* Lee Smith: This weekend, more than 10,000 pro-Israel activists, Jews and non-Jews alike, will gather at the Washington convention center for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. But just how powerful is AIPAC if a man who refers to it as the “Jewish lobby” and has defiantly claimed that he is not an “Israeli senator” is slated to be our next secretary of Defense? And, most significantly, how much influence does it actually exercise if it can’t carry the day on the single issue that’s been at the very top of its agenda for over a decade: stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
* Fouad Ajami: If John Kerry merely picks up where his predecessor had left off, there is no salvation in sight for the Syrian people. For the length of two brutal years, while tens of thousands died, Hillary Clinton engaged in “lead from behind” diplomacy and ran out the clock on the Syrian rebellion… but for Mr. Kerry, there is yet another burden – his own role in the disastrous U.S. policy that the Obama administration pursued in Damascus when it came into office… the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon was sacrificed at the altar of engaging the Syrian ruler.
* The WikiLeaks cables from Damascus of 2009 and 2010 bear testimony to the fact that Mr. Kerry took it upon himself to serve as an interlocutor with the Syrian dictator. He was part of the chorus that saw hope in reasoning with Assad,
* Fouad Ajami: there is no substitute for military aid that neutralizes the Assad regime’s deadly firepower. We must be done with the alibi that we can’t arm and see this rebellion to victory because the jihadists now have the upper hand in the ranks of the rebels. The idea that a nation willing to pay such a terrible price for its freedom, to brave fighter jets and Scud missiles, is eager to slip under the yoke of fighters from Libya and Chechnya is manifestly false.
* Barry Rubin: Two unarmed Finnish soldiers assigned to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization were observing along the Israel-Syria border from the Syrian side. Armed men stopped their car. While the two Finns didn’t speak Arabic they were quickly made to understand that the men wanted their UN vehicle and their other possessions. In short, the supposed representatives of the world’s community were being mugged and they could do nothing about it, or at least nothing but to give in…The world is constantly held up by terrorists and nowadays it tends to give in, if not to the specific operations to the narrative being imposed on it.
* Upper West Side man reveals his hate for The New York Times – in his New York Times death notice
I attach four articles below. The authors of the first three are all subscribers to this list.
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
1. “How AIPAC Is Losing” (By Lee Smith, Tablet, Feb. 27, 2013)
2. “Kerry’s Syrian Second Chance” (By Fouad Ajami, Wall St Journal, Feb. 28, 2013)
3. “Islamists to West: Put Up Your Hands and Hand Over Your Property!” (By Barry Rubin, Feb. 24, 2013)
4. “Times ‘dead’ line: death notice includes hate for Gray Lady” (NY Post, Feb. 27, 2013)
“TEHRAN HAS THE UPPER HAND AND THE ALL-POWERFUL PRO-ISRAEL LOBBY HAS NO CHOICE BUT TO SWALLOW IT AND SMILE”
How AIPAC Is Losing
Chuck Hagel will be secretary of Defense, and Iran will go nuclear. So much for an all-powerful Israel Lobby.
By Lee Smith
February 27, 2013
This weekend, more than 10,000 pro-Israel activists, Jews and non-Jews alike, will gather at the Washington convention center for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. These friends and supporters of the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship will hear from members of Congress and the executive branch who will all testify to the singular influence that AIPAC, as the pillar of the pro-Israel community, wields in the capital of the free world.
But just how powerful is AIPAC if a man who refers to it as the “Jewish lobby” and has defiantly claimed that he is not an “Israeli senator” is slated to be our next secretary of Defense? And, most significantly, how much influence does the lobbying organization actually exercise if it can’t carry the day on the single issue that’s been at the very top of its agenda for over a decade: stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
Despite an operating budget of more than $60 million, on the most crucial issue facing Israel’s security, AIPAC has lost the policy debate. The winners include those who believe you can’t stop a nation from getting the bomb if it’s determined to do so, those who think the Iranians have a right to nuclear weapons, and those who argue the Iranians can be contained – among them, our new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
For the past two months, those invested in the Israel-U.S. relationship have been fixated on whether or not Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would fundamentally alter U.S. policy toward Israel. In addition to his revealing statements about Jews, the former senator from Nebraska voted against sanctioning Iran and against designating the Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization.
Yet AIPAC has remained totally mum. The group says it focuses its energies on matters of policy rather than personnel. If it campaigned against Hagel, where would it stop? The organization would potentially have to take a position on every Cabinet nominee. Meantime, in the absence of AIPAC, other pro-Israel organizations have come out publicly against Hagel, like the Emergency Committee for Israel. For taking the lead on this issue, they have been labeled partisans, while AIPAC has preserved its bipartisan status.
But it’s not clear how much that label matters when a very influential segment of the Democratic party has made it plain that supporting Israel isn’t a top priority. I’m not just referring to the delegates who booed pro-Israel changes to the party platform on the floor of the convention in Charlotte last summer. I’m talking about the White House.
Pro-Israel Obama supporters on the Hill and in the press keep trying to make the case that in spite of how it might look on the surface, the administration cares deeply about the U.S.-Israel relationship. They point to the success of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense batteries as evidence that the security and military cooperation between the United States and Israel has reached unprecedented highs under Obama’s stewardship. But politics is mostly about how things look. And if the administration really cared that much about Israel, it wouldn’t nominate a secretary of defense who referred to defenders of the U.S.-Israel relationship as “the Jewish lobby.”
The paradox is that by giving personnel a pass, AIPAC has lost the policy debate. Policy is made by people who believe in certain ideas, principles, and even fantasies. What Hagel seems to have learned from his tours of combat in Vietnam is that it is a fantasy to imagine that you can bomb a country into submitting to the will of the United States. Presumably, this is why he also opposed the war in Iraq. The problem is that deconstructing such a fantasy does not necessarily leave you with reality. In Hagel’s case it has left him only with an equally dangerous fantasy: that instead of waging war, it is possible to reach an accommodation, if not an amicable understanding, with nations that have clearly identified themselves as adversaries.
This fantasy is shared by much of the U.S. policymaking elite, including Obama. Indeed, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution every White House has sought comity with the Iranians. The fact that all, including Obama, have failed, is proof that the endeavor is not possible. From this perspective, it is also clear that Western sanctions against Iran and the secret war conducted against Iranian scientists and installations are intended less to destroy the nuclear program than to prolong the fantasy that at some point the Iranians will come to their senses and abandon their search for a bomb. It is noteworthy that the majority of the American electorate does not share this fantasy, with a Pew poll last year showing that 58 percent support U.S. military action against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
But AIPAC – and this 58 percent majority – lost the debate to a host of adversaries. Some on the winning side argued for engagement. Among these were the stars of the policy pantheon, like former Secretary of State Jim Baker, and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who argued that a combination of incentives and pressures might get the Iranians to the table.
And if Iran didn’t want to negotiate, some claimed that wasn’t such a big deal anyway. As Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has said, it’s no problem containing Iran. Journalists like Fareed Zakaria agreed. Some went even further, arguing that Iran was in fact a natural American ally. More extreme yet in their efforts were the single-minded obsessives, the creeps, like Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, and Trita Parsi, who argued that in fact the problem was not with Iran but with the United States.
If, as Hagel has said, the Jewish lobby truly intimidated “a lot of people up here,” you’d expect to see Washington all humming the same tune on Iran. Instead, it’s the Iranians calling the shots. “You must raise the level of your tolerance,” the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization recently told the West. “Try to find ways for cooperation with a country that is moving towards technological progress.”
The Iranian negotiating team meeting with its Western counterparts in Kazakhstan this week has earned the right to its smugness. The Iranians are installing equipment that will allow it to accelerate the production of nuclear fuel. And then there was North Korea’s nuclear test two weeks ago. At the very least, it signaled to the Iranians that in the end, despite all of the tough talk coming from the White House, the Americans are not going to stop the Iranians from acquiring the bomb.
Tehran has the upper hand in negotiations because it recognizes that all the White House wants is some sort of deal it can sell as a victory. And the all-powerful pro-Israel lobby has no choice but to swallow it and smile.
THERE IS ALWAYS ANOTHER MEETING AROUND THE CORNER
John Kerry’s Syrian Second Chance
Not so long ago, the new secretary of state was among those who saw hope in reasoning with Bashar Assad.
By Fouad Ajami
The Wall Street Journal
February 28, 2013
As the war that has degraded and all but partitioned Syria enters its third year, the amorphous coalition known as the Friends of Syria continues to hover just off-stage. The Western democracies, moderate Arab governments and international organizations that constitute the coalition are indeed friends of the opposition to the despotic regime of Bashar Assad – but at arm’s length. There is always another meeting around the corner, another set of benchmarks laid out by these friends, who then judge that the opposition has not achieved a sufficient level of pluralism and democratic devotion to merit the coalition’s wholehearted support.
The latest meeting comes Thursday in Rome, where Secretary of State John Kerry’s get-to-know-you European tour will bring him together with the Friends of Syria – and with representatives of the Syrian rebellion. The Friends of Syria would like to broker peace negotiations, but what the Syrian opposition wants and needs is not negotiations: The rebels want to overthrow the murderous Assad regime. Walid Bunni, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, told Al Arabiya television Monday that opposition leaders would attend the Rome meeting following assurances that the U.S. and the U.K. would increase direct aid to the rebels. The group would go to Rome, he said, and “see if the promises are different this time.”
Mr. Kerry, for his part, promises a new beginning: “We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind wondering where the support is or if it’s coming,” he said Monday. “We are determined to change the calculation on the ground for President Assad.”
Yet the European arms embargo remains in place and official U.S. policy remains “nonlethal” aid only. If Mr. Kerry merely picks up where his predecessor had left off, there is no salvation in sight for the Syrian people. For the length of two brutal years, while tens of thousands died, Hillary Clinton engaged in “lead from behind” diplomacy and ran out the clock on the Syrian rebellion.
