Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

Israeli PM criticized for wooing Holocaust-distorting allies

January 31, 2019

Above photos: Jews being publically humiliated and beaten in Lviv (Lwow) by Ukrainian allies of the Nazis in June 1941 before being raped and shot dead. Over 4,000 Jews were killed in this particular two day Ukrainian pogrom.

 

Above: In New Year’s rallies this month in Lviv and Kiev on January 1, 2019, (pictured above) thousands celebrated the birthday of Stepan Bandera, whose followers carried out the 1941 Lviv pogrom as well as mass killings of tens of thousands of other Jews. Ukrainian politicians spoke in favor of Bandera at the rallies. Below, one of many mass shootings of Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

 

 

FAILING TO PRESERVE THE TRUTH OF THE HOLOCAUST

[Note by Tom Gross]

Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel is being criticized for rolling out the red carpet last week for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whose parliament this month designated the birthday of Ukrainian wartime Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera a national holiday. Bandera’s forces murdered thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. The regional legislature in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv has declared 2019 “the year of Stepan Bandera” and held torchlit parades in his honor – a move that has been criticized in Poland, Canada and Israel but not elsewhere.

As Poroshenko was visiting Israel last week, another memorial was being erected in Kiev for Symon Petliura, whose militia murdered 50,000 Jews after World War I. Netanyahu failed to mention this during Poroshenko’s visit.

 

LEADERS TRYING TO DOWNPLAY THEIR COUNTRIES’ COMPLICITY

I attach three articles on this subject below from today and yesterday – by Sam Sokol in The Times of Israel / JTA, by the Associated Press news agency, and by Lahav Harkov in the New York-based Tablet magazine.

I am quoted towards the end of the first article. Even though I say something a little different from the others quoted in the article, I would like to emphasize that I agree with their views too.

Israel can carry out Realpolitik without distorting Holocaust memory.

Netanyahu (and other Israeli and Western leaders) could and should have taken a more forceful stance to visiting leaders from Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland and Hungary, all of whom are actively allowing or encouraging distortion of their own countries role in perpetrating the Holocaust.

However, one might add that Israel for decades has maintained good relations with Western countries such as France and the Netherlands, which have also been slow to admit their significant role in the deportations of their Jewish populations to death camps (although the leaders of Western countries don’t today celebrate wartime Nazi collaborators).

-- Tom Gross

 

ARTICLES

HOLOCAUST SCHOLARS WORRY THAT MEMORY IS A VICTIM OF ISRAEL’S WARMING TIES WITH EASTERN EUROPE

Holocaust scholars worry that memory is a victim of Israel’s warming ties with Eastern Europe
By Sam Sokol
JTA / Times of Israel
January 29, 2019

https://www.jta.org/2019/01/29/israel/holocaust-scholars-worry-that-memory-is-a-victim-of-israels-warming-ties-with-eastern-europe

https://www.timesofisrael.com/as-israel-warms-ties-in-eastern-europe-is-holocaust-memory-now-disposable/

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to establish close ties with the European Union’s Central European members has met with pushback from a perhaps unlikely source: Holocaust historians and activists protective of Israel’s role in preserving the memories of the Nazis’ victims.

Netanyahu has justified his outreach to leaders in countries like Poland and Hungary as a way to counterbalance the E.U.’s more Palestinian-friendly western states.

But his critics say he may be sacrificing efforts to counter Holocaust revisionism, especially by leaders who are trying to downplay their countries’ complicity with the Germans in World War II.

“In recent years, some European governments try to present, and even force, a historical picture which is very different than the one well known based on documentation and on historical research,” Havi Dreifuss, a historian of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe at Tel Aviv University, told JTA.

“We see those phenomena mainly, but not only, regarding the assistance of locals to Nazi Germany murderous acts. It is most disturbing when there is no correction or comment from the Israeli side especially when these distorted narratives are part of an attempt to shape the public sphere and the public discourse,” said Dreifuss. “When Israel does not clearly correct these historical distortions it is very concerning, because it is not only history that shapes the past but also the public debate.”

On Monday, with the announcement that the Visegrád Group’s next summit will be held in Jerusalem, Netanyahu felt Israel had much to celebrate.

An alliance of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, the Visegrád Group represents the nationalist and conservative wing of the European Union. Gaining their support in the international arena should count as an uncontested diplomatic coup.

However, some in Israel see Netanyahu’s political triumph as deeply problematic.

In a scathing condemnation, Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, tweeted that the summit will feature a “prime minister who passed a law that humiliates the memory of Holocaust victims and a prime minister who publishes anti-Semitic content.”

Lapid was apparently referring to Prime Minsiter Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland, who signed legislation last year making it a crime to hold Poland responsible for Nazi crimes. Hungary’s Viktor Orban, meanwhile, was accused of using anti-Semitic dog whistles in a campaign against Jewish philanthropist and pro-democracy activist George Soros.

“It is the loss of all national pride and causes us damage in the international arena,” Lapid continued. “The prime minister must overcome his passion for election photography and cancel it.”

The increasingly close relations between Jerusalem and countries such as Hungary and Poland have liberals here worried because both countries’ governments have taken steps to undermine independent institutions and the press. Both European countries are seen as rolling back the process of democratization begun after the fall of communism.

But the specter of World War II casts a distinct shadow in the Jewish state. According to a study released last week by researchers from Yale University and Grinnell College, Holocaust revisionism has been on the rise in Europe. Some of the worst offenders were found in Poland and Hungary.

“Holocaust remembrance is under clear threat in Poland,” according to the report.

Netanyahu has taken notice. Responding to the public outcry in Israel and around the world over Poland’s “Holocaust law,” Netanyahu condemned the legislation, stating that Israel had “no tolerance for distorting the truth, historical revisionism, or Holocaust denial.”

However, as relations between Warsaw and Jerusalem hit a new low, Netanyahu became conciliator, releasing a joint statement with Morawiecki claiming that “that structures of the Polish Underground State supervised by the Polish Government-in-Exile created a mechanism of systematic help and support to Jewish people.”

The pronouncement was widely panned by historians. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust authority, issued an unprecedented statement criticizing Netanyahu’s “grave errors and deceptions.”

Netanyahu has also come under fire for praising Orban for “preserving the memory of the past” despite the Hungarian prime minister’s public praise for wartime leader and Nazi ally Miklós Horthy, as well as the anti-Soros campaign.

Jerusalem has also ignored Holocaust distortion among non-EU allies on the continent, critics charge. Last week Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visited Jerusalem for the signing of a free trade agreement that had been in the works for several years.

The visit was an “absolute disaster” from the perspective of “dealing with Holocaust distortion and the fight against anti-Semitism,” claimed Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He said Netanyahu failed to publicly address Kiev’s official policy of rehabilitating local Nazi collaborators who had participated in the murder of Jews and Poles.

“I have no reason to believe that [this week’s] visit of the Lithuanian Prime Minister [Saulius Skvernelis] will be any different,” he continued. “As many people recall, when Netanyahu visited Lithuania in the fall, not only did he not criticize the Lithuanian government for its efforts to distort the Holocaust but he actually praised them for the manner in which they commemorated the Shoah. This is the problem. Israel and Netanyahu have knowingly abandoned their role as the defenders of the memory of the Holocaust.”

Israel’s failure to protest the passage of a 2015 bill honoring Ukrainian nationalists who murdered Jews was disappointing, said Eduard Dolinsky, the Kiev-based director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, an advocacy group. While it was a “big deal” when Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke out against honoring collaborators during a speech a year and a half later, Dolinsky believed that more should have been done.

“Israel should react stronger when the Holocaust is distorted and Nazi collaborators are glorified,” he said. “We expected that Israel would react. The matter is that Ukrainian government agencies and organizations involved in the process of glorification are closely watching what Israel would say. Therefore when Israel is silent they can go forward and ignore the Jewish community statements. I don’t want to criticize Israel, but her reaction could be stronger and sharper.”

Yehuda Bauer, one of Israel’s most respected Holocaust scholars, told JTA that “the distortion of Holocaust memory and the facts of the Holocaust by official authorities in Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Lithuania in different forms has been accepted by the the Israeli government.”

Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust scholar at Atlanta’s Emory University and the author of a memoir about her own fight against Holocaust denial, is also wary of the new alliances.

“I think that, possibly for reasons of realpolitik, Israel has been a bit malleable when it comes to overtly anti-Semitic actions by countries such as Hungary [and] Poland,” she said. “These countries may vote in favor of Israel in international bodies, but I think it is a dangerous game to give them a pass on their anti-Semitic actions.”

Closer to home, a Knesset member who chairs a lobby on anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union says it is incredibly difficult to get the government to speak out on such issues.

“I’ve sent dozens of letters that were addressed to heads of embassies and heads of states and not even once did the Foreign Ministry became active and join me in [my] condemnation,” said Ksenia Svetlova of the opposition Zionist Union. “I would hate to think that anti-Semitism and Holocaust and historical memory became nothing more than cheap change in the political game but it seems to me that it is increasingly becoming so.”

“A CONSTANT ISRAELI POLICY”

Such sentiments are far from universal, however. Some analysts insist that the issue is more nuanced than Netanyahu’s detractors believe.

“The state of Israel, like every other state, often has little choice but to establish ties with countries with less-than-perfect human rights records such as Egypt, which allows an uncomfortable amount of anti-Semitism in semi-government-controlled media,” said Tom Gross, a journalist and Mideast analyst.

“I would say that from what I know of Netanyahu, he is not insensitive and cares greatly about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and is fully aware of the minefield he is in,” added Gross. “The government of Israel has to balance all kinds of considerations,” one of the primary ones being its own security.

However, said Gross, that does not mean that issues of commemoration should necessarily fall by the wayside and in the case of a country like Ukraine “the Netanyahu government should have done more.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry disagreed. A spokesman told JTA that “broadly speaking, and this is Israel’s policy, we will not relinquish historical memory in favor of other interests. This has always been our position.”

This position was echoed by Joel Lion, Israel’s recently appointed ambassador to Ukraine. Notably, he has been significantly more outspoken on revisionism than most other officials on this issue.

Dore Gold, a former director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Netanyahu and the current President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, also defended the government.

“My view is that the memory of the Holocaust is a constant Israeli policy, whether it’s foreign or educational policy, and it’s not an issue we can compromise on in any way, shape or form, but whether the accusations made about Israel somehow sacrificing that memory for purposes of realpolitik are highly questionable,” Gold told JTA.

But even some on the moderate right who support realpolitik in foreign policy have expressed reservations about Netanyahu’s approach.

While “one does not shy away from necessary things,” politics cannot be “totally devoid of moral values,” said Dan Meridor, who served as Netanyahu’s Deputy Prime Minister between 2009-2013. He currently heads the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, a Jerusalem think tank affiliated with the World Jewish Congress.

In extreme cases where anti-Semitism is perceived, such as Orban’s anti-Soros campaigns, “you should say something about it.”

 

ISRAEL LEADER SCORNED FOR WOOING HOLOCAUST-DISTORTING ALLIES LITHUANIA AND UKRAINE

Israel leader scorned for wooing Holocaust-distorting allies
Associated Press
January 30, 2019

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warm welcome to Lithuania’s prime minister marks his latest embrace of an eastern European leader who has offered strong political support while promoting a distorted image of the Holocaust.

Lithuania is among a slew of former communist nations swept up in a wave of World War II-era revisionism that seeks to diminish their culpability in the Holocaust while making heroes out of anti-Soviet nationalists involved in the mass killing of Jews. In Israel, established in the wake of the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews, many say Netanyahu is cynically betraying the victims’ memory.

Lithuania, for instance, has been a leading force behind creating a joint memorial day for all victims of totalitarianism, blurring the distinction between the crimes of the Nazis and the communists who fought them.

