Archive for September, 2010

This is my latest column for Jewish News.

So, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “skilled killer”. Well, we’ve become accustomed to the Iranian dictator’s drama-queen outbursts. But still: get her, eh?

He’s not the only one to talk balderdash about Bibi. Last week, Australian newspaper columnist Mike Carlton evaded watchdog censure for the column he wrote after the flotilla incident. He had described Netanyahu as “an unprincipled thug addicted to the use of military force”.

I wrote to Carlton to point out the flaws in his argument. Netanyahu was not Prime Minister during the 2006 Hezbollah war, nor Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9. There have been no major military operations during either of his terms as Prime Minister.

Indeed, during his first term, he negotiated with Yasser Arafat, signed the Wye River accords and handed most of Hebron to the Palestinians. An unprincipled thug addicted to the use of military force? Only in the prejudiced imagination of the likes of Carlton.

Israel is the most slandered nation on earth, so such lies come with the territory. Menachem Begin, for instance, is oft reviled as war-mongering, blood-thirsty extremist. Which is strange, considering that Begin – perhaps my favourite figure in world history – is the man who signed the Camp David accords, sealed a peace treaty with Egypt and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Egyptian President.

I understand that it is mostly Begin’s role in the Jewish underground that earned him such notoriety in the eyes of some (though not in mine). But people can only overlook his glorious, statesman-like achievements if their eyes are blinded by a wicked agenda.

The same goes for those who insist on slandering Netanyahu. True, the Likud Party has some stringent polices, as does the Yisrael Beiteinu party which Netanyahu invited into his coalition. But Bibi’s record speaks for itself, and it is strongly at odds with the image that the world attributes to him.

I wrote to Carlton with a polite, factual correction of his description of Netanyahu. His single-line response? “More of the same old paranoid rubbish”. It’s ironic really – ‘paranoid rubbish’ would be a decent description of his own track record on Israel. Strewth!

During his many factually-dodgy attacks on Israel he has often been quick to boast in print that he has “many Jewish friends”. He also loves to point out that he knows Jewish people who are willing to join in his demonization of Israel. “Humane and decent Jewry,” he writes, ” Shalom to them.” Phew, now you know what you have to do to win his approval as the right kind of Jew!

Carlton has complained before about the efforts of those who “attempt to silence” his criticism of Israel. Oh for the good old days, eh? When there were fewer opportunities to respond to such blood libels. And heck, call me old-fashioned, but if he and his ilk around the world didn’t get their facts so spectacularly wrong they would probably receive fewer complaints.

As some readers may recall, last year I wrote to Jon Snow of Channel 4 News to challenge his breathtaking claim that “nobody gets hurt” by Qassam rockets. He was polite at first, saying that unfortunately he couldn’t find the relevant footage in his archive. So I sent him a YouTube video of the relevant edition, together with evidence of people – including kids – who have been injured and killed by the Qassams.

“Stop wasting my time,” he wrote back. Get her! I doubt I’ll be on his Christmas card list, but I also doubt he’ll be so quick to deny the effect of Qassam rockets again. Picking out these specific issues is a good way to affect paradigm-changes on the wider picture. I think it is well worth continuing to challenge and correct these lies.

There is a video of my aforementioned appearance on Australian television here. We discussed my books, Justin Bieber, and how I helped get David and Victoria Beckham together.

My latest appearance on BBC Radio London is on ‘Listen Again’ here. I am on between 21mins and 1hr50mins. It was great fun. We discussed, among other things: nicknames, columnists, Pete Doherty, Scientology, Justin Bieber and saucy broadcasters. I even played the ukulele briefly.

I’m back on BBC Radio London between 10pm and midnight on Tuesday evening, doing my side-kick stuff with the lovely Joanne Good. I’m then whizzing across London to a different studio to appear on Sunrise, Australia’s breakfast television show. I’ll be discussing my Justin Bieber biography. The live interview will be around 10.15am, Australian time.

