Hackers hit Israeli Defense Ministry

Hackers, believed to be Palestinian, broke into a computer of the Israeli Defense Ministry in Jerusalem.

Malicious software infected the computer in Israel’s Civil Administration that monitors the movement of goods and people between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, according to Seculert, an Israeli cybersecurity firm.

The software entered in an email that reportedly looked like it had been sent from Israel’s Shin Bet security service. Seculert said last Sunday that the hackers took over 15 computers earlier this month, including one in the Defense Ministry, Reuters reported.

The attack is similar to one launched on Israeli computers more than a year ago that originated in Gaza, Reuters reported, citing Aviv Raff, chief technology officer at Seculert. This month’s attack originated from a server in the United States.

World leaders mark Holocaust Remembrance

World leaders and other dignitaries held a special ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the United Nations on Monday.

“The State of Israel is the only guarantee that the future and fate of the Jewish people will be held in our own hand,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor said.

Oscar-winning Jewish American film director Steven Spielberg, who directed the famed Holocaust film “Schindler’s List,” praised the importance of hearing Holocaust survivors’ stories.

“It is a great accomplishment of our species that the testimonies [of survivors] can be heard in the high chambers of society,” said Spielberg.

In a video message, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon reflected on his first visit to Auschwitz last year, calling the experience unforgettable.

Embassy Protests Highlight Africans’ Plight

(Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)

(Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)

Infiltrators. Asylum seekers. Illegal migrants. Migrant Workers. Refugees.

The fate of the 53,000 Eritreans and Sudanese who have entered Israel illegally rest on these words. To be granted the right to live and work freely in Israel, the government must rule that those entering its borders left their homeland for fear of persecution and cannot return.

But the Eritreans and Sudanese more often than not came to Israel hoping to find work. They passed through Egypt and did not choose to seek asylum there, hurting their plea for refugee status on humanitarian grounds. And they are not Jews.

In an effort to make their voices heard throughout the world, a solidarity rally was held Jan. 22 in Israel and in front of about a dozen Israeli embassies throughout Europe and North America, including in Washington, D.C.

Over the past several years, Africans have been fleeing their homelands, hoping for a better life. To them, Israel is a democracy in a sea of autocratic states, a land where they can start over.

The Israeli government has labeled these people infiltrators, but they want to be considered asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are given a hearing and have their individual fate determined. Infiltrators into Israel are required to report to a detention center and are banned from working outside that facility.

Still, they are not sent back, and they are given an allowance, room, board and health care.

“Infiltrators imply sinister intent, like illegal aliens here,” explained Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS. “Asylum seekers want protection from the country.”

According to The Israel Project, anyone seeking asylum must request that status at the first country they arrive, which in these cases is usually Egypt. They must state that they are asking to stay for humanitarian reasons, but most of those entering Israel talk mostly of seeking work. Therefore, Israel has no legal obligation to grant them asylum.

Elinor K. Tesfamariam, an immigration attorney and one of the chief organizers of the D.C protest, said she believed Israel would be more willing to welcome these Africans if those who made it to Israel had the chance to present their facts.

“It is very disappointing. We do not expect Israel to take these kinds of measures,” said Tesfamariam, who was born in Eritrea. “Most of them are individuals who left their country because of genocide. Most of them have been trafficked. They suffered a lot before getting to Israel.”

About 15 American University students attended the D.C. protest across the street from the Israeli embassy. Despite the bitter cold, the students held their signs high and spoke of the misery among the Eritreans and Sudanese they saw while in Israel on their college’s Alternative Break Program.

“I am upset, because they can’t help where they were born. All they want is a fresh start in life, and I am upset that Israel is an immigrant state and they want to be a democratic state, and they won’t let these people in,” said one sophomore who didn’t want her name published.

“It’s a complicated situation in a complicated country,” added classmate Jes Walton of Washington.

Also attending the solidarity rally was Rabbi Charles Feinberg of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington.

“I feel strongly about the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees who came across the border,” he said. “They shouldn’t be treated as terrorists or enemies. This is a problem for the whole region. They need a process to handle this. Israel shouldn’t walk away from it.”

While the Israeli embassy refused to comment on the actual protest held outside its building, it did release a statement concerning what it referred to as the illegal migrants issue.

Since 2006, about 64,000 people have entered Israel unlawfully, and some have since voluntarily returned to their homeland, leaving 53,600 in Israel, according to the embassy statement.

