Kumbaya in Qom

Tom Friedman

Tom Friedman

Methinks Tom Friedman doth overstate Israeli animosity towards Iran:

We, America, are not just hired lawyers negotiating a deal for Israel and the Sunni Gulf Arabs, which they alone get the final say on. We, America, have our own interests in not only seeing Iran’s nuclear weapons capability curtailed, but in ending the 34-year-old Iran-U.S. cold war, which has harmed our interests and those of our Israeli and Arab friends.

Hence, we must not be reluctant about articulating and asserting our interests in the face of Israeli and Arab efforts to block a deal that we think would be good for us and them. America’s interests today lie in an airtight interim nuclear deal with Iran that also opens the way for addressing a whole set of other issues between Washington and Tehran.

I’m holding my tongue on the wisdom of interim agreements and just how airtight the “first-step” deal discussed in Geneva was. But Friedman continues:

Some of our allies don’t share those “other” interests and believe the only acceptable outcome is bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and keeping Iran an isolated, weak, pariah state. They don’t trust this Iranian regime — and not without reason. I don’t begrudge their skepticism. Without pressure from Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the global sanctions on Iran they helped to spur, Iran would not be offering to scale back its nuclear program today.

But that pressure was never meant to be an end itself. It was meant to bring Iran in from the cold, provided it verifiably relinquished the ability to breakout with a nuclear weapon.

I’d like to see an end to the Iranian-Western conflict. And I’d like to see Iran rejoin the family of nations, including normal relations with Israel. In that context, the pressure’s not an end unto itself. I’d much prefer a peaceful resolution to the nuclear standoff.

But for too many years, Ayatollah Khamenei’s regime has talked about destroying Israel, bankrolled terror, and repressed it own citizens. Iranian missiles may not yet reach the US, but they can certainly reach Israel and Europe. The longer-term US interests Friedman refers to won’t measure up to reality unless the Obama administration entertains the idea of regime change.

Israel doesn’t have a problem with the Iranian people. Before the 1979 revolution, relations were normal and Israel reportedly helped Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.

But that was a long time ago.

Today, Israelis aren’t ready to be sold on Kumbaya in Qom. Certainly not by a newspaper whose op-ed section is snotty and dismissive of Israel from the comfort and safety of Manhattan’s Eighth Ave.

(Image via YouTube/Al Jazeera English)

November 13, 2013 17:09 By Category : Backspin Tags:, , ,

Charity Navigator Rates HonestReporting as “Exceptional”

charitynavigator4starHonestReporting is proud to have achieved Charity Navigator’s coveted 4-star rating for sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency.

Charity Navigator is America’s premier charity evaluator, highlighting the work of efficient, ethical and open charities with the goal of providing donors with essential information needed to give them confidence in the charitable choices they make.

In a letter to HonestReporting, Charity Navigator’s President and CEO writes:

Receiving four out of a possible four stars indicates that your organization adheres to good governance and other best practices that minimize the chance of unethical activities and consistently executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way. Approximately a quarter of the charities we evaluate have received our highest rating, indicating that HonestReporting.com outperforms most other charities in America. This “exceptional” designation from Charity Navigator differentiates HonestReporting.com from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.

We make every dollar you give count towards our vital work in defending Israel from media bias. With this latest endorsement, you can be sure that your donation will be well spent.


November 5, 2013 11:11 By Category : Backspin

Razing a Racket

building demolitionYou’re the mayor of Jerusalem. And it all comes down to you.

You’re dealing with 11 illegally built Palestinian apartment buildings on your city’s northern outskirts. They’re within the municipal boundaries alright, but they’re outside the security barrier.

You rub your head at another only-in-Israel moment no other mayor in the world deals with. The apartments were illegally built. Heck, the cops even arrested a few Palestinians for fraud involving the land some of those buildings were built on. But it ain’t safe for building inspectors to travel outside the security barrier to neighborhoods like Ras Hamis and Ras Shehada, which is why the Palestinians managed to brazenly build nine and ten-story buildings now occupied by hundreds of people.