It also has pushed for legislation to prohibit the sale of books that “distort Lithuanian history” by citing the rampant, documented collaboration of the local population with Nazis. Most recently it has resisted calls to remove the various plaques commemorating anti-Soviet fighter Jonas Noreika, despite recent revelations by his own granddaughter, Silvia Foti, that he was a fierce anti-Semite who had a role in the murder of thousands of Jews.

Nearly all of Lithuania’s 200,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

When Netanyahu, who has Lithuanian roots, visited Vilnius last year, he praised Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis for taking “great steps to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust” and for fighting modern-day anti-Semitism.

“It’s unforgivable. Netanyahu is giving them a green light,” said Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “It’s like praising the Ku Klux Klan for improving racial relations in the South.”

“We have to say the truth. We owe it to the victims,” he added.

In a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday, Skvernelis said “Lithuania has been learning the lessons of the past” and was “improving the life of the Jewish community and restoring historical sites.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Netanyahu treaded cautiously. He referred to the “tragedies of the past” but steered clear of any criticism of modern Lithuania, praising the “spirit of friendship” and “a bridge from the past to a future.”

Skvernelis’ visit comes a week after Netanyahu similarly rolled out the red carpet for President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, whose parliament just designated the birthday of Ukrainian wartime Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera a national holiday. A regional legislature declared 2019 “the year of Stepan Bandera.”

Bandera’s forces fought alongside the Nazis and were implicated in the murder of thousands of Jews. As Poroshenko was visiting Israel, another memorial was being erected in Kiev for Symon Petliura, whose troops are linked to pogroms that killed as many as 50,000 Jews after World War I.

Netanyahu’s outreach in eastern Europe is part of his larger strategy of forging alliances to counter the criticism Israel faces in the United Nations and other international forums over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Critics consider it a deal with the devil. They say Netanyahu – who often invokes the Holocaust when inveighing against archrival Iran – turns a blind eye when it comes to like-minded allies.

“It’s a specific maneuver that legitimizes anti-Semitism and borders on Holocaust denial,” said Tamar Zandberg, leader of the dovish Meretz party.

The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Under communist rule, the Holocaust was not seriously dealt with and, upon independence, the newfound eastern and central European nations sought to canonize nationalist icons who resisted the Soviets, while largely ignoring their crimes alongside the Nazis. Domestic academics who have challenged the false narrative have been shamed, and external criticism has often been met with new anti-Semitic outbursts.

For countries like Lithuania and Ukraine, the warm embrace of the Israeli leader provides a strong defense against accusation of anti-Semitism while also strengthening ties with a close U.S. ally.

Netanyahu has also formed a close alliance with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has lavished praise on Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s World War II-era ruler, who introduced anti-Semitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis. Orban has also employed anti-Semitic tropes against the Jewish Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros and backed a state-funded museum that experts say plays down the role of Hungarian collaborators.

Netanyahu also struck a deal with Polish leaders over their country’s controversial Holocaust speech law, which would have criminalized blaming the Polish nation for crimes committed against Jews during World War II.

Israeli Holocaust historians slammed the agreement, which seemed to accept a Polish narrative that they were only victims of the Nazis. Scholars say anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in pre-war Poland and Poles might have either killed or helped Germans kill up to 200,000 Jews.

Still, Netanyahu has invited Orban and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – who last year equated Polish perpetrators in the Holocaust to supposed “Jewish perpetrators” – to Israel in February for a summit with the leaders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party and the son of a Holocaust survivor, called on Netanyahu to cancel the meeting, saying one prime minister has “published anti-Semitic content” and another “passed a law desecrating the memory of Holocaust victims.”

In an annual report Sunday, Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs said 2018 saw a record number of worldwide anti-Semitic attacks, with most carried out by neo-Nazis in Europe and white supremacists.

But at his Cabinet meeting later in the day, Netanyahu singled out “Islamic anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitism of the extreme left, which includes anti-Zionism.”

Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, which hosts all visiting foreign dignitaries, has been thrust into the controversy.

While it says it will never disqualify anyone wishing to visit, Yad Vashem insists it will “forcefully” address any denial or distortion. Yad Vashem said the Lithuanian leader received a comprehensive explanation of the Holocaust, including details about “the murder of Jews of Lithuania by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators.”

 

“BUT NOT WHEN THEY EMBOLDEN ANTI-SEMITIC DOG WHISTLES”

Choosing the Right Strongmen Allies

Israel’s alliance with illiberal regimes can be necessary and justified but not when they embolden anti-Semitic dog whistles

By Lahav Harkov
Tablet magazine
January 29, 2019

“Israel’s foreign relations are at a record high,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted in the Knesset in December. “There were 300 visits by [foreign] leaders to Israel this year. Presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, senators, leading members of parliament. A flood … We have great achievements in the world, including the Arab world that we never had before.”

This is a common talking point for Netanyahu, who has claimed repeatedly over the past year that he has expanded Israel’s foreign ties to unprecedented levels. But there is a flipside to it, a recurring theme in criticisms of Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is cozying up to “strongmen.”

From the newly elected Bolsonaro in Brazil, whose inauguration Netanyahu attended this month, to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Polish Premier Mateusz Morawiecki, world leaders are lining up to meet with Netanyahu. In fact, relations have so warmed with Poland and Hungary that their prime ministers are attending a summit in Jerusalem next month, along with the premiers of Czech Republic and Slovakia. Since not all of them are democratically inclined and some are outright human rights abusers and authoritarians, this is supposed to indicate that something is rotten in Jerusalem.

There are two elements at play in the claims of a nefarious new direction in Israel’s foreign policy: One is a pearl-clutching disgust at Netanyahu’s supposed embrace of illiberal regimes; the other concerns relations with leaders whose policies specifically impact Jews and, as has grown increasingly common in Eastern Europe, distort the memory of the Holocaust. An example of the first is Netanyahu’s willingness to engage with the government in the Philippines, which has engaged in extrajudicial executions of alleged drug dealers while Duterte has said he hopes to be to drug abusers what Hitler was to Jews. On the other hand, the Hungarian government, which Netanyahu has also courted as an ally, has engaged in institutional Holocaust revisionism while publicly glorifying Nazi collaborator and former Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy.

A weakness in all this new talk of Netanyahu and strongmen is that it conflates these two categories, mistaking the necessary compromises of conducting international relations, including with nations that have less-than-stellar democratic norms, with the troubling assaults on the legacy of the Holocaust. Moreover, many analysts who lament Israel’s cozying up to strongmen ignore research showing that Eastern European Jews feel safer from anti-Semitism than those in the West, which may be because they perceive the greatest threat to their lives coming from Islamist violence rather than the populist right.

Just over the past few months, there seemed to be a major push against Israel’s increasing alliance with illiberal governments – Palestinians exempted from that category, as usual – a move that started in the Israeli press before migrating to the Jewish diaspora press and from there to the mainstream American media in a big way.

In early December, Michelle Goldberg used her New York Times column to argue that “Israel is evermore willing to ally itself with foreign leaders who share its illiberal nationalism.” The assertion was embedded in a column devoted to defending the political legitimacy of anti-Zionism; in other words, defending the view that the concept of a Jewish nation-state is inherently illegitimate.

Goldberg takes Netanyahu’s ties to Orban, which she calls “particularly close” without any proof or explanation, to indicate that “being pro-Israel and pro-Jewish are not the same thing.” A little less than a month later, an analysis by the Times’ self-proclaimed expert on anti-Semitism, Jonathan Weisman, posited that a growing rift between Israeli and American Jews “may come from the stance that Israel’s leader is taking on the world stage.” At which point Weisman runs through the usual litany of authoritarians Netanyahu has embraced: Orban, Duterte, Bolsonaro and the Polish government.

But another more serious line of criticism has also emerged recently in the wake of news that Israel was negotiating with Orban’s government over the content of a Hungarian Holocaust museum called the “House of Fates.” To the consternation of the local Jewish community, the museum is attempting to whitewash Hungary’s participation in the genocide of European Jewry, including sending 100,000 Jews to forced labor camps, where 40,000 died, and turning 20,000 Jews over to the Nazis, all before the Germans invaded Hungary.

Within days of the announcement, the Times published an article by Israeli journalist Matti Friedman quoting anonymous workers at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, on their discomfort at “right-wing politicians who might stoke animosity to Jews and other minorities at home.”

And shortly after that, The Forward’s Batya Ungar-Sargon lamented “Netanyahu’s crimes against Diaspora Jews” in holding talks with Orban and Morawiecki in an attempt to mitigate those countries’ policies distorting the Holocaust to try to exonerate and even glorify their local populations and leaders during World War II.

But this isn’t the first surge of criticism of Israel’s foreign ties, and it’s not all about the Holocaust. In honor of Duterte’s visit to Israel in September, a column in Bloomberg said, “Strongmen are no problem for Netanyahu,” and the Associated Press described “Netanyahu’s roster of tough-guy pals.”

It is no defense of human rights violators to say that Israel must sometimes hold its nose and keep up ties with strongmen leaders. As Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Avi Dichter – a Likudnik and former Shin Bet chief who could never be accused of being a bleeding heart – said before Duterte visited: “We may have to take a pill against nausea to receive him.”

But there are some too pure for such distasteful compromises. Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg wrote a letter to Netanyahu telling him not to strengthen relations with one of the largest economies in the world because Brazil elected a president from the far right, months before Bolsonaro even began his term.

Yet Zandberg has also been photographed visiting the grave of Yasser Arafat, not a leader known for his exemplary human rights record. And neither she, nor anyone else on the left, has called on Israel to cut ties with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who wrote his dissertation denying the Holocaust, and whose regime jails people for criticizing him online or, God forbid, selling land to Jews.

When Netanyahu visited Oman and other ministers traveled to Abu Dhabi and Dubai this year, suddenly everyone seemed to understand putting realpolitik before an idealistic human rights agenda.

“Generally speaking, of course, we seek to be a light unto the nations, but when you put it into concrete policy, it’s more complicated,” said one senior official who works in Israel’s foreign ministry and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We’re not in a situation to judge other countries and snub them because we don’t like their governments, or we’d have no relations with 80 percent of the world,” he added.

Expanding Israel’s partnerships around the world staves off the dangers of economic and diplomatic isolation that it faced in the not-so-distant past. And there are still vast swaths of the globe that want nothing to do with the Jewish state and automatically vote against it in any international forum.

However, this still leaves the more serious charge that Israel is endangering diaspora Jewry by normalizing relations with illiberal governments like the one in Hungary and endorsing attempts to whitewash history, like the one carried out last year by the Polish government.

On Jan. 27, 2018, news broke that Poland was passing a law to penalize people for using the phrase “Polish death camps” or suggesting that Poland and Poles were in any way responsible for the Holocaust.

The Israeli government came out strongly against the Polish Holocaust law, leading to a crisis in Israel-Poland ties. It ended five months later when Poland voted to lessen the sentence for people convicted of saying the country was responsible for Nazi crimes by taking prison off the table but keeping the act classified as a crime punishable by fine.

The Polish government ran advertisements in major Israeli newspapers with Netanyahu’s statement announcing the agreement: “I’m pleased that the Polish government … decided today to fully rescind the clauses that were signed and caused a storm and consternation in Israel and among the international community.”

But in the same statement, the prime minister essentially endorsed the underlying position of the Polish law, declaring: “We have always agreed that the term “Polish concentration/death camps” is blatantly erroneous and diminishes the responsibility of Germany for establishing those camps.”

The same issues raised by the Polish law have arisen again with the recent “House of Fates” controversy and Netanyahu’s engagement with Orban’s government.

The Israeli foreign policy official who spoke with Tablet defended his government’s position: “We have no other option but to negotiate and discuss. We don’t accept everything they do or say, but we have to take into account that this is their government. It was the same with the Poland Holocaust memory law, and it may happen with other countries, as well.”

But the issue is not whether to engage, it is whether those countries can then go and say they have Israel’s imprimatur when the result of those talks are inadequate. In the case of Poland, the government in Warsaw ran a victory lap with Netanyahu’s statements.