To Mrs. Clinton’s credit, news recently came to light that she and the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency had argued in favor of arming the Syrian opposition last year but were overruled by a president who wanted no new burdens in an Arab theater of war. One doesn’t know what to make of the revelation, or its seriousness. No one resigned on principle.
For Mr. Kerry, there is yet another burden – his own role in the disastrous U.S. policy that the Obama administration pursued in Damascus when it came into office. Obama advisers were convinced that the Bush policy had needlessly antagonized the Damascus regime, and that the Americans could “flip” the regime away from Tehran. To that end, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon was sacrificed at the altar of engaging the Syrian ruler.
The WikiLeaks cables from Damascus of 2009 and 2010 bear testimony to the American solicitude shown Bashar Assad. He was told that President Bush’s “diplomacy of freedom” was a thing of the past. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Kerry took it upon himself to serve as an interlocutor with the Syrian dictator. He was part of the chorus that saw hope in reasoning with the son of Hafez Assad, the military man and Baathist who seized control of Syria in 1970. In Bashar, and his stylish British-born wife, they saw a modern couple bent on opening up a drab and sterile dictatorship.
In his defense, Mr. Kerry would maintain that he was only testing the intentions of Damascus, that he had trod a path pursued by such seasoned diplomats as Henry Kissinger and James Baker: The isolation of Damascus had failed as a policy, and he had given “engagement” a try.
This is in the past, but not entirely. Mr. Kerry wants to change Assad’s calculus, but the despot knows his mind and the rules of the terrible sectarian war he ignited. It would take a major break with the passivity of the past two years to upend the regime. The stalemate on the ground has resulted in a de facto partition: Damascus is contested, the regime holds sway on the coast and the Alawite Mountains, while the rebellion has the upper hand in the north and in the eastern part of the country. The very nationhood of Syria is coming apart.
If Mr. Kerry wants to break the stalemate, he must will the means. The promise to provide “nonlethal” aid directly to the opposition that he is said to have taken to Rome is a step in the right direction. Past humanitarian assistance from the U.S. was channeled through the regime or neighboring countries. Now the push will be to empower the opposition with financial support and equipment.
But there is no substitute for military aid that neutralizes the Assad regime’s deadly firepower. We must be done with the alibi that we can’t arm and see this rebellion to victory because the jihadists now have the upper hand in the ranks of the rebels.
The idea that a nation willing to pay such a terrible price for its freedom, to brave fighter jets and Scud missiles, is eager to slip under the yoke of fighters from Libya and Chechnya is manifestly false. Yes, the Nusra Front, a band of non-Syrian jihadists that the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, brought guns and money into the fight. But the opening for the Nusra Front was born of the abdication of those who had it within their means to tip the scales in favor of the rebellion.
American passivity proved contagious. In the face of that passivity, other powers held back. A ramshackle Syrian army was depicted as a mighty force, so much so that the vastly superior forces of the Turkish state overlooked countless Syrian provocations, and the Syria-Turkey border had to be defended by Patriot missiles provided by NATO.
That passivity was of no small consequence to the Sunni Arab states as well. The fight for Damascus, and the specter of an Iranian victory as it backs Assad in that big Sunni-Shiite struggle, terrifies the moderate Arab regimes. But they, too, have not given this fight their all. Largely because they haven’t had the U.S. to lead them.
This is “the East,” with a scent for power and weakness, with a feel for the intentions and the staying power of strangers. Syria is the place where the will of Iran could be broken.
Daily, it seems, we warn Iran of the consequences of its defiance and of its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But could it be that the Iranian theocrats pay U.S. power little heed because they see American passivity not so far from them?
THE WEST IS UNARMED
Islamists to West: Put Up Your Hands and Hand Over Your Property!
By Barry Rubin
Feb. 24, 2013
Here’s the perfect parable for understanding not just the contemporary Middle East but the wider world today.
Two unarmed Finnish soldiers assigned to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) were observing along the Israel-Syria border from the Syrian side. Armed men stopped their car. While the two Finns didn’t speak Arabic they were quickly made to understand that the men wanted their UN vehicle and their other possessions.
Similar things have happened to Belgian and Italian soldiers in the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon.
In short, the supposed representatives of the world’s community were being mugged and they could do nothing about it, or at least nothing but to give in.
A Finnish officer explained that the men weren’t in fear of their lives; the gunmen just wanted their property.
Now let me make it clear that I’m not criticizing the two soldiers. What are you going to do when you are unarmed and terrorists with guns hold you up? Yet this little story struck me as incredibly symbolic on several levels.
The world is constantly held up by terrorists and nowadays it tends to give in, if not to the specific operations to the narrative being imposed on it. We do see rescue operations sometimes – as in the Algerian army’s disastrous “rescue” in which all the technicians being held hostage at a gas field were killed – and sometimes we don’t, as in Benghazi while the U.S. government stood by as men it had sent into a dangerous situation were murdered.
Yet what happens is that even if the terrorists don’t always win in their military operations they succeed in intimidating the West to hand over its intellectual property – by suppressing its own debate – and sometimes to pay tribute money as well.
As a reward for failing to fulfill its commitments and cheering on terrorist attacks, the UN’s General Assembly assigned non-member state status to the Palestinian Authority. Billions of dollars of U.S. aid go to Pakistan, which helps the Taliban and shields al-Qaida. Arms are handed over to Syrian Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Turkish government backs a terrorist group to create a violent confrontation with Israel (the IHH in the Gaza flotilla) and President Obama declares that regime to be his soul mate. Even after an official report that Hizbullah carried out a terrorist attack in Bulgaria, the European Union won’t put it on the terrorism list.
There is a long list of such items. Terrorism mugs the West and gets paid off as long as it doesn’t overreach too much. Not attacking the World Trade Center is enough to make some group America’s “friend.”
One reason the West tends to yield is that it is unarmed. Not literally, of course, But unarmed in terms of its ideas, analysis, and understanding.
As for a good case study, take Lebanon, a few miles from where the two Finns were mugged and where the much larger UNIFIL force has received the same treatment. In 2006 the UN and the U.S. government promised Israel, as a condition for ending its war with Hizbullah, that a much-enlarged UN force would keep Hizbullah in southern Lebanon and help stop arms’ smuggling from Syria to Lebanese terrorists.
Hizbullah has walked all over the UN (UN Resolution 1701) and the U.S. commitments without any cost to itself. UN observers have been regularly intimidated by Hizbullah, which has moved back into southern Lebanon and built new fortifications. The UN and the White House have not only done nothing but they haven’t even criticized Hizbullah for this behavior.
General Alberto Asarta, the Spanish general who commands UNFIL forces in southern Lebanon, cannot praise Hizbullah highly enough. The area, he explains, is “the best and most stable in the whole of the Middle East” thanks to Hizbullah’s cooperation. It is “the most successful model when compared to the experiences of other UN peacekeeping missions around the world.” And Hizbullah has actually helped combat terrorist groups that sought to attack UNIFIL. Indeed, the cooperation with Hizbullah is called – I kid you not--”The Partnership against Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
Memo to police forces: This could be a model for The Partnership against Crime to be formed in alliance with the Mafia. I can assure you that the Mafia is willing to help you from time to time against its competitors.
Did I mention that having won the last Lebanese elections – with a little help from violent intimidation and assassination of opponents – Hizbullah now runs Lebanon? And did I mention that the new CIA director, John Brennan, is an apologist for Hizbullah and has advocated normalizing relations between the United States and that terrorist group?
And, of course, unless hit with an Israeli air attack, Syria and Iran smuggle any weapons into Lebanon they wish without U.S. or UN objection or blockage. The effect of this smuggling is not only to set the stage for future Hizbullah terrorism against Israel and a possible war, but helps to guarantee that Lebanon will continue to be in the hands of a terrorist group that is closely aligned with Tehran and advocates genocide against Jews.
Oh, and Israel is supposed to be the bad guy because it defends itself against muggers.
It’s bad enough to be mugged repeatedly but it’s even worse to provide the weapons and money for the assailants while also praising them. But that’s precisely the moral of the story as far as Obama Administration policy is concerned: Except for a few exceptions who won’t play politely (i.e., al-Qaida and part of the Taliban) if you’re nice to the terrorists and they’ll be nice to you.
“LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT NYC, EXCEPT THE NEW YORK TIMES”
Times ‘dead’ line: death notice includes hate for Gray Lady
New York Post
February 27, 2013
An Israeli-born Upper West Sider revealed his lifelong hatred for The New York Times – in a paid death notice that ran in The New York Times.
Retired stockbroker Amos Shuchman, 84, “loved his family, his birth and adopted countries, finance, skiing, opera, ballet and biking in Central Park,” read his Feb. 2 death notice in the Times.
But there was just one thing he didn’t like.
“Loved everything about NYC, except The New York Times,” his death notice read.
The dead man’s son, Daniel Shuchman, yesterday told The Post that Amos was “deeply committed to principles of individual freedom and to the security of the United States and Israel.”
Amos Shuchman, who was born in Tel Aviv, “fought bravely” in the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization. He didn’t like the Times’ coverage of Israel.
“To put it diplomatically, he did not believe that the Times provided honest and objective reporting on these and other important matters,” the son said.
The Times has been criticized by both sides for its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Still, there was a classic New York paper that Amos Shuchman did love – The Post.
“We think he is in heaven now with a New York Post and a falafel sandwich, having a good chuckle over this notoriety,” his son said.
Daniel Shuchman acknowledged that his father might not have liked his death notice because he would “not have wanted to generate revenue for the Times.”
But “he would have laughed heartily at the irony and the posthumous attention the obituary is getting,’’ the son said.