“The Population and Immigration Authority, through its RSD (Refugee Status Determination) unit, has been examining hundreds of demands for asylum,” said the statement. “All applications are given thorough treatment. The sheer numbers and the range of issues raised present a significant challenge for the economic and social services of Israel — whose population is eight million.”

Because Israel is the only developed country with a land border with Africa, people do seek to enter Israel, the embassy stated. It is difficult to work out a solution “due to Israel’s unique geostrategic situation and the current political instability surrounding its borders; it becomes practically impossible to develop regional cooperative solutions with countries of origin and transit, as done by other developed countries, such as European countries and the U.S.”

Of the 53,600 mostly male Africans in Israel, about 67 percent are from Eritrea and 25 percent came from Sudan, said Hetfield. They had been flooding the border at the rate of about 2,000 to 3,000 a month, but the flow has all but halted following Israel’s erection of a fence along its Sinai border. During the first 10 months of last year, only 36 people made it through to Israel.

“Basically, it’s down to a trickle. Israel really has gotten the problem under control,” stated Hetfield, adding that now would be a great time to re-evaluate the policy.

Hetfield said he believes Israel continues to create an unwelcome atmosphere in hopes the Africans will choose on their own to leave Israel. But according to many people at the protest, those coming into Israel cannot return to their homeland for fear of death.

Last month, the Knesset passed an amendment to its Anti-Infiltration Law that allows detention without trial for up to a year for African asylum seekers who entered Israel illegally, as opposed to three years. The old law was ruled unconstitutional, as it disproportionately impinged on a person’s right to liberty, as well as being in conflict with Israel’s Basic Law regarding freedom and dignity.

Scarlett Johansson defends deal with SodaStream

Scarlett Johansson cites SodaStream’s commitment to the environment. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for SodaStream)

Scarlett Johansson cites SodaStream’s commitment to the environment.
(Mike Coppola/Getty Images for SodaStream)

Jewish-American actress Scarlett Johansson has come under fire from human rights groups for serving as a spokeswoman for Israeli carbonated beverage company SodaStream.

Oxfam International, a human rights group that Johansson is involved with, took issue with her deal due to its opposition to “all trade from Israeli settlements.”

SodaStream has long been the target of pro-Palestinian groups for operating a factory in Ma’ale Adumim, which is across the Green Line east of Jerusalem. But SodaStream employees include many Palestinian workers, and the factory includes an on-site mosque. Also, the city is expected to be incorporated into Israel in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

“I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine,” Johansson said in a statement. “SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.”

Johannson is set to appear in Soda-Stream’s upcoming $4 million Super Bowl ad.

Omnibus Spending Bill Grants Billions to Israel

U.S. President Barack Obama signs the “omnibus” spending bill in Washington on Jan. 17, 2014.   (Aude Guerrucci/UPI/Newscom)

U.S. President Barack Obama signs the “omnibus” spending bill in Washington on Jan. 17, 2014.
(Aude Guerrucci/UPI/Newscom)

With much fanfare and six different pens, President Barack Obama signed the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2014 last Friday, capping years of Congressional budget fights and officially alleviating the sequester cuts that last year began indiscriminately slashing government spending.

The bill, negotiated by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), closely followed a budget compromise devised by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in early December 2013. Lasting until Sept. 30, 2014, the appropriations spare Israel-related aid, specifically defense cooperation, from the budget ax. The bill fully funds the $3.1 billion commitment in the U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding, returning funding to pre-sequester levels.

Before being signed by the president, the bill received strong bipartisan approval, passing the House on Jan. 15 by a vote of 359 to 67; the Senate took up the measure the next day, voting 72 to 26 for passage.

In the overall deal, which represents a return to the long-dormant budget negotiation process between the House and the Senate, no party got everything it wanted. But when it came to disbursements affecting the Middle East, a premium seems to have been placed on stability.

The Department of Defense section of the appropriations bill specifies a number of line items assisting in Israeli defense infrastructure and collaborative projects with the U.S., allocating funds for “Israeli Cooperative Programs.” The bill specifies that $235.3 million should be provided to the Israeli government for the Iron Dome short-range missile defense system; $149.7 million for research and development of the Short Range Ballistic Missile Defense program; $74.7 million for “an upper-tier component to the Israeli Missile Defense Architecture;” and $44.3 million for the Arrow System Improvement Program.

The Arrow System is a cooperative program intended to counter threats that are not defendable using Iron Dome. The system has been in development since the late 1980s and is now in its third iteration, according to the website IsraelDefense.com.

