Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Eli Clifton, was posted to ipsnews.net, October 21, 2009
WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (IPS) - StandWithUs - an "organization that ensures that Israel's side of the story is told" - has become increasingly aggressive in challenging the "pro-Israel" credentials of moderate Jewish-American groups, going so far as to suggest that receiving money from Arab donors and supporters of Human Rights Watch undermines a group's commitment to Israel and peace.
J Street - the "Pro-Israel and Pro-Peace" advocacy group - faced criticism last week for accepting contributions from donors who have been critical of Israeli government actions.
But an IPS investigation into the tax records of the donors to StandWithUs, which professes to be ideologically neutral, found a web of funders who support organisations that have been accused of anti-Muslim propaganda and encouraging a militant Israeli and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Some of these organisations have tied the origins of Palestinian nationalism to Nazi ideology, and suggested that a vast Muslim conspiracy - in a similar vein to the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion - is mobilising to undermine the U.S. constitution and impose Sharia law.
StandWithUs, known in its tax filings as the "Israel Emergency Alliance", unleashed a flurry of faxes to 160 lawmakers on Oct. 16 expressing concern over their plans to attend the J Street conference, "Driving Change, Securing Peace", in Washington from Oct. 25-28.
The faxes warned lawmakers that while "J Street claims to be 'pro-Israel' and 'pro-peace' and to represent mainstream Jewish opinion, we are troubled because their positions seem to undermine Israel and its search for peace with security. Their views may also contribute to anti-Israel biases and misinformation."
Five members of Congress dropped out of the conference. J Street characterised the campaign as the work of "neoconservatives and their Swift Boat tactics" led by the neoconservative Weekly Standard magazine.
MJ Rosenberg, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a research centre that monitors "conservative misinformation" in the media, told IPS, "These are essentially opponents of the peace process who believe the only way to support Israel is to oppose a diplomatic solution to the conflict."
The biggest donors to StandWithUs since 2005, according to a search of publicly available tax returns, were foundations controlled by Susan Wexner, who has contributed over 850,000 dollars to the group.
Wexner's family founded The Limited, which currently operates such well-known brands as Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works, Henri Bendel, C. O. Bigelow, The White Barn Candle Company, and La Senza.
Wexner also made contributions to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD).
MEMRI describes itself as "bridging the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu-Pashtu media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East".
Critics say the group is a propaganda outlet, and accuse it of mistranslation and overstating the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Middle East media.
"My problem with MEMRI is that it poses as a research institute when it's basically a propaganda operation," wrote the Middle East editor for The Guardian, Brian Whittaker, in an email debate with MEMRI President Yigal Carmon.
"As with all propaganda, that involves a certain amount of dishonesty and deception. The items you translate are chosen largely to suit your political agenda. They are unrepresentative and give an unfair picture of the Arab media as a whole."
The executive director of StandWithUs, Roz Rothstein, responded to IPS, "MEMRI is used by every news publication on the planet. People don't look at MEMRI as right-wing. It's just verbatim Arabic translation. They've never been cited for inaccurate translation."
In 2007, CNN correspondent Atika Shubert and Arabic translators accused MEMRI of mistranslating portions of a Palestinian children's television programme.
"Media watchdog MEMRI translates one caller as saying - quote - 'We will annihilate the Jews,"' said Shubert. "But, according to several Arabic speakers used by CNN, the caller actually says 'The Jews are killing us."'
CAMERA, another media watchdog group, has caught criticism for denying reliable reports of settlement expansions, leading the executive director of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Donald Wagner, to describe CAMERA as "a well-known source of extremist pro-Israel propaganda that is routinely challenged by Israeli and international human rights and peace organizations for its consistent misrepresentation of the facts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies is a policy institute "founded shortly after 9/11 by a group of visionary philanthropists and policymakers to support the defense of democratic societies under assault by terrorism and militant Islamism", according to its website.
However, the group has frequently been cited for pushing a hawkish U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and Iran, and the Christian Science Monitor called it one of the "top neocon think tanks".
