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Did group raise funds for Hamas on college campuses?

WASHINGTON – A U.S. congressman is the latest to call for a Justice Department investigation into whether a pro-Palestinian group has been raising money on college campuses for Hamas.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) urged a probe into Viva Palestina USA, a humanitarian aid convoy led by British lawmaker George Galloway that brought medical supplies to Gaza last July.

Both the Zionist Organization of America and Anti-Defamation League in recent months have urged Holder to investigate reports about the convoy’s links to Hamas.

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British Parliament member George Galloway, speaking at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in London earlier this year, leads the humanitarian aid group Viva Palestina USA, which has been accused of supporting Hamas. Vince Millett/Creative Commons

The groups made their requests after Galloway and other Viva Palestina USA members appeared and reportedly raised funds at some college campuses in the spring and summer.

“Clearly, people and organizations in the United States cannot be allowed to solicit funds for foreign terrorist organizations,” Sherman wrote in his letter to Holder. “That such solicitation is occurring during the middle of the day at a public university is truly frightening,” he said, referring to the University of California, Irvine.

Sherman wrote similar letters expressing concern about the reports on Viva Palestina USA to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UC-Irvine chancellor Michael Drake, and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman.

Viva Palestina USA was launched after the Viva Palestina group that Galloway set up in Britain sent a convoy to Gaza in March. It did not respond to a request for comment.

At a meeting in Gaza with Hamas officials during the March trip, according to a report from terrorism expert Steve Emerson, Galloway held up a bag of cash and said, “This is not charity. This is politics” and “We are giving this money now to the government of Palestine. And, if I could, I would give them 10 times, 100 times more.”

When the Viva Palestina USA convoy arrived in Gaza months later, there was no similar public event with Hamas, although the group reportedly did meet with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Giving humanitarian aid to Gaza is legal under U.S. law, but providing it to Hamas officials or the Hamas government in Gaza would likely be considered illegal because Hamas is on the list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The most controversial appearance by Viva Palestina USA and Galloway in the United States came May 21 at UC-Irvine, a campus that has experienced tensions between Jewish and Muslim students and where a civil rights complaint was filed earlier this decade claiming a hostile environment for Jewish students. (A federal investigation found that the university acted appropriately.)

UC-Irvine has referred information about the event, which was sponsored by the Muslim Student Union, to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. ZOA leaders said they had obtained a video of the event and, at the bureau’s request, passed it on to law enforcement officials.

The university also says it is investigating whether the Muslim Student Union had violated university policy by raising money without the university’s authorization.

In a letter to the university’s campus counsel, the Muslim Student Union acknowledged that it may have “unknowingly breached university policy (as undoubtedly have every student organization on campus as well as university administrators).” But the student group rejected ZOA’s accusations that it may have raised money for Hamas as “nothing short of libel.”

“ZOA seeks to smear MSU’s reputation by maliciously accusing MSU of breaking U.S. laws without providing any real evidentiary backing,” the group said in its letter.

The ZOA praised the university’s decision to forward information on the Viva Palestina fund-raising.

“They’ve done the right thing,” said Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice. “All groups should be held accountable.”

University spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said the campus police forwarded information on the Viva Palestina fund raising to the FBI because it felt “they were the best agency to handle it.” She said outside counsel is examining whether the Muslim Student Union violated campus procedures.

JTA

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British Parliament member George Galloway, speaking at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in London earlier this year, leads the humanitarian aid group Viva Palestina USA, which has been accused of supporting Hamas. Vince Millett/Creative Commons
 
 

Ill-conceived ‘crusade’

 

Anna Baltzer, Jewish defamer of Israel

 

Hamas official blames Bibi for dooming Shalit talks

JTA StaffWorld
Published: 05 February 2010

JERUSALEM – Negotiations to bring about the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have collapsed, a Hamas official said.

Mahmoud Zahar told the BBC Tuesday that the process to swap prisoners has “failed” over the “interference” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The main cause ... is that after the interference of the political element, after the interference of Netanyahu personally, there was a big regression and retraction,” Zahar said during an interview from Gaza on BBC World News’ “Hardtalk” program. “For this reason, everything now is stopped.”