“The system is designed to deal with threats that fly on too small a trajectory to be engaged efficiently by Iron Dome, the Israeli interceptor credited with an 80 percent success rate against rockets fired by Palestinian militants,” Reuters reported.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called the passage of $3.1 billion in Israel security assistance as a demonstration of “the bipartisan commitment to ensuring Israel’s security needs are fully met.”

In an interview, Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that such funding is vital to protect Israel’s position vis a vis its neighbors.

“Right now, it’s more crucial than it has been — if you look around Israel right now, it’s a very unstable region — with Iran obviously on the precipice of a nuclear weapon,” explained Schanzer. “And this notion of the Qualitative Military Edge is getting much harder for anyone to be able to calculate how to maintain that edge, and so the continued funding of Iron Dome and new weapons systems are incredibly important for Israel at this moment.”

The bill also provides aid to Egypt and Jordan, and allocates approximately $400 million for the Palestinian Authority, but the disbursement of these funds hinges on a number of scenarios.

For Egypt, up to $350 million in aid would be halted if the fledgling military government violates the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979 in any way.

The Palestinian earmark will cease if the P.A. continues attempts to gain recognition as a state in the United Nations or other U.N. agencies without Israeli agreement. The P.A. is also prohibited from pursuing legal action against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

A congressional source close to the legislation told the Washington Jewish Week that this language is not new and has not resulted in punitive actions against the Palestinians because of a presidential waiver built into the legislation. That’s why, explained the aide, Congress’ seemingly proactive stance against Palestinian incitement has had no tangible results.

Still, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee released a statement last week praising the bill.

The bill “takes important steps to support peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians. It presses the Palestinians to halt anti-Israel incitement by explicitly linking Palestinian economic aid to their efforts in countering incitement of violence against Israelis and ensuring that they are supporting activities aimed at promoting peace, co-existence, and security cooperation with Israel,” the statement said.

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

Violence Frightens Ukrainian Jews

Oleh Tiahnybok, center, leader of Svoboda, an opposition political party, talks with Ukrainian Orthodox priests backstage at anti-government protests on Dec. 11, 2013 in Kiev. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Oleh Tiahnybok, center, leader of Svoboda, an opposition political party, talks with Ukrainian Orthodox priests backstage at anti-government protests on Dec. 11, 2013 in Kiev.
(Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Two violent anti-Semitic incidents that took place in Kiev over the course of a week have alarmed the Ukrainian Jewish community. Some experts speculate that the events could be related to the political conflict that has engulfed the country since November 2013.

On Jan. 11, several men attacked Hillel Wertheimer, an Orthodox Jewish and Israeli teacher of Hebrew and Jewish tradition, after he left a synagogue at the end of Shabbat. On Jan. 18, a yeshiva student, Dov-Ber Glickman, was severely attacked by men with their fists and legs on his way home from a Shabbat meal.

According to the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress’ General Council, the combat boots of Glickman’s attackers may have been outfitted with blades. Glickman dragged himself to a nearby synagogue’s ritual bath, where he was discovered and taken to a hospital. Glickman told IDF Radio on Sunday that “people are now afraid to leave their homes.”

“The frightening thing is that [the attackers] arrived by car, and were apparently organized,” Hillel Cohen, chairman of the Hatzalah Ukraine emergency services group, told theIsraeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

In an additional incident on Jan. 18, yeshiva students detained a suspicious individual whom they said was found to possess a detailed plan of the surrounding neighborhood.

Sam Kliger, the American Jewish Committee’s director of Russian Jewish community affairs, believes the incidents could be a “sinister sign indicating that some are trying to use anti- Semitism in political confrontation in Ukraine.”

“Historically in this part of the world,” he explained via email, “a political confrontation sooner or later starts to exploit the ‘Jewish question’ and to play the Jewish card.”

Jan. 19 saw an intensification of the Maidan protests that have been taking place intermittently since Nov- ember. On Jan. 21, demonstrators clashed with police forces by catapulting Molotov cocktails. Police fired rubber bullets and smoke bombs. About 30 protesters were detained. About 200 people were injured and vehicles were torched, Bloomberg News reported.

In November, when the protests first began in Kiev’s Independence Square in opposition to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to freeze plans to join a free trade agreement with the European Union, some Ukrainian-Jewish leaders had canceled events out of fear that Jews may be targeted. At the time, the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian political opposition party Svoboda, which is viewed as an anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi group by various Jewish organizations, was participating in the protests. But there was little indication of anti-Semitism among protesters.

