Israel’s empty Foreign Ministry represents Israel fairly well.

israel mfaWhen it became clear last December that he was about to be indicted on corruption charges, Avigdor Leiberman resigned as Israel’s Foreign Minister. He did not quite resign from wielding influence, however.

Indeed, having since held elections and formed a new government, Prime Minister Netanyahu is essentially retaining the Foreign Ministry for its former occupant, at least until the trial is completed; Lieberman himself is expected to testify in two weeks. In the meantime, the Foreign Ministry essentially stands bereft.

Mind you, Netanyahu did name a Deputy Foreign Minister: the ultra right-wing Ze’ev Elkin, an MK with no diplomatic credentials who boasts a strikingly anti-democratic voting record, and who said this past January that

We will try to apply sovereignty over the maximum [of the West Bank] that we can at any given moment. It will take time to change people’s awareness but in the end this will penetrate. And then, what seems today like a fairy tale will eventually become political reality, and the reality on the ground.

So the Foreign Ministry does have the anti-democratic, fairy tale guy (who, coincidentally, doesn’t speak English) at its disposal; Elkin met with the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan just the other day.

And there’s also Yuval Steinitz. Steinitz currently holds the “International Affairs” portfolio, and may be given the real Foreign Relations post if Lieberman is convicted. According to veteran Israeli political scientist and commentator Shlomo Avineri, Steinitz’s office is “a kind of second Foreign Ministry, but without the staff or the means,” and though many visiting diplomats have been referred to him,

this scandalous situation has already drawn expressions of displeasure from world leaders. Not only that—it has led a European foreign minister, a known friend of Israel, to cancel his visit.

So Israel also has the Foreign Affairs-Lite guy, who no one really wants to see (the diplomat who went so far as to actually cancel was Belgium’s Foreign Minister).

Then there’s this odd little chestnut:

The Samaria (Shomron) Regional Authority [local council of the northern West Bank settlements] has even established its own quasi-“foreign ministry,” which circumvents the official one. The Authority carries out its own independent contacts with foreign diplomats, and brings some of them to Samaria for tours.

Finally, Netanyahu is officially the acting Foreign Minister, but he’s too busy to be involved with much beyond visits from the likes of Hagel, Kerry, and Obama (hence the Belgian snub), and maybe-possibly sorting out the mess with Turkey at Obama’s behest.

But while reasonable people might reasonably describe this situation as “scandalous,” it is also strangely appropriate.

The Real Foreign Minister awaits trial and expects his country to await him, consequences be damned; his deputy doesn’t like freedom of speech and can’t speak English; the country’s Shadow-and-Wannabe-Foreign-Minister is working out of what amounts to a makeshift  office and annoying people in the process; the settlers are disregarding the government entirely; and Netanyahu is pretty much focused on keeping the US government on his side (a goal he once said is an easy one to achieve).

This in a country which has in recent years seen a former Prime Minister, a President, a Justice Minister, and a collection of other government officials indicted and/or convicted for various kinds of malfeasance; a country run by people who have often seemed exceptionally tone-deaf to English-speaking supporters and exceptionally eager to stifle democracy; a country led by a government that continuously irritates and annoys its closest allies (also seemingly on purpose), its  political scene wholly dominated by the settler movement and headed by a Prime Minister who says he wants better relations with his country’s nearest neighbors but doesn’t actually do much to achieve that end.

This might not be the image that Israel wants to project. It might not reflect what I love about Israel.

But the current state of Israel’s foreign affairs is pretty representative of the Jewish State circa 2013, whether any of us likes it or not. And that’s the Israel with which the rest of the world actually has to do business.

Crossposted from The Daily Beast/Open Zion.

Obama and Netanyahu as Bobbleheads.

Curious about President Obama’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority? Behold! The Israeli Embassy in Washington is here to help!

The Embassy produced a short video in advance of the trip, which, in the spirit of our times, is meant to both inform and amuse. You’ll find it below, but just in case you’re stuck in a super boring meeting, one of those meetings at which reading the Internet is possible but watching videos would be déclassé, let me describe it for you!

Air Force One takes off—and all of North Africa and the Middle East begins to quake! All except for the Gaza Strip, which has literally disappeared from the map (maybe it fell off when the quaking began?). As the plane comes in for a landing, it sounds very much as if it might crash, which serves as an unfortunately apt metaphor for my own fears surrounding the trip, but I’m sure that was unintentional.

We zoom over an Israel that includes all of the West Bank (though there is a very neatly drawn white line around it) and the Golan Heights (no line). Thereupon follows animation of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama mouthing lines from old speeches and looking unnervingly like two moderately creepy Bobbleheads. Smiles! Handshake!

