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entries tagged with: Gaza Flotilla


Groups want stronger U.S. defense of Israel; Obama not obliging

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration appears to be rebuffing calls from some Jewish groups for the United States to be more assertive and public in defending Israel regarding the flotilla incident.

The bluntest appeal for a more pronounced pro-Israel posture came from Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, who is in Israel meeting with the Israeli leadership. (See The biased rush to judgment in the flotilla affair).

“The U.S. should reiterate its support and understanding for Israel, that as a sovereign and democratic nation it has the right to act on behalf of its national security and express its confidence that Israel can conduct its own investigation into the matter without the intrusion of international bodies,” Foxman told JTA.

Israeli commandoes seizing control of the main boat in a Gaza aid flotilla clashed Monday before dawn with some of its passengers, and killed nine, among them at least four Turkish nationals. Six Israeli soldiers were wounded in the melee. Commandoes seized control of five smaller boats without incident.

The United States has beaten back the sharpest condemnations. It watered down a U.N. Security Council statement so that it condemned the “acts” that led to the deaths, making ambiguous whether the Israelis or the passengers escalated the conflict into violence.

On Wednesday, it joined the Netherlands in registering two lonely votes against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution condemning Israel. It has also in its statements supporting an inquiry into the matter said that Israel should conduct it, implicitly rebuffing demands elsewhere for an international inquiry.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee acknowledged the Obama administration’s bulwark against the tougher demands for Israel’s isolation, but made clear it wanted more.

“It would have been preferable if the U.N. and Obama administration had blocked any action implying criticism of Israel for defending itself,” AIPAC said in a memo. “Nonetheless, intervention by the United States prevented passage of a Security Council resolution condemning Israel. The administration continues to express its confidence in Israel’s ability to conduct its own investigation of the incident despite calls for an international inquiry.”

AIPAC also insisted that “the United States must now maintain its longstanding position not to allow the Security Council and other U.N. organs such as the U.N. Human Rights Council to exploit unfortunate incidents by passing biased, anti-Israel resolutions that obscure the truth and accomplish nothing.”

Were AIPAC certain that the United States was committed to blocking such resolutions further down the line, it would likely not have made the recommendation.

No such certainty appears in the offing: Statements from Obama administration officials suggest that they are holding judgment until the facts become clearer, and that meanwhile, the White House wants to see the blockade that triggered the aid flotilla eased.

A White House statement describing Obama’s call with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan said the U.S. president “affirmed the United States position in support of a credible, impartial, and transparent investigation of the facts surrounding this tragedy. The president affirmed the importance of finding better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel’s security.”

Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip partly to keep the Hamas terrorist organization, which controls the strip, from receiving arms (an effort Hamas has junked by running weapons through tunnels into Egypt); but another aim was to weaken Hamas politically among Palestinians.

Top White House officials met for hours on Tuesday with Uzi Arad, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top security adviser, and Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, and made clear to them that the United States sees the blockade as unsustainable.

Robert Gibbs, Obama’s spokesman, said that the administration was in wait and see mode. “The Security Council, the statement that I read, calls for an investigation that is prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent, conforming to international standards of exactly what happened,” he said after several prompts at Tuesday’s briefing. “And we’re obviously supportive of that.”

Foxman told JTA that considerations of an investigation and of the wisdom of using commandoes to carry out a police action — keeping the flotilla from docking in Gaza — were beside the point.

“Was there a better way to do this? That’s all interesting, but that’s not what this is about,” he said. “There is bloodshed all over the world, there are people killing people all over the world in deliberate hatred and nobody is calling for investigations. At the very least the United States should stand with Israel.”

Such statements of solidarity have been pouring out of Congress, from Republicans and Democrats. GOP figures are already firing at Obama for not pronouncing himself more firmly on Israel’s side.

“Would the U.S. in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase, ‘join the jackals?’” at the United Nations, Elliott Abrams wrote on the Weekly Standard’s Website, referring to the steadfastly pro-Israel Reagan-era ambassador to the United Nations.

“This week the Obama administration answered the question: Yes we would, and Israel would stand alone,” continued Abrams, who, as deputy national security adviser, helped lead the second Bush administration’s failed efforts to arrive at a peace agreement. “It is simple to block the kind of attack issued as a ‘President’s Statement’ on behalf of the Council, for such a statement requires unanimity. The United States can just say ‘No,’ and make it clear that orders have come from the White House and will not be changed.”