Daniel Shuchman said his father had canceled his subscription to the Times years ago.
Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said the death notice was paid content and is not subject to editorial oversight.
“I thought it was sort of amusing,” she added.
Mukhtar Mai, the woman who was sentenced by a Pakistani village court to be gang raped for her brother’s supposed “immodesty”, speaks out about her experience to the Geneva Summit
* Tom Gross: Mauritania, an Islamic republic where imams often use their interpretations of Sharia law to justify forcing the darker-skinned black African Haratine minority to serve as slaves and sex-slaves to the Arabic Moor population, is today appointed by the UN Human Rights Council (of Goldstone Report notoriety) to help preside over worldwide human rights for the next 12 months. There are an estimated 800,000 slaves in the country.
* Nowhere is slavery still so systematically practiced as in Mauritania. “Slaves are their masters’ property, often from birth. Women slaves are allowed to be sexually abused whenever their masters want. The masters can buy or sell slaves or loan out parts of their bodies for use — arms, legs, vaginas, mouths. The slaves must obey. This is Islamic law as it exists in Mauritania today,” escaped slave Abidine Merzough told the Geneva Summit.
* Tom Gross: “The contrast could hardly be greater. I watched the UN ambassadors arrive in chauffeur-driven Mercedes, and then congratulate themselves while ignoring human-rights abuses throughout the world… When Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and other dignitaries assemble in Geneva to open the annual session of the UN Human Rights Council today, they might want to ask why these dissidents were not invited to address them. And they might want to ask why Mauritania, instead of being held to account, has been appointed the organization’s vice-chair.”
* Daniel Schwammenthal: “As the Iranian activist Marina Nemat put it: ‘Your silence is a weapon of mass destruction.’ Arrested in 1982 at the age of 16 for demonstrating against the mullahs, and tortured in Iran’s notorious Evin prison for over two years, Nemat knows ‘mass destruction’ from up close and personal. In times when allegedly progressive politicians, such as Germany’s Green Party leader Claudia Roth, exchange enthusiastic high-fives with Iranian ambassadors, Nemat’s tale is particularly worth retelling.”
I attach an article of mine from today’s National Post, the leading nationwide paper in Canada, followed by a piece on the same subject by Daniel Schwammenthal from the British online publication The Commentator. We both attended the same human rights summit – though lamentably few other journalists bothered to show up.
* You can comment on it here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
THE UN PROMOTES A MODERN-DAY SLAVE-OWNING NATION THE WORLD CARES LITTLE ABOUT
The UN’s willful ignorance of modern-day slavery
By Tom Gross
National Post, Canada (and also in America, at The Huffington Post)
Feb 25, 2013
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) begins its annual session in Geneva today by once again disgracing itself through the appointment of the West African country of Mauritania as its vice-president for the next year.
The UNHRC is the organization that, in the past, has cozied up to the Gaddafi and Assad regimes in Libya and Syria; that praised Sri Lanka’s human-rights record shortly after that country’s military killed more than 40,000 Tamil civilians in 2009; and that still exhibits at the entrance to its meeting hall, two pieces of art, one donated by Egypt’s Mubarak regime, the other with a plaque that reads, “A statue of Nemesis, Goddess of justice, donated by the Syrian government.”
It also appointed Alfred De Zayas as one of its leading advisors last December, despite the fact that his books on the Second World War portray Germans as victims and the Allies as perpetrators of “genocide.” De Zayas, while not denying the Holocaust himself, has nonetheless become a hero to many Holocaust deniers, and his sayings are featured on many of their websites. He has called for Israel to be expelled from the UN, while defending the ruthless Iranian regime.
And now Mauritania has been chosen by the UNHRC to help preside over worldwide human rights for the next 12 months. Mauritania, although all-but ignored by mainstream human-rights groups, is a country that allows 20% of its citizens, about 800,000 people, some as young as 10, to live as slaves.
An estimated 27 million people worldwide still live in conditions of forced bondage, and every year at least 700,000 people are trafficked across borders and into slavery, according to figures compiled by the U.S. State Department, the International Organization for Migration and other reliable sources.
But nowhere is slavery still so systematically practiced as in Mauritania, an Islamic republic where imams often use their interpretations of Sharia law to justify forcing the darker-skinned black African Haratine minority to serve as slaves to the Arabic Moor population.
“The situation is every bit as bad as it was in apartheid South Africa, and in many ways it is worse,” Abidine Merzough, the European coordinator for the anti-slavery NGO Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania, told the fifth annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy last week.
“Officially, the Mauritanian authorities have abolished slavery on five separate occasions. But in reality, it exists exactly as before, backed up by imams and other clergy who write laws and issue fatwas justifying slavery,” said Merzough, who was born to slaves in Mauritania but is a rare example of someone who managed to escape and now lives in Germany.
“Slaves are their masters’ property, often from birth. Women slaves are allowed to be sexually abused whenever their masters want. The masters can buy or sell slaves or loan out parts of their bodies for use — arms, legs, vaginas, mouths. The slaves must obey. This is Islamic law as it exists in Mauritania today,” Merzough told the Geneva Summit, which (to their credit) was this year attended by a small number of UNHRC ambassadors from democratic countries (including Canada, but not by Britain and France).
Last year I attended both the Geneva Summit and the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council. The contrast could hardly be greater. I watched the UN ambassadors arrive in chauffeur-driven Mercedes, and then congratulate themselves while ignoring human-rights abuses throughout the world. The Geneva Summit, by comparison, is put together on a very modest budget by 20 NGOs, headed by UN Watch, an organization that does such good work for human-rights issues that the UNHRC should hang its head in shame.
At this year’s Geneva Summit, I moderated a panel that included Mukhtar Mai, an extraordinarily brave woman who was gang raped on the order of a tribal court in Pakistan after it was alleged (wrongly) that her brother had acted immodestly. And after the rape, instead of committing suicide (which is common after such experiences in Pakistan), she has fought a 10 year legal battle in an effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Other speakers at this year’s Geneva summit included dissidents, torture survivors and witnesses from Congo, Iran, Tibet, Syria, North Korea and elsewhere — as well as Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of the jailed lead singer of the Russian band Pussy Riot.
When Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and other dignitaries assemble in Geneva to open the annual session of the UNHRC today, they might want to ask why these dissidents were not invited to address them. And they might want to ask why Mauritania, instead of being held to account, has been appointed the organization’s vice-chair.
(Tom Gross is a former foreign correspondent of the London Sunday Telegraph.)
Note: thank you to all the people who wrote to me about this article.
For my article on the 2012 Geneva summit, please click here: The most remarkably brave people
Tom Gross, left, moderates a panel at the 2013 Geneva Summit.
EXPOSING THE UN’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS
Exposing the UN’s dirty little secrets
By Daniel Schwammenthal
February 24, 2013
The speakers were never meant to live and tell their stories. Their torturers expected them to either submit or die. But somehow these men and women managed to escape from their dungeons and concentration camps to gather at the seat of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
They came to bear witness to the crimes committed by some of the very members of this esteemed UN body. Naturally, at the Palace of the Nations, where over 80 international officials, including Foreign Secretary William Hague, will over the coming days address the Council, there will be no space for these brave freedom fighters.
This is why UN Watch, together with over 20 other NGOs, organized the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy last week. Now in its fifth year, the annual summit does the sort of work the UN shies away from. It gives the victims, not the perpetrators, of state terror a podium.
While the international dignitaries will speak under the auspices of Council Vice President Mauritania, the Geneva Summit participants heard from a former subject of the North African country—Abidine Merzough, a man born as a slave to slave parents.
As unfathomable as it may sound, some 20 percent of Mauritanians, about 800,000 people, are still slaves. Mauritania uses Sharia to justify a racist system where Arabs exploit the country’s black African population and which “runs counter to Islam’s humanist principles,” Merzough explained:
“From early on, people are taught in religious schools that slaves are the masters’ properties, who are passed along as inheritance and where the condition of slavery is transmitted from parent to child, where women slaves must submit their bodies to their masters.”
Merzough’s father, a modern-day Spartacus, rebelled against his status and led slave uprisings. This is why Merzough, the son of illiterate slaves, was able to attend school and study in Germany, where he works as an engineer.
The fact that so few people are even aware that slavery still exists is in itself a scandal. As the Iranian activist Marina Nemat put it: “Your silence is a weapon of mass destruction.” Arrested in 1982 at the age of 16 for demonstrating against the mullahs, and tortured in Iran’s notorious Evin prison for over two years, Nemat knows “mass destruction” from up close and personal.
In times when allegedly progressive politicians, such as Germany’s Green Party leader Claudia Roth, exchange enthusiastic high-fives with Iranian ambassadors, (nine seconds into the video), Nemat’s tale is particularly worth retelling.
The adult handcuffs her guards tried to use were so big, they slid off, she recounted. “So they put both of my hands in one cuff and pressed hard. I heard a crack, the sound of my wrist breaking. And the torture hadn’t even begun.”
The real torture began when the guards tied her face-down on a bed and whipped her soles until they swelled up to “grotesque red balloons” and then forced her to walk on these bloodied pieces of raw flesh.
The purpose of the torture was not to get information. “I would have signed any document to make the beatings stop. The purpose of the torture was to break the human soul.” As those who had the privilege to watch her feisty presentation could attest, her torturers utterly failed.
Sentenced to execution, she was “rescued” by a prison guard who forced her, a Christian, to convert to Islam and marry him. “You will be here forever; the world does not give a damn. Become my wife or if not I will arrest your family,” she recounted her jailor’s words. This time her previously calm voice was trembling a little. “And so I was raped over and over again under the name of marriage in a prison cell by my interrogator.”
