Israel’s religio-nationalists considered

Peter Martin had a very informative article in Saturday’s Toronto Globe & Mail about the rapid emergence of a new kind of religio-nationalists in Israel.
They even, he says, have a new name: “Hardal”– a cross between “haredi” (an ultra-orthodox Jewish believer) and Mafdal, Israel’s longstanding National Religious Party.
The piece starts like this:

    Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has come a long way.
    No longer are they the inward-looking anti-Zionists who only cared that the government provide them with money for their separate schools, welfare and exemptions from military service. These days, many of the Haredim – the word means “those who tremble” in awe of God” – have joined with right-wing religious Zionists to become a powerful political force.
    They now are equipped to redefine the country’s politics and to set a new agenda.
    Two decades ago, they were confined mostly to a few neighbourhoods in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Today, they have spread throughout the country, in substantial numbers in several major communities, as well as building completely new towns only for their followers.
    One Haredi leader who almost won Jerusalem’s mayoralty race last fall, boasts that, within 20 years, the ultra-Orthodox will control the municipal government of every city in the country. And why not? Of the Jewish Israeli children entering primary school for the first time this month, more than 25 per cent are Haredi, and that proportion will keep growing. There are between 600,000 and 700,000 Haredim in Israel, and they average 8.8 children a family…

Martin includes quite a lot of quotes from Dr. Nachman ben Yehuda, who has a book on the Hardal coming out next year.
He writes,

    Ironically, considering these religious leaders have made such use of the democratic process, they continue to say democracy is not consistent with Halacha.
    “In many ways these guys are closer to Islamic fundamentalists than to anything else,” Prof. Ben Yehuda said.
    They also do not shrink from violence.
    Prof. Ben Yehuda’s research found that violence is the number-one criminal infraction among Haredim. He also found that most of that violence is for political purposes.
    This past summer witnessed many vivid examples…

He makes a short reference to the relatively recent entry of some haredim into the IDF. A bigger story there, though, is probably the rise up the officer corps in recent years of substantial numbers of non-haredi religio-nationalists, and their influence within the IDF’s rabbinate.
Anyway, a fascinating article. I wonder when we’ll see one like it in a mainstream US publication?

IPS piece on Obama-Netanyahu tussle over priorities

With all the fast-moving developments of the past couple of weeks, I felt it was time to draw out the main theme behind them…. I tried to do that in my IPS piece today. It’s here— also archived here.
As I thought about it and read it, I came to the conclusion there’s good news and bad news… as reflected in the concluding two paras of the piece:

    Washington cannot get its way in international bodies as easily now as it has for most of the past 20 years. So the probability of it being able to assemble a tough coalition against Iran is anyway receding. [That’s the good news.]
    But that fact does not bring serious U.S. efforts in the peace process any closer. Indeed, by making a strong anti-Iran coalition look unachievable under any circumstances, it may even lessen the motivation of some in Washington to push hard on Israeli-Palestinian peace diplomacy. [That’s the bad news.]

Of course, as Washington’s general ability to wield power in the world community continues to recede, its ability to single-handedly defend Israel from having to be accountable to anyone else, including the whole rest of the world community, will also recede. The next five years should be interesting ones.

Barak: Iran not existential threat

Ehud Barak to Yediot Aharonoth:

    “I am not among those who believe Iran is an existential issue for Israel.”
    Barak said “Israel is strong, I don’t see anyone who could pose an existential threat,” although he did add that he viewed Iran as a challenge to the whole world.

(HT: Stephen Walt.)
The Reuters report linked to above takes care to note– as few US media would*– that,

    Israel is assumed to possess the only atomic arsenal in the Middle East.

I would modify that a bit. Israel’s is the only ground-based nuclear arsenal in the region that we know of. However, a portion of the US Navy vessels plying the region’s waters can also be assumed to have them.
Still, it is excellent that Barak is on the record with this statement.