You know they created a black hole for documenting legal ownership. Arab money from abroad is sometimes used to acquire Jerusalem properties. Preserve Islamic heritage, they claim. Yeah, right. You can’t help but wonder if those buildings are part of a larger racket.

And in the absence of inspections, you’re certain the people who built those buildings played fast and loose and with health and safety regulations.

Evict ‘em all and demolish the buildings?

That’s what any other mayor would do.

But nothing’s a no-brainer in Jerusalem. In your city, you don’t just deal with the usual bevy of bureaucrats, politicians, community activists, and legal beagles.

In Jerusalem, the Palestinians boycott local elections, yet they prefer living under your jurisdiction than with the corrupt, inept Palestinian Authority. They vote with their feet. You also have to consider foreign diplomats pontificating from far away about the peace process, a motley assortment of shady NGOs, and foreign reporters ready to sensationalize anything you do. Many of them aren’t local taxpayers.  All politics is local. Except for here.

Till now, you pretty much managed to defuse the home demolition issue. Demolition orders went down on your watch, partly because of US and EU pressure, and partly because the threat of heavy fines helps maintain some semblance of law and order. But hitting people in the wallet only goes so far. Palestinian squatters backed by the right combo of lawyers, NGOs, and journalists can fight city hall. It’s the price we pay for democracy, you repeatedly remind yourself.

Turn a blind eye?

That’s the easy way out. But it only takes one slum fire or building collapse for the you-know-what to hit the fan. And when it does, the same people who urged you to leave the apartments alone will accuse you of discrimination and neglect.

Only in Israel.

Of course, only-in-Israel moments can work for you too. Last week, your national leaders released a bunch of terrorists, then accelerated construction projects in the eastern part of Jerusalem. That gives you some leverage.

But there’s no getting around the headlines. You already know what they’ll say.

Israel Evicts Hundreds of East Jerusalem Palestinians

World Condemns Large Scale Israeli Demolition Plans

The buck stops with you.

What would you do?

(image via YouTube/sdblahm67)

November 4, 2013 12:52 By Category : Backspin Tags:,

In Praise of the EUMC Working Definition of Anti-Semitism

The following is cross posted from CiFWatch.

In 2005, following several years which saw a disturbing rise in antisemitic violence across Europe, the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) reached a Working Definition of Antisemitism.

Steve Bell

Cartoon by Steve Bell in 2012 which was denounced by the Guardian Readers’ Editor as ‘echoing antisemitic imagery’ relating to ‘Jewish power’

Later in the year, the Working Definition of Antisemitism was prominently referenced at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Cordoba Conference.  And, since then, many other bodies have advocated its usage. The one-page “Working Definition of Antisemitism” (below) evolved as a result of the efforts of a large number of European institutions and human rights experts.

The stated goal of the Working Definition of Antisemitism was to provide a guide (to EU members states) for identifying incidents, collecting data and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with antisemitism.”

Here it is.



Recently, a commentator who has expressed sympathy for antisemites, and routinely calls for the end of the Jewish state, used his platform at a site notable for endorsing terrorism and equating Zionism to Nazism, to falsely characterize the Working Definition of Antisemitism as “an abandoned draft text.”

Whilst it is narrowly true that the website of Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the successor to the EUMC, doesn’t include the text of the Working Definition of Antisemitism – due to the fact that its mandate differs from EUMC – here are the facts:

  • The State Department report on Global Antisemitism in 2008 included the following:  The EUMC’s working definition provides a useful framework for identifying and understanding the problem and is adopted for the purposes of this report
  • The Working Definition of Antisemitism was cited by the US State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in testimony given to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (in Helsinki) in 2011, and is currently endorsed on the State Department’s ‘Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism’ page.
  • In 2010, the UK All-Party Inquiry into antisemitism recommended that the Working Definition of Antisemitism should be adopted and promoted by the Government and law enforcement agencies.
  • An official document published by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) recommends the Working Definition of Antisemitism as a valuable hate crime data collection tool for law enforcement agencies, and for educators.