Given the two recent violent attacks on Jews, there are some who suggest that “some pro-governmental forces are behind the attacks in order to then blame the nationalists and ultra-nationalist groups associated with Maidan protesters to denounce their legitimacy,” explained Kliger. “Yet another version suggests the opposite, namely that some radical groups like neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists are behind the attack, which they then can blame on the government.”

Historian and EAJC member Vyacheslav Likhachev said in an editorial published Jan. 19 that the former is more likely than the latter.

“The large-scale civil protests … really do include groups of radical youths whose slogans and actions repel even the nationalistic All-Ukrainian ‘Svoboda’ Union Party,” wrote Likhachev. But such activists have been heavily
occupied with protecting the center of the Maidan protests and preparing for confrontations with government forces.

On Jan. 20, President Yanukovych agreed to form a cross-party commission to try to bring an end to the conflict, but the opposition reportedly signaled its desire to stay away from talks not including the direct participation of the president.

“Considering the general direction of what is happening on the Maidan, I believe that even the most thuggish of the protesters are not interested in Jews at the moment,” wrote Likhachev.

Since the Ukrainian government has been portraying protestors as a threat to minorities, wondered Likhachev, pro-government forces may be instigating incidents in order to blame the protesters.

“It is possible that the second, more cruel incident happened due to the first not having enough resonance in the media,” although “15 years of experience in monitoring hate crimes tell me that usually hate crime is just a hate crime and not an element of some complex and global political plot,” asserted Likhachev.

Josef Zisels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, emphasized in an official statement translated from Russian that the anti-Semitic attacks were synchronized with the adoption of new legislation initiated by Yanukovych late last week that outlaws many forms of protests. The law bans wearing hardhats or masks, building tents or stages, and disseminating “extremist information” about the government.

“Journalists and public figures, including those acting on behalf of the Jewish community, rushed without any factual basis to tie the assaults with the campaign of peaceful civil protests,” said Zisels.

Both AJC and The National Conference Supporting Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia, which is known by the acronym NCSJ, issued statements condemning the anti-Semitic attacks and asking the Ukrainian government to investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.

NCSJ executive director Mark Levin said that “no one really knows the full truth” yet about who is responsible for the attacks. He, however, is not surprised by the incidents.

“Anti-Semitism unfortunately remains an issue in Ukraine,” he stated. “It ebbs and flows.”

Israeli Bureaucrat Decides Who Can Marry in the Jewish State

Itamar Tubul, head of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s personal status  division, decides which American  rabbis are qualified to vouch for the Jewishness of Israeli immigrants.

Itamar Tubul, head of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s personal status division, decides which American rabbis are qualified to vouch for the Jewishness of Israeli immigrants.

To be married in Israel, immigrants must prove their Jewish ancestry to the country’s Chief Rabbinate.

Couples can solicit a letter from their hometown rabbis or present their parents’ Jewish marriage contracts. Sometimes they even bring a Yiddish-speaking grandmother before a rabbinical court.

In the end, every claim has to pass through one man: a mid-level bureaucrat named Itamar Tubul.

Tubul, 35, is the soft-spoken rabbi who heads the Chief Rabbinate’s personal status division — a job that places him at the center of a brewing crisis between the Chief Rabbinate and the American modern Orthodox community.

American Rabbi Avi Weiss had a letter vouching for the Jewishness of an Israeli immigrant couple rejected by the country’s Chief Rabbinate. (Photos from JTA)

American Rabbi Avi Weiss had a letter vouching for the Jewishness of an Israeli immigrant couple rejected by the country’s Chief Rabbinate.
(Photos from JTA)

In October, Tubul rejected a proof-of-Judaism letter from Avi Weiss, a liberal Orthodox rabbi. The move sparked widespread outrage that Weiss, a longtime synagogue leader in New York who had vouched for the Jewishness of many Israeli immigrants in the past, was suddenly having his reliability called into question.

Tubul rejected the letter from Weiss after two members of the Rabbinical Council of America, the modern Orthodox rabbinic organization of which Weiss is a longstanding member, questioned Weiss’ commitment to Jewish law.

“They said there were problems with his worldview,” said Tubul. “His system raised doubts regarding his non-deviation from what is accepted in matters of proof of Judaism and personal status.”

The Chief Rabbinate said it is considering whether it can trust Weiss, who has pioneered a number of controversial innovations in the Orthodox world, most recently with his decision to “ordain” women as spiritual leaders through a new religious seminary called Yeshivat Maharat. Critics contend the process for evaluating American rabbis lacks transparency and objective standards.

