Israel Lobby News: The other special relationship
- The other special relationship
Seen as an honest-broker in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Canada has become one of Israel's most fervent supporters.
Fault Lines Last Modified: 02 Dec 2010 10:42 GMT
In Canada, a high-stakes battle is being waged between a powerful pro-Israel lobby close to the conservative government, and a growing Palestinian solidarity movement that calls Israel an apartheid state that should be subject to boycott, divestment and sanctions.
But there is one point on which both sides agree: over the past five or six years, Canada has become one of Israel's most fervent supporters on the world stage.
What are the implications for a country that has traditionally been seen as more of an honest-broker in the Israel-Palestinian conflict than the US, its more powerful neighbour to the south?
On this episode of Fault Lines, Avi Lewis opens a window into the debate over Canada-Israel: The other special relationship.
See the video here:
Israel recruits citizen advocates in Europe
'Allies and friends' will promote government policy to press and public meetings as part of fresh PR drive
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 November 2010 15.19 GMT
Israel has instructed its embassies in 10 European countries, including the UK, each to recruit 1,000 members of the public to act as advocates for its policies in a new public relations offensive.
A cable from the foreign affairs ministry was sent to embassies last week, with instructions from Avigdor Lieberman, the controversial and extreme right-wing foreign minister, to adopt a range of measures aimed at improving Israel's standing in Europe.
The most unusual was the order to identify up to 1,000 people by mid-January to act as "allies" to Israel. One source described them as "friends who are willing not just to receive messages but to actively promote these messages". These individuals – likely to be drawn from Jewish or Christian activists, academics, journalists and students – will be briefed regularly by Israeli officials and encouraged to speak up for Israel at public meetings or write letters or articles for the press.
Five European capitals have also been identified for a more conventional PR push. Israeli embassies in London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid and Rome will receive funds to hire professional PR firms and lobbyists.
PR companies will be asked to focus on political messages, such as: Israel's position on talks with the Palestinians; subjects which can help "brand" Israel, such as tourism and technology; and regional issues to which Israel wishes to draw attention, such as human rights in Iran or Arab countries.
The foreign affairs ministry also suggested that embassies across Europe organise monthly high-profile public events to promote Israel and its government's policies, and visits to Israel for influential individuals. Lieberman is planning to meet ambassadors to European countries next month to push the new PR offensive.
An Israeli official refused to comment on the disclosure but said: "Obviously we are always looking for ways to improve our communications, there's nothing unusual in that," adding: "There is anxiety about the way Israel is perceived abroad, and there is particular worry about certain countries in western Europe."
Israel has previously launched drives to improve its image through hasbara – literally meaning explanation, although alternatively interpreted as public diplomacy, spin or propaganda. During its three-week war on Gaza, which began in December 2008, Israel launched a PR strategy through its national information directorate to co-ordinate key messages on a daily basis.
The Israeli government, military and various embassies are adept at using social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to promote material. Organisations such as Bicom, the Britain Israel Communications Research Centre, in the UK and the Israel Project in the US, which describe themselves as independent, are dedicated to promoting Israeli policies. Both organisations offer regular briefings, contacts and tours to foreign correspondents based in Israel and Palestine, and all-expenses paid trips to Israel for journalists, including from the Guardian, based elsewhere.
Other countries undertake similar PR drives. Rwanda hired the London-based company Racepoint to feed positive stories to the media. Bell Pottinger, headed by Lord Bell, a former adviser to Lady Thatcher, represents Sri Lanka and Madagascar.
Meanwhile, the Israeli cabinet today approved a plan to build a huge detention centre capable of holding up to 10,000 illegal immigrants and refugees near its border with Egypt. Israel began building a fence along the border earlier this month. The population and immigration authority has said between 1,200 and 1,500 people, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, have crossed the border each month this year, compared to 300 per month last year. "There is a swelling wave threatening Israeli jobs, a wave of illegal migrants that we must stop because of the harsh implications for Israel's character," Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told the cabinet today.
Also today, Major-General Uri Bar-Lev, the top policeman being investigated for alleged sexual assault and rape, said he was withdrawing his candidacy to become Israel's police commissioner and taking an unspecified time of leave.
AIPAC: Fighting for survival
With the flailing lobby distracted by a legal battle with a former employee, peace may just have a chance.
