A.LOEWENSTEIN ONLINE NEWSLETTER

NOVANEWS


Jews on boats

Posted: 16 Jun 2010

A transatlantic Jewish coalition is set to break the siege of Gaza in the coming months.

Torturing children, Israeli style

Posted: 16 Jun 2010

While some Israeli commentators argue against instituting a constitution– yes, people, Israel claims to be a modern democracy – the country’s soul is corrupted by a lack of care and brutal efficiency. Amira Hass in Haaretz:

M., a Haaretz reader from Zichron Yaakov, was disturbed by reports about the manner in which Palestinian children are arrested in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are being detained held in the middle of the night, held in conditions of fear and pain before their interrogations, and then finally interrogated without the presence of their parents or a lawyer.

On March 14, M. wrote the following to attorney Yuri Gai-Ron, the head of the Israel Bar Association: “I am appealing to you to use all of your authority to intervene and put an end to the abusive behavior and violation of the law with regard to children and youths… Any decent citizen silent – and even more so the body you have headed over the past few years – cannot remain silent in the face of the frivolity with which children are kept in detention, interrogated and even condemned.”

On April 22, attorney Linda Shafir, the director general of the bar association, sent a letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador. Copies were also sent to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the commander of the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank (whose name she did not mention ), and the Military Advocate General Avichai Mendelblit, as well as to M.

Among other things, Shafir wrote: “In her appeal, Ms. M. mentions that Palestinian children and youngsters from areas of the West Bank are detained under inappropriate circumstances and are held in inappropriate conditions.

It goes without saying that the Israel Bar Association considers the holding of detainees in appropriate conditions to be of supreme importance, from both the legal point of view and on the level of human rights.

I should be grateful if the appeal is transferred to all concerned parties, so that possible means of dealing with the situation are examined with a view to eradicating the phenomenon.”

Wikileaks scores a major win in Iceland

Posted: 16 Jun 2010

A small but significant step towards protecting information from prying individuals and governments:

Iceland has passed a sweeping reform of its media laws that supporters say will make the country an international haven for investigative journalism.

The new package of legislation was passed unanimously at 4am yesterday in one of the final sessions of the Icelandic parliament, the Althingi, before its summer break.

Created with the involvement of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, it increases protection for anonymous sources, creates new protections from so-called “libel tourism” and makes it much harder to censor stories before they are published.

“It will be the strongest law of its kind anywhere,” said Birgitta Jonsdottir, MP for The Movement party and member of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, which first made the proposals. “We’re taking the best laws from around the world and putting them into one comprehensive package that will deal with the fact that information doesn’t have borders any more.”

Wikileaks has been involved in the drafting of the package of laws alongside Ms Jonsdottir from the beginning of the process more than a year ago. Its founder, Julian Assange, worked from Iceland on the organisation’s release of the incendiary video of an apparently unprovoked American helicopter attack in Iraq that left eighteen people dead, including two journalists.

Mr Assange did not respond to requests for comment via email yesterday. But in February, he wrote: “All over the world, the freedom to write about powerful groups is being smothered. Iceland could be the antidote to secrecy havens … it may become an island where openness is protected – a journalism haven.”

Because the package includes provisions that will stop the enforcement of overseas judgements that violate Icelandic laws, foreign news organisations are said to have expressed an interest in moving the publication of their investigative journalism to Iceland. According to Ms Jonsdottir, Germany’s Der Spiegel and America’s ABC News have discussed the possibility.

More immediately, it is hoped that the changes will rebuild the Icelandic public’s belief in the press. “Trust in the media was very high before the crash, but then it sank,” said Hoskuldur Kari Schram, a reporter with Stod 2 television in Reykjavik. “Maybe this will be a step in the right direction.”

Mr Schram added that it would have an immediate effect: “It will affect my relationship with sources right away. It will make my job a whole lot easier.”

But there was doubt overseas that the international ramifications would be as powerful as the law’s Icelandic proponents claim. “As an exercise in aspirations, it’s a bold and important endeavour,” said Professor Monroe Price, founder of the programme in comparative media law at Oxford University.

“But if it’s a significant issue like a national security question, then the charging jurisdiction will figure out ways of asserting its power.”

UK media organisations will watch developments closely. The British system has come under particular scrutiny recently, facing criticism that it is too easy to exercise censorship of stories and over libel provisions widely perceived as excessively favourable to complainants. Last year California enacted a law that allowed local courts to refuse to enforce British libel judgements.

