Category Archives: Media

VIDEO: Question to panel of experts on the upcoming Israeli elections in 2013

Senior member of major British-Jewish organisation asked what will be the community’s response to the rise of Naftali Bennet’s Jewish Home party and his controversial plans to annex “Area C” (62%) of the West Bank.

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AUDIO: Question to Peter Beinart on Liberal Values in Israel

Peter Beinart is an accomplished author and journalist who first shot to fame with his controversial 2010 article, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment, and then again with the book, “The Crisis of Zionism”. He is also known more recently for his New York Times Op-Ed in March 2012 which called for a “Zionist boycott movement” – boycotting goods manufactured in the Israeli settlements while strengthening pre-1967 Israel.

Peter Beinart speaking at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund (photo credit: CC BY-ND 2.0 license, Center for American Progress Action Fund flickr user)

Peter Beinart speaking at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund (photo credit: CC BY-ND 2.0 license, Center for American Progress Action Fund flickr user)

In this audio clip I pose the question to Beinart via video conference from London: how can the Jewish Diaspora have any impact on a society whose main institutions were shaped and founded by members of the “Second Aliyah” wave of immigration, which was not necessarily characterised by Western Liberal values.

Can we tackle the challenges of “tomorrow” without the wisdom of “yesterday”?

LISTEN (HEADPHONES RECOMMENDED): At the 2012 Israeli Presidential Conference, Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson outlines the four categories of predicting the future, inspired by history and bizarrely, Donald Rumsfeld.

The assembled speakers during the plenary session focusing on the issue of the economic future for the world. (Far-Left): Alan Bollard, Governor Bank of New Zealand. (Centre-Left): Niall Ferguson. (Centre): Richard Haas, President Council on Foreign Relations. (Centre-Right): Martin Wolf, Associate Editor Financial Times. (Far-Right): Stanley Fishcher, Governor Bank of Israel (photo credit: Daniel Easterman).

Professor Niall Ferguson, the acclaimed Harvard and Oxford historian, economist, consultant and television personality, once again graced the glitzy light-effect laden stage of the fourth annual Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem last month.  The conference, organized under the auspices of the industrious octogenarian President Peres, is one of the largest in the Jewish world, attracting over 5,000 participants and 200 speakers from Israel and abroad.

Criticized by some as an incoherent and disjointed affair, lectures, speeches and workshops featured everything from psychology to the Arab spring, to the rise of Asia and cloud computing.  However, the over-riding theme of the conference was essentially about thinking and planning for the future or “tomorrow”.  Something Israelis, even by their own admission, are not terribly good at.

Professor Ferguson on the big screen during his speech at the 2012 Israeli Presidential Conference
(photo credit: Daniel Easterman).

As usual the conference organizers were able to secure a star-studied array of high-profile personalities from the worlds of politics, technology, economics and science including Henry Kissinger, Tony Blair, Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt, world-renowned sexologist “Dr Ruth” and even Zionist infant terrible, Peter Beinart.  But out of all these highly regarded and accomplished individuals, perhaps none were able to encapsulate the challenges of “tomorrow” quite so ably and succinctly as Professor Ferguson.  Probably this is because very few people in the world have the same command that Ferguson has over such a variety of distinct yet inter-related subjects.    From the history of the British Empire to high finance and the intricacies of macroeconomics, to his understanding of the importance of technology; not only does Ferguson seemingly know it all, but crucially he knows how to explain it all, and he does so in a compelling and user-friendly fashion.

This year, Niall Ferguson in his own words “conjured up the spirit of Donald Rumsfeld” by structuring his lecture according to the famously clunky categories of “known knowns” and “known-unknowns” first propounded by the much-maligned Former Secretary of Defense during the Iraq War.

So what will be the most serious challenges of tomorrow Professor Ferguson?  Well, the most obvious one or “known known” as Ferguson insists on calling it, is the ongoing economic crisis plaguing the United States and Europe.  When governments on both sides of the Atlantic were forced to bail out the banks for their profound recklessness and ill judgment, the tremendous mountains of debt they incurred were then of course transferred to the balance sheets of sovereign states.  While a second great depression was narrowly avoided in the short-term, the western world is now reeling from what can best be described as a all-mighty economic hang-over after binging on enormous sums of credit in the form of numerous budgetary and monetary stimulus packages.