Nemat was eventually released and managed to escape to Canada in 1991. But the past is never far from her. “I carry with me the memories of every single girl that stood in line in Evin prison. Many of them are buried in mass graves.” And as bad as the situation was when she was incarcerated, it is perhaps even worse today, she warned.
So what can the world do? Nemat has some advice about what the world should definitely not do: Giving the regime a free pass, such as when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is invited to soft-ball interviews on CNN or allowed to address Columbia University.
“I believe in freedom of speech, even for my enemy, but next time you give Ahmadinejad a microphone on an international stage I would really like to see a torture victim given the same amount of time on the same stage,” she said.
It is impossible to do justice to all the heroic dissidents who spoke at this conference within the space of a short article. There was the imposing figure of Mukhtar Mai, who was sentenced to gang rape by a Pakistani tribal council to restore the neighboring clan’s “honor” for an alleged offense committed by somebody else.
Instead of choosing suicide, as so many other Pakistani women do in her situation, she went to the police despite threats and opposition even from her own family. While her attackers were eventually acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, she remained unfazed and opened the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization. Pakistan, meanwhile, was just elected to the Human Rights Council.
Or take Kang Chol-Hwan, who at the age of nine was arrested with his entire family and spent 10 years in Yodok, a North Korean concentration camp. If there is a hierarchy of horror it can only be surpassed by the ordeal of his fellow countryman Shin Dong-Hyuk, who was actually born and raised in “Political Prison Camp No. 14.”
He is the only person known to have escaped the “total control zone” of a North Korean concentration camp, where, as he explained, the guards told him he would have to perform slave labor until his death. Some 200,000 people, including entire families, are still held in these North Korean gulags.
Over the next few days, the Palace of the Nations will hear a series of lofty speeches ostensibly in support of human rights—many, though, from the world’s worst human rights violators. Tomorrow, for example, it will be the turn of H.E. Mr. Mohamed Bushara Dousa, Sudan’s Minister of Justice, an oxymoron if there ever was one.
Sudan is currently involved in its third genocidal campaign since the 1980s. And the International Criminal Court is seeking the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
The dysfunctionality of allowing the worst human rights violators into the club is built into the system. All too often these torture regimes thus manage to shield each other from international scrutiny and even get rewarded plum positions, such as the Council’s Vice Presidency.
Here’s a thought for Minister Hague and his Western colleagues: if they absolutely have to attend the Human Rights Council, make sure to also stop by at the next Geneva Summit. This way they will hear from some real human rights advocates.
(Mr. Schwammenthal is the director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels)
Hallel Silverman, Susan Silverman and Ellen Nemhauser praying in traditional male shawls at the Western Wall
* European-funded Ma’an news agency: “There is no basis for [claims about] what happened to the Jews in Germany and that they were cremated in gas chambers”
* The rabbi sister of American comic Sarah Silverman and her teenage niece arrested at Jerusalem’s Western Wall
* Hamas daily paper says women spread disease; Western media fail to report on latest Hamas claims
This dispatch is slightly shorter than usual because of my carpal tunnel problems.
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
1. Man faces year in jail for Abbas Facebook joke
2. Israeli strike in Syria might be first in series
3. European-funded Ma’an news agency publishes Holocaust denial
4. Israeli anger over Obama administration-funded school study
5. Comedian Sarah Silverman’s sister and niece arrested for praying at Western Wall
6. Hamas daily paper says women spread disease
7. U.N. agency removes anti-Israel tweeter from job
[Notes below by Tom Gross]
MAN FACES YEAR IN JAIL FOR ABBAS FACEBOOK JOKE
A Palestinian court has sentenced a man from a village near Nablus to a year in prison for insulting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook, Palestinian officials said.
The Nablus magistrates’ court sentenced Anas Saad Awwad, 26, of Awarta village, to a year in prison after convicting him on charges of criticizing Abbas, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reports.
The defendant had been detained previously on similar charges, but was released after paying a fine, according to his father.
“My son only commented on Facebook. You know how young people comment,” he said. “He didn’t mean to insult the president. I ask the president to intervene personally to cancel the court’s decision.”
Awwad’s lawyer, Rima al-Sayyed, said her client was accused of photo-shopping Abbas wearing a Real Madrid shirt with the caption: “A new striker.”
Last year, as reported on this dispatch list, Palestinian security forces jailed several people accused in separate incidents for criticizing the government on social networking websites.
ISRAELI STRIKE IN SYRIA MIGHT BE FIRST IN SERIES
The Washington Post reports that Israel’s recent airstrike in Syria, which according to Western officials targeted advanced weapons destined for the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbullah, could mark the start of a more aggressive campaign by Israel to prevent arms transfers to terrorists as conditions in Syria deteriorate.
Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence who directs the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told the Washington Post that while future Israeli action could be expected, it would depend on specific calculations of the advantages and risks of such strikes.
Israel, he said, has defined four types of weapons whose transfer to terrorist groups would not be tolerated: advanced air defense systems, ballistic missiles, sophisticated shore-to-sea missiles and chemical weapons.
According to Israeli assessments, Hizbullah has amassed about 60,000 rockets and missiles since their 2006 war with Israel. Israeli officials say these include Scud-D ballistic missiles, with a range of more than 400 miles, supplied by Syria. Along with other shorter-range missiles from Syria and Iran, Hizbullah’s arsenal can reach anywhere in Israel, the officials say.
Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, including bombs and rockets tipped with chemical warheads, remains for now under government control, according to Israeli assessments.
EUROPEAN-FUNDED MA’AN NEWS AGENCY PUBLISHES HOLOCAUST DENIAL
In the latest in a series of outrageous articles, the European-funded Ma’an news agency has published an article saying “There is no basis for [claims about] what happened to the Jews in Germany and that they were cremated in gas chambers.”
The writer, Ghassan Mustafa Al-Shami, goes on to state that “revisionist writers have explained how a few hundred thousand Jews died in World War II, just like others, died during the war.”
“Research into the Jews’ claims and lies regarding the ‘Holocaust’ has cost the lives of many historians, and they paid a heavy price for publishing the facts. Many historians who researched the subject were assassinated, were fired from their jobs at their research centers and universities, [were made to] pay unfair fines, and were subject to smear campaigns, social boycott, and political persecution. One of Britain’s greatest contemporary historians, David Irving, was prosecuted because of his book Hitler’s War, and he was arrested for having denied the existence of the gas chambers that German forces used in a detention camp. Similarly, he denied that there were acts of slaughter aimed at the Jews.”
This article was posted on Ma’an’s Arabic website and not on its English site, according to Palestinian Media Watch.
Ma’an is funded by The European Commission, UNDP, UNESCO, and the governments of Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain.
After several websites, including this dispatch list, drew attention to a previous anti-Semitic article on Ma’an which Palestinian Media Watch spotted, Ma’an removed it.
Please see the second item here: New Muslim Brotherhood Knesset member can’t decide which wife to bring
Representatives of several European governments subscribe to this website elist.
ISRAELI ANGER OVER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION-FUNDED SCHOOL STUDY
Both the Israeli government and Israeli opposition politicians have reacted with considerable anger to a U.S. State Department-funded study that cleared Palestinian textbooks of inciting children against Israel and found that they rarely dehumanize Israelis.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad expressed “satisfaction” at the report’s main finding, saying that it “confirms that Palestinian textbooks do not contain any form of blatant incitement”.
But Israel’s Ministry of Education said: “The conclusions of this ‘study’ were known in advance, before any professional work was done, and certainly do not accurately reflect reality.”
Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs added that the report, written by Israeli, Palestinian and American scholars, “omits important examples of incitement and delegitimization found in official Palestinian Authority textbooks.”
Appearing on Israeli TV, Strategic Affairs Ministry Director General Yossi Kuperwasser, who monitors Palestinian incitement against Israel for the Israeli government, said the goal of the research “is to weaken the State of Israel.”
Dr. Arnon Groiss, author of a separate study on Middle Eastern textbooks, said that he has severe reservations about the methodology and that some 40 important items, which show incitement on the part of Palestinians, were not included.
The study was financed by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. State Department.
In 2007, two years before she became Secretary of State, then Senator Hilary Clinton, after reviewing a Palestinian Media Watch report on Palestinian high school textbooks that contained numerous examples of demonization and denying Israel’s right to exist, told a press conference:
“These textbooks do not give Palestinian children an education; they give them an indoctrination… It is disturbing on a human level, it is disturbing to me as a mother, it is disturbing to me as a United States Senator, because it basically, profoundly poisons the minds of these children.”
COMEDIAN SARAH SILVERMAN’S SISTER AND NIECE ARRESTED FOR PRAYING AT THE WAILING WALL
The rabbi sister of American comic Sarah Silverman and her teenage niece have been arrested at a political demonstration at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site.
Rabbi Susan Silverman, Hallel Silverman, 17, and eight others were detained for several hours two days ago after being charged with violating an Israeli court ruling that bans women from wearing traditional male prayer-shawls or praying too loudly at the holy site.
“I was proud to take a stand for something I believe in. There is inequality at the Western Wall,” Hallel Silverman told Matthew Kalman of the New York Daily News. “The space allowed for women is becoming smaller and smaller. If the law is changed, I will be proud to have played a small part. The rules are outdated. It’s 2013 and we’ve moved on. It’s time the law moved on too.”
Also proud was Sarah Silverman, who tweeted:
“SO proud of my amazing sister & niece for their balls out civil disobedience. Ur the tits!”
Susan Silverman, the comedian’s older sister, lives in Israel with her family.
HAMAS DAILY PAPER SAYS WOMEN SPREAD DISEASE
An article by columnist Issam Shawer in the Hamas daily Falastin, says: “I believe that women are the most numerous and fastest transmitters of viral diseases and epidemics such as swine flu... [For example, when there is need] to make a condolence call, women emerge from every corner and flock from every direction, even from afar, and then congregate in one place. They comfort [the family] and also trade stories – this is very important to them – and spread news and rumors, but also viruses that waft through the stuffy air.”
