February 22, 2013

Esther Schapira..."You Go Girl!"

Esther Schapira is a German journalist and filmmaker, the current politics and society editor for German public broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk. She has produced two award-winning documentaries, Three bullets and a dead child in 2002, about the "death" of Muhammad al-Dura in Gaza in 2000, and The day Theo van Gogh was murdered in 2007, about the real murder in 2004 of Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, which won her a Prix Europa award. She produced a second documentary about the death of al-Dura, The Child, the Death, and the Truth in 2009.

Last month, Schapira gave expert testimony in the legal battle between Charles Enderlin and Phillipe Karsenty over al-Dura fraud. Her testimony is described:
Esther Schapira, producer for the German public network ARD, and author of two documentary films on the al-Dura case, went to Israel in 2001 to get the story-behind-the-story of soldiers who shot a child and a father who couldn’t protect his son. But due diligence led her to question the authenticity of the news report. Though France 2 and ARD are both members of a pan-European group, Charles Enderlin was aggressive and uncooperative. He refused her request to see the master tape of Talal’s film, saying he would only show it if there was a court order. He threatened to sue her if she claimed the report was falsified. “I was shocked,” said Schapira. “For a journalist, every question is open to question.” She calmly expanded on her reasons for concluding that it is highly unlikely that Israeli soldiers killed Mohamed al-Dura, but “didn’t want to accuse anyone of lying or fabrication, I didn’t have the smoking gun”.
If interested, there is more about al-Dura here and here and in the following clip. It is Pallywood at its finest, if only it was not so tragic in its consequences, for both Jews and Arabs.

Anyway, Ms. Schapira has unloaded on Charles Enderlin in a open letter. Read it and rejoice that there are still journalists on the planet that actually care about presenting facts and trusting consumers to make their own opinions and conclusions.

A couple of excerpts:
It may sound silly to you, but as a journalist I feel personally insulted by your behavior because it is a disgrace for our profession. As journalists we have the duty to find out the truth and tell it. We are not part of any campaign. We are eyewitnesses and we tell our audience what we have seen, what we heard, and what we found out. We ask critical questions and we insist on getting answers. We act according to our best belief — or at least we should. And when we get criticised, when people question our work, when they have doubts and even when they attack us in an unfair way, we have to deal with that by giving more and better and more convincing answers, by presenting more facts.
After more then ten years and after two documentaries I have completed during that time, after so much research, all I know for sure is that there is no proof that Mohammed Al-Dura is dead. We simply don’t know what happened to him after your cameraman Talal Abu Rahme filmed him. Let’s hope that he is still alive. That would be the best, of course, first and foremost for him. He might have survived, he might be 23 years old now, he might be a member of the Facebook generation and he might even have taken part in the Arab Spring in Egypt. Who knows? We do know, however, that the story is very different from the way you told it. We know that this false story killed people because it became a major tool of propaganda and was used as a justification for murder, as in the slaughter of Daniel Pearl.
And I know you are a liar. If you lie on purpose, or if you tell a lie because you are a bad journalist and don’t know the truth, it doesn’t matter. The result is the same. You tell lies and I want your audience to know this as well, and I am going to prove this.
This is why after all this time I have changed my mind, and why, after our new encounter, when once again you called me a “militant journalist,” I decided to write this open letter to you. No worry, I am not going to tell once more why your story on Mohammed Al-Dura is wrong. This was what I did in my documentaries, and for good reason, you and your company didn’t sue me as “Charles big mouth” had threatened he would after the second film had aired. No, quite simply, I’ll talk about the passage in your book where you write about me. I could take nearly every sentence and show how wrong you are, what a cheap mixture of insinuations, generalizations, and false statements it is, but it is not worth the effort. Instead I’ll take a few examples that speak for the rest.
 As I said: "You Go Girl!" Thank you, Esther Schapira!

The Stupidity of Humankind

I received a link to the video below in the mail a day or two ago, and put aside the 40 minutes to watch it. I hope whoever reads this will do the same.

Step Up for Israel, in my mind, is where it's at! It is an initiative of JersualemOnlineU.com, an organization committed to teaching and inspiring people of all ages about Judaism and Israel. It is a grassroots Israel education campaign created to promote broad awareness of the growing anti-Israel movement on college campuses in North America, especially as too many young Jews feel disconnected from their heritage and lack a solid understanding of Israel, its history, and its challenges.

