Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ford Foundation & Israel

'The Road Ahead' Without Ford

With little fanfare, the Ford Foundation has declared victory and prepared for a phased withdrawal from its long, largely inconspicuous campaign to influence Israeli politics. News reports have focused mostly on the foundation's 23-year-long patronage of the New Israel Fund which, in addition to some laudable activities, has funded opaque groups that have exacerbated tensions between Jews and Arabs. Some NIF-backed pressure groups including B’Tselem, HaMoked and Adalah self-righteously colluded with the now discredited Goldstone Commission Report.

But Ford's involvement in Israel's affairs goes well beyond the New Israel Fund. The Foundation, today with $10.2 billion in assets, was created in 1936 by automobile magnate Henry Ford's son Edsel. Since then it has disbursed a staggering $16 billion in grants worldwide. While Henry was a notorious Nazi-sympathizer and anti-Semite, the foundation his money helped endow transmogrified into a quintessentially "progressive" entity devoted to promoting "social change worldwide."

In 1953 the foundation began making apolitical grants that benefited research in Israel. Then, on the very day Israel claimed victory in the June 1967 Six Day War, President Lyndon Johnson recalled McGeorge Bundy, his former foreign policy aide, newly ensconced at the helm of the Ford Foundation, to explore ways to coax Israel out of the just liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Bundy did not produce any tangible results though in hindsight his involvement can be seen as having driven the foundation's fixation with changing Israeli policies.

Ford became a benefactor of writers, researchers and pressure groups devoted to ending the "occupation" notwithstanding Arab intentions. Judging by where it puts its money, Ford views Israel as an oppressor state that routinely victimizes its Palestinian Arab minority.

By the 1980s it had helped bankroll Meron Benvenisti's West Bank Data Project campaign which sullied as ineluctably in the wrong Jewish life beyond the Green Line. When the Palestinians under Yassir Arafat declared a state – the first time around on November 15, 1988 in Tunis – it was thanks to a blueprint drafted by Prof. Jerome Segal who was later rewarded as a Ford grantee. Ford supported Stephen P. Cohen's Institute for Middle East Peace and Development which gave him the institutional heft that allowed his chum, New York Times advocacy journalist Tom Friedman to incessantly cite Cohen as a "Middle East expert" in promoting their shared views critical of Israeli policies.

Ian Lustick, the intellectual godfather of efforts to "redefine" pro-Israelism and to dissociate American Jewish backing for Israel from support for its West Bank and security policies would also go on to work for Ford. The foundation remained on the periphery of an interlocking directorate of agencies including the Foundation for Peace in the Middle East and the Tides Foundation that conducted a withering pressure campaign to force Israel back to the 1949 Armistice Lines.

The now defunct International Center for Peace in the Middle East provided the organizational front for disaffected Israeli and Americans Jewish actors such as Abba Eban and Rita Hauser as they campaigned for precipitate U.S. recognition of Arafat's PLO.

Ford also become a major funder of Arab and far-Left groups behind the virulently anti-Israel 2001 UN sponsored Durban Conference and with a few degrees of separation continued to back the malevolent boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against the Jewish state. Whether by backing innocuous-sounding groups like One Voice and Peres Center for Peace or by supporting tendentious polling on behalf of the Geneva Initiative, Ford's efforts have weakened Israel's ability to reach a negotiated solution.

Like Peace Now, the Geneva Initiative is so well-funded by European governments that it simply does not need Ford's money. But Ford has gone on to lend moral support for J-Street as it takes Lustick's crusade to redefine pro-Israelism to ever more absurd heights.

Looking back, Ford's directors can feel vindicated that the fund's heavy investment in artfully stoking a multi-layered campaign to force an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice boundaries – irrespective of Palestinian belligerence – has gained inexorable momentum. Ford's outlay has helped leave Israel's security damaged, its international standing weakened and its domestic divisions worsened. As for the New Israel Fund's ability to carry on Ford's work alone after 2013, that will depend on how successful it is in branding itself dedicated to "creating a better Israel" even as it obfuscates the, shall we say, awkward activities of its dependent NGOs.


-- April 24, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Between Idealism and Pragmatism

The Likud Party faithful who gathered in Tel Aviv on April 14 for a pre-Passover holiday toast heard party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu announce that he would amplify Israel’s security and peace principles for negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs before a joint session of the U.S. Congress next month.