Last month, Netanyahu called on Israeli negotiators to take a tougher stance on the deal being mediated by Germany, Reuters reported.

Hamas was angry that Israel planned to deport dozens of the up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners that would be released in the deal.

Other reports have suggested that Hamas halted the negotiations after the murder of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Hamas still publicly blames Israel for his assassination even though its own internal probe reportedly showed that Arab agents killed him.

Shalit was kidnapped in Gaza during a cross-border raid in June 2006.

Activists for Shalit on Tuesday morning demonstrated at the Karni and Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza, preventing fuel trucks from crossing into Gaza. Police disbursed the demonstraters.

JTA

 
 

Mossad chief seen as indispensable on Iran

Leslie SusserWorld
Published: 26 February 2010

JERUSALEM – Israel has not claimed responsibility for the assassination in Dubai of top Hamas arms smuggler Mahmoud Mabhouh, but the killing is raising questions about whether it will compromise Israel’s effort to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

That’s because one of the key figures behind the effort, Mossad chief Meir Dagan, is coming under heavy criticism for the sloppy operation in Dubai.

Operating under the assumption that Israel was behind the Dubai hit, some Israeli analysts are calling for Dagan’s ouster. They say the Mossad has adopted an irresponsible, trigger-happy approach to fighting terrorism, and they point to the diplomatic imbroglio facing Israel for the use of fake British and Irish passports by members of the hit squad, who traveled under the names of European citizens now living in Israel.

Dagan’s tenure at the Mossad is up for renewal at the end of the year.

Defenders of Dagan point to the long list of Mossad achievements in the war on terrorism and the campaign against Iran’s nuclear program, and argue that his tenure at the intelligency agency should be extended for an unprecedented fourth time. They insist that his knowledge of the Iranian theater is unmatched, and that as the clock reaches zero hour on the Iranian nuclear threat, his input will be invaluable — and not only for Israel.

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Mossad chief Meir Dagan, shown at a Knesset committee meeting in February 2008, has earned plaudits for his actions on Iran and some criticism for his tactics countering terrorism. Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Under Dagan, the Mossad has had just two priorities: delaying Iran’s nuclear program and counter-terrorism.

“The list must be short. If we continue pretending we can do everything, in the end we won’t do anything,” Dagan was quoted as saying when he was appointed by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2002.

Sharon reportedly told Dagan to run the agency “with a knife between its teeth.”

The main focus of his tenure has been Iran. Soon after Dagan took over the Mossad, the agency reportedly passed on information to the United States and others that the rogue Pakistani nuclear dealer Abdel Qadir Khan was helping the Iranians build a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.

Since then, a string of unexplained accidents has afflicted the Iranian nuclear project: scientists have disappeared, laboratories have caught fire, aircraft have crashed, and whole batches of equipment have proved faulty.

In 2007, Israeli intelligence detected work on a secret nuclear program in Syria, and in September of that year Israeli planes bombed the site of a North Korea-style reactor the Syrians were building.

The Mossad also was credited for the discovery of a hidden Iranian enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom last September — a find that finally convinced even previously skeptical international observers that Iran indeed was conducting a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Although the Mossad has not claimed credit for any of this, regional players have little doubt as to who has been behind the killings, the accidents, and the pinpoint intelligence.

Egypt’s Al-Ahram daily ran an article in mid-January calling Dagan Israel’s Superman and claiming that he almost singlehandedly has delayed the Iranian bomb.

“Without this man, the Iranian nuclear program would have taken off years ago,” the newspaper’s former Gaza correspondent Ashraf Abu al-Haul wrote. In a moment of rare praise for an Israeli in the Egyptian press, he called Dagan’s actions against Israel’s enemies “very brave.”

Now, as the international community dithers over new sanctions against Iran and the Iranians move closer to nuclear weapons’ capacity, Dagan’s reading of the situation will be crucial. He recently revised backward his estimate of when Iran will be able to manufacture a bomb it can deliver to 2014.

