Archive | Israel

Human Rights Watch’s Homepage Features…

So President Assad has apparently attacked civilians with chemical weapons, killing hundreds and injuring more. The Egyptian government has slaughtered hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who in turn have been engaging in pogroms against Egyptian Christians. Just for the heck of it, I decided to see which of these stories Human Rights Watch featured most prominently on the front page of its website.

You guessed it!

Neither*. (For those reading this once the home page is changed, here is the story that Human Rights Watch apparently thinks is the single most important human rights issue in the Middle East today.)

*Note, by the way, that it takes HRW until paragraph 5 to note that Israel claims that the homes in question were built in violation zoning rules, and, if you read carefully, you note that HRW, despite the talk of “war crimes,” doesn’t actually dispute that claim, but rather suggests that Israel unfairly restricts Palestinian building. But claims of discrimination-without-adequate-basis against the Palestinian population in granting permits for new buildings in disputed territory, while certainly not outside the purview of a human rights organization, hardly amounts to the “individual or mass forcible transfers” that HRW tries to allege.

UPDATE: A reader points out that the Israel story is likely featured because it’s the most recent press release (though, as another reader points out, not all press releases are deemed important enough to be featured in the “picture box”). Fair enough. But there are two ways of keeping attention on an issue. One is to publish a lot about that issue, the other is to delay extraneous reports on other issues. On number 1, HRW has four releases about the Syrian government this month; by contrast, for example, I count at least fifteen in January 2009 about Israel, during [...]

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The EU’s Israeli Settlement Guidelines and International Law

At The Times of Israel, I have a piece about the new European Union guidelines about funding to Israel, which provide that certain EU monies will not go to Israeli entities beyond the 1949 armistice lines, or that conduct activities there. In particular, I explain that while the guidelines cloak themselves with the mantle of international law, they have nothing to do with international law. Here is the intro:

These guidelines have led to numerous misconceptions from all sides. Concerned Israelis worry that it represents the beginning of an economic boycott. European officials claim international law and a concern for Palestinian self-determination, demand such action. None of this is right.

First, the guidelines do not establish an economic boycott. The rules do not restrict trade between Europe and Israel, or even Israeli companies in the West Bank. Rather, they specify how the EU as an organization chooses to spend its largesse – prizes, grants, and so forth. There is a big difference: restricting one’s gifts saves the EU money; implementing trade restriction would directly hurt its economy as well. In economic terms, a boycott is not the logical extension of a no-gift policy, but rather its direct opposite.

Nor is this about the Palestinians – the rules also bar funding of any organization connected to the Golan Heights. It is not clear which Syria the Europeans think Israel should surrender the entire Golan to, Assad or his Islamist foes, but this broad and unreasonable restriction has nothing to do with “the occupation.” It also has nothing to do with “settlements” in the West Bank; any Israeli institution with a presence in Eastern Jerusalem is blacklisted.

But most importantly, the EU policy is not about international law, which the guidelines repeatedly claim requires such action. Even if one thinks Israelis residing

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The Jerusalem Passport Case – Separation of Powers and Standing

The D.C. Circuit has held the Jerusalem passport law unconstitutional for impermissibly intruding into the Executive’s foreign relations powers. The law requiring the State Department to record “Israel” as the country of birth for those born in Jerusalem. The D.C. Circuit, through extensive and lucid analysis, concluded that recognition was an exclusively executive function, on which the Act impinges. The lawsuit, brought by Menachem Zivotofsky, an American born in Jerusalem, has gone on for a decade, but this will probably be the end.

The D.C. Circuit’s separation of powers analysis was quite strong, though I think the case lacks standing, as Judge Gladys Kessler on the district court first ruled nine years ago.

The plaintiff, claimed the issue was just about passports, and did not involve recognizing foreign countries. The argument was hard to take seriously: refusing to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Western Jerusalem, on passports or elsewhere, is a crucial limitation on the U.S.’s recognition of the State of Israel.