MJ Rosenberg Last Modified: 20 Nov 2010 11:00 GMT
The latest Aipac (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) scandal has not found its way into the mainstream media, although the Jewish media has done a great job in highlighting this very explosive story. (LATE UPDATE: The Washington Post is now reporting on the story.)
The good news is that it does not much matter whether the New York Times runs the story or not. The Rosen vs. Aipac case is grinding its way through the courts and could well destroy the lobby without ever making its way on to the front page. Aipac is under siege, and is spending millions to stay alive. But that will not be easy - even if Steve Rosen ultimately accepts a payoff from the organisation and refrains from telling what he knows.
There is no need to recapitulate the story here. Nathan Guttman in the Forward explains it well. The bottom line is that Steve Rosen, Aipac's former #2 guy, who was indicted under the Espionage Act and then fired, is now suing the organisation for $20mn.
Ironically, the organisation spent $4.5mn to save their former employee from imprisonment (and more money than that to save itself). In the end, the government dropped the case probably because it believed it would not prevail in court, especially with Aipac's buddies in congress breathing down the justice department's neck.
Nonetheless, Rosen, off the legal hook, was furious. How could Aipac have fired him when, in the end, the government could not prove its case? His life was in tatters thanks to being terminated, in his opinion, without cause.
Aipac argues it had cause. In fact, in a 2008 New York Times story, it stated that Rosen was fired because his behaviour "did not comport with standards that Aipac expects of its employees".
But Rosen maintains that everything he did, or was accused of doing, was standard operating procedure for Aipac. It fired him not because he did anything of which Aipac disapproved, but as a peace offering to the government: take Rosen and leave us alone.
I doubt there is a single person who knows Rosen and/or Aipac who does not believe Rosen is telling the truth about simply doing his job. I know Rosen and I know Aipac. And if there is any daylight between the two, I have never seen it.
Unfortunately for Aipac, Rosen has 180 documents which could prove that Howard Kohr, Aipac's executive director, and probably the Aipac board as well, knew exactly what Rosen was doing. Worse, Rosen is now in court demanding that Aipac pay him $20mn or he will release everything he has.
The ugliest aspect of the case so far is that Aipac has decided to win by destroying Rosen personally. I have no use for the guy and consider him to have been, in his time, instrumental in helping to destroy Israel's chances at achieving peace with the Palestinians. Rosen was so effective as a peace-wrecker that in 1992 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin himself told Aipac to fire Rosen. He did not want Rosen to be in a position to thwart Israel's efforts to make peace with its neighbours. In the years since, he has been a key advocate of war with Iraq and, even now despite his disgrace, is an agitator for war with Iran. He is also an extreme Islamophobe, now teamed with Daniel Pipes at his anti-Muslim hate organisation.
Nonetheless, I think Aipac's game here is pretty despicable. Desperate that its true modus operandi not be revealed, Aipac has set out to silence Rosen by exposing his sexual activities. (Rosen notes, in response, that Howard Kohr is no choir boy either.) This is causing great merriment throughout Washington, but the merriment should not just be over the "dirty parts".
Cause for celebration
There is great cause for celebration in Aipac's fight to stave off extinction because a bleeding, flailing Aipac is far less dangerous than an Aipac riding high (which is where it usually rides).
Here is what Aipac would like to be devoting its energies and financial resources to right now. One, making sure that President Obama is unable to pressure Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to freeze settlements and move to final status negotiations. And, two, boxing the president in so that he has no choice but to either strike Iran's nuclear facilities or, more likely, let Israel do it. In fact, it is already planning its huge spring "policy conference," slated to be devoted to warmongering over Iran followed by congressional passage of Aipac-drafted Iran-must-be-stopped resolutions.
These are immense undertakings and they take lots of money and lots of time.
But, thanks to Rosen, Aipac is spending $10mn of its donors' money on legal fees. Its top people are working with lawyers virtually nonstop. And the whole place is in the grips of fear - fear that one former employee who has the goods on Aipac will bring the whole house down.
Fighting for its life was not what Aipac expected to be doing in 2011. But that is precisely what it will be doing, taking precious time away from its regular agenda.
At long last, Aipac, in its own way, is giving peace a chance. Congress may just have to start figuring out the Middle East on its own.
MJ Rosenberg is a senior foreign policy fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
The Israel lobby's shame
The Israel lobby has many detractors for a host of reasons, but their actions have actually caused great harm to Israel.