To make his recommendations, Tubul relies on a network of personal contacts. His first step is to confer with judges on nine U.S. rabbinical courts approved by the Chief Rabbinate. If the judges don’t know the rabbi in question or doubt his credentials, they refer Tubul to local colleagues.

After soliciting their recommendations, Tubul accepts or rejects the letter.

“There aren’t enough checks and balances in the system,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, the founder of Itim, an Israeli organization that guides couples through the Chief Rabbinate’s bureaucracy. “This is all capricious. It’s all who they happen to know. That’s not a way to run a state.”

Tubul, however, said that he corresponds with at least three rabbis regarding every American letter he investigates and never rejects a letter based solely on an initial negative recommendation.

“We check every possibility to complete the puzzle,” he stated. “If someone says you can’t trust [a letter], we don’t reject it. Sometimes there are interested parties that we don’t want to deal with, so we investigate further.”

In the wake of the Weiss decision, the Chief Rabbinate entered negotiations to give the RCA more say in the evaluation process. According to a draft agreement obtained by JTA, the rabbinate will consult with the RCA on every questionable letter before making a decision.

In addition, the RCA would provide the rabbinate with a list of rabbis accredited to give proofs of Judaism, marriage and divorce.

“For the Chief Rabbinate to rely more formally on the RCA for approval of these letters is a question of helping the process along,” said Rabbi Marc Dratch, the council’s executive vice president. “Cooperation will help both sides be able to serve more appropriately and prevent the kind of embarrassment that exists from time to time.”

The RCA does not have the power to override Tubul’s decisions. Rabbinate spokesman Ziv Maor said that the RCA will be a partner in the process, but final authority will still rest with Tubul.

Nothing in the draft precludes individuals within the RCA from conveying their concerns about particular rabbis directly to the Chief Rabbinate. And while Dratch said that the organization stands by Weiss’ authority to vouch for Jewishness, he acknowledged that most of the group’s members do not support the various innovations by Weiss.

“A majority of RCA members feel that some of his decisions are pushing the halachic red line or beyond that,” said Dratch. “Our goal is to be able to support the rabbis of the RCA, to be able to make sure that their letters are accepted by the Chief Rabbinate’s office.”

It’s unclear whether the reforms being developed will satisfy the Chief Rabbinate’s critics, Weiss included. His lawyer in Israel, Assaf Ben-melech, said that further formalizing the process could end up creating unnecessary bureaucracy.

Better, Benmelech said, for the Chief Rabbinate to simply take a wider view of who counts as Orthodox.

“When you have a known rabbi who knows Jewish law, he should be trustworthy,” he said. “To place formal boundaries is stupid. It’s all about personal trust.”

MLA Delegates Condemn Israel

011714_mla

Cary Nelson, a Modern Language Association (MLA) member and University of Illinois professor, spoke on a panel across the street from the MLA convention on academic freedom in Israel. The panel was arranged as an alternative to an MLA convention session that included supporters but no opponents of the BDS movement against Israel.
(Sage Ross via Wikimedia Commons)

CHICAGO — The Modern Language Association (MLA) delegate committee on Saturday passed Resolution 2014-1, which condemns Israel for denying entry to U.S. academics into the West Bank, in a 60-53 vote. The MLA executive committee will now need to approve the resolution before it goes to a vote among MLA members.

The original text of the resolution condemned Israel for “arbitrary denials of entry to Gaza and the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer or do research at Palestinian universities,” but the words “Gaza” and “arbitrary” were removed before the vote.

A day earlier, an MLA caucus introduced an Emergency Resolution in Support of the American Studies Association, which had already voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. The MLA delegate assembly declined to consider that resolution Saturday. Three-quarters of MLA convention delegates needed to approve the resolution before it could be debated and voted on, and only 41 percent did. The issue, however, may be referred to the executive committee for consideration.

Both votes come in the wake of the MLA’s much-anticipated “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine” round table on Jan. 9 as part of its 2014 convention in Chicago. MLA members expressed their opposition to academic boycotts of Israel during an alternative session offsite the same day.

“The MLA supports the right of its members to organize sessions on topics of interest to the profession and to propose resolutions addressing issues of professional concern,” Rosemary Feal, executive director of the MLA said in an email.

The official convention panel on Jan. 9, which JNS.org could not attend after being denied a press credential by MLA to cover the convention, featured supporters but no opponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

“In our view the BDS panel should never have been accepted in the first place. It was accepted under the pretext of opening up discussion when it, in fact, doesn’t do that,” said Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition. After being denied an MLA convention meeting room to present an alternative session to the BDS round table, Hillel International and ICC organized a panel on academic freedom in Israel across the street from the convention.

