Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Israel apologizes for treatment of NYT photographer- one month late!

Israel's Defense Ministry apologized Monday for the treatment of a pregnant American news photographer who was repeatedly strip searched and humiliated by Israeli soldiers during a security check, the Associated Press reports.
Lynsey Addario, who was on assignment for the New York Times, had requested that she not be forced to go through an X-ray machine as she entered Israel from the Gaza Strip because of concerns for her unborn baby.
Instead, she wrote in a letter to the ministry, she was forced through the machine three times as soldiers "watched and laughed from above." She said she was then taken into a room where she was ordered by a female worker to strip down to her underwear.
In the Oct. 25 letter sent by the newspaper said Addario, a Pulitzer Prize winner who is based in India and has worked in more than 60 countries, had never been treated with "such blatant cruelty."
The ministry said an investigation found that the search followed procedures but noted that Addario's request to avoid the X-ray machine had not been properly relayed.
Addario said she made the request not to go through the X-ray machine before arriving at the crossing.
"We would like to apologize for this particular mishap in coordination and any trouble it may subsequently have caused to those involved," the statement said.
It said that security is tight on the border with Gaza "in order to prevent terror from targeting and reaching Israel's citizens."
The defense ministry has "decided to hone the procedure for foreign journalists," it said.
The New York Times bureau chief in Israel, Ethan Bronner, welcomed the planned changes but said the newspaper remains shocked at the treatment Addario received and how long the investigation took.
Foreign journalists working in Israel have repeatedly complained of overly intrusive security checks by of Israeli authorities. Israel says the inspections are necessary measures.
In March, Addario was among four reporters captured in Libya by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi and held for six days. Another of the four, reporter Anthony Shadid, related later that they were bound with wire, blindfolded, hit with fists and rifle butts and threatened with death. Addario also was groped, he said.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Female Voices and Perceived Vices in the IDF

Shmuel Rosner, political editor for The Jewish Journal, sounds off in the New York Times about orthodoxy and women in the Israeli Defense Forces. (The private pictured below is evidently off duty.)

  On Sept. 5th, nine military cadets of the Israel Defense Force officer training school, all Orthodox Jews, walked out of an official event marking operation Cast Lead. [Israel's three-week sustained assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008-9.]  A group of soldier-singers had taken the stage, but when a woman started her solo,  nine cadets stormed out. Four of them refused to come back to the hall, despite being warned that they were breaching an order, and two days later were expelled from the school. Their objection? That Orthodox Judaism forbids a man from hearing a woman sing. These soldiers adhere to the strict interpretation of the expression “Kol B’Isha Erva.” This might translate as, “the voice of a woman is like nakedness.” Or as, “the voice of a woman is like her vagina.”
The rabbinical debate over the meaning of this Talmudic expression is old and complex, and the variations in its interpretation are many. For some Orthodox Jews, though, it is a clear command: thou shalt not hear a woman sing.
What’s less clear is how far the Israeli military should go to help them obey it. Israel’s draft is mandatory. Every 18-year-old boy and girl is obliged to serve (barring exceptions too complicated to explain here). Eager to make military service possible for both the religious and the secular, the Israeli military has tried to accommodate the sometimes quirky demands of Jewish religiosity. It adheres to all Jewish dietary laws of kashrut. Commanders have to make time for observant soldiers to pray. And the Jewish Shabbat is a day of rest: security-related operations continue but all military exercises and maneuvers come to a halt.
These measures seemed sufficient for a while, but three recent trends are now calling the system into question.

The first is a shift among the Orthodox. Orthodox Israelis have traditionally been divided into two main groups: the so-called ultra-Orthodox, who are more pious and want little to do with Zionism or the state, and the Orthodox-Zionists, zealot Zionists who try to balance religion and modern life by mixing with the general public while still adhering to religious rules. But in recent years, the religious Zionists have become less amenable to compromising for the sake of keeping the peace with secular society. They have become much more like the ultra-Orthodox, except that they retain their Zionist zeal.
The military, meanwhile, has grown more dependent on religious soldiers. According to one report, the number of observant infantry officers has risen from 2.5 percent in 1990 to more than 31 percent in 2007. The figure is probably even higher today. According to another report, the percentage of graduates from religious schools who serve as majors in combat units has risen from 6.9 percent to 20 percent between 1994 and 2009. For both political and religious reasons, the Orthodox-Zionists are more motivated to serve on the frontlines than any other group. The military needs them, and so it needs them to feel wanted, accommodated and appreciated.
Then add to that the uncompromising (and, of course, justified) demand of women to be treated equally. Since 1995, after Israel’s Supreme Court found that the 23-year-old officer Alice Miller should be allowed to take entry tests to join the air force flight-training course, women’s participation in all branches of the Israeli military has increased.
Hence “the problem” of shirat nashim: of orthodox men being forced to endure the singing of women. And it’s a problem that many reporters and opinion writers here have been quick to describe by way of a villain. Some have denounced as uncompromising the Orthodox men who squirm at a woman’s singing — or, for that matter, at the idea of serving with one in a crowded tank. Some have denounced the liberals for putting the right to sing over the strength of the military. Some have denounced the rigid rabbis for failing to accommodate the rest of society. Some have denounced the military for not putting the Orthodox soldiers in their place. Some have denounced the ever-denounceable politicians for letting the Orthodox gain too much power in Israeli life overall.
The truth, though, is that there is no simple way to balance these competing rights. Religious soldiers can’t be made to violate their faith. The military can’t be made to alienate its most motivated group of soldiers. And I can’t educate my daughter to serve in a military that would excise women from the public sphere to accommodate the radical demands of the super pious.
And so for now, the only compromise that seems possible is one that would require abandoning a principle all Israelis grew up to appreciate: the value of togetherness.
How about old fashioned ear plugs or noise-canceling Bose ear phones?