The so-called “PIGS” economies of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain have so far fared worst in this latest round of global economic misery, but Ferguson also thinks that the US is not so far behind despite the fact that it is still (barely) the largest economy in the world.  If the bond markets finally catch wind of the precarious state of America’s finances, Ferguson believes (as he has stated elsewhere) that we could literally be in for a world of trouble.  As yet, it is difficult to predict when this tipping point will be, but barring a radical change in policy, it is hard to see how the US will be able to evade this outcome indefinitely.  Meanwhile, Western economies will continue to sputter along at infuriatingly low or even minus growth rates.

In terms of the next category of “known unknowns”, these are as Ferguson says, things we think are going to happen, but don’t really know when or where.  For Ferguson, this is essentially the category of future military conflict and war, namely in the Middle East where the Syrian civil war is still raging and a possible pre-emptive strike against Iran still looks likely.  And then of course there is the continued failure on the Palestinian track, which Ferguson forgets to mention.  The PA under Abbas and Fayyad are becoming increasingly unpopular and their hold on power over the restive populations of the urban sections of the West Bank seems to be slowly weakening.  A sudden outpouring of violence and anger in the West Bank in the wake of continued Syrian instability could plunge the region into further chaos and misery.

Skipping over the third category of “unknown unknowns” which essentially deals with the destabilizing effects of rapid and unforeseen technological advancement, we now move on to final category of “unknown knowns”, which Ferguson himself has confusingly titled.  Despite the perplexing nomenclature, this is perhaps the most important category.  Drawing on major historical events as our guide, we see that wherever there is a dramatic improvement in living standards and a rising middle class, there is also an accompanying rise in revolutionary political sentiments.  Nowhere is this most true today, than in China, the great economic and geopolitical story of our time.  If the growing legions of middle class Chinese start demanding western political rights as well as western brands and economic standards, we could potentially see much greater instability in China with consequences for the whole world.  As Ferguson warns, when great powers change places, and a monumental “reconvergence” between different empires occurs, the ensuing process is not usually smooth and painless.

According to Ferguson, this last category is not just the most important, it is also the one that only those familiar with history and the lessons of “yesterday” can employ for the good of tomorrow.

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WATCH: Eugene Kaspersky: Flame virus has opened a “Pandora’s box” for global terrorists, cyber weaponry much easier to produce than conventional military hardware.

In dramatic conference, founder of Kaspersky Labs tells Tel Aviv press corps that release of Flame could usher in “the end of the world as we know it.” Calls on nation-states to cease and desist from cyber weapons development for the safety of future generations

 (N.B. PLEASE WATCH ALL FOLLOWING VIDEO WITH HEADPHONES).

Eugene Kaspersky at Tel Aviv University on Wednesday

Eugene Kaspersky, the CEO of Kaspersky Labs told reporters in Tel Aviv Wednesday (6 June 2012) that the recent discovery of the so-called “flame” virus could mark the beginning of a terrifying new era in cyber-warfare and terrorism.

When asked what the planet would look like after a worldwide cyber-terrorist attack, Kaspersky’s answer was surprising: “Die Hard 4”, he responded, the last instalment of the popular Bruce Willis action movies.  The film’s plot revolves around a group of hackers wreaking havoc on the U.S. by taking control of transportation, infrastructure and military systems.  “In this movie, Hollywood has taught the possibilities of cyber-war to the bad guys”, said Kaspersky.

At the Tel Aviv University press conference, Kaspersky called on the global bodies such as the UN to take steps towards developing a framework of international law and cooperation to deal with the new threat posed by cyber-warfare.  This is the only way to solve the problem says the Anti-virus magnate, as no anti-virus or security software can prevent outbreaks like this from occurring in the future.

However, there are some in Israel who have attempted to downplay the importance of Flame. Zvi Netiv for example, a security expert at NetZ Computing contends that Flame has been “over-hyped”.  In response, Timor Tsoriev, Chief of Staff at Kaspersky Labs, told the Israeli Internationalist that such claims were ridiculous and completely erroneous.

“Flame is a totally unique phenomenon”, said Mr Tsoriev.  “It’s incredibly complex and has been evolving year upon year, going through multiple versions while active in the wild.  “In short, Flame is a masterpiece.  It marks a new and unprecedented step in the development of malicious programs,” he said.