Something similar happened in 2017 when Orban ran a campaign ad that announced: “Let’s not leave Soros the last laugh.” The reference was to George Soros, the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and billionaire who is a major funder of pro-democracy NGOs in post-communist states, but also of far-left political organizations around the world.

Israel’s ambassador to Hungary said the ads were anti-Semitic, as did Hungarian-Jewish leaders. But the Netanyahu-led Foreign Ministry undermined that sentiment by stating that it “deplores any expression of anti-Semitism” but “in no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny its right to defend itself.” Of course, Soros is a legitimate target of criticism but when local Jews are concerned about anti-Semitism, it’s probably not the right time to focus on that point.

At the moment, the only far-right group with any relevance that Israel is boycotting is the Austrian Freedom Party, founded by ex-Nazis, a member of the ruling coalition in Vienna. But ties with the rest of the government remain on track.

In general, it appears that Eastern European Jews may not view their situation in the dire terms used by some of their self-appointed advocates in Israel and the West.

As Evelyn Gordon reported in Commentary in November, a study by the Joint Distribution Committee International Center for Community Development found that 96 percent of the Jewish leaders and professionals polled in Eastern Europe felt safe, as opposed to only 76 percent in Western Europe. In addition, Western Europeans were more than twice as likely to see terrorism and violence against Jews as a threat; 47 percent of them cited it, as opposed to 22 percent of Eastern Europeans.

One possible reason for the discrepancy cited in the study is that anti-Semitic violence in Europe is more likely to come from Muslims, of which there are very few in Eastern Europe – in part because of strict immigration policies enacted by the very right-wing governments that are being called dangerous for Jews. But don’t expect to see that reality acknowledged in the popular moralizing about Netanyahu and strongmen.

The same study also found that 56 percent of Eastern European Jewish leaders were pessimistic about increasing anti-Semitism, while in Western Europe the number jumps to 75%.

Another reason, or at least a correlation, is that 88 percent of Western European Jewish leaders found their media to be hostile to Israel, while only 36 percent said the same in the East. As Gordon noted, “Whenever Israel launches a major counterterrorism operation, anti-Israel sentiment spikes along with anti-Semitic attacks.”

That brings us to why Israel is especially interested in maintaining a positive relationship with Eastern European countries, beyond staving off isolation as mentioned earlier. The European Union is Israel’s biggest trading partner, and the EU’s Western members tend to be more critical of Israel than those in the East, who can help veto policy decisions that may be harmful to Israel.

Eastern Europe is “a good partner that creates a counterbalance to Brussels,” the government source said. “This enables us to deal with Europe without constant criticism. We take it as a positive diplomatic tool, and we don’t judge when we don’t need to.”

This “counterbalance to Brussels” is Jerusalem’s explicit goal in hosting the summit on Feb. 18-19, upgrading ties with the Visegrad states – Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia – thought to be the most right wing in the EU.

The challenge and moral mandate for Israel’s government is to ensure that in pursuing enhanced relations with countries that can strengthen its security and political position, they’re not endorsing the anti-Semitic dog whistles – or bullhorns – of their governments.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

'Portugal's Schindler' Is Remembered, Decades After His Lifesaving Deeds

40 years on Holocaust

“When a picture paints a thousand words”

January 25, 2019

 

[Notes by Tom Gross]

This is what British political anti-Semitism in 2019 looks like: (left wing) Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack tweeted an image blaming Israel for the failure of Venezuelan socialism, as well as for the rest of the world’s conflicts. This is exactly the kind of lie Hitler said about the Jews in the run-up to the Holocaust. Sunday marks international Holocaust Remembrance Day in Britain and many other countries.
Womack said the image, which shows the United States as Death, holding a scythe with the flag of Israel which has produced blood through massacres in four continents, as painting “a thousand words.”

(Of course, the image is viciously anti-American too. But Americans are not a tiny minority under threat like Jews.)

(Update: Under pressure Womack has now aplogized, admitted the tweet is “in fact anti-Semitic” and deleted her tweet. Some British Jews have accepted her apology, while many others say the series of less than apologetic excuses she made for over 12 hours before finally agreeing to apologize show her to be disingenuous.)

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Trump plan allegedly “creates Palestinian state with east Jerusalem capital” (& Trudeau: BDS is anti-Semitic)

January 17, 2019

Hardline Israeli Likud cabinet minister Miri Regev meeting leaders in Abu Dhabi two months ago. In recent months, ties between members of the Netanyahu government and leaders from across the Arab world have been made increasingly public.

 

TRUMP PEACE PLAN ALLEGEDLY LEAKED

[Notes by Tom Gross]

Elements of US President Donald Trump’s long awaited “deal of the century” Israel-Palestinian peace plan (which will be made public some time after Israel’s April 9 general elections that are expected to be won by incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu) were allegedly leaked to Israel’s Channel 13 News yesterday evening.

The Israeli news report (by a former leading Haaretz journalist) claimed the Trump plan will include the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in parts of east Jerusalem. (Full report below from the Jerusalem Post.)

Jason Greenblatt, the White House special envoy for the Mideast, was quick to dismiss the Israeli TV report as “inaccurate” and “distorted”.

But I wouldn’t be so sure.

Based on my own analysis, and also based on private meetings I have been present at over the last 10 years with Saudi, Israeli and Gulf Arab officials, I believe that such a plan is indeed in the works, and that Benjamin Netanyahu will accept it, much to the anger of many on his right wing base.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will want to reject it, but unlike past offers to create a Palestinian state that Palestinian leaders Arafat and Abbas rejected under the last three US presidents, Donald Trump (in coordination with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and many other Arab countries) is likely to put serious pressure on the Palestinians to accept it.

So while most people are very skeptical that such a Trump plan could work, I think it is a real possibility.

 

BEHIND THE SCENES ARAB-ISRAELI COORDINATION

Indeed, I have consistently predicted ever since Trump was running for president in 2015/16 that (however disagreeable Trump might be in other respects) he would oversee the creation of a Palestinian state with a capital in parts of east Jerusalem, and it will be done in close behind the scenes coordination with Netanyahu, the Saudis, Egypt and with the acquiescence of Vladimir Putin.

***

See, for example, my April 2017 interview on Hungarian TV, 11 weeks after Trump became president, in which I argue that Trump’s foreign approach has a greater chance of succeeding (even if those chances are still low) than the approach that had been employed by Barack Obama and John Kerry, and others before them:

Video: Tom Gross: Can Trump bring about a two state solution Maybe so

(The longer version of this interview is here.)

***

Or my December 2017 interview here:

After Jerusalem decision, might Trump & Netanyahu yet help create a Palestinian state?

 

NETANYAHU TO TRAVEL TO CHAD ON SUNDAY TO RENEW DIPLOMATIC TIES

It was announced this morning that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will travel to the African Muslim-majority country of Chad on Sunday, where the two countries will formally declare a resumption of relations after a 47 year break.

 

VIDEO: CANADIAN PM TRUDEAU EXPLAINS TO ACADEMICS WHY BDS IS ANTI-SEMITIC

In unscripted remarks to a town hall audience of academics and students in Ontario on Tuesday (January 15, 2019), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained why the BDS campaign singling out Israel was anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitism often manifests itself not only as targeting individuals but also “against the very state of Israel,” he added.

Video here.

One only wishes that more European leaders would echo such remarks. (Britain Prime Minister Theresa May has done.)

 

MALAYSIA TO DENY ENTRY TO DISABLED ISRAELI ATHLETES FOR WORLD PARA-SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah reiterated yesterday that disabled Israeli athletes will not be allowed to enter the country for the World Para Swimming Championships in July.

AFP reports that the International Paralympic Committee said it was “disappointed” with Malaysia’s decision and is considering moving the event.

Swimmers from over 70 countries are expected to compete at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in the eastern state of Sarawak from July 29-Aug. 4.

As I reported last month, the international Chess federation FIDE decided to move an international chess tournament from Saudi Arabia to Russia after the Saudis refused to allow Israeli chess players to compete.

 

MICHAEL GOVE’S POWERFUL SPEECH RIPS INTO CORBYN

British cabinet minster Michael Gove tore into Labour Party opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, in the final speech before Theresa May’s government won a no-confidence motion last night in the British parliament.

In a powerful speech, Gove also attacked Corbyn’s shameful record on Jews and Israel, and his seeming sympathy with terrorists:

Video here.

 

Michael Gove and I have known each other for many years, and have privately discussed the Middle East and international affairs on many occasions. We agree on many things though disagree on Brexit. I debated him on Brexit at a conference in Washington in 2017, above.

 

“ALL OPTIONS RULED OUT”

Brexit explained:

https://www.thedailymash.co.uk/politics/politics-headlines/all-options-ruled-out-20190116181417

(This is, of course, a satirical website.)

 

ARTICLE

TRUMP PEACE PLAN: DIVIDE JERUSALEM, PALESTINIAN STATE ON 85-90% OF W. BANK

Trump Peace Plan: Divide Jerusalem, Palestinian state on 85-90% of W. Bank

The report, based on a source who took part in a briefing in Washington on the plan, said it calls for the annexation of the large settlements and the evacuation of some settlement outposts.

By Herb Keinon
Jerusalem Post
January 16, 2019 22:00

https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Trump-peace-plan-divided-Jerusalem-Palestinian-state-on-85-90-percent-of-WB-577664

US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” expected to be rolled out after the elections on April 9, will include a Palestinian state on 85-90% of the West Bank and the division of Jerusalem, according to a Channel 13 News report.

The report, based on a source who took part in a briefing in Washington on the plan by a senior American official, said it calls for the annexation of the large settlements and the evacuation of settlement outposts deemed illegal under Israeli law.

Isolated settlements, such as Yitzhar and Itamar, would not be evacuated under the plan, but no further building would be allowed, in order to “dry them out.”

The plan, details of which have been a closely guarded secret for months, also calls for a land swap for the land that Israel will annex, though the ratio of the swap was not immediately clear, according to the report.

Regarding Jerusalem, the report stated that the city would be divided, with west Jerusalem and some areas of east Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and east Jerusalem – including most of the Arab neighborhoods – the capital of a Palestinian state.

Israel would retain sovereignty over the Old City and its immediate environs, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, but it would be administered together with the Palestinians, Jordanians and perhaps other countries.

The report said that the White House expectation was for the Palestinians to reject the plan when it is presented, but for Israel to give a positive response. The Palestinians, who have cut off ties with the US, have said that they would reject any plan Trump would put forward.

If the report about the contours of the plan is accurate, the amount of land that would make up the Palestinian state is more than double Areas A and B, where the Palestinians today have control, but less than what Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, which he rejected.

Olmert offered a near-total withdrawal from the West Bank, proposing that Israel keep 6.3% of Judea and Samaria to incorporate the large settlement blocs, and compensate the Palestinians with Israeli land equivalent to 5.8% of the West Bank. He also proposed putting the Old City and the holy sites under international control.

A senior White House official said in response to the report, “As in the past, speculation with regards to the content of the plan is not accurate. We have no further comment.”

An official in the Prime Minister’s Office said it had “nothing to offer” on the news report.

Beit El Council head Shai Alon said, “The US president has achieved many things. He was the first [president] to transfer the US Embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize our rights to the Holy City. But his solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, as it was revealed this evening, is filled with holes, and of course we oppose it.”

The days in which Jewish building in Judea and Samaria is frozen have come and gone, he said. “We have survived hard times in Judea and Samaria, and now we are focused on building and strengthening the place [to absorb] tens of thousands of families,” Alon said. “We say no to land swaps and no to a freeze.”

Alon rejected any talk of dividing Jerusalem. “We didn’t return to Jerusalem after thousands of years of exile, so that a Jordanian guard would inspect us at the entrance to the Western Wall.”