As he surveyed the crowd from the podium Prime Minister Netanyahu was no doubt reassured by a recent survey showing that 76 percent of Likud members opposed annexing all of Judea and Samaria. Yet he also would have known that 10,000 party recruits had newly been signed up by uncompromising settler leaders. To keep the Likud unified and in the center of Israel's political mainstream, Netanyahu's mission will be to bridge the gap between ideological purism and pragmatism, the religious settlers and centrist hawks, the needs of security and the quest for peace.

In doing so, he follows in the footsteps of party founder Menachem Begin, according to Hebrew University political scientist Abraham Diskin, editor of From the Altalena to the Present Day, a newly published political history (Hebrew) of the movement and its transition from Herut to Likud.

Menachem Begin's decision to form the Herut party (Likud's antecedent) on May 14, 1948, the day the state was declared, can be seen as a victory of pragmatism over ideological zeal. All too often when underground factions compete -- such as Begin's Irgun Zvai Leumi and David Ben-Gurion's Haganah – in a liberation struggle they have gone on to fight one another after independence, as Herzl Makov, chairman the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem pointed out in the book's preface. Begin, however, was determined that there would be no Zionist civil war even after the Haganah fired upon and sank the Irgun arms ship Altalena off Tel Aviv on June 6, 1948 with Begin on board. From that dark day on, in the face of relentless campaigning by Ben-Gurion to marginalize and delegitimize the Herut party, Begin steadfastly committed the movement to the ever-shifting center-right of Israel's parliamentary democracy.

From the beginning, the political deck had been stacked against Begin. Ben-Gurion's Labor movement had dominated the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency and Histadrut workers federation so it was no surprise that his Mapai faction captured a 46 seat plurality in the first Knesset elections on January 25, 1949 against 14 mandates for Herut. Ben-Gurion then formed the country's first coalition government as his movement continued to dominate all subsequent governments until 1977.

Not only did Ben-Gurion rule out a political reconciliation between the Begin-led Jabotinsky camp and his own Laborites, the Mapai boss pledged to forever ostracize Herut by keeping it out of any Labor-led government. His animosity ran so deep that Ben-Gurion wouldn't even deign to utter Begin's name in the Knesset referring to him instead as "the man sitting next to Dr. Yohanan Bader."

Paradoxically, it was Begin's quest to surmount Ben-Gurion's blacklisting that contributed mightily to his determination to keep Herut in the political mainstream. But in crystallizing Herut's ideology, diluting Jabotinsky's ideas and replacing them with his own, Begin had also to overcome the opposition of the Revisionist Zionists party, which claimed to be the true standard-bearer of Jabotinsky's ideology. Under the leadership of Herzl Rosenblum and Aryeh Altman, Ben-Gurion had welcomed the party into the Provisional State Council, though it failed to cross the one-percent electoral threshold in the first elections and would ultimately be absorbed into Herut. The Freedom Fighters for Israel (Stern Group) also ran independently for the first Knesset garnering one seat. Only in 1973, with Yitzhak Shamir's entry into Gahal, would the remnant of Abraham Stern's followers rejoin the Jabotinsky movement under Begin.

Begin's fiery 1952 orations against Israel accepting Holocaust reparations from West Germany were portrayed by Ben-Gurion's supporters as indicative of his innate right-wing extremism. In truth, opposition to taking "blood money" from the Germans was hardly limited to the right. And in any event, Herut picked up one additional mandate in the next elections.

Ben-Gurion's political quarantine on Begin began to disintegrate in 1954 as a result of the political fallout following a botched Israeli intelligence operation in Egypt known as the Lavon Affair. With the Laborites bickering among themselves and Ben-Gurion out of power, in 1964 Prime Minister Levi Eshkol permitted Jabotinsky's remains to be brought to Israel and interred on Mount Herzl not far from the gravesite of the Zionist movement's founder. This, too, subtly contributed to Herut's legitimacy as a mainstream party. Next, Begin orchestrated an alignment with the centrist Liberal Party, which had fallen out with the Laborites over the Lavon Affair, to form Gahal which garnered 26 mandates in the 1965 elections. As a classical liberal, Begin's principled opposition to maintaining military law over Israel's Arab citizens (rescinded in1966) further chipped away at Labor's defamation of Herut.

But it was Gahal's entry into the Labor-led national unity government just before the outbreak of the 1967 Six Day War that permanently shattered Begin's political isolation. He became a minister without-portfolio and in that capacity rejoiced over the IDF's liberation of Judea and Samaria. In due course, Begin quit the government, now headed by Gold Meir, to protest its acceptance of the 1969 Roger's Plan.