My photo from Kaspersky press conference featured on Times of Israel frontpage, June 6th 2012

In particular both Kaspersky and Tsoriev are worried that terrorists, cyber-criminals or so-called “hacktivists” could get their hands on the sophisticated code of viruses such as Flame, thus unleashing mayhem on a global-scale.  At present many states possess the know-how and capability to develop highly sophisticated cyber-weapons including lesser-known computing heavyweights such as Romania or Portugal for example.  Even states like Iran which may not have the expertise at the moment to develop weapons-grade software, can easily recruit or even kidnap engineers in the future warns Kaspersky.

“I’m scared, believe me” he said, “if we continue developing weapons like this and going down this path, I’m afraid it could be the end of the world as we know it.  The world will become a very different place.”

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PHOTO-ESSAY: Hebron, Israel’s Forgotten City

As Israel turns in on itself, focusing on the multitude of social and economic problems facing the country, the West Bank continues to drift further away from the country’s collective consciousness.  But how long will the relative quiet in Hebron last?

On Friday May 18th I participated in a tour with “Breaking the Silence”, a group of former IDF combat soldiers.  The following photo-essay shows a day-in-the-life of Hebron in 2012, and how in this city, even a minor incident can cause things to rapidly spin out of control…

Palestinian children walking down a deserted Hebron street. To the right is a white tent built by settlers which has been torn down repeatedly by the IDF. Each time requires at least 300 soldiers.

The official Israeli checkpoint for passage in and out of the West Bank, far beyond the internationally recognized 1967 “Green Line” which itself has no discernable markers. The so-called checkpoint looks more like an innocuous European-style border crossing between countries, providing a sense of normalcy for Israelis and other privileged visitors to an otherwise abnormal system of military government.

Revered by both Jews and Muslims as the final resting place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Bible, the Me’arat Ha-Machpela or Al Haram al-Ibrahimi in Arabic is also the site of the 1994 massacre by the Brooklyn-born settler, Baruch Goldstein.  Goldstein’s killing of 29 Muslims and wounding 125 is widely regarded as one of the major causes for the outbreak in Palestinian suicide attacks and the consequent derailment of the Oslo peace process.

Palestinian child looks-on at the rare sight of Israeli civilian visitors from the other side of the roadside barrier which divides Jews and Muslims along Hebron’s main Shuhada street, a few steps away from the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in October 2000, Palestinians are forbidden from travelling by car or opening shops in the city center.  Despite attempts by Israeli NGOs to improve conditions through legal action, Palestinian freedom of movement, even by foot is severely restricted in Hebron to this day.

A Sunglasses-clad military border policeman surveys the scene, as the group continues down Shuhada Street. Often confused by foreign media outlets as “Israeli soldiers”, the border police or “magavnikim” in Hebrew shorthand are actually a branch of the Israel National Police and not the military. Even so, young Israelis can choose to volunteer for Magav at the age of 18 as part of their three-year mandatory military service.  Those that do so are usually motivated by ideology as the unit has regular contact and confrontations with Palestinians, particularly at checkpoints.

Once the scene of a busy marketplace selling fruits, vegetable and meats much like Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda “shuk”, this stretch of Shuhada street is still a virtual ghost-town or as is common in army parlance, “sterilized” of Palestinians.  The only movement that can be found is bizarrely of a jogger (in orange), an armored police vehicle and a solitary soldier whose silhouetted figure can just be made out in the background.

Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of the Israeli NGO, “Breaking the Silence, and the “tour leader” for the day’s excursion through Hebron.  Shaul, a former soldier who served for years in Hebron during the Second Intifada, is a religiously observant Jew with close family, including a sister that lives in the settlements. Breaking the Silence strictly define their role as that of “providing education and information”, particularly for Israelis on the situation in Hebron and the surrounding area. They are quick to point out that their goal is not to suggest a “political program” for solving the conflict.  Nevertheless they are unequivocally opposed to the continued occupation of the West Bank.

One of the numerous IDF soldiers we passed along the way, next to a heavily armored police vehicle.  Hebron is the second largest urban area in the West Bank with a population of 166,000 Palestinian Arabs.  It is the only major Palestinian city in the West Bank which Israelis are legally allowed to enter because of the three “micro-settlements” of 1,000 Jewish settlers within the actual city.  Guarding these 1,000 people is a battalion-strength force of about 500 soldiers, reinforced by both regular and border police.  This means that for every two settlers, there is at least one solider protecting them, the highest ratio of its kind in the West Bank.  Despite these heavy outlays of money and manpower, Israel formally claims no sovereignty over Hebron.  The only governing authority over the city is military rule.