Larry and Andrew Hochberg contributed over 400,000 dollars to StandWithUs since 2005 and also contributed to FDD and Honest Reporting, another watchdog group that monitors the media and "exposes cases of bias" against Israel.
Much like MEMRI, Honest Reporting has come under attack for taking words and phrases out of context and for producing the documentary "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West".
Twenty-eight million copies of the film were distributed by direct mail and newspaper inserts before the U.S. presidential election last November.
Regarding the film, Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic wrote that it "takes a serious issue, and a serious threat - that of Islamism - and makes it into a cartoon. Its central argument is that the 'Islamofascism' of today is not only the equivalent of Nazism, but worse than Nazism. This is quite a thing for a Jewish organization to argue."
According to Rothstein, "Obsession is the story of radical Islam."
"Radical Islam has impacted the Middle East greatly," she said. "All this stuff comes from a very fundamentalist religious position and looking at it does not make you right- or left-wing."
Sandra and Lawrence Post contributed just under 70,000 dollars to StandWithUs since 2005 and contributed to MEMRI and Christians United For Israel (CUFI), a U.S. "pro-Israel" Christian organisation founded and chaired by controversial pastor John Hagee.
Neoconservatives and other members of the far-right came into direct conflict with J Street in May 2008 when J Street issued a statement calling on Republican presidential candidate John McCain to "renounce John Hagee once and for all".
Many Jews took offence with Hagee's characterisation of Hitler as doing God's work by helping to bring Jews to Israel to fulfil Biblical prophesy, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) found itself in the difficult position of fighting to keep its pro-Israel credentials while not severing its valuable ties to the Christian-Zionist movement and the Christian Right.
Asked if the philanthropy of their donors reflected a right-wing political leaning by StandWithUs, Rothstein rejected the idea.
"I don't think it's fair since our tent is pretty broad," she said. "Some people call us 'left of centre', others call us 'right of centre' and some call us 'centre"'.
"We see it as our job to help people understand that the founding document of Hamas calls for the elimination of Israel," Rothstein added. "If J Street is interested in negotiating with Hamas - who are absolute fundamentalists and violent - it's like a phony dream to want to sit down with someone who is intending to kill you."
Defenders of J Street see StandWithUs and their supporters very differently.
"They're attacking J Street because J Street supports [U.S. President Barack] Obama's goal of re-starting negotiations," said Rosenberg. "In the old days, if any president put pressure on Israel, the Jewish community would rise up against him. But the community strongly supports this president and these guys are pushing back on Netanyahu's behalf."
This article, by Tal Rabinovsky, was posted to ynetnews.com, July 21, 2009.
A week after activist group "Breaking the Silence" published testimonies of IDF soldiers who said they were urged by commanders to shoot first and worry later about sorting out civilians from combatants, the Rabbis for Human Rights organization called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to launch an external investigation into the army's conduct during the recent offensive in Gaza.
"Since February our organization, along with a number of other human rights groups, turned to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz a number of times and asked that he order an investigation (into the Gaza op)," said Rabbis for Human Rights Director Rabbi Arik Asherman on Tuesday.
"We regret that he chose not to do so while claiming that the military probes were sufficient."
The petition was also signed by authors Amos Oz and David Grossman, as well as by former leftist Knesset members Shulamit Aloni, Yossi Sarid and Naomi Chazan.
"There is no doubt that we have a right to defend ourselves, and there is no country in the world that would allow rocket attacks on its civilian population if it had the power to prevent them. We hoped the soldiers' testimonies would stir existential feelings (among Israelis) in the face of the military's denial," Rabbi Asherman said.
According to him, "there is no doubt that some of the soldiers who had testified were afraid to reveal their identity to the army, but 'Breaking the Silence' has already announced that it would ask the witnesses to reveal their identity in case an independent investigation is launched.
"They have all of the names and details; there's no censorship or anything of that nature; it's just a matter of preventing acts of revenge by certain elements," he said.
The following testimony, about the use of white phosphorous by the Israeli army in Gaza, was originally published in the booklet Cast Lead, July 2009. (Click here to download Cast Lead).