Still, there are fears in the international community that Israel may act to stop the Iranian program before it reaches its “breakout point” — when Iran will have stockpiled enough highly enriched uranium to manufacture a bomb if it so chooses. That could come by the end of this year.

For now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he favors giving sanctions a chance as long as they are tough — not allowing oil out of Iran or oil distillates like petroleum into the country.

“If one is talking about what are effective sanctions, they must include the constriction of the export of oil from Iran and the import of refined oil into Iran,” Netanyahu said Monday in a speech to the Jewish Agency for Israel’s board of governors meeting. “I think that nothing else stands a real chance to stop the progress of the regime, but this has a chance. At least it must be tried and must be tried now.”

Few criticize Dagan’s actions on Iran, but some question his derring-do tactics on terrorism as allegedly reflected in the Dubai operation. They argue that his risk-taking could cost Israel diplomatically and provoke heavy terrorist retaliation. His critics also contend that taking out top terrorists is a dubious proposition: Often their replacements are even more dangerous.

Dagan’s eight years at the helm have seen several targeted killings of top Hezbollah and Hamas operatives in Beirut and Damascus attributed to the Mossad — the most notable of which was the assassination of Hezbollah terrorist mastermind Imad Mugniyeh in a car bombing in Damascus in February 2008. Mugniyeh, who reportedly planned the attack on the U.S. Marines compound in Beirut in 1983, had been on the wanted lists of Israel and the United States for more than two decades.

Late last year the Mossad, although it never acknowledged any involvement, seemed to step up its activities.

In early December, a bus carrying Hamas members and Iranian officials exploded outside Damascus. Two weeks later, two Hamas members were killed in a mysterious bombing in the heart of Hezbollah’s Dahiya stronghold in southern Beirut. Last month, an Iranian nuclear scientist died in a bombing outside his home in Tehran. A week later, Mabhouh was found dead in his Dubai hotel room.

Dagan also has pulled off some major intelligence coups in the war on terror, enabling Israeli forces to intercept weapons destined for Hamas and Hezbollah as far afield as Sudan and on the high seas near Cyprus.

In mid-January 2009, a convoy carrying weapons for Hamas during Operation Cast Lead reportedly was bombed by Israel Air Force planes in Sudan. In November, the Francop, an Antigua-flagged vessel carrying more than 100 tons of rockets, mortars, and anti-tank weapons for Hezbollah, was captured by the Israeli navy.

Dagan’s advice on Iran over the coming months will carry considerable weight. He seems to think there is still time for actions other than a full-scale military operation.

If and when it comes to that, however, chances are that despite the Dubai incident, Netanyahu, one of Dagan’s staunchest admirers, will want Dagan at his side helping to plan it.

JTA

 
 

U.S.-Israel search for Middle East peace: Beyond Ramat Shlomo

 

The U.S. should not give Palestinians a free pass

 

Condemn report, welcome Goldstone

 

Moves on Goldstone bar mitzvah spark brouhaha

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Talk about shul politics.

In the interest of avoiding a disruption of his grandson’s bar mitzvah, Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the Goldstone report on the 2009 Gaza war, told JTA last week that he would not attend the family simcha next month at a Johannesburg synagogue.

But in case Goldstone has any second thoughts, a leading South African Jewish group announced it is ready to protest should he show up.

“We’ll exercise our constitutional right to protest,” the chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, Avrom Krengel, told the Cape Times on Monday.

Goldstone, a respected Jewish jurist from South Africa, has been persona non grata in the pro-Israel community ever since the release of his U.N. report on the Gaza war, which found that Israel committed war crimes in its three-week war with Hamas in Gaza in 2009. Pro-Israel groups have roundly condemned the report as dangerously one-sided, and say it has helped fuel international condemnation of Israel.

Following negotiations between the Zionist federation and Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the synagogue hosting the bar mitzvah service, Goldstone said last week that “n the interests of my grandson, I’ve decided not to attend the ceremony at the synagogue.”

