August 30, 2010

Israeli actors to boycott new West Bank theatre: The Guardian

60 actors, writers and directors argue that performing in occupied territories would legitimise illegal settlements
Ariel Turgeman, manager of the theatre being built in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, which has prompted a boycott by Israeli actors. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Dozens of Israeli actors, playwrights and directors have signed a letter refusing to take part in productions by leading theatre companies at a new cultural centre in a West Bank settlement, prompting renewed debate over the legitimacy of artistic boycott.

More than 60 have joined the protest over plans by Israel’s national theatre, the Habima, and other leading companies to stage performances in Ariel, a settlement 12 miles inside the West Bank. The letter, to Israel’s culture minister, Limor Livnat, says the new centre for performing arts in Ariel, which is due to open in November after 20 years in construction, would “strengthen the settlement enterprise”.

“We want to express our dismay with the intention of the theatres’ managements to perform in the new auditorium in Ariel and hereby declare that we will refuse to perform in the city, as in any other settlement.” Israel’s theatre companies should “pursue their prolific activity inside the sovereign territory of the state of Israel within the boundaries of the Green Line”.

Livnat said the boycott would cause divisions in Israeli society: “Culture is a bridge in society, and political disputes should be left outside cultural life and art. I call for the scheduled performances to be carried out as scheduled in Ariel and all over the country, as each citizen has the right to consume culture anywhere he chooses.”

Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the country was under attack by the international community – including economic, academic and cultural boycotts – and “the last thing we need at this time … is a boycott from within”.

The Habima, Cameri, Beit Lessin and Be’er Shiva theatre companies issued a joint defence of their plans, saying they “will perform in any place where there are theatre-loving Israelis, including the new cultural centre in Ariel. We respect the political views of our actors, but we’ll make sure that the best of Israeli theatre will get to Ariel”. The four companies, plus another two – the Khan and the Haifa – which have also agreed to stage productions in Ariel, all receive state funding.

Ron Nachman, the mayor of Ariel, said: “These actors get salaries from the government, which is sponsoring their theatres. You cannot take the money from the government and then decide your own policies. That is not integrity or honesty. If they disagree [with performing in Ariel], they should resign.”

It was not clear how many of the signatories were listed for planned performances in Ariel. Yousef Swaid, who is appearing in A Railway To Damascus, a production scheduled to be staged in Ariel, told Channel 1 television: “Settlers and settlements are not something that entertain me, and I don’t want to entertain them.” Rami Heuberger, who is not listed, said: “As a stage actor, it is a very, very problematic issue, and I think that so long as settlements are a controversial issue that will be discussed in any negotiations [with the Palestinians], I should not be there.”

Gideon Levy, a leading liberal Israeli commentator, backed the actors’ stance. “Yes, there is a difference between legitimate, sovereign Israel and the areas of its occupation,” he wrote in today’s Haaretz, which first reported the story. “. “Yes, there is a moral difference between appearing here and appearing there in the heart of an illegal settlement … built on a plot of stolen land, in a performance designed to help settlers pass their time pleasantly, while surrounded by people who have been deprived of all their rights.”

The Yesha Council, which represents settlers, said the actors’ letter had been signed by “army evaders and anti-Zionist leftwing activists”.

The actors’ letter follows the refusal of some international artists to perform in Israel because of its occupation of the Palestinian territories. Earlier this summer, Elvis Costello cancelled concerts in Israel, citing the “intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security”. The Pixies, Gil Scott Heron, Santana and Klaxons have also withdrawn from performances.

Ariel, home to almost 20,000 people, was founded in 1978 deep in the West Bank. Israel wants it to remain on its side of any border resulting from peace negotiations with the Palestinians. All settlements on occupied territory are illegal under international law.

Erekat: Israeli religious figure urging genocide of Palestinians: Haaretz

Netanyahu distances himself from remarks by Shas spiritual leader who said earlier that all Palestinians should perish.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Sunday slammed remarks by the spiritual leader of Israel’s leading ultra-Orthodox party, who said the Palestinians should “perish”, saying that it was paramount to incitement to genocide.

Erekat called on the Israeli government to denounce the remarks by Israel’s former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and to take action against racist remarks by other elected officials. He also criticized Israel for allowing the incident to pass without condemnation.

Yosef had said during his weekly Shabbat sermon that the Palestinians, namely Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, should perish from the world. Yosef, a founder of the Shas Party, also described Palestinians as evil, bitter enemies of Israel.

“All these evil people should perish from this world … God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians,” Yosef had said.

The 89-year-old is a respected religious scholar but is also known for vitriolic comments about Arabs, secular Jews, liberals, women and gays, among others.

“Is this how the Israeli government prepares its public for a peace agreement?” Erekat said, days before Israeli and Palestinian leaders were scheduled to meet in Washington for the launch of renewed direct peace negotiations.

“While the PLO is ready to resume negotiations in seriousness and good faith, a member of the Israeli government is calling for our destruction,” Erekat said. “It is an insult to all our efforts to advance the negotiations process.”

Erekat called on Israel “do more about peace and stop spreading hatred” and said Yosef’s comments could be placed within the larger context of Israel’s “policy against a Palestinian state” such as settlement expansion, home demolitions, among other things.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday distanced himself from Yosef’s remarks, but stopped short of a condemnation. “Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s remarks do not reflect Netanyahu’s views, nor do they reflect the stance of the Israeli government,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

“Israel plans to take part in peace negotiations out of a desire to advance toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians that will end the conflict and ensure peace, security and good neighborly relations between the two peoples,” the statement continued.