Then we went back north, about 500 meters from the fence, and stayed there all night as look-outs. We saw nothing special. The next day we got back to base to get new mission orders and were once again assigned to a force from Battalion *** with whom we went in. We walked with them on the beach and saw all the white phosphorus bombs I've told you about, we saw glazing on the sand. Can you describe it? What did you see?
You're walking along the sand and hear this crunch of something being crushed. We looked down and saw what looked like the shards of thousands of broken glass bottles. What color did it have?
A dirty brown. Did you see remains of this elsewhere nearby?
There was an area of about 200-300 square meters of glazed sand like that. We understood this resulted from white phosphorus, and it was upsetting. Why?
Because in training you learn that white phosphorus is not used, and you're taught that it's not humane. You watch films and see what it does to people who are hit, and you say, "There, we're doing it too." That's not what I expected to see. Until that moment I had thought I belonged to the most humane army in the world, I knew that even in the West Bank, when we go into a neighborhood, we do it quietly so that people won't see us, but also in order not to disturb them, no less. We're not… Even when Molotov cocktails were thrown at us in the West Bank, we wouldn't shoot, the rules are very explicit. If your own life is at risk, you shoot. But under no other circumstances. Practically speaking, how often are you really in a life-threatening situation in the West Bank? Until that moment I had never fired a shot except at cardboard targets, just at the shooting range and maneuvers, and I also understood why. An IDF soldier does not shoot for the sake of shooting nor does he apply excessive force beyond the call of the mission he is to perform. We saw the planes flying out and you see from which building the rocket is launched against Israel and you see the four houses surrounding that building collapsing as soon as the airforce bombs. I don't know if it was white phosphorus or not, and I don't really care that much, but whole neighborhoods were simply razed because four houses in the area served to launch Qassam rockets. I don't know what else can be done, but it does seem somewhat unfair. What, the proportions?
Yes. It's disproportionate. When you went in, the airforce was still in action and the heavy equipment – not rifles, but artillery, armor and auxiliary fire. You were watching what was being fired there, and how the tanks and mortars were used?
From what I saw in our missions, tanks were often sent in, platoons from Battalion ***, to secure close cover, stand together with several tanks on a range, the tanks waited for something to move in order to return fire effectively. I didn't go in with the heavy equipment, we were attached to special units who did not work with the heavy equipment. What do you mean by "waiting for something to move"? What were your rules of engagement? What were you told at the briefings?
"Anything looks suspicious to you, open fire." What is suspicious? Arms and intent are both valid there, too?
Yes. You have to detect weapons, verify that person is not one of ours. If he has something on him, that is grounds enough to… No intent, even without intent.
They were assuming that anyone present in a bombed-zone, carrying a Kalashnikov, is no weapons collector. You go into Al Atatra, and you see buildings, houses?
Ruins. I entered Al Atatra after seeing aerial photos and didn't identify anything, and my photographic memory is not that bad. I remembered that 200 meters further on down the track there should be a junction, with two large houses at the corners, and there wasn't. I remembered there was supposed to be a square with a Hamas memorial monument, and there wasn't. There was rubble, broken blocks. How did destruction affect your ability to communicate, to navigate?
It got to the point where we would try to report to field intelligence about a figure sticking out its head or a rocket being launched, and the girl (at field intelligence) would ask, "Is it near this or that house"? We'd look at the aerial photo and say, "Yes, but the house is no longer there." "Wait, is it facing a square?" "No more square." She would ask us if this was the third or fourth junction, and we'd tell her the houses are all crushed over the junction and you don't see a single junction. It got to the point where we could hardly see our way. Later I went in to the lookout war-room and asked how things worked, and the girl-soldiers there, the lookouts, resented the fact that they had no way to direct the planes, because all of their reference points were razed. So they would direct them in general terms or rely solely on coordinates. They found their reference points on aerial photos shared by the pilots and the war-room, and very approximated, which also annoys me. What is this, approximation? It's highly possible that now the pilot will bomb the wrong house. Were you told of this approximation, or is this your own take on things?