More interesting was the plaintiff’s argument that Congress itself acted through an enumerated power – Immigration and Naturalization. The Court rather convincingly showed that passports were not central to this power, which in any case was concurrent with the Executive’s foreign policy powers. Thus in rock-paper-scissors terms, an exclusive executive power (recognition) beats a concurrent legislative one.

One might think that the Immigration power naturally overlaps with recognition: immigration requires a prior determination of foreignness. The Executive has never taken a position one way or another the sovereignty over Jerusalem. Heck, it might be part of New York, in which case no immigration or naturalization would be needed. Indeed, because of the particular circumstances here – Congress is not contesting a determination of Jerusalem’s status, but rather a non-determination – one might think Congress cannot exercise its powers without [...]

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Joseph Massad Update

Long-time readers will recall the controversy over tenure for Columbia professor Joseph Massad. Massad’s defenders argued that his tenure was only in doubt because pro-Israel forces were out to get him due to his anti-Israel views. I wrote in response, after Massad received tenure

It’s often alleged, as in the Finkelstein case at DePaul, that someone’s anti-Israel views prevent him from getting tenure, or otherwise succeeding in academia. Putting aside the merit of those claims, Massad’s case involves exactly the opposite scenario. He landed at Columbia to begin with as a disciple of leading Palestinian activist and Columbia professor Edward Said. And given not just the quality of his “scholarship,” but his hostility to the international gay rights and feminist movements (which shouldn’t matter for tenure purposes, but who are we kidding?), and his haranguing of a questioner at a university event based on his (Israeli) nationality, it’s hard to imagine a university like Columbia tenuring him if he wasn’t a leading Israel-basher, and therefore was able to pose as both a “progressive” and a martyr to academic freedom.

The latest news with regard to Massad is that he wrote an essay about the history of Zionism and anti-Semitism that was so offensive, so preposterous, such complete and utter bullshit that Al-Jazeera decided it had made a mistake in publishing it and pulled it from its website (it later reinstated the article after being criticized for pulling the piece without explanation). It would take an entire book to correct the foolishness of this particular piece, but if you have some knowledge of Jewish and Israeli history, it’s worth looking at to see how low standards can go at an elite Ivy League university.

As I wrote previously,

The good news is that if Columbia had denied Massad

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Human Rights Watch Director Privately Slurs Israel

The credibility of NGOs like Human Rights Watch depends on their being above and apart from the conflicts they monitor – to not take sides. Human Rights Watch has been criticized by many, including its founder, for giving up all objectivity an adopting an anti-Israel campaign.

Their grudge against Israel has been clear for a while, and David Bernstein has written about it frequently here.

Now, we find evidence of direct personal animus. A news story reveals a private Facebook group whose members include a medley European journalists, NGO officials, and far-left activists. Recently the group turned to discussing an Israeli government report that the famous killing of a Palestinian boy at the start of the Second Intifida was in fact staged. Not only was he not shot by Israel, as much prior evidence suggested, he appears not to have been killed at all. (It would not be the last time Palestinians elaborately staged deaths for PR purposes.)

The issue is not the IDF report, but the comments made about it by Peter Bouckaert, HRW’s Emergencies Director (responsible for civilians in wartime, according to his twitter page). He wrote: “Typical IDF lies. As usual, it takes them a long time to really build up the falsehood.”

He goes on the complain that the New York Times coverage of the Israeli report will be used by supporters of Israel.

I previously criticized HRW for releasing reports on alleged Israeli crimes without waiting for the IDF’s comments – now we know: why wait for a “typical lies” that just build up the more time they get? Seriously, HRW should reveal what reports the “emergencies director” was involved in writing.

Academic writing on human rights and international law often treats groups like HRW as custodians of the truth, and [...]

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Congressional Inquiry of IRS Targeting of Israel Groups

Congress’s inquiry into IRS abuses has now expanded beyond the hounding of domestic-policy conservative groups to Israel related ones. In a letter today the Chairman and minority leader of the Ways and Means Committee demand information on whether the agency “undertook special reviews of organizations whose missions involve Israel” and whose activities “contradict or are inconsistent with the Administration’s policies.” Will this be within the scope of the Justice Department investigation?

