Friedman: Facts Have to Matter, the words of Ilhan Omar

On July 17, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened for a markup of several bills, including a few that were directly related to the Israel-Palestine conflict. One member of the committee, Ilhan Omar (D-MN), whom you might have been hearing about for other reasons this week, spoke for a few minutes about achieving a resolution to that conflict. Her words were subsequently distorted and attacked.

Often those attacks have conflated her words with the presentation of a bill, also this week, which Omar is co-sponsoring with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) which defends the right of people to boycott, as enshrined in the First Amendment. The bill has been prompted by a bipartisan House effort to move legislation that, while not criminalizing boycotts of Israel (an effort which was thwarted on legal grounds last year), heavily stigmatizes it. This will both have a chilling effect on free expression and lay the groundwork for more steps against boycotts in the future.

Omar, Lewis, and Tlaib quite correctly understand that not only does this put an obstacle in the path of non-violent action to oppose Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights but can lead to the stifling of organized economic action on any political matter, domestic or international. They have, therefore, not brought a bill that addresses BDS, Israel, or Palestine, but rather protects the right to boycott, one of the few effective tools grassroots movements have for impacting political realities. Continue reading

False Confession, Misleading Headline: That’s Occupation

The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, is widely seen as Israel’s lone mainstream left-of-center daily. It has a low circulation inside Israel, but its English edition is read much more widely by Israel observers outside of the Middle East. It has even been called “The New York Times of Israel.”

That’s why it’s important to draw attention when it stumbles.

In a story published on Tuesday, Haaretz reported on the Israeli military’s claim that 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi, a Palestinian youth whose cousin, Ahed has recently become a cause celebre for opponents of Israel’s occupation around the world, got his devastating skull injuries not from Israeli fire but from falling off his bike.

Haaretz’s reporting on the claim was solid. They faithfully relayed the claim made by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and reported on all the evidence that demonstrated that Mordechai was, to put it plainly, lying. Haaretz reported that eyewitness testimony corroborated the shooting of young Mohammed and, “Haaretz has also seen Tamimi’s CAT scan and images of the bullet fractures removed from his skull.”

But the headline, which remained up even after Haaretz published a piece by Amira Hass attacking the COGAT for the fabrication, read simply, “Israeli Army: Tamimi’s Teen Cousin Admits Head Wounds Not Caused by Bullet, but by Bike Crash.”

This is not the fault of the Haaretz reporter, Yotam Berger, who wrote a solid piece that clearly met journalistic standards, but of the editors, who wrote the headline and allowed it to stand. The editors might argue that the sub-headline—“Israeli army claims Mohammed Tamimi’s injury is ‘fake news,’ but medical documents, eyewitness accounts and images of bullet removed from his head obtained by Haaretz challenge account”—mitigates the main one. But this is just not good enough. Many people only see headlines, whether because they’re just skimming the news or because it flies by them on social media. Anyone who’s worked in print news knows the headline tells the story for the masses.

Surely the editors of Haaretz are aware of this, just as they are aware that, ever since the video of Ahed Tamimi slapping an Israeli soldier went viral, the Israeli government has done all it can to persecute and punish the entire Tamimi family and to paint a false image of itself as the victim of a clever, far-fetched, and elaborate plot to “discredit” the occupying army. In that context, the irresponsibility of this headline is even more acute.

A Forced Confession

Ahed Tamimi’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, posted a statement on Facebook explaining how it was that Mohammed, more than two months after he was shot, suddenly “confessed” to his cover-up (my thanks to Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service for his translation).

15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi was plucked from bed in the middle of the night and arrested despite the serious head injury he sustained as a result of IDF gunfire shortly before the incident in which his cousin was placed in custody. Although the police were aware of his medical condition, including the fact that he’s due to undergo a major operation to reconstruct his skull next week, he was interrogated without the presence of a parent or an adult sitting in on his behalf.

Now, an IDF Major-General, the Coordinator of Operations in the Territories, Yoav (Poli) Mordechai, cynically exploits this weird investigation that should not have taken place, and declares that the boy admitted that he was injured while riding a bicycle. The question needs to be asked: what kind of miserable, incompetent set-up of an interrogation causes a frightened kid to say he fell off a bicycle.

This use by a general in the IDF illustrates how far the authorities are prepared to go in order to hit out at Mohammad and Ahed Tamimi. And if it was not clear until now, it is now clear that the military system cannot provide Ahed a fair trial and she therefore must be released immediately.

The story gains even more significance given that the shooting of Mohammed Tamimi occurred during the same protest that his cousin Ahed slapped the Israeli soldier. Ahed’s daily anger and frustration at living under the harsh conditions of military occupation, as she has all her life, was no doubt compounded by the protest, the army’s violent reaction, and, much more than that, the shooting of her cousin. All of this explains why Israel is so defensive and frightened of the image the young woman projects that a general would be tempted to lie in such a big, and, as B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli put it, “easily debunked” way.

Mohammed is facing surgery in a week, and one look at him shows that he is dealing with some awful burdens for anyone, let alone one so young. In the middle of the night, soldiers shot tear gas into his home and sprayed foul-smelling liquid all around it, and dragged him, along with nine others, out to be arrested and interrogated. Surrounded by soldiers with rifles, under those conditions, not knowing how long the Israelis would hold him—would he even be released in time for his upcoming surgical appointment or would he be held indefinitely, like his cousin, despite his serious medical condition?—Mohammed told them what they wanted to hear.

