Michael Freund

Jerusalem Post, March 7, 2012

Today is Purim, one of the most joyful festivals on the Jewish calendar, when we celebrate the deliverance of our ancestors from a Persian plot to annihilate them. It is a day rife with ritual, from the reading of the Book of Esther to the giving of charity and the delivery of food parcels to friends. But of all the many practices that have come to embody the holiday, few are as inspired as the donning of costumes by young and old alike. For on Purim we disguise ourselves, masquerading as something that we are not, underlining the extent to which many of us spend our lives play-acting rather than being true to what we believe.

Indeed, the custom has become so popular that none other than Barack Obama himself decided to join in the fun this year, posing for the past few days as a staunchly pro-Israel president. Obama’s Purim costume was as adept as it was inspired. After all, it did not require a wig, eye-liner or even baggy pants. All that was necessary was for the president to pad his AIPAC speech with some soothing words about Iran and refrain from growling before the cameras when he greeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Like any good costume, Obama’s had the intended effect, initially making one forget the real person beneath.

At the AIPAC Conference in Washington, the US president spoke of the “unbreakable bonds” and “partnership” between the United States and Israel, insisting that his administration’s “commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented.” He even talked tough to the ayatollahs, warning that, “Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.…”

For the uninitiated, it was almost enough to make one swoon. Obama invoked all the right themes, pledging to stand by the Jewish state and strongly hinting that he would not shy away from the use of force against Tehran. Gee, doesn’t he sound like someone we can really trust? But when you start to peer behind the mask, and look beneath the surface, a different and more accurate picture quickly begins to emerge.

Take, for example, his assertion that “Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before.” Why, it was just three months ago that Obama was trying to convince Congress to soften sanctions on Iran. As Reuters reported on December 6, 2011, Obama administration officials lobbied against a bipartisan Senate proposal to slap penalties on foreign financial institutions doing business with Iran’s Central Bank. Obama’s obstructionism on the issue was so brazen it even led Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, a cosponsor of the bill, to slam the administration.… So for the president now to take credit for the tightening economic vise around the Iranian regime is both disingenuous and misleading.

Similarly, Obama has repeatedly asserted of late that Israel has the sovereign right to defend itself.… Yet, in practice, he has been energetically trying to prevent Israel from doing just that. Last month, Obama reportedly sent his National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon, to Jerusalem to deliver a stern message to the Israeli government: don’t attack Iran. And he has marched out a parade of senior officials in recent months to cast doubt on the efficacy of any such action by Israel.

Barely 48 hours after speaking to AIPAC, Obama adopted a different tone at a press conference held on Tuesday. Asked by a reporter about Iran, the president said rather ominously that a premature Israeli strike would have “consequences” for the United States.… “It is not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely, there are consequences for the United States as well,” [Obama said].

At first glance, that may not sound all that menacing. But when the president of the United States issues such a warning, it is far more than just an analytical remark. It suggests that should Iran retaliate against the US because of any action taken by Israel, it is the Jewish state that can and will be blamed.

And this is the guy who says he has “got our back”? Obama is clearly in election mode, and he is looking to November with an eye on the Jewish vote. Fearful of losing Jewish support in critical states such as Florida, the president is now trying to position himself as an unqualified backer of Israel. But don’t let Obama’s Purim costume fool you.… In this case, what it cloaks is frightening indeed.

Barbara Kay

National Post, February 28, 2012

George Orwell once said, “England is the only great nation whose intellectuals are ashamed of their country.” Orwell never met Israeli intellectuals.

As the National Post noted in [a recent] editorial, Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) is declining in vigour on North American campuses. But at Israel’s four secular universities—Hebrew University, University of Haifa, Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Ben Gurion University (BGU)—robust anti-Zionism continues to flourish, as it has for decades.

Since the 1967 Six-Day War, and with mounting stridency, the majority of Israel’s already leftist intelligentsia have identified themselves with enemies sworn to their nation’s annihilation. Every day, anti-Zionist literature pours forth from Israel’s tenured radicals. Every week, an article condemning Israel as an apartheid nation appears. Every month, Israeli academics attend conferences expanding on the evils of the occupation and the moral bankruptcy of the Jewish state. Every year, Israeli historians make their annual pilgrimage to IAWs all over the world, including one at TAU.