“Some of them take the necessary precautions and wear face masks when they are alone, yet, when they meet, they remove the masks in order to chat and to do what they are best at: exchanging news. But viruses also find their way to new victims in this manner.”
“They [the men] can also take a greater part in fighting disease by imposing stricter constraints on the movement and gatherings of the womenfolk.”
(Translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI.)
Tom Gross adds: Predictably, the international media have completely ignored this article. One can’t imagine them ignoring it if an Israeli media outlet or politician had written something similar. Indeed racist chants by Israeli soccer fans were deemed to be front page news by the New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune last weekend.
U.N. AGENCY REMOVES ANTI-ISRAEL TWEETER FROM JOB
A U.N. agency employee based in Jerusalem who tweeted an incendiary anti-Israel photo nearly a year ago has finally been removed from her position.
Khulood Badawi, the information and media coordinator for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem, had been put on an extended vacation, after several commentators, including myself, pointed out that she was sending false anti-Israel information on her twitter account.
Her tweet last March 10 linked to what she said was a dead, blood-covered Palestinian girl in the arms of her father who Badawi said had been killed by an Israeli airstrike on Gaza. It was in fact a 2006 photo of a girl who had died in a car accident.
Badawi has still neither retracted nor apologized for her inaccurate tweet, according to The Jerusalem Post.
[Notes above by Tom Gross]
Syrian dictator Assad
* The 2007 Israeli bombing of the Syria’s nuclear weapons program: The untold story
* Elliott Abrams: “The argument that there would always remain a military option as a last resort was misleading at best. Once we made public our knowledge of the site, Syria could put a kindergarten right next to it or take some similar move using human shields. Military action required secrecy, and once we made any kind of public statement about al-Kibar, that option would be gone.”
* “Vice president Dick Cheney thought the United States should bomb the site. Given our troubles in Iraq and the growing confrontation with Iran, this would be a useful assertion of power and would help restore our credibility.”
* But everyone else in the room that day, June 17, 2007 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, CIA Director Michael Hayden, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace -- disagreed.
* Gates also argued for preventing Israel from bombing the reactor and urged putting the whole relationship between the United States and Israel on the line if they did.
* President Bush told Israeli Prime Minister Olmert that America would go to the UN. Olmert replied: George, this leaves me surprised and disappointed. Israel cannot live with a Syrian nuclear reactor; we will not accept it. It would change the entire region. You are telling me you will not act; so, we will act.
* “But the Israelis did not seek, nor did they get, a green or red light from us. Nor did they announce their timing in advance; they told us as they were blowing up the site. Olmert called the president on September 6 with the news [that a strike was underway].”
* When a 2008 site visit by IAEA inspectors found some remaining uranium traces, Syria made sure never to permit a return visit.
* “This incident is a reminder that there is no substitute for military strength and the will to use it. Think of how much more dangerous to the entire region the Syrian civil war would be today if Assad had a nuclear reactor.”
WHY BASHAR ASSAD DOESN’T HAVE A NUCLEAR WEAPONS OPTION TO USE NOW
[Note by Tom Gross]
Below is an extract from Elliott Abrams’ new book “Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” -- a memoir of his time at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2009, through both presidential terms of George W. Bush.
Elliott Abrams (who is a subscriber to this email list) reveals new details of the 2007 Israeli airstrike on the Syrian nuclear weapons program at al-Kibar. At the time, Abrams served as Deputy American National Security Adviser in charge of the Middle East. Al-Kibar, built with North Korean help, was an almost an exact copy of the Yongbyon reactor in North Korea.
Abrams’ text was written before last week’s Israeli air strike on a Syrian SA-17 anti-aircraft weapons convoy to the terrorist group Hizbullah. Informed sources in Israel say that last Tuesday’s Israeli air strike also hit a biological weapons producing facility.
Western intelligence officials added in remarks leaked to Time magazine that the facility was “flattened out of concern that it might fall into the hands of Islamist extremists fighting to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad”.
The facility at Jamarya, close to Damascus, included warehouses stocked with equipment necessary for the deployment of biological and chemical weapons.
(Abrams’ text also appears in the current edition of Commentary magazine.)
Among previous dispatches on the 2007 airstrike:
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
THE 2007 BOMBING OF THE SYRIAN NUCLEAR REACTOR: THE UNTOLD STORY
By Elliott Abrams
As the civil war in Syria enters its third year, there is much discussion of the regime’s chemical weapons and whether Syria’s Bashar al-Assad will unleash them against Syrian rebels, or whether a power vacuum after Assad’s fall might make those horrific tools available to the highest bidder. The conversation centers on Syria’s chemical weaponry, not on something vastly more serious: its nuclear weaponry. It well might have. This is the inside story of why it does not.
Relations between the United States and Israel had grown rocky after Israel’s incursion into Lebanon in 2006, for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice believed the Israelis had mishandled both the military and the diplomatic sides of the conflict. While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s personal relations with President George W. Bush were excellent, those with Rice were sometimes confrontational – especially when Rice worked at the United Nations to bring the war to a close while Olmert sought more time to attack Hezbollah. Olmert always seemed to ask for 10 days more, while Rice believed the war was not going well and that more time was unlikely to turn the tables.
By the war’s end on August 14, 2006, Olmert’s political status had been diminished and his ability to negotiate any sort of peace agreement with the Palestinians was in doubt. The autumn of 2006 and winter of 2007 saw no movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and all the Israeli analysts we consulted said there would be none. We were stuck. And there was another surprise in store.
In the middle of May 2007, we received an urgent request to receive Mossad chief Meir Dagan at the White House. Olmert asked that he be allowed to show some material to Bush personally. We headed that off with a suggestion that he first reveal whatever he had to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and to me; I was then the deputy national-security adviser in charge of the Middle East portfolio on the National Security Council. Vice President Dick Cheney joined us in Hadley’s office for Dagan’s presentation. What Dagan had was astonishing and explosive: He showed us intelligence demonstrating that Syria was constructing a nuclear reactor whose design was supplied by North Korea, and doing so with North Korean technical assistance. Dagan left us with one stark message: All Israeli policymakers who saw the evidence agreed that the reactor had to go away.
There then began a four-month process of extremely close cooperation with Israel about the reactor, called al-Kibar. As soon as our own intelligence had confirmed the Israeli information and we all agreed on what we were dealing with, Hadley established a process for gathering further information, considering our options, and sharing our thinking with Israel. This process was run entirely out of the White House, with extremely limited participation to maintain secrecy. The effort at secrecy succeeded and there were no leaks – an amazing feat in Washington, especially when the information being held so tightly was as startling and sexy as this.
Initially, there were doubts that Bashar al-Assad could be so stupid as to try this stunt of building a nuclear reactor with North Korean help. Did he really think he would get away with it – that Israel would permit it? But he nearly did; had the reactor been activated, striking it militarily could have strewn radioactive material into the wind and into the nearby Euphrates River, which was the reactor’s source of water needed for cooling. When we found out about the reactor, it was at an advanced construction stage, just a few months from being “hot.”
The consideration of what to do about the reactor continued alongside tense meetings between Rice and Israel on how to proceed with the Palestinians, but the two initiatives did not collide. For the most part, this was because different people were involved. Military and intelligence personnel uninvolved in peace negotiations were the key interlocutors for Israel in considering the al-Kibar reactor, as were individuals on the vice president’s staff who were sympathetic to Israel’s position. The work on al-Kibar was a model both of U.S.-Israel collaboration and of interagency cooperation without leaks. Papers I circulated to the group were returned to me when meetings ended or were kept under lock and key; secretaries and executive assistants were kept out of the loop; meetings were called under vague names such as “the study group.”
The debates were vigorous in our secret meetings in the White House Situation Room. The role of those in the Situation Room was not to decide what was to be done about the reactor; it was merely to be sure every issue had been thoroughly debated and was covered in the memos we drafted for the administration’s principal officials on foreign-policy matters and for the president. This was an excellent example of how policy should be made. Several times, principals – Rice and Hadley, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, CIA Director Michael Hayden, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace and Vice President Cheney – trooped over to the president’s living room in the residence section of the White House to have it out before him, answer his questions, and see what additional information he sought.
I attended all these meetings as note taker, and the notes are under lock and key at the National Archives.
The day I left those notes on the floor under my chair in the president’s living room, and discovered when back at the NSC that I no longer had them, remains emblazoned in my mind. These were among the most sensitive notes then existing in the U.S. government, amazing precautions for secrecy had been taken, and I had simply left them on the floor. Pale and drenched with sweat, I ran back to the residence, where the butler graciously let me back in and accompanied me to the Yellow Oval Room where we had met. There was my portfolio, under the chair, untouched. Well, I thought, if the butler keeps his mouth shut, I may actually not be shot after all.
The facts about al-Kibar were soon clear, and about those facts there was no debate: It was a nuclear reactor that was almost an exact copy of the Yongbyon reactor in North Korea, and North Koreans had been involved with Syria’s development of the site. Given its location and its lack of connection to any electrical grid, this reactor was part of a nuclear-weapons program rather than intended to produce electric power.
The array of options was clear as well: overt or covert, Israel or United States, military or diplomatic. The United States and Israel both had an obvious military option: Bomb the site and destroy the reactor. This was not much of a military challenge, General Pace assured the president. Whether anything short of a military strike could destroy the reactor was another question, and the difficulties with such an option were obvious: Just how would you get the needed explosives to the site except through a military attack? It was soon agreed that a covert option did not exist, and military options were quickly designed to make the reactor disappear; as Dagan had said when he first visited us, the Israelis clearly believed it had to go away. We developed elaborate scenarios for U.S. and Israeli military action addressing these issues: Whom would you inform when, what would you announce and what would you keep secret, and what if anything would you say to the Syrians?
