Setting the Record Straight about Israel’s New NGO Law (The Times of Israel, 14 July 2016)

A law recently passed by the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) on the funding of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) has been criticized as undemocratic by European and American commentators and decision-makers (such as the US State Department and the European Commission).  Yet the new Israeli law is actually similar to, and even milder than, US legislation on NGOs.

The law requires that Israeli NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from “foreign political entities” (i.e. foreign governments) make that information public whenever they lobby elected Israeli officials and whenever they publish their reports.  The law does not restrict the activities of NGOs, nor does it limit the amount of money they can receive from foreign governments. Rather, the bill enables Israeli lawmakers to know whether they are being lobbied by an organization acting on behalf of foreign governments. NGOs whose funding is mostly governmental can hardly claim to be “non-governmental” and to not promote the agenda of the governments that fund them (indeed, NGOs that receive money from the European Commission are compelled to promote the policies and principles of the European Union).

The transparency introduced by the law is necessary because in recent years the extent of European involvement in Israeli politics via NGOs has reached unprecedented levels. Both the European Commission and European governments donate dozens of millions of euros every year to Israeli NGOs that influence Israel’s decision-making and that affect Israel’s international standing. Some of these NGOs are active in the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) campaign; some support the so-called Palestinian right of return (which is incompatible with the two-state solution); some petition Israel’s High Court of Justice to amend laws passed by the Knesset.  In 2009, European-funded Israeli NGOs actively testified to the Goldstone Commission, whose final report accused Israel of intentionally committing war crimes during its military operation in Gaza (an accusation later retracted by Judge Richard Goldstone himself).

Trying to influence the policy of other governments is legitimate.  Indeed, this is what diplomacy is about.  But it should be done openly and via traditional diplomatic channels.  Making it known that certain NGOs area actually governmental and act on behalf of governments does not constitute an infringement upon the freedom of speech and action of those NGOs or upon their ability to raise money.  Precisely because governments, as opposed to private individuals, have the actual political power and tools to influence other governments, it is perfectly legitimate to expose them when they try to hide behind NGOs.

Other democracies rightly demand such transparency, too.  The U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires agents who lobby on behalf of foreign donors to register with the Department of Justice, and to report their activities and finances. The purpose of FARA is to prevent the deception of U.S. lawmakers by lobbyists who actually act on behalf of foreign interests in order to influence U.S. policy making and legislation. Lobbyists who do not comply with FARA can be severely punished. In March 2012, for example, Kashmir-born U.S. lobbyist Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai was sentenced to two years of imprisonment by a U.S. court for not reporting a $3.5 million donation from the Pakistani government.

Some claim that FARA applies equally to all foreign funding (i.e. both foreign governments and private foreign donors).  This might be true in theory, but certainly not in practice.   Prof. Eugene Kontorovich from Northwestern University and the Kohelet Policy Forum (a think tank) has examined the list of all people and organizations registered as foreign agents in the United States under FARA.  In almost all cases, these were agents of foreign governments, of political parties, and of government agencies. Only in rare cases are foreign donors private people, and when they are these are generally politicians.

US legislators, however, recently made things clear about the uniqueness of donations from foreign governments.  In January 2015, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that requires from witnesses appearing in a nongovernmental capacity to disclose any contracts or payments originating with a foreign government (the new Israeli law, by contrast, only requires such disclosure when more than 50% of the budget of NGOs comes from foreign governments).  Those who claim that Israel’s NGO law is unfair because it focuses on disclosing foreign government funding (and not private foreign funding) for Israeli NGOs should make the same claim about the 2015 House of Representatives resolution.

Also in Europe, NGOs that receive public money are expected to fully disclose their finances.  The Council of Europe (an international organization founded in 1949 to promote democracy and human rights) published a memorandum in December 2008 on “The Legal Status of Non-Governmental Organizations in Europe.”  The memorandum states that “NGOs which have been granted any form of public support can be required each year to submit reports on their accounts and an overview of their activities to a designated supervising body” (Art. 62) and that “NGOs which have been granted any form of public support can be required to have their accounts audited by an institution or person independent of their management” (Art. 65).

Just like US legislation and European guidelines, the new Israeli law is meant to guarantee the transparency of NGO funding.  Comparing Israel’s new law with Russian legislation is absurd.  Russian laws on NGOs do infringe upon their freedom.  The 2015 Russian law allows the government to prosecute NGOs deemed “undesirable” by the government on national security grounds.  Individuals working for NGOs arbitrarily declared “undesirable” by the government can be jailed for up to six years.

The new Israeli law does not infringe upon the freedom of NGOs.  It introduces an overdue transparency that is justifiably enforced in the United States and in Europe.  Israeli members of Knesset who claim that the law should apply not only to the donations of foreign governments but to any foreign donation are welcome to amend the law.  Until they do, partial transparency is preferable to no transparency at all.