According to Ms Jonsdottir, a poet and writer, the provocation of a larger global conversation on the subject is crucial to the success of the new legislation. “It’s going to have an impact but it’s also going to be symbolic,” she said.

Power cuts in Gaza are all in a day’s life

Posted: 16 Jun 2010

The latest edition of Gaza Gateway:

For the past several months, Gaza Gateway has reported on the declining amounts of industrial diesel, necessary for electricity generation, entering Gaza. These amounts fall far below the needs of Gaza residents and are even lower than the “minimal amount” set by Israel before the High Court, as part of its policy of supply restrictions to Gaza.

Last week, for example, the power station received just 1,200,000  liters of diesel – 35% of what is needed for operation at its current maximum capacity. The result is power outages of 8-12 hours per day, interfering with the operations of humanitarian infrastructure and ordinary life. In today’s post, we call attention to a new position paper by Gisha explaining the reasons for the decline and calling for accountability among the relevant parties, especially Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the Hamas regime.

How Obama betrayed the rights of a tortured man

Posted: 16 Jun 2010

A New York Times editorial of necessary clarity:

The Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the claims of Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian who was sent to Syria to be tortured in 2002, was a bitterly disappointing abdication of its duty to hold officials accountable for illegal acts. The Bush administration sent Mr. Arar to outsourced torment, but it was the Obama administration that urged this course of inaction.

In the ignoble history of President George W. Bush’s policies of torture and extraordinary rendition, few cases were as egregious as that of Mr. Arar, a software engineer. He was picked up at Kennedy International Airport by officials acting on incorrect information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He was sent to Syria, to which the United States had assigned some of its violent interrogation, and was held for almost a year until everyone agreed he was not a terrorist and he was released.

The Bush White House never expressed regret about this horrific case. There was only then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s bland acknowledgement to a House committee in 2007 that it was not “handled as it should have been.” Since he took office, President Obama has refused to fully examine the excesses of his predecessor, but surely this case was a chance to show that those who countenanced torture must pay a price.

In Canada, the government conducted an investigation and found that Mr. Arar had been tortured because of its false information. The commissioner of the police resigned. Canada cleared Mr. Arar of all terror connections, formally apologized and paid him nearly $9.8 million. Mr. Arar had hoped to get a similar apology and damages from the United States government but was rebuffed by the court system.

Amazingly, Mr. Obama’s acting solicitor general, Neal Katyal, urged the Supreme Court not to take the case, arguing in part that the court should not investigate the communications between the United States and other countries because it might damage diplomatic relations and affect national security. It might even raise questions, Mr. Katyal wrote, about “the motives and sincerity of the United States officials who concluded that petitioner could be removed to Syria.”

The government and the courts should indeed raise those questions in hopes of preventing these practices from ever recurring. The Canadian police continue to investigate the matter, even the actions of American officials, though their counterparts here are not even trying.

The Supreme Court’s action was disgraceful, but it had stepped away twice before from cases of torture victims. There is no excuse for the Obama administration’s conduct. It should demonstrate some moral authority by helping Canada’s investigation, apologizing to Mr. Arar and writing him a check.

IAJV June newsletter

Posted: 16 Jun 2010

The following email was just sent to the Independent Australian Jewish Voices email list:

Dear friends,

The recent Gaza flotilla debacle has brought international attention to the blockade on Gaza by Israel. Media coverage has been intense and we have been pleased to see the growing dissent worldwide among Jews. The wider community is no longer ignoring the usual Jewish silence or apologetics as even the Sydney Morning Herald editorialised in early June that “it is time for Jews of the diaspora to question Israel’s actions”.

A few days later, IAJV co-founder Peter Slezak published a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald that stressed these issues facing Jews in particular, and called for a more critical, public Jewish position on Israeli behaviour and the 43 year-old occupation:.

In other news, IAJV co-sponsored film screenings in Sydney and Melbourne of the documentary ‘American Radical’ on Norman Finkelstein. These were highly successful events at which Antony Loewenstein and Peter Slezak spoke with other panellists to large audiences in both cities. In particular, there was a significant sense of the growing importance of communication and collaboration between Jews, Palestinians and the wider community.