Hadar Susskind, the policy and strategy director for J Street, which has called for an independent Israeli inquiry into the incident, said such a posture would be counterproductive.

“It’s the same question, ‘How can you make the Israelis the bad guys or say that the people on the ship were good guys?’” he said. “It’s not a comic book, they were not good guys, they attacked Israeli soldiers with a pipe and tried to killed them — but that doesn’t mean the Israeli government made good decisions. It’s not our role to decide each time the good guys and bad guys.”



Groups weigh in on flotilla confrontation

NEW YORK – The main U.S. Jewish umbrella organization is defending Israel’s raid of the flotilla heading to Gaza, but several left-wing groups are blaming the incident on officials in Jerusalem and calling for an investigation.

“We regret the loss of life and the injuries. But the responsibility for these tragic events lies primarily with those who organized and carried out this extremist mission and those that aided and abetted them,” said the heads of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the main pro-Israel umbrella group in the United States.

Several members of the Presidents Conference and other pro-Israel groups issued similar statements, including the American Jewish Committee, which accused the pro-Hamas Free Gaza movement and its supporters of deliberately provoking a violent confrontation with the Israeli navy early Monday morning.

But several U.S. Jewish groups on the left — including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and Ameinu — are pointing the finger at Israel.

Nine activists were killed and several dozen protesters injured aboard a flotilla of ships bound for Gaza during rioting after Israeli naval forces boarded the ships to redirect them to an Israeli port. The flotilla was attempting to break the Israeli navy’s blockade of the strip. Seven Israeli soldiers were injured.

Israel has circulated videos showing that their troops were attacked as they boarded the ships.

J Street and Ameinu called for independent investigations and cautioned observers against making any judgments before all the facts are known. At the same time, both organizations blamed the confrontation on Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza — a policy adopted in order to isolate and weaken Gaza’s Hamas rulers, help bring home captured soldier Gilad Shalit, end Hamas rocket fire on Israel, and halt the flow of weapons into Gaza.

Ameinu said that such incidents play into the hands of Israel’s enemies. J Street argued that there are “better ways to ensure Israel’s security and to prevent weapons smuggling than a complete closure of the Gaza Strip.”

In addition to slamming the blockade, Americans for Peace Now also sought to portray the flotilla incident as part of an ongoing Israeli government effort to stifle dissent. It called for “an end to the radicalization of the Israeli government’s language and policy” and endorsed the idea that Israel is increasingly earning “the brutal and violent image it acquired in the last years.”

The Union for Reform Judaism, the largest synagogue movement in the country and an organization that has backed robust U.S. peacemaking efforts, issued a statement that defended Israel’s actions and called for stepped-up efforts to “examine” any humanitarian needs in Gaza.

“We note that the Hamas government, which is committed to Israel’s destruction and which has long been responsible for attacks against Israeli forces and civilian centers, cannot expect to have open borders,” said the URJ’s president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie. “We also note that humanitarian aid sent to Gaza in the past has often been used as a cover for delivering weapons and military supplies.”

Yoffie added that in addition to working to address Jerusalem’s security need, the U.S. government and Israel needed to examine “the plight of those living in Gaza who require additional humanitarian assistance.”

“Recent events underscore the urgent need for real progress in addressing both sets of concerns,” Yoffie said.



Flotilla raid stokes debate on price of Gaza blockade

Dina KraftWorld
Published: 04 June 2010

ASHDOD, Israel – The blurry black-and-white video footage was not what any Israeli wanted to see: elite navy commandos armed with paint balls (the pistols were only to be used as a last resort) dangling by a rope onto a boat filled with activists wielding metal bars and knives.

In one scene, an Israeli commando is thrown to the deck below by the mob aboard the ship.

“It’s not just appalling footage, it’s a national humiliation and a blow to Israel’s deterrence,” military analyst Amos Harel wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz a day after the deadly confrontation between Israeli commandos and pro-Palestinian activists aboard the Gaza-bound ship that left nine activists dead. “The question is why the soldiers were put in this situation in the first place.”

An Israeli student brandishes her identity card in a June 1 demonstration outside Jerusalem’s Hebrew University in support of the Israeli navy raid on ships bound for Gaza. Kobi Gideon/Flash 90/JTA

As Israeli officialdom begins the process of reckoning — the navy is expected to conduct an inquiry and there have been calls for Defense Minister Ehud Barak to resign — analysts tried to untangle the strategy behind the botched raid on the Free Gaza movement flotilla. Many in the Israeli media are describing the raid as an intelligence, operational, and political failure.