* Update: But MJ Rosenberg noted this in his very informative post on the topic at TPM Cafe.

Another blunt No from Netanyahu

Netanyahu just loves to poke his finger in America’s eye… again, and again, and again…
Today, with Pres. Obama’s peace envoy George Mitchell still in Israel, Netanyahu bluntly told a key Knesset committee that “there will not be a complete freeze on settlement building and that building in Jerusalem will proceed as usual.”
The exact words, as reported by Haaretz’s Jonathan Lis, were,

    “The Palestinians expect a complete halt to building; it is now clear that this will not happen… Jerusalem is not a settlement and the building [there] will continue as normal.”

He even seemed to want to underline and mock the notable non-reaction of the Americans to all his earlier acts of defiance of their months-long campaign for a complete settlement freeze.
His taunting and his non-compliance are both outrageous. The best response from Obama is to move directly and speedily to securing the agreed delineation of final borders between Israel and the independent Palestinian state. In the West Bank, that border-line will, of course, also include one that runs through Jerusalem.
Deal with it, Netanyahu. Jerusalem does not belong only to Israel.

In 2009, as 2001: US needs Iran, Russia

On September 12, 2001, as US military planners started examining the options they had t counter-attach against Al-Qaeda and its hosts in Afghanistan, they and their colleagues in the State Department rapidly realized that if they wanted to actually topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan they’d need the help of two key nearby powers: Iran and Russia– and to a lesser extent, India.
They got the help they needed from those regional actors, and went ahead with the invasion operation.
Now, eight years later, the US/NATO forces are still in Afghanistan. And those forces are in deep trouble there. (Osama Bin Laden, btw, is still at large.)
The 95,000 US/NATO forces in Afghanistan are already significantly dependent on Russia and Iran, to be able to maintain their presence in that craggy and distant land. If their commanders are to avert the many worse catastrophes that loom there, they will need even more help from both Russia and Iran.
That is part of the essential background to the decision the State Department announced yesterday, that the US will be participating in the meeting that the Tehran government proposed Wednesday, between Iran and the P5+1 group.
Dafna Linzer of ProPublica notes at that link,

    Iran reiterated many of its previous ideas for talks while scaling back specific requests made in previous proposals [2] (PDF). Among other things, Tehran called for an end to hostilities and for talks on issues of specific concern to Iran, such as drug trafficking and security in the Middle East. Unlike previous Iranian proposals, this one does not contain a litany of past grievances with the United States and does not assert an Iranian commitment to advancing its nuclear efforts.

On Friday, Russian PM Vladimir Putin expressed his country’s clear opposition to any further escalation of outside pressure (whether sanctions or military force) against Iran.
There is now confirmation from Tel Aviv that Israeli PM Netanyahu made a secret visit to Moscow shortly before Putin announced this decision. If, as we can assume, he discussed the Iran file while there, then evidently he failed to prevent Putin from making that clear decision against escalation.
The Israeli government and its many powerful and well-organized supporters inside the US have been vigorously campaigning for all non-Iranian powers– especially the western governments– to ratchet up the level of pressure they place on Iran.
Today in Israel, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who is also Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, gave an interview to Reuters in which he seemed somewhat seriously behind the curve, still arguing that Russia and China might get on board the anti-Israel campaign.
I doubt it. Maybe it’s time for Israel and its supporters in western countries to grow up and take a realistic look at the fact that within the world community that needs to make the decision on this matter they are in a very small minority.
And quite evidently, very few people– even in the strongly pro-Israeli United States– will be in a mood to forgive Israel if its actions towards Iran put at risk the lives of 60,000 US service members in Afghanistan.