It was my own take on things. She tells him, "Take some 800 meters east of the sea and so and so meters at such and such an azimuth from this or that line," and you say, "Wait, if he does not use the compass and other instruments in his cockpit for these measurements, then possibly he'll miss targets, it's not so far-fetched. This is not the 'smart bomb' we had been working on so hard. Could be he's using such a bomb, but aiming at the wrong target."
Several months have passed since the end of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and many israelis are still not aware of what really happened there. For lack of basic facts, we are forced to accept unconditionally the positions of the official bodies, which assure us that in spite of any doubts, the idF’s conduct was faultless and public accountability is uncalled for. this publication includes the testimonies of around thirty combatants who took part in the operation in early 2009. the testimonies that appear here were gathered over the past few months from soldiers who served in all sectors of the operation. the majority of the soldiers who spoke with us are still serving in their regular military units and turned to us in deep distress at the moral deterioration of the idF. although this publication does not claim to provide a broad, comprehensive review of all the soldiers and the units who carried out the operation, these narratives are enough to bring into question the credibility of the official IDF versions.
There are many significant gaps between the testimonies we gathered. These testimonies describe use of the ‘neighbor procedure’ and of white phosphorus ammunition in densely inhabited neighborhoods, massive destruction of buildings unrelated to any direct threat to israeli forces, and permissive rules of engagement that led to the killing of innocents. We also hear from the soldiers about the general atmosphere that accompanied the fighting, and of harsh statements made by junior and senior officers that attest to the ongoing moral deterioration of the society and the army. during the operation, the military rabbinate made its own contribution to these expressions when it introduced controversial religious and political interpretation under the auspices of the idF and with its blessing. Although certain features characteriz introducyed this operation as a whole, significant differences can be found among the various geographic areas and units. such variation is also addressed in this publication.
In the past few months, the idF spokesperson has gone to great lengths to prove that if there were any moral problems with the war at all, they were merely on the level of the ‘delinquent soldier,’ rather than a widespread, systemic issue. the stories of this publication prove that we are not dealing with the failures of individual soldiers, and attest instead to failures in the application of values primarily on a systemic level. the idF’s depiction of such phenomena as ‘rotten apple’ soldiers is a tactic used to place the responsibility solely on individual soldiers on the ground and to evade taking responsibility for the system’s serious value and command failures. the testimonies of the soldiers in this collection expose that the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians of the Gaza strip were a direct result of idF policy, and especially of the rules of engagement, and a cultivation of the notion among soldiers that the reality of war requires them to shoot and not to ask questions.
This collection of testimonies offers a brief glance at Operation Cast Lead, and what occurred during the operation at the hands of the idF on behalf of israeli society. We believe that the existence of a moral society clearly requires a profound, honest discussion, of which the voice of soldiers on the ground is aninseparable part.
That this voice was missing from public discourse around the fighting in Gaza obliged us to hasten publication of these testimonies them. Because of time pressure and the complex process of verifying the testimonies, we are not able to publish here all the materials in our possession. the testimonies in this book are categorized by subject and appear in the exact language of the soldier speaking. Military terminology is explained in parentheses.
Those who break their silence in this publication describe in their testimonies how actions defined as anomalous yesterday become the norms of tomorrow, and how the emissaries of israeli society continue, along with entire the military system, to slide together down the moral slippery slope. this is an urgent call to israeli society and its leaders to sober up and investigate anew the results of our actions.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank our many volunteers and supporters who enabled the publication of this booklet on such short notice. Without their extensive assistance and support, this publication would not have reached your hands.
Some of you have already heard:
The attempt to criminalize New Profile, begun in September 2008 with the Israeli Attorney General’s announcement of a criminal investigation of the movement, has now been accelerated. On April 26th, a day before Israel’s Memorial Day, Israeli police produced a hyperbolic piece of political theater. As if facing down a dangerous organized crime “family”, they “raided” – to quote their press release – the homes of six activists in different parts of Israel, who were summoned for interrogation. Exploiting the ritual emotions of a day of mourning for military dead, this police action singled out and branded anti-militarist activists as non-members of the legitimate community, implying that they (we) are fair game.