The massive diplomatic fallout triggered by the flotilla confrontation also has ratcheted up the debate in Israel over the efficacy of Israel’s policy of blockading Gaza.

“Three years of a failed strategy brought us to the events of today,” said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of, an Israeli-Palestinian Website. “We could have dealt with this differently had we thought better strategically in advance about the consequences of our failed strategy in Gaza.”

Military sources said that although the commandos knew a confrontation was possible on the ship they boarded, the Mavi Marmara, they were surprised by the attempts to kill Israeli troops.

Despite the violent result of the raid, government officials said Israel had little choice but to find some way to confront and halt the six-ship flotilla because of the risk that there could be weapons in the uninspected cargo that could reach Hamas, the terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip.

“This is the ninth effort to get boats into Gaza,” said Andy David, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “The first three were allowed through, but then we began to see it was becoming like a leaking faucet we had to put an end to because, as we have seen, Hamas is doing all it can do in its power to smuggle in weapons.”

David added, “If they had wanted to really deliver humanitarian aid, they could have done it through the Ashdod port.”

Passengers aboard the ships, however, said they did not trust that Israel — which has enforced a three-year blockade of Gaza, since Hamas militants wrested control of the territory from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup — to deliver the aid.

The government also was wary about who was on board the ships, Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich told reporters during a briefing overlooking the Ashdod port as the ships in the flotilla were brought in for inspection Monday.

“You don’t know who is on board such ships and whether they might be a security threat or not,” she said.

Above all, the government appeared eager to make an example of this six-ship flotilla — the largest effort to date to break the blockade of Gaza — to show the world that it would not tolerate efforts to break the blockage, international condemnation notwithstanding.

The government made it very clear that it was not going to allow the passage of these ships and, in turn, wrote veteran commentator Nahum Barnea in Yediot Achronot, “committed itself, for all intents and purposes, to a confrontation.”

Some Israelis are saying the strategy was a mistake, that it would have been better to ignore the ships rather than give more fodder to pro-Palestinian activists trying to mobilize anti-Israel and anti-blockade sentiment.

“If the siege had any international legitimacy, today it lost a great deal of it,” said Meir Javedanfar, an independent political analyst. “Yes, Israeli citizens have a right to live in peace, but they have to find other ways of doing it. The siege hurts Israel more than Hamas because of the political costs it pays in terms of isolation, the damage of its relations with its allies and Europe, and how it helps demonize Israel.”

The blockade on Gaza has been a public relations burden for Israel ever since it began three years ago in an effort to isolate and weaken Gaza’s Hamas rulers, help bring home captured soldier Gilad Shalit, end Hamas rocket fire on Israel, and halt the flow of weapons into Gaza.

Though when it began the blockade had the backing of the United States, Egypt, and even the Palestinian Authority, it has been criticized as collective punishment for Gaza’s population. Even in Israel, some have called it a policy failure, complaining that the overly strict siege has blocked even legitimate humanitarian and civilian materials from reaching Gaza’s residents.

After Monday’s incident, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, and the commissioner general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, Filippo Grandi, issued a joint statement scolding Israel.

“We wish to make clear that such tragedies are entirely avoidable if Israel heeds the repeated calls of the international community to end its counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza,” the statement said.

But proponents of the strategy for dealing with the flotilla and of the blockade itself said that allowing the ships to pass would have opened a new access route for Iran to send rockets to the strip.

“If there was no siege at all, they can bring whatever boats they want,” Israeli lawmaker Aryeh Eldad of the National Union Party told JTA in a telephone interview. “They will bring tanks, cannons, long-range missiles — exactly what we see in hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon, where we have no control whatsoever. If we stop the siege we will see the mirror image of Hezbollah in the Gaza Strip.”



With flotilla deaths, Turkey may be near tipping point

ISTANBUL – While Turkey and Israel have seen their once-close relationship deteriorate steadily for the past few years, the Israeli commando raid of a Turkish-led flotilla heading for Gaza, in which several Turks were killed, marks a dangerous new low in the two countries’ relations.

“Turkey is now involved in a way it’s never been before: Blood has been spilled,” said Hugh Pope, a Turkey analyst with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based policy and advocacy organization.

Following Monday’s raid, massive street protests broke out in Turkey, and the country recalled its ambassador from Israel and summoned Israel’s ambassador to Ankara.

News Analysis

Addressing parliament Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke in harsh terms that seemed to leave little room for an easy rapprochement with Israel.