The Israeli Case against Brexit (The Times of Israel, 22 June 2016)

The upcoming referendum in Britain on European Union (EU) membership has raised little interest in Israel.  Yet “Brexit” (British exit from the EU) would have far-reaching international consequences, including on Israel itself.  Some voices in Israel have expressed support for Brexit.  They generally make three points: a. Since the EU funds left-wing NGOs, Palestinian construction in Area C, and since it labels Israeli products from settlements, any setback for the EU is welcome; b. Europe’s populist parties are anti-Europe and since they also claim to be pro-Israel, then obviously breaking-up the EU must be a good idea; c. The EU endangers national sovereignty and so anyone who cares about a sovereign Jewish state should oppose the EU.  All three arguments are baseless, nonsensical, and uninformed.

Before I explain why, allow me a short historical reminder.

The original founders of the EU project were conservatives and free-marketers.  Winston Churchill called for a “United States of Europe” in September 1946 to neutralize the German threat, which he had identified and fought more than anyone else.  For him, this was the only way to prevent the return to historical dynamics that had produced two world wars.  Classical liberal economists such as Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises supported the idea of a federal Europe after World War Two because they considered it a condition for the promotion of free-trade among protectionist-minded nations.

The founding fathers of today’s EU in 1951 (it was called ECSC then) were Christian democrats (meaning, conservatives): Robert Schuman (France), Konrad Adenauer (West Germany), and Alcide De Gasperi (Italy).  They wanted to keep both radical nationalism and communism at bay.  As for France, it wanted to tie the German Gulliver to the rest of Western Europe by creating a common market for coal and for steel (ECSC stands for “European Coal and Steel Community”).

When Charles de Gaulle came back to power in France in 1958, he pursued historical reconciliation with Germany and tried to turn the European Economic Community (or EEC, which replaced the ECSC in 1957) into a platform that would guarantee France’s political predominance in Europe.  Precisely because Britain would have challenged this predominance, de Gaulle vetoed twice (in 1963 and in 1967) Britain’s bid to join the EEC.  Back then, France was indeed politically dominant in Europe.  Not so today.  A united Germany (since 1991) with its formidable economy is now the leading European power.  Hence the importance of Britain’s membership in today’s Europe.  If de Gaulle were France’s president today, he would certainly no longer oppose British membership.  Whoever is familiar with European history understands why Britain constitutes a necessary counterweight to Germany in Europe.  No wonder the French are so anxious about the prospect of Brexit.

After all, the French conceived the idea of the Euro as an answer to Germany’s reunification in 1991.  In 1951, France tied Germany to Europe via coal and steel; in 1991 it did so with a single currency.  Margaret Thatcher was indeed opposed to Jacques Delors’ federalist moves and to François Mitterrand’s single currency.  But she was in favor of a European Community that would promote free trade (just like Hayek) and keep Germany in check (just like Churchill).  Indeed, Thatcher campaigned for Britain to remain in the EEC in the 1975 referendum (this week’s referendum in not the first).  Hence was her influence over European policy makers so crucial, and hence is Britain’s membership a must today in order to a make sure that the EU remains a free market that does not unduly infringe upon national sovereignty.

Today, Britain’s EU membership is critical not only to keep Germany in check, but also to ensure that Europe is united against Russian gangsterism.  Vladimir Putin is trying very hard to undo the geopolitical achievements to which Margaret Thatcher so contributed, namely the extension of the EU and of NATO to eastern Europe.  What started with Chechnya, with Crimea, and with eastern Ukraine will continue with the Baltic states, with Poland and with Romania if Europe does not display resolve and unity.  And an EU without Britain will be less principled and less determined.  It is no coincidence that Putin funds Europe’s populist parties that call for the dismantling of the EU.  Brexit would constitute a victory for Putin and a setback for the legacy of Winston Churchill and of Margaret Thatcher.

Israel has an in interest in preserving this legacy, because its geopolitical alternative is the unchecked empowerment of Russia and of Germany.  As Winston Churchill warned, one should never underestimate the danger “of the vain passion of a newly united Germany.”  As for Russia, it provided nuclear technology to Iran, it is the guardian of the Shia Iran-Assad-Hezbollah axis, and it aspires to dominate eastern Europe again.  Europe’s populist parties that are supported by Putin are against free trade and against the pro-American foreign policy of European conservatives.  Israelis who have developed a sympathy syndrome for those parties are entitled to do so, but then they shouldn’t call themselves conservatives or classic liberals.

Pro-Brexit Israelis should also come to their senses and realize that the likes of Peace Now and Adalah will not go bankrupt after the EU loses one member.  No EU member recognizes Israeli sovereignty beyond the green line, and Brexit will not change that.  Brexit will have no impact on the EU’s Middle East policy (although, as explained above, it will have dreadful geopolitical implications that will negatively affect Israel).

Israelis who support Brexit in the name of national sovereignty are mistaken as well.  The EU is not incompatible with national sovereignty, quite the contrary.  It is a fact that members can pull out whenever they want (as Britain might decide to do so this week).  And with all the hot air produced by the European Parliament and the bureaucracy of the European Commission, at the end truly important decisions are made by national governments (such as the decision to take in nearly a million Syrian refugees, a decision that was made by the German Chancellor and not by the President of the European Commission).  And precisely because the EU provides a supra-national structure, it makes nations that want to secede more confident.  The Czechs and Slovaks separated into two distinct nation-states in 1993, and both states joined the EU in 2004.  The Scots would unlikely have sought independence in 2014 without the geopolitical and economic security provided by the EU.