But a diplomatic option existed as well, and we did draw up elaborate scenarios for it. We would begin by informing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the facts and making them public in a dramatic session before the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna. We would demand immediate inspections and that Syria halt work on the reactor. If Syria refused, we would go to the UN Security Council and demand action. If there was no action, the military option in theory remained open.
However, this diplomatic option seemed faintly ridiculous to me. For one thing, it would never be acceptable to Israel, whose experience with the United Nations was uniformly bad. The Jewish state would never trust its national security to the UN. For another, it would not work; Syria’s friends in the UN, especially Russia, would protect it. At the IAEA, we had plenty of experience with Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian. He was redefining the director general’s role from that of inspector and cop to that of peacemaker and diplomat; he would seek a deal with Syria rather than concerted action against it. Moreover, taking the reactor issue to the UN and the IAEA meant handing it over to the State Department, and I thought an issue of this importance should be handled in the White House.
Finally, the argument that there would always remain a military option as a last resort was misleading at best. Once we made public our knowledge of the site, Syria could put a kindergarten right next to it or take some similar move using human shields. Military action required secrecy, and once we made any kind of public statement about al-Kibar, that option would be gone.
The vice president thought the United States should bomb the site. Given our troubles in Iraq and the growing confrontation with Iran, this would be a useful assertion of power and would help restore our credibility. As he later wrote:
“I again made the case for U.S. military action against the reactor. Not only would it make the region and the world safer, but it would also demonstrate our seriousness with respect to non-proliferation… But I was the lone voice. After I finished, the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.”
My hand did not go up (and as we left the president’s living room that day, June 17, I apologized to the vice president for leaving him isolated) because I thought the Israelis should bomb the reactor, restoring their credibility after the annus horribilis of 2006 with the Second Lebanon War and then the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza. It seemed to me that Israel would suffer if we bombed it, because analysts would point out that Israel had acted against the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981 but had become paralyzed when it came to Syria. Such an analysis might embolden Iran and Hamas, a development that would be greatly against American interests. Moreover, hostile reactions in the Islamic world against the bombing strike might hurt us at a time when we were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq – another argument for letting Israel do the job. (I did not think there would be any such reactions, but this was an argument worth deploying in our internal debate.)
Secretaries Gates and Rice argued strenuously for the diplomatic option. Gates also argued for preventing Israel from bombing the reactor and urged putting the whole relationship between the United States and Israel on the line. His language recalled the “agonizing reappraisal” of relations Eisenhower’s secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, had threatened for Europe in 1953 if the Europeans failed to take certain defense measures: They simply had to do what we demanded or there would be hell to pay.
I thought I understood why Gates did not want the United States to bomb Syria: America was a steward of wars in two Islamic countries already, so striking a third one seemed terribly unattractive to him. Why he was almost equally insistent that we prevent Israel from bombing it was never comprehensible to me, nor was Rice’s similar position. It seemed clear to me that if we could not prevent Syria from undertaking a nuclear-weapons program, our entire position in the Middle East would be weakened, just as it was being weakened by our inability to stop the Iranian program. If there were too many risks and potential complications from striking Syria ourselves, we should not only allow but encourage Israel to do it; a Syrian nuclear program in addition to Iran’s should be flatly unacceptable to the United States.
I tried to think my way through Rice’s reasoning, but came up with only one theory. She had simultaneously been expressing opposition to a new program of increased military aid to Israel. This indicated to me that she had an underlying strategy: She did not want Israel feeling stronger. Rather, she wanted Israel, and especially Prime Minister Olmert, to feel more dependent on the United States. That way she would be able to push forward with plans for an international conference on Israeli-Palestinian issues and for final-status talks leading to the creation of a Palestinian state before the end of the second Bush term.
I hoped this was not her intention, because it seemed to me that such designs were sure to fail. An Israel that was facing Hamas in Gaza and now two hostile nuclear programs, in Iran and just across the border in Syria, would never take the risks she was asking it to take. I thought we had learned that lesson with Ariel Sharon as Bill Clinton had learned it with Yitzhak Rabin: Wrap your arms around Israel if you want it to take more risks, so it feels more secure, not less.
The arguments for going to the IAEA and UN seemed so flimsy to me, despite the length and detail of the planning memos and scenarios to which they gave rise, that I did not much worry about them. Who could believe these organizations would act effectively? Who could believe we would not be sitting there five years later entangled in the same diplomatic dance over the Syrian program that we were in with respect to Iran?
In the end, our near-perfect policy process produced the wrong result. At a final session in the gracious Yellow Oval Room at the Residence, Bush came down on Rice’s side. We would go to Vienna, to the IAEA; he would call Olmert and tell him what the decision was. I was astounded and realized I had underestimated Rice’s influence even after all this time. The president had gone with Condi.
I tried to figure this one out and could not. Perhaps it was the same worry that Gates had about making another American military strike in the Islamic world. But that would not explain why he bought the IAEA/UN strategy lock, stock, and barrel; instead, he could have said, “Let the Israelis do what they want; let’s just tell them we will not do it.” Years later I asked him if he thought he had been wrong; he said no. It was then, and is still, baffling. In his memoir, Bush explains one key consideration: The CIA told him it had “high confidence” that the facility in Syria was a nuclear reactor but “low confidence” that Syria had a nuclear-weapons program, because it could not locate the other components of the program. The president thought that the “low confidence” judgment would leak, as it surely would have, and the United States would have been attacked for conducting the bombing raid despite the “low confidence” report. That is a reasonable argument, but it explains only why we did not bomb – it does not explain why he urged the Israelis not to do so.
On July 10, I gave Hadley a memo explaining my views on where we stood with the Israelis. First, we were on the verge of telling the Israelis that we had considered which of us should act against the reactor and had decided that neither of us should use force. Moreover, we were going to say we would pressure them not to do so even if they disagreed. And we would be saying all this after Hamas had just taken over Gaza (which it did, in a coup against the Palestinian Authority, in June 2007). Hezbollah was back fully rearmed in Lebanon despite all those UN Security Council resolutions we had told the Israelis would work. Iran was moving toward nuclear capability. Syria was building a reactor that could only be part of a nuclear-weapons program.
It also looked as if we would be telling them we were about to call for an international meeting on the Palestinians that Israelis did not want and that they feared – and would be doing so in a presidential speech that talked about negotiations for Palestinian statehood “soon” (the word was in the speech drafts). Such a big international conference was the State Department’s answer to unsticking a “peace process” that was stuck.
The editorial comment from our friends on the right, I told Hadley, will be that we have taken leave of our senses: Hamas takes over Gaza, Syria and Iran build nukes, and we are handing things over to the UN and then pushing final-status talks? I still did not think there was a need for any presidential speech, but if there were to be one, I wrote that it should be sober about the situation and supportive of the new Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad.
At that point, Fayyad had been prime minister for about a month, and already the PA was changing. It now had a serious, talented, incorruptible executive at the top of the government. This had never been tried before. The least we could do was to back him, firmly and fully, and not spend all our political capital on great conferences. It was, as I recall it, a terrific memo, yet like all the wonderful memos about the Syrian reactor, it had no impact whatsoever. On July 16, the speech that Condi had sought was given. “Bush Calls for Middle East Peace Conference,” the headlines read.
Three days earlier, on July 13, President Bush had called Prime Minister Olmert from his desk in the Oval Office and explained his view. I have gone over this in great detail, Bush explained on the secure phone to the Israeli prime minister, looking at every possible scenario and its likely aftermath. We have looked at overt and covert options, and I have made a decision. We are not going to take the military path; we are instead going to the UN. Bush recounts in his memoir that he told Olmert, “I cannot justify an attack on a sovereign nation unless my intelligence agencies stand up and say it’s a weapons program” and that “I had decided on the diplomatic option backed by the threat of force.” We will announce this approach soon, Bush said on the secure line, and we will then launch a major diplomatic campaign, starting at the IAEA and then the UN Security Council. And of course a military option always remains available down the line.
I wondered how Olmert would react and believed I could predict his response: He would say, “Wait, give me some time to think about this, to consult my team, to reflect, and I will call you tomorrow.” I was quite wrong. He reacted immediately and forcefully. George, he said, this leaves me surprised and disappointed. And I cannot accept it. We told you from the first day, when Dagan came to Washington, and I’ve told you since then whenever we discussed it, that the reactor had to go away. Israel cannot live with a Syrian nuclear reactor; we will not accept it. It would change the entire region and our national security cannot accept it. You are telling me you will not act; so, we will act. The timing is another matter, and we will not do anything precipitous.
This is not the account President Bush gives in his memoir, in which he writes that Olmert initially said, “George, I’m asking you to bomb the compound.” Someday transcripts of their conversation will be available, but Bush’s recollection does not comport with mine.
After that conversation, there was a nearly two-month gap, from July 13 to September 6. We now know the time was filled with Israeli military calculations – watching the weather and Syrian movements on the ground – with the aim of being sure that Israel could act before the reactor went “critical” or “hot.” We knew the Israelis would strike sooner or later. They acted, in the end, when a leak about the reactor’s existence was imminent and Syria might then have gotten notice that Israel knew of its existence. That would have given Assad time to put civilians or nuclear fuel near the site. The Israelis did not seek, nor did they get, a green or red light from us. Nor did they announce their timing in advance; they told us as they were blowing up the site. Olmert called the president on September 6 with the news.
As I had sat in the Oval Office on July 13, listening to his conversation with Olmert, I had wondered how the president would react to the Israeli action. With anger? Or more pressure? None of it. He heard Olmert out calmly and acknowledged that Israel had a right to protect its national security. After hanging up, the president said something like “that guy has guts,” in an admiring tone. The incident was over; the differences over al-Kibar would obviously not affect Bush’s relationship with Olmert or his view of Israel.