“This bloody massacre by Israel on ships that were taking humanitarian aid to Gaza deserves every kind of curse,” Erdogan said. “This attack is on international law, the conscience of humanity, and world peace.

“No one should test Turkey’s patience,” he added. “Turkey’s hostility is as strong as its friendship is valuable.”

Four Turks were killed by Israeli commandos in Monday’s raid, which left five others dead. Dozens of others suffered wounds, including several Israeli soldiers.

The deterioration in the Turkish-Israeli relationship, much of it connected to the fallout from Israel’s 2009 Gaza invasion, has been mirrored by an equally precipitous rise in Turkey’s visibility and involvement in the Middle East — an area that it had kept at arm’s length for decades because of historical enmity and mutual suspicion.

Until recently, Turkey’s growing regional role included a desire to parlay its good relations with both Israel and the Arab states into a role as a regional mediator. Ankara, for example, hosted Israel and Syria for a round of secret peace talks in 2008 that ultimately failed. All along Turkey has continued its close military cooperation with the Jewish state.

But for now, analysts say, Turkey appears to have abandoned its mediation efforts in the region in return for a more pronounced leadership role in the Muslim world. On Monday, Turkey canceled plans to hold joint a military exercise with the Israel Defense Forces.

“For the time being I don’t see any kind of opening for the peace process,” said Gencer Ozcan, an expert on Turkey-Israel relations at Istanbul’s Bilgi University. “So if there isn’t any peace process, there isn’t any need for the good offices of a mediator.”

Pope said, “It’s going to be very hard for Turkey to portray itself as a neutral mediator with Israel anymore.”

Andrew Finkel, a columnist with the English-language daily Today’s Zaman, said that Turkey’s declared policy of “zero problems with neighbors” has come to a “juddering halt” in the case of Israel.

“Instead, Ankara appears to have given its tacit consent to another policy of sharpening contradictions, of trying to lance the boil instead of putting soothing ointment on the blister,” he said.

While Turkey may earn short-term gains from distancing itself from Israel, there are concerns about the long-term effect a serious breach between the two countries might have on an already conflict-ridden region.

“Turkey has gradually been losing one of the most significant leverages that it was using in the Arab world,” Ozcan said. “Even the Palestinians were telling Ankara over the years to keep talking to the Israelis.”

Turkey’s harsh response to Israel’s action is yet another signal of an important shift in Turkish foreign policy, analysts here say, with Turkey taking a more assertive role both regionally and globally. The government of the liberal Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP), which first came into office in 2002, has worked to forge close relations with neighbors such as Syria and Iran.

“The AKP’s project is positioning Turkey,” said Anat Lapidot-Firilla, a senior research fellow at Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute. “It’s a project whose goal is to set up Turkey as an international player, on the one hand, and to get recognition of Turkey as a moderate, market-friendly leader in the Muslim world and be treated as such in international bodies.”

Sami Kohen, a veteran Turkish political analyst and columnist who writes for the Milliyet daily, says Turkey’s hand in the region is strengthened now.

“There is now more reason for Turkey to take a more active part in the events of the Middle East, since it has suffered personally from this attack,” Kohen said. “Now it can justify its anti-Israeli positions, which get a good deal of sympathy in the Arab and Islamic world.”



Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

In Europe, flotilla protests smaller than against Gaza war

PRAGUE – As thousands of protesters condemned Israel’s blockade of Gaza in cities across Europe, reactions within Jewish communities ranged from mild concern to alarm.

On Saturday, 6,000 protesters marched in Germany, 20,000 in France, and 2,000 in London against Israel’s actions in the May 31 confrontation with a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists dead.

In Brussels, protesters in front of the Israeli Embassy shouted their support for Hezbollah, jihad, and Hamas, with some calling witnesses who tried to take pictures “dirty Jews,” according to Dan Levy, vice president of the Union of Jewish Students from Belgium.

European Jewish community representatives said the protests were mild and much smaller than the massive demonstrations in January 2009 that greeted Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

“There were only a few thousand people protesting in London, not 50,000 as the organizers, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, predicted,” said Alan Aziz, executive director of the London-based Zionist Federation.

The federation, like the Brussels student group, held a pro-Israel rally last week with about 800 participants. Belgians carried signs saying “Two people, two states, one peace.” In Britain, pro-Israel demonstrators sang the British and Israeli national anthems, holding banners with slogans such as “End Hamas rockets = End Blockade.”