There is a lot to fix and improve about the EU.  Britain has been instrumental in keeping the EU in check and it must continue to do so.  Ultimately, though, the EU constitutes an unparalleled geopolitical achievement that put an end to wars between Germany and France, as well as an economic achievement that has institutionalized free-trade among protectionist-minded nations.  The Jews suffered from the old Europe, and the Jewish state has nothing to gain from a return to Europe’s old ways.


Desmond Tutu is Wrong about Marwan Barghouti (The Times of Israel, 14 June 2016)

By recommending Marwan Barghouti for the Peace Nobel Prize, Archbishop Desmond Tutu made two mistakes: firstly, by comparing the struggle of the Palestinians to that of South Africa’s Blacks; secondly, by depicting Barghouti as a peace-loving freedom fighter.

The Dutch and British colonists in South Africa were the subjects of empires that sent them to settle foreign lands on their behalf.  The Jews who resettled in their historic homeland at the end of the nineteenth century did so to gain the rights and the freedom they were denied in their host countries.  They were not sent by powers; they fled powerlessness.  The Blacks in South Africa were indigenous.  The Arabs of the Ottoman Sanjaks of Jerusalem and Beirut were themselves former colonizers: they came from Arabia, and in the 7th century conquered Jerusalem from the Byzantines.  Under Ottoman rule, there was no Palestine: this Latin word was chosen by the Romans after they destroyed the Province of Judea in 135 CE, and it was reintroduced by the League of Nations with the dismembering of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.

The Mandates established by the League on Nations (roughly along the lines of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement) were artificial: there were no Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian peoples, but Arabs (many of them nomads), Kurds, Jews and other populations that became separated by new borders designed by Britain and France.  In British Palestine, both Arabs and Jews were under foreign rule and both aspired to statehood.  Precisely because the two nations had competing and incompatible claims over the same territory, partition was proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 and by the United Nations (UN) in 1947.  In both instances, the Jewish leadership accepted partition and the Arab leadership rejected it.

The UN plan of 1947 proposed the partition of British Palestine between a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state” (and not of a “Palestinian state” since no one had ever heard of a Palestinian people at the time).  Six Arab armies attacked the newly proclaimed State of Israel to prevent the implementation of the UN proposal.  The 1949 armistice agreements partitioned the former British Mandate de facto, though not along the lines proposed by the UN.  This de facto partition was between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.  Rather than establishing a “Palestinian state” in the territories they had conquered from the former British Mandate, and which they controlled for eighteen years (between 1949 and 1967), Jordan and Egypt kept those territories for themselves (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively).

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established in 1964, three years before Israel took control of the West Bank and of the Gaza Strip.  What the PLO meant by “liberation” was the elimination of pre-1967 Israel.  Its purpose was not to implement partition, but to undo it.  Only in 1988 did Yassir Arafat equivocally endorse, for the first time, the principle of partition.  When he was offered a state on 92% of the West Bank in July 2000 by Ehud Barak and on 96% of the West Bank in December 2000 by Bill Clinton, he said no.  As for Mahmoud Abbas, he did not respond to an even more far-reaching offer by Ehud Olmert in September 2008.

So blaming Israel, and Israel alone, for the Palestinians’ statelessness flies in the face of historical facts and of intellectual integrity.  As for Marwan Barghouthi, is he fighting for a two-state solution or for the elimination of Israel?  Here again, Archbishop Tutu should check his facts.

Barghouti has declared many times (e.g. in a statement issued on May 15, 2014) that there shall be no peace with Israel without the “right of return.”  What the Palestinians mean by the “right of return” is that the descendants from the 700,000 Palestinians refugees of 1948 (which UNWRA estimates at 5 million today) should be entitled to become Israeli residents and citizens.  Besides having no basis in international law and no precedent in history, such a “right” is incompatible with the two-state solution, since its implementation would turn pre-1967 Israel into a binational state with an Arab majority.  In a two-state model, each nation-state absorbs its own refugees, just as Israel did with many of the 900,000 Jewish refugees expelled from Arab and Muslim countries in the 1950s.  Clearly, Barghouti’s struggle continues to deny the Jews’ right to their own nation-state.

Barghouti was the leader of the military wing of the Al-Aqsa Brigades, which carried out thousands of deadly attacks (including suicide bombings) against Israeli civilians. These deadly attacks included the murder of a Greek Orthodox monk on June 12, 2001; the murder of six Israelis during a bar-mitzvah celebration on January 7, 2002; the murder of three Israelis in a shooting spree at a Tel-Aviv restaurant on March 5, 2002.  Barghouti was also directly responsible for operating the terrorist cell of Raed Karmi in Tulkarem, which carried out many deadly attacks against Israeli civilians.

As Alan Bauer, the victim of a terrorist attack masterminded by Barghouti, wrote to President Obama in March 2014: “We cannot re-wind the clock and make the injuries and suffering disappear; the one thing we can do is to pursue justice and to do everything in our power to prevent terrorists from striking again.”  Archbishop Tutu would be well-advised to ponder those words.