The COGAT leapt at the chance to undermine the defense of Mohammed’s cousin. He was, though, a little too eager, not realizing that the forced confession wasn’t going to stand up credibly against the existing objective evidence.

Can the Media Do Better?

Anyone who has followed the day-to-day operation of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank cannot be shocked by the COGAT’s behavior. As appalling as this story is, nothing about it is all that unusual, though it’s important not to become de-sensitized to the crimes and horrors that are the inevitable result of holding millions of people without rights for decades.

But so-called “liberal” media outlets like Haaretz can and must do better. It is to the newspaper’s credit that it printed Amira Hass’ piece not long after the piece by Berger that they headlined so badly. It is to its credit that the offending headline topped an article that was an otherwise fine piece of journalism that simply and dispassionately relayed the facts.

Haaretz’s editor-in-chief Aluf Benn and the rest of the editorial staff know the importance of headlines, and they had to know that this headline was misleading. I will not speculate as to why the article was headlined as it was, nor why the headline remains there as of this writing.

But the occupation’s story is as contested as any on the planet. The cases of Ahed and Mohammed Tamimi have been fought with propaganda as much as with slaps, military invasions ,and legal chicanery. The media in Israel has been under siege for years, especially under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who may finally be paying a price for his attempts to stifle the semi-free press that Israel has traditionally allowed under military censorship.

No outlet is as important in this regard as Haaretz. When people who aren’t necessarily immersed in the issues of Israel, Palestine, and the occupation see a headline like that one in the liberal Haaretz, it has a strong impact. It informs their view when they hear an argument about whether the Tamimis are trying to defame the Israeli military or if the military is simply clamping down on some uppity Palestinian teens.

The newspaper that provides, for better or for worse, a view of the events of the occupation that puts truth above any defense of the government has got to do better than this.

US Charitable Donations Funding West Bank Settlements

A great deal of support for Israeli settlements comes from the United States in the form of tax-deductible contributions from private donors. The Obama administration, like all administrations before it, opposes Israeli settlement in the West Bank and considers it an obstacle to peace. Yet, at the same time, the United States government effectively incentivizes support for the settlements by allowing American charities to disburse millions of tax-deductible dollars in support for them.

This problem has not gone unnoticed, even though it continues unimpeded at this point. The Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, is publishing a series of reports and data uncovered by journalist Uri Blau SettlersSoldiersIraqBurindetailing the extent of private American support for the settlements.

This investigation by Blau pushes forward efforts that a number of US-based groups have made in the past. Most recently, T’Ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights brought attention to this issue by filing a complaint against one such group, Honenu, in New York. Earlier in 2015, the group Avaaz petitioned the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of The Hebron Fund, which directly supports the flashpoint Israeli settlement in that Palestinian city.

As we wrote in September, “It is no secret that American charities send tax-deductible donations to Israeli settlements. And, while supporting settlements may be contrary to the stated policy of the United States, sending such donations is neither illegal nor a violation of IRS regulations governing tax-deductible charitable donations…[But] Stigmatizing such organizations can have a significant impact.”

This Ha’aretz investigation is bringing important information to light, but if it is to become more than an interesting series of articles, it will be crucial for Americans who recognize the settlements as a problem to bring greater attention to how the US tax code being used to entrench Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. In order to facilitate that discussion, FMEP has assembled the resources below. Read more at FMEP’s web site

**Note: The FMEP page will be updated as more information is published or brought to our attention**

Changing Course: Mahmoud Abbas At The UNGA

Reaction to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the UN General Assembly today was swift and sharp. One of the most incisive

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN general Assembly, 9/26/14

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN general Assembly, 9/26/14

Israeli columnists, Chemi Shalev of Ha’aretz, broke it down very well. He considered Abbas’ speech to be a welcome gift to the Israeli right. And I agree with him. But that’s not really the point.

Abbas has often used the UN podium as a way to be more direct and combative than he usually is regarding Israel, de-emphasizing the “partner for peace” charade and instead being more of an advocate for and leader of the Palestinian cause. But this time, he really turned up the heat. His reference to the attack on Gaza as “genocide” was calculated to play very well in Ramallah and Gaza City, and he willingly sacrificed the rest of the world’s approval. Continue reading

Israeli Democracy Evaporates While Gaza Burns

This article originally appeared in an edited form at LobeLog

At what point is it legitimate and even necessary to dismiss the will of the people in the interest of peace and justice? This is a vexing fascismWarningSignquestion when it comes to Israel.

The latest edition of the Peace Index, produced by the Israel Democracy Institute, reflects some disturbing findings about the extent to which any effort to change Israel’s policies and actions in the Gaza Strip specifically, and in the Occupied Territories more broadly, is not merely a matter of changing the government’s actions. It necessitates rejecting the will of the Israeli people. Given the vast dichotomy between the respective weights carried by the wills of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, this is a real problem.

For much of the world, the Israel-Palestine conflict is not viewed as a struggle by an occupied and dispossessed people against their occupation. Rather, it is seen as a conflict between two peoples over a piece of land. The two formulations are important; one frames the conflict in terms of an imbalance of power, the other does not. Perhaps this is not so among the general global populace, but in the offices in Washington, Brussels and even the United Nations, it is. Continue reading