Israeli Arab MK Jamal Zahalka, chair of the Balad Knesset faction, sent a letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, demanding that Yosef be investigated and tried for racist incitement and incitement to murder.

“Yosef’s comments are especially dangerous because he keeps repeating himself again and again, so he must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” MK Zahalka said.

According to Zahalka, Yosef is not a minor public figure, but a spiritual leader whose religious edicts are adhered to by hundreds of thousands of followers, and his comments can be interpreted as permission to kill Palestinians.

Zahalka added, “If, heaven forbid, a Muslim spiritual leader were to make anti-Jewish comments of this sort, he would be arrested immediately.”

MK Ahmed Tibi, chair of the United Arab List-Ta’al Knesset faction, also responded to Yosef’s comments, saying that the rabbi “has long since turned into the biggest blasphemer, the evilest purveyor of hatred and killing, which are contrary to all religions.”

MK Tibi called upon Yosef to reconsider his call for all evildoers to die, “because without realizing it, he is calling for his own death.”

In the past, Israel has accused the Palestinian government of incitement against the Jewish state, including by naming streets after Palestinian militants.

The Palestinian Authority has dismissed such allegations, though U.S. President Barack Obama told Abbas earlier this year he needs to do more to halt incitement against Israel.

An Assault on Israeli Academic Freedom—and Liberal Values: Chronicle of Higher Education

By Neve Gordon
On May 31, I joined some 50 students and faculty members who gathered outside Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to demonstrate against the Israeli military assault on the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid toward Gaza. In response, the next day a few hundred students marched toward the social-sciences building, Israeli flags in hand. Amid the nationalist songs and pro-government chants, there were also shouts demanding my resignation from the university faculty.

One student even proceeded to create a Facebook group whose sole goal is to have me sacked. So far over 2,100 people (many of them nonstudents) have joined. In addition to death wishes and declarations that I should be exiled, the site includes a call on students to spy on me during class. “We believe,” ends a message written to the group, “that if we conduct serious and profound work, we can, with the help of each and every one of you, gather enough material to influence … Neve Gordon’s status at the university, and maybe even bring about his dismissal.”

Such personal attacks are part of a much broader assault on Israeli higher education and its professors. Two recent incidents exemplify the protofascist logic that is being deployed to undermine the pillars of academic freedom in Israel, while also revealing that the assault on Israeli academe is being backed by neoconservative forces in the United States.

The first incident involves a report published by the Institute for Zionist Strategies, in Israel, which analyzed course syllabi in Israeli sociology departments and accused professors of a “post-Zionist” bias. The institute defines post-Zionism as “the pretense to undermine the foundations of the Zionist ethos and an affinity with the radical leftist stream.” In addition to the usual Israeli leftist suspects, intellectuals like Benedict Anderson and Eric Hobsbawm also figure in as post-Zionists in the report.

The institute sent the report to the Israel Council for Higher Education, which is the statutory body responsible for Israeli universities, and the council, in turn, sent it to all of the university presidents. Joseph Klafter, president of Tel-Aviv University, actually asked several professors to hand over their syllabi for his perusal, though he later asserted that he had no intention of policing faculty members and was appalled by the report.

A few days later, the top headline of the Israeli daily Haaretz revealed that another right-wing organization, Im Tirtzu (If You Will It), had threatened Ben-Gurion University, where I am a professor and a former chair of the government and politics department. Im Tirtzu told the university’s president, Rivka Carmi, that it would persuade donors to place funds in escrow unless the university took steps “to put an end to the anti-Zionist tilt” in its politics and government department. The organization demanded a change “in the makeup of the department’s faculty and the content of its syllabi,” giving the president a month to meet its ultimatum. This time my head was not the only one it wanted.

President Carmi immediately asserted that Im Tirtzu’s demands were a serious threat to academic freedom. However, Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar, who is also chairman of the Council for Higher Education, restricted his response to a cursory statement that any move aimed at harming donations to universities must be stopped. Mr. Sa’ar’s response was disturbingly predictable. Only a few months earlier, he had spoken at an Im Tirtzu gathering, following its publication of a report about the so-called leftist slant of syllabi in Israeli political-science departments. At the gathering, he asserted that even though he had not read the report, its conclusions would be taken very seriously.

Although the recent scuffle seems to be about academic freedom, the assault on the Israeli academe is actually part of a much wider offensive against liberal values. Numerous forces in Israel are mobilizing in order to press forward an extreme-right political agenda.

They have chosen the universities as their prime target for two main reasons. First, even though Israeli universities as institutions have never condemned any government policy—not least the restrictions on Palestinian universities’ academic freedom—they are home to many vocal critics of Israel’s rights-abusive policies. Those voices are considered traitorous and consequently in need of being stifled. Joining such attacks are Americans like Alan M. Dershowitz, who in a recent visit to Tel-Aviv University called for the resignations of professors who supported the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli goods and divestment from Israeli companies until the country abides by international human-rights law. He named Rachel Giora and Anat Matar, both tenured professors at Tel Aviv University, as part of that group.