And then we move into what is presumably Netanyahu’s office—they’re reading newspapers! As world leaders do when they get together! And to the strains of (hand to God I am not making this up) the Golden Girls theme song, Bibi and Barack drop the newspapers, smile, make a move as if they’re about to make out—and shake hands again! Fade out, as the words “The United States & Israel Ultimate Allies” come up on the screen.

Not just allies, not even “major strategic partners” as some (*cough* AIPAC *cough*) would have Congress rebrand the relationship—no, no! We Are The Ultimate Allies!

…aaaand scene. You’re welcome.

Former Security Chief And Diplomats Revolt Against Bibi

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Benjamin_Netanyahu_(2).jpgAn interesting thing is happening to Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy: The people currently or formerly in charge of presenting and dealing with it are throwing spanners in the works.

Last month Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad, told the world that Israel could wait at least three years before it might need to attack Iran (and that doing so any earlier would be “devastating”). On Tuesday, we learned that Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., had asked pointed questions about the government’s plan for settlement construction in the E1 section of the West Bank. In the weekend edition of Yediot Aharonot, former head of the Shin Bet Yuval Diskin tells us that “if we look at the situation over the years, one of the key people who contributed to the rise in Hamas’s strength is Bibi Netanyahu, back from his first term as prime minister”—adding, for good measure, that neither the Prime Minister nor Defense Minister Ehud Barak is fit to lead. And in Thursday’s Ma’ariv, we learned that current Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen believes not only that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is interested in achieving a peace accord with Israel—but that Israel should make concessions that will allow Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, a measure of dignity:

According to Cohen, [Abbas] is interested in renewing negotiations from the point at which his contacts with Ehud Olmert were suspended. The head of the Shin Bet added that [Abbas] is in control of the Palestinian security forces, which do good work and cooperate with Israel.

Cohen added that Abu Mazen is worried about being perceived by Palestinians as an Israeli “collaborator,” and it’s therefore especially important to him that he receive “something in return” from Israel in the course of negotiations.

Cohen made his comments to the diplomatic corps at its annual meeting this week and, later in the day, reporters picked up a nearly audible sigh of relief:

The ambassadors were pleased to hear Cohen’s comments, which stood in stark contrast to what they’d heard during the tenure of [former Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman, who treated [Abbas] with derision, frequently attacked him, and even suggested that he was an obstacle to peace. “It’s the end of those warped and nonsensical deliberations that Lieberman would hold about Abu Mazen.”

Diskin, being retired, is free to be even more pointed in his public assessments:

It’s not that there was no attempt [by Netanyahu’s government] to open all sorts of channels for some sort of negotiations with the Palestinians, or to create the impression that we are trying, but this was not done seriously, persistently, and I would say, with actual intent. And now we are seeing how slowly and gradually this business is eroding and dissolving.

…So you can call Abu Mazen a peace rejectionist. I say that he is not a peace rejectionist. He is not an easy partner for peace, but let’s admit the truth—are we easy partners?

…We are simply creating a situation that will be insoluble, because it will be impossible to reach a decisive outcome. Impossible. This illusion that the State of Israel will be able to control so many people and suppress their aspirations and their freedom over time, is frightening.

Like any fan of democracy, I tend to get worried when a government starts to listen too closely to anyone who wasn’t elected, and in particular, representatives of the security class. There’s a reason that elections are held, and there’s a reason that one cannot run for office in Israel while still in uniform. It’s impossible to separate the two entirely in a nation where nearly everyone at the top has worn that uniform at one time or another, but there’s a very good reason to draw the line and to try to hold it.

And having said that, isn’t it striking that it’s the military people calling for concessions and peace talks? That the folks who have to actually deal with the outside world want not more bellicosity, but less?

So far, the government isn’t handling the criticism with much grace. Diskin, in particular, is getting it in the neck, with the Prime Minister’s office attempting to write him off as professionally frustrated, while “a senior minister who has a close relationship with Netanyahu” lumped him in with his predecessors in what, for Israel, is a truly shocking turn of phrase: Diskin, the senior minister said, “perpetuates a grand legacy of moronic Shin Bet chiefs.” Take that, people we have entrusted with our security for decades!

