be possible, Israel rightly has to believe that its concessions and sacrifices would be met by more than continued hatred, that peace with the Palestinians is also peace with the world.

As things stand, Israel is the only country in the world- bar none- that has to justify giving aid and saving lives. As long as Israelis (or perhaps simply Jews) are viewed as incapable of doing anything good, in a sentiment propagated by so much of the world media, then Israel will be in no position to make concessions for peace.

No one is asking for the world to kiss Israel’s feet for acts which are in line with its own moral code, but when Israel provides more per capita than any other nation in the world and is met with scorn, and the world’s worst and wealthiest human rights abusers give nothing and are met with silence, well, something isn’t right.



“Financial Times 2009: A year of Middle East editorials”
Financial Times blames Israel for Middle East conflict and ignores Iran threat
Just Journalism special report
January 28, 2010

Just Journalism today publishes ‘Financial Times 2009: A year of Middle East editorials’ analysing all 121 of the newspaper’s editorials relating to the Middle East last year, and revealing a number of important trends.

The report is divided into four sections addressing the FT editorial column’s position on:

1. Israel and the Palestinians: Leaders and efforts for peace
2. Key points of conflict: Settlements and Gaza
3. Iran: Nuclear ambitions and tensions with Israel
4. The Arab world: Regimes and peacemaking

The study shows that threats against Israel’s existence issued by Iranian President Ahmadinejad were ignored in the paper’s editorial column, yet the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was referred to on numerous occasions.

The FT also downplayed other factors in the other conflict such as terrorism and the political split between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. By contrast, Israeli settlement activity was cited as the chief cause of tension between Israel and the Palestinians.

Executive Summary:

* The FT views Israel as primarily responsible for the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while downplaying other factors. In particular it places the role of settlement-building in the West Bank above any other single factor affecting the conflict. Settlement-building is referred to as ‘colonisation’ in nine editorials

* Other aggravating factors such as terrorism, disunity within Palestinian ranks and a failure to accept Israel as a Jewish state are downplayed. Neither of these last two are addressed as areas of legitimate concern for Israel; rather, both are viewed as ploys by Israel to ‘change the subject’

* The editorial coverage over the past year reflects a gradual shift away from the view that Iran’s nuclear intentions might be peaceful towards the conclusion at the end of 2009 that they are not

* The prospect of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is referred to in five editorials; yet no Financial Times editorial in 2009 makes reference to the threatening rhetoric from Iran’s President Ahmadinejad against Israel

* The publication backed the Goldstone Report, which described the Israeli military operation as ‘a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population’. The Financial Times described Israel’s actions in Gaza as ‘disproportionate’ in four editorials

* Israeli political leaders are depicted as ‘irredentist’, ‘hawkish’, and ‘ultra-nationalist’. In contrast, Palestinian leaders are portrayed as ‘moderate’ and ‘conciliatory’, if corrupt

* Israel’s total military and civilian withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005 is not viewed as a meaningful Israeli concession, rather it is seen as inadequate at best, and a cynical ploy at worst

* The Arab world is portrayed as having made a substantial effort for peace in the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. The Saudi Peace Initiative of 2002 is touted in seven editorials and the newspaper expresses sympathy with the recent Arab refusal to meet Israeli concessions with Arab concessions

* Mixed attitudes towards the nature of Arab regimes are displayed. The newspaper attacks the West - the US in particular - for backing ‘an ossified order of ... Arab strongmen’ typified by the Mubarak regime in Egypt; however, Saudi Arabia is spared harsh criticism, particularly regarding its human rights record

For the full report, visit www.justjournalism.com



The shame of modern Greece
By Andrew Apostolou
Wall Street Journal Europe
January 21, 2010

The repeat arson attacks on a synagogue in Greece demonstrate that Turkey is not the only Mediterranean democracy cursed with anti-Semitism. Arsonists have attacked the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Chania, on the Greek island of Crete, twice this year. The fires on Jan. 5 and 17 have inflicted substantial damage on a structure that was only restored in 1999 after lying derelict since the Holocaust. The attempts to destroy Crete’s only synagogue follow a spate of vandalism of Jewish graves in Ioannina in northwestern Greece.

Compounding these acts of violence is Greek society’s shameful indifference to anti-Semitism. This was amply demonstrated during the arson incidents in Crete. Non-Greeks played an admirable role in saving the synagogue. An Albanian immigrant was the first to spot the fire in the early hours of Jan. 5. The Albanian caretaker of the synagogue and a Moroccan also rendered vital assistance. Nikos Stavroulakis, the director of the synagogue and the man behind its restoration, has written about the “the lack of ‘locals’” on the scene after the first attack – all the more shocking given that these ‘locals’ would have lost their homes and businesses had the fire spread.

Those who sleep through the night while a synagogue burns in their own town are a metaphor for Greece’s attitude to anti-Semitism. The fundamental problem with Greek anti-Semitism is not that it is rampant. It is that in a country of 11 million with just 5,000 Jews, few Greeks care to resist it. Greece suffers from a lack of moral, religious and social leadership denouncing the embarrassment of anti-Semitism, be it vandalism or the now banal comparison of Israel with the Nazis in the national media.

The indifference of many Greeks is unsurprising. The official version of the history ensures that few know of the Jewish component of Greece’s past. Many Greeks do not know that their second largest city, Salonika, had a Jewish majority for most of its modern history. Instead of the Holocaust being treated as a moment for moral and historical reflection, it is portrayed as an opportunity for national self-congratulation because of the rescue of a small number of Greek Jews. The genuine heroism of Greek Christians who saved Greek Jews from the Nazis in such places as Zakynthos and Athens is used to obscure the collaboration and indifference that helped condemn tens of thousands of Greek Jews to death in Salonika and northern Greece.

This ignorance has been reinforced by historians, Greek and foreign alike, who have largely skated over collaboration during the Holocaust. Like the Greek government, historians prefer to emphasize the rescue of Jews rather than prompt an examination of the often shameful and ambiguous stance that too many Greeks took during the Second World War. The leaders of Greece’s barely 5,000 strong Jewish community take a similar historical approach for obvious political reasons. Over sixty years after the Holocaust, myths prevail over scholarship.

Most Greek politicians are complicit, failing to take anti-Semitism seriously as a local problem. With the admirable exception of former conservative prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis, who has vigorously condemned the arson attacks, Greek politicians have responded lethargically to the latest incidents. This is despite the tremendous and commendable efforts of such organizations of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which has sought to educate Greek opinion leaders. The AJC’s efforts have convinced some Greek politicians that their country is diminished by ignoring anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, too many still regard anti-Semitism as a public relations issue that affects Greece’s image abroad, rather a moral question bearing upon its social sanity at home.

Very occasionally, some principled citizens express their disgust, but national figures generally do not bother to support these small local initiatives. In December 2009 hundreds of non-Jews in Ionnina formed a human chain around the Jewish cemetery there to protest its repeated desecration. In Salonika a few young historians have begun to ask questions about the massive theft of Jewish property during the war.

What these handfuls of activists have understood is that anti-Semitism can be as harmful to non-Jews as to Jews. Only a handful of Jews remain in Chania and Ioannina. These are places more of Jewish memory than of community – over 90% of Chania and Ioannina’s Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. The non-Jews in these towns now have to live with the lingering hate and immoral ambivalence that over sixty years ago allowed so many Greek Jews to be taken away to their deaths.

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