Second, all Israeli universities depend on public funds for about 90 percent of their budget. This has been identified as an Achilles heel. The idea is to exploit the firm alliance those right-wing organizations have with government members and provide the ammunition necessary to make financial support for universities conditional on the dissemination of nationalist thought and the suppression of “subversive ideas.” Thus, in the eyes of those right-wing Israeli organizations, the universities are merely arms of the government.

And, yet, Im Tirtzu and other such organizations would not have been effective on their own; they depend on financial support from backers in the United States. As it turns out, some of their ideological allies are willing to dig deep into their pockets to support the cause.

The Rev. John C. Hagee, the leader of Christians United for Israel, has been Im Tirtzu’s sugar daddy, and his ministries have provided the organization with at least $100,000. After Im Tirtzu’s most recent attack, however, even Mr. Hagee concluded that it had gone overboard and decided to stop giving funds. The Hudson Institute, a neoconservative think tank that helped shape the Bush administration’s Middle East policies, has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Institute for Zionist Strategies over the past few years, and was practically its only donor. For Christians United and the Hudson Institute, the attack on academic freedom is clearly also a way of advancing much broader objectives.

The Hudson Institute, for example, has neo-imperialist objectives in the Middle East, and a member of its Board of Trustees is in favor of attacking Iran. Christian United’s eschatological position (whereby the Second Coming is dependent on the gathering of all Jews in Israel), includes support for such an attack. The scary partnership between such Israeli and American organizations helps reveal the true aims of this current assault on academic freedom: to influence Israeli policy and eliminate the few liberal forces that are still active in the country. The atmosphere within Israel is conducive to such intervention.

Nonetheless, Im Tirtzu’s latest threat backfired, as did that of the Institute for Zionist Strategies’ report; the assaults have been foiled for now. The presidents of all the universities in Israel condemned the reports and promised never to bow down to this version of McCarthyism.

Despite those declarations, the rightist organizations have actually made considerable headway. Judging from comments on numerous online news sites, the populist claim that the public’s tax money is being used to criticize Israel has convinced many readers that the universities should be more closely monitored by the government and that “dissident” professors must be fired. Moreover, the fact that the structure of Israeli universities has changed significantly over the past five years, and that now most of the power lies in the hands of presidents rather than the faculty, will no doubt be exploited to continue the assault on academic freedom. Top university administrators are already stating that if the Israeli Knesset approves a law against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement for Palestine, the law will be used to fire faculty members who support the movement.

More importantly, there is now the sense among many faculty members that a thought police has been formed—and that many of its officers are actually members of the academic community. The fact that students are turning themselves into spies and that syllabi are being collected sends a chilling message to faculty members across the country. I, for one, have decided to include in my syllabi a notice restricting the use of recording devices during class without my prior consent. And many of my friends are now using Gmail instead of the university e-mail accounts for fear that their correspondence will in some way upset administrators.

Israeli academe, which was once considered a bastion of free speech, has become the testing ground for the success of the assault on liberal values. And although it is still extremely difficult to hurt those who have managed to enter the academic gates, those who have not yet passed the threshold are clearly being monitored.

I know of one case in which a young academic was not hired due to his membership in Courage to Refuse, an organization of reserve soldiers who refuse to do military duty in the West Bank. In a Google and Facebook age, the thought police can easily disqualify a candidate based on petitions signed and even online “friends” one has. Israeli graduate students are following such developments, and for them the message is clear.

While in politics nothing is predetermined, Israel is heading down a slippery slope. Israeli academe is now an arena where some of the most fundamental struggles of a society are being played out. The problem is that instead of struggling over basic human rights, we are now struggling over the right to struggle.

Neve Gordon is a professor of politics and the author of Israel’s Occupation (University of California Press, 2008).

Mahmoud Abbas: If talks fail over settlements, only Israel will be to blame: Haaretz

Palestinian President: We understand Israel’s need for security, but it is not an excuse to expand settlements and steal lands.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the upcoming resumption of direct peace talks with Israel in a televised speech on Sunday, saying that “Israel will be held accountable for the failure of the talks if settlement construction should continue.”

“The negotiations need to bring about serious action that will be able to bring liberation from the occupation and independence,” Abbas said.

Mere days before leaving for Washington to take part in a gala summit meeting in Washington, after months of American mediation efforts, Abbas said that the Palestinian agreement to participate in talks is based on Quartet opposition to Israeli construction in settlements. Members of the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators, which includes the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, have repeatedly rejected Israeli construction on territory slated for a future Palestinian state.

“In these critical moments in the history of the region,” Abbas said in a speech recorded in Jordan earlier Sunday, “we understand Israel’s need for security, as well as our own such need. But the need for security is not an excuse to expand settlements and steal land.”

“I want to clarify our stance on settlements, and their illegal status,” Abbas continued. “I have to say honestly and clearly that we notified all sides, including the American administration, before we agreed to conduct these talks, that Israel alone will bear the blame for the failure of the negotiations if the settlement construction continues in any way on any Palestinian land captured since 1967.”

“I hope that we find a partner in Israel that will be able to make decisions and take a responsible stance on ending the occupation,” Abbas went on to say. “That way we can achieve true security for both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian.”

Under intense American pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a 10-month partial freeze in settlement construction to boost prospects for talks, but the negotiations are resuming just three weeks before the freeze expires. Netanyahu has not pledged to renew it, facing stiff opposition from hard-line coalition partners in his government.

The Palestinians never endorsed the freeze, because it did not halt all construction in the West Bank and did not apply to East Jerusalem, the section claimed by the Palestinians for a future capital.