After the devastating 1973 Yom Kippur War, with Labor's authority to rule increasingly called into question, Begin joined forces with Ariel Sharon to orchestrate the emergence of the Likud from Gahal (and several smaller factions). Begin's sacrifice of ideology for pragmatism bore fruit in the Likud's smashing 1977 electoral victory overturned Labor's monopoly on power. Begin had pulled together settlers, security hawks, predominantly Ashkenazi proponents of a free market economy, and working class Sephardim tethered to the welfare state. It was an amalgamation that he further reinforced in 1981 during his second administration by solidifying Orthodox backing. The glue that held it all together was an overriding distrust of Arab intentions.

In government, Begin redefined Jabotinsky's line on Greater Israel, according to the Jabotinsky Institute's Prof. Arye Naor, a contributor to From the Altalena to the Present Day and Begin's former cabinet secretary. The political center in Israel had shifted and Begin was determined to attune his leadership accordingly even if it required jettisoning ideological purism. In 1979, Begin came under bitter criticism from former comrades-in-arms Shmuel Katz, a Jabotinsky biographer and movement ideologue for trading Sinai land in return for peace with Egypt and from Geula Cohen who broke away from Likud to help form Techiya. Begin's alliance with the Orthodox parties was yet a further deviation from Jabotinsky's preference for a separation of religion from politics. When Begin went to the polls in 1981 it was under the banner: "Better the Difficulties of Peace Than the Pains of War."

Some saw his decision in December 1981 to have the Knesset suddenly annex the Golan Heights as a manifestation of his Jabotinsky ideology, but the case can be made that it was more the result of Begin's justifiable pique at the Reagan administration. After all, the Syrian's had let it be known that they would not recognize Israel even if the Palestinians did; Washington was in the process of selling advanced military weapons to Saudi Arabia while threatening to embargo military aid to Israel over the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor; and the State Department had infuriatingly criticized an Israeli retaliatory raid against PLO facilities in Beirut. Begin had had enough, asking rhetorically of America: "Are we a vassal-state of yours? Are we a banana republic?"

In a nut shell, all subsequent Likud prime ministers have grappled with the same tensions between pragmatism and ideology. Under Yitzhak Shamir, Likud demonstrated far more ideological steadfastness yet even his government could not avoid being dragged under U.S. pressure to the 1991 Madrid talks which were aimed at achieving a permanent resolution of the Palestinian issue. In his first administration, Netanyahu far from renouncing Israel's commitments to the fatally flawed 1993 Oslo Accords actually carried out a partial Hebron pullback in 1997. In the midst of the second intifada, Ariel Sharon campaigned in 2003 elections as a "Leader for Peace" and in May 2003 accepted the Quartet's Road Map whose endgame was the establishment of a Palestinian state. When the Likud rank-and-file repeatedly voted not to support his unilateral Gaza disengagement plan, Sharon defected in 2005 to form Kadima.

Netanyahu has now been back in power for the past two years juggling the demands of his right-wing coalition against those of Israel's fickle international allies. If From the Altalena to the Present Day is any guide, he will continue to navigate the Likud toward the political center – where most voters are – espousing strength on security along with pliability on the diplomatic front and striving, like his predecessors, to bridge the gap between idealism and pragmatism.

-- April 18, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


The news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman were in Germany last week was overshadowed in Israel by coverage of Hamas's anti-tank missile attack on a lumbering yellow school bus that left one Israeli youngster fighting for his life.

At the de rigueur joint news conference in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Netanyahu described Germany as a "great friend of Israel" saying that the talks had taken place in an atmosphere of mutual trust and friendship. Yet any sober assessment of the German-Israel relationship would reveal that Berlin is no longer Jerusalem's most dependable ally inside the EU. Germans have grown increasingly -- sometimes unreasonably – disenchanted with Israeli policies. As a German friend working in Israel recently told me, "We just don't understand Israelis anymore."

German's bristle at being told they are naïve. Their faith in the two-state solution, and by implication in Mahmoud Abbas's goodwill, is unshakeable. Germany is Europe's biggest financial backer of the Palestinian Authority. For Germans a solution to the Palestinian issue is practically a prerequisite for regional stability and they blame Israel – definitely not the Palestinians – for the current diplomatic stalemate. Germans myopically view settlements as the alpha and omega of conflict: Israel's refusal to peremptorily capitulate on settlements all but justifies Abbas's intransigence.