On the one hand, there’s not allowing the military and the unelected stage to a coup; on the other, there’s not paying them any heed. These are people who are now, or who have recently been, on the front lines, literal and metaphorical, and Israel’s government is doing the equivalent of stuffing its fingers in its collective ears and yelling “LA LA LA” very loudly. And as Diskin said, “even the Americans are not wielding their influence to get both sides to make progress and we have arrived at where we’ve arrived.” All of which is, to borrow Diskin’s word, frightening. Very frightening indeed.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Israeli PM Netanyahu: “Such behavior does not characterize IDF soldiers.”

As was reported yesterday, an Israeli officer is to be investigated for taking his M-16 to the face of an international protester in the middle of a nonviolent demonstration on the West Bank.

In the meantime, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that “Such behavior does not characterize IDF soldiers and officers and has no place in the Israel Defense Forces and in the State of Israel.”

Which is lovely of him, of course — except that as an Israeli, I can assure you that not only does “such behavior” have a place in both the IDF and in Israel, that place is time-honored. The difference is that this time, the dude who got smacked was blonde. If you’re Palestinian, no one notices.

According to Amnesty International’s 2011 annual report:

Consistent allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including of children, were frequently reported. Among the most commonly cited methods were beatings, threats to the detainee or their family, sleep deprivation, and being subjected to painful stress positions for long periods.

According to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem:

Over the years, B’Tselem and other human rights organizations have documented hundreds of cases in which soldiers and police have slapped and kicked Palestinians, insulted and humiliated them, and delayed them at checkpoints for no reason. On occasion, more serious violence has also been exposed.

These include the story of a shepherd beaten and humiliated for no apparent reason:

On Friday, 4 March 2011, [Nayef] ‘Abayat was grazing his family’s flock…. Around mid-day he gathered his sheep and was walking along the road leading to his house…. As he was walking, three military jeeps pulled up and three soldiers got out and came over to him.

According to ‘Abayat, one of the soldiers asked him what he was doing there and kicked him before he could answer. The blow knocked Abayat to the ground, injuring his elbow, which began to bleed. The other soldiers searched him, cuffed his hands, and blindfolded him. Then they threw him onto the floor of the jeep, which then drove off. They drove for about two hours, during which the soldiers insulted and swore at him. The jeep came to the Etzion army base, where the soldiers left him waiting in the yard for a few hours, still blindfolded and cuffed. The soldiers next to him continued to swear at him and insult him, and one of the soldiers pushed a tomato into his mouth.

‘Abayat was 24 when this incident took place — but as was reported in The Independent last August, the Israeli military doesn’t limit its abuse to adults:

[C]hildren [accused of throwing stones] as young as 12 are hauled from their beds at night, handcuffed and blindfolded, deprived of sleep and food, subjected to lengthy interrogations, then forced to sign a confession in Hebrew, a language few of them read.

Quoting figures provided by Defence for Children International Palestine, the story reports that 87% of Palestinian minors arrested by Israeli forces are subjected to physical violence.

Perhaps the Prime Minister hasn’t read these reports.

Perhaps he hasn’t seen this video footage, of an Israeli soldier cocking a loaded rifle and pointing it directly at the face of a Palestinian man, from a distance of some three inches. Or this footage, in which an Israeli soldier is seen assaulting a Palestinian (who happens to be a B’Tselem activist) on his own land. Or this footage, of the Israeli police yanking a man wearing a Palestinian headscarf out of a group of protesters, and beating the crap out of him in the middle of a parade (the victim happens to be an American Jew).

It’s possible the Prime Minister hasn’t stumbled across any of that, or across this footage either, wherein two Border Patrolmen boast of their power over the Palestinians who pass through the checkpoint they man:

We handle people who want to make trouble for the country. Whoever comes close, wants to make trouble, we break them. What do I mean ‘break them’? We let them suffer, in the sun, in the rain, so that they learn not to mess with the Border Police.

and another says what he really thinks of the people who can’t get anywhere on the West Bank without first going through him:

Animals. Animals. Like the Discovery Channel…. There are monkeys, dogs, gorillas. The problem is that the animals are locked [up], they can’t come out. We’re humans. They’re animals. They aren’t humans. We are.

It’s possible the Prime Minister is so criminally ignorant of the doings of Israel’s own military that he’s unaware of all this. Anything’s possible.

But the Palestinians who live with it day in and day out are not so ignorant.

As an Israeli, I suggest you listen to them.

Debunking a very little bit of Netanyahu’s speech before Congress.

Right then. Given my conquest of all the foreign airwaves — the BBC on Friday, Russia Today this morning — on matters Israel/Palestine, Obama and Netanyahu, I have been feeling a certain moral obligation to blog about Bibi’s speech before Congress today.