Krengel stressed that Goldstone had not been barred from the bar mitzvah, but that he would not be welcomed if he chose to attend.

Krengel’s position prompted a torrent of responses from around the Jewish world. Many defended Goldstone’s right to attend the bar mitzvah even as they criticized his report on the Gaza war. (See page 16.)

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House of Representatives Middle East subcommittee, wrote to Krengel that he was “appalled and utterly disgusted by reports that Judge Goldstone will not be able to attend the bar mitzvah of his grandson due to protest threats by Jewish groups in South Africa.”

Describing himself as “an unapologetic critic of the Goldstone report, and of Judge Richard Goldstone’s badly warped perspective on Israel’s right to defend itself,” Ackerman said there was “absolutely no justification or excuse for carrying legitimate opposition and criticism of Judge Goldstone’s (wretched) professional work into the halls of his family’s synagogue, much less the celebration of a 13- year-old Jewish boy’s ritual acceptance of responsible membership in the Jewish community.”

The World Union for Progressive Judaism sounded a similar note. In a statement, Rabbi Joel Oseran, vice president of international development, and Rabbi Malcolm Matitiani, chairman of the South Africa Association of Progressive Rabbis, expressed their dismay.

“While we stand with Israel in disputing some of the findings of the Goldstone Commission’s report, Judaism teaches that judgment and forgiveness are not ours to withhold or to give,” they said.

But Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag, head of South Africa’s Beth Din, or Jewish religious court, said there were strong feelings in the synagogue against Goldstone attending. He praised the arrangement wherein Goldstone would stay away on his own volition, calling it “quite a sensible thing to avert all this unpleasantness.”

Goldstone has done “a tremendous disservice not only to Israel but to the Jewish world,” Kurtstag said. “His name is used by hostile elements in the world against Israel, and this can increase anti-Semitic waves.”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the community’s representative body, said in a statement that while “certain senior Jewish communal and religious leaders were certainly involved in the discussions around the topic, in no way did they attempt to dictate to or otherwise pressurize the family into arriving at their decision.”

The statement went on, “The SAJBD strongly believes that diversity of opinion in our community needs to be tolerated and respected, whether it emanates from the left, right, or center.”

In a separate statement, the Cape Council of the Board of Deputies said it “deeply regrets that a religious milestone has been politicized and disagrees with the manner in which this matter has been handled.”

JTA

 
 

Facebook is home to a new kind of Holocaust remembrance

Anne Frank’s Facebook page looks much like any other teenage girl’s: The profile picture shows Anne leaning against a wall; her hair is tucked behind her ears; and she stares off sideways, daydreaming perhaps, a slight smirking smile lifting up the corner of her mouth.

The comments on her “wall” are typical, too.

“We share the same birthday!” and “I hate this girl.” A string of teenage commentary follows every one of the many photos that have been posted to the page. One, in which Anne is standing outside in shorts and a sunhat, elicits this remark: “she had long legs! woah! model” In response, a prepubescent boy named Ricky laments, “she did have long legs……i hate hitler.”

Whether the fact that Anne Frank has a Facebook page (one set up for “fans”) strikes you as creepy and inappropriate or as completely normal and even charming will depend largely upon your age and the number of hours you spend on a laptop each day.

But the reality is that Holocaust memorialization is moving onto social-networking sites like Facebook and presenting new opportunities for remembering the victims — and bringing a whole new set of complexities. One of the most popular and disorienting forms that this new virtual commemoration is taking is the Facebook profile. Even the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is now involved with providing information to fill out the details of some of these profile pages.

The desire to personalize the identities of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust is not new. What is novel is the combination of this desire with a platform that is premised on empowering anybody to project his or her individuality far and wide.

There’s no more successful example of this fusion than the Facebook profile page of Henio Zytomirski. A small boy who must be no more than 7 or 8 years old appears in a black-and-white photo in the box provided for a profile picture. He looks full of joyful young life. But Henio has been dead since 1942, killed in a gas chamber at the Majdanek concentration camp when he was 9. On March 25, which would have been his birthday, dozens of Facebook users wished him a happy birthday on his “wall.” As of April 12, he had 4,989 “friends.”