Again, if the IRS did so, it was only doing what the New York Times (and Peace Now and J Street) told it to.

The Acting Commissioner appears for a hearing on Friday (after the Jewish holiday of Shavuot). [...]

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The Media Push for IRS Action Against Pro-Israel Groups

In addition to the IRS’s particular interest in right-wing groups focussed on domestic policy, it has taken an unusual interest in right-wing pro-Israel groups. (I am friends with the leader of the group written about in the link.)

One major question raised by the IRS scandal is where these ideas came from. At least as far as Jewish groups go, the IRS scrutiny is not a fluke. That is not to suggest it was ordered by the White House – that is highly unlikely. At the same time, it certainly does not come out of the blue. The past several years have seen a concerted campaign in the mainstream liberal press to bring the IRS down upon certain pro-Israel groups, particularly those that support activities in the West Bank (or the Territories Formerly Occupied By Jordan).

For example, in 2009 David Ignatius had a story in the Washington Post, A Tax Break Fuels Middle East Friction. “Critics of Israeli settlements question why American taxpayers are supporting indirectly, through the exempt contributions, a process that the government condemns,” he wrote. The Guardian in 2009 also had a piece calling for IRS action.

In 2010, the New York Times continued the theme with a massive, expose-style front page story, which concluded that while such tax breaks do not seem to be exactly illegal, it creates :a surprising juxtaposition: As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.” The article then tried to raise questions about whether such groups really satisfied U.S. tax-deductible requirements, suggesting the IRS should look into them. The activities the supported, the Times article suggests, were illegal and extremist.

Picking [...]

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The Moral Sickness of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel

Summarized in two headlines:

Today: Chomsky helped lobby Hawking to boycott Israel event

Last October: Islamic University of Gaza awards honorary doctorate to Chomsky

You might assume that Chomsky at least avoided meeting with officials of the repressive, theocratic, dictatorial, anti-Semitic, government of Gaza, which, at the very time of Chomsky’s visit was lobbing rockets at Israeli civilians (92 attacks in October, involving 171 rockets and mortars) in violation of the most basic international human rights norms. You’d be wrong: “Prof Chomsky also met with a number of civil society leaders and government officials, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who thanked him for his outstanding support.”

UPDATE: It’s also worth noting that Islamic University, founded by the Muslim Brotherhood and closely associated with Hamas, is itself hardly a bastion of liberalism.

FURTHER UPDATE: Also note that as a proponent of a two-state solution, as opposed to eliminating Israel, Chomsky is on the “right” of the BDS movement. [And as a commenter points out, Chomsky has previously supported only |boycott and divestment of firms that are carrying out operations in the occupied territories” and was a vocal opponent of BDS more generally.] [...]

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HRW’s Kenneth Roth Fails Reading Comprehension

Via NY Times “The Lede” Blog: In November 2012, Amnesty International tweeted, “Feel enraged by the violence in #Gaza & #Israel? Demand that @netanyahu & @AlqassamBrigade stop attacks on civilians.”

Egyptian activist Mona Seif responded in a tweet, “@amnesty you don’t ask an occupied nation to stop their ‘Resistance’ to end violence!!! SHAME ON YOU!”

Human Rights Director Kenneth Roth, responding to a controversy over the fact that Seif is a finalist for a human rights award for which he is one of the judges, told the N.Y. Times’s “The Lede” blog that “I haven’t seen anything indicating that by ‘resistance’ Mona means attacking civilians.”