The tone of their attacks can’t be rivalled outside Israel for viciousness. Under the auspices of the University of Haifa, for example, anti-Semitic discourse is distributed by ALEF, an anti-Israel chat forum. It includes endorsements of terrorism, calls for the extermination of Israel and even support for Holocaust deniers.

Occasionally, desperately seeking an original optic in the rabid pursuit of Israeli culpability, an academic arrives at a pathological summit of moral inversion. A 2007 Hebrew University PhD thesis in sociology identified the fact that Israeli soldiers don’t rape Palestinian women (even though Palestinian propaganda routinely accuses them of it) as a form of racism: “In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be seen that the lack of organized military rape merely strengthens the ethnic boundaries and clarifies the inter-ethnic differences—just as organized military rape would have done.” This ludicrous libel was awarded a prize by the writer’s department.

Off-campus, Israeli elites join in the self-condemning chorus. Amnon Rubenstein, considered the father of Israeli constitutional law, calls for European courts to be given the authority to overturn Israeli law. Celebrated novelist David Grossman opines that the potential terrorism of Israelis is more grievous than the actual terrorism of Arabs. The sensitive, globe-trotting poet and novelist A. B. Yehoshua suggests Jews will only become “normal” by converting to Islam or Christianity.

One of Israel’s misfortunes was the premature birth of an intellectual class. Uniquely amongst the nations, Israel had its own university—Hebrew University—20 years before statehood. Many of the European intellectuals who formed its professoriat were already infected with anti-Zionism through their discipleship to philosopher Martin Buber, who spun utopian fantasies of a binational state with Arabs and Jews united in civic harmony.

For decades, these thinkers vented their spleen without opposition. That began to change in 2001, when a U.S.-based publication called the Middle East Quarterly…ran a major exposé of anti-Israel academics in Israeli universities, titled “Israel’s Academic Extremists.” A pent-up flood of indictment followed.

The issue was brought to a dramatic public head when pugilistic Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz received an honorary doctorate at TAU in 2010. In his address, Dershowitz denounced the monolithic domination of Israeli universities by homegrown Israel-bashers. He said teachers that intimidate students who disagree with them ideologically are no better than sexual harassers. The speech inflamed the intelligentsia. TAU academics, who brooked no limitations on their own freedom of speech, shrilly challenged Dershowitz’s right to criticize them, with alarmist references to history’s “dark regimes.”

But the speech had a salutary, galvanizing effect on patriotic non-academics. Public figures, journalists, students, university alumni and donors shook off their long, tolerant torpor. They began challenging the totalitarian grip of far-left anti-Zionists on Israel’s major universities.

Most encouraging was the development of a pro-Zionist youth group called Im Tirtzu—“If you will it”—referring to Zionist movement founder Theodore Herzl’s famous dictum, “If you will it, it is no dream.” Im Tirtzu is a vigorous presence today on most Israeli campuses, successfully documenting and disseminating such indecencies as leftist students at a BGU campus rally giving Heil Hitler salutes to pro-Zionist students.

To students of Jewish history, with its one constant feature of internal divisiveness, it is not at all surprising that both the world’s most passionate Zionists and anti-Zionists should be found…in Zion. There is truth in the old joke that Jews are exactly like everyone else—only more so.

Gerald M. Steinberg

Jerusalem Post, February 20, 2012

‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” This adage might have occurred to the officials, donors and supporters of the New Israel Fund (NIF) when they learned that an official from Adalah—one of their major grantees—was scheduled to speak at this year’s “Apartheid Week” at an event sponsored by BDS Geneva.

NIF officials should not have been surprised by Adalah’s ongoing role in promoting BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) and other forms of political warfare. The organization has made no secret of its agenda, including the participation in the infamous NGO Forum of the 2001 UN Durban Conference. The NGO Forum’s “Final Declaration,” which is still posted on Adalah’s website, calls for the “complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state.”

