Monday, May 31, 2010

A Difficult Day for Israel - Tough Times for American Jews

Here's a link of that same video, but with sound and subtitles

The events this morning involving Israel and the Gazan flotilla have created yet another difficult diplomatic situation for Israel. Since it is so important that we be informed, and given Israel's historical inability to explain things and the world media's propensity to portray the Gazans as victims, I've assembled at the end of this posting links to articles to help you gain some perspective. Several of these articles come from the Daily Alert of the Conference of Presidents. After that I've included a briefing from the Federations of North America.

What seems clear at this point is that Israel's soldiers boarding the boat were surprised at the violent reception they received (see Ha'aretz: Israeli commandos: Gaza flotilla crew tried to lynch us) and they acted in self defence. Whether it was wise to board the boats in that manner is another matter.

But there are larger trends worth considering as well...

See Marc Schulman's Daily Analysis, which discusses the flotilla situation prior to today's events, plus Israel's other setback, where the US did not completely back Israel in the nuclear non proliferation talks at the UN. What's going on here? For an interesting assessment, see this Ha'aretz piece: Israel Does Not Understand the New World. Schulman's view:

The explanation for Israel's diplomatic defeat have varied. Those defending Prime Minster Netanyahu claim it was expected, and it was the price the US (and by implication) Israel was willing to pay for World Wide support for strong sanctions against Iran. Other observers (and they seem to be the majority), believe Israel was blinded. Some say the Israeli government does not seem to understand that when President Obama talks about multi-lateral actions, he truly believes in them, and will do all he can to avoid unilateral actions. For an even less charitable explanation, I heard a number of times in the last 24 hours, if you decide to defend Jewish building in Sheik Jarah, you may be doing that at the expense of Israel's truly strategic issues; such as the nuclear program. In other words, getting into a fight with Obama over building in Jerusalem has precluded the intimate relations Israeli leaders need to have with America's Presidents.

This has been a time of real soul searching for American Jews regarding Israel. Peter Beinart's essay in the New York Review of Books, "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment" has caused quite a stir in Jewish circles. A former editor of The New Republic, Beinart's claim can be summarized in this paragraph from the essay:

Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster -- indeed, have actively opposed -- a Zionism that challenges Israel's behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism's door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

The JTA has summarized many thoughtful responses to Beinart here and here. They are must reading for all of us.

Below are the articles about today's events:

At Least Ten Killed on Gaza Flotilla - Amy Teibel and Tia Goldenberg
Israeli commandos on Monday stormed six ships carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists on an aid mission to Gaza. At least ten people were killed and dozens were wounded after IDF forces encountered unexpected resistance. Turkey's NTV showed activists beating one Israeli soldier with sticks as he rappelled from a helicopter onto one of the boats. The Israeli military said troops only opened fire after the activists attacked them with knives and iron rods, and one activist wrested a serviceman's weapon. Two of the dead activists had fired at soldiers with pistols, the army said. Organizers included people affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group that often sends international activists into battle zones, and the IHH, a Turkish aid group t hat Israel accuses of having terrorist links. "We did not want to see confrontation," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Netanyahu. "We made repeated offers to the boats that they come to the (Israeli) port of Ashdod, unload the humanitarian cargo, and we guaranteed to pass all humanitarian items through the crossings to the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, they rejected our offers and chose the path of confrontation." (AP-Washington Post)
See also Israeli Soldiers Attacked While Boarding Gaza Flotilla (Israel Defense Forces)
See also IDF: Soldiers Met by Well-Planned Lynch - Yaakov Katz

According to IDF reports, over a dozen Israeli personnel were wounded, some of them from gunfire, and at least two were in s erious condition. (Jerusalem Post)

See also Video: Flotilla Activist Stabs IDF Soldier (Channel 2-Maariv-Hebrew)

See also Defense Minister Barak: Flotilla Organizers Responsible for Activists Killed - Tovah Lazaroff and Yaakov Lappin
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that while he was sorry for lives lost, the organizers of the Gaza-bound protest flotilla were solely responsible for the outcome of the IDF raid earlier in the day. Barak said that the soldiers tried to disperse the activists aboard the ship peacefully but were forced to open fire to protect themselves. (Jerusalem Post)

NPT Review Meeting Calls for Conference on Nuke-Free Middle East in 2012 - Neil MacFarquhar
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference in New York ended Friday with a call for holding a regional conference by 2012 to eliminate unconventional weapons from the Middle East. "People are not going to come to a disarmament conference voluntarily if they are at war with their neighbors," said Ellen O. Tauscher, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, who led the American delegation. Washington's support for such a conference does not supersede the longstanding U.S. policy that disarmament requires a comprehensive peace in the region first, she said. (New York Times)

See also Obama: "We Strongly Oppose Efforts to Single Out Israel" at UN Nuke Conference - Louis Charbonneau
U.S. officials, disappointed at efforts at a conference of signatories of the global anti-nuclear arms treaty to single out Israel, made clear that the Middle East could not be declared WMD-free until there was broad Arab-Israeli peace and Iran curbed its nuclear program. While welcoming agreements on a range of non-proliferation issues at the UN meeting, President Barack Obama said: "We strongly oppose efforts to single out Israel, and will oppose actions that jeopardize Israel's national security." Gary Samore, who oversees policy on weapons of mass destruction at the White House, said, "The political symbolism of mentioning Israel in this way is very destructive." The White House insisted it would not put the Jewish state under any pressure nor encourage it to do anything that would undermine its national security. It also denied entering into a deal with Egypt and other Arab states on the WMD-free zone. ( Reuters) See also Text: Final Document of NPT Review Conference (NPT Conference)

From the Jewish Federations of North America:


As many of you may be aware, a major confrontation took place off Israel's coast earlier today. We wanted to bring you the most up-to-date information from JFNA's Israel office, for your background. We have summarized the major points below. This is followed by additional facts and links to other important materials on this incident.