“Breaking the silence” tours are usually notorious for the interruptions and antagonism they elicit from the small settler community of Hebron.  While there were two minor disruptions by settlers from the area, overall local reaction to the presence of the tour group in the city was muted and bemused rather than aggressive or violent. Here a member of Hebron’s Chabad House argues that the property was acquired through legitimate means while Shaul continues to address the group, rebutting the man’s claims.

However, the day was not entirely without incident. Towards the very end of the tour, the group finally got a tiny taste of the emotionally charged nature of Hebron and the often unfair and illogical conduct of the city’s security forces.  As the group attempted to enter the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a vicious verbal standoff ensued whereby the border police refused to allow the Israelis to pass through.  One visibly religious and senior-looking officer instructed the police troops not to say anything to any of the increasingly agitated members of the group, “not a word” and not to grant them entry under any circumstances.  Threats of arrest and confiscation of photographic equipment were made, to which the group responded by shouting insults, yelling “chatzuf” or “insolent” at the magavnikim.

Despite the stern orders by his commander, the middle-aged trooper of Ethiopian origin, pictured in the foreground here, flaunted all protocol; loudly claiming that one of the group had made a racist comment against him.  Here I was able to take one hasty shot of the continuing exchange between him and group member, while one of the younger military policeman (out of shot) aggressively urged me to move on, shouting more threats.

And suddenly, the initial complete refusal of entry was overturned in an instant.  As a large American-Jewish tour group comprising both secular and religious teenagers approached the site, inexplicably the order by another officer was given to allow everyone entry.  Here at the entrance to the site’s many hallways lined with “memorials” to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, I wait behind a crowd of American tourists whose presence seems to have been the random decisive factor enabling my own access to Judaism’s second holiest place.

Breaking the Silence says that Israelis suspected of “left-wing” views are routinely barred entry to the Tomb of the Patriarchs if they don’t look “religious”.  Strangely, the information materials we were given by the NGO were also temporarily confiscated upon entering the second security check area situated within the enclosure itself.  On my way out, I saw a friendly-looking magavnik of about 19 or 20 years of age, intently reading one of my leaflets.  “Very interesting,” he said after he reluctantly handed it back to me, clearly enjoying the colorful graphs, facts and figures contained in the materials.  It seemed to sum up the very bizarre encounter, where personal whims and emotions ruled the day rather than clear orders and the fair application of one rule for all.  Our unpleasant inconvenience was just that, a simple inconvenience (albeit one filled with vitriol and the threat of violence), but for the Israelis involved, it perhaps gave them a small snap-shot of what it is like to be a Palestinian, even if for only a brief moment.

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Facebook Threatens To Ban Work of Israeli Political Cartoonist

The visual art of Israeli cartoonist, “Mysh” has drawn the ire and censorship of social media giant, Facebook, it has emerged today.

According to the artist, three major pieces have been removed, with threats that his page will be completely erased if he continues to post “flagged material” in the future.  Mysh reported that his page had already been suspended for 24 hours by the social network while efforts to contact the relevant department dealing with censorship issues have so far been unsuccessful.

In some of Mysh’s work he draws inspiration from popular comic book superheroes such as Superman, Batman and the Hulk to comment on the political and economic issues of the day.  These have included Israel’s wealth divide, the recent spate of anti-African agitation and violence, and settlement expansion in the territories of the West Bank.

One of  the piece’s reproduced here, which has been banned by Facebook, depicts the Israeli settlement enterprise in the figure of the Hulk.

Text says: “The Green Sabra, control, but not over itself” (Courtesy: Mysh)

Another banned illustration entitled “A Problem of Self-Esteem” is meant to critique the “Holocaust-complex”, the  tendency by Israeli leaders and parts of the general population to view Israel as a permanent victim, due to the trauma of the Holocaust, a self-image which is not always in tune with the current reality.  In response to Facebook’s decision to remove the cartoon, one user reposted the image on Mysh’s page saying, “go ahead Facebook, delete it again”, reflecting an upswell of online support for the Israeli cartoonist.

