Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Diseased Press

Israel: Prussia on the Mediterranean?
by Roane Carey

It is an assumption almost universally acknowledged among the liberal American intelligentsia that while the Israeli occupation is repressive and abhorrent, Israel itself is an open, fully democratic state with a lively, argumentative and very free press.
Perish the thought. After spending three months in Israel on a fellowship, I can say that nearly every member of the liberal Israeli intelligentsia I've talked to says something quite different: that their country's media are seriously diseased, failing to provide the minimal level of fair reporting and serious critical inquiry that are crucial pillars of an open society.
Americans who don't read Hebrew or watch Israeli television news may get a skewed view of the spectrum, assuming that Ha'aretz, the smaller-circulation daily read mostly by intellectuals and the political classes--and foreigners, who devour its English-language edition online--is representative, and that critical columnists and reporters like Gideon Levy, Akiva Eldar and Amira Hass are sprinkled throughout the Israeli media. It isn't, and they aren't. The larger-circulation dailies Yediot and Ma'ariv, as well as the Jerusalem Post and television news, are tilted much more to the right--just like the mainstream US media, which certainly have nothing to teach Israel in this regard.
And as for being an open, fully democratic state, most people I talk to speak of a chilling of dissent in recent years, running in parallel with the election of increasingly right-wing governments. The nadir came during the recent Gaza "war." I've seen a microcosm of this myself here in Beer-Sheva, at Ben-Gurion University. A few days ago, Noah Slor, who is in the graduate program in BGU's department of Middle Eastern studies, was arrested by police at the request of campus security and detained for several hours for quietly handing out leaflets opposing a bill now before the Knesset that would make it a criminal offense to commemorate Nakba Day (the day in May when Palestinians mourn the catastrophe of their dispossession and expulsion, which for Jews is a celebration of independence). She was doing this in a spot right outside the main campus gate, where students traditionally hand out everything from party announcements to information about political rallies, with never a bother from security.
Student activists and professors attest to a pattern of politically motivated harassment by campus security. Indeed, Slor, an activist with Darom le Shalom (the South for Peace), a recently formed group of Arabs and Jews in the Beer-Sheva area who "struggle against racism and for equality and coexistence between Arabs and Jews," told me that at the time of her arrest, a security officer told her, "Listen, don't pretend you're so naïve--I've seen you in past demonstrations. Everything is recorded and written, everything is documented." She can't prove it, but she's convinced security went after her because she was protesting the Nakba Day legislation; "that was the subtext," she told me.
The students were not going to take this sitting down. That same night, about sixty or so held a demonstration protesting the arrest, gathering at a university ceremony attended by the board of governors and other dignitaries. The students put masking tape over their mouths and held up signs saying "The Security Department Runs the University" and "Security Department = Secret Police." (In a response to questions about the incident, university spokesperson Amir Rozenblit said students are not allowed to distribute fliers on campus--why in the world not?--and that Noah was handing them out "in an area considered part of the campus"--even though it was outside the main gate. He also claimed one security guard was detained as well as Noah.)
The stifling of dissent was pervasive during the Gaza campaign. Nitza Berkovitch, a BGU sociologist, said, "I think the media was completely and truly mobilized. There was complete support of the war." A few days after the start of the war, in late December, a group of Arab and Jewish students held a peaceful demo against it. The police soon arrived and demanded that they disperse. They agreed, but as they were folding their signs, several were tackled by police, dragged to cars and held for hours, accused of "rioting." There was another demonstration in mid-January, this one even more moderate, with people holding signs calling for peace and an end to violence on both sides. Again, the same thing happened: dozens of police arrived and roughed up the crowd, arresting several. One BGU student, Ran Tzoref, was put under house arrest for a month.
Harsh repression of Palestinian citizens is a deeply engrained practice in Israel. Recent incidents indicate there may be a loosening of constraint on repression of Jewish dissent as well. Hundreds of Israelis were arrested for protesting the Gaza campaign, probably most of them Palestinian but many Jewish as well. Tzoref told me, "I was in protests in the occupied territories, and they acted the same here. For me it was shocking that riot police came to the university and attacked us. This was never done before, not on this scale." Berkovitch said, "It was like I was in a South American dictatorship. It was as if an arbitrary order had been given nationwide that a certain number of people needed to be arrested--it was a simple matter of intimidation."
Certainly the Gaza campaign brought out the worst in the apparatus of repression, which was fueled by a public mood of vengeance and hatred of Palestinians, which was itself heightened by the Hamas rocket barrages. (Berkovitch told me that many passers-by at the January demonstration shouted abuses at the protesters, calling them traitors and saying things like "Jews should kill more Arabs." "So much hatred I've never encountered in my life," she said.) The trend is worrying, but it should be emphasized that in general, Israeli Jews, unlike Palestinians, still enjoy a remarkable degree of freedom to speak out on almost any issue.
With a far-right government that is not only determined to avoid serious negotiations with the Palestinians but is actively promoting settlement growth; that shows all the signs of preparing for war against Iran and is actively stoking public paranoia on that front; that increasingly sees Palestinian citizens as a menace, as the enemy within, the contradictions of a nation that claims to be both Jewish and democratic are fraying. How can a state that imprisons 4 million Palestinians behind ghetto walls, bypass roads and a blockade, and treats another 1.5 million as second-class citizens, be democratic? BGU geography professor Oren Yiftachel calls Israel an ethnocracy (the title of a recent book of his); the late Hebrew University sociologist Baruch Kimmerling called it a "Herrenvolk democracy." Whatever you call it, if Israel continues along its current path, the repression will necessarily intensify, and the avenues for free expression will become ever more constricted. The old joke about Prussia was that it was an army masquerading as a state. Is Israel destined to become Prussia on the Mediterranean?

