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Copenhagen, Terror, and Europe’s Jews/ New IDF Chief of Staff

Feb 20, 2015


Update from AIJAC

Feb. 20, 2015
Number 02/15 #05

This Update features comment inspired by the terror attack in Copenhagen, Denmark, last weekend – in which an Islamist gunman opened fire at both a synagogue and a pro-free speech gathering at a cafe –  especially in terms of what such targeted terrorism means for Europe’s Jewish minority, who are clearly a key target of Islamist radicals. It also includes some information and analysis on the new Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who was sworn in on Monday.

The first entry comes from American-Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt, who offers seven “axioms” about the Copenhagen attacks and the larger wave of terror of which it was the latest example. Some key points she makes are that the antisemitism which inspires such violence is actually not that similar to traditional European antisemitism and that Islamist terror cannot be fought unless it is accurately named for what it is. She also strongly argues that those who respond to such violence by saying “yes, but” – that is condemning it while in effect making excuses for it, usually involving Israel –  are essentially acting as accomplices to murder and should be called out as such. There’s much more of interest. To read it all, CLICK HERE.

Next up is American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris, who, with his usual eloquence, explains what he feels the European Union should be doing to respond to Copenhagen and other signs that the Jewish communities of Europe are increasingly under threat. He makes his recommendations based on decades of meeting with European leaders to urge them to do more on the problem of antisemitism. Among other things, he recommends, as Lipstadt does, to stop shying away from identifying the source of the antisemitism when it comes from Muslim communities, stop treating antisemitism and Islamophobia as Siamese twins and refusing to talk about one without including the other, and recognising that speeches alone are not the answer to antisemitism. For all of his thoughtful recommendations, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Ron Ben Yishai, one of Israel’s top security affairs journalists, introduces readers to the new IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and his varied and impressive past military career. But more importantly, Ben Yishai knowledgeably discusses the security challenges Eisenkot is likely to face during his four year term of office and what skills he will bring to efforts to meet them. The biggest difficulty is one that has been little discussed outside Israel – the growing Iranian-Hezbollah presence along Israel’s Golan border with Syria, which could lead to a new front against Israel, something which Israel will try hard to prevent developing. For Ben Yishai’s knowledgeable comments in full, CLICK HERE. More on the threat on the Golan border comes from Israeli analyst Ely Karmon.

Readers may also be interested in:


7 Axioms of the Copenhagen Terror Attacks

We Must Stand Up to Fear and Fight Islamist Extremism

By Deborah Lipstadt

New York Forward,  February 18, 2015.

The news of the attacks on the Copenhagen cafe and synagogue did not surprise us. We may keep hoping this will stop, but the rational parts of our brains know that it will not, at least not for the long term. There have been enough of these attacks that we can now see there are certain things which are axiomatic about them.

Axiom #1: They are part of a pattern. By that I do not mean to suggest that they are all organized by ISIS or ISIS-like groups. They may not be physically connected with one another, but they are ideologically connected. The individuals behind them have been radicalized by a stream of Islam that abhors Western democracy and all it stands for. Some have suggested that the Danish shooter was not “radicalized.” If so, that makes it even scarier. He was not part of a radical group, but he clearly absorbed the message of radical Islamists. How else might you explain his targeting of free speech advocates, police officers and Jews?

Axiom #2: Unless you name something you cannot solve it. We are fighting Muslim extremism, not violent extremism. This violence is directly connected to Islam, though not to all Muslims. To avoid identifying the connection to Islam is not only silly — if one can use that word in conjunction with such a serious threat — but it also pulls the ground out from under moderate Muslims who want to fight this dangerous trend.

Axiom #3: This is not traditional European anti-Semitism. The people who have committed these crimes are convinced that killing Jews is not just acceptable, but a desirable thing to do. In contrast to much of the European anti-Semitism we have seen in centuries past, which attacked Jews for being different from the majority, this form hates both Jews and the majority society and all it stands for, including freedom of religion.

Axiom #4: “Yes, but” comments make room for violence. Muslim extremists pull the triggers, but they have accomplices. They have been given intellectual shelter by those who try to explain these incidents with “yes, but” explanations. In the case of the anti-Semitic actions, they say, “Yes, this is awful, but if Israel only…” (you can fill in the blank) “…this would not happen.” To engage in this kind of reasoning is to rationalize this violence, to make it logical and to render it legitimate. The people who do this — including many well-educated academics — must be called out for what they are doing: justifying murder.

Next time someone makes this link, ask him or her: “Oh, so that makes it acceptable to shoot Jews thousands of miles away from Israel?” They will probably respond: “Of course not. We are just looking for the roots of the violence.” Do they really imagine that if Israel were to pull out of the West Bank these killers would stop shooting Jews?

Axiom #5: There are many liberal voices that did the same thing with the cartoonists (and before them with Salman Rushdie): “If only they had not insulted the Prophet, this would not have happened.” Not only does such reasoning justify the murders, but it is also objectively wrong. Jyllands-Posten, the Danish paper that published the original Muhammad cartoons in 2006, did not republish the Charlie Hebdo ones. That did not stop the attack on the Copenhagen cafe.