So quickly did he accept the Olmert decision that I wondered then, and do still, if the president did not at some level anticipate and desire this result. He had sided with Condi and shown that she was still in charge of Middle East policy, but her “take it to the UN” plan had been blown up along with the reactor. He did not seem very regretful. What is more, he instructed us all to abandon the diplomatic plans and maintain absolute silence, ensuring that Israel could carry out its plan.
The Israeli assessment of Syria’s likely reaction was correct. The Israelis believed that if they and we spoke about the strike, Assad might be forced to react to this humiliation by trying to attack Israel. If, however, we all shut up, he might do nothing – nothing at all. He might try to hide the fact that anything had happened. And with every day that passed, the possibility that he would acknowledge the event and fight back diminished. That had been the Israeli theory, and the Israelis knew their man. We maintained silence and so did Israel – no leaks. As the weeks went by, the chances of an Israeli-Syrian confrontation grew slim and then disappeared. Syria has never admitted that there was a reactor at the site. Soon after the bombing, the Syrians bulldozed the reactor site, but the only way they could be sure their lies about it were not contradicted was to prevent a full examination. When a 2008 site visit by IAEA inspectors found some uranium traces, Syria made sure never to permit a return visit.
Two final points are worth noting. First, in May 2008, Turkish-mediated peace talks between Israel and Syria were publicly announced in Istanbul. The discussions had begun secretly in February 2007, and obviously had continued after the Israeli strike on al-Kibar. It would appear that the strike on al-Kibar made the Syrians more, not less, desirous of talking to the Israelis because it made them afraid of Israeli power. It also made them more afraid of American power until we undermined our own position, which is the second point.
A very well-placed Arab diplomat later told us that the strike had left Assad deeply worried as to what was coming next. He had turned Syria into the main transit route for jihadis going to Iraq to kill American soldiers. From Libya or Indonesia, Pakistan or Egypt, they would fly to Damascus International Airport and be shepherded into Iraq. Assad was afraid that on the heels of the Israeli strike would come American action to punish him for all this involvement. But just weeks later, Assad received his invitation to send a Syrian delegation to that big international confab of Condi’s, the Annapolis Conference, and according to the Arab envoy, Assad relaxed immediately; he knew he would be OK. I had not wanted Syria invited to Annapolis because of its involvement in killing Americans in Iraq, but Condi had wanted complete Arab representation as a sign that comprehensive peace might be possible. It was only years later that I learned that Assad had instead interpreted the invitation just as I had: as a sign that the United States would not seriously threaten or punish him for what Syria was doing in Iraq.
Since the day the Israelis struck the Syrian reactor in September 2007, much has changed in the neighborhood: Assad faces a civil war he cannot win, the “Arab Spring” has replaced Hosni Mubarak with a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, and Israel has now fought two wars with the Hamas statelet in Gaza, in December 2008/January 2009 and in November 2012. Yet there are three lessons from this incident that still bear noting.
First, good “process” and good policy are related but distinct. In the end what counts is output, not input: the foreign policy we adopt, not the proposals that are advanced. And that output depends, when it comes to foreign policy, mostly on one man: the president. That’s the second lesson. Advisers advise; the president decides. All the books about how rival bureaucracies or powerful lobbies determine policy are off the mark; the simpler and truer conclusion is that at any given moment our foreign policy reflects the views of the president.
Finally, this incident is a reminder that there is no substitute for military strength and the will to use it. Think of how much more dangerous to the entire region the Syrian civil war would be today if Assad had a nuclear reactor, and even perhaps nuclear weapons, in hand. Israel was right to bomb that reactor before construction was completed, and President Bush was right to support its decision to do so. Israel was also right in rejecting fears that the incident would lead to a larger war and in believing that it, and the United States, would be better off after this assertion of leadership and determination. That lesson must be on the minds of Israeli, and American, leaders in 2013.
Irgun leader Menachem Begin went on to become Israeli prime minister three decades later, and won the Nobel Peace Prize
Below is a transcript of a program that was broadcast recently on the BBC World Service radio series “The World”. The series is a co-production with America’s Public Radio International, and WGBH in Boston. This particular episode was made by Public Radio International. It is unusually fair for a program about Israel broadcast on the BBC.
The sinking of the Altalena is an interesting historical event that many people outside Israel are unaware of.
-- Tom Gross
(* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia.)
Raising Israel’s Altalena ship: “a lesson for the future”
By Matthew Bell
PRI’s The World, for the BBC
A project to raise a sunken ship in Israel, the Altalena, is stirring up painful memories of a violent confrontation between the army of the newborn state and the Irgun Jewish paramilitary group, reports PRI The World’s Matthew Bell.
Schoolchildren in Israel this year are studying two former prime ministers - David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. 2013 is the 100th anniversary of Begin’s birth, and 40 years since Ben Gurion’s death.
All these years later, Israeli authorities believe there is a great deal to learn from the two national icons.
The truth is, Ben-Gurion and Begin did not like each other very much.
Eventually, they reconciled. But in the first few weeks after the state of Israel was founded in 1948, these two leaders were on a dangerous collision course.
The low-point came with the sinking of a cargo ship in June of that year.
On the boardwalk in central Tel Aviv, across the street from McDonald’s and next to a beachfront bar called Mike’s Place, there is a stone memorial to 16 Jewish men.
They were members of the Irgun militia, killed during the events leading up to the sinking of their ship, the Altalena.
Just a month after the State of Israel declared independence, it was still fighting hostile Arab armies and the boat was bringing in badly-needed weapons.
The commander of the Irgun at the time was Menachem Begin. The man who gave the order to attack the Altalena was David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.
He saw Begin’s militia as a threat to the new Israeli government and was willing to spill Jewish blood to establish his authority.
‘JEWS KILLING JEWS’
“People were very angry,” says Shlomo Nakdimon, a retired Israeli journalist. Aged 12 years old at the time, he came to the beach to see the smouldering hulk of the Altalena with his own eyes.
He remembers how he felt about the newly-founded Israel Defense Forces (IDF) killing Jewish militiamen of the Irgun.
“I was angry like the other people,” Mr Nakdimon says as he looks out to the Mediterranean Sea.
Tel Aviv was a hotbed of support for the Irgun and people felt the new Israeli government could have resolved its dispute with the militia group, “without shooting, without Jews killing Jews.”
Jews killing Jews. That is what makes the Altalena affair such a painful one for Israelis.
Yehiel Kadishai was one of a number of Irgun fighters among some 900 passengers on the cargo ship. Most onboard were Jewish refugees from Europe.
He said the mood on the ship was one of indescribable joy. These were Jewish survivors of World War II, leaving Europe for an independent Jewish state.
“I was very happy, together with all of us,” Mr Kadishai says. “We were singing the anthem, the Hatikva.”
Mr Kadishai had grown up in Tel Aviv and served with Jewish volunteers in the British army during the war. He said he taught some of his fellow passengers Hebrew. There were political lectures and for those who had never held a rifle, lessons on the deck about how to shoot.
When the Altalena dropped anchor north of Tel Aviv at a place called Kfar Vitkin, the refugees went ashore and were sent off on buses to begin their new lives.
The Irgun men remained on the beach. Their job was to unload a huge stockpile of weapons from the Altalena. Menachem Begin was there and Mr Kadishai said he called for everyone’s attention.
“Begin started to speak and to say that there were some differences of opinion between the government and the Irgun,” he recalls. “He said two or three sentences and all of a sudden, bullets came at us from two sides.”
In the confusion, Kadishai and the rest of the men on the beach took cover. Some grabbed weapons. Mr Kadishai started firing back, but he had no idea who - or where - he was firing at.
“I was lying there. Next to me, one boy whom I knew from Italy was shot in his thigh and the blood was flowing from him. I couldn’t move and I didn’t know what to do,” he says.
The injured boy next to Kadishai eventually bled to death on the beach that night.
Over the next day or so, the violence continued. Begin got back on the Altalena and it moved south, near the Tel Aviv beach.
That is where the IDF shelled the ship and scored a direct hit. One of the Israeli commanders directing fire at the Irgun men was Yitzhak Rabin, who would later go on to become Israel’s prime minister.
When the shooting finally stopped, 16 Irgun men were dead along with three IDF troops.
The ship was in flames, much of its cargo lost. Mr Kadishai says the idea that Irgun men would be shot at by members of the IDF was unthinkable. It is still difficult to talk about.
“Now I can smile and laugh because 65 years [has] almost past,” he says. “Until the last day of my life, I’ll be angry.”
Yehiel Kadishai went on to become Begin’s personal secretary.
RAISING THE SHIP
Director of the Begin Center in Jerusalem, Herzl Makov, believes it was Menachem Begin who pulled Israel back from the brink of civil war.
“Begin decided not to fight back,” Mr Makov says. “Begin realised it was a strategic issue: ‘if we, the Jewish people were going to have among ourselves now a war, there was no chance to get independence.’ So, he ordered, ‘don’t shoot back,’“ he says.
Mr Makov wants to highlight this lesson of history by raising the Altalena, or at least part of it, from the bottom of the sea and building a new monument. He is currently looking for funding for the project.
But there is an enduring dispute over the ship.
Not everyone sees Begin as the hero of the story. Some would say that Ben-Gurion’s decision, as difficult as it might have been, to strike against the Irgun’s weapons ship was a key moment for the Jewish state.
The sinking of the Altalena, this line of thinking goes, is when Israel became a truly sovereign state.
“Everything was still in the making, so in this situation the determination of Ben-Gurion was absolutely necessary,” says Anita Shapira, a historian with the Israel Democracy Institute, who is working on a new biography of Ben-Gurion.