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

There is no ‘Israeli-Palestinian conflict’ (& How to get out of the Brexit mess)

January 16, 2019

Above: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visiting Saudi Arabia on Monday. Saudi Arabia, as well as almost every other Arab country, is urging the U.S. to do much more to push back against Iranian threats to the entire region. Iranian aggression is viewed by both Arabs and Israelis as a much greater danger than the unresolved Palestinian issue.

 

THE VIEW FROM ISRAEL

[Notes by Tom Gross]

I attach an interesting perspective from Matti Friedman on how Israelis (and indeed many Arabs) view the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian/Turkish/Iranian conflict, and how this is markedly different from the views of many Westerners.

“To someone here, zooming in to frame our problem as an Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes as much sense as describing the ‘America-Italy conflict’ of 1944,” writes Friedman, a former Associated Press staffer who is longtime subscriber to this list.

 

A POSSIBLE WAY FORWARD

On a completely different matter, some of you may be interested to watch my interview last night (shortly after Theresa May’s devastating defeat in the British parliament) in which I suggest a possible way forward out of the Brexit mess. I also discuss the global international implications of a chaotic Brexit, Britain’s role in the protection of the West, and how to prevent Corbyn’s “Venezuela” coming to the UK.

https://youtu.be/zjEMufPBZQc

Also posted here:

https://www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia/videos/1137426956429198

 

9/11 SURVIVOR MURDERED IN KENYAN TERROR ATTACK

Jason Spindler, who was friends with subscribers to this email list who notified me of his death, has been named as the Jewish American who died in the Islamist terror attack in Nairobi, Kenya yesterday.

Jason was a survivor of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York and was a former member of the Peace Corps.

More here from the Kenyan newspaper The Daily Nation.

 

HAMAS RELEASES ITALIAN EMBASSY EMPLOYEES

Three Italians working for the Italian embassy were released by Hamas last night after being held in Gaza for the past two days.

More here from the Chinese news agency.

 

ARTICLE

“IN THE ISRAELI VIEW, NO PEACEMAKER CAN BRING THE TWO SIDES TOGETHER BECAUSE THERE AREN’T JUST TWO SIDES”

There Is No ‘Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’
To understand why, you have to zoom out.
By Matti Friedman
The New York Times
Jan. 16, 2019

JERUSALEM — If you are reading this, you’ve likely seen much about “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” in the pages of this newspaper and of every other important newspaper in the West. That phrase contains a few important assumptions. That the conflict is between two actors, Israelis and Palestinians. That it could be resolved by those two actors, and particularly by the stronger side, Israel. That it’s taking place in the corner of the Middle East under Israeli rule.

Presented this way, the conflict has become an energizing issue on the international left and the subject of fascination of many governments, including the Trump administration, which has been working on a “deal of the century” to solve it. The previous administration’s secretary of state, John Kerry, committed so much time to Israeli-Palestinian peace that for a while he seemed to be here each weekend. If only the perfect wording and map could be found, according to this thinking, if only both sides could be given the right dose of carrots and sticks, peace could ensue.

To someone here in Israel, all of this is harder and harder to understand. There isn’t an Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the way that many outsiders seem to think, and this perception gap is worth spelling out. It has nothing to do with being right-wing or left-wing in the American sense. To borrow a term from the world of photography, the problem is one of zoom. Simply put, outsiders are zoomed in, and people here in Israel are zoomed out. Understanding this will make events here easier to grasp.

In the Israeli view, no peacemaker can bring the two sides together because there aren’t just two sides. There are many, many sides.

Most of Israel’s wars haven’t been fought against Palestinians. Since the invasion of five Arab armies at the declaration of the State of Israel in May 1948, the Palestinians have made up a small number of the combatants facing the country. To someone here, zooming in to frame our problem as an Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes as much sense as describing the “America-Italy conflict” of 1944. American G.I.s were indeed dying in Italy that year, but an American instinctively knows that this can be understood only by seeing it as one small part of World War II. The actions of Americans in Italy can’t be explained without Japan, or without Germany, Russia, Britain and the numerous actors and sub-conflicts making up the larger war.

Over the decades when Arab nationalism was the region’s dominant ideology, Israeli soldiers faced Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Iraqis. Today Israel’s most potent enemy is the Shiite theocracy in Iran, which is more than 1,000 miles away and isn’t Palestinian (or Arab). The gravest threat to Israel at close range is Hezbollah on our northern border, an army of Lebanese Shiites founded and funded by the Iranians.

The antiaircraft batteries of the Russians, Iran’s patrons, already cover much of our airspace from their new Syrian positions. A threat of a lesser order is posed by Hamas, which is Palestinian — but was founded as the local incarnation of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, affiliated with the regional wave of Sunni radicalism, kept afloat with Qatari cash and backed by Iran.

If you see only an “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict, then nothing that Israelis do makes sense. (That’s why Israel’s enemies prefer this framing.) In this tightly cropped frame, Israelis are stronger, more prosperous and more numerous. The fears affecting big decisions, like what to do about the military occupation in the West Bank, seem unwarranted if Israel is indeed the far more powerful party.

That’s not the way Israelis see it. Many here believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened around us in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors, Syria and Iraq, into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

When I look at the West Bank as an Israeli, I see 2.5 million Palestinian civilians living under military rule, with all the misery that entails. I’m seeing the many grave errors our governments have made in handling the territory and its residents, the construction of civilian settlements chief among them.

But because I’m zoomed out, I’m also seeing Hezbollah (not Palestinian), and the Russians and Iranians (not Palestinian), and the Islamic State-affiliated insurgents (not Palestinian) on our border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. I’m considering the disastrous result of the power vacuum in Syria, which is a 90-minute drive from the West Bank.

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea — “like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation — if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunni and Shiite; between majority populations and minorities. If our small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

Misunderstanding the predicament of Israelis and Palestinians as a problem that can be solved by an agreement between them means missing modest steps that might help people here. Could Israel, as some centrist strategists here recently suggested, freeze and shrink most civilian settlements while leaving the military in place for now? How can the greatest number of Palestinians be freed from friction with Israelis without creating a power vacuum that will bring the regional war to our doorstep? These questions can be addressed only if it’s clear what we’re talking about.

Abandoning the pleasures of the simple story for the confusing realities of the bigger picture is emotionally unsatisfying. An observer is denied a clear villain or an ideal solution. But it does make events here comprehensible, and it will encourage Western policymakers to abandon fantastic visions in favor of a more reasonable grasp of what’s possible. And that, in turn, might lead to some tangible improvements in a world that could use fewer illusions and wiser leaders.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

America’s southern border: Rely on the tools of the 21st century, not the 12th

January 11, 2019

Most of Israel’s borders with its neighbors (Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt and Hamas-run Gaza) comprise of fences with sensors, of the kind above. Only a very small percentage of Israel’s borders have actual concrete walls or barriers on them.

 

A photo of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah on the Lebanese side of the border fence with Israel

 

THE OPTION OF BUILDING AN ISRAELI-STYLE “SMART FENCE”

[Note by Tom Gross]

The current U.S. government shutdown began on December 22. It has affected 25% of the government and about 800,000 federal employees. It is the longest since 1995. If it continues tomorrow (Saturday) it will become the longest ever, as both Republicans and Democrats refuse to find a middle ground over the issue of border security.

President Donald Trump claims the construction of a wall on the Mexican border, a key campaign pledge, is needed to tackle a security crisis of illegal immigration. Trump added: “They say a wall is medieval... There are some things that work.”

Most Democrats say the wall is “immoral” and a waste of money.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens is not the first to suggest that instead, America follows Israel’s “smart fence” style border security. But he sums up the case well, in an article in today’s paper, below. (He is a long time subscriber to this email list.) The top photo above is by Bret Stephens.

 

“WHAT REAL BORDER SECURITY LOOKS LIKE”

What Real Border Security Looks Like
Republicans and Democrats should agree to build an Israeli-style “smart fence.”
By Bret Stephens
The New York Times
Jan. 11, 2019

ON THE ISRAEL-LEBANON BORDER — Other than the Korean Peninsula’s DMZ, there’s probably no border in the world as fraught with the potential for sudden violence as this one, known locally as the Blue Line. Since President Trump thinks border security is the issue of our time, it’s worth considering how Israel — with tight borders, real threats, and a no-nonsense attitude toward its security needs — does it.

What I saw on Wednesday while traveling along the Blue Line was ... a fence. A fence studded with sensors, to be sure, but by no means an imposing one. As the photo above shows, here is what a long stretch of the border between two sworn enemies looks like.

And here is a Hezbollah observation post, masquerading as an environmental group operating under the slogan, “Green Without Borders.” (Green is the traditional color of Islam.) The Israelis maintain an equally visible, if outwardly low-key, security presence.

Does that look like Trump’s idea of a “big beautiful wall”? Does it even look like the “steel slats” the president now offers as his idea of an aesthetic concession to Democrats? Not quite. Yet for the last 19 years it was all the fencing Israelis thought was necessary to secure its side of the Blue Line.

That started to change in December, after Israel announced that it was conducting an operation to destroy tunnels dug by Hezbollah under the border. The tunnel construction — secretly detected by Israel some four years ago — was intended to infiltrate hundreds of Hezbollah fighters into Israel in the event of war. As an additional precaution, Jerusalem is spending an estimated $600 million to replace about 20 kilometers of the fence with a concrete wall, mainly to provide greater peace of mind to the 162,000 Israelis who live near the Lebanese border.

Such a wall may look formidable. But it won’t stop tunnel construction or missile firing, the two principal threats Hezbollah poses to Israel. Nor has Israel felt the need to erect concrete walls along most of its border with the Gaza Strip, despite Hamas’s multiple attempts last year to use mass protests to breach the fence. Israel’s border with Egypt is marked by a tall and sturdy “smart fence” packed with electronic sensors, but not a wall. And Israel’s longest border, with Jordan, stretching some 400 kilometers (about 250 miles), has fencing that for the most part is primitive and minimal.

So how does Israel maintain border security? Two ways: close cooperation with neighbors where it’s possible and the use of modern technology and effective deterrence where it’s not.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently attested to the depth of cooperation in an interview last week with 60 Minutes — so deep, in fact, that the Egyptian government made an attempt to stop the interview from airing. Jordan’s border patrol typically does its work facing east, not west, to prevent possible penetrations into Israel. Security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority also runs deep despite political differences, since Mahmoud Abbas shares Israel’s interest in suppressing Hamas.

As for technology, I saw it at work on a tour earlier Wednesday of an Israeli military base on the Golan Heights. In a crowded, windowless room within a bunker-like structure, 20 or so women soldiers, some of them still teenagers, sat at screens patiently watching every inch of Israel’s border with Syria, noticing patterns, prioritizing potential threats, and relaying information to operators in the field.

An all-female unit of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) monitors the border with Syria on video screens. Why an all-female unit? Because the Israeli military has determined that women have longer attention spans than men. Last August, the unit spotted seven Islamic State fighters, wearing suicide belts and carrying grenades, as they were infiltrating a no-man’s land on their way to Israel. An airstrike was called in. The men never reached the border.

None of this is to say that physical barriers are invariably pointless or evil. Israel’s fence along the Egyptian border all-but ended the flow of illegal African migrants, though most illegal immigrants in Israel arrive legally by plane and simply overstay their visas. The much-maligned wall (most of which is also a fence) that divides Palestinians from Israelis in Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank played a major role in ending the terrorism of the Second Intifada.

Yet the Israeli experience also suggests that the best way to protect a border is to rely on the tools of the 21st century, not the 12th. Walls only occasionally provide the most reliable security. They can be dangerous for providing the illusion of security. And there are vastly more effective means than concrete to defend even the most dangerous borders. Why can’t Democrats and Republicans simply agree to build additional smart fencing in places where it’s missing and call it, for political effect, an “Israeli-style barrier”?