My Advice to French Diplomacy (The Times of Israel, 15 May 2016)

There is something symbolic about the fact that Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s foreign minister, visited Israel to promote his peace initiative on the day commemorated by the Palestinians as the Nakba (the “catastrophe” of Israel’s independence on May 15, 1948).  In the Palestinian national psyche, the true historical scar is the loss of lands and homes in 1948, not Israel’s seizure of the West Bank and of the Gaza Strip in 1967.  Yet Mr. Ayrault, like most of his Western colleagues, insists that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved by solely addressing the outcome of the 1967 war.

When Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed a Declaration of Principles in September 1993, they left open the questions of Jerusalem and of the refugees precisely because no agreement could be reached on those thorny issues.  When Jerusalem and the refugees were addressed and negotiated at Camp David in July 2000, and after the Annapolis Conference of November 2007, the gap between Israel and the Palestinians remained unbridgeable and unresolved.

The rejection by Yasser Arafat of Ehud Barak’s proposal in July 2000 and of the Clinton parameters in December 2000, and Mahmoud Abbas’ lack of response to Ehud Olmert’s September 2008 offer, have made Israelis distrustful of the Palestinian leadership (thus dealing a fatal blow to the Israeli left).  And when Israelis look around their neighborhood today, they have good reasons to wonder what is the logic of creating another failed Arab state at their doorstep.

The implosion of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen have not only confirmed the artificiality of the post-World War One Arab states carved out of the Ottoman Empire by Britain and France.  They have also removed two formerly threatening armies from Israel’s northern and eastern fronts (Syria and Iraq).    In Egypt, the Islamic regime of Mohamed Morsi was replaced in 2014 by that of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi –thus restoring the “cold peace” and security cooperation between Israel and Egypt.  The self-proclaimed “Caliphate” of the Islamic State is still spreading mayhem around the Middle East despite nearly two years of US-led airstrikes.  The growing regional clout of Iran has forged tacit alliances between Israel and Sunni monarchies.  Meanwhile, plunging oil prices have weakened Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

Just like Richelieu’s France during the Thirty Years War, Israel can sit back and build unholy alliances as its enemies are killing each other.  In today’s Middle East, Israel has every reason to play for time.  Except, that is, when it comes to demography.  And this is where Jean-Marc Ayrault and his colleagues can play a constructive role.

The conventional wisdom of European diplomacy is that Israel should accept the so-called “Arab Peace Initiative.”  Yet this initiative is as clear-cut on the territorial issue (Israel is expected to withdraw from every inch of land conquered in 1967, something that is not even required by UN Security Resolution 242) as it is vague on the question of refugees (it calls for a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem, which the Palestinians interpret as a “right of return” within Israel).  If American and European diplomats want to make themselves useful and credible, they need to be equally explicit about both the territory and the refugee issues: if Israel is to abandon the West Bank, the Palestinians are to abandon the “right of return.”

Were the US and the EU to officially endorse this trade-off, Israel would have better reasons to consider a partial disengagement from the West Bank for its own demographic interest, but on the condition that the US and the EU commit to endorse a modified and more viable status quo so long as the Palestinians refuse to abandon the “right of return.”  Such trade-off will not solve the conflict, but it might give Israel an incentive to act and it might convince the Palestinians that the era of diplomatic free rides is over.  Short of such modest yet potentially far-reaching paradigm shift, Mr. Ayrault will once again confirm the French saying: “Plus ça change, et plus c’est la même chose.”

Meir Dagan Was Right About Netanyahu (The Times of Israel, 21 March 2016)

As former Mossad chief Meir Dagan was laid to rest, his last speech kept resonating in my mind.  Addressing a public event at Rabin Square shortly before the Knesset elections of March 2015, Dagan looked frail, having undergone liver transplant.  He could not hide his emotion, betrayed by a choking voice.  He clarified to his audience that he did not belong to any of the political parties that had organized the event and invited him to talk.

“Am I concerned by our leadership and by the lack of vision” he explained.  His harsh criticism was directed at Benjamin Netanyahu.  Dagan reminded his audience that, in the summer of 2015, Israel had fought Hamas for a month-and-a-half without tangible gains.  “Where are you taking us, Mr. Prime Minister?” Dagan asked.  “Why do want to be in charge of our destiny if you are so afraid of taking responsibility?  Why should someone ask for leadership if he can’t lead?”

Dagan explicitly accused Netanyahu of wanting to cling to power at any price and of avoiding to make tough decisions.  As a result of Netanyahu’s indecisiveness and duplicity, Dagan charged, Israel is heading toward a bi-national reality.  Precisely because Dagan was convinced that Netanyahu is unable to make tough decisions, he rejected the claim that there is no alternative to his leadership.  “We need to go back to sanity, to stop being afraid, and to take our fate into our own hands … What matters is not speeches but action” Dagan warned.