Supporting materials to the MLA resolution from the Campaign for the Right to Enter Occupied Palestinian Territory allege that Palestinian universities and departments are unable to engage quality staff due to entry restrictions by Israel. In 2009, Rima Merriman, an American citizen of Palestinian descent, reported being denied re-entry to Palestinian-controlled territory and was unable to resume her post at the Arab American University-Jenin. She said that through the help of an attorney, the U.S. Consulate and several independent organizations, she was eventually able to re-enter. Several similar cases were cited in the resolution’s supporting materials.

But a report issued by MLA members opposing the convention’s Resolution 2014-1 states that in 2012, only 142 Americans were denied entry to Israel and the disputed territories out of 626,000 who wanted to enter, a refusal rate of about 0.023 percent. The U.S. restricts entry to its own borders at a much higher rate — 5.4 percent in 2012 for Israeli applications for “B” visas, as reported by both the Israeli embassy in the U.S. and the U.S. State Department.

“The chance of an Israeli wanting to come to America and being refused by the American authorities for getting a visa is 200 times greater than that of an American trying to enter Israel,” said Ilan Troen, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Troen was a panelist on the alternative session organized by Hillel and ICC.

The opposing report also notes that for approval, MLA resolutions must be accompanied by “material that provides evidence in support of the [resolution’s] claims,” according to the MLA constitution. In fact, before the language on Gaza was removed, Resolution 2014-1’s supporting documents and the cases mentioned by the documents did not include any examples of a failed re-entry to Gaza but rather only of failed re-entries to the West Bank. The resolution also did not mention that Gaza since 2006 has been under the control of Hamas, not under Israeli control.

The official MLA session’s panel on Jan. 9 included BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti and University of Texas professor Barbara Jane Harlow, who has stated her support for the ASA boycott of Israel. The panel also included University of Southern California professor David Lloyd, a well-known BDS activist, and Wesleyan University professor Richard Ohmann, who signed a 2009 letter that described Israeli treatment of Palestinians as “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times.”

Local Leaders Remember Sharon as Masterful Strategist

Ariel Sharon (File)

Ariel Sharon (File)

As news of the death of Ariel Sharon spread through the region, local Jewish community and political leaders reflected on the life of the former Israeli prime minister, a fierce warrior and military leader who was known as both the patron of Israel’s settlement drive and the man who uprooted those same communities.

Sharon, who passed away last Saturday at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv with his sons by his side, was 85 and had been in a coma since suffering a series of strokes in 2006.

Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, met Sharon several times on trips to Israel. He remembered him as “brusque, quiet and tough.”

“You knew he was in the room,” said Abramson. “He was complex. He was a warrior, but at the same time he wanted peace for Israel. I think he was one of the last of the great Israeli forefathers who built the country.”

By all accounts, Sharon was known for his girth and his fearless determination to reach his objective, whether it was military or political. For his tenacity, Sharon was given the nickname “the Bulldozer.”

Yet, that blunt reputation belied Sharon’s tactical finesse. George W. Bush administration official Elliott Abrams met with Sharon numerous times in the early 2000s, when the president issued his “road map” for Middle East peace.

“President Bush liked him because Sharon was trying to do something,” said Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He was a canny and clever politician. He’d say, ‘I’m just a simple farmer,’ but he wasn’t just a simple farmer. He maneuvered his way through the Cabinet and Knesset and the Likud Party as no one else could.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) recalled meeting Sharon during his last visit to the United States and again when the senator was in Israel.

“He was an extremely impressive individual,” said Cardin. “What’s tragic, in addition to his long illness, is that before he became ill, he was singularly focused on moving the peace process forward. He was making a lot of changes, and we lost momentum after that.”

Tanks Around The Knesset
Ariel Scheinerman was born in British-ruled Palestine in 1928. It was David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, who gave him his
Hebrew surname, Sharon. During Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, he was wounded in the battle for Latrun on the road to Jerusalem.

In the 1950s, with terror attacks against Israel from neighboring Arab countries on the rise, Sharon created and led Unit 101, which was charged with staging retaliatory raids.

He fought in the Sinai in the wars of 1956 and 1967. As a reserve general, he led a controversial crossing of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.