Abbas is facing internal opposition from Palestinian hard-liners, especially Hamas, for agreeing to return to the negotiating table. The Islamic Hamas, which rules Gaza and has a significant presence in the West Bank, rejects any contact with Israel. Other Palestinians criticize Abbas for not securing Israeli concessions in advance of the talks.

Netanyahu also faces opposition from within: hawkish members of his coalition government oppose any concessions to the Palestinians.

Back to the table: Al Ahram Weekly

Though the Palestinians have caved in to heavy US pressure to take part in direct talks with Israel, it remains unclear how progress can be made on final status issues when there is not even an end to settlement building, reports Khaled Dawoud from Washington
In the absence of any clear agreement on the terms of reference for the first direct peace talk in nearly two years, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s brief statement in Washington last week that talks will conclude within a year looks hopelessly optimistic.

In an attempt to put more pressure on Palestinians and Israelis to take the talks seriously, Clinton announced that the first day of the talks on Wednesday between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would be attended by President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Clearly keen to help US President Barack Obama and what seems like sincere effort on his behalf to move the peace process, the leaders of Egypt and Jordan accepted the invitation.

After bilateral talks with each of the four leaders US President Barack Obama will host a dinner at the White House. On Thursday Clinton will bring in Abbas and Netanyahu for their first round of talks at the State Department, during which they are expected to decide when, and where, the second round will take place. US State Department officials say that it is most likely that the second round will be in the Middle East.

Since Netanyahu took office Palestinian President Abbas has insisted that he would only enter into direct talks with Israel when it committed itself to freezing settlement construction and agreed that the goal of negotiations should be an end to Israeli presence in Palestinian territories that it has occupied since 1967. But after 17 rounds of indirect talks chaired by US Middle East peace envoy Senator George Mitchell Abbas failed to get what he wanted, leading some to blame Obama for raising his hopes only to backtrack in the face of strong Israeli resistance.

Shortly after Clinton announced the long expected launch of direct talks, Netanyahu emphasised that he was going to Washington on the basis of the “US invitation” and without any “preconditions”.

Abbas, on the other hand, repeatedly pointed to a statement issued by the Middle East Quartet — the US is a key member of the Quartet, alongside Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — to coincide with the US invitation to direct talks.

According to informed Arab diplomatic sources, the Quartet statement was delayed for nearly two weeks, with Israel refusing any attempt to include language directly calling for a freeze on settlements or set the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations. The diplomatic compromise was to refer at the beginning of the Quartet’s statement to the commitment to all “previous” statements issued by the group, the last of which, issued in Moscow in March 2010, clearly called upon Israel to stop building settlements, including in occupied East Jerusalem. The Quartet statement also noted that the aim of any settlement would be to “end the occupation which began in 1967″ thus making it palatable to Abbas, despite Netanyahu’s determination to make a clear distinction between the Quartet’s statement and Clinton’s invitation.

But, as one Arab diplomat who requested anonymity put it, the general view in New York is that the Quartet is an “inefficient and idle body, to put it politely”.

“What counts is the US, and what comes out of Washington,” he continued. “So President Abbas can keep on pointing to the Quartet statement for domestic consumption, but in the end he knows he’s going to the talks without preconditions.”

“Abbas was upset when he heard Clinton saying talks would resume without preconditions,” says the diplomat. “But then the Americans told him that they had to do this in order to convince Netanyahu to attend the direct talks and to give them more leverage to extend the settlement freeze beyond September.”

Abbas has also conveyed to Arab leaders a letter he received from President Obama in mid-July which contained a veiled threat that if he refused to take part in direct talks, the US would have little room to help push forward the peace process.

Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Ereikat stresses that 26 September, when the six-month Israeli settlement freeze expires, will be the real test. If Netanyahu proves unable to resist the pressure from his right-wing coalition partners and fails to extend the settlement freeze, then “the talks will stop”.

Palestinian officials speak of “assurances” they have received from Obama, Clinton and Mitchell that Washington will exert pressure on Netanyahu to extend the settlement freeze, and that if talks fail to make progress on key final status issue the Americans will come in with their “middle of the road” proposals.

The majority of observers and US commentators remain profoundly sceptical of the ability of any of the key layers — Abbas, Netanyahu and Obama — to deliver.

Abbas, they point out, leads a deeply divided constituency, split between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas government in Gaza. Abbas’s agreement to take part in direct talks not only angered Hamas, but weakened the possibility for reconciliation between the two sides. Netanyahu, meanwhile, is not only known for his own hardline views on key final status issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and borders, but heads a fragile coalition that could collapse at any moment, and most probably will if he decides to extend the freeze on building settlements beyond 26 September. Obama, meanwhile, is facing Congressional elections on 2 November. The signs are that the Democratic Party will lose heavily to their Republican opponents, making it unlikely that Obama will be willing to put any meaningful pressure on Israel.

“It is very unfortunate that President Obama is back to the [former US president George W] Bush tradition of meetings for the media and photo-ops,” said the Arab diplomat. “But obviously he also needs, like Bush, to claim some kind of success, especially ahead of the upcoming elections and at a time when his popularity in the polls does not seem to be all that good.”

