When President Obama nominated global health superhero Dr. Jim Young Kim to lead the World Bank, Harvard development economist Dani Rodrik remarked, "It's nice to see that Obama can still surprise us."
Is it possible that Obama could pleasantly surprise us in the upcoming talks with Iran over its nuclear program? Much of the media coverage would suggest otherwise.
Nonetheless, there are actually quite a few positive signs that we can point to:
1. There have been no reported major explosions in Iran or assassinations of Iranian scientists recently, as have seemed to occur in the run-up to previous talks. This could be a sign that U.S. pressure on Israel and the Iranian MEK terrorist group is working to keep things quiet on that front. There is some evidence that this might be the case.
2. No-one appears to be talking about Israel much at all. Israeli officials appear to be keeping a relatively low profile, and Israeli Defense Minister Barak recently put forward a proposed list of Western demands that is at least on the planet of plausibility - in particular, Barak made no demand that Iran cease enriching uranium.
3. Thanks in no small part to the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Reid, Congress has also been relatively quiet. And this week Congress is out of session.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Showdown at the AIPAC Corral, where pro-war Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been planning to ambush President Obama with charges of being "soft on Iran" because U.S. military commanders have said that an Israeli military attack on Iran would be a very bad idea.
Someone asked the Israeli public what they thought.
And it turns out that the majority of Israelis have their shekels on the lanky guy from Chicago.
In a poll conducted this month by Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and Israel's Dahaf Institute, only 19 percent of Israelis said they would support an Israeli military attack on Iran if it is not approved by the U.S.
But that's not even the most striking result of the poll.
The poll suggests that the reason that the majority of Israelis don't support an Israeli military strike on Iran without U.S. approval is not because they are afraid of making the U.S. angry. The poll suggests that the reason that the majority of Israelis do not support an Israeli military strike on Iran without U.S. approval is that they share the cautions of U.S. officials against an Israeli strike on Iran: they think that the costs would be high, and the benefits small or nonexistent.
That is, they see the assessments of U.S. officials of the dubious merits of an Israeli strike as good data - better data than they are getting from Prime Minister Netanyahu.
US Activist Kit Kittredge Deported From Israel; Statuses of Many Activists, Members of Press Remain Unknown
Just Foreign Policy has received confirmation that activist Kit Kittredge, the US delegate to the Freedom Waves flotilla, is presently on a plane back to New York after being detained for 72 hours in the Israeli jail of Givon. The other US citizen that was detained, Democracy Now! correspondent Jihan Hafiz, was deported last night to New York.
On Friday, the IDF commandeered the two vessels that comprised the flotilla and forcibly brought its passengers to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where Kittredge and Hafiz received very little in the way of aid or useful information from the US embassy, according to Hafiz. While other embassy's officials, such as the Irish ambassador, visited their nationals three times, a representative from the US embassy came only twice to visit Hafiz and Kittredge, both times late in the day. As recounted by Hafiz, the representative claimed that the US embassy was "powerless" in a foreign country, that the Israelis were "giving them the run-around," and that the prisoners requests for free association and reading and writing materials, standard for political prisoners, was "too much" to ask for. The most advice the US embassy could supply was to sign a deportation agreement that admitted that Kittredge and Hafiz had entered Israel illegally and that they wouldn't attempt to break the blockade of Gaza again. Both refused to sign this document and were released only after the time limit on detention was reached.
VIDEO: Democracy Now! Correspondent Jihan Hafiz Deported from Israel; Describes Freedom Waves Interception, Detention
Earlier this morning, it was learned that Jihan Hafiz, US citizen and Democracy Now! correspondent aboard the Tahrir, had been deported from Israel after being detained at Givon prison for 72 hours. Soon after arriving in New York, she sat down with Amy Goodman to talk about the flotilla interception and her subsequent detention in Israel. She described the aggressive fashion in which the IDF commandeered the flotilla ships, the dehumanizing processing that took place once they arrived at Ashdod, and the ineffectiveness of US embassy officials in advocating for her and the other US citizen aboard the Tahrir, Kit Kittredge's, release.
Hafiz recounted guns being shoved into all of the ship's passengers' faces; thinking that Michael Coleman, an Australian delegate, was going to be shot if they didn't cooperate; being subjected to two strip searches (one of which was filmed); being classified as an activist and not as a member of the press by the whim of Israeli authorities; being allowed a call to a relative after 42 hours of detention when she should have been allowed to do so within 24 hours; being told 'don't say anything negative, don't say anything political' on the phone; being told by the US embassy to sign a deportation agreement that would have admitted that she entered Israel illegally and that would ban her from visiting Gaza for ten years. Meanwhile, $20,000 worth of Hafiz's equipment remains captive in Israel.
Watch the interview here:
Earlier today, the two ships that compose the Freedom Waves flotilla to Gaza--the Saoirse and the Tahrir--were commandeered by the Israeli Defense Forces. The IDF has since released two videos.
One video portrays the boarding of both vessels and is heavily edited. Still, we can clearly see the use of a water cannon on the Tahrir, and armed soldiers boarding the Saoirse, with a water cannon close by. At the very end of this video, all the way to the right, you can see an IDF soldier raising his hand gun as he advances into the passenger section of the boat. At least one soldier looks to be carrying an automatic rifle. If this is the edited version released by the IDF themselves, what could be in the unedited version?