Other pro-Israel rallies of modest size were staged in or scheduled for several Western European cities.

Chaim Musicant, director of the CRIF French Jewish umbrella organization, described the protests in Paris against Israel’s actions as very quiet.

“There was no shouting-down of Jews,” he said.

In some countries with large numbers of ethnic Turks, Jews expressed concern that the tensions between Turkey and Israel would translate into tensions between local ethnic Turks and Jews.

In Vienna, Raimund Fastenbauer, the Austrian Jewish community’s general secretary for Jewish affairs, said four ultra-Orthodox Jews, or haredim, in the city reported either being pushed or receiving slurs by ethnic Turks since the flotilla incident.

“This is a very bad sign,” Fastenbauer said. “We have had good relations for a long time with Turkish institutions. We always said we didn’t have problems with Muslims here. But I think the mood has changed with the policy of the current Turkish government, which has been very vocal against Israel.”

There are some 400,000 Muslims, mostly with Turkish roots, in Austria and about 10,000 Jews.

Fastenbauer said he was alarmed as well that the Vienna assembly unanimously signed a resolution against Israel initiated by a Muslim representative of the Social Democrat Party.

“This is the first time in many years I can recall all of the parties — extreme left to extreme right — agreeing on a single issue,” Fastenbauer said.

Aaron Buck, a member of the Jewish community in Munich, said he believed it was a “dangerous time,” as he saw Germans critical of Israel not making a distinction between Israeli policies and Jews.

Buck acknowledged that the current outrage over Israel’s actions had specific ramifications in Germany.

“For those with a migrant background, the biggest difference is that unlike native Germans, they have little education about the Holocaust and have a very different attitude towards Jews,” he said.

In Western Europe, Germany has the largest number of residents with Turkish roots.

In Stockholm, a city where both extreme leftists and Muslims have protested frequently against Israel, the leader of the Swedish Jewish community said the community’s headquarters had received bomb and murder threats.

“We’re accustomed at this point to the bashing and the hatred,” said Lena Posner, who noted that the presence of about a dozen Swedes in the six-ship, Gaza-bound flotilla made the reaction in Sweden against Israel all the more severe.

Meanwhile, Swedish dockworkers have announced a plan to launch a blockade of Israeli ships and goods in protest of the Israeli crackdown on the flotilla.

Like other Jewish figures interviewed by JTA, Posner emphasized that while some Swedish Jews thought Israel’s handling of the flotilla incident could have been better, they supported Israel’s right to defend itself and understood its reasons for the blockade of Gaza.

At the same time, Posner said Swedish Jews “should not get involved.” “I don’t see the point in us doing anything,” Posner said. “It is an Israeli political issue. The embassy is handling it.”



Facing confluence of diplomatic events, Israel taking wait-and-see stance

From left, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, on Sept. 14. Moshe Milner/GPO

WASHINGTON – Heading into a period of intense diplomatic activity, Israel and the pro-Israel community are taking what may appear to be an atypical wait-and-see approach.

That sentiment and the Jewish holidays explain the relatively muted tone.

News Analysis

This week, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik for their second round of direct talks. Next week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to deliver his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly — his first since the international community launched a major intensification of sanctions aimed at getting Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent.

Also next week, two separate U.N. inquiries into Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla of ships are likely to be released.

Such a confluence of events, with its potential for anti-Israel invective, normally would invite a vigorous “best defense is an offense” approach from the pro-Israel community. Instead, organizations appear to be hanging back.

The reason, insiders say, is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees the stakes as too high for nasty back-and-forths between Israel and its opponents to get in the way. Netanyhahu is genuinely invested in the peace process and does not want to hand Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an excuse to bolt.

Netanyahu also wants the Obama administration to have room to maneuver as the prospect of a nuclear Iran looms larger.

“The Israelis are saying this is real — Netanyahu wants to talk to Abbas one on one, and they will either move this ball forward or they won’t,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America, who has been in close contact with Israeli officials.

Netanyahu’s seriousness is underscored by what appears to be a shift on extending the partial settlement freeze he imposed 10 months ago. Abbas has threatened to quit the talks if the freeze is not extended past its Sept. 26 deadline, and last Friday President Obama said he also wanted it extended.

The Israeli leader, who until this week had refused an extension, suggested to his cabinet on Sunday that there may be room for compromise.

“Between zero and one there are a lot of possibilities,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Key to Netanyahu’s calculations is the improved relationship he has with Obama, a critical element in selling concessions to the Israeli public. At a news conference last Friday, Obama praised Netanyahu’s freeze.