Stalin’s commissar in the PMO: Haaretz Editorial

The refusal by actors to perform in occupied territory is not delegitimization of the state, as the prime minister claims, but the expression of a legitimate and worthy position.
The settlement of Ariel is in occupied territory, and future sovereignty over it is a matter of dispute. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes, and declares, that “the capital of Samaria” will become part of Israel in any future peace agreement, but even he realizes that Ariel is different. The fact is that his government froze construction in Ariel, not in Haifa or Givatayim.

But even during the settlement freeze, the Netanyahu government has been using symbolic means in an attempt to reinforce an image of Ariel as an integral part of Israel: upgrading the academic status of the Ariel University Center of Samaria and building a new performing arts center in the settlement. That is how the government is trying to blur the Green Line.

Thirty-six actors, directors and screenwriters who disagree with the government’s policy published a letter to theater managements in which they announced their refusal to take part in performances in Ariel. The letter expressed the artists’ conscientious objection to performing in occupied territory and noted the right to protest in a democratic society. They succeeded in putting the debate about Ariel on the agenda. But their position is unacceptable to Israel’s rightist government, which quickly responded with typical aggressiveness. Netanyahu, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are all threatening to deny government funding to cultural institutions that refuse to hold performances beyond the Green Line.

Netanyahu is acting like Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin’s cultural commissar: He is trying to compel artists to express a government policy that seeks to annex Ariel, by threatening to harm their livelihood. Instead of respecting Israeli citizens’ freedom of conscience and right to protest, Netanyahu is treating them like forced laborers mobilized to serve the ideology of the ruling party. Refusing to perform in occupied territory is not delegitimization of the state, as Netanyahu claims, but the expression of a legitimate and worthy position.

Theater actors are not marionettes, and cultural coercion of artists who fear for their livelihood does not befit a freedom-loving country. Cultural and academic institutions that receive budgetary support from the state do not owe it obedience in return. On the contrary, the government should be thankful for the existence of institutions that constitute such a vital interest for Israeli society.

Yehoshua, Oz, Grossman back boycott of Ariel: YNet

Prominent authors back actors’ refusal to perform beyond Green Line. ‘If settlers refuse to evacuate, they can stay and become Palestinian citizens,’ Yehoshua says

Ynet learned on Monday that prominent Israeli authors A. B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, David Grossman and Sami Michael are supporting a long line of actors and artists who announced they would refuse to perform in the new culture auditorium in Ariel, which is located outside the Green Line.

“The show does not have to go on,” read a letter drafted by the authors. “We, the signatories, express our support for the people of the theater who refuse to perform in Ariel. The Israeli occupation has recently entered its 43rd year. Legitimizing the settlement enterprise and coming to terms with it severely harm Israel’s chances of reaching a peace agreement with its Palestinian neighbors.”

The letter was also signed by sculptor Danny Caravan, an Israel Prize laureate, as well as other artists and actors.

Yehoshua told Ynet, “I support them (members of the performing arts) because they are protesting against a location, not against people. (Ariel) is a disputed place that does not belong to the State of Israel and may be evacuated soon.

“A strange phenomenon exists in Israel. On the one hand, there is the acceptance of dovish principles, such as two states for two peoples, but on the other hand, anti-Arab sentiments are very strong. Just look at Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s remarks. These are expressions of hatred,” said the author.

“The fear of evacuating settlements is preventing peace. Maybe, just as we have an Arab minority within our midst, they (settlers) can remain as a Jewish minority among the Arabs. They can become Palestinian citizens if they do not want to evacuate.”

Also on Monday, some 150 leftists and artists rallied outside the Habima Theater in Tel Aviv under the banner, “It is not civilized to perform in the territories”.

Knesset members Dov Khenin (Hadash), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) and Chaim Oron (Meretz) also took part in the rally, which was organized by Peace Now.

Palestinians prepare to battle ‘Zionist editing’ on Wikipedia: Haaretz

Association of Palestinian Journalists chairman calls on Palestinians to prepare for ‘PR war’ on Israel.

The next battle in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be fought on the pages of the internet site Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia which anyone can edit.

Abed A-Nassar, chairman of the Association of Palestinian Journalists, has already begun preparing for the conflict, calling on Palestinian institutions to make Wikipedia pages more pro-Palestinian.

His call follows a recent article in Haaretz on a class organized by settlers to teach supporters how to register and edit Wikipedia pages, in order to make them more representative of the ‘Zionist’ viewpoint.

Organizers of the Israeli course say their aim is twofold: to affect Israeli public opinion by having people who share their ideological viewpoint take part in writing and editing for the Hebrew version, and to write in English so Israel’s image can be bolstered abroad.

Palestinians must now launch a counter-attack against Israel’s latest “public relations war”, Nassar said.

Zoabi to UN: Try pirate Netanyahu in int’l court: YNet

Knesset member will testify before Human Rights Council’s probe investigating flotilla raid, expected to ask that it investigate ‘crimes against humanity Israel is committing in Gaza’

Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi will testify on Tuesday before the UN Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry into Israel’s raid of the Mavi Marmara in May. Zoabi will appear before the UN body as part of a delegation of senior Arab figures who participated in the flotilla.

Zoabi announced on Monday that she is planning to demand that the UNHRC investigate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, all of whom she charges with bearing personal responsibility for the “criminal and pirate takeover” which claimed the lives of nine flotilla participants.
Different Perspective

In addition, Zoabi is slated to ask the UN body to extend the jurisdiction of its commission of inquiry so that it can investigate what she deems “Israel’s violations of international law in imposing a blockade on Gaza, war crimes, and crimes against humanity being committed in the Gaza Strip for four years.”