Early this morning (May 31), Israel Defense Forces naval forces intercepted six ships attempting to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The intercept took place after numerous warnings from Israel and the Israel Navy that were issued prior to the action. The Israel Navy
requested the ships to redirect toward Ashdod, where they would be able to unload their cargo which would then be transferred to Gaza over land after undergoing security inspections. The IDF stressed that the passengers could then return to their point of departure on the same vessels.
During the interception of the ships, the demonstrators onboard
attacked the IDF naval personnel with live gunfire as well as light weaponry including knives, crowbars and clubs. The demonstrators had clearly prepared weapons in advance for this specific purpose.

According to reports from sea, on board the flotilla that was seeking to break the maritime closure on the Gaza Strip, IDF forces apprehended two violent activists holding pistols. These militants apparently grabbed the pistols from IDF forces and opened fire on the soldiers.

The activists were carrying 10,000 tons of reported aid to Gaza. Israel provides 15,000 tons of aid weekly to Gaza.

As a result of this life-threatening activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including, when they determined that their lives were in immediate danger, live fire. According to initial reports, these events resulted in over 10 deaths among the demonstrators and numerous injured.

A number of Israeli naval personnel were injured, some from gunfire and others from knives and crowbars. Two of the soldiers are moderately wounded and the remainder sustained light injuries.

All of the injured, Israelis and foreigners, are currently being evacuated by a fleet of IDF helicopters to hospitals in Israel.

Reports from IDF forces on the scene are that some of the participants onboard the ships had planned a lynch-mob attack, using lethal force on the boarding forces.

The events are still unfolding. Israeli Naval commander, Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom is overseeing the activities.
In the coming hours, the ships will be directed to the Ashdod port, while IDF naval forces will perform security checks in order to identify the people on board the ships and their equipment.

The IDF naval operation was carried out under orders from the political leadership to halt the flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip and breaching the naval blockade.

Other important facts:

The provocateurs were organized by an Islamist organization that has links to fundamentalist jihadi groups.

The extremists brought small children on board knowing that they intended to violate international maritime law.

The activists were carrying 10,000 tons of what they said was aid. Israel transfers about 15,000 tons of supplies and humanitarian aid every week to the people of Gaza.

"We fully intend to go to Gaza regardless of any intimidation or threats of violence against us, they are going to have to forcefully stop us," said one of the flotilla’s organizers.

Using the Arabic term ‘intifada,’ Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said "We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the whole world.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said this week: "If the ships reach Gaza it is a victory; if they are intercepted, it will be a victory too.

Israel left Gaza in hopes of peace in 2005 and in return received more than 10,000 rockets and terrorist attacks.

Israel has said that it will deliver any humanitarian aid to Gaza, as it does daily.

No country would allow illegal entry of any vessel into their waters without a security check.

Earlier this week, Noam Shalit, father of Hamas-held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, approached the flotilla's organizers asking them to take supplies to Gilad.
He was refused.

Here are additional resources for further background on this issue:

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon's press conference on the flotilla incident:

Israel Goes on High Alert in the Wake of Flotilla Incident:

IDF Met with Pre-Planned Violence When Boarding Ship:

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s Statement: Activists Had Weapons:,7340,L-3896588,00.html

Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement about the humanitarian situation in Gaza:

MFA legal expert Sarah Weiss Maudi explains why the flotilla was not allowed to dock at Gaza:

Legal Backgrounder on maritime law and other related issues, from MFA:

A fascinating Al-Jazeera report on the flotilla before they left that offers insight into who was on board. One says: "We are now waiting for one of two good things -- either to achieve martyrdom or to reach Gaza:"

Video of a "peace activist" stabbing an Israeli soldier as he boards the boat:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Expresses Full Backing for the IDF:

Prime Minister Netanyahu today spoke by telephone with the relevant security ministers and officials, and was updated on the action and subsequent developments. In his discussions with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Minister Moshe Yaalon, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi and ISA Director Yuval Diskin, the Prime Minister issued security, diplomatic and information directives, reiterated his full backing for the IDF and inquired about the well-being of the wounded.

The National Security Council Counter-Terrorism Bureau (NSCCTB) has released the following statement:
"In response to the events surrounding the protest flotilla, there are growing protests by the government and public in Turkey. At this stage, relatively quiet demonstrations are taking place around the Israeli Consulate General in Istanbul and the Israeli Embassy in Ankara. This delicate state of affairs is liable to deteriorate into violent outbreaks against Israelis in Turkey.

The NSCCTB's recommendations are as follows:

Israelis due to leave for Turkey should – at this stage – refrain from travelling until the situation becomes clear.

Israelis currently in Turkey should remain in their places of residence, avoid city centers and sites in which demonstrations are being held, and monitor developments out of concern that the situation could worsen.

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