From early in his service, Sharon was dogged by accusations that he exceeded orders. According to Israeli journalist David Landau, whose biography of Sharon, “Arik,” has just been published, in the case of the Yom Kippur War, those criticisms were politically motivated.

“In the Yom Kippur War there were accusations flying around between the generals and the political parties that saw themselves somehow connected,” said Landau. “He was accused of stepping outside his orders by his political and military rivals and critics, of whom there were many. And he claimed to his last day that these accusations were not well grounded.”

As a neophyte politician, Sharon brought a number of parties together to form the Likud bloc headed by longtime opposition leader Menachem Begin. When Begin became prime minister in 1977, he appointed Sharon agriculture minister.

In his new role, Sharon directed the government’s expanding settlement drive in the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon is popularly seen as the driving force behind the settlements, but Landau says that notion is incorrect.

“Both Begin and [Foreign Minister Yitzhak] Shamir wanted to build these settlements, and Sharon’s role was the executor and not the formulator of policy,” Landau said. “It was Shamir who claimed to the American administration that he had this tough minister building settlements. But in Israel I don’t think many people thought that.”

And Sharon was willing to take down settlements as well as put them up. After the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed in 1979, Sharon oversaw the destruction of the town of Yamit in the Sinai in advance of the Israeli withdrawal.

What Sharon wanted was to become defense minister, a post Begin was reluctant to give him. Begin reportedly announced that he was worried that if he put Sharon in charge of the army, one morning he might wake up to find Sharon had circled the Knesset with tanks.

“Sharon and Begin met in the men’s room, and Begin said, ‘Well you have to understand, it’s just guys joking around,’” Landau said. “But that comment certainly resounded around the country.”

Begin finally appointed Sharon defense minister in 1981. In 1982, Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee to force the Palestine Liberation Organization out of rocket range of Israel’s northern border.

Ariel Sharon dies at 85

Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel, a fierce warrior and military leader who was known as both the patron of Israel’s settlement drive and the man who uprooted those same settlements, died Saturday. He was 85 and had been in a coma since suffering a series of strokes in 2006.

Sharon

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Sharon was known for his fearless determination to reach his objective, whether it was military or political. For his tenacity, Sharon was given the nickname “the Bulldozer.”

Yet that blunt reputation belied Sharon’s tactical finesse. Bush administration official Elliott Abrams met with Sharon numerous times in the early 2000s, when President George W. Bush issued his “road map” for Middle East peace.

“President Bush liked him because Sharon was trying to do something,” said Abrams, now senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He was a canny and clever politician. He’d say, ‘I’m just a simple farmer,’ but he wasn’t just a simple farmer. He maneuvered his way through the Cabinet and Knesset and the Likud Party as no one else could.”

“He was commanding,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), recalling meetings with Sharon. “He had an incredible command of the room. He gave you confidence that he had a strategic plan in a diverse political climate.”

Tanks around the Knesset

Ariel Scheinerman was born in British-ruled Palestine in 1928. It was David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, who gave him his Hebrew surname, Sharon. During Israel’s War of Independence, he was wounded in the battle for Latrun on the road to Jerusalem.

In the 1950s, with terror attacks against Israel from neighboring Arab countries on the rise, Sharon created and led Battalion 101, the unit charged with staging retaliatory raids. One such raid led to the death of innocent women and children, and the unit was disbanded.

He fought in the Sinai in the wars of 1956 and ’67. As a reserve general, he led a controversial crossing of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.

From early in his service, Sharon was dogged by accusations that he exceeded orders. According to Israeli journalist David Landau, whose biography of Sharon, “Arik,” has just been published, in the case of the Yom Kippur War, those criticisms were politically motivated.

“In the Yom Kippur War there were accusations flying around between the generals and the political parties that saw themselves somehow connected. He was accused of stepping outside his orders by his political and military rivals and critics, of whom there were many. And he claimed to his last day that these accusations were not well-grounded.”

As a neophyte politician, Sharon brought a number of parties together to form the Likud bloc headed by longtime opposition leader Menachem Begin. When Begin became prime minister in 1977, he appointed Sharon agriculture minister.

In his new role, Sharon directed the government’s expanding settlement drive in the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon is popularly seen as the driving force behind the settlements, but Landau says that notion is incorrect.

“Both Begin and [Foreign Minister Yitzhak] Shamir wanted to build these settlements and Sharon’s role was the executor and not the formulator of policy,” Landau said. “It was Shamir who claimed to the American administration that he had this tough minister building settlements. But in Israel I don’t think many people thought that.”