Expanding on this theme, Adalah’s so-called “Democratic Constitution” (2007) called for replacing the Jewish state with a “democratic, bilingual and multicultural” framework and for a redefinition of the “symbols of the state.” Jewish immigration would be restricted solely for “humanitarian reasons.” And following the publication of the Goldstone Report, Adalah joined Palestinian NGOs in urging governments to “re-evaluate their relationship with Israel.”

Such activities are in direct contradiction of NIF’s recently adopted funding guidelines and principles, which explicitly exclude groups that “work to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel” and other forms of anti-Israel demonization. But for some reason, the NIF funding for Adalah—$475,950 authorized in 2010—has continued.

For many years, the organization has had trouble implementing “red lines,” and in a number of cases, has been embarrassed and forced to backpedal before taking action. In 2004, the NIF awarded a fellowship to Shamai Leibowitz, who went to the US and promoted BDS, among other activities inconsistent with NIF’s declared objectives. (Last week, a current NIF fellow, Moriel Rothman, noted in an op-ed, “I have become deeply frustrated by the political manipulation of the Holocaust to distract from Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.”) NIF also provided seed funding for a radical NGO known as ICAHD, which violates nearly all of NIF’s guidelines and principles, only ending funding after the damage had been done.

More recently, it took two years for NIF to finally end support for the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP), which is centrally involved in the BDS campaigns. Another group—Mada al-Carmel—which is also a major source of delegitimization and advocates for a “one-state” solution, was still listed in NIF’s latest published budget (for 2010), although incoming president Brian Lurie has stated that the funding has now ended.…

Although, or perhaps because, NIF is an extremely powerful political institution, with an annual budget of over $30 million, whose policies and activities affect the lives of all Israelis, its leaders are out of touch and very slow to react.…

When the contrast between NIF’s promotional claims and the reality of its political activities and funding is noted, they lash out angrily. For an organization claiming a “liberal and progressive” agenda, the NIF is particularly hostile to any form of criticism. When caught, as in each of the examples cited above, NIF’s public relations team resorts to vicious personal attacks against whistle-blowers.…

The “fool me” adage stops after the second occurrence, but NIF is now well beyond this.… Instead of lashing out, NIF has the opportunity to demonstrate that its guidelines are serious. Given the extensive public evidence of Adalah’s true agenda, if NIF chooses to not sever ties with the NGO, one would have to assume that NIF is knowingly being fooled and is happy to go along for the ride.

(Gerald M. Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor.)

David Harris

Jerusalem Post, March 7, 2012

The name Avi Shlaim may not be widely known on the street, but in the United Kingdom, and particularly in academic settings, it is. An emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford University, he has been a prodigious writer on the Middle East.

When it comes to Israel, where he once lived, Shlaim can barely contain himself, throwing any semblance of scholarship to the wind and working himself into a lather at its mere mention. Take, for example, his op-ed in The Independent, a British daily, earlier this week. Entitled “Obama Must Stand Up To Netanyahu,” and published on the day that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu met in the White House, Shlaim breathlessly mined the English language for ever more vituperative things to say about Israel.…

Here are some of the results: Benjamin Netanyahu is “a bellicose, right-wing Israeli nationalist, a rejectionist…and a reactionary.” His government is “the most aggressively right-wing, diplomatically intransigent, and overtly racist government in Israel’s history.” It is a government of “militant nationalists.” It “is in danger of drifting towards fascism.” He is “a jimcrack politician.” He is “the war-monger in chief.”

Isn’t that the same Netanyahu who, whatever his other alleged faults might be, has moved his Likud Party to accept a Palestinian state, introduced a partial freeze on settlements as a goodwill gesture to restart peace talks with the Palestinians, and played a part in the economic revival of the West Bank and security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority?

Oh, and Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, according to Shlaim, “regards diplomacy as the extension of war by other means.” Moreover, he is a “bitkhonist, a security-ist, who wants 100 percent security for Israel which means zero security for the Palestinians.” Isn’t that perchance the same Barak who, as prime minister, collaborated with President Clinton to offer Yasir Arafat a viable Palestinian state and the chance for enduring peace?…

Now, again, please bear in mind that we’re not just talking about anyone here, but about an emeritus professor at Oxford University. He has taught countless students from around the world and supervised who-knows-how-many dissertations. And we’re also talking about a widely-read newspaper in Britain that opted to publish this—let’s call it by its proper name—screed.