New Profile issued a press release the same day and the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace followed up immediately with an urgent appeal for action.
The activists detained have meanwhile been released on bail under restraining orders; their personal computers currently remain impounded. As of this writing, police have summoned ten additional activists for interrogation.
In the paragraphs below, we provide our analysis of the government’s campaign of suppression along with our request for support. Your support and solidarity is deeply important to us. CONTEXT FOR THE TARGETING OF NEW PROFILE
The attempted criminalization of New Profile amounts to no less than a state war on youth. Rising numbers of young Jewish Israelis (as well as members of the Druze minority also subject to conscription) find themselves unable or unwilling to accept the over-used Israeli dictate: “There’s no other choice”. Despite the ongoing draft, more than half of all eligible Israelis no longer serve or complete their obligatory service in the military. Though Israeli law offers virtually no legal provision for Conscientious Objection, young people have found their own way to vote with their feet.
Officials initiated the New Profile investigation “because of growing concern at the defense establishment of a growing trend of draft evasion. In July 2007 Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi declared publicly that they would fight the trend.” (Ha’aretz, 4/27/2009). Clearly, it’s not New Profile that they’re worried about. New Profile is an easy, visible scapegoat through which they hope to sow fear and intimidate future draft resisters, whom they stigmatize as “shirkers”. The state has declared a war against the many thousands who openly resist or dodge the draft and refuse to place their bodies, their minds, their morality at the disposal of vision-less politicians.
Israel’s war on its youth is being fought within a broader context of spiraling repression of political dissent. Activists were detained by the hundreds for protesting Israel’s attack against Gaza last January, most of them Palestinian citizens of Israel, some of whom still remain in detention. Non-violent protesters against the land-gobbling dragon of Israel’s separation wall are regularly targeted by lethal fire. Weeks ago Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahma of Bil’in was killed by soldiers, becoming the 18th Palestinian killed while protesting the separation barrier.
In most cases, the repressive measures applied to Jewish activists still bear no comparison, in terms of arbitrariness and brutality, to the means employed against Palestinians. And yet, the political theater of repression now being played out against New Profile is of great importance—
First, because every act of repression is important and should be resisted.
Second, because when it is applied to a group of relatively privileged, middle class, largely middle aged, feminists – it tends to be more visible to mainstream Israeli society, more easily exposing its fabric of lies and ludicrous, trumped-up charges, in turn allowing decent but uninformed people a concrete grasp of the reality of repression.
Third, because in the balance, yet again, lie the future of freedom and rights for everyone in Israel/Palestine.
Fourth, because what is at stake are the lives of Israeli youth against whom the state is waging this war.
Many of you have readily recognized the gravity of this turn of events and written us to express support and solidarity. You have also asked how to offer material help. Networks of sustained, resilient and persistent support-and-protest are vital for resisting and reversing the destructive anti-democracy now openly governing Israel/Palestine. We appreciate any small or large action you can take and truly need you, now and over the months and years to come. WHAT YOU CAN DO Here is a list of things you can do:
Join the appeal of Jewish Voice for Peace (see also the statement and form for sending letters of protest from War Resisters’ International).
Write a short letter of protest to Israeli officials; see list of officials and their contact information below.
Reach out to journalists from your community, provide them with material and suggest they interview New Profile activists in your local or national media. To coordinate interviews, email us at email@example.com .
Organize a parlor meeting or a community meeting to discuss, learn about and publicize the current escalation in Israel in the politicized use of police and courts as a means of gagging dissent—most brutally among Palestinian citizens of Israel (for instance, see here) and among Jewish peace activists;
Use technology to bring us to your meeting, via video (on “Skype” for instance) or conference call; this is a very effective method for us to communicate with you and your group directly.
Write a short letter of protest to Israeli media, in your own language or in Hebrew if you’re able. See list of media contacts, below. Please send us copies of anything you write and any answers you receive to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Distribute our Press Release and the appeal from Jewish Voice for Peace among friends, family, acquaintances, other activists, at work places, community centers, schools, colleges, activist groups and ask people to disseminate them further.