(Courtesy: Mysh) Various popular prejudiced slogans are tattooed on the figures back, including “death to the Sudanese, a good Arab is a dead Arab, what doesn’t come with force, comes with violence, allow the IDF to mow down”

This third piece, which so far has escaped the Facebook censor, shows far-right national-religious politician, Michael Ben Ari, Shas Minister of Interior Eli Yishai, and Prime Minister working hand-in-hand to distract the Israeli citizen with the recent African immigrant issue in Israel.  Routinely referred to as “infiltrators” by the media and political class, the increasing number of Africans in South Tel Aviv, principally from Sudan and Eritrea has become a hot-button issue in recent weeks.  Religious and right-wing politicians from both extremist and mainstream parties alike have used the issue to stir-up racial hatred and violence among the disenfranchised and impoverished neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv.  Last Wednesday, Likud Parliamentarian, Miri Regev, former Brigadier General of the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Department told a baying crowd that the African “infiltrators are a cancer in our body”.  Regev subsequently denied making those comments, but her speech was then caught on camera and widely distributed throughout the internet, thus exposing her denials as false.

(Courtesy: Mysh) “Teamwork”: PM Netanyahu says, “make sure that nothing is left in his pocket”

I emailed the Facebook press department several hours before publishing to receive an official explanation for why they opted to censor and threaten Mysh’s work with a ban, but no response has so far been forthcoming.  Mysh has informed me that Facebook will not return his own request for more information until the 6th of June.

The controversy over Mysh’s artwork comes at a time when the whole medium of political cartoons and animation are gaining increasing importance online as users demand more hard-hitting visual content incorporating opinion as well as basic news.  Al Jazeera recently ran a piece for its “Listening Post” programme on this new trend, featuring Mark Fiore,  the first ever online animator to win the Pulitzer Prize in 2010.

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MUST SEE: Lapid lambasts Bibi-Mofaz deal in America, but could be ultimate beneficiary

Skip to 05:00 for start of Yair Lapid’s speech to congress of Rabbinical Assembly rabbis.

In an eloquent speech to the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism in Atlanta, US, Lapid passionately told the audience that most Israelis belong to the “conservative” [stream] but don’t know it yet”.

As I wrote in my opinion piece on the startling political turn of events which took place yesterday, I speculated that Mofaz took this initiative in order to bypass the ultra-orthodox parties and pass much needed electoral reform legislation to ensure that their power is permanently curtailed.

Lapid was highly critical of the move and bemoaned the fact on his facebook page that the deal represented a return to the “old politics” of corrupt practices and the sacrifice of “principles for jobs”.  On the contrary I would say that Mofaz’s actions could mean that Lapid will actually end up as a major beneficiary of this development in the medium to long-term.

What Lapid fails to understand is that Mofaz grasped a historic opportunity which doesn’t come around very often.  This unprecedented coalition provides the wide political cover necessary to make real changes away from the current proportional representation system which gives disproportionate power to the Haredi parties relative to their real electoral and demographic strength.  Current trends show the ultra-orthodox population is continuing to grow exponentially, so this problem is likely to only grow more pronounced in the coming years.  While we should respect the rights of the ultra-orthodox community to practice their form of Judaism as they see fit, they should not be granted the power to impose their extreme brand of the religion on the rest of the population. This is the current status-quo in Israel today, mainly because of how the system is set-up and their astute manipulation of rules of the game for their own narrow interests.

If Mofaz and Netanyahu can change the political status-quo by reforming the electoral system, it would actually benefit moderate parties such as Yair Lapid’s “Yesh Atid” (there is a future) which represent the views of the vast majority of moderate Israelis.  It is all very well and good standing up for such noble principles as ensuring equal rights for all streams of Judaism as Lapid declared, but if the requisite political power to make those decisions is not there, such principles turn into empty words without action.  The Netanyahu-Mofaz move may not have been pretty, but if you want to defeat your political foes and gain power to implement what you believe in, sometimes you have to play dirty and surprise the opposition.  This is exactly what the Prime Minister and the new honorable Minister without Portfolio have done.

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WATCH TRAILER: “Killing Kastner”

Documentary Film on the Life and Death of Israel Kastner, Broadcast on Israeli Television for Holocaust Remembrance Day

Who was Kastner?