Marc Garlasco’s little “hobby”

There is a huge commotion in the blogosphere about the fact that Marc Garlasco, the senior military affairs specialist at Human Rights Watch, has long sustained a hobby of collecting and writing about Nazi memorabilia.
I’ve thought this over lot since I first learned about it yesterday. Is collecting and writing a long book about Nazi memorabilia in his spare time something an employer like Human Rights Watch ought to be concerned about?
After consideration, I say Yes.
Now, it’s true that here in the US we have very strict protections for free speech. Thus, collecting Nazi uniforms and insignia and even wearing them in public– as Garlasco apparently was in this photo— is not illegal here. (Wearing them in public would be illegal in Germany and several other places.)
But to have him doing work on human rights in the daytime, while carrying on with this intensively pursued hobby in the evening? That is bizarre, and disturbing.
Even more so when you realize that a lot of the work he has done has involved dealing with Israeli officials and citizens, and analyzing the IDF’s operations.
It would be like employing someone to do child-protection work by day who goes home and collects pictures of naked or suggestively-clad children by night. For allegedly “artistic purposes”.
As Ron Kampeas of JTA wrote about Garlasco’s very enthusiastic pursuit of his hobby, “Ewwwww.”
Now, as y’all no doubt know, I’m on the Middle East advisory committee of Human Rights Watch. And I’ve been very disturbed indeed by the attacks the young, aggressively rightwing Israeli organization NGO Monitor has launched against the work HRW has done on the IDF’s combat behavior.
But right now, I’m looking at this page on NGO Monitor’s website, and agreeing with much of what they have there on this topic.
One thing (scroll down to Footnote 1) they have is a copy of a defense of Garlasco’s actions that someone– reportedly representing HRW– has posted into several blogs in recent days.
For NGO-M to post that text is a real service, since I haven’t been able to find an HRW response anywhere else– including on their own website. (I have a request outstanding to HRW Exec. Director Ken Roth for an interview on this issue.)
That reportedly-from-HRW text concludes thus:

    Garlasco is the author of a monograph on the history of German Air Force and Army anti-aircraft medals and a contributor to websites that promote serious historical research into the Second World War (and which forbid hate speech). In the foreword he writes of telling his daughters that “the war was horrible and cruel, that Germany lost and for that we should be thankful.”
    To imply that Garlasco’s collection is evidence of Nazi sympathies is not only absurd but an attempt to deflect attention from his deeply felt efforts to uphold the laws of war and minimize civilian suffering in wartime. These falsehoods are an affront to Garlasco and thousands of other serious military historians.

Well, I’m not sure about Garlasco’s record as a “serious military historian.” By all accounts, his book, title “The Flak Badges”, seems to be an aid for collectors of such badges, not a work of serious military history.
I also share some of the concerns his critics have voiced about the actual military expertise Garlasco brought to the job at HRW, when he moved there after having worked in the Pentagon for eight years. Between 1995 and 2003 he had various jobs as a civilian employee of the Pentagon, doing military intelligence work including some work on targeting US cruise missiles.
But as I noted on JWN last year (including here), he made some serious– and very basic– mistakes during the Russian-Georgian war in identifying which country various cluster-bomb remnants came from… Even more disturbingly, perhaps, the HRW powers-that-be were frustratingly slow in correcting the incorrect accusations he originally made against Russia on this score, which were used by all the political forces in the west that were trying to mobilize public and even perhaps military support for Georgia at the time…
The crying shame of the latest revelations is, of course, that HRW is one of the most politically powerful of the numerous human-rights organizations that over the past nine months have compiled detailed documentation of the many laws-of-war violations committed by Israel (and some by Hamas) during last winter’s Israeli assault on Gaza.
So this whole series of revelations about Garlasco’s “hobby” threatens to distract a lot of attention from the well-documented claims that many excellent organizations– not just HRW– have pulled together about those violations.
And what happened to the people in Gaza last winter– and what continues to happen to them now, for goodness’ sake, as Israel still prevents them from engaging in even basic rebuilding of their shattered homes and lives– is a whole lot worse than “Ewwwww.”

500 new settlement homes in Jerusalem…

When will this end???