Sigh. Now, Seif claims, rather implausibly, that her tweet apparently referring to attacks on Israeli civilians as “Resistance,” coupled with her longstanding public support for Palestinian resistance, did not actually reflect support for attacks on Israeli civilians. But even if you are credulous enough to believe her, you would still have to admit that the tweet itself is “something” that “indicates” “that by resistances Mona means attacking civilians,” and can’t simply be ignored as if the charge against Seif is a figment of the Zionist imagination. If Roth had said, “Mona used intemperate language, but she has now made it clear that she opposes attacks on civilians [she hasn’t; instead, in a very lawyerly statement, she said that “I have never called for nor celebrated attacks on civilians,” which is hardly the same as opposing such attacks] then I wouldn’t give Roth a hard time. Of if Roth had acknowledged that Seif supports attacks on Israeli civilians, but claimed that her true importance is her work on human rights in Egypt, then at least we’d have an honest, debatable position. Instead, we have Roth’s unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious, which is unfortunately of a [...]

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France’s Kiobel

I wrote yesterday about the French Court of Appeals decision holding that French train companies did not violate international law (and particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention) by building a light rail system in Jerusalem, including areas occupied by Jordan before 1967.

The case, PLO v. Alstom, is a perfect foreign coda to the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel, as it also deals with suits for extraterritorial conduct of multinational corporations (though without the universal jurisdiction twist of Kiobel). It illustrates how the efforts of some American courts to implement international law norms through civil damages remedies is in fact a rather parochial exercise detached from international practice.

1) Most significantly, the Court found that international law does not create liability for corporations. This accords with the view of the Second Circuit in Kiobel – corporate liability was the issue on which cert in Kiobel had been granted, though the case was ultimately decided on extraterritorially grounds. Many who favored corporate liability argued that on this issue, courts should apply not international law, but rather federal common law. In future ATS litigation against companies with some U.S. nexus, the PLO v. Alstom decision will not make plaintiffs’ work easier.

2) The Versailles court also seemed to take a narrow view of aiding-and-abetting liability. The issue is hard to separate from the corporate liability issue, but the Court basically found that even if Israel’s conduct violated international law, the corporation does not incur liability for its involvement.

3) Ironically, the best examples of corporate liability under international law came from ATS cases (where courts had upheld such liability after having been assured of its existence outside ATS cases). Yet the French court brushed off precedents under the ATS by noting that they were merely applications of a “domestic statute” and [...]

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Landmark French Ruling on West Bank Construction and International Law

In an important but largely ignored case, a French Court of Appeals in Versailles ruled last week that construction of a light rail system in the Israeli-controlled West Bank by a French company does not violate international law. In doing so, the court sided with many of the arguments long made against the blanket application of the relevant provisions of the Geneva Conventions to Israeli settlements. National courts rarely if ever address such issues, and thus the decision is important both for its rarity and for what it says.

In this post, I’ll address issues relevant to the substance – Israel’s presence in the West Bank. In the next post I’ll deal with the “Kiobel” issues raised by the case – corporate liability, the value of American ATS cases, and so forth. I should note at the outset that what follows is based on a rough translation of the opinion and my vague French; I would be grateful for corrections on matters of language that I have misapprehended. I venture forward because it is an important decision that deserves attention, yet has been met by complete silence by international legal scholars.

The Jerusalem Light Rail, which began running last year after a long period of construction, links the Western part of the city with the parts occupied by Jordan prior to and annexed by Israel after the 1967 War. The project was widely criticized by pro-Palestinian groups, as was the participation of French rail companies in the project. Along with a variety of political pressure and boycott activities, a Palestinian group sued the French-based multinational conglomerate Alstom Transport for its role in in the project. The case was dismissed below in 2011, and the Court of Appeals upheld the decision last week.

Crucially, the Court held that only the [...]

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I Think Jeffrey Goldberg is Trying to Defend President Obama

when he says, “Like many liberal American Jews, when he looks at Netanyahu he sees a conservative Republican and he fails to understand how a Jew can be a conservative Republican. I think he looks at Netanyahu in much the same way he contemplates Eric Cantor, the Republican ‏(and Jewish‏) house majority leader. Like many liberal-leaning Jews, he might simply not understand how a Jew could be a Republican.”