“The irony is that when Prime Minister Netanyahu put the moratorium in place, the Palestinians were very skeptical,” Obama said. “They said this doesn’t do anything. And it turns out, to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s credit and to the Israeli government’s credit, the settlement moratorium has actually been significant. It has significantly reduced settlement construction in the region. And that’s why now the Palestinians say, you know what, even though we weren’t that keen on it at first or we thought it was just window dressing, it turns out that this is important to us.”

Another calculus for the Netanyahu government in its wait-and-see plan is the Obama administration’s success in drumming up Iran sanctions. Most recently, Japan and South Korea expanded sanctions over China’s objections, joining the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Norway in targeting the Islamic Republic’s energy and banking sectors.

Even Russia is reported to have effectively “forgotten” to deliver its promised S-300 air defense system to Iran, which would considerably boost Iran’s ability to repel a strike against its nuclear arms centers should they become active.

U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies agree that Iran is feeling the squeeze, Israeli officials have said, leading Israel to defer to the Obama administration — for now.

“We’ve seen that the sanctions have taken a bite,” Michael Oren, Israel’s U.S. ambassador, told JTA. “But they have not yet in any way stopped enriching uranium or pressing on with their nuclear program. So that’s going to be the true test. Six or nine months down the road, we’re going to have to reassess and see where the sanctions are going.”

Ahmadinejad’s planned appearance at the General Assembly next week usually would spur the major Jewish organizations to organize a major protest rally to underscore his isolation. But with the Sukkot holiday coinciding with this year’s General Assembly, the protest has been scaled down to a Central Park rally organized by StandWithUs, a student-driven pro-Israel group.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is urging nations to walk out when Ahmadinejad speaks.

“We call upon all member states that uphold democracy and human rights to manifest their rejection and disapproval of President Ahmadinejad’s incitement, bigotry, and Holocaust denial by walking out of the General Assembly during his speech,” the organization said in a statement.

Local Jewish groups are planning sustained activism on Iran, said Josh Protas, the Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish community relations councils.

“Several communities are planning days of action to raise community awareness about Ahmadinejad, the United Nations, the continued threat,” he said.

JCRCs are asking members to press lawmakers to keep Iran on the agenda, on the federal level and state level, where divestment initiatives are flourishing, Protas said.

“There’s a recognition that the sanctions don’t end the situation,” he said.

The collective decision by Israel and Jewish groups to lay low on the dueling reports on the flotilla raid is seen as a test of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has tried to moderate the U.N. probes of the raid.

Israel was condemned harshly after its commandos killed nine Turks when violence broke out on one of the ships during Israel’s operation to stop the flotilla from breaking the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel’s defenders say the commandos came under attack and were defending themselves; critics say Israel used excessive force.

Pro-Israel officials expect the investigation of the incident by the U.N. Human Rights Council to be biased; the council condemns Israel more than any other nation. The other investigatory commission, however, which Ban appointed and is headed by Geoffrey Palmer, a former New Zealand prime minister, is seen as fair. Netanyahu cooperated with that commission.

The question, said Daniel Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, is whether Ban will be able to maneuver his commission’s report into being the one adopted and advanced by other U.N. bodies, including the General Assembly, rather than the U.N. Human Rights Council report.

“This is a test for the U.N. and for Ban’s leadership,” Mariaschin said. “Will it be fair?”



Republican challenger questions Pascrell’s support of Israel

Josh LipowskyLocal | World
Published: 01 October 2010

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. has not been a real friend to Israel, said Roland Straten, the Republican challenging Pascrell in the eighth district.

“Israel is one of our few friends in the Middle East and we need to support Israel 100 percent, and I don’t think we are supporting Israel 100 percent,” Straten said.

This is the second run for Pascrell’s seat for Straten, a retired businessman from Montclair, who lost to the seven-time representative in 2008.

Straten directed The Jewish Standard to his foreign policy adviser, West Orange resident Mark Meyerowitz, who blasted Pascrell for signing a letter earlier this year with 53 other Democratic members of the House urging Israel to loosen its blockade of Gaza.

Eighth district Republican challenger Roland Straten is attacking Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr.’s record on Israel.

“Pascrell knows that Hamas is a terrorist group,” Meyerowitz said. “He should know that. Those 53 other Democrats should know Hamas is a terrorist group, so if they’re going to condemn anybody it should be these people using Gazans as human shields.”