MJ Rosenberg Last Modified: 09 Oct 2010 20:14 GMT
Reading David Grossman's To The End Of The Land led me to wonder why J Street is lambasted for accepting support from George Soros while the "pro-Israel" lobby is never called upon to account for supporting policies that have produced so much grief and mourning in Israel.
I won't reveal the plot. It's fiction but, as is well-known, Grossman's 20 year-old son, Uri, was killed during the 2006 war in Lebanon. I am not giving anything away when I say that this would not be the same book if Uri had come home from that war.
But the book is not only about war. It is about the choking reality of a day-to-day situation in which Palestinians and Israelis are both suffocated by occupation.
So why doesn't Israel just end the occupation for its own sake? Why not accept the Arab League (formerly Saudi) Initiative and achieve peace with all its neighbours out of self-interest? It won't be easy, but the wars and the occupation are harder.
Why not just choose the risks of peace over the far greater risks of war so that kids like Uri Grossman don't have to die?
We all know the answer. Politics.
As in the United States, the right and the left played "Capture the Flag" and the right won. The safe position is to be a hawk, no matter how many die as a result of right-wing policies.
Uri Grossman was killed after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected a cease-fire that the United States urged him to accept. Olmert was under pressure due to a corruption scandal and needed to look tough. He not only rejected the cease-fire, he ginned up the "pro-Israel" lobby here to make sure no member of Congress endorsed it. Those who did quickly found themselves under siege.
The Israelis should have accepted the cease-fire because the additional fighting gained them absolutely nothing. And, a few days later, they did accept it with the only difference being that Israel lost an additional 24 soldiers. Uri Grossman was killed on the very last day of the war.
I wonder if the "pro-Israel" organisations in the United States have any regrets about their efforts to keep the war going. They call themselves "pro-Israel" and yet the policies they support without deviation invariably lead to more bereaved Israeli families like Uri Grossman's.
The status quo lobby is almost always wrong. Back in 1971, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat offered Israel peace in exchange for an IDF pull-back of two miles from the banks of the Suez Canal. But the Israeli government, and the lobby here, didn't like that deal. They wanted the whole Sinai, right up to the Canal. Sadat said: either give us the two miles through negotiation or we will take the whole Sinai back through war.
And two years later, in the Yom Kippur War, the Egyptians crossed the canal and within days Israel had lost 3,000 soldiers. Israel held on to the Sinai but, when Sadat offered peace again, Israel took him up on his offer.
In 1979, the entire Sinai was returned to Egypt. The bottom line: had Israel and its backers here not rebuffed Sadat in 1971, 3,000 Israeli lives would have been preserved.
Nine years after the Yom Kippur war, the lobby enthusiastically backed the disastrous Lebanon war, which produced another thousand Israeli dead, the massacre of thousands of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila, and led directly to the creation of Hezbollah which now essentially runs Lebanon. (The Israeli government had already used its considerable power in the occupied territories to successfully advance Hamas, which it assumed would stick to praying rather than pursue an agreement based on territorial compromise like the PLO.)
And today the lobby is working with the U.S. and Israeli governments to defend Israel's rejection of a 60-day settlement freeze. The latest is that Dennis Ross, formerly of the AIPAC-created Washington Institute for Near East Policy and now the top Middle East guy at the White House, has put a whole goodie bag of US concessions on the table if only Israel will accept a one-time freeze.
The lobby without fail supports Israeli positions designed to evade peace while extracting whatever it can from the United States. The US looks like a sap but Israel pays a much higher price in lost opportunities — and lives.
And here's the thing. The lobby never feels any need to apologise for any of its disastrous errors. Thousands of Israelis have been killed as a result of policies the lobby has supported, but it sails on, never looking back, and always labelling anyone who opposes the status quo "anti-Israel."
Instead, it is J Street that is attacked for accepting money from George Soros, whose sole goal in backing J Street was to prevent more killing.
So why is the lobby so brazen and unapologetic? I think I know why. Guilt.
They will never admit it, but the "pro-Israel" hawks know that they have played a significant role in preventing Israeli-Palestinian peace. They know the damage their policies have done. They know that despite calling themselves "pro-Israel," the results of their work are anything but.
And that guilt makes them obsess over J Street. They are ashamed.
MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.