And Sharon was willing to take down settlements as well as put them up. After the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed in 1979, Sharon oversaw the destruction of the town of Yamit in the Sinai in advance of the Israeli withdrawal.

What Sharon wanted was to become defense minister, a post Begin was reluctant to give him. Begin reportedly announced that he was worried that if he put Sharon in charge of the army, one morning he might wake up to find Sharon had circled the Knesset with tanks.

“Sharon and Begin met in the men’s room and Begin said, ‘Well you have to understand, it’s just guys joking around,’” Landau said. “But that comment certainly resounded around the country.”

Begin finally appointed Sharon defense minister in 1981. In 1982, Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee to force the Palestine Liberation Organization out of rocket range of Israel’s northern border.

Sharon took the fight beyond the 40-kilometer goal all the way to Beirut. With Israel now controlling security, a Christian Lebanese militia slaughtered Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.

Israelis were outraged. A commission appointed to investigate the massacre found the government indirectly responsible. Sharon was accused of gross negligence and was forced to resign.

‘Too old and too extreme’

Sharon was tainted by Sabra and Shatilla but didn’t disappear from politics. In 1999 he wrested leadership of the Likud party from Benjamin Netanyahu, who had just lost the national election to Ehud Barak and the Labor Party.

“The almost universal assessment was that [Sharon] had missed any prospect of becoming prime minister,” according to Landau. “He was too old and too extreme. The Likud people said themselves that he was unelectable because he was too right wing, too pro-settlement. That in itself was part of the drama. So quickly he took over the Likud, became a credible leader of the opposition and then beat Barak in the election.”

The 2001 election came amid the Second Intifada, when Israelis were terrorized by car bombs and suicide killings. A year earlier, Sharon had taken a highly publicized tour of the Temple Mount. His appearance at the holy site was “highly provocative,” Landau said. But Sharon’s aim was not to incite the Palestinians, but a political act in opposition to Barak’s policies, the biographer said.

Nevertheless the day after Sharon’s visit, rioting broke out on the Temple Mount. The Israelis responded with live ammunition. “There was blood on the flagstones of the Temple Mount and from there the violence spread,” Landau said.

Sharon won the 2001 election and launched an offensive on the West Bank. He also began construction of a security barrier to impede Palestinian access into Israel.

Sharon distrusted Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat (“He hated Arafat,” Elliott Abrams said.) and concluded that in the absence of a Palestinian partner, Israel would act unilaterally. He determined to abandon Israel’s settlements in Gaza and withdraw Israel’s military presence from the territory.  The move was highly controversial.

“He was able to take enormous political risks,” Abrams said. “He decided it was time to settle Israel’s borders, if not for all time then for decades at least. I think he planned to do something in the West Bank – pulling settlements back to the fence line.

“It’s important to remember how embattled he was in 2004 and 2005,” Abrams continued. “He said, ‘The left can’t do anything and the right doesn’t want to do anything and if I fail no one else will do anything.’”

With the Gaza pullout, Sharon, always anathema to the left, was suddenly condemned by the right as well. More than one religious critic – including televangelist Pat Robertson in 2006 and the spokesman for Hebron’s Jewish community last week – attributed the stroke that befell him as divine punishment for pulling Israel out of Gaza.

“The main criticism from people on the right is that he was elected on a right-of-center platform and he never said he was going to get out of Gaza,” Abrams said. “In August 2005 they withdrew, without violence, which was extraordinary.”

In the upheaval over the Gaza withdrawal, Sharon left the political party he created and formed the centrist Kadima Party, where he was joined by progressive members of the Likud party and others. On Jan. 4, 2006, he suffered a massive stroke and went into a coma. He was replaced as prime minister by Ehud Olmert.

By that time, many Israelis had had a change of heart about Sharon, Landau said.

“The night that he was struck down with a stroke, there was grieving, there was crying. To me, the remarkable feature of that evening was that among the people crying were people who, when he became prime minister, were so discomfited, they were seriously talking about leaving the country. Because they just knew that the intifada in his hands would turn into a bloodbath. It didn’t happen. But that was the assumption, taking into account the prior image of Sharon.”

Sharon largely left the headlines until last week when it was announced that his condition had become critical that his life was “definitely in danger.”

Sharon, who always said he acted in the name of Israel’s security, leaves behind a gritty legacy.

“He had a fairly grim view of the possibility of peace,” Abrams said. “You could have the absence of war. You could avoid war. But peace is another matter.”

In the eight years since his sudden departure from the scene, no one has yet proved Ariel Sharon wrong.