At a time when the U.S. and Israeli leaders meet in Washington to discuss the ominous challenge of Iran’s nuclear program, Shlaim assails Israel for every alleged misdeed, yet, oddly, or perhaps tellingly, fails to address the Iran question. Well, not exactly. He does claim Israel is trying “to drag America into a dangerous confrontation,” but doesn’t offer any solution of his own.

That might suggest he either doesn’t believe Iran has a nuclear program—which would put him at odds with the U.S. and European governments, not to mention the International Atomic Energy Agency—or he doesn’t feel it poses a threat to anyone. Wait, there is one more possibility. He might actually welcome the program as a response to the reviled Israel. Which is it?…

Isi Leibler

Jerusalem Post, February 20, 2012

In June 2011, Peter Beinart, a former editor of the staunchly pro-Israel New Republic, published a controversial essay in the left-wing New York Review of Books headlined: “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” The article was a scathing condemnation of Israeli policies which he alleged were undermining democracy and violating human rights. He accused American Jewish leaders of slavishly toeing “extreme right-wing Israeli positions” and “refusing to defend democracy in the Jewish state.”

Beinart’s essay transformed him overnight into a darling of the left-liberal establishment and media, which abhor the Netanyahu government. He was feted as a courageous Jewish writer willing to stand up and castigate both Israeli and American Jewish leaders.… [Now he] has expanded his essay into a book based on the standard stereotypes and fallacies shared by most hostile far-left and “liberal” critics of Israel. Titled The Crisis of Zionism, it is scheduled for release next month.

Beinart is convinced that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is the “great Jewish question of the age” and his central call is for American Jews to join the choir condemning Israel. He informs us that he loves Israel and would teach his children to love it. Yet in the same breath he unequivocally condemns the Jewish “apartheid” state for breaching human rights, depriving Palestinians of dignity, and describes Israel’s settlement policy as a futile effort to retain occupation in a post-colonial age. He accuses the Israeli government of denying human rights to Palestinians “simply because they are not Jews,” comparing their treatment to that of African Americans before segregation was banned.…

The most demagogic aspect of Beinart’s distorted approach to Israel is his repeated depictions of Israel as a country consistently abusing human rights and undermining democracy. Yet despite facing existential threats from the day of its birth and harboring a substantial minority of Arabs whose radical extremists, including Knesset Members, ally themselves with terrorists and our genocidal enemies, the Jewish state remains one of the most vibrant democracies in the world—an especially stark contrast to the tyrannical Islamic states surrounding it.…

The greatest flaw in Beinart’s thesis is the constant repetition of the lie that “the mass of American Jews are to the left of organizations that speak in their name and almost always oppose US pressure on Israeli leaders and blame the Palestinians almost exclusively for the lack of Middle East Peace.” The reality is that American Jews may be liberal and traditionally inclined to vote for the Democratic Party, but at the grassroots level, in recent months they displayed far greater agitation than their leaders against President Obama’s biased diplomacy against Israel.

Beinart’s mantra, chanted repeatedly by the left-liberal media, is that…American Jewish youngsters have become alienated from Israel.… [However], one need only examine the annual American Jewish Committee opinion polls and the important recent Mitchell survey undertaken by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise and The Israel Project. They reveal that 89 percent of American Jewish youngsters strongly support Israel, endorse decisions adopted by the democratically elected government of Israel and oppose the public criticism of Israel which Beinart advocates.…

The reality is that “liberals” who feel alienated from Israel are running against the grain of grassroots American Jews. They may get more media attention, but they represent a small albeit highly vocal minority. This is exemplified by the marginal impact of the primarily Soros-funded J Street.… Not surprisingly, J Street embraces Beinart and will be launching his book at their forthcoming national conference.

Reality on the ground and the flawed premises upon which Beinart bases his thesis will not detract from the praise he will receive from the left-liberal media whose hostility against Israel has regrettably become endemic. His book, like that of Walt and Mearsheimer, the maligners of the Israel lobby, will be another addition to the growing number of volumes demonizing the Jewish state.…