Meyerowitz pointed to a 2004 appearance at a community brunch sponsored by 11 Muslim organizations, including, reportedly, a mosque with connections to Hamas, and to a 2007 report by The Washington Times that Pascrell reserved a Capitol conference room for the Council on American Islamic Relations, an organization that has come under fire for ties to extremist groups.

Pascrell, Meyerowitz said, has taken the Jewish vote for granted.

“When he speaks to Jewish groups he’s very, very pro-Israel,” Meyerowitz said, “but when he gets back to the northern part of the district, to the Paterson part of the district, it’s an a different story. He’s been playing both sides against the middle.”

Reached on his way to Washington on Tuesday, Pascrell defended his voting record on Israel, saying that he has never missed a vote involving the country or “backed off my obligation.”

Pascrell was one of 338 members of Congress who signed a letter to President Obama in June supporting Israel’s actions in the flotilla incident, when a Turkish convoy attempted to break the Gaza blockade. Nine activists were killed after they attacked Israeli soldiers boarding the ship.

“I asked for a fair, objective analysis of what happened,” Pascrell said. “I said in the letter to the president that Israel has every, every right to defend itself. Those folks who were with the flotilla were up to no good.”

Noting that he has strong friendships in the Jewish and Arab communities, Pascrell rejected accusations that he has one position on Israel for Jewish audiences and another for Arab audiences.

“I supported the ability of Israel to defend itself against the terrorists of Hamas and any other organization,” he said. “To use race or ethnicity, and to use religion in a campaign is the most despicable act I can think of.”


Congressional letter to President Obama on Jonathan Pollard

Josh LipowskyLocal | World
Published: 01 October 2010

September 22, 2010

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We write to urge you to use your constitutional power to extend clemency to Jonathan Pollard, thereby releasing him from prison after the time he has already served. As you know, such an exercise of the clemency power does not in any way imply doubt about his guilt, nor cast any aspersions on the process by which he was convicted. Those who have such views are of course entitled to continue to have them, but the clemency grant has nothing to do with that.

We believe that there has been a great disparity from the standpoint of justice between the amount of time Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served – or not served at all – by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations adversarial to us, unlike Israel.

Recently, we allowed a large number of Russians, who had been spying on us for the country that had long been our major adversary, to leave with no punishment whatsoever. This makes it very hard for many to understand why Mr. Pollard should continue to serve beyond the nearly twenty-five years he has already been in prison. We agree that it is important that we establish the principle that espionage of any sort is impermissible, but it is indisputable in our view that the nearly twenty-five years that Mr. Pollard has served stands as a sufficient time from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence.

We further believe that at a time when Israel, our democratic ally, is being faced with difficult decisions, a decision by you to grant clemency would not only be a humane act regarding Mr. Pollard, but it would also be taken in Israel as a further affirmation of the strong commitment the U.S. has to the ties between us, and we believe that such an affirmation could be especially useful at a time when those decisions are being made.

In summary, we see clemency for Mr. Pollard as an act of compassion justified by the way others have been treated by our justice system; as an act that will do nothing whatsoever to lessen our defenses against espionage; and a step that far from hurting the national security, could advance it by the impact it would have within Israel. We urge you to use the clemency power in this case.

Barney Frank
Member of Congress

Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Member of Congress

Edolphus Towns
Member of Congress

Anthony D. Weiner
Member of Congress


Miliband’s positions on Israel concern UK Jews

LONDON – Less than three weeks after Ed Miliband was elected the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Jewish concerns are growing about how his views will shape the policies toward Israel of the party favored by most British Jews.

Jewish political observers are talking about a possible new reality in Labour in which Miliband, the first Jewish head of the 110-year-old party, will deviate from the solidly pro-Israel stances of former prime ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, also of Labour.

The concerns were stoked when Miliband, in his keynote address to Labour’s annual conference in Manchester earlier this month, told party members that they must “strain every sinew” to end Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Though he said he “will always defend the right of Israel to exist in peace and security,” Miliband also said Israel’s “attack on the Gaza flotilla was so wrong.”

“It was very disappointing that his conference speech criticized Israel without mentioning Hamas rocket attacks on civilians,” Louise Ellman, a Labour member of Parliament from Liverpool and chairwoman of the Jewish Labour Movement, told the Jewish Chronicle, the main Jewish newspaper in Britain. “It’s important for Ed to show he is evenhanded on the Middle East, and the first things he must do are support the universal jurisdiction legislation, show he is opposed to boycotts, and support a negotiated peace agreement.”