The good news for the U.S. is that we don’t face Hezbollah, Hamas or ISIS across our border, only people who overwhelmingly want to relieve their own plight and contribute their labor for everyone’s betterment. If we really wanted to secure the border, our first priority should be to make it easier for them to arrive through the front door rather than sneak in through the back.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Amos Oz: Doves should be hawkish on Palestinian compliance (& Saudi “Game of Thrones”; Corbyn applauds call for ‘dismantling’ of Israel)

January 06, 2019

The Palestinian murderer of British student Hannah Bladon in Jerusalem, was sentenced to 18 years in prison by an Israeli court last week. Her killer is being hailed as a hero by many Palestinians.

In the past, some British media have condemned Israel for imprisoning any Palestinian murderers of Israelis. Now that the victim is a British citizen, The Guardian and others have highlighted criticism of the Israeli court for not handing down a harsher sentence.

 

Bladon, 20, who was studying for a semester at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, was a keen supporter of Derby County soccer club. Thousands of English fans from both Derby and Huddersfield stood out of respect for Hannah Bladon the Saturday after she was murdered in April 2017, while players from each team bowed their heads and linked arms in a minute’s silence.

 

CORBYN FILMED APPLAUDING JEWISH EXTREMIST WHO CALLED FOR ‘DISMANTLING’ OF ISRAEL

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach a variety of items on the Middle East, not directly connected to one another. They concern Israel, the Palestinians, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the role of social media in stoking extremism, and the British Labour Party leader.

(If you only have time to read one piece, I suggest you read the third piece, by Stephen Daisley, who is a Scottish journalist, and a subscriber to this list.)

 

CONTENTS

1. “Doves should be hawkish on Palestinian compliance” (By Amos Oz, Jerusalem Post, Sep 3, 1993)
2. “Turks leave home in droves, draining money and talent” (By Carlotta Gall, NY Times, Jan 4, 2019)
3. “The real racism against the Palestinians” (By Stephen Daisley, Spectator, Jan 4, 2019)
4. “Hitler would have loved social media” (By Marvin Hier, Abraham Cooper, LA Times, Jan 4, 2019)
5. “Funeral for Saudi prince provides peek into royal tensions” (By Simon Henderson, The Hill, Dec 28, 2018)
6. “Iran’s continued push for a nuclear-ready missile capability” (By Farzin Nadimi, Washington Institute, Jan 4, 2019)
7. “Corbyn filmed applauding Jewish extremist who called for ‘dismantling’ of Israel” (JTA, Jan 4, 2019)

 

“WHAT IF THEY CHEAT?”

Doves Should Be Hawkish On Palestinian Compliance
By Amos Oz
The Jerusalem Post
September 3, 1993

(This is an extract from an article by Amos Oz for The Jerusalem Post on September 3, 1993. It was published before the Declaration of Principles of the Oslo Peace accords were signed in Washington, after which Yasser Arafat launched his wave of suicide bombers.)

“What if they cheat? What if they take whatever we give them and demand even more, still exercising violence and terror? Within the proposed settlement, Israel will be in a position to close in on Palestine and undo the deal.

If the worse comes to the worst, if it turns out that the peace is no peace, it will always be militarily easier for Israel to break the backbone of a tiny, demilitarized Palestinian entity than to go on and on breaking the backbones of eight-year-old stone-throwing Palestinians.

Once peace comes, Israeli doves, more than other Israelis, must assume a clear-cut ‘hawkish’ attitude concerning the duty of the future Palestinian regime to live by the letter and the spirit of its obligations.

The plan now being negotiated, Gaza and Jericho first, is a sober and reasonable option. If the Palestinians want to hold onto Gaza and Jericho, eventually assuming power in other parts of the occupied territories, they will have to prove to us, to themselves and to the whole world, that they have abandoned violence and terror, that they are capable of suppressing their fanatics, that they are renouncing the destructive Palestinian Charter and withdrawing from what they used to call ‘the right of return.’

They will also have to show that they are willing to tolerate in their midst a minority of Israelis who may choose to live where there is no Israeli government.”

* Among past dispatches on Amos Oz: “Without a wound,” he once said, “there is no author”

 

TURKS LEAVE HOME IN DROVES, DRAINING MONEY AND TALENT

Turks Leave Home in Droves, Draining Money and Talent
By Carlotta Gall (New York Times, January 4, 2019)

[Summary]

More than a quarter of a million Turks emigrated in 2017, an increase of 42% over 2016.

The flight of people, talent and capital is being driven by a combination of factors that have come to define life under Erdogan.

These include political persecution, a deepening distrust of the judiciary and the arbitrariness of the rule of law, and a deteriorating business climate, accelerated by worries that President Erdogan is unsoundly manipulating management of the economy to benefit himself and his inner circle.

Ibrahim Sirkeci of Regent’s University in London estimates that 10,000 Turks have made use of a business visa plan to move to Britain in the last few years. The number of Turks applying for asylum worldwide jumped by 10,000 in 2017 to more than 33,000.

At least 12,000 of Turkey’s millionaires moved their assets out of the country in 2016 and 2017, according to the Global Wealth Migration Review, with most of them moving to Europe or the United Arab Emirates.

* Among other recent dispatches on Turkey:
The Turkish dissidents kidnapped from Europe (& ‘Jew’ Sarah Jessica Parker attacked by Erdogan MP)

 

“IF YOU GET YOUR NEWS FROM THE BBC, YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED THIS STORY”

The real racism against the Palestinians
By Stephen Daisley
The Spectator (UK)
January 4, 2019

This is a story about two people going to jail and the countries sending them there. Both are Palestinians and were sentenced on Monday in courts separated by an hour’s drive. Jamil Tamimi was sent down for 18 years at Jerusalem district court, in Israel, for the murder of British student Hannah Bladon. Bladon, a religious studies undergraduate at Birmingham university, was in Israel on an exchange programme.

On Good Friday 2017, she was riding the Jerusalem light rail to church when Tamimi stabbed her seven times with a seven-inch knife. The frenzied assault stopped only when the other passengers managed to overpower him. Hannah was taken to hospital but died soon after arrival. She was 20 years old.

The murder bore all the markers of a terrorist attack. In fact, Tamimi had just been released from a psychiatric hospital and is thought to have been attempting ‘suicide-by-cop’ – slaying the student in the hopes a responding police officer would shoot him dead. He was charged with murder but reportedly reached a plea bargain with prosecutors on the grounds of mental illness, reducing his sentence from life to 18 years. ‘This was not a terrorist incident,’ the prosecutor told the court. ‘This was a terrible murder carried out by a mentally ill person.’ In a statement, Hannah’s family protested the leniency of the sentence, saying ‘it makes no difference whether this was a terror attack or just another crazed murderer’.

Our second convict is Issam Akel, and he did get a life sentence. He was convicted at Ramallah high court, in the Palestinian-run section of the West Bank, of attempting to sell land to a Jew. Akel was also sentenced to hard labour for the transaction, which involved property in Jerusalem’s Old City. He actually got off lightly; selling land to a Jew carries the death penalty under Palestinian law. Fortunately for him, he also holds US citizenship and the state department is reportedly working to extradite him.

If you get your news from the BBC, you might have missed this story, what with it not appearing to merit a single word on the corporation’s website. Happily, there was space on the Middle East page for a puff piece on Kholoud Nassar, ‘a Palestinian Instagrammer in the Gaza Strip [who] wants to show us a different side of life there’.

When Tamimi and Akel stood to hear their sentences on Monday, the world got to hear – if it chooses to listen – two countries with two very different values systems. But it seems we are on the periphery of the only Middle East territory nobody wants to occupy: The Land of Awkward Facts. Isn’t saying Israel and the Palestinians have different values perilously close to saying one country’s values are superior to the other’s? It is and they are, as these two convictions underline.

There is racism at work here but it doesn’t lie in preferring the society that produced the sentence given to Jamil Tamimi to the one that jailed Issam Akel. Israel showed leniency to a vulnerable person who committed a horrific crime. The Palestinians showed no mercy to a member of their own population who committed the crime of selling real estate to a Jew. The primary victims of the Arabs’ century-long war against a Jewish homeland have been the Arabs themselves. They don’t just miss opportunities for co-existence, they jail them.

And we avert our eyes and let them get on with it. To do otherwise would mean confronting awkward facts that might disturb safe certainties. Why talk about the Palestinians jailed for selling land to Jews when we can demand Israel release the Palestinians jailed for killing Jews? Why talk about the stipends paid to the families of terrorists who murder Israelis when we can condemn Israel for the security fence built to stop the terrorists getting in?

Why talk about the Palestinians’ insistence that the West Bank be rendered Jew-free before they pledge to accept a state there when we can repudiate Israel’s cunning scheme to ‘Judaise’ Judea?

Why talk about Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate Palestinian president, and his explicit, on-the-record, even book-length distortions of the Holocaust and Zionism when we can decry Netanyahu’s chauvinism and alliances with fellow chauvinists? Why, in short, face up to the real ‘obstacles to peace’ when we can pretend building houses in the West Bank is what’s really holding things back?

Interrogating Palestinian politics, culture and social attitudes terrifies liberal souls because we might find things we don’t like. Things like Issam Akel’s sentence. Like jihad-themed kindergarten graduations. Like rocket launchers set up in civilian areas. Things that can’t be willed away with a sombre head shake and a plea to ‘both sides’. Things that might lead us to question the Palestinians’ interest in peace. Question our entire approach to the conflict since at least 1967. Question the viability, or even desirability, of a Palestinian state.

I’ve always railed against liberal blindness and hypocrisy on Palestinian extremism as a product of anti-Israel bias. I’m not so sure anymore. I’m starting to wonder if the real bias is against the Palestinians. We expect Israel to operate like Belgium south of Beirut and castigate it for failing to live up to our values (or what we claim to be our values).

We expect almost nothing of the Palestinians, and certainly not for them to conduct their affairs as we do (or tell ourselves we do). In Jerusalem, we see Boers; in Ramallah, Zulus. This is not pro-Israel – it is based on the myth of Israel as a white European colonial enterprise – but it is flagrantly anti-Palestinian. Yes, these two cultures are distinct (though there is a deal of crossover).

Yes, Palestinian culture has a lot of work to do to catch up on democracy, human rights, minority rights, and much else besides. But none of this is inherent to being Palestinian; these are political and social values and they, and the cultures that espouse them, can change. This, however, is at odds with the underlying assumptions of Western policy on the Middle East in which Israeli misdeeds are aberrations to be condemned and corrected while Palestinian misdeeds are shrugged off, excused or justified. This is just who they are.

The sentiment is sympathy but the logic is pure bigotry. We are not friends of the Palestinians. We are not lending them solidarity by indulging their outrages. We are treating them like a savage tribe from an Edgar Wallace adventure, benighted but noble in their own way, wide-eyed grateful to the white man for understanding their backwards customs. There is your racism. Issam Akel is going to jail for selling land to a Jew and our hearts break for his jailers because they couldn’t possibly know any better.

* For more on Hannah Bladon, please see: Rare respect in the UK for the victim of a Palestinian terror attack

 

“HITLER WOULD HAVE LOVED SOCIAL MEDIA”

Hitler would have loved social media
By Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper
Los Angeles Times
January 4, 2019

On April 29, 1945, just one day before he would commit suicide in his bunker, Hitler made this prediction:

“Centuries will pass away, but out of the ruins of our towns and monuments the hatred against … international Jewry and its helpers will grow.”

Hitler knew he had lost the war – and that despite the killing of millions of Jews throughout Europe, his goal of eradicating all Jews had failed. Allied armies took control of death factories from Auschwitz to Mauthausen and recorded the grisly evidence of what would be called the Nazi Holocaust. The swastika became a symbol reviled by the world.

But Hitler was dead wrong in his prediction of what would come next. He believed it would take centuries for anti-Semitism to come roaring back. It has taken just 75 years.