Late last night (Wed 18 April 2012), the documentary film, “Killing Kastner” was broadcast on Israeli television, delving into the complex and controversial story of Israel Kastner, a Hungarian Jew who negotiated with Adolf Eichmann and the Nazis to save Jews during the Holocaust.  In exchange for valuable goods and such as diamonds, gold and hard currency, Kastner was able to secure the release of almost 1,700 Jews by train to Switzerland.  In terms of lives saved, this was the greatest single act by any Jew during the Shoah.  Historians also estimate that Kastner was responsible for saving the lives of nearly fifteen thousand other Hungarian Jews by enabling their transfer from Auschwitz to the relative safety of Strasshof labor camp.

Pre-war Life

From his early career in Hungary as a journalist, lawyer and aspiring politician devoted to the Zionist cause, it was clear that Kastner was an individual of great promise and ability.  Sometimes this talent bred a certain over-confidence which spilled over into arrogance.  It was perhaps this supreme confidence in his intellectual ability together with his charisma and good looks which instilled in him the daring and courage to take incredible risks.  Even before the war, despite great personal danger to himself as a Jew, he interviewed members of the anti-Semitic Iron Guard political party in neighbouring Romania while working for the Új Kelet newspaper.

Israel Kastner (Screen capture from Youtube)

Israel Kastner (Screen capture from Youtube)

Negotiating with the Nazis

Of course nothing would compare to his later involvement with the tiny group of Hungarian Jews known as the Aid and Rescue Committee or Vaada during the war.  Under what today seem like impossible circumstances, Kastner was tasked with the role of negotiating with the Nazi leadership, meeting with the duplicitous Adolf Eichmann on several occasions to release thousands of Jews from the clutches of the Nazis and the terrible fate of the concentration and death camps.  Although Kastner was merely part of a small band of Jewish individuals, he projected the image of a man of great power and importance.  How he was able to deceive the Germans in this way still beggars belief even today, but without this tremendous act, he would never have been able achieve what he did, or leave the heart of the Nazi headquarters unscathed each time he ventured inside to negotiate.

Life in Israel and Libel Trial

After the war, Kastner realized his dream of moving to Israel, starting his life afresh by first working for a Hungarian-language newspaper and then slowly rising up the ranks of Ben Gurion’s ruling Mapai party, finally becoming the spokesman for the Ministry of Industry and Trade in 1952.  It was at this point that his past came back to haunt him.  When an elderly amateur journalist with a criminal past named Malchiel Gruenwald, wrote a poisonous pamphlet alleging that Kastner was actually a Nazi collaborator who (among other things) provided assistance to members of the SS such as Kurt Becher, Kastner’s world began to fall apart.  Needless to say, Gruenwald’s stunning revelations involving a toxic mixture of lies, half-truths and innuendo was enough to bring considerable shame and embarrassment onto the unsuspecting Kastner.  As a serving member of the government, Kastner brought a libel trial against Gruenwald in a desperate bid to clear his name and put the whole affair behind him.  But Kastner was caught out lying on the Becher connection and the presiding chief judge ruled that by entering into negotiations with the Nazis he had “sold his soul to the devil”.

The Kastner trial was important in the history of Israel for a number of reasons.  It was the first time that Israeli society confronted the past of the Holocaust and attempted to come to terms with its impossible reality and the stark choices that had to be made by someone like Kastner – who to save and put on the train to Switzerland and who not.  The trial also clashed with the common Israeli perception of the time that the Jews of the Diaspora went to the slaughter without trying to take control of their destiny.  It would take the heart-rending testimonies of the survivors during the Eichmann trial to change that cruel perception once and for all.  In short, Israel’s nascent society at the beginning of the 1950s was not ready to fully understand and engage with the complexity of Kastner’s story and to view his unique circumstances in a sympathetic light.  Once the judge’s words had been spoken, for all intents and purposes, the case was closed and Kastner became a hate figure in Israel.