    Israel says it is pushing ahead with delayed plans to build almost 500 more homes for Jewish settlers in Jerusalem.
    The project is for the Pisgat Zeev settlement in annexed East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
    The announcement comes two days after Israel said it would build 450 new homes for settlers in [other parts of] the West Bank…

In GWB’s 2002 ‘Road Map’, Phase 1 was supposed to include both an Israeli settlement freeze and energetic and effective efforts by the Palestinian side to stop anti-Israel violence.
Anti-Israel violence has been just about dormant since January 18. Both the Ramallah-based PA and the Gaza-based PA have taken many energetic and effective steps to stop it.
But Israel has simply carried on with these settlement-expansion plans, saying it “might” agree to some very partial slowdown on new construction, sometime in the future.
What if the Palestinians– from either Ramallah or Gaza– said and did something similar?
What if they said, “Oh, we might agree to put some curbs on anti-Israeli violence, at some point in the future. But for now, we’re going to undertake 50 additional suicide bombings and 45 additional rocket attacks, and meanwhile let’s keep on endlessly negotiating about the freeze on anti-Israeli violence?”
Make no mistake about it, Israel’s longstanding project of implanting its own citizens as settlers into the occupied territories is also an act of great violence. The settlement project steals for the settlers land and other natural resources that rightfully belong to the Palestinians. And the whole machinery of repression that the government of Israel maintains maintain against the OPT’s rightful Palestinian residents, in order to protect the settlers, constitutes a huge edifice of ongoing structural violence, punctuated and maintained by the many acts of direct physical violence that the occupation forces take against the lives and persons of the Palestinians.
500 new settlement homes in Jerusalem? The Netanyahu government is just gleefully poking its finger in Pres. Obama’s eye.
Stephen Walt is right. It’s time to get tough.

B’tselem’s figures on Gaza assault toll

The Israeli human-rights group B’tselem today released its final report on the death toll in Gaza from the highly asymmetrical fighting of last December-January.
Their figures differ a little from those released yesterday by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
PCHR put the complete death toll among Gazans at 1,419. B’tselem put it at 1,387. That’s a difference of 32 people. The difference could perhaps be explained by what they were counting: PCHR was counting the number of Palestinians “killed during the Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip”, while B’tselem was apparently counting Palestinians killed by the Israeli security forces.
B’tselem also counted the number of Israelis killed during the 22 days of fighting:

    Palestinians killed 9 Israelis during the operation: 3 civilians and one member of the security forces by rockets fired into southern Israel, and 5 soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Another 4 soldiers were killed by friendly fire.

Given the intensity of combat operations, friendly fire deaths are not particularly surprising.
PCHR counted that 1,167 non-combatants were killed, along with 252 “resistance activists.” It specified that,

    The non-combatants include civilians and civil police officers who were not involved in hostilities, [who are] protected persons of international humanitarian law. Investigations conducted by PCHR indicate that 918 civilians were killed… The civilian victims include 318 children… and 111 women.

B’tselem, by contrast, is not quite so sure how to characterize the conbatant/non-combatant status of the police killed. They write that of those killed,

    773 did not take part in the hostilities, including 320 minors and 109 women over the age of 18. Of those killed, 330 took part in the hostilities, and 248 were Palestinian police officers, most of whom were killed in aerial bombings of police stations on the first day of the operation. For 36 people, B’Tselem could not determine whether they participated in the hostilities or not.

There is very little difference between these two reports regarding the numbers of women and children killed. The main differences are in how they distribute the adult male death among combatants and non-combatants.
The B’tselem report notes that this about the Israeli military’s claims about the Palestinian death toll:

    Israel stated that 1,166 Palestinians were killed in the operation and that 60% of them were members of Hamas and other armed groups. According to the military, a total of 295 Palestinians who were “not involved” in the fighting were killed. As the military refused to provide B’Tselem its list of fatalities, a comparison of names was not possible. However, the blatant discrepancy between the numbers is intolerable. For example, the military claims that altogether 89 minors under the age of 16 died in the operation. However, B’Tselem visited homes and gathered death certificates, photos, and testimonies relating to all 252 children under 16, and has the details of 111 women over 16 killed.