The universal jurisdiction legislation is a proposed law pending before Parliament that would restrict the application in Britain of arrest warrants issued elsewhere on the ground of “universal law” — essentially removing the threat that visiting Israeli leaders would be arrested on war crimes charges.

Miliband, 40, surprised pundits last month by beating his older brother, former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, 44, in the race for Labour leader. He was the first party leader elected since Brown resigned after losing the race for prime minister.

After Miliband’s Manchester speech raised Jewish eyebrows, a spokesman declined to answer questions that the Jewish Chronicle had for Miliband about Israel, foreign policy, or his plans to meet Jewish leaders.

“These are serious issues requiring serious answers,” one Labour insider explained. “Ed’s not about to make up policies on the fly just to answer a reporter’s questions. Moreover, there are a significant number of pro-Israel members of his shadow cabinet.”

At the “fringe” meetings held at the Labour Party conference, where elected party leaders can speak directly to supporters’ concerns, Jews got a mixed message from Miliband.

At the Labour Friends of Israel meeting, Miliband said he considers himself a friend of Israel and that “I take incredibly seriously the issues of peace and security.” He called for the condemnation of Hamas rocket attacks and affirmed his support for a two-state solution while saying that any questioning of Israel’s legitimacy is “just totally unacceptable.”

But Miliband also issued a statement to Labour Friends of Palestine suggesting that trade policy could be used as a coercive tool against Israel. The message said, “The major instrument for influence at our disposal in relation to the Middle East is trade policy. I am against blanket boycotts of goods from Israel. But Israel, and all countries in the region, must live up to the commitments they have made to respect human rights as part of trade agreements. The EU must be tough enough to ensure that these commitments mean something.”

Officially, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the country’s main Jewish umbrella body, welcomed Miliband’s election, emphasizing his opposition to boycotts “which discriminate by targeting Israelis.”

But Jonathan Arkush, the senior vice president of the organization, told the Jewish Chronicle that he was worried.

“His speech singled out Israel for criticism and lacked balance in relation to the Middle East,” Arkush said.

Israeli Embassy staffers in London said they would give Miliband “the benefit of the doubt” and adopt a “wait-and-see” policy. Miliband’s perceived policy unknowns have left analysts to scour his personal biography for clues.

At the party conference in Manchester he spoke openly of growing up the child of Jewish refugees. His late father, Ralph Miliband, fled Poland and the Nazis in 1940 and later became a Marxist, a professor at the London School of Economics, and one of Britain’s most celebrated left-wing intellectuals.

Miliband’s mother, Marion Kozak, 75, escaped mass murder and deportations in Poland and fled to Belgium, where she was hidden by a Christian family. She eventually immigrated to London and became a long-standing supporter of groups like Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

By contrast, Miliband’s older brother, David, the former foreign secretary, has an established track record of pro-Israel engagement. In the brothers’ race for Labour leader, David Miliband won the backing of more rank-and-file party members, members of Parliament, and members of the European Parliament. But the trade union vote went to Ed, helping to push the younger Miliband over the top by 1.3 percent of the vote.

It is Miliband’s dependence on trade unions, which are seen as having anti-Israel policies, that has Jewish communal leaders worried. Among his supporters during the Labour leadership campaign was Unite, which in June passed a motion “to vigorously promote a policy of divestment from Israeli companies.” Unite also supported a motion reaffirming a boycott of goods produced in the west bank at the Trades Union Congress conference.

While Labour figures insist that Miliband will not be swayed by union positions on Israel, Robin Shepherd, the author of “A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel,” thinks that analysis fails to account for Miliband’s baseline political values.

“Miliband comes from left of the Labour Party, which is instinctively hostile to Israel, and if he becomes prime minister, like all others, he will defer to the interests of the Foreign Office and the European Union, both of which have that as their default position as well,” Shepherd, the European director of a British think tank, The Henry Jackson Society, told JTA. “I don’t see a lot of maneuverability there.”

In an Op-Ed in the Jewish Chronicle, foreign policy analyst Martin Bright warned of dark days ahead for friends of Israel.

Miliband’s “condemnation of the Iraq invasion,” Bright wrote, “could not have given a plainer indication that the new leader intends to make a clean break on foreign policy with the New Labour past. Labour Friends of Israel will now have to play a dissident role within the party, something it has not had to do for the best part of two decades.”



‘The suffering that still lives’

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