Rabbis in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm are now cautioning parishioners not to don yarmulkes or Star of David necklaces, lest they be attacked in broad daylight in these capital cities.

Hitler believed it would take centuries for anti-Semitism to come roaring back. It has taken just 75 years.

In Gothenburg, Sweden, resurgent, violent neo-Nazis protested near the city’s synagogue on Yom Kippur; later it was firebombed. Elsewhere in Sweden, a Jewish community center in the north was forced to permanently close because of threats from latter-day Nazis.

In Denmark, incensed Jewish leaders are demanding that authorities ban far-right extremists from launching verbal attacks against Jews at the national monument to the victims of World War II. Everywhere in Europe, identifiable Jewish schools and houses of prayer must have visible armed security or risk the consequences.

Democratic Germany is not immune to anti-Semitism, so much so that numerous states have followed suit after Berlin named Dr. Felix Klein the first national commissioner to combat anti-Semitism.

In 2019, Jews in Europe will continue to face multi-pronged threats from neo-Nazi and xenophobic groups on the far right, from elements of the left, millions of whom believe Israel is treating Palestinians the way the Nazis treated Jews, and Islamist emigres who were brought up in their native lands to hate all things Jewish and Israeli.

Is it any wonder that a recent European Commission poll found that nine out of 10 European Jews believe anti-Semitism has increased over the last five years and nearly a third avoid attending any Jewish event?

We once asked the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, if he was surprised by how many Nazis there were. “No,” he replied, “only by how few anti-Nazis there were.”

Embattled European Jewish communities, built on the ashes of the Holocaust, must be wondering if today’s Europe has enough anti-Nazis to overcome the massive silence and indifference to contemporary anti-Jewish bigotry.

America is not immune from the hate. In fact, FBI annual hate crime statistics compiled since the 1990s confirm two facts: African Americans are the No. 1 target of racial hate crimes and Jews, despite constituting just 2% of the population, are the largest target of religion-based hate crimes.

The massacre of 11 Jews at prayer on a Sabbath morning at a Pittsburgh synagogue was the worst anti-Semitic attack in the history of the United States. American Jewry was buoyed by the outpouring of love and solidarity from their non-Jewish neighbors. including members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who attended a funeral for one of the victims, and the Pittsburgh newspaper, which ran the Hebrew Kaddish on its front page. Around the nation, non-Jews quietly attended Sabbath services the following week to express their grief and support.

However, some Americans responded differently. At U.S. campuses nationwide, swastikas were scrawled and menorahs were desecrated as Hanukkah approached and was celebrated.

Moving forward as a nation, our greatest challenge isn’t a mass movement of haters, at least not yet. Our need now is to recognize that social media provides the extremists among us the most powerful marketing tool ever created. The man accused in the Pittsburgh shooting found validation for hate and encouragement for violence on the internet, as have many others. Intercepting that hate and degrading bigots’ marketing capabilities stands as one of our greatest challenges.

Responding to a college student’s question in 1980 whether the Holocaust could happen again, Mr. Wiesenthal responded: “If the technology available to Adolf Hitler had been available in 1492, no Jew would have survived in Spain, no Catholic in England, no Protestant in France.”

Now that we have the internet, a far more powerful technology for spreading hate than Hitler could have imagined, it’s crucial for all of us to be alert to hate. We must call it out when we see it, and to make it unacceptable in all circumstances.

* For a recent article of mine on social media:
In defense of social media and the internet: correcting fake news

 

FUNERAL FOR SAUDI PRINCE PROVIDES PEEK INTO ROYAL TENSIONS

Funeral for Saudi prince provides peek into royal tensions
By Simon Henderson (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
The Hill (Washington)
December 28, 2018

A royal funeral took place in Riyadh last Sunday that matched all the photographic intrigue of the gathering of British royals on Christmas Day.

At the latter, tabloid reporters hunted for any signs of hostility between the “warring wives of Windsor” – Kate and Meghan, the spouses of Princes William and Harry, who are reported not to get on.

The Saudi version, however, is politically far more substantial and will feed speculation about when and how a leadership change may take place in the kingdom.

In Riyadh, King Salman, accompanied by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, aka MbS, attended the funeral of Prince Talal, an older half-brother of the king and father of Prince al-Waleed, who at this time last year was detained in the city’s Ritz-Carlton hotel along with more than 200 other princes and businessmen accused of corruption. Two other sons of Talal also have been in detention. All three attended the funeral.

Unlike other cases, there is no evidence that Prince al-Waleed had to transfer ownership of any assets to secure his subsequent release. He later told Reuters the whole affair was a “misunderstanding.” Al-Waleed led the shoulder bearers of the stretcher carrying the body at the funeral. MbS is in the same shot but off to one side. Another photo, a close-up of the two men apparently speaking to each other, suggests no particular deference by Waleed toward the 33-year-old crown prince, a much younger cousin but his effective jailer in the Ritz-Carlton.

The most notable pictures were those of the king, who looked devastated by his half-brother’s passing. The two men were known to be close. The 82-year-old monarch sat in a chair as other mourners stood to recite funeral prayers.

Prince Talal had been a controversial figure in the House of Saud, serving as a government minister in the 1950s and 1960s but then leading a group of royals, known as the Free Princes Movement, advocating a constitutional monarchy. His assets were confiscated and he lived in exile in Beirut and Cairo for a time before returning home and into political oblivion. Diplomats regarded him as smart and engaging, although eccentric.

His mother was from Armenia, a non-Arab pedigree that usually means he would have been sidelined from the prospect of ever being king. Yet, when I wrote this in an analysis several years ago, an aide emailed and telephoned me to say that King Abdullah, Salman’s predecessor, had once asked Talal to be his crown prince. (I subsequently judged that this had happened and it was not just a case of Abdullah being polite before offering the role to a younger, perhaps better qualified, brother when Talal declined.)

Other attendees at the funeral included Salman’s sole surviving full brother, Ahmed, who returned from effective exile in London last month to be at Talal’s bedside in his final weeks. He was quoted earlier in the year as making a comment deemed to be critical of MbS. (Even so, the Saudi Press Agency photographer caught a moment of interaction between the two men.) Also there was Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, the Saudi ambassador in London, who was dismissed Thursday in a government reshuffle.

Yet another attendee was another half-brother of the king, Muqrin, who was briefly crown prince in 2015 until being pushed aside. He, too, was a pallbearer.

Funerals can be theater, and often can be predictive. That of Prince Talal, a marginalized prince, could well be the first act of the 2019 production of the Saudis’ own version of “Game of Thrones.”

* Among other recent dispatches on Saudi Arabia:
Al Jazeera vs. Saudi Arabia (& Trump’s Mideast peace plan at risk without MbS?)

 

IRAN’S CONTINUED PUSH FOR A NUCLEAR-READY MISSILE CAPABILITY

Iran’s continued push for a nuclear-ready missile capability
The latest test launch represents a potential technological milestone for Iran – and a wakeup call for Europe.
By Farzin Nadimi
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
January 4, 2019

On January 3, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iran not to conduct any planned satellite launches using rockets that share commonalities with intercontinental ballistic missiles. The warning followed his December 1 revelation that Iran had test-fired a ballistic missile “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” to the entire Middle East and parts of Europe. Those words were carefully chosen – UN Security Council Resolution 2231 calls on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches.” Yet the resolution does not expressly prohibit such activities, a point well taken by Iran.

The characteristics Pompeo referred to on December 1 match those of the Khoramshahr, a relatively new medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) unveiled in September 2017 and test-fired on at least three occasions. Although known details of the missile are scarce, it is believed to be Iran’s first departure from the generic Scud-B design, and more similar to the North Korean BM-25/Hwasong-10 first delivered to Iran around 2005.

Iranian officials quickly dismissed Pompeo’s remarks and emphasized that their missile program is defensive and deterrent in nature, does not violate Resolution 2231, and will continue despite international objections. The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force (IRGCASF), Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, characterized the U.S. reaction as “anxious and selective,” claiming that Iran “conducts over forty to fifty missile tests a year.”

Evidence from various sources indicates that Hajizadeh’s claim could be an exaggeration, however. In a December 9 report, German newspaper Die Welt noted that Iran had test fired only seven MRBMs and three short-range missiles in 2018, according to “documents from Western intelligence sources.” Similarly, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies cataloged only four test launches in the first seven months of 2017. If these numbers are accurate, Iran is more likely to fire its missiles in offensive operations than in “defensive” test launches – last fall alone, it fired six of them against Kurdish groups in northern Iraq (September 28) and six more against Islamic State targets in Syria (October 1).

PRECISION VS. PAYLOAD

On December 5, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif argued that Iranian missiles “are only designed for a conventional role because they have precision strike capability,” echoing his claim in a New York Times op-ed a year earlier: “Nuclear weapons do not need to be precise – conventional warheads, however do.” Yet such claims do not hold water because there is ample precedent for high-precision, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. For example, the Pershing II of the 1980s could deliver a reduced-yield nuclear warhead to targets with an accuracy of less than 50 meters.

Zarif’s “precision” claim also seems odd given the specifications of the test missile that spurred his remarks. The Khoramshahr can reportedly carry a far heavier payload than would be required for a weapon whose purpose is pinpoint accuracy – its claimed 1,800 kg warhead would make it the largest in Iran’s arsenal.

One possibility is that this extra capacity is designed to carry multiple warheads. When Khoramshahr was first unveiled, Hajizadeh claimed that a single missile could hit “several targets.” If Iran has in fact successfully tested such a capability for the first time, it would be an alarming milestone, since multiple warheads have a better chance of defeating missile defenses.

The Khoramshahr’s large payload would also make the job of mating it with a first-generation nuclear warhead relatively easy, at least in theory. One rule of thumb among experts is that any missile capable of carrying a 500-1,000 kg warhead can be mounted with a nuclear device. Khoramshahr reportedly offers twice that capacity – a troubling figure given the fact that miniaturizing a warhead is arguably one of the most daunting tasks in nuclear weapons design.

Aside from its theoretical nuclear capability, Khoramshahr could also fill a distinct place in Iran’s missile doctrine. Assuming its claimed specifications are true – 2,000 km range, 1,800 kg warhead – it can offer either a multi-warhead configuration with the potential capability of defeating missile defenses, a unitary conventional warhead to cause very significant damage over a wide area (without precision guidance), or the ability to defeat some hardened targets (with precision guidance).

THREAT TO EUROPE

Iran has made clear that it has the potential to continue extending the reach of its ballistic missiles, raising questions about the 2,000 km range limit set by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other officials in the presumed hope of assuaging Western fears and forestalling additional sanctions. During his remarks last month, Hajizadeh declared, “We can build longer-range missiles, 2,000 is no magic number for us. We face no technical or legal hurdles with regard to the range of our missiles.” This mindset has been in place for some time – in a November 2014 interview, for example, acting IRGCASF commander Gen. Seyed Majid Mousavi admitted that Iran’s Space Research Center had developed satellite launch rockets “mainly to advance missile technologies under the guise of a civilian space program, especially to circumvent the self-imposed 2,000 km limitation on range.”

Iran’s 2,000 km missiles may already pose a threat to the southeastern margins of Europe, while longer-range versions of the Khoramshahr could expand that threat to the entire continent (presumably at the expense of payload weight). On November 27, IRGC deputy commander Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami spoke of the “strategic logic” behind such range extensions, warning that “the Europeans will become a threat if they try to meddle in our missile affairs and do not recognize our defensive missile power. We will then increase the range of our missiles to reach Europe.” In fact, the liquid-fuel Khoramshahr may have been developed with the European theater in mind; according to Hajizadeh, Iran prefers solid-fuel missiles like the Sejjil for the Israeli theater (perhaps due to their superior survivability).

UPCOMING PROVOCATIONS?