“The idea that small minorities are entitled to use force to change the course of history was a basic tenet of all Jewish underground [movements],” Ms Shapira said. “Ben-Gurion wouldn’t have any of it.”
The Altalena affair is burned into Israel’s collective memory. People have continued to draw historical analogies to the incident.
During negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, there were calls for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to create his own “Altalena moment” by reining in militia groups by force.
Then there are the comparisons with the Jewish settlements scattered across the West Bank. They are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
As with the Irgun militia, Jewish settlers are viewed by some Israelis and their supporters as the vanguard of the Zionist movement. Others see the settlement project as endangering Israel’s future.
In any case, Herzl Makov at the Begin Center says learning from history is important - and a lesson which raising the Altalena could provide.
Tom Gross writes:
A sizeable number of readers have asked me for more on the (London) Sunday Times’ reaction to the cartoon they published in their previous edition, last Sunday, of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Today, the paper publishes 18 letters on it – not just from readers in Britain, but from Israel, France, Sweden and America. It is very rare for any newspaper to publish 18 letters in a single issue about one subject. The letters are below, followed by an email from Martin Ivens, the Acting Editor of The Sunday Times.
I referred to Martin Ivens in the fourth item here.
The offending cartoon can be viewed here.
The Sunday Times remains one of the less biased papers in Britain. For papers such as The Guardian and The Independent, this kind of borderline anti-Semitic coverage of Israel is, unfortunately, a near daily occurrence.
* You can comment on these letters here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
LETTERS PUBLISHED TODAY BY THE SUNDAY TIMES
The Sunday Times
February 3, 2013
CARTOON WAS ILL-JUDGED BLOT ON MEMORIAL DAY
MEMBERS of the Hebrew Congregation, many of whom are regular readers of The Sunday Times, were devastated by last week’s Gerald Scarfe cartoon. While we must be open to fair and objective criticism of Israeli government policy, this portrait goes beyond any reasonable definition of fair criticism.
It is always dangerous to equate anti-Zionism with anti-semitism, but Scarfe’s image is reminiscent of the blood libels so beloved of Nazi Germany and today’s Arab press; it is at best a clumsy attempt at political comment, at worst blatantly anti-semitic.
That you should see fit to publish it on Holocaust Memorial Day demonstrates a lack of judgment. The message of this commemoration is still not being received in certain quarters.
Harvey Lipsith, President, Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation
We were shocked and disgusted by Scarfe’s anti-semitic cartoon, captioned: “Israeli elections — will cementing peace continue?” It has no basis in fact.
The Israeli elections, which were fair and democratic, actually resulted in a shift to the centre, and not to greater extremism. As loyal readers of your paper for more than 50 years we feel badly let down.
David and Judy Frankel, Stanmore, London
Israel’s security wall — most of which is a wire fence, and not even built by Binyamin Netanyahu — has saved untold lives by preventing terrorist suicide bombings. It has done more for peace than any military intervention, without spilling blood.
Jonathan Sacerdoti, Director, Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy
I am very disappointed by, and concerned about, the ever-increasing anti-semitic feeling and rhetoric in the media. I find it strange that Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East that permits freedom of religion, speech and the press, is so strongly condemned. It would be more fitting if the media concentrated on censuring those countries that seek to suppress these freedoms.
Michele Colwell, Carrickfergus, Co Antrim
VOTING WITH OUR FEET
I would like to to express my dismay at your portrayal of Israel’s prime minister as a vicious murderer, building houses on the screaming bodies of innocent civilians. You might find it surprising to know that I, along with many other Israelis, do not agree with our government’s policy of expanding building projects in disputed territories but we show our resentment by voting for other parties, organising demonstrations and conducting debates.
You may say that criticising Israel is not the same as criticising the Jewish people, and you are right, but doing it in the form of the Scarfe cartoon was irresponsible.
Atalya Nir, Israel
While Netanyahu may not be to everyone’s taste (including many Israelis, whose support for him has been substantially reduced during the election), he is the elected democratic leader of a country that has not known one day’s peace from its Arab neighbours since its creation.
Israel’s peace overtures to the Palestinians have been rejected. The wall has brought the horror of suicide bombings to an end but has resulted in undeniable hardship for the Palestinians. To conflate that misery with the images depicted in the cartoon on Holocaust Memorial Day is out of all proportion and fails to recognise the Palestinians’ responsibility for their own fate.
Keith and Tania Black, Manchester
I would like to state my displeasure that The Sunday Times — a publication I have bought for 40 years, and which I have always found to be fair and unbiased — made a huge error of judgment in choosing to publish this cartoon, particularly on such a significant day of Jewish remembrance.
However, all of us in the media occasionally make mistakes and I’ve always considered the best way of dealing with them is to own up, apologise and move on.
Lloyd Beiny, Chief Executive Officer, World Entertainment News Network, London N7
To depict the Israeli elections in this way is offensive and inflammatory. The voting showed clearly that the people of Israel have moved in great numbers to the centre left, which is a very positive thing.
The wall is a consequence of Israelis being terrorised for years by suicide bombers, and the world should be grateful that Israel chose only to build a wall, given what happens in other countries in similar circumstances. Many Jews and Israelis would rather not have such a barrier in place but acknowledge that it has put a stop to the numerous suicide bombings.
Raina Sheaf, Leeds
SEIZE THE DAY
While opinion on Israel is divided, you must have been aware that this insensitive imagery, which could easily have come from the pages of Der Stürmer, the former Nazi tabloid newspaper, would cause enormous distress to Holocaust refugees, their families and many in Israel.
To compound matters, it was printed on the day the world remembers the attempted annihilation of the Jews and other targets of the Nazis. You have quite rightly apologised for this crass insensitivity but not for omitting to commemorate the day itself.
Furthermore, you could have chosen to feature pieces highlighting the achievements and real progress in Holocaust education, research and commemoration, or the contribution to Britain of Nazi victims who found refuge here. It was a missed opportunity.
Andrew Kaufman, The Association of Jewish Refugees, Stanmore, London
CAUSE AND EFFECT
You should be aware that the climate for the Jewish people is much harder in Europe. What goes on in Israel and the Middle East affects the everyday life of Jews, even those who might not have any links to the state of Israel.
Helena Skibinski, Gothenburg, Sweden
Though I would defend Scarfe's right to express his views on Netanyahu’s election, I would pose this question to him: if he were surrounded by neighbours whose declared intent was his elimination, would he not take action to defend himself and his family?
Dany Hearn, Sète, France
All over the Middle East, people are brutally killing and maiming one another. Not so the Israelis. Why then publish a viciously anti-Israeli cartoon by Scarfe?
Miriam Owen, London W2
At a time when people the world over are grieving for their loved ones and experiencing difficulty in trying to come to terms with the horrors of Nazi Germany, this cartoon seemed out of place. On any other day, it wouldn’t have made the most comfortable viewing — and I appreciate the fact that Scarfe’s images are not meant to — but it would at least have been more tolerable.
Crystal Johnson, Stafford
Far from being a cause for apology and regret, the timing of the publication of Scarfe’s cartoon served as a topical reminder to the Jews of their obligations to the Palestinians with whom they share their land. Continued immigration and expansion of settlements can only lead Israel into deeper conflict with its neighbours.
For our part, we in Britain should take a much stronger line in bringing both sides to the negotiating table by publicly condemning both Israeli expansionism and Palestinian violence — the medium of the press is a good place to start, and Holocaust Memorial Day a good time.
Dr Anthony Vere, Malvern, Worcestershire
THE RIGHT THING
Your very quick and sincere apology to the Jewish community was an answer to prayer. I am not Jewish but I care about the Jewish nation.
Jill Wells, Ramsey, Isle of Man
I want to express my appreciation and gratitude for your newspaper’s apology regarding the Scarfe cartoon. It was good of him and of you to admit that his drawing had crossed the line.
Julian Stroh, Grand Rapids, Michigan
I am sorry that your newspaper and Scarfe felt you had to apologise for the cartoon. I am Jewish and can assure you I found it no more offensive than any other Scarfe cartoon. It was certainly not anti-semitic, unless you believe that we Jews are all so pure and perfect that none of us can ever be criticised on any grounds.
You might argue that the cartoon overstated or misrepresented the issue, but to call it anti-semitic is a hysterical overreaction. Please, continue to allow Scarfe his artistic freedom.
Judith Robertson, Sheffield
I was extremely upset that you found it necessary to apologise for the cartoon, which I feel certain will have found acceptance by free-thinking people, including Jews, many of whom deplore the treatment of Palestinians and the occupation of their lands.
America makes a pretence of asking Israel to stop building on Palestinian land and could exert the necessary pressure by suggesting it would withhold its annual funding until Israel complied with UN resolutions.
GG Nicholas, Alton, Hampshire
EMAIL SENT TO VARIOUS PEOPLE BY THE ACTING EDITOR OF THE SUNDAY TIMES
From: Martin Ivens
Date: 31 January 2013 10:53:24 GMT
Subject: Re: Gerald Scarfe
I am grateful to you for writing to The Sunday Times and expressing your views so clearly. I’d like to apologise at the outset for the offence caused by Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon published last Sunday.
Its publication was a terrible mistake. The timing – on Holocaust Memorial Day - was inexcusable. The associations on this occasion were grotesque. As someone who understands the history and iconography in this context, I appreciate fully why publication has caused such offence and I apologise unreservedly for my part in that.
I sought an urgent meeting with leading members of the Jewish community, and am pleased to say that we got together on Tuesday evening. It was a frank but constructive meeting. The chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, accepted my apology on behalf of the group and told the press afterwards that the community “now looks forward to constructively moving on from this affair”.
I hope you will find this reply reassuring, I thank you again for your correspondence.
The Sunday Times