© 2009 The Nation

Roane Carey, managing editor at The Nation, was the editor of The New Intifada (Verso) and, with Jonathan Shainin, The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent(New Press).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Israel's Secret War in Iran

Israel launches covert war against Iran
Israel has launched a covert war against Iran as an alternative to direct military strikes against Tehran's nuclear programme, US intelligence sources have revealed.


By Philip Sherwell in New York
Last Updated: 10:38PM GMT 16 Feb 2009
Tzipi Livni: Israel launches covert war against Iran
Israel foreign minister Tzipi Livni Photo: EPA

It is using hitmen, sabotage, front companies and double agents to disrupt the regime's illicit weapons project, the experts say.

The most dramatic element of the "decapitation" programme is the planned assassination of top figures involved in Iran's atomic operations.

Despite fears in Israel and the US that Iran is approaching the point of no return in its ability to build atom bomb, Israeli officials are aware of the change in mood in Washington since President Barack Obama took office.

They privately acknowledge the new US administration is unlikely to sanction an air attack on Iran's nuclear installations and Mr Obama's offer to extend a hand of peace to Tehran puts any direct military action beyond reach for now.

The aim is to slow down or interrupt Iran's research programme, without the gamble of a direct confrontation that could lead to a wider war.

A former CIA officer on Iran told The Daily Telegraph: "Disruption is designed to slow progress on the programme, done in such a way that they don't realise what's happening. You are never going to stop it.

"The goal is delay, delay, delay until you can come up with some other solution or approach. We certainly don't want the current Iranian government to have those weapons. It's a good policy, short of taking them out militarily, which probably carries unacceptable risks."

Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst with Stratfor, the US private intelligence company with strong government security connections, said the strategy was to take out key people.

"With co-operation from the United States, Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key human assets involved in the nuclear programme and in sabotaging the Iranian nuclear supply chain," she said.

"As US-Israeli relations are bound to come under strain over the Obama administration's outreach to Iran, and as the political atmosphere grows in complexity, an intensification of Israeli covert activity against Iran is likely to result."