Zoabi even demanded that Defense Minister Barak allow the UN probe to investigate IDF soldiers who took part in the raid. She also demanded that Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch allow Sheikh Raed Salah, who also participated in the flotilla, to testify from his cell in an Israeli jail.

‘Not looking to condemn Israel’
It is important to note that unlike the commission of inquiry appointed by the UN secretary-general which enjoys a certain degree of Israeli cooperation, the UNHRC probe is shrouded in controversy. At the beginning of the month, UNHRC President Sihasak Phuangketkeow rejected claims that the council’s probe is superfluous in light of Israel’s agreement to cooperate with the secretary-general’s inquiry.

He said there was a clear distinction between the aims and mandate given to the two committees, and hoped Israel would take an effective and active part in the investigations because the committee’s aim was not to condemn Israel.

According to Phuangketkeow, committee members would try to get to the Middle East to interview those involved in the flotilla events despite Israel’s declaration that it would not cooperate.

The more important committee, set up by the UN secretary-general and headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer has won the support of Israel and Turkey, and will receive the report from the Turkel Commission, which is investigating the events independently.

The committee will include outgoing Columbian President Alvaro Uribe as well as an Israeli and a Turkish representative. Both committees are expected to publish their findings next month.

The declared aims of the Geneva committee is to ascertain whether Israel violated international law or human rights, while the New York committee will concentrate on fact-finding and the implications of the flotilla affair as well as recommendations to prevent a similar occurrence.

Pushing for peace: Al Ahram weekly

Why is Egypt spending precious political capital on shaky US attempts to kick-start MidEast peace talks? Dina Ezzat seeks an answer
Nothing is certain about the outcome of direct talks that will be launched next week between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel. This is the short assessment of concerned Egyptian diplomats on the new diplomatic drive set to be put in motion 2 September in the US capital.

Slated to be present at the launching ceremony are US President Barack Obama, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah will also attend. The presence of the heads of the two Arab states that have already signed peace deals with Israel is meant — according to Egyptian and Jordanian diplomats — to lend maximum support to Abbas who has been reluctant to go to talks that he suspects, according to a senior Palestinian aide, will produce nothing.

According to Presidential Spokesman Suleiman Awwad, Mubarak is expected to make a statement before the participating leaders to underline the need for prompt negotiations that could spare the Middle East from decades of instability and bring about a fair peace deal. Mubarak’s statement, Awwad added, will be inspired by a long “unmatched” accumulative experience in Arab-Israeli negotiations since the launch of Egyptian-Israeli peace talks when Mubarak was vice-president to late president Anwar El-Sadat.

Cairo in particular has been instrumental in conveying positive vibes to a hesitant Abbas, cautioning that it would be “unwise and indeed harmful to lose the direct engagement of Obama or to let Israel convince [Abbas that he] is incapable of negotiating for a final deal,” according to one Egyptian diplomat.

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials announced details of phone calls and messages exchanged with US counterparts preparing the ground for the launch of direct talks absent tangible guarantees from the US or concrete commitments from the international community on where these talks should lead, or on what basis and timeframe they should be conducted.

“Of course we have no reason to antagonise Obama who made it very clear that he would not take no for an answer on launching these talks,” one Egyptian diplomatic source said. He added that the US looks to Egypt as a key mediator in the region and Egypt has to be up to the job or else the US will count on other regional partners.

Some Egyptian diplomats who have taken part in managing Egyptian- American relations over the past couple of decades say it would be absurd for Egypt to abandon this role. “Our role in helping with the settlement of the Arab- Israeli conflict and in promoting the moderate ideology across the region is valued by the US. We are the moderates and we act accordingly,” said one.

On the other hand, these same diplomats acknowledge that Egyptian- American relations have always been — and will always be — haunted by Israel. On the record, these officials like to argue that it is not a three-way relationship but a bilateral relationship between Cairo and Washington. Speaking on background, however, they acknowledge that when it comes to the Middle East it is unrealistic to expect the US to depart from the Israeli agenda.

“This applies to Turkey, which is a NATO member, and it applies to Iran, which is an adversary of the West, and it also applies to the Arab countries who have all presented Israel with political and diplomatic gestures to please the US. Egypt is no exception,” said an Egyptian diplomat responsible for relations with the US.

For their part, US diplomats acknowledge “Egypt’s crucial role in promoting Middle East peace”. It is this “role”, they say, that encourages the US administration to annually pass economic and military aid packages to Egypt. “Every time there have been problems [between Israel and Egypt] things were not easy. This year things were not at all problematic,” said one US diplomat in reference to the US Congress.

“It is very true. When Israel complains its many friends in the Congress start making problems for Egypt and it becomes difficult for the friends of Egypt in the Congress — and they are much fewer of course — to defend the Egyptian interests,” said an Egyptian diplomat in Washington.

For the past few years, Egypt has been avoiding confrontation with Israel in order to avoid getting into parallel arguments with the US. The less biased positions of the Obama administration towards Israel have caused no change in the policies of Egypt at the official level, despite much criticism from the opposition.

Indeed, the participation of President Mubarak himself in the launch of uncertain direct talks is indication, say Egyptian diplomats, of how far Egypt is willing to go in engaging the Obama administration.