But I have finally just read it (he was delivering the speech as I was finishing my little bout of punditry this morning. Coincidence? Probably) and oh my good Lord — I was exhausted beforehand, and now I’m exhausted and my head hurts. The arrogance, the hubris, the lies, the sheer, balls-to-the-wall chutzpa — and the US Congress applauded, and applauded, and applauded again. I’m glad I didn’t actually hear that part. It was dispiriting enough to read it. Especially the parts where the word “applause” was proceeded by “cheers.” Cheap political points, y’all, just hanging there, ripe and for the taking — and take them, the United States Congress did.

I just don’t have it in me to write about Bibi’s speech now. Bibi’s speech knocked the will to write about Bibi’s speech right out of me.

I did make several points about it on Twitter as I was reading, however, and so I’ve decided to meet myself half-way: I’ll present below the entire transcript, with added notations. Beneath the transcript, you’ll find fleshed out versions of those tweets — I’ll flesh them out in such a way that you can read them without having to dive into the transcript, if you don’t feel like it (it was a very long speech, though, so keep scrolling to get to my notes!).

Tally ho! Speech and comments about same, after the jump.

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Israel, Palestine, Obama, Netanyahu, & me – on Russian TV.

Hey there! I was on the tee-vee! In Russia!

The cameraman told me I “look great on camera” (I’m not so sure — in that first moment, I look rather like a moron, and who knew that I do that weird “did she have a stroke?” thing with my mouth when I’m listening to someone? The more you know!) and added (entirely unprompted!) that I sounded “articulate and intelligent,” and then I spoke with the Russia Today producer in DC who was over the moon, and told me it was “brilliant,” adding “your analysis was great and so interesting”…! She’s talking about having me on again (which I think means I have to give myself notes on how to settle my face when listening). (And lipstick. I may have to wear lipstick. Where are my lips here?)

I can’t yet figure out how to embed the clip into the blog, so for the time-being, here’s a link to the story on Russia Today — I’m quoted in the article and my clip is the third one down – it’s just shy of five and a half minutes long. Hopefully I’ll be back with the clip itself a little later!

/snoopy dance!

UPDATE:

Minor success on the embed front. I can’t get the whole thing to embed in my free WordPress platform, but I found an edited minute of it on YouTube (they start referring to “political writer and blogger Emily Hauser” at the 46 second mark). To watch the whole thing (complete with the oddly blunt-instrument questions of the British anchor who originally interviewed me), click on the link above.

Once more, with feeling: Israel forever slapping America’s face.

Yesterday Lara Friedman at Americans for Peace Now wrote a very pointed and accurate reaction to the fact that once again, on the eve of an important meeting with the US Administration, Israel has announced the expansion of settlements. She writes:

Does this all feel familiar? It should. We’ve seen this movie many times before. Some selected highlights include:

  • the announcement, coinciding with Secretary Clinton’s March 2009 visit to Jerusalem, of plans to demolish 80 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem;
  • the announcement, coinciding with Special Envoy Mitchell’s meeting with Netanyahu’s envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, in London in November 2009, of plans for massive new construction in Gilo;
  • the announcement, coinciding with Vice President Biden’s visit to Jerusalem in March 2010, of plans for massive construction in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo;
  • the announcement, coinciding with Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama in late March 2010,  of the issuance of permits to begin settlement construction at the Shepherds Hotel in East Jerusalem;
  • the announcement, coinciding with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with Vice President Biden in New Orleans in November 2010, of the opening of the settlement floodgates in East Jerusalem.

I wrote a post bemoaning this precise issue back in November (re: the last bullet point, above), and have been flogging it mercilessly since yesterday, because, damn it, the post was good and I am just so furious.

So here it is again. (Perhaps the most telling part of this re-up is that I could re-publish the entire post today and the only thing I would have to change to bring it up to date, would be to change the link from the November news story to the current one).

************

I often feel that I am absolutely out of words on Israel/Palestine. Out. Finished. Done. The well is dry, and the bucket has a hole.

But sweet baby Moses in the bulrushes, if Israel/Palestine doesn’t keep doing the same ol’ do, forcing me to search around in my bag for a little more verbiage. Woe, as they say, is me.

Of course, woe is them. Woe to the people who are constantly living in that absolutely solvable insanity, an insanity that no one has the stomach to solve. The stomach, the fortitude, the valor, the dash, the enterprise — nobody has it, apparently.

With this latest slap in the American Administration’s face (or, as it’s known in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: This latest incident of stealing land from people who have no home), I find myself almost punch-drunk with the ridiculousness of it all. Since about 1995, Israel has done nothing but piss in America’s cornflakes. And yet America seems pretty ok with that!

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