Though most manifestations of antisemitism included in the Working Definition of Antisemitism shouldn’t even need to be pointed out (such as ‘calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion’), many who oppose it do so for the following reasons:

1) It defines as antisemitic the equating of Zionism with Nazism.

2) It defines as antisemitic calls for the end of the Jewish state.

It is of course no coincidence that this recent attack on the Working Definition of Antisemitism was leveled by a commentator who continually promotes the second charge at a site which has endorsed the first.

Yet, despite the protests from a few marginal, extremist voices, the Working Definition continues to represent a widely respected, useful tool for understanding modern manifestations of antisemitism, and this blog will continue to use it in our continuing fight against such racism at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’.

November 1, 2013 11:45 By Category : Backspin Tags:, ,

Curiyo: Integrating Israeli Start-Up Technology on the HR Website

curiyologoIsrael is rightly known for its technology and Internet start-ups. We’re proud to announce the integration into our site of one of Israel’s newest start-ups – Curiyo.

Curiyo brings you everything you need to know from top publishers, social networks and bloggers. Just click on any word and discover relevant content in a simple popup.

Curiyo automatically identifies the most interesting topics on any page you’re reading and subtly underlines them. It brings information to you, not you to it.

Click on any of the lightly underlined words on a page to open a Curiyo box. For example, try clicking on “Benjamin Netanyahu.”



You can already enjoy using Curiyo on the HonestReporting website but if you want to enrich your browsing experience all over the web, You can download Curiyo for yourself. Simply go to Curiyo’s website and download the add-on. It’s compatible with Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome or Apple Safari.


You can find out more about Curiyo on its website and the Frequently Asked Questions page.

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October 30, 2013 14:15 By Category : Backspin

Taking a Bullet for Alaa Al-Aswany’s Freedom of Speech

Yesterday, we took issue with the NY Times giving a column to an anti-Israel conspiracy theorist, Alaa Al Aswany. We laid out a number of examples of Aswany’s comments that crossed the line. One reader raised an important point.

From: …@gmail.com
Date: Sun. Oct. 27, 2013
Subj: Re: New York Times Gives Column to Anti-Israel Conspiracy Theorist

I despise this. However, I live in a nation that embraces freedom of speech. Although I believe this writer is dead wrong in most instances, I would fight to the death to uphold his right to spew his venom.

I thought about a flip response: The NY Times doesn’t give me a column, and nobody’s offering to take a bullet for my self-expression.

Alaa Al-Aswany

Alaa Al-Aswany

Now for the straight answer.

Alaa Al Aswany has a right to be heard and nobody’s saying he should be prevented from expressing himself. Op-ed editors rightly give a voice to those who are voiceless, expose us to commentaries that challenge our own viewpoints, and thoughtfully look at issues from angles we might not have considered.

The NY Times expanded its editorial staff with writers from around the world. I didn’t recognize many of the 27 people listed in the paper’s announcement, but at face value, it looks like a well-rounded list. And I’m looking forward to Shmuel Rosner, Ali Jarbawi, Vali Nasr, and Matthew D’ancona at times engaging or enraging me.

However, when a paper take a writer — any writer — and elevate him to the status of a regular columnist, the paper gives a certain sanction to that person’s world view and expression. It’s a deeper relationship than with an author who occasionally submits op-eds.

In Aswany’s defense, he has spoken out against Egyptian repression under the Mubarak and Morsi regimes. He was a founding member of Mohammed ElBaradei’s political party. Aswany’s a prolific writer. And the eyes of the world are on Egypt. Yes, he’s attractive to the NY Times.

But the Times is associating itself with a writer whose hatred for Israel is so strong that Aswany:

  1. Wouldn’t allow his book to be translated into Hebrew or sold in Israel.
  2. Baselessly claimed Israel actively meddled in Egypt’s revolution.
  3. Denied a long history of Arab anti-Semitism.

Aswany’s free to spout off his venom in any venue he can avail himself, but that doesn’t mean a classy paper like the NY Times should demean itself by providing him with the megaphone, soapbox, and its audience in the millions of readers.