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Political Implications of Palestinians in UNESCO

On Monday, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) voted overwhelmingly to admit the Palestinian Authority as a full member -- an accession typically reserved for independent sovereign nations.

Both the United States and Israel had strongly opposed the measure, which was tied to the PA's overall strategy of seeking statehood unilaterally at the UN Security Council. UNESCO's admission of the PA at this stage, the US State Department said, was both premature and counterproductive to a permanent resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

The US, which donates more than a fifth of UNESCO's annual budget, has already announced that it will cut $60 million of aid this month as a penalty. Israel, meanwhile, has announced that its response to the accession will be to fast-track the construction of 2,000 new residences in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Today, The Henry Jackson Society releases a strategic briefing, "Political Implications of the Palestinian Accession to UNESCO," co-written byMichael Weiss and  Houriya Ahmed, assessing the background to this historic vote, what it means for the future of the cultural agency, the pursuit of American interests abroad and why, exactly, Israel is wary of PA membership.

Here's a summary of the report:
A diplomatic victory for the Palestinian Authority

- Admission into UNESCO is a public relations victory for the PA and a deliberate tactic of isolating countries opposed to its statehood bid at the UN Security  Council-namely, the US and Israel.

- The move is part of the PA's campaign to join independent UN agencies as full members in order to create a moral and political momentum for its statehood recognition. As such, the popular support received for membership in UNESCO will make it harder for countries to oppose the statehood bid.

- As a UNESCO member, the PA can-and has indicated that it will-apply for World Heritage classification for historic sites of cultural significance in the Occupied Territories. This would include landmarks which Israel has officially declared part of its national heritage, and which could complicate future final status negotiations.

Implications for Israel

- Israel's response to UNESCO membership was negative. Israel views the PA's statehood gambit as a violation of mutually agreed upon parameters for peace negotiations and is considering "cutting all ties" and taking punitive measures against the PA, and is re-considering its ties with UNESCO.

- Israel no doubt fears that UNESCO's ability to categorise World Heritage sites will be exploited by the PA to claim ownership over contested religious and cultural landmarks in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Implications for the United States

- The US rejected the UNESCO bid and has stated that the move "undermines" international efforts in trying to achieve peace in the Middle East. The US State Department announced that it would withhold $60 million in financial support due to be given to UNESCO this month-nearly a fifth of its yearly budget.

 - Despite financial cuts, the US has emphasised that its membership is not in question. UNESCO is valuable for American business and national security interests in developing countries.

Implications for UNESCO 

- Unless the shortfall is made up by other donors, the closure of UNESCO operations around the world may be likely because of cuts in US aid. 

- With its strong commitment to freedom of expression and information, UNESCO may come under renewed criticism for its inclusion of the PA, which has a history of curbing journalistic freedoms in the West Bank and Gaza. If UNESCO fails to hold the PA to the same ethical standards as other members, the agency could be accused of double standards.

Hat tip to the Henry Jackson Society for this guest post.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Female Soldier Jailed for Leaking IDF Assassination Policy

Israel is punishing its kosher version of Bradley Manning, the fomer IDF conscript and online reporter Anat Kam, who was just sentenced to four and a half years behind bars, despite her lengthy secret house arrest.  But the journalist who reported on her leaked documents about the IDF's hit list, Uri Blau of Haaretz, is presently holed up in Britain --in an odd echo of Wikileaks' Julian Assange. Blau's not as defiant, though. In a plea bargain, he has returned all confidential documents to the Israelis.

So, what is the price of speaking truth to power inside Israel? The Independent of London's Catrina Stewart reports on this crime, its punishment, and the Israeli gag order:

Israel has sentenced a former soldier to four and a half years in prison for leaking classified documents to a journalist who used them to expose an alleged army policy to assassinate wanted Palestinian militants in violation of court rulings.
Anat Kam, 24, was convicted in February for copying 2,085 military documents on to a disc as she completed her mandatory army service and passing some of them to Uri Blau, an investigative reporter with the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper.
She escaped the much more serious charges of harming state security after reaching a plea bargain.
 Her case provoked a domestic uproar - in part because she was held for four months under secret house arrest with the Israeli media banned from reporting on it, but also because it was viewed as an assault on the freedom of the press. The Independent was the first newspaper to report on Ms Kam's arrest.
In passing sentence yesterday, the three-judge panel elected to send a clear message to other would-be whistleblowers. "If the army cannot trust the soldiers serving in various units and exposed to sensitive issues, then it cannot function as a regular army," the judges wrote. They said that Ms Kam's motive for taking the documents was "mainly ideological". Ms Kam has already served nearly two years of house arrest, which will not count towards her prison term, and she received a further 18-month suspended sentence.
As a clerk in the Israeli Defence Forces' central command, Ms Kam stumbled across documents that appeared to point to the premeditated killing of Palestinian militants in the West Bank, despite a Supreme Court ruling that severely restricted such operations, determining that the army should arrest suspects if possible.

 The photo of Anat Kam comes courtesy of SabbahReport, where reporter Gila Svirsky has probed into the scandal of the Shin Bet hit list, the gagging of the gag order, and the perils of whistle blowing.

Crossposted on Feral Beast