On many campuses, anti-Israel rhetoric and anti-Jewish sentiment are becoming accepted and some faculty indoctrinate and intimidate students in the classroom, as administrators look the other way. Through innovative educational methods, SUFI seeks to energize communities and individuals to confront and combat these harmful actions.

Much of the media also seeks to delegitimize the state of Israel. There is power in knowing what’s out there and to spread the word. The fact is that Israel is committed to improving the world through its innovative ideas, technologies, and its humanitarian aid and relief efforts around the globe. Israel values freedom, human rights and cultural diversity, and has the only western democracy in the Middle East. Arabs that live in Israel have a better quality of life than in any Arab state.

The video, Israel Inside: How A Small Nation Makes A Big Difference, is narrated by bestselling author and acclaimed former Harvard lecturer, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, and showcases Israel’s unique relationship with the rest of the world.

The contributions of Israel are incredible, especially if one considers the obstacles it has overcome, and which remain. Imagine if the stupidity of humankind could cease, and Israel was freed to use it resources as it wishes, rather than as it must. Some of the greatest beneficiaries would be the Arabs, but we would all be better off.

SUFI tells us:
All of us are responsible for the future of Israel and the Jewish people. If we don’t take a stand and become personally involved today, we will deny future generations the opportunity to understand their role in Israel’s history, and to be part of Israel’s future.
Enjoy the video. It may even bring a tear to your eye. Then, spread the word!

February 15, 2013

Ignorance of the Well-Intentioned

The following video, entitled "HAMAS," popped up on my radar not so very long ago, thanks to StandWithUs. It was made after the defensive action by Israel in November, 2012, to stop the rockets indiscriminately shot from Gaza at Israel's civilians, a war crime expressly forbidden by the Geneva Convention and Protocols.  

The video reverberated with me for several reasons. As one who follows current events, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict, and observes discussion and comments on the internet and in gatherings of well-intentioned people, it is striking to recognize how much is grounded in ignorance. This does not mean that these people are ignorant per se, but that the information possessed about history and facts is fragmented, skewed and inaccurate. This leads them to adopt positions that are suspect and may not conform to their underlying principles.

For many, it is hard to see because in their circles, like most circles, people seek out the conventional views they agree with and generally hear little of what differs, or they dismiss what differs without ever listening. One need only look at Washington, DC to see where it is leading us. It's something called the Mutz paradox and it should be a lesson to all that deliberative democracy needs diversity of opinion to work best.

I hope you watch the video, especially if you are a progressive that supports human rights for ALL peoples and individuals. Perhaps the questions asked in the video will sound familiar. Will the answers reveal anything? Just how much do you really know about the conflict, the events, the players and their intentions?

In morality and law, is confronting aggression the same as engaging in it? Is it so hard to make the distinction?

Are calls for genocide illegal? Who are the victims of these calls? Are they entitled to support and even protection? Imagine if someone wanted to exterminate you and your loved ones and so many just shrugged it off as the Hatfields and McCoys.

The bottom line is that there actually is a difference, but for too many it just does not matter, due to ignorance that permits a bias to form, one which seems to blur the ability to discern which side of the human rights debate one is on.

February 13, 2013

New NGO Confronts Leader of Human Rights Watch, So Can You!

Now this gets me excited.

Back in October, 2009, Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch (HRW), took the NGO to task for being Lost in the Mideast, saying, with respect to its activities:
Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields. They know that more and better arms are flowing into both Gaza and Lebanon and are poised to strike again. And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve. Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.
Bernstein called this "low hanging fruit" because he knew that Israel, an open society, received plenty of scrutiny from a powerful civil society within, and an independent judiciary, whereas the primary mission of HRW, successor to Helsinki Watch, was to address closed states where the worst of violations occurred in total secret, like in the gulags of the Soviet Union. Bernstein thereafter founded an NGO called Advancing Human Rights, which  is composed of CyberDissidents.org and Movements.org. Anyone reading should, at minimum, regularly check out these links.

Fast forward to the present.

The Centre for Secular Space (CSS) is another rather new NGO, composed of experienced human rights activists and Middle Eastern liberals and women of color who had worked in concert for years in struggles for women’s human rights and against fundamentalism. It's head is Gita Sahgal, former head of Amnesty International’s gender unit, suspended in 2010 after she publicly expressed concerns about AI’s close relationship with Cageprisoners, a defense group for prisoners in Guantanamo which some consider a pro-salafi-jihadi organization.