The second video is also heavily edited. It presents us with a view of the radio communication between the IDF and the Tahrir. Pay attention to the cuts--especially the audio cuts:
Here's a transcript:
IDF Soldier 1: Motor Vessel Tahrir, this is the Israeli navy. The Gaza area and coastal region is closed to all maritime traffic as part of a maritime blockade imposed for security purposes on the Gaza strip. Your attempt to enter the Gaza strip by sea is a violation of international law. We remind you that humanitarian supply may be delivered to the Gaza strip by land. You are therefore welcome to enter Ashdod port and deliver the supplied to the recognized land crossings."
IDF Soldier 2 (I believe this is one is different than the first): What is your destination?
[VIDEO CUT, POSSIBLE AUDIO CUT]
UPDATED: URGENT ACTION: Israeli Warships Seize Gaza Flotilla, Towing to Ashdod, Handing Activists to Police
UPDATE 11:30AM: The IDF is reporting that it has boarded the two ships that compose the Freedom Waves flotila--the Saoirse and the Tahrir-- and are now towing to Ashdod. Once there, the peace activists on board will be handed over to the Israel police. The boats were seized in international waters. One American, Kit Kittredge, is on board the Tahrir.
Now is the time to act. If you can, please call the State Department and the White House. If you can't call, please email President Obama and your representatives and tell them to press the Israelis to ensure the safety of those aboard the two ships!
November 4, 2011, 8:17AM: We have received word from the two ships en route to Gaza, the Saoirse and the Tahrir, that Israeli warships are approaching both ships. The Tahrir has received radio contact from the Israeli authorities, asking about their final destination. They replied, ‘the conscience of humanity’. When asked again, they said ‘The betterment of mankind’. Boarding and commandeering are imminent. On board the Tahrir is one American, Kit Kittredge.
The boats are presently 48 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. The first flotilla to break the siege was intercepted about 35 nautical miles off shore.
Now is the time to act. Call the State Department and the White House and tell them to press the Israelis to ensure the safety of those aboard the two ships!
Call the State Department:
Jane Hirschmann 917-679-8343, 212-222-6721
Felice Gelman 917-912-2597
Medea Benjamin (in Turkey with ground crew) 90 531 888 8927
BOATS EN ROUTE TO GAZA SURROUNDED BY ISRAELI WARSHIPS
New York – November 4, 2011
At 7:43 am ground support crew lost contact with two ships, the Saoirse of Ireland and the Tahrir of Canada, carrying 27 civilian passengers, medical supplies and letters of support for the people of Gaza.
At 7:30 am the Tahrir was interrogated, via radio, by the Israeli Navy. The ships were approximately 48 nautical miles off the coastline, well into international waters. Asked by the Israeli Navy for their destination, Canadian activist Ehab Lotayef replied, “The conscience of humanity.” When they repeated the question, asking for final destination, Lotayef said, “The betterment of mankind.”
Israel has maintained a naval blockade of Gaza since June 2006. Numerous international organizations, including committees of the United Nations, have concluded the blockade is in violation of international law.
Earlier today, in defiance of the United States and Israel, Palestine was admitted as a full member of the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by a vote of 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions. Those who voted in favor of admission included France and Belgium, along with China, Russia, Brazil, India, and most African and Arab states.
This overwhelming support for the Palestinians was manifested despite the fact that US law mandates a complete cutoff of US funding to any UN agency that admits Palestine as a full member. The US provides about $70 million in funding to UNESCO annually, accounting for roughly 22% of its yearly budget. Israel also plans to cut off its contribution, which is 3% of the agency's budget. That means that, with Palestinian admission to UNESCO, the agency will lose a quarter of its funding.
The UNESCO vote makes clear yet again that the United States is on the wrong side of world opinion on the issue of Israel and Palestine. And while it may be but a symbolic victory, it is a mighty one: it is a signal that threats and strong arming cannot forever stand in the way of justice.
The logic of turning to the UN is straightforward: the U.S.-sponsored "peace process" - bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians under U.S. auspices - has failed, because a key premise of that process was that the U.S. government could bring the Israeli government to the table for a serious negotiation that would produce real Israeli compromise necessary for a solution. That premise has turned out to be spectacularly false.
The U.S. hasn't been able to bring the Israeli government to the table for a serious negotiation, not because it would be theoretically impossible to do so, but because "domestic political constraints" - the "Israel lobby" - have prevented the U.S. from exerting effective pressure on the Israeli government to move. Therefore, if the world wants to see resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict anytime soon, it has to wrest control of the issue from Washington. And that's why moving the arena to the United Nations makes perfect sense.
Former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy summed it up in the New York Times: "The U.S. cannot lead on an issue that it is so boxed in on by its domestic politics," Levy said. "And therefore, with the region in such rapid upheaval and the two-state solution dying, as long as the U.S. is paralyzed, others are going to have to step up."
Monday, July 11, was a historic day for the movement to abolish the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The right-wing dominated Israeli Knesset gave the campaign to boycott the Israeli occupation a Good Housekeeping seal of approval - a hechsher, if you will - by passing legislation to punish it.
Of course, the effect of this legislation will be to rejuvenate the Israeli peace movement ["Israeli Left launches public campaign against new law banning boycotts," Haaretz reports] and promote the boycott. It is a sign of the political bankruptcy of the Israeli Right that it is now condemned to take actions which promote the agenda of its opponents.
This month, the right-wing Israeli government shone a spotlight on its illegal blockade of Gaza when it made giving free publicity to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla the top Israeli government priority. Every day, it seemed, there was a new Israeli government statement calling attention to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, more outrageous than the last: 67-year-old Alice Walker was going to pour sacks of sulfur on Israeli soldiers and light them on fire; journalists who reported on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla were going to be banned from Israel for ten years.