Axiom #6: “Violence works.” That is what Jyllands-Posten wrote in an editorial in January explaining its decision not to republish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. The editors were frightened. Jews are also frightened. They do not wear kippot in many European cities. They do not carry anything that identifies them as Jews. In Denmark, a Jewish radio station shut down and a Jewish school closed just in the last few days. In short, the Muslim extremists are winning.

Axiom #7: This is not just a war on Jews. It is a war on Western democratic liberal values. This is a war being waged by people who reject the notion of freedom of speech, press, religion and expression. In the aftermath of some of these killings I have heard people say that these killers are foreign to European society and they “don’t understand” these concepts. I would argue otherwise. They understand them and reject them.

We are waging a war against extremists who are inherently opposed to everything we value about the society in which we live. They want us to live in fear. Doing so grants them a victory and, as the Danes at the cafe learned, doesn’t protect us from future violence.

In sum, we must name the threat, help those Muslims who reject these behaviors, challenge those who would engage in rationalizations and, somehow, refuse to succumb to fear.

Deborah Lipstadt, a Forward contributing editor, is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University.

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After Copenhagen, what next for Europe?


David Harris

Times of Israel, February 15, 2015, 9:50 pm

Once again, the jihadists have attacked, this time in Copenhagen.

Once again, they have murdered innocent people.

Once again, they have targeted both democratic values – freedom of speech and the press – and a minority community – the Jews.

And once again, Europe has been reminded that it is at the center, not the periphery, of this global challenge.

As a result, we will have all the right symbolic gestures, which I don’t wish to minimize.

There will be visits to the synagogue, solidarity events, statements of anguish, and affirmations of collective will and determination.

But will they really change anything on the ground? That remains to be seen.

With each such bloody outrage, we earnestly hope that something might be learned because we don’t want to believe that history must continue to repeat itself in this all-too-familiar cycle of killings, vigils, and mourning.

And yet, after 15 years of engaging with European leaders to get their attention, help them understand what stares them in the face, and press for sustained action, I’m not quite ready to bet the family farm that the day after tomorrow will be all that different than the day before yesterday.

Even so, I desperately want to believe that Europe, with all its dazzling achievements since the end of World War II, can still strengthen its resolve, stiffen its spine, and fully understand the stakes involved, however late in the day it is.

Here is what I wish would happen now.

First, the European Union should quickly organize a high-level conference to discuss the rise in anti-Semitism, as evidenced by repeated terror attacks, EU polls showing rising fear among Jews, and statistics in countries like France and the United Kingdom revealing a major spike in anti-Semitic incidents. It ought to discuss and adopt a comprehensive plan of action, and then implement and monitor it.

Second, European leaders must understand, as French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has, that anti-Semitism is not only an attack on Jews, but also an assault on Europe and its values. The two cannot be separated. That was amply illustrated in the attacks in Paris last month and in Copenhagen this month. In the end, if there is no other choice, Jews will leave Europe, but where will Europe go, unless, that is, it is prepared to succumb to the jihadist threat?

Third, call a spade a spade. For many Europeans, there is no hesitation in identifying the source of anti-Semitism when it emanates from right-wing extremists. But when anti-Semitism, including deadly violence, springs from within a segment of the Muslim population, verbal acrobatics all too often come into play. If you can’t name the adversary, how can you effectively fight it?

Of course, this problem is not unique to Europe. In the United States, we saw the massacre at Fort Hood ludicrously labeled “workplace violence” rather than the jihadist violence it so obviously was, and our government’s refusal to refer to “Islamist” or “jihadist” terrorism, even when the perpetrators themselves do.

Fourth, stop tying anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, as if the two are Siamese twins. AJC’s Brussels office has been trying for months to encourage a European Parliament hearing on anti-Semitism, only to be met with insistence that any such meeting include Islamophobia. Why this demand to join the two together, when the majority of incidents occurs against Jews, when Europe has a particularly ugly history of anti-Semitism, and when the principal attackers of Jews invoke their Islamic faith?

Fifth, recognize that we confront both a short- and long-term menace that won’t be overcome by even the most eloquent of speeches and the most symbolic of acts. Rather, it requires a full-court, sustained effort by individual governments (and, of course, by the EU) using the resources they have the capacity to mobilize, joined by the determined efforts of civil society.

Sixth, connect the lessons of the Holocaust to the present-day threat to the Jews. I’ve witnessed too many Holocaust-related events where murdered Jews are mourned – Jews who, tragically, cannot be brought back to life – but that totally ignore the current dangers to living Jews. A refusal to connect the two quite frankly empties these commemorations of much of their meaning and sincerity.

Seventh, don’t apologize for European values of democracy, human dignity, openness, and pluralism. Europe has built something to be proud of and that is well worth defending. It is, after all, to Europe that refugees and immigrants are seeking to go by any means possible to escape failed or failing societies, and not the other way around. It’s high time to stand up in defense of these noble values and do everything possible to ensure that newcomers embrace them as well.

And last, but by no means least, it is important to understand that the jihadist barbarism which Europe is experiencing first-hand is not much different from what Israel has been facing for decades. Why, then, does Europe continue to try drawing a distinction, when, in reality, none exists? The same jihadists who hate Europe detest Israel, and the same jihadists who wish for Israel’s annihilation aspire to no less for Europe as we know it.