Mossad was rumoured to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran's Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported "gas poisoning" in 2007.

Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli "hits", intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the programme, according to Western intelligence analysts.

"Israel has shown no hesitation in assassinating weapons scientists for hostile regimes in the past," said a European intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. They did it with Iraq and they will do it with Iran when they can."

Mossad's covert operations cover a range of activities. The former CIA operative revealed how Israeli and US intelligence co-operated with European companies working in Iran to obtain photographs and other confidential material about Iranian nuclear and missile sites.

"It was a real company that operated from time to time in Iran and in the nature of their legitimate business came across information on various suspect Iranian facilities," he said.

Israel has also used front companies to infiltrate the Iranian purchasing network that the clerical regime uses to circumvent United Nations sanctions and obtain so-called "dual use" items – metals, valves, electronics, machinery – for its nuclear programme.

The businesses initially supply Iran with legitimate material, winning Tehran's trust, and then start to deliver faulty or defective items that "poison" the country's atomic activities.

"Without military strikes, there is still considerable scope for disrupting and damaging the Iranian programme and this has been done with some success," said Yossi Melman, a prominent Israeli journalist who covers security and intelligence issues for the Haaretz newspaper.

Mossad and Western intelligence operations have also infiltrated the Iranian nuclear programme and "bought" information from prominent atomic scientists. Israel has later selectively leaked some details to its allies, the media and United Nations atomic agency inspectors.

On one occasion, Iran itself is understood to have destroyed a nuclear facility near Tehran, bulldozing over the remains and replacing it with a football pitch, after its existence was revealed to UN inspectors. The regime feared that the discovery by inspectors of an undeclared nuclear facility would result in overwhelming pressure at the UN for tougher action against Iran.

The Iranian government has become so concerned about penetration of its programme that it has announced arrests of alleged spies in an attempt to discourage double agents. "Israel is part of a detailed and elaborate international effort to slow down the Iranian programme," said Mr Melman.

But Vince Canastraro, the former CIA counter-terrorism chief, expressed doubts about the efficacy of secret Israeli operations against Iran. "You cannot carry out foreign policy objectives via covert operations," he said. "You can't get rid of a couple of people and hope to affect Iran's nuclear capability."

Iran has consistently asserted that it is pursuing a nuclear capability for civilian energy generation purposes. But Israeli and Western intelligence agencies believe the 20-year-old programme, which was a secret until 2002, is designed to give the ruling mullahs an atom bomb.

Iran Charges Israeli/American Influence Behind Mosque Bombing

Iran mosque blast bears 'US, Israel thumbprints'
Fri, 29 May 2009

A senior Iranian official says Israel and the US have had a hand in the mosque bombing that shook the southeastern city of Zahedan to its core.

“The bomb tragedy that occurred yesterday in the city of Zahedan is awash with Israeli and US fingerprints,” said Tehran's Interim Friday Prayers Leader, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami.

“Without a doubt, it was a scheme to drive a wedge between the Shia population and the Sunni minority in Iran,” he added.

Ayatollah Khatami said that the perpetrators of the bomb attack have been identified and will be brought to justice.

At least 25 people were killed and 125 others were injured on Thursday after bombers targeted a religious ceremony in the Shia Amir al-Momenin mosque.

The mosque was partially destroyed by the blast.

Jalal Sayah, deputy provincial governor of the Sistan-Baluchistan province that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Friday that at least three people have been arrested with regards to the terrorist attacks.

"According to the information obtained they planted the bomb at the behest of the United States and its allies," Sayah said.

Related Stories:

* Bomb blast rocks Iranian city of Zahedan

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What's Wrong with the Olympic Ideal©?

The Dominion

SUMMARY: to add your ideas for critical Olympics coverage and read what others have written, visit:

"In Canada, you will find a nation that works every day towards creating the conditions of the Olympic ideal."