Using a feminist analysis CSS addresses gaps in understanding the relationship between terrorism, fundamentalism and peace and security. It believes secularism and universality are key to strengthening civil society and building democracy because gender, religious minority, and sexual rights become issues when human rights are limited by religion, culture, or political expediency. CSS exposes threats by fundamentalist groups and takes note when human rights and other organizations fail to uphold their own standards on gender and discrimination.

CSS has just  published its first book: Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights, written by its American director, Meredith Tax, a novelist, historian, and essayist, and activist in the US feminist movement since the late sixties. Double Bind, using Cagepersons as an example:
shows how to distinguish between organizations that stand for universal and inseparable human rights, and those that use the language of human rights for other purposes. It discusses “five wrong ideas about the Muslim Right”: that it is anti-imperialist; that “defence of Muslim lands” is comparable to national liberation struggles; that the problem is “Islamphobia”; that terrorism is justified by revolutionary necessity; and that any feminist who criticises the Muslim Right is an Orientalist ally of US imperialism. 
CSS, in other words, is not a bunch of right-wing Christian bigots who hate all Muslims, the catch all label thrown about when to silence people that speak out against radical Islam or multicultural relativism and violations of human rights.

So what has this to do with Human Rights Watch?

CSS has sponsored An Open Letter to Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch
Dear Kenneth Roth,

In your Introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2012, “Time to Abandon the Autocrats and Embrace Rights,” you urge support for the newly elected governments that have brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Tunisia and Egypt. In your desire to “constructively engage” with the new governments, you ask states to stop supporting autocrats. But you are not a state; you are the head of an international human rights organization whose role is to report on human rights violations, an honorable and necessary task which your essay largely neglects.

You say, “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but you fail to call for the most basic guarantee of rights—the separation of religion from the state. Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling. And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control. You, however, are so unconcerned with the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities that you mention them only once, as follows: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.” Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.

Nor do you point to the one of the clearest threats to rights—particularly to women and religious and sexual minorities—the threat to introduce so-called “shari’a law.” It is simply not good enough to say we do not know what kind of Islamic law, if any, will result, when it is already clear that freedom of expression and freedom of religion—not to mention the choice not to veil—are under threat. And while it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been in power for very long, we can get some idea of what to expect by looking at their track record. In the UK, where they were in exile for decades, unfettered by political persecution, the exigencies of government, or the demands of popular pressure, the Muslim Brotherhood systematically promoted gender apartheid and parallel legal systems enshrining the most regressive version of “shari’a law”. Yusef al-Qaradawi, a leading scholar associated with them, publicly maintains that homosexuality should be punished by death. They supported deniers of the holocaust and the Bangladesh genocide of 1971, and shared platforms with salafi-jihadis, spreading their calls for militant jihad. But, rather than examine the record of Muslim fundamentalists in the West, you keep demanding that Western governments “engage.”

Western governments are engaged already; if support for autocrats was their Plan A, the Muslim Brotherhood has long been their Plan B. The CIA’s involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood goes back to the 1950s and was revived under the Bush administration, while support for both the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat e Islaami has been crucial to the “soft counter-terror” strategy of the British state. Have you heard the phrases “non-violent extremism” or “moderate Islamism?” This language is deployed to sanitize movements that may have substituted elections for bombs as a way of achieving power but still remain committed to systematic discrimination.

Like you, we support calls to dismantle the security state and to promote the rule of law. But we do not see that one set of autocratic structures should be replaced by another which claims divine sanction. And while the overthrow of repressive governments was a victory and free elections are, in principle, a step towards democracy, shouldn’t the leader of a prominent human rights organization be supporting popular calls to prevent backlash and safeguard fundamental rights? In other words, rather than advocating strategic support for parties who may use elections to halt the call for continuing change and attack basic rights, shouldn’t you support the voices for both liberty and equality that are arguing that the revolutions must continue?

Throughout your essay, you focus only on the traditional political aspects of the human rights agenda. You say, for instance, that “the Arab upheavals were inspired by a vision of freedom, a desire for a voice in one’s destiny, and a quest for governments that are accountable to the public rather than captured by a ruling elite.” While this is true as far as it goes, it completely leaves out the role that economic and social demands played in the uprisings. You seem able to hear only the voices of the right wing—the Islamist politicians— and not the voices of the people who initiated and sustained these revolutions: the unemployed and the poor of Tunisia, seeking ways to survive; the thousands of Egyptian women who mobilized against the security forces who tore off their clothes and subjected them to the sexual assaults known as “virginity tests.” These assaults are a form of state torture, usually a central issue to human rights organizations, yet you overlook them because they happen to women.