But the fissures extend to just about every facet of Israeli behavior. While most Israelis have not forgiven Turkey for its role in the Mavi Marmara affair, the Bundestag unanimously blamed Israel not Ankara or the violent Islamist radicals on board. Israel behaves as if it has no respect for international law, say Germans. Outrageously, 47.7 percent of Germans surveyed believed “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”

Sitting next to Merkel, Netanyahu was prompted to comment on the upheaval in the Arab world. He said Israel wanted to see its neighbors move toward democracy, "but we can't be sure" whether the transformations underway were a harbinger of the positive change Europe experienced in 1989 or that left Iran a mullahtocracy in 1979 "and we have to fashion our policies to that effect."

But many Germans have been infuriated by Netanyahu's attitude. On Egypt, for example, my German friend said Israelis ought to be cheering on the protestors and trying to form positive relationships with this new generation of potential leaders. In the face of the democracies they sense to be blooming, Germans see Israelis' obsessing over the Islamist menace as cynical and counter-productive.

On the diplomatic front, Germany supported a Security Council resolution promoted by the Arabs in February that demanded Israel cease all "settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory" including metropolitan Jerusalem, and termed any Jewish presence anywhere over the Green Line "illegal." Only a US-veto blocked passage. In the old days, Germany would have justified its infidelity toward Israel by citing the obligation to vote with other EU members. (Actually, the German's broke ranks with the EU by abstaining on the Libyan "no-fly zone" in the council.) When Netanyahu telephoned Merkel to protest the German vote on settlements, she turned the tables on him complaining that he had not followed through on a promised new peace overture.

To give Merkel her due, she did assure Netanyahu last week that Berlin would not agree to any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN. This commitment takes on added significance because Germany has just begun a two-year term on the Security Council. Even so, there are persistent reports that Germany, France and Britain have been egging on the Quartet toward imposing a solution on Israel – hardly any better than Palestinian unilateralism in Israeli eyes

In 2008, Merkel told the Knesset that Germany would "never abandon Israel" and would "remain a loyal partner and friend." At the press conference with Netanyahu she declared that Iran's nuclear program is "a greater threat now than ever before" and that everything possible must be done to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons.

But Merkel's kinship toward Israel wins her few points even in her inner circle. Sixty-five years after the Holocaust, sentimental notions of historic responsibility are mostly balanced by realpolitik and Euro-left political culture.

That may be the context in which to understand Berlin's €4 billion annual trade with genocide-advocating Iran. To be fair, doing business with Iran is not illegal anywhere in the EU so long as it does not directly aid the mullahs' quest for nuclear weapons. Berlin, unlike Washington, professes to be unconvinced that the Hamburg-based European-Iranian Trade Bank is in fact a financial conduit for Iran’s nuclear proliferation. Anyway, Germans are big believers in engagement and say that punishing sanctions would mostly hurt innocent Iranians while paving the way for China and Russia to exploit the business vacuum created by Europe's departure.

Despite a sense of disillusionment that is increasingly mutual, it would be reckless to minimize Jerusalem's need for good relations with Germany. Germany is one of Israel's most important trade partners and its largest trading partner in Europe. Berlin has financed half the costs of three custom designed Dolphin-class submarines for the Israeli navy; two more are on order (negotiations over subsidizing a sixth are foundering). The subs are crucially vital to Israel's strategic deterrence against Iran. Germany's Interior minister was in Israel last month and held meetings with intelligence officials as part of the ongoing security relationship.

Netanyahu acknowledged in Berlin that Israel's existential security is one of Merkel's paramount concerns. Unique among EU leaders, she unequivocally refers to Israel as "the Jewish state" when promoting the two-state solution. For now, and under this Chancellor, the foundation of the German-Israel partnership remains solid even if, plainly, the façade is starting to crumble.


-- April 12, 2011

Monday, April 04, 2011

Was Mohandas Gandhi a Zionist? Not quite.

A Saint for 'Palestine'

A new book about Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) by Joseph Lelyveld, a former executive editor of the New York Times, has set off stormy protests in India because it implies that the country's iconic founding father was bisexual.

In “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India,” Lelyveld recalls Gandhi's relationship with a well-to-do German-Jewish architect, Hermann Kallenbach (1871–1945), though makes no explicit assertion of a sexual angle. That claim was made by British historian Andrew Roberts in his cutting review for the Wall Street Journal. Roberts said Lelyveld's account provides enough material to conclude that Gandhi was "a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist."