Towards this end, we would like to draw your attention to the exemplary activities of Australian media producer Daz Chandler in the West Bank, bringing the human face of Palestinians and their plight to a wider audience. We stongly recommend support for her current fund-raising activities seeking to bring broadcast equipment to young people in the West Bank. See her work here:

We believe it is an important initiative and we hope that you may contribute generously to her current fund-raising campaign before it closes shortly. A brief indication of the work from the website:

Although this is a part of the world that features quite heavily in the Western media, the coverage rarely features the everyday individual, living that life. Radio Lajee brings a human face to the refugee community, creating a greater cross-cultural connection built on communication, shared interests and understanding.

The project provides this community with a new skill-set, broadcast quality equipment and most importantly, the opportunity to tell their stories their way to a Western audience.

Finally, the following are recent writings on the Middle East:

The Los Angeles Times report on life in Gaza.

The US-magazine Nation reports on the growing movement in the US towards boycotts, sanctions and divestment from Israel.

Gideon Levy in Haaretz on Israel’s growing international isolation after the Gaza flotilla debacle.

Best wishes,
Antony Loewenstein
Peter Slezak
Eran Asoulin
Jim Levy

Israeli Jews really just want “yes” people in the US

Posted: 16 Jun 2010

A curious and rather predictable poll (and why are Israeli Arabs seemingly never asked anything in such polls? They are 20% of Israel’s population but clearly don’t matter too much to most people).

On the one hand Israeli Jews want the world to butt out and on the other hand they want American Jews to pressure Barack Obama to lay off. When they stop taking American tax-payer’s money, then we’ll start to take this seriously:

Sixty-five percent of Jewish Israelis believe U.S. Jews should criticize the Obama administration’s policy toward Israel, according to a survey published in June that was conducted on behalf of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem.

The fifth annual Survey of Contemporary Israeli Attitudes Toward World Jewry, conducted by Keevoon Research, surveyed 500 Jewish Israelis over the age of 18 between June 1 and 4. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

Twelve percent of respondents said American Jews should support Obama’s current policy on Israel.

The survey also found that 46 percent of Jewish Israelis believe American Jews are reluctant to criticize the Obama administration’s Israeli policy due to fear of being accused of dual loyalty. Meanwhile, 36 percent said that type of accusation has no effect on them.

Meanwhile, 54 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that Jewish advocacy groups who work with foreign governments and call themselves “pro-Israel” should always support Israeli government policy.

Australian “green” company linked to Israel’s occupation in Palestine

Posted: 15 Jun 2010

My following article appears today on ABC Unleashed/The Drum:

My investigation has found a leading Australian electric car company is linked to an Israeli firm that operates in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

Better Place, advertised as “dedicated to zero emissions driving”, is part of a global venture capital firm based in California that has raised over $400 million to build charging stations for electric cars across the globe. Here is the company’s promo from 2009.

Better Place Australia – led by Evan Thornley, former Labor politician and co-founder of internet search engine Looksmart – is planning a national rollout of its services across Australia by late 2012.

Thornley told BusinessDaily in early 2010 that, “there’s hardly a government, car maker or capital market in the northern hemisphere who isn’t very deeply engaged in the opportunity with electric vehicles”.

But the green credentials of the company are threatened by revelations of the Israeli figures behind the organisation and its behaviour in occupied Palestinian territory.

Better Place Israel (BPI) is led by former general Moshe Kaplinsky, deputy chief of staff of Israel’s army during the 2006 Lebanon invasion and commander of the IDF in the West Bank during the second Intifada. Both military adventures led to serious allegations of human rights abuses including the dropping of cluster bombs on civilian areas across southern Lebanon.

Israel has never been held to account over the allegations.

The Electronic Intifada (EI) website first alerted readers in early May to the issues now circling around BPI and discovered the presence of charging stations along Israel’s controversial Route 443, some of which illegally deviates directly into Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

Today, even with an Israeli High Court ruling that demands equal access to the road for both Palestinians and Israelis, the road remains partly inaccessible to indigenous Palestinians in the area.

An EI reporter was told by BPI that the company was willing to install charging stations “anywhere…you want to live”, including the West Bank.

Some of Better Place’s supporters have an Australian connection.

I contacted Macquarie Capital, which has reportedly pledged to fund the construction of plug-in stations, and asked if they knew about BPI’s behaviour in the Middle East. A spokeswoman refused to discuss the role of Better Place Australia or answer any questions about its Israeli connection but said Macquarie is only a financial advisor to the company and has no relationship with the Israeli arm.

“We only have a local management relationship and cannot discuss negotiations or advice given to Better Place”, she said.