The way you ignore social and economic rights is of a piece with your neglect of women, sexual rights, and religious minorities. Your vision is still rooted in the period before the Vienna Conference and the great advances it made in holding non-state actors accountable and seeing women’s rights as human rights. Your essay makes it all too clear that while the researchers, campaigners, and country specialists who are the arms and legs and body of Human Rights Watch may defend the rights of women, minorities, and the poor, the head of their organization is mainly interested in relations between states.

Association Tunisiene des Femmes Démocrates
Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)
Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW)
Centre for Secular Space (CSS), global
Ligue due Droit International des Femmes (LDIF), France
Marea, Italy
Muslim Women's Research and Action Front (MWRAF), Sri Lanka
Nijera Kori, Bangladesh
One Law for All, UK
Organisation Against Women's Discrimination in Iran, UK
Secularism Is a Women’s Issue (SIAWI), global
Southall Black Sisters, UK
Women's Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights (WICUR), global
Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), global
Žene U Crnom, Women in Black, Belgrade

Individuals (organizations listed for identification purposes only):

Dorothy Aken'Ova, Exercutive Director, INCRESE, Nigeria
Ahlem Belhadj, Présidente, Association tunisiene des femmes démocrates
Codou Bop, Coordinator, Research Group on Women and the Law, Senegal
Ariane Brunet, Co-Founder, Urgent Action Fund, Canada
Lalia Ducos, WICUR-Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights
Laura Giudetti, Marea, Italy
Asma Guenifi, President, Ni Putes Ni Soumises, France
Lilian Halls-French, Co-President, Initiative Féministe Européenne pour Une Autre Europe (IFE-EFI)
Anissa Helie, Assistant Professor, John Jay College, US
Marieme Helie Lucas, Secularism is a Women’s Issue
Alia Hogben, Canadian Council of Muslim Women
Hameeda Hossain, Bangladesh
Khushi Kabir, Nijera Kori, Bangladesh
Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh
Frances Kissling, Visiting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics
Maryam Namazie, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now; Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, UK
Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, UK
Gita Sahgal, Centre for Secular Space, UK
Fatou Sow, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)
Annie Sugier, Ligue due Droit International des Femmes (LDIF), France
Meredith Tax, Centre for Secular Space, USA
Faizun Zackariya, Cofounder, Muslim Women's Research and Action Front (MWRAF), Sri Lanka
Afiya Zia, Journalist, Pakistan

Please go and sign the petition that goes with this letter at: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/support-separation-between-religion-and-state-a/

It is the least one can do.

A short word on Progressives and Jew Hatred

Cross-posted at Israel Thrives

This was a comment, but I decided to post it here instead, with respect to the discourse I often experience with people who define themselves as progressives. Most are not Jewish, and they are incredibly unaware of what affects Jews, or how it relates to them.

Generally, they are far removed from the fray, educated, often living in echo chambers of the like-minded, and too in a frenzy to lay the blame for the wrongs of the world on Republicans, who they ridicule and dismiss despite their ideas, as if they have no relevance in the conversation, despite that they comprise almost half the population. Many progressives love to hate corporations and imperialism, too, even as they reap the rewards. For example, I always smile when I hear Morgan Freeman pitching for Bank of America.

I digress. This site is concerned with Israel and Jews. What confuses me is that progressives, sometimes Jewish progressives, say they are well aware of Jew hatred. Are they as aware as they proclaim? What do they propose to do about it? How should one address Jew hatred in general? Not just from the Arabs, who have spread it across the Muslim world, but the Europeans with their sordid history.

Like Israel's right to self-defense, progressives seem to take Jew hatred for granted, they have it factored into their theoretical analyses. In other words, as an object for lip service. Do they offer real solutions directed at the actors? Or are they quick to criticize in most harsh terms people (often those who were persecuted first hand or apostates) with the gumption to point out both the growth of Jew hatred worldwide (which is not hating all Muslims), or that too many progressives are silent or even complicit. The fact is that too many do look away, or are ignorant, or fail to see that silence and indifference matter.

Not trying the Mufti at Nuremberg was a huge mistake, by not putting the same stamp on Islamic Jew hatred as was placed on the Nazis. Both are genocidal. Given this character of the belief, I do not see how anyhow with knowledge could claim to be a liberal and supporter of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not accept this truth as the point of departure upon which actors and actions are based.