On a separate note, regular readers might remember my Jewish News column, about my passion for pastrami sandwiches and the American deli scene. You can read it here. So I was overjoyed to find this video, featuring a humorous debate about what makes a perfect Reuben sandwich. Hold on for the Halachic interjection…

An editorial in today’s Observer presents Israel as the obstacle to peace in the Middle East and Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority as the ones making all the moves. Indeed, it argues that “successive” Israeli prime ministers have refused to sincerely engage and negotiate with the Palestinians.

Successive Israeli prime ministers refusing to negotiate? Well, let’s look at the record of the three that preceded the current administration…

Ehud Barak (1999-2001) offered Yasser Arafat an extraordinary package including around 97 per cent of the territories, the majority of the Old City and east Jerusalem, and $30 billion compensation for the refugees.

His offer was refused by Arafat.

Ariel Sharon  (2001-2005) withdrew from Gaza, and was considering withdrawing from the West Bank, before his reign ended when he suffered a stroke.

The Gaza withdrawal was responded to with thousands of rockets fired into Israel.

Ehud Olmert (2006-2009) offered Mahmoud Abbas 93.5 to 93.7 per cent of the territories, along with a land swap of 5.8 per cent and a safe-passage corridor from Gaza to the West Bank. Under his offer the Old City of Jerusalem would be administered by a consortium of Saudis, Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. There would also have been (limited) return of refugees.

His offer was refused by Abbas

As for Netanyahu, it is too early to tell what will happen. But during his first reign as Prime Minister, (1996-1999) he negotiated with Yasser Arafat, signed the Wye River accords and handed most of Hebron to the Palestinians.

So The Observer could hardly be more misleading. Its editorial warns, with typical colonial-liberal pomposity, that if Israel continues to refuse to negotiate that it will become “an international pariah”. If that ever does become the case, it will not be because of intransigence on the part of Israel. But it will be in part because of dishonest reporting such as in today’s Observer.

M. Şefik Dinç, a Turkish newspaper reporter who was on-board the Mavi Marmara, has written a book about his first-hand experience of the flotilla confrontation. According to reviews of the book his account mostly tallies with the narrative given by the IDF, and contradicts the narrative circulated by the IHH thugs and their cronies, like Ken O’Keefe, the tattooed former US Marine who was on the Mavi Marmara.

Speaking of the intriguing O’Keefe, there was a lengthy interview with him in Saturday’s Haaretz. At the start of the interview he makes the breath-taking claim that he never had any idea that Israel might try and stop the flotilla, nor that violence might occur.

“The atmosphere was good and our spirits were high… I was certain we would succeed in entering Gaza…People came to me two-three hours before [the takeover of the ship] and told me, ‘There will be an attack.’ I replied, ‘No, that can’t be.’”

It’s hard to believe he really thought that, particularly because he repeatedly contradicts himself later in the interview, showing he had always been aware of exactly what was on the cards. For a start, he admits he knew that: “Ehud Barak [had] said he would stop the flotilla at any price”.

He also says: “Fehmi Bulent, the president of IHH, told us from the outset that this time we were not simply going to sit and wait for the soldiers. He said this publicly even before the flotilla set out.” O’Keefe drops himself in it even more when he adds later: “I knew before we set out that the Turks are not like the other Westerners, that there would be no passive resistance in this case.”

Yet he expects us to believe that he never foresaw any sort of confrontation or violence!

Back in the real world, Turkish author Dinç’s text and photographs prove once more that preparations for violence began on-board the Mavi Marmara many hours before the Israelis arrived, and that the Israelis only opened fire after the flotilla thugs had begun viciously beating them and taking them hostage. You can read more about the book here, though be warned that the report includes upsetting photographs of the IHH savagery. For a recent article outlining the legality of Israel’s blockade and its response to the flotilla, click here.