Of course, definitions and methodology are very important in such documentation. B’tselem is counting 320 “minors”, meaning presumably under the age of 18, but only 252 “children under 16”. It is also very specific about the methodology it used to verify each claimed death of a minor.
I dare say that when we see the final report in English from PCHR, they too will be specific about the methodology they used. I have great respect for the careful work and documentary objectivity of the PCHR, which is Palestinian and operates under extremely difficult circumstances from its downtown Gaza headquarters. I would imagine that its researchers have the opportunity to do even more meticulous fieldwork than that done by B’tselem, which is based in Jerusalem and has faced many obstacles placed by the Israeli authorities in being able to get its research teams into Gaza.
I was just looking at this news article by AP’s Karin Laub today. It is built around B’tselem’s release of its report.
I really question why she gave such prominence to that report, while making only a fleeting reference to PCHR’s work and not even mentioning it by name? Is it because she is in based in Jerusalem, or because she is reluctant to give any credence to the work of a Palestinian organization?
Anyway, the big discrepancies are not between the reporting of B’tselem and PCHR, but rather those between the reporting of these human-rights groups and the Israeli military.
Especially as regards the numbers of deaths of minors.
Laub reported that,

    The military said Wednesday that it believes B’Tselem’s findings are based on flawed research, including reliance on what it said are exaggerated death tolls by Palestinian human rights groups.

This is a serious libel.
Quite clearly, B’tselem has met that (quite evidently fabricated) “concern” by explicating the time-consuming and sometimes actually dangerous methodology it used in the case of reported deaths of minors.
And what “methodology” did the Israeli military use in its compilation of its numbers.

Sweden, and the Israel-linked organs story

I realize I’m coming into the Israel-linked organ-trafficking story late. But my old editors at the CSM always stressed the value of working assiduously at a story to get it done as well as possible rather than rushing in under the illusion you can write a satisfactory “first draft of history” within the confines of a 24-hour news cycle. And I’m still working at this one… Mostly, at this point, gathering and assessing sources.
One of the ongoing diplomatic dimensions to this story has been the tension that arose between the Israeli and Swedish governments after Swedish journo Donald Bostrom published his controversial article (English translation here) recounting the many allegations Palestinians and others made back in 1987-92 that the bodies of young Palestinians who were shot dead in those years were taken by the IDF forces back into Israel where they were stripped of many transplantable organs before being returned, hastily sewn back up along the mid-line, for speedy burial by their families.
The Israeli government screamed that the article was a “blood libel” and demanded that the Swedish government “condemn” it. The Swedish government replied, unsurprisingly, that it would not take an action that would violate the country’s free-speech traditions in such a way.
Sweden took over the presidency of the EU in July. Several observers noted that the Israeli government’s salvo of harsh accusations against Sweden over the Bostrom article may also have been a shot across the bow, in an attempt to “warn” the Swedish government off from undertaking any meaningful EU activism on the Palestine issue for the rest of its six-month presidency.
Yesterday, indeed, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, the internationally renowned diplomatic “rock star” Carl Bildt, announced he was canceling a planned visit to Israel.
Most Israeli sources and commentators speculated that this was because of Bildt’s embarrassment at the prospect of protests against him over the Bostrom article. The Swedish foreign ministry’s statement said “he’s waiting for the right opportunity to do it when the peace process is maybe in a more positive state.” Which seems at least as plausible, given the outrageously provocative steps the Netanyahu government has taken over the past few days.
Anyway, back on the Israel-and-organs story…
In addition to the two I referred to in this blog post Saturday (J. Cook and Shraga Elam), I’m now looking at two more:

Both of them use– and provide links for– a lot more very valuable material.
Woodward gives an excerpt from, and a link to, the very informative testimony on the worldwide market in often illegaly trafficked organs that UC Berkeley prof. Nancy Scheper-Hughes gave to a congressional committee in June 2001.
Her prepared statement starts at p.62 there.
Scheper-Hughes is one of the founders of the Organs Watch project, which has been tracking the international traffic in human organs and tissues since the late 1990s. In the hearing, which was convened originally to examine China’s role in harvesting the organs of executed prisoners, she makes clear that Israeli doctors and medical institutions are significant actors in the global market in human organs.
I became intrigued by the role Scheper-Hughes played in the most recent (end-of-July) arrest in New Jersey of Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum. In this July 24 article in the NY Daily News, Michael Daly wrote,

    Rosenbaum’s name, address and even phone number were passed to an FBI agent [in 2002] in a meeting at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan by a prominent anthropologist who has been studying and documenting organ trafficking for more than a decade.
    Nancy Scheper-Hughes of the University of California, Berkeley, was and is very clear as to Rosenbaum’s role in the ring.
    “He is the main U.S. broker for an international trafficking network,” she said.
    Her sources include a man who started working with Rosenbaum imagining he was helping people in desperate need. The man then began to see the donors, or to be more accurate, sellers, who were flown in from impoverished countries such as Moldova.
    “He said it was awful. These people would be brought in and they didn’t even know what they were supposed to be doing and they would want to go home and they would cry,” Scheper-Hughes said.
    The man called Rosenbaum “a thug” who would pull out a pistol he was apparently licensed to carry and tell the sellers, “You’re here. A deal is a deal. Now, you’ll give us a kidney or you’ll never go home.’ ”
    Scheper-Hughes felt she had to stop Rosenbaum. She met with the FBI.
    “I always thought of it as my Dick Tracy moment,” she said Thursday.
    She waited and waited for something to be done. The FBI may have been following the lead of the State Department, which dismissed organ trafficking as “urban legend.”
    “It would be impossible to conceal a clandestine organ trafficking ring,” a 2004 State Department report stated.
    Scheper-Hughes had better luck in Brazil and in South Africa, where law enforcement corroborated her findings and acted decisively…

Scheper-Hughes strikes me as an exemplary individual. She has been working hard to try to expand the role that anthropologists can play as socially activist public intellectuals.
Her work on the Israel case also, it strikes me, helps us to make sense of the many different episodes of human-body abuse that have been reported out of Israel.
She has also been one of the leaders of the international effort to ban “transplant tourism” and to draw up the 2008 Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism, which stated the following:

    The Istanbul Declaration proclaims that the poor who sell their organs are being exploited, whether by richer people within their own countries or by transplant tourists from abroad. Moreover, transplant tourists risk physical harm by unregulated and illegal transplantation. Participants in the Istanbul Summit concluded that transplant commercialism, which targets the vulnerable, transplant tourism, and organ trafficking should be prohibited. And they also urged their fellow transplant professionals, individually and through their organizations, to put an end to these unethical activities and foster safe, accountable practices that meet the needs of transplant recipients while protecting donors.
    Countries from which transplant tourists originate, as well as those to which they travel to obtain transplants, are just beginning to address their respective responsibilities to protect their people from exploitation and to develop national self-sufficiency in organ donation. The Declaration should reinforce the resolve of governments and international organizations to develop laws and guidelines to bring an end to wrongful practices. “The legacy of transplantation is threatened by organ trafficking and transplant tourism. The Declaration of Istanbul aims to combat these activities and to preserve the nobility of organ donation. The success of transplantation as a life-saving treatment does not require—nor justify—victimizing the world’s poor as the source of organs for the rich” (Steering Committee of the Istanbul Summit).

Anyway, there are a lot more dimensions to this story that I want to look at. I see that Wikipedia already has a lengthy and very informative page on the Aftonbladet-Israel controversy, as they call it. I think I’ll spend a bit of time over there now.