One last point: If you disagree with Aswany but you’re chivalrously willing to die for his right to self-expression, I’d much prefer that you nobly live for my self-expression. You can do that by sharing HonestReporting’s material with your friends, encouraging them to subscribe, and responding to our calls to action. That means more to me than the tarnished value of a NY Times column.

(Image of Aswany via YouTube/Ahmed Kamel)

October 28, 2013 11:52 By Category : Backspin Tags:, ,

Amira Hass: “Why Shouldn’t Hamas Dig Tunnels?”

Amira Hass

Amira Hass

Ha’aretz’s Amira Hass is clearly unable to recognize intent or any moral distinction when it comes to Israel and Hamas. In her latest piece, she asks:

Why shouldn’t Hamas dig tunnels? What makes a tunnel more “terrorist” than a navy boat firing on fisherman, or less of a security need than unmanned aerial vehicles? Each to his own resources in the arms race.

Intent is a key concept in both the laws of war and the criminal justice system. Consider two scenarios:

  1. I drive my car into a crowd of people with the express purpose of killing someone. On the assumption that I succeed, I would be guilty of pre-mediated murder.
  2. I drive my car in a careless fashion that results in the death of a pedestrian. Of course, I did not set out in a vehicle with the aim of killing someone. The law would therefore take intent into account and perhaps I would be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

In the former scenario, my car could be considered a lethal weapon. In the latter, a simple means of transport from A to Z.

Was the tunnel dug by Hamas under the Israel-Gaza border a means for Palestinians to visit Israel, maybe do a bit of sightseeing or shopping for those hard-to-get items? Of course not. The tunnel was dug with the sole purpose of murdering or kidnapping, which was even confirmed by senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk.

What makes this more “terrorist” than a navy boat firing on fishermen? Again, it all boils down to intent. Israel’s army, unlike Hamas, does not deliberately target innocent civilians. That’s not to say that innocents will not be victims of the conflict. But it’s a huge stretch to attribute some sort of moral equivalence between a Palestinian terrorist group and an Israeli army tasked with preventing Palestinian terrorists from carrying out their murderous acts.

As for “firing on fishermen,” Hass employs this throwaway line with no context in order to tar Israel. The Israeli navy does not shoot fishermen but rather fires warning shots in order to enforce a naval exclusion zone that prevents terrorists from smuggling weapons into Gaza.

Again, an example of how Hass is unwilling or unable to differentiate between genuine terrorism and the actions of those involved in preventing or countering terror.

In April, Hass defended Palestinian violence when she wrote:

Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule… Throwing stones is an action as well as a metaphor of resistance.

Of course, throwing stones is an act of violence capable of killing and maiming. With her latest apologia for terror, Amira Hass possesses one very warped moral compass.

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October 17, 2013 13:00 By Category : Backspin Featured

The Gray Lady’s Grouchiness is Hard to Miss

New York TimesWhy is the NY Times so disparaging of  Benjamin Netanyahu’s media campaign against Iran and Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive?

How to explain the snotty criticism from Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, columnist Roger Cohen, and a NY Times staff-ed?

The Gray Lady’s grouchiness is getting harder to miss, as two Israeli columnists point out.

Avi Issacharoff writes:

And still, some American media outlets have evidently been mesmerized by President Hassan Rouhani’s smile. The New York Times seems to be directing a campaign against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said sanctions on Iran must not be removed and warned about the Islamic Republic’s true intentions. Certain Western journalists are possibly driven by the hope — and, perhaps, some degree of naivety — that the crisis will not require the use of force.

But the anti-Netanyahu campaign misses (or ignores) the fact that the wary Israeli government, not surprisingly, enjoys the support of many Arab countries — including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — which are not naive about Iran.

And Dror Eydar sees a bigger pattern.

The Times has a long history of supporting even the faintest of hopes when it comes to reconciliation with ruthless dictators.