Local Better Place management is directly connected to BPI.

A key backer is Wolfensohn and Co, the investment firm run by former World Bank President, Middle East Quartet envoy and Australian-born, Jewish, American citizen James Wolfensohn.

The firm didn’t respond to my request for comment.

When I contacted Better Place Australia with a list of questions related to the company’s actions in the occupied territories I was referred to headquarters in Palo Alto and the Vice President of Communications, Joe Paluska.

 He avoided answering any questions about BPI’s attempts to integrate Israel’s miliary and political establishment towards a greenwashing agenda and told me that, “Better Place is a privately-held global company…with operations around the world including in Israel, Denmark, Australia, US, Canada, Japan, China, France, Germany and The Netherlands.”

When pushed on particular details about BPI’s presence in the West Bank, Paluska responded: “Each operating unit is broadly responsible for local deployment and local relations and reports to our global team here in Palo Alto.”

Paluska refused to answer the following questions:

– Does Better Place Australia do any work in the occupied territories and what is the company’s views about it?

– There are serious charges allegations against BPI’s chief executive Moshe Kaplinsky’s role in Israel’s Lebanon invasion in 2006 and invasion of the West Bank during the second Intifada….What is the company’s response and is it appropriate for a man such as Kaplinsky to be heading a group that aims to promote a greener future for the world?

– Evidence exists that finds Better Place charging stations in settlements on the West Bank and along Highway 443, a road that includes roughly 30 km that runs through the West Bank. What is the company’s response to these allegations?

– Does Better Place in Australia have a relationship with the Rudd government and are they aware of the allegations against the company’s activities in the West Bank?

– After the recent Rudd government decision to expel a Mossad agent from Australia, how does Better Place see Australia’s relationship with Israel?

Better Place Australia is not directly involved in the company’s Israeli operations but the firm is just the latest attempt to “normalise” Israeli behaviour. Wired magazine published a feature in 2008 about the organisation that notably avoided any serious examination of the company’s connection to the Israeli military establishment – President Shimon Peres is a big fan of BPI’s attempt to move away from the Western reliance on oil and repressive Arab states – and simply praised founder Shai Agassi and his “vision” for the future.

In May a number of leading scholars, including Noam Chomsky, protested the Boston Museum of Science co-sponsoring and hosting “Israeli Innovation Weekend” (IIW) which featured the Better Place initiative.

The statement read: “IIW is far from an innocent educational endeavour. It is part of a propaganda campaign by the State of Israel to present itself as a beacon of progress in a desert of backwardness and deflect attention from its atrocious human rights record and fundamentally discriminatory policies”.

Leading Israeli journalist and blogger Noam Sheizaf told me that BPI is very high profile in Israel, has been adopted by many politicians and is “always promoted as an example of Israel’s contribution to the world”.

Sheizaf said that the BPI project in the West Bank may not be “criminal…but what it teaches us is that large portions of Israel’s economy – more than we can imagine, and even more than the Palestinian boycott or other publicised acts show – is tied to the occupation and to colonisation.

“There is something hopelessly naive – if not pure false – about an attempt to separate ‘good’ Israel from ‘occupying’ Israel. Not every Israeli is as bad as the extreme settlers of Hebron, but the occupation is the Israeli national project, so before we celebrate inventions such as this green car, we should also think who benefits from it, and on whose expense.”

Colbert briefly skewers Oren

Posted: 15 Jun 2010

The Colbert Report covers the Gaza flotilla incident (with tongue firmly planted in its cheek) then interviews Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. It’s gentle, to put it mildly, but it seems to me that Israel’s position is mocked:

We can crush your balls and get away with it

Posted: 15 Jun 2010

The seemingly never-ending outrage of America’s “war on terror”, with the complicity continuing under the Obama administration. Democracy Now! reports:

In a major setback for holding US officials accountable for rendition and torture, the Supreme Court has rejected Arar’s lawsuit against the US government. Arar was seized at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 2002 on a stopover from a vacation abroad. Instead of allowing him to return home to Canada, Arar was sent to his native Syria, where he was tortured and interrogated in a tiny underground cell for nearly a year.

Just after the Court’s decision was announced, Arar revealed a major new development: Canada’s federal law enforcement agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is conducting a criminal investigation into US and Syrian officials for their role in Arar’s rendition and torture. We speak to Maher Arar.

See: www.antonyloewenstein.com

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