Dagan was no heart-bleeding liberal or starry-eyed peacenik.  He was born on a train in 1945 to parents who had survived the Holocaust.  All his life, the picture of his grandfather being shot by the Nazis haunted him.  He was a war hero praised for his exploits, and a daring head of Mossad.  In 2000 he joined Likud and campaigned against Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights.  In 2001 he ran, together with the hawkish Uzi Landau, Ariel Sharon’s campaign for the premiership.  Under Dagan’s tenure (2002-2010), the Mossad was as efficient as it was merciless to Israel’s enemies.

It is as a realist and as a conservative that Dagan criticized Netanyahu.  Dagan has passed away, but his message remains and must be carried on: Israel deserves a better leadership, and it is time for conservative Israelis to say so out loud.

Many credit Netanyahu for not giving in to the pressures of the Obama Administration.  In reality, Netanyahu gave in on everything: he publicly accepted the establishment of a Palestinian state, agreed to a settlement freeze, and freed terrorists with blood on their hands.  We do not know yet what he agreed to during the 2014 negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Many people in Israel have a peculiar way of understanding leadership: for the Left, leadership is measured by the willingness to withdraw from territories; for the Right, it is measured by the refusal to cede territory.  Yet true leadership is about making tough decisions and being willing to pay a personal price for the good of the country.  Netanyahu, by contrast, is all about playing for time, about meddling through, and about fooling most people most of the time.

The status quo with the Palestinians might be the least of many evils, but it also has outlived its viability.  Western governments and most American Jews are no longer buying into it.  Because an agreement with the Palestinians is more than unlikely, Israel will eventually have to choose between full annexation of the West Bank (with the granting of Israeli citizenship to all its residents), and a unilateral withdrawal to the security fence.  Yet Netanyahu is committed to the status-quo, being apparently convinced that what has worked so far will continue to work, and that such strategy is the safest way for him to remain in power.  This “Maginot Line” attitude has a price, however, and this price is likely to increase.

Netanyahu’s attitude toward US Jewry is a case in point.  During his November 2015 visit to the United States, Netanyahu promised conservative and reform American Jews that he would promote their recognition and equality in Israel.  Yet as soon as Netanyahu’s ultra-orthodox coalition partners threatened to topple the government over his proposed religious reforms, Netanyahu backed down.  Indeed, it is likely that Netanyahu decided not to address the AIPAC conference this year in order to avoid hard and embarrassing questions from liberal American Jews.

Like Donald Trump today, Netanyahu figured out in 2015 what it takes to be elected.  And like many American conservatives, Israelis like me feel betrayed and devoid of a political home.  For an alternative to emerge, the truth must be said, especially by realists and conservatives like Meir Dagan.  He set an example, and his message must be carried on.

Israel’s New NGO Bill Will Reveal Hidden Agendas (Newsweek, 10 January 2016)

State Department spokesman John Kirby has publicly rejected the comparison between the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and a recently proposed Israeli bill on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) funded by foreign governments.  Kirby, however, did not explain why he rejects such comparison.  He certainly knows why: there is no explanation.  In fact, FARA is stricter than the proposed Israeli bill.

FARA requires agents who lobby on behalf of foreign governments to register with the Department of Justice, and to report their activities and finances.  The purpose of FARA is to prevent the deception of US lawmakers by lobbyists who actually act on behalf of foreign governments in order to influence US policy making and legislation.  Lobbyists who do not comply with FARA can be severely punished.  In March 2012, for example, Kashmir-born US lobbyist Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai was sentenced to two years of imprisonment by a US court for not reporting a $3.5 million donation from the Pakistani government.

The proposed Israeli bill would require Israeli NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from “foreign political entities” (i.e. the European Commission and European Governments) to make that information public whenever they lobby elected Israeli officials and whenever they publish their reports.  The proposed bill does not restrict the activities of NGOs, neither does it limit the amount of money they can receive from foreign governments.  Rather, the bill enables lawmakers to know whether or not they are being lobbied by an organization acting on behalf of foreign governments.  NGOs whose funding is mostly governmental can hardly claim to be “non-governmental” and not to promote the agenda of the governments that fund them.

In recent years, the extent of European meddling in Israeli politics via supposedly “non-governmental” organizations has reached unprecedented levels.  Both the European Commission and European governments donate dozens of millions of Euros every year to Israeli NGOs that influence Israel’s decision-making and that affect Israel’s international standing.  Some of these NGOs are active in the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) campaign; some support the so-called Palestinian “right of return” (which is incompatible with the two-state solution); some petition Israel’s High Court of Justice to amend laws passed by the Knesset (Israel’s parliament).

For example, the High Court of Justice was petitioned twice (in 2006 and in 2012) to amend Israel’s citizenship law so as to enable “family reunifications” between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from the West Bank.  Yet the purpose of the petitioners (among them NGOs funded by European governments) was to open a back-door channel for the granting of Israeli citizenship to Palestinians (via fictitious marriages).  In 2009, European-funded Israeli NGOs actively testified to the Goldstone Commission, whose final report accused Israel of intentionally committing war crimes during its military operation in Gaza (an accusation later retracted by Judge Richard Goldstone himself).

If European governments want to influence Israel’s policies, they should do so via the accepted diplomatic channels.  If they choose to hide their game, that game should be exposed.  Under the proposed Israeli transparency bill, government-funded NGOs will continue to operate freely and to receive unlimited amounts of foreign donations.  But those NGOs will now have to reveal up-front to Israeli elected officials the identity and agenda of their backers.