Western countries should prepare for the possibility of more Iranian MRBM tests or the unveiling of new designs, especially if hardliners decide to muster a defiant stance during next month’s celebration of the Islamic Revolution’s fortieth anniversary. According to deputy defense minister and IRGC general Ghasem Taghizadeh, Iran is also expected to launch a satellite into orbit by February, a plan that Hajizadeh has alluded to as well. Although Tehran may view this option as less confrontational than a ballistic missile test, it would undoubtedly raise further international outcry against the missile program, as Secretary Pompeo made clear this week.

More broadly, the international community should not forget that the program remains a central pillar of Iran’s strategy for dominating the region. Although Tehran became less public about its missile advancements following the nuclear deal, there has been no substantive halt in the program’s progress. Most troubling, the latest test indicates that the IRGC is moving forward with the Khoramshahr, a ballistic missile design that may already have the capability of lifting a heavy payload to targets anywhere in the Middle East or southern Europe.

 

CORBYN FILMED APPLAUDING JEWISH EXTREMIST WHO CALLED FOR “DISMANTLING” OF ISRAEL

Jeremy Corbyn filmed applauding Jewish extremist who called for ‘dismantling’ of Israel
Footage published this week was taken in 2011 at a pro-Palestinian conference the Labour Party leader attended alongside activists who have been accused of anti-Semitism
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA
January 4, 2019

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour party, was filmed applauding in 2011 a speaker at a conference who called for the dismantlement of Israel, which he also said “kidnapped” Judaism.

The footage published Thursday was taken at a pro-Palestinian conference that Corbyn, a far-left politician, attended in 2011 alongside several anti-Israel activists who have been accused of anti-Semitism.

In it, Yisrael Dovid Weiss of the Neturei Karta Haredi sect, is seen saying: “You said there should be the end of a Jewish state. I just wanted to respectfully say: The end of a Zionist state that has kidnapped the name of Judaism. It’s not a Jewish state.” He added: “We want … a peaceful dismantlement of the state and to live together in harmony, God willing it will happen.”

Corbyn is seen clapping at Weiss, who in 2006 attended in Iran a conference aimed at denying and ridiculing the Holocaust.

Since his election in 2015 to head Labour, Corbyn has fought allegations that his critical attitude toward Israel and alleged tolerance of anti-Semitism have injected Jew hatred into the heart of the party.

Amid scrutiny, Corbyn in 2016 for the first time said Israel has a right to exist.

In 2009, he called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends and said that Hamas is working to achieve peace and justice. In 2013 he defended an anti-Semtiic mural. In 2015 he laid flowers on the graves of Palestinian terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. That year he also said British “Zionists” don’t understand British irony.

* For a recent article of mine on Jeremy Corbyn:
A sea of Palestinian flags at the Labour Party conference (& guess who wrote this in 1854?)

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

‘As a journalist, I interviewed five U.S. presidents. Now I deliver packages for Amazon’

The cover of the current Christmas/New Year edition of the British satirical magazine Private Eye, is not so far from the truth (apart from the Santa bit).

 

“I USED TO WRITE FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. NOW I DELIVER PACKAGES FOR AMAZON”

[Note by Tom Gross]

Occasionally, these dispatches cover the state of the media and society in general, rather than the Mideast or human rights matters.

I attach two pieces below. The first recounts the sorry state of professional life today for many journalists.

Austin Murphy writes:

“Let’s face it, when you’re a college-educated 57-year-old slinging parcels for a living, something in your life has not gone according to plan…”

“During my 33 years at Sports Illustrated, I wrote six books, interviewed five U.S. presidents [on the golf course, Bush riding a mountain bike, etc], and composed thousands of articles for SI and SI.com. Roughly 140 of those stories were for the cover of the magazine, with which I parted ways in May of 2017.”

“YOU ARE ALREADY LIVING INSIDE A COMPUTER”

The second piece also concerns Amazon (“Amazon is invading your home with micro-convenience”).

Ian Bogost (a chair in media studies in Georgia) explains that he now realizes that asking Alexa, via the Amazon Echo on his kitchen counter, to set a timer for four minutes for his tea to brew each morning, was the first step in how Amazon has infiltrated his home with its voice-activated devices and service and helped “facilitate a new depth of corporate surveillance.”

“The actual benefits of all the Alexa-enabled toasters and coffee machines and printers and razors are dubious… But Amazon’s approach to the Internet of Things goes deeper than basic functionality. It finds the tiny shifts where the actions common to ordinary life can be made to feel slightly more compatible with the contemporary, computer-addled consumer…

“Amazon owns the popular Ring doorbell-camera company now, which means it also knows what happens on your stoop. Knowing when the garage door opens, thanks to Echo Auto, allows the company to track when you leave and return home.

“It’s even possible to determine what the occupants of a home are doing just by doing signal processing on its electrical main. Given the massive volumes of data that have already been collected about everyone, a world where Alexa’s everywhere has the potential to create an unprecedentedly powerful profile of human behavior. People are worried about Alexa listening to their conversations, but what about what Amazon can do with the inferred meaning of all the small actions and instructions we freely and knowingly give Alexa?”

 

ARTICLES

“SOMETHING IN YOUR LIFE HAS NOT GONE ACCORDING TO PLAN”

I Used to Write for Sports Illustrated. Now I Deliver Packages for Amazon.
There’s a certain novelty, after decades at a legacy media company, in playing for the team that’s winning big.
By Austin Murphy
The Atlantic
Dec 25, 2018

Holiday parties were right around the corner, and I needed a cover story. I didn’t feel like admitting to casual acquaintances, or even to some good friends, that I drive a van for Amazon. I decided to tell them, if asked, that I consult for Amazon, which is loosely true: I spend my days consulting a Rabbit, the handheld Android device loaded with the app that tells me where my next stop is, how many packages are coming off the van, and how hopelessly behind I’ve fallen.

Let’s face it, when you’re a college-educated 57-year-old slinging parcels for a living, something in your life has not gone according to plan. That said, my moments of chagrin are far outnumbered by the upsides of the job, which include windfall connections with grateful strangers. There’s a certain novelty, after decades at a legacy media company – Time Inc. – in playing for the team that’s winning big, that’s not considered a dinosaur, even if that team is paying me $17 an hour (plus OT!).

It’s been healthy for me, a fair-haired Anglo-Saxon with a Roman numeral in my name (John Austin Murphy III), to be a minority in my workplace, and in some of the neighborhoods where I deliver. As Amazon reaches maximum ubiquity in our lives (“Alexa, play Led Zeppelin”), as online shopping turns malls into mausoleums, it’s been illuminating to see exactly how a package makes the final leg of its journey.

There’s also a bracing feeling of independence that attends piloting my own van, a tingle of anticipation before finding out my route for the day. Will I be in the hills above El Cerrito with astounding views of the bay, but narrow roads, difficult parking, and lots of steps? Or will my itinerary take me to gritty Richmond, which, despite its profusion of pit bulls, I’m starting to prefer to the oppressive traffic of Berkeley, where I deliver to the brightest young people in the state, some of whom may wonder, if they give me even a passing thought: What hard luck has befallen this man, who appears to be my father’s age but is performing this menial task?

Thanks for asking!

The hero’s journey, according to Joseph Campbell, features a descent into the belly of the beast: Think of Jonah in the whale, or me locked in the cargo bay of my Ram ProMaster on my second day on the job, until I figured out how to work the latch from the inside. During this phase of the journey, the hero becomes “annihilate to the self” – brought low, his ego shrunk, his horizons expanded. This has definitely been my experience working for Jeff Bezos.

During my 33 years at Sports Illustrated, I wrote six books, interviewed five U.S. presidents, and composed thousands of articles for SI and SI.com. Roughly 140 of those stories were for the cover of the magazine, with which I parted ways in May of 2017. Since then, as Jeff Lebowski explains to Maude between hits on a postcoital roach, “my career has slowed down a little bit.”

This proved problematic when my wife and I decided to refinance our home. Although Gina, an attorney, earns plenty, we needed a bit more income to persuade lenders to work with us. It quickly became clear that for us to qualify, I would need more than occasional gigs as a freelance writer; I would need a steady job with a W-2. Thus did I find myself, after replying to an indeed.com posting for Amazon delivery drivers, emerging from an office-park lavatory a few miles from my house, feigning nonchalance as I handed a cup of urine to the attendant and bid him good day.

Little did I know, while delivering that drug-test sample, that this most basic of human needs – relieving oneself – would emerge as one of the more pressing challenges faced by all “delivery associates,” especially those of us crowding 60. An honest recounting of this job must include my sometimes frantic searches for a place to answer nature’s call.

To cut its ballooning delivery costs – money it was shelling out to UPS and FedEx – Amazon recently began contracting out its deliveries to scores of smaller companies, including the one I work for. Amazon trains us, and provides us with uniform shirts and hats, but not with a ride. Before 7 a.m., we report to a parking lot near the warehouse where we select a vehicle from our company’s motley fleet of white and U-Haul vans.

I’m an Aries, so it stands to reason that I’m partial to Dodge Ram ProMasters. I like their profile and tight turning radius: That’s key, since we make about 100 U-turns and K-turns a day. Problem is, most of the drivers in our company – there are about 40 of us – share my preference. The best vans go to drivers with seniority, even if they show up after I do. Before it was taken out of service for repairs, I was often stuck with a ProMaster that had issues: Side-view mirrors spiderwebbed; the left mirror held fast to the body of the van by several layers of shrink-wrap. The headlights didn’t work unless flicked into “bright” mode, which means that when delivering after dark, I was blinding and infuriating oncoming motorists.

I drove that beast on my worst day so far. After a solid morning and early afternoon, I glanced at the Rabbit and sighed. It was taking me to that fresh hell that is 3400 Richmond Parkway, several hundred apartments set up in a mystifying series of concentric circles. The Rabbit’s GPS doesn’t work there, the apartment numbers are difficult to find, and the lady in the office informed me that I couldn’t leave packages with her. She did, however, hand me a map resembling the labyrinth of ancient Greece. I spent an hour wandering, ascending flights of stairs that took me, usually, to the incorrect apartment. By now deep in the hole, with no shot at completing my appointed rounds for the day, I set a forlorn course for my next stop at the nearby Auto Mall. That’s when I heard a thud-thud-thud from the area of my right front tire, which was so old and bald that it had begun to shed four- and five-inch strips of rubber, which were thumping against the wheel well.

Although it was only 4 p.m., I called it quits. Some days in the delivery biz, the bear eats you. But I got some perspective back at the lot, where a fellow driver named Shawn told me about the low point of his day. A woman had challenged him as he emerged from her side yard – where he’d been dropping a package, as instructed. “What are you stealing?”

“That sucks,” I said. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

“It’s cool,” he told me. “I called her a bitch.”

For both days of my safety training, I sat next to and befriended Will, who now shows up for work wearing every Amazon-themed article of clothing he can get his hands on: shirt, ball cap, Amazon beanie pulled over Amazon ball cap. I found that odd at first, but it makes good sense. If you’re a black man and your job is to walk up to a stranger’s front door – or, if the customer has provided such instructions, to the side or the back of the property – then yes, rocking Amazon gear is a way to protect yourself, to proclaim, “I’m just a delivery guy!”

KEEPING SAFE

That safety training, incidentally, is comprehensive and excellent. After two days in the classroom, all of us had to pass a “final exam.” It wasn’t a slam dunk. In my experience, however, some of the guidelines Amazon hammers home to us (seat belts must be worn at all times; the reverse gear is to be used as seldom as possible; driveways are not to be blocked while making deliveries) must be thrown overboard if we’re going to come close to finishing our routes.

The google search Amazon driver urinates summons a cavalcade of caught-in-the-act videos depicting poor saps, since fired, who simply couldn’t hold it any longer. While their decision to pee in the side yard – or on the front porch! – of a customer is not excusable, it is, to those of us in the Order of the Arrow (my made-up name for Amazon delivery associates), understandable.