But if Obama truly understands so little about Israel that he reduces things to “Netanyahu = conservative Republican” (something the Washington Post actually did quote an administration official as saying), as if Israeli politics somehow map on to an incredibly different American political scene, and truly has been so cloistered on the left that the idea of a Jewish Republican is somewhere between anathema and beyond his comprehension, Goldberg is not doing Obama any favors in pointing these things out. I actually doubt that Obama actually thinks these things, but I don’t doubt that a significant number of “liberal American Jews,” some of whom are or have been Obama advisors, do, and that there views filter down to journalists like Goldberg as Obama’s.

UPDATE: Put another way, there are some liberal Jews who are strong partisan Democrats who are both appalled by the notion of conservative Republican Jews and extremely resentful that (a) an influential group like AIPAC maintains strict partisan neutrality, which has the effect, given the baseline, of pushing the Jewish community and its donors effectively to the right; (b) there is a group of wealthy Republican Jews, exemplified by Sheldon Adelson, working for “the other side.”

There is little that can be done about “a” (JStreet is the attempt to do so) and nothing that can be done about “b” (though liberal Jewish groups did launch [...]

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Americans’ (Relative) Sympathy for Israel at a 22-Year High

Times of Israel:

Americans’ sympathy for Israel is at a 22-year high, according to Gallup figures released on Friday, just five days ahead of Barack Obama’s first visit to Israel as president. In figures gleaned from the polling organization’s early February World Affairs poll, 64 percent of Americans say their sympathies “in the Middle East situation” – Gallup’s term for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace talks – lie more with the Israelis than with the Palestinians. Just 12% favor the Palestinians.

People unfriendly to Israel used to say that Israel was only popular in the U.S. because pro-Israel forces had managed to stifle debate by preventing mainstream sources from publishing critical articles. That turns out not to be true now, if it ever was. From the New York Times op-ed page to a best-seller by Walt and Mearsheimer to Joe Klein’s columns to campus “Israel Apartheid Weeks” to dozens and dozens of blogs, it’s actually pretty hard for anyone at all interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict to avoid reading strong criticism of Israel, even if they tried. One would certainly be hard-pressed to argue that debate is being meaningfully “stifled.”

One thing that puzzles me is that if you read just about any online piece about Israel, whether from a mainstream newspaper or a blog, the comments sections are filled with anti-Israel invective. Even many pro-Israel blogs attract many anti-Israel commenters (see, e.g., this blog), and liberal pro-Israel blogs are in fact dominated by them. Given the statistics recounted above, I find this an odd situation. Is there any other issue where public opinion leans so far to one side, but on-line comments slant so heavily the other way? Are there really that many people who feel so strongly about the other side (and not any other burning issues [...]

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More on the Politics of the Scrolls

I earlier noted the White House’s description of the Dead Sea Scrolls as coming from “Israel.” It turns out that this contradicts the official Palestinian position, which is that the Scrolls are looted Palestinian artifacts. The PA made a kerfuffle when the scrolls were exhibited at a Canadian museum a few years ago:

The P.A. and Muslim activists claimed that the scrolls were “stolen” from Palestinian territory and illegally obtained when Israel annexed East Jerusalem — where the scrolls were stored — in 1967. “The exhibition would entail exhibiting or displaying artifacts removed from the Palestinian territories” by Israel, wrote Hamdan Taha, head of the archaeological department in the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities, in a widely publicized letter, calling the show a violation of international law.
Echoing those sentiments on the day of the press preview, Canadian Arab Federation executive director Mohamed Boudjenane called the scrolls “stolen property… seized from an occupied territory,” and repeated the call to close the show on a national newscast.

The BDS forces proposed a boycott and picket of the museum. For them, the Dead Sea Scrolls are Elgin Marbles.

I am sure the Administration did not intend to walk into a fight over the scrolls, but I’m wondering what they would now say to the PA’s claim that they were taken from occupied territory. I look forward to the visit on Thursday, and wonder whether the President will get any flak from the Palestinians/BDS contingent on the issue. [...]

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