For Gamal Abdel-Gawwad, director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, it is worth it for Egypt. He argues that the Obama administration is willing to put some pressure on the Israeli government, on freezing settlement expansion and on the timeframe of peace talks. “It is essentially in the interest of Egypt to keep the US involved at the highest level possible in pursuing Middle East stability,” if not Middle East peace.

Abdel-Gawwad argues that when Mubarak and King Abdullah choose to invest political capital in the launch of direct talks, despite many reasons for scepticism, Arab capitals will be in a better position to demand that Washington stick to certain key parameters for a final settlement, in order to produce as good a deal as possible for the Palestinians.

“I know that it is easier and in fact safer to be pessimistic over Middle East peace, but it would be unscientific to suggest that this new round of talks has zero chance of delivering a deal,” said Abdel-Gawwad who promptly added that “the difficulties are immense but the exercise is not futile”.

For their part, Egyptian diplomats add another reason for the decision of Mubarak to take part in the 2 September event: to talk bilaterally with Obama.

Mubarak was scheduled to visit Washington for a summit with Obama this spring. The plans were disrupted by Mubarak’s health problems. Today, there is much that Mubarak wants to discuss with the US president, both in terms of bilateral and regional issues. The agenda includes reviewing internal political developments in Egypt and the situation in Sudan with an upcoming referendum on unity.

“Mubarak and Obama will hold a bilateral meeting that will cover a wide range of issues of concern, and yes, more US exports of wheat to Egypt could be on the agenda,” said an Egyptian official.

It is also expected that the regime, said Abdel-Gawwad, will try to solicit US support for “the pace and modalities of domestic political reforms in Egypt” ahead of legislative and presidential elections this and next autumn.

Netanyahu criticizes theater figures’ West Bank boycott: Haaretz

29 Aug 2010
Fifty-three Israeli theater professionals, including performers, playwrights and directors, signed petition stating they would not appear in performances in Ariel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized on Sunday the theater figures’ boycott of a new theater in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, saying that the government doesn’t need to fund a group promoting a boycott of Israel from within.
Fifty-three Israeli theater professionals, including performers, playwrights and directors, signed a petition stating they would not appear in performances in Ariel.
In the petition, the performers said they would not perform in any other West Bank settlement and called on Israeli theater managers to limit their activity to within the Green Line.
“Israel is being attacked by an international de-legitimization campaign,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israel didn’t need to face the same threat from within.
Netanyahu’s criticism followed comments by Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat who said that the actors’ protest was causing a rift in Israeli society. She called upon the theater managements to address the problem immediately.
“Culture is a bridge in society, and political disputes should be left outside cultural life and art,” she said. “I call for the scheduled performances to be carried out as scheduled in Ariel and all over the country, as each citizen has the right to consume culture anywhere he chooses.”
The Habima, Cameri, Beit Lessin and Be’er Sheva theaters issued a collective response Saturday, stating: “The management of the repertory theaters will perform anywhere there are Israeli citizens who are lovers of Israeli theater, including the new culture center in Ariel. We will respect the political opinions of our actors. However, we will bring the best of Israeli theater to Ariel.”

U.S.: Rabbi’s ‘offensive’ remarks harm peace efforts: Haaretz

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley condemns Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s ‘inflammatory’ statement that all Palestinians should perish.
The United States on Sunday condemned remarks by the spiritual leader of Israel’s leading ultra-Orthodox party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who said the Palestinians should “perish”.

“We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,” U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley. “These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace.”
“As we move forward to relaunch peace negotiations, it is important that actions by people on all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it.”

Yosef had said during his weekly Shabbat sermon that the Palestinians, namely Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, should perish from the world. Yosef, a founder of the Shas Party, also described Palestinians as evil, bitter enemies of Israel.

“All these evil people should perish from this world … God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians,” Yosef had said.

The 89-year-old is a respected religious scholar but is also known for vitriolic comments about Arabs, secular Jews, liberals, women and gays, among others.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday distanced himself from Yosef’s remarks, but stopped short of a condemnation.

“Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s remarks do not reflect Netanyahu’s views, nor do they reflect the stance of the Israeli government,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

“Israel plans to take part in peace negotiations out of a desire to advance toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians that will end the conflict and ensure peace, security and good neighborly relations between the two peoples,” the statement continued.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat slammed Yosef’s remarks, saying they were paramount to incitement to genocide.

Erekat called on the Israeli government to denounce the remarks by Israel’s former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and to take action against racist remarks by other elected officials.

Beyond Moderates and Militants: How Obama Can Chart a New Course in the Middle East: Foreign Affairs

By Robert Malley and Peter Harling
September/October 2010
Summary:  U.S. policymakers have historically applied yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems in the Middle East. But the Middle East is not what it was five years ago; it has moved on. President Obama must recognize that there is not a clean divide between a moderate pro-American camp and an extremist militant axis and take into account the region’s rapidly shifting dynamics.
ROBERT MALLEY is Middle East and North Africa Program Director at the International Crisis Group and served as Special Assistant to the President for Arab-Israeli Affairs from 1998 to 2001. PETER HARLING heads the Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria Project at the International Crisis Group. He worked in Baghdad from 1998 to 2004 and in Beirut from 2005 to 2006, and he is now based in Damascus.
In the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama has spent the first year and a half of his presidency seeking to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor. He has made up some ground. But given how slowly U.S. policy has shifted, his administration runs the risk of implementing ideas that might have worked if President George W. Bush had pursued them a decade ago. The region, meanwhile, will have moved on.