A Right-Wing Eulogy of Yossi Sarid (The Times of Israel, 6 December 2015)

On 10 May 1994, Yasser Arafat declared in a Johannesburg mosque that the Oslo agreements were a modern version of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah signed in the year 628 between Mohamed and the Kuraish tribe of Mecca (Mohamed signed this treaty for lack of better options, but once he grew in strength he broke the deal and killed his enemies).  Then Environment Minister Yossi Sarid reacted angrily to Arafat’s Johannesburg speech: “Arafat [must] declare that the grave things he said in the Johannesburg mosque are null and void and that he is standing by the agreement with Israel” he warned.
Sarid’s demand, unfortunately, made no difference: the Labor-led government elected in 1992 turned the “peace process” into an end in itself, and Arafat knew he would get away with anything. As for the Israeli left, it progressively scared off the average voter with its rhetoric and deeds. Education Minister Shulamit Aloni missed no opportunity to ridicule Judaism and to offend tradition-minded Israelis. Chief Justice Aharon Barak declared that “the enlightened ones” should be granted the last word, via the Supreme Court, about ideological controversies. Sarid himself, as Education Minister in 2000, suggested adding Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish to the curriculum of Israeli schools.
Had the Israeli left convinced Israeli voters that its policy was motivated by political realism and that its ultimate purpose was to maintain Israel’s Jewish majority, it might have kept the trust of Israel’s mainstream even after the failure of the July 2000 Camp David summit and the eruption of the second intifada. But the words and deeds of Aharon Barak, of Shulamit Aloni, and even of Yossi Sarid himself convinced hesitant voters that Oslo was not only (or even maybe not at all) about Realpolitik.
Yossi Sarid blamed Arafat for the Israeli Left’s political exile since 2000.  Sarid had a point: Arafat’s rejection of the Camp David proposal in July 2000 and of the Clinton Parameters in December 2000 dealt a fatal blow to the Israeli left — a blow from which it has not yet recovered. But the Israeli left lost the trust of most Israelis not only because of Arafat. It also lost that trust because of its arrogance and scorn. And the Israeli left does not seem to learn from its mistakes: before the 2015 elections, it threw hesitant Israeli voters into the arms of the right by hosting in one of its electoral rallies Israeli artist Yair Garboz who ridiculed traditional and religious Jews.
Yossi Sarid, in a way, encapsulated the tragedy of the Israeli left: he was brilliant and insightful, but his arrogance and obnoxiousness kept him away from power. He just couldn’t help showing disdain for the people whose votes he needed to govern.
This is a shame, because Yossi Sarid was a man of exceptional courage, integrity, and insightfulness.
He stuck to his principles even at the price of his political career. He quit Labor in 1984 because he disagreed with Shimon Peres’ decision to form a government with Likud. This principled decision cost Yossi Sarid his political life: he was 44 and was set to eventually become Labor’s chairman and, probably, Israel’s prime minister. Ten years later, as a member of Yitzhak Rabin’s cabinet, Yossi Sarid initiated the sending of an Israeli military field hospital to Zaire to save lives from the Rwandan genocide.
Sarid was one of the rare voices who opposed the first Lebanon War. Yet he was far from being indifferent to the fate of the Galilee’s residents. On the contrary: he moved with his family to the northern city of Kiryat Shmona while it was being shelled by the PLO. Back then, Sarid realized that Ariel Sharon was deceiving the government and the Israeli public about the war’s aims. Sarid’s judgement about Sharon was as accurate in 1982 and it was in 2003 when Sharon initiated the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. “The depth of the withdrawal will be proportional to the depth of the police investigation [against Sharon]” he said to MK Tvi Hendel (who unduly took credit for this typical Sarid wittiness).
As we are about to celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah, we are reminded of the Jewish civil war between Hellenized Jews and the Hasmoneans.  The controversy between the two sides has not abated. Hellenized Jews often used political realism as an excuse to abandon Judaism. Traditional Jews were so keen to preserve Judaism that they often ignored the political reality (as tragically proven by Bar-Kokhva’s revolt).
Both Israel’s right and left can and should learn a lesson from Yossi Sarid. The left must understand that you cannot insult and scare off people whose vote you solicit. The right should remember that there is a price to be paid for ignoring reality. Sarid’s voice will be missed, precisely because it was harsh.

The Academics Boycotting Israel are Misguided (Newsweek, 28 October 2015)

On October 27, the Guardian published a full-page advertisement by 343 British academics calling for the boycott of Israel until it ends its “illegal occupation” of “Palestinian land” and until it stops “resisting” any “feasible settlement.” On October 23, Professors Steven Levitsky of Harvard University and Glen Weyl of the University of Chicago published an op-ed in theWashington Post in which they called for the boycott of Israel out of “love for Israel and desire to save it.”

While the 343 British signatories claim to act out of concern for the Palestinians, the two above authors justify their move by their concern for Israel. The intentions of these 345 academics might be sincere. Their arguments less so.