Before sending me out alone, the company assigned me two “ride-alongs” with its top driver, the legendary Marco, who went out with 280 packages the second day I rode shotgun with him, took his full lunch break, did not roll through a single stop sign, and was finished by sundown. Marco taught me to keep a lookout not just for porch pirates – lowlifes who swoop in behind us to pilfer packages – but also for portable toilets. In neighborhoods miles from a service station or any public lavatory, a Port-a-John, or a Honey Pot, can be no less welcome than an oasis in the desert. (The afternoon I leapt from the van and beelined to a Honey Pot, only to find it padlocked, was the closest I’ve come to crying on the job.)

THE NEED TO PEE

Delivering in El Sobrante one day, I popped into a convenience store on San Pablo Avenue. I bought an energy bar, but that was a mere pretext. “I wonder if I might use your lavatory,” I asked the proprietor, a gentleman of Indian descent, judging by his accent, in a dapper beret.

A cloud passed over his face. “You make number one or two?”

“Just one!” I promised. He inclined his head toward the back of the store, in the direction of the “Employees only” bathroom.

After thanking him on my way out, I mentioned that I was new at Amazon, still figuring out restroom strategies.

“Amazon drivers, FedEx drivers, UPS, Uber, Lyft – everybody has to go.”

But where? When no john can be found, when the delivery associate is denied permission to use the gas-station bathroom, he is sometimes left with no other choice than to repair to the dark interior of the cargo bay – the belly of the beast – with an empty Gatorade bottle.

It was late afternoon on a Monday when I may or may not have been forced to such an extreme. I was dispensing packages on Primrose Lane in Pinole, and I remember thinking, afterward: Aside from the fact that my checking account is overdrawn and I’m 30 deliveries behind and the sun will be down in an hour and I’m about to take a furtive whiz in the back of a van, life really is a holiday on Primrose Lane!

Pinole, incidentally, is the hometown of the ex-Miami Hurricanes quarterback Gino Torretta, a great guy who won the Heisman Trophy in 1992. I covered him then, and a few years later when he was playing for the Rhein Fire in the NFL’s World League. Gino and I hoisted a stein or two at a beer hall in Düsseldorf. Some of the American players were having trouble enunciating the German farewell, auf Wiedersehen. To solve that problem, they would say these words as rapidly as possible: Our feet are the same!

INTERVIEWING GEORGE W

Performing my new job, I’m frequently reminded of my old one, whether it’s driving past Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, where I covered countless Pac-12 games, or listening to NFL contests during Sunday deliveries. I’ve talked and laughed with many of the players and coaches and general managers and owners whose names I hear.

Sitting in traffic one damp December morning, I turned on the radio to hear George W. Bush eulogizing his father. His speech was funny, rollicking, loving, and poignant. It was pitch-perfect. In the summer of 2005, after returning from the Tour de France – cycling was my beat during the reign of Lance Armstrong – I was invited, along with five other journalists, to ride mountain bikes with W. on his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The Iraq War was going sideways; 43 needed some positive press. I jumped at the chance, even though I loathed many of his policies. In person, Bush was disarming, charming, funny. (These days, compared with the current potus, he seems downright Churchillian.) I wrote two accounts, one for the magazine, another for the website. Got a nice note from him a couple weeks later.

Lurching west in stop-and-go traffic on I-80 that morning, bound for Berkeley and a day of delivering in the rain, I had a low moment, dwelling on how far I’d come down in the world. Then I snapped out of it. I haven’t come down in the world. What’s come down in the world is the business model that sustained Time Inc. for decades. I’m pretty much the same writer, the same guy. I haven’t gone anywhere. My feet are the same.

When I’m in a rhythm, and my system’s working, and I slide open the side door and the parcel I’m looking for practically jumps into my hand, and the delivery takes 35 seconds and I’m on to the next one, I enjoy this gig. I like that it’s challenging, mentally and physically. As with the athletic contests I covered for my old employer, there’s a resolution, every day. I get to the end of my route, or I don’t. I deliver all the packages, or I don’t.

That’s what I ended up sharing with people at the first Christmas party of the season. It felt better, when they asked how I was doing, to just tell the truth.

This is also true: Gina and I got approved for that loan last week, meaning that our monthly outlay, while not so minuscule that it can be drowned in Grover Norquist’s figurative bathtub, is now far more manageable, thanks in part to these daily journeys which I consider, in their minor way, heroic.

 

AMAZON INVASION

Amazon Is Invading Your Home With Micro-Convenience

The company’s new line of voice-automated products, including a wall clock and a microwave, could help it amass an enormous database of consumer behavior.

By Ian Bogost (Chair in Media Studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology)
The Atlantic
Sep 21, 2018

Almost every day I make a pot of tea. Strong, black tea, the kind you have to steep properly in a ritual that involves a kettle, a tea tin, tea lights, a tea cozy. It’s a four-minute brew, so I set a timer. I used to do it on the microwave, but some time ago I just started asking Alexa, via the Amazon Echo on my kitchen counter. “Alexa, set a timer for four minutes.” I can do this while pouring from the kettle to the pot. It is an efficiency that feels indulgent in the early morning or late evening (decaf; don’t judge me).

This is how Amazon has infiltrated the home with its voice-activated devices and service. Not through genuine utility, but by scratching the smallest itches of ordinary life – even when Amazon itself is the cause of the initial irritation. The results might be convenient, but they also facilitate a new depth of corporate surveillance.

I never intended to use Alexa at all. I have all the usual worries about privacy, and adding more microphones to my home felt unwise. I bought an Echo as a way to communicate with my visually impaired father, a topic I wrote about for The Atlantic earlier this year.

But once the thing was in my house, it turned out to be kind of useful. I connected it to my whole-house audio, making it possible to ask Alexa to play music in different rooms. That also meant my 4-year-old could do so, and when Sonos, the wireless-speaker company, introduced an Alexa-enabled speaker, I got one for her room – now she can ask for music while she’s playing or going to sleep. Calling for Alexa to weigh in on a dispute or to relay a bit of trivia from the dinner table feels less socially disruptive than retreating privately into a smartphone. And the tea timer, of course.

Useful might be the wrong word. None of these shifts in daily life is necessary, and the benefit they provide is so incremental, it often feels like a step backward. Eliminating the 10 steps and five button presses of setting an analog kitchen timer, or creating the ability to turn off the lights without getting up: This is tiny succor in an otherwise difficult life. Despite all the baggage of bringing a gendered, privacy-eroding digital assistant into the home, Alexa offers enough small comforts that users are willing to overlook them.

Amazon’s plans for the service are ambitious. In addition to the wall clock, the company announced a barrage of Alexa-enabled products yesterday. Among them are home-audio devices that compete directly with Sonos’s offerings (at much lower prices), along with updates to its Echo speakers and Fire television units.

The company also introduced Echo Auto, a device that brings Alexa into the car, using smartphone connectivity for operation. In addition to allaying concerns about distracted driving (and helping people negotiate increasingly common hands-free laws), Echo Auto also opens the door to, well, opening the garage door by voice from the car.

That seems ridiculous. Can’t people just reach up and press the button, like they have done for decades? But once again, scratching tiny itches can produce surprising relief. The car I drive has thick sun visors and I’ve never been able to attach my garage-door remote to them effectively.

So I store the remote in a compartment in the dash, and haul it out every time. Which means risking accidentally pushing the button as I do so, a failing that has sometimes sent the door descending upon my car inadvertently. A voice-activated door opener would avert that risk. This is precisely the kind of small comfort that makes these devices appealing.

Amazon’s ambitions go well beyond timers and garage doors. The company also announced an Alexa-enabled microwave, which can translate voice requests into cooking actions. In Amazon’s demo, the user pressed a button on the microwave to activate Alexa (a nearby Echo could also be used), and then told it what to do – defrost a chicken, cook a potato, pop a bag of popcorn, and so on. The device can also interface with Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service, counting the number of times you pop popcorn and automatically reordering when you’re running low.

The microwave is a real product that consumers can buy, but it’s also a proof of concept for the “Alexa Connect Kit,” an Alexa micro-controller Amazon wants manufacturers to put in appliances of all kinds. Apple offers software tools for its similar home-automation services, but it doesn’t manufacture things like refrigerators.

Amazon, by contrast, has been using its Amazon Basics line of products – which includes everything from diapers to microwaves – to compete with the retailers whose products it also sells. At a price of $59.99, the Alexa microwave could be read as a warning to appliance makers everywhere: Incorporate Alexa into your devices, or Amazon will undercut your prices and steal your market. (Ongoing antitrust concerns about Amazon are the subject of a preliminary probe by the European Union.)

You are already living inside a computer.

The actual benefits of all the Alexa-enabled toasters and coffee machines and printers and razors are dubious. On the surface, it’s hard to imagine why pressing a button on a microwave and saying “Stop” would ever be more appealing than just pressing a stop button. But Internet of Things (IoT) devices didn’t ever promise greater efficiency or utility. Instead, they pledge to turn dead, offline objects into living, online ones. They make using anything, even a timer or a microwave, into an experience as familiar and pleasurable as using a smartphone.

In many cases, those IoT gadgets work badly or not at all: Hackers commandeer baby monitors, door locks cease to function during software updates, gas ovens risk spewing toxins into the room when actuated in error.

But Amazon’s approach to the Internet of Things goes deeper than basic functionality. It finds the tiny shifts where the actions common to ordinary life can be made to feel slightly more compatible with the contemporary, computer-addled consumer. Companies like Amazon have created some of the problems they hope to solve with technology: Nobody would need a wall clock for an Alexa timer had Amazon not inspired that use case. But that doesn’t make the solutions feel less comforting when they arrive.

Just before Amazon was announcing its new Alexa lineup, the insurer John Hancock announced that it would cease to underwrite traditional life-insurance policies in favor of “interactive” ones based on tracking users’ fitness data through wearable devices. These trends have been on the horizon in insurance for some time – some health-care providers offer discounts for people who voluntarily use wearables to track health or exercise, and auto insurers offer breaks for people willing to install devices that monitor their driving habits.

Critics rightly note that these devices don’t necessarily provide meaningful indicators of risk, and that they amount to a tax on insurance for those unwilling to take a premium hit in exchange for increased privacy. But John Hancock’s move might be a sign of what’s to come.

Whether or not Amazon gets into the insurance or health-care business, once the Alexa service starts gathering data on what people cook in their microwave or toaster, or when and how often they turn off their lights, or use their garage door, or do anything else made possible by the Alexa Connect Kit, the company will own an enormous database of collective and individual behavior.

Today you ate a potato, but yesterday you zapped a frozen meal. Or maybe you bought lean chicken from Whole Foods, an Amazon subsidiary, and then cooked it in your Alexa-enabled oven, validating a potentially healthy lifestyle choice. The lights in the workout room can be turned on remotely, but if they never illuminate, then what does that say about your fitness routine? Amazon owns the popular Ring doorbell-camera company now, which means it also knows what happens on your stoop. Knowing when the garage door opens, thanks to Echo Auto, allows the company to track when you leave and return home.

It’s even possible to determine what the occupants of a home are doing just by doing signal processing on its electrical main. Given the massive volumes of data that have already been collected about everyone, a world where Alexa’s everywhere has the potential to create an unprecedentedly powerful profile of human behavior. People are worried about Alexa listening to their conversations, but what about what Amazon can do with the inferred meaning of all the small actions and instructions we freely and knowingly give Alexa?

That future is still a ways off, but it’s on the horizon. It’s still so difficult to connect the possibility of a dystopian, corporate surveillance state with a new gizmo that makes an insignificant moment in ordinary life incrementally more pleasurable. Even for those who already know better. I’m still eyeing a spot on my kitchen wall where the Echo clock might go. It will blink off the minutes of my tea steeping while appliances all around me amass and transmit information about my life back to Amazon for further processing.

 

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