One element unique to Henio’s profile is that it is being used to recount a narrative of this little boy’s life. In status updates written in Polish, Henio seemingly tells his story in his own voice. On Sept. 29 of last year, for example, this entry was posted: “Winter has arrived. Every Jew must wear the Star of David with his last name. A lot has changed. German troops walk the streets. Mama says that I shouldn’t be frightened, and always that everything is just fine. Always?”

The person posting in Henio’s name — and with the knowledge of his relatives — is Piotr Buzek, a 22-year-old history student from Lublin who works at the Brama Grodzka Cultural Center. According to Facebook’s policy, profiles of people other than oneself are allowed only with permission from the profiled person or, in this case, from that individual’s family. Buzek set up Henio’s page in August 2009, and since then he has been dutifully adding “friends” and posting photos and frequent updates. The center where he works was set up to promote the multicultural heritage of Lublin and has an archive of information and material on Henio’s life. It is from this that Buzek has created his virtual identity.

Buzek doesn’t think it strange that he should be speaking in the voice of a long-deceased Holocaust victim. As he sees it, this is a way of engaging a younger generation with what he calls “our tragic history.” Focusing on Henio and in essence bringing him back to life through Facebook is his way of making the Holocaust real.

“We can’t commemorate 6 million people,” Buzek said when the Forward reached him in Lublin. “I can’t imagine this number. But I can imagine one person. This boy was one of them. I can imagine him. And if you want to feel something deeper, you should concentrate on one person. You can touch it. You can’t touch 6 million people. You can touch one.”

Henio Zytomirski’s Facebook profile got some attention for being one of the first to use the site for that purpose. More than a few people were puzzled that Facebook could become a place for memorializing.

“The thing to remember is that many of these new social-media platforms are fluid, and information posted on them is very ephemeral,” said Evgeny Morozov, a blogger and contributor for Foreign Policy magazine. “What is it about Facebook or Twitter that makes them suitable for commemoration? I can’t find anything because they are built on the opposite principle. All the most recent stuff comes first.”

Those engaged in the more traditional forms of Holocaust remembering — namely, museums and physical memorials — are mostly skeptical of this new, looser, virtual form.

David Klevan is the education manager for technology and distance learning at the Holocaust museum. He was one of the organizers of what was called an “un-conference,” a gathering last December of museum professionals partly to try to figure out how to better use new social-networking platforms in ways that don’t trivialize the content.

Klevan looks a little warily at the Facebook profile phenomenon because he worries that those posting and those reading the posts don’t have access to a full historical context. Young people respond directly and sometimes thoughtlessly to the image or words in front of them — like the photo of Anne Frank in shorts. The pieces of information presented are disconnected from a larger narrative, and in a way that does not allow for any follow-up questions or further study.

“We prefer to maintain as much of the context as possible,” Klevan said. “If people are going to learn the stories of the victims, it’s preferable that they have easy access to supporting information and also being aware of where the content is being encountered.”

But the Holocaust museum has been providing information on the individual stories of victims to a Website called footnote.com, an online service that is trying to digitize historical documents and use them to create virtual memorialization projects. One of the service’s bigger endeavors is a complete online simulacrum of the Vietnam Wall Memorial, where information can be added to fill out the identities of those who died. Footnote.com has used the information provided by the Holocaust museum to create 600 Facebook profiles for Holocaust victims.

Unlike Henio’s profile, the Facebook pages created by footnote.com are different than the pages that individuals make for themselves. But they do still have all the usual features — a profile picture and a “wall” where pictures and comments can be posted, and attempt to do the same thing: create a virtual space for the individual victim to emerge.

“Our running tagline has been, “History is biography,’ “ said Chris Willis, vice president of social media for footnote.com. “If we are changing the form that that biography is being presented, it is only to make it more accessible. It’s going to make it easier for people to add more information about a life, maybe even add the kind of information that will help that life seem more unique and, in the end, much more compelling.”

This story first appeared at Forward.com.

 
 
 
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