Those arguments are demonstratively false: Israel does not illegally occupy “Palestinian land,” and Israel does not resist a feasible settlement with the Palestinians.

The 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and its Arab aggressors established a temporary armistice line—not a final international border—between Israel and Jordan. Jordan took control of a sizable part of the former British mandate, known today as the “West Bank”, and annexed it in 1950. This annexation was not recognized by the international community, with the exception of Britain and Pakistan. When Israel took control of the West Bank after being attacked by Jordan in June 1967, this territory had not previously been legally and legitimately under Jordanian sovereignty. Only territories conquered from a recognized sovereign state can be considered occupied.

This is why U.N. Security Resolution 242 does not require an unconditional Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines, but withdrawal “from territories” to “secure and  recognized boundaries” in exchange for peace. There is therefore nothing illegal about Israel’s partial presence in the West Bank—whose Arab population has been ruled by the Palestinian Authority since 1995—certainly as long as there is no peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Is Israel to be blamed for the absence of such an agreement? The 343 British academics and Professors Levitsky and Weyl claim so. Here also, they are wrong. When the partition of British Palestine was proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 and then by the United Nations in 1947, it was accepted by the Jewish leadership and rejected by the Arab leadership on both occasions. At the Camp David Conference in July 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered PLO leader Yasser Arafat to establish a Palestinian state on all of the Gaza Strip and 92 percent of the West Bank, with Palestinian sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Arafat rejected the offer.

In December 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton suggested to extend Palestinian statehood to 96 percent of the West Bank, over the Arab quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem, and over the Temple Mount. The Israeli government accepted the “Clinton parameters” but Arafat rejected them. In September 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, to establish a Palestinian state over the entire West Bank—with mutual land swaps and the removal of Israel’s isolated settlements—to transfer sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the “holy basin” to an international trusteeship, to accept thousands of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and to establish a safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Abbas said he would think about it and get back to Olmert. He never did.

Precisely because Israel despaired of the Palestinian leadership, and because Israel feared the demographic and international consequences of the status quo, it decided to act unilaterally by pulling out from the Gaza Strip in 2005. As a result, Hamas took over the vacated territory and shelled Israeli cities with dozens of thousands of missiles, thus triggering three wars—in 2008, 2012, and 2015. Were Israel to repeat the experience to the West Bank, the outcome would be similar on a worse and larger scale.

Thus is Israel in a Catch-22 situation: the Palestinians will not end the conflict no matter what Israel offers; the status quo is demographically untenable; unilateral pullout will drag Israel into recurrent wars with another and larger Hamas-run failed state.

Hence my question to Professors Levitsky and Weyl, and their British colleagues. Assuming that Israel re-submits an Olmert-like proposal to Mahmoud Abbas and that he rejects it again, and assuming that, as a result, Israel unilaterally pulls out from the West Bank. Will you, then, end your boycott of Israel? Or will you maintain it in order to protest the deadly military operations that Israel will be compelled to conduct on a regular basis in order to temporarily stop the shelling of its cities?

Unless you answer positively and convincingly to the first question, you will have a hard time convincing pragmatic Israelis like me to take bold steps just for you to book a flight again to Tel-Aviv.

John Kerry’s Irresponsible Statements about Palestinian Terrorism (I24News, 21 October 2015)

Asked about the recent wave of Palestinian terrorism, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared at Harvard University on October 13 that “you have this violence because there’s a frustration” and that “there’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years.” In other words, Arabs stab Jews out of frustration caused by the building of settlements by Israel. Kerry is flat wrong on both accounts: the current wave of violence was not caused by Israeli settlements, and there has been no massive increase in settlements over the past years.
That settlements are the cause of terrorism must have been news to Muhanad Alkobi, the Israeli Bedouin who murdered an Israeli soldier on October 18 in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. Alkobi was himself the resident of an illegal Bedouin settlement in the Negev Desert. According to his friends’ testimonies he had become a devout Muslim and an admirer of the Islamic State, which recently expressed support for the murder of Jews by “the Mujahedin of the Al-Aqsa [Mosque]”. In one of its recently uploaded videos (accompanied by the hashtag #BeheadtheJews), the Islamic State encourages the “Mujahedin of Jerusalem” to “take the path of jihad against the Jews. Strike fear in their hearts, they are the enemies of Allah.”
The Islamic State calls for jihad against the Jews, not against settlements. So do Palestinian preachers and leaders. On October 16, Palestinian preacher Sheikh Khaled Al-Mughrabi declared: “The Children of Israel will be forced to change their plans to build the Temple inside the structure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and will have to build it outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque… A Temple of heresy to worship the Devil … [At the End of Days] we will follow the Jews everywhere. They will not escape us … The Children of Israel will all be exterminated, the Anti-Christ will be killed and the Muslims will live in comfort for a long time.”
On October 10, Fatah (the party of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas) praised Is’haq Mresh, the 16 year-old Palestinian who stabbed two Israelis in the Old City of Jerusalem, calling him a “martyr hero” who died for the Al-Aqsa mosque. On October 12, Fatah tweeted a map of all of “Palestine” (not of the West Bank and Gaza) with the words: “My land, to you my love and my heart.” On October 13, Fatah tweeted a picture of four of the Palestinian terrorists who recently killed Israelis with the following praise: “O Martyrs, come in droves!” On October 14, Fatah posted on its Facebook account a doctored picture showing a corpse with a smiling face and the words: “We are a nation of martyrs that die with a smile on their face.” On October 18, Fatah’s Facebook page featured the cartoon of a Palestinian child kicking out a long-nosed and terrified Jew from the Temple Mount with the words: “Leave our country, our land, our sea.”
In all these statements, the murder of Jews is encouraged and death is glorified for the sake of Al-Aqsa and of “Palestine” (not only the West Bank). Settlements are nowhere mentioned.
John Kerry is not only wrong about the underlying cause of Palestinian terrorism, but also about the myth of “massive settlement expansion”.
Ahead of Israel’s 2015 elections, theJerusalem Post published (on March 11, 2015) the actual figures of settlement construction based on data provided by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Here are the facts. Settlement constructions dropped by 52% in 2014 compared to the previous year; 9,216 Jewish homes were built in the West Bank between 2009 and 2014 (an average of 1,536 a year), as opposed to 11,366 between 2003 and 2008 (an average of 1,894 a year), meaning that there has been a 19% decrease in settlement construction under Netanyahu (since 2009). So Netanyahu was correct when he declared at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on October 20 that that there has been less settlement building under his premiership than under that of his predecessors. Indeed, it is no coincidence he has been criticized by settlement mayors for building less than his predecessors.
As the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry has responsibilities and duties that include thinking before talking and checking facts. Kerry does neither.