Ze'ev Eckstein, assassin of Kastner, in present-day Israel (Screen Capture from Youtube)

Ze'ev Eckstein, assassin of Kastner, in present-day Israel (Screen Capture from Youtube)

Assassination

And then, even once Kastner retreated to a reclusive life of shame and desolation, the story was still not over yet.  In 1957 a 22 year old former member of the extreme right-wing Lehi group named Ze’ev Eckstein, assassinated Kastner together with two accomplices, in an event which is still to this day clouded in mystery and controversy.  In the documentary Eckstein claims that his gun jammed and the only shot that was fired by him was a blank.  This begs the question: who fired the shot which killed Kastner?  And why did Eckstein and the other two accomplishes receive the shortened sentence of just seven years in prison for cold-blooded murder?  And finally, why in 1958 did the Supreme Court over-rule the lower court and completely exonerate Kastner for his role during the Holocaust only one year after his death?  We may never know the answers to these questions and many more.

We can only hope that the re-showing of the Kastner film on Israeli public television in 2012, three years after it first premiered, reminds Israelis that we should not be so quick to judge, and that the truth is often more complicated than it might at first appear.  In 2007 Kastner’s documents were finally entered into the official archives of Yad Vashem.  There is still no street named after Kastner in the State of Israel today.

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WATCH UPDATE:

ISRAELI BIG BROTHER CONTESTANT SAAR SZEKELY TELLS AL JAZEERA ENGLISH THAT FRIENDSHIP WITH ARABS IN ISRAEL IS A “POLITICAL ACT”, WHILE FORMER ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR, DANIEL LEVY SAYS CURRENT ISRAELI POLICIES ARE A “BOOMERANG”, DO NOT “DELIVER SECURITY” 

In wide ranging discussion assessing the impact of Peter Beinart on the Israel debate within the US Jewish community, Daniel Levy, Co-Director of Middle East Task Force at New America Foundation says history of anti-Semitism, Holocaust cheapened by influential voices in American Jewish establishment

Israel’s Mako Channel 2 TV station ran a prominent story on their website today (April 8, 2012) covering the recent interview of Saar Szekely, the so-called “radical leftist” Big Brother contestant appearing on Al Jazeera’s “The Stream” program in English.  The interview has been widely reported by many of the major Israeli media outlets including NRG (Maariv newspaper online edition), Nana (Channel 10 TV), Walla and of course Mako-Keshet which produces the Big Brother show in Israel.

The mainstream Israeli media has all led as their main headline: “Szekely says that he would not enlist in the IDF today”.  Although they all mentioned Szekely’s comments on friendship with Arabs as a “political act”, the Israeli press tended to do so right at the end of their articles, as a relatively unimportant footnote.

Saar Szekely entering the Big Brother house

Saar Szekely entering the Big Brother house

This morning, the presenters of the channel 2 morning show, “Yom Hadash” (new day), Dahlia Mazor and Yoaz Limor, expressed disapproval of Szekely’s appearance on Al Jazeera saying that it was wrong for him to criticise Israel on “Arab media,” (even though Szekely actually appeared on the channel’s English version).  However, they agreed that prior to that it was legitimate for him to express his political views on Israeli primetime television.

Another major contributor taking part in “The Stream” program together with Szekely, and completely absent from any Israeli coverage was Daniel Levy, son of controversial member of the British House of Lords, Michael Levy, and in his own right a serious figure in numerous Israeli peace negotiating teams.  Levy was a member of Israeli delegations from Oslo 2 in 1995, to the Taba summit in 2001 and most recently was one of the lead drafters of the Geneva Accords.  Today Levy spends most of his time in Washington D.C. working for the think tank, the New America Foundation, as the co-director of their Middle East Task Force department.

During the course of the Al Jazeera show, Levy made a number of provocative comments challenging the American-Jewish establishment regarding the debate on Israel in the US.  First he said that the accusation of “anti-Semitism” and the use of the Holocaust is “hurled around” too often thus cheapening the term and the history of the Jewish people.  Levy also referenced the response of Atlantic journalist, Jeffrey Goldberg to Peter Beinart’s Zionist BDS arguments as an example of the kind of unhelpful knee-jerk reactions in the Jewish community to deep criticism of Israeli policy.

Daniel Levy, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation

Daniel Levy, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation

Later in the program, Levy also heavily criticised Israeli government and military favouring security at all costs while compromising international ethical and legal norms.  He stated that “we’re all better off” in a rule-based society and a world in which rules and rights are not abused.  He also argued that such abuse in the name of security will only, “engender hate, anger and frustration”.  This will result in a “boomerang” effect which will be self-defeating, only serving to undermine our security interests in the long-term, Levy added.


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