The book will likely find readers in Israel not only because of the titillating possibility that Gandhi's homoerotic interest was a Jew, the suicidal counsel he proffered Jews facing Hitler and his hardhearted opposition to Jewish national self-determination, but also because Indian elites relied on his teachings to frame their country's foreign policy toward Israel. Gandhi's ideas greatly influenced the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nowadays, Gandhi's memory is being repeatedly invoked by Palestinian Arabs and their cultish international supporters to reinvigorate the 60 year-old Arab boycott of Israel.

His "legacy of peace" has also become a family franchise for two grandsons, Arun and Rajmohan Gandhi, who make appearances in Bil'in the site of ferocious weekly demonstrations by Palestinian Arabs and foreign radicals against Israel's life-saving security barrier. Anna Baltzer, winner of the "Rachel Corrie Prize" is one of many Jewish "activists" who has invoked Gandhi legacy in her "reportage."

Another is filmmaker Julian Schnabel who paid tribute to the Gandhi myth in an interview about his recent Israel-exploitation film Miral. In awarding the perfidious ex-Israeli academic Ilan Pappe their Honorary Guide Title, even a group devoted to belief in extraterrestrials cited Pappe's attachment to Gandhi.

In this way, the mahatma, or great soul, has also become a fuzzy icon for the history-challenged.

Palestinian Arabs have drawn parallels between Gandhi's imaginary support for black Africans and their own cause. In truth, during the 21 years he lived in Africa, Gandhi was not particularly sympathetic toward black liberation. Instead, the Hindu solicitor became an indispensable go-between for the Muslim Indian business elite and the authorities. A proponent of race purity, he was known to complain that "the Indian [was] being dragged down to the position of the raw Kaffir."

It was, incidentally, during this period that Gandhi left his wife to live with Kallenbach.

Later, back in India, this saint of the underdog went on his first hunger strike in 1932 to oppose granting low-caste "untouchables" political representation in the Indian parliament. Though media-savvy Palestinian Muslims have adopted Gandhi as their a hero, his inept handling of relations with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who became Pakistan's first leader, helped set the stage for the break-up of the Indian subcontinent into warring Hindu and Muslim states.

Like Africans, Jews have little reason to place Gandhi on a pedestal. "My sympathies," he wrote in late November 1938 after Kristallnacht, "are with the Jews." No doubt, in a peculiar sense, this was true. He valued Jews like Sonja Schlesin, his loyal secretary in South Africa and Henry Polak his soul mate and right hand man.

Such sympathy notwithstanding, in 1937 and again in 1939, Kallenbach visited Gandhi in India endeavoring to elicit his support for the Zionist enterprise to no avail. Gandhi wrote about it in a 1939 letter: "I happen to have a Jewish friend living with me. He has an intellectual belief in non-violence…I do not quarrel with him over his anger [against the Nazis]. He wants to be non-violent, but the sufferings of his fellow-Jews are too much for him to bear." Gandhi acknowledged that the Nazi persecution of the Jews had no parallel in history. Nevertheless, Gandhi's resolute counsel to Jews facing the Nazis was non-violent civil disobedience – and forgiveness.

In contrast, to his own followers he taught that "war may have to be resorted to as a necessary evil." He even blessed a provincial Hindu nawab who had given orders to shoot ten Muslims for every Hindu killed in his state.

Whatever their mutual affections, Kallenbach, a utopian Zionist who served on the Executive of the South African Zionist Federation, was unable to convert Gandhi to the cause. "The cry for a national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me," he confessed. Why couldn't the Jews think of Palestine as a kind of biblical metaphor and let that suffice. He dismissed international commitments for a Jewish homeland as illegitimate. If they must settle in Palestine, Gandhi told the Jews, they should do so only with Arab goodwill.

If worse comes to worse, the Jews should allow themselves to be "thrown into the Dead Sea." Any other course to preserve their survival would make them the guilty party. Even after the destruction of European Jewry and a litany of Arab atrocities in Palestine, Gandhi held firm: the Jews must practice non-violence.

No doubt Gandhi was a complicated historical figure yet this much is straightforward. He was not the liberal humanist many in the American civil rights movement imagined him to be. He was no friend of Africa; certainly no lover of Zion. In the stark judgment of historian Paul Johnson, his teachings didn't even have much relevance to India's problems. Upon further reflection, perhaps it's fitting that a fraudulent Palestinian "narrative" has appropriated the Gandhi phenomenon to its century long and comprehensive war against the Jewish return to Israel.


My Archive