The Clash of Islamizations? (I24News, 14 October 2015)

Foreign attitudes to civil wars provide a useful way of understanding international relations. The Syrian civil war is no exception, though what it reveals about the current state of world politics is exceptionally dire.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Britain and France were first tempted to side with the Confederates but were deterred by Russia. The Russian-British rivalry of post-Napoleonic Europe, and US animosity toward the former colonial power and enemy, produced a de-facto entente between America and Russia (a collusion predicted by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America). Had it not been for the risk of finding themselves at war with Russia, Britain and France would likely have fought with the Confederates. In 1861, when the American Civil War erupted, Russian Czar Alexander II emancipated the 23 million serfs of the Russian Empire. The war was about emancipation versus colonial rule. Britain and France were eager to prevent the emergence of a world order likely to undermine their power.
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the French and British democracies sided (platonically) with the Spanish republicans, while the German and Italian dictatorships actively supported the Spanish nationalists. European powers took sides along ideological lines. During the Yugoslavian Civil War (1991-2001), countries took sides along ethnic and religious lines: Muslim countries sided with the Muslim Bosnians; Russia supported its Slavic and Orthodox Serbian brethren; the Vatican (soon followed by European countries) recognized the Catholic republics of Slovenia and Croatia. In light of the contrast between the motivations of foreign attitudes to the Spanish and Yugoslavian civil wars, American political scientist Samuel Huntington claimed in 1993 that ideological conflicts were about to be replaced by “clashes of civilizations.”
In the case of the Syrian civil war (which started in 2011), we are witnessing a “clash of Islamizations,” with the Sunni Islamic State (and other rebel groups) fighting the Shia Alawite regime of Bashir Assad. Unsurprisingly, Muslim countries are taking sides along the Sunni/Shia divide, with Iran supporting Assad and with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar demanding his departure.
Not only does the Syrian war reveal a “clash of civilizations” within the Muslim world, but also the collapse of the “new world order” that was supposed to have emerged from the end of the Cold War. The fact that NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 without a Security Council resolution was telling about the balance of powers between Russia and the West: the former was helpless and the latter was unstoppable. Today, the situation is almost reverse. Russia’s military intervention is actually helping Assad, while US airstrikes have been unable (for a year) to repel the Islamic State. As for international law, foreign powers don’t even pretend to care about it: neither the United States not Russia bothered to secure a Security Council resolution before using military force in Syria.
Foreign attitudes to the Syrian civil war, in other words, reveal a new global disorder in which the Middle East is the world’s most dysfunctional, explosive, and violent region. Yet even in the chaotic Middle East, people have learned whom not to trust and whom not to fear: the United States of America. President Obama dropped his Egyptian ally Hosni Mubarak after the latter shot demonstrators, but when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did just that Obama said it was none of America’s business. The message? In the Middle East, the common practice of killing your subjects will only cost you your job if America is your ally. Vladimir Putin, by contrast, is far less picky. As Assad can testify, making 200,000 victims, millions of refugees, and gazing your own people will not cost you the support of Russia. It is fair to assume that our region’s autocrats took notice.
As Noah Rothman recently wrote in Commentary Magazine: “This is not the Cold War, It’s Worse.” During the Cold War, American and Russian fighters would not have bombed different targets in a same country, and Russian planes would not have violated the airspace of a NATO member (as just happened in Turkey).
If foreign attitudes to civil wars provide a useful way of understanding international relations, then the grim conclusion from the Syrian inferno is that the loss of American leadership in the Middle East is unprecedented and might be irreparable.