A few days after the flotilla incident, I wrote: “People around the world have seen the videos of what the commandos faced on those boats and still many are refusing to accept what happened. They are still angrily, aggressively rounding on Israel in astonishing defiance of absolutely clear-cut evidence. I fear for these people and I fear these people.”

It is hard to attribute those sort responses to the incident as motivated by anything other than antisemitism. I mean, seriously. The evidence could hardly have been more clear-cut, yet people still demonised Israel and cast the IHH thugs as the good guys. So yes, I do fear for these people and fear these people, whose hatred of the Jewish state takes them to such nonsensical conclusions.

But every day I am relieved and happy to not be one of them.

PS – There are interesting hints in the Haaretz feature about what really drives O’Keefe. He became a US Marine to be a hero, but had a run-in with a superior and it all went wrong. Later he burnt his US passport and became a fanatical anti-Israel activist. He recalls the first time he went to Gaza and the reception he got. “There was excitement like we had just won the World Cup. Tens of thousands of people were there. For one day there was total euphoria. They looked at us like we were heroes.” So it’s not really about Israel or the Palestinians, is it? He just wants to be a hero.

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

During my time in Israel in August, I met some MKs at the Knesset, including Zeev Bielski, of the Kadima Party, and Anastassia Michaeli of Yisrael Beiteinu. While speaking with Bielski I raised – slightly more angrily than I had intended – the issue of those evacuated from Gush Katif during the 2005 disengagement.

Bielski seemed genuinely concerned with their plight, but my sense is that he is swimming against a tide of indifference in Israel. A report released earlier this year accused successive Israeli governments of “absolute and complete failure” in dealing with the uprooted settlers who are said to have become “refugees in their own country”.

What a shame. In the wider world it is hard to drum-up interest in the plight of the Gush Katif evacuees even among Israel’s supporters. Partly because people are so busy defending Israel from an avalanche of lies and hatred, partly because even some of Israel’s friends have swallowed the demonisation of the settler movement.

The evacuees deserve better, much better. You can read here about the community of Netzer Hazani, who were uprooted from their homes and are now striving to rebuild the town. There are ways to support them listed on the website, too.

Supporting Israel is about more than just defending it against the lies and threats of the wicked, and celebrating its many, many wonderful points. We need to keep this issue alive and help get the former residents of Gush Katif a fair deal.

Banished selected scenes from CHUTZPAPRODUCTIONSINC on Vimeo.

The Sydney Morning Herald‘s columnist Mike Carlton has been cleared by the Australian Press Council of using antisemitic writing in a column he wrote in June. In the column Carlton had accused Benjamin Netanyahu of being “an unprincipled thug addicted to the use of military force”. He also wrote the pro-Israel lobby was “a ferocious beast” that “lunges from its lair, fangs bared”.

I’m not sure his words should be interpreted as antisemitic. However, his description of Netanyahu is spectacularly dishonest. Netanyahu was not Prime Minister during the 2006 Hezbollah war, nor Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9. Indeed, Netanyahu has never been Prime Minister during a major military operation.

On the contrary, during his first reign as Prime Minister, Netanyahu personally negotiated with Yasser Arafat, signed the Wye River accords and handed most of Hebron to the Palestinians. In his current term he is engaged in peace talks again. An unprincipled thug addicted to the use of military force? Not at all – other than in the prejudiced imagination of Mike Carlton, whose dishonesty does nothing to bring peace closer.

Carlton has complained about the efforts of those who “attempt to silence” his criticism of Israel. Just a thought: perhaps if he didn’t get his facts so spectacularly wrong he would receive fewer complaints?

Pretty much every Monday morning, as I sit down at my desk to start work for the week, I play this song. I think it is the perfect song to kick the week off with. It’s not so much the lyrics that make it relevant, just the feel of the song. Have a great week everyone!

I’m glad the wonderful Matisyahu is playing two dates in Israel this month. He announces the dates in this video. I suppose it seemed a funny idea at the time…

© Copyright Chas Newkey-Burden. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Chris Morris.