It is a familiar pattern. For decades, the West has been playing catch-up with a region it pictures as stagnant. Yet the Middle East evolves faster and less predictably than Western policymakers imagine. As a rule, U.S. and European governments eventually grasp their missteps, yet by the time their belated realizations typically occur, their ensuing policy adjustments end up being hopelessly out of date and ineffective.

In the wake of the colonial era, as Arab nationalist movements emerged and took power across the Middle East, Europe either ignored the challenge they posed or treated them as Soviet-inspired irritants. By the time the West understood the significance and popularity of these movements, Europe’s power had long since faded, and its reputation in the region was irreparably tarnished by the stain of neocolonialism. Likewise, the United States only became fully conscious of the jihadist threat in the aftermath of 9/11, after Washington had fueled its rise by backing Islamist militant groups in Afghanistan during the 1980s. And Washington only endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state in 2000 — just when, as a result of developments on the ground and in both the Israeli and the Palestinian polities, the achievement of a two-state solution was becoming increasingly elusive.

The West’s tendency to adopt Middle East policies that have already outlived their local political shelf lives is occurring once again today: despite its laudable attempt to rectify the Bush administration’s missteps, the Obama administration is hamstrung by flawed assumptions about the regional balance of power. Washington still sees the Middle East as cleanly divided between two camps: a moderate, pro-American camp that ought to be bolstered and a militant, pro-Iranian one that needs to be contained. That conception is wholly divorced from reality.

From The Horse’s Mouth section: Voice of the Israeli Unhinged

EDITOR: YNet is not the only one!

Just to prove that YNet is not the only voice of the Israeli Unhinged (and I do not even mention Maariv, full of such apparitions, but, alas, only published in Hebrew, in order to protect the wider public) Haaretz is again publishing the words of Karni Eldad, a veteran contributo to the section. WE welcome this discovery by the Israeli extreme right, that the IOF is made up of sadistic brutes. The Palestinians and the left have already found this out some time ago…

Nightmare on the road to Jericho: Haaretz

Two weeks ago, a group of teenagers marched between Nablus and Jericho, absorbing the beauty of the land and the ugliness of the soldiers they encountered.
By Karni Eldad
Two weeks ago, a Hebrew Cities march took place between Nablus and Jericho. Boys and girls marched for three days, absorbing the beauty of the land and the ugliness of the soldiers and policemen they encountered. The encounter was painful, violent and brutal.

Already during the first days of the trip, the group ran into the security forces. Some of them were grabbed, loaded into cars and driven off to different places across the country as if they were cattle. It seems someone thought that hundreds of teenagers on a field trip were the worst security risk out there. They’re part of the hilltop youth, after all. And that’s illegal, right?

During the night they all returned to the meeting point. The second day went by quietly: The security forces provided security now and then, as they should by law. The third day, however, was the complete opposite. The Taba agreement, also known as Oslo 2, makes clear that free, safe and uninhibited access must be allowed to Jewish holy sites. Two sites are mentioned by name: Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus and the Shalom al-Yisrael Synagogue in Jericho. Despite this provision, Israel has made no demands for access to be allowed to these sites, and the Israel Defense Forces doesn’t do a thing to ease the journey for those Israelis who want access to them.

We know that sometimes change needs to come from the ground up. Even in a democracy like ours the public has power. It seems that this power, and the desire to make a difference, was what the soldiers and policemen were afraid of. Sixteen-year-old Liba Wolfman from Ma’aleh Levona was one of the girls who reached Jericho and tried to enter the ancient synagogue. Four soldiers grabbed her, twisted her arms and bound her with plastic restraints that injured her hands.

From the corner of her eye, she saw other soldiers slam the head of one her friends onto the scalding-hot armored jeep. She heard her scream. She and seven other teenagers and girls were loaded into a car without air conditioning or water – and that’s in Jericho, at noon. Despite their pleas, the plastic wrist ties weren’t removed. One border policeman beat them over the head with a club.

Two hours later, the girls were moved to a military vehicle. The driver threw stones at a girl, another was beaten up, and another had her head slammed onto the road. Even Haaretz reporter Chaim Levinson was beaten by soldiers and banned from taking pictures.

The nightmare continued. The air conditioning was kept off in the military vehicle, and the girls received no water. When other girls were being put into the vehicle, policemen sprayed tear gas into the girls’ faces. Liba couldn’t breathe. She screamed for help but the policemen wouldn’t give her water or allow her and the others to be treated, even though the detainees managed to call an ambulance to the scene.

Beyond the investigations by the Military Police and the Justice Ministry’s department for investigating police officers (I don’t have faith in either), the decision-makers must be investigated. The march was a planned and announced event. Have there been discussions on the matter? What decisions have been made? Was the crushing of human rights by the forces on the ground backed by the command?

The nightmare only ended nine hours later, at the Ma’aleh Adumim police station. The detainees were released immediately, except for three girls, including Liba. Our request for a comment to Shai Nitzan, the chief of the law enforcement task force in Judea and Samaria, went unanswered.

“On the dates in question, a march took place without the requested authorization from the IDF,” the IDF Spokesman’s Office said in a statement. “The settlers who took part in the march blatantly violated the law and deliberately confronted the security forces. Two settlers were lightly injured by tear gas and did not require evacuation. The IDF would like to make clear that any attempts to cause a provocation and break the law will be treated by the security forces in accordance with the law.”

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