My two cents? Rudoren, Cohen and the staff-ed attacked the messenger (Netanyahu), rather than the message. That’s a low angle for the op-ed pages, and even more insulting as “news.” Why? When it comes to the Iranian nuclear threat, most Israelis are on the same page as Bibi.

Maybe the issue is more personal to the paper. After all, Bibi’s UN speech specifically singled out the NY Times.

Expect continued cattiness.

(Image via Flickr/Bosc d’Anjou)

October 15, 2013 11:10 By Category : Backspin Tags:, , , , ,

Say No to Anti-Semitism and Demonization of Israel

This opinion piece by HR Managing Editor Simon Plosker was originally published on The Times of Israel.

In recent months we’ve seen cartoons that caused considerable offense. An image published in The Sunday Times of London portrayed Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall on top of Palestinians using blood as the mortar. The cartoon prompted comparisons with the “blood libel” and caused particular offense coming as it did on Holocaust Memorial Day.


Then, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung caused outrage when it published an anti-Semitic cartoon that portrayed Israel as a ravenous monster.

While in both cases, apologies were eventually issued, the immediate responses of the media outlets were to state that the cartoons were not anti-Semitic.

But under whose definition?

Many Jews can recognize anti-Semitism when they see it. But emotional responses aren’t always good enough as a means to convince a skeptic.

So what are the red lines? It might be surprising to learn that both the U.S. State Department and European Union have adopted thoroughly considered definitions of anti-Semitism. The EU’s Working Definition includes the following:

Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

The U.S. State Department’s definition is very similar:


  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis
  • Blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions


  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
  • Multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations


  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist

All too often we’ve seen these “3 D’s” – Demonization, Double Standards and Delegitimization – appearing in media articles, opinion pieces and cartoons.

We believe in the right of freedom of speech and we also believe that Israel is not above legitimate criticism. We do not seek to shut down all criticism of Israel nor is it our intention to abuse the charge of anti-Semitism to neuter Israel’s critics.

We do, however, believe that the media should adopt the above definitions so that they are aware of the red lines that should not be crossed.

How can you help?

HonestReporting is circulating a petition calling on American and European media to endorse and adopt the relevant definitions of anti-Semitism so that the sometimes fraught discussion and debate over Israel’s policies can take place in a civil discourse free from the demonization that has poisoned the issue.

Sign the petition, which we will deliver to mainstream media outlets in America and Europe, and help us to get the media to draw a red line and to say no to anti-Semitism and demonization of Israel.


October 7, 2013 11:04 By Category : Backspin

Washington Post: Forget Iran, Israeli Nukes are the Issue

Washington-Post-LogoIn a column for the Washington Post, Walter Pincus suggests that it is time for Israel to acknowledge its own alleged nuclear weapons. He writes:

It [Israel] has accused Iran of seeking the capability to produce nuclear weapons, when for years Israel has been believed to possess hundreds of nuclear bombs and missiles, along with multiple delivery systems. It continues to insist it doesn’t have them.

For one thing, Israel doesn’t insist that it doesn’t have nuclear weapons. It has maintained an ambiguous approach neither confirming nor denying that it is in possession of such weapons.

In any case, on the assumption that Israel does have nuclear weapons, why has Pincus fallen for Iranian efforts to deflect attention away from the very real danger? Unlike Iran, Israel has never threatened to wipe out another country in the region

Having made a  false moral equivalence between Iranian and Israeli nuclear weapons, Pincus then goes on to do the same between Syrian chemical weapons and alleged Israeli chemical capabilities.

To back up his arguments, Pincus relies on quotes from Russian President Putin and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Since when are these two international actors such paragons of virtue?

Referring to disarmament, Pincus asks: “Will Israel take that first diplomatic step?” Is he really so naive as to serious think that Israel proposing its own disarmament will do anything other than encourage radical forces in the Middle East to revisit their dreams of the destruction of Israel?

As a commentator on security affairs over many decades, it is surprising and disappointing to see Walter Pincus as an apologist for Iranian, Syrian and Russian agendas in the Middle East.

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October 3, 2013 11:44 By Category : Backspin