-Jean Chrétien

posted by tamara - View profile



VICTORIA, COAST SALISH TERRITORIES, MAY 21, 2009 – The Royal Bank-sponsored “Olympic Torch Practice Run” was greeted at its first stop by a “Practice Protest” in downtown Victoria this morning.

A prototype of the Olympic Torch is visiting five Victoria RBC locations this week to “practice” for the Olympic Torch Relay, which will begin at Mile Zero in Victoria on October 30, 2009. The “Olympic Torch Welcoming Committee” wielded banners, signs, and noisemakers to “practice” protesting the Olympic Torch relay.

“We’re here today because homeless people could be housed for a fraction of what the Torch Relay is costing taxpayers,” said spokesperson Zoe Blunt. “We’re here because First Nations peoples’ land rights are still violated daily, social justice activists are facing increasing harassment and surveillance, and our children and grandchildren will still be paying for this extravagance years from now.”

Chief of Police Jamie Graham warned activists gathered inside the bank that they would be arrested if they “defaced” property after one person wrote “No Olympics on Stolen Land” on a banner made available for public signing.

Other members of the “Olympic Torch Welcoming Committee” were expelled from the public celebrations inside RBC by Victoria police and private security guards for carrying anti-Olympic signs drawn on cardboard.

On the street outside the Fort and Douglas RBC location, protesters were under the close surveillance of uniformed and plain-clothed police.

“We’re quite surprised that a group of 30 Victoria residents with
hand-painted banners, signs and one megaphone merited such a hefty security presence”, said No 2010 Victoria organizer Tamara Herman. “We could think of better ways of spending the $1 billion security bill for the 2010 Olympics. Then again, we could also think of better ways of spending the $500,000 that the City of Victoria has put aside for the Torch Relay.”

RBC has received negative attention for its sponsorship of the 2010 Games and its investments in Alberta's tar sands environmental disaster.

No 2010 Victoria, a coalition of anti-Olympic activists and groups, is organizing a campaign targeted the Torch Relay and its corporate sponsors.

For more information: No 2010 Victoria,

- 30 -

The "Olympic Ideal" is part of one of the world's most successful marketing campaigns, built around concepts that almost everyone can agree upon: world-class amateur sport and peaceful competition.

But a rising chorus of critical voices say that the Olympics are deeply implicated in the expropriation of land, money and resources. From movements demanding "No Olympics on Stolen Native Land" to angry business owners, resistance to the Olympics economic and social agenda is growing.

The Olympics budget includes a billion dollars for security. A billion dollars each will be spent on a new convention centre, a larger highway to Whistler, and SNC Lavalin's rail link from the Vancouver airport to downtown.

In the political and economic manoeuvres leading up to the 2010 Olympics, a different "ideal" has been revealed - one of exclusive contracts, sponsorship deals, displacement, social cleansing, and corruption. At times, sport seems like an afterthought.

Many of the real stories behind the Olympics remain to be told.

The Media Co-op and The Dominion want to know what kinds of critical coverage you want to see. Add your ideas as a researcher, a resident, or a reader, and check out what idea others are contributing by visiting our online discussion:

The Vancouver Local of the Media Co-op is being launched this summer. By 2010, it will be a node for unembedded coverage of the Olympic Games. We encourage writers, researchers and journalists to create an account and share information and
coverage about the 2010 Games.

The Dominion, the flagship publication of the Media Co-op, will publish a special issue about the Olympics in November 2009. The issue will draw upon your feedback and story ideas.

We want to hear from you! Join the Olympics working group at
or email with your story suggestions and ideas.

If you want to support independent coverage of the 2010 Games, please consider becoming a sustaining member of the Media Co-op by visiting

May is Membership Month; join now to win prizes!
For more information on our membership drive, visit

Stay tuned for more from the Media Co-op and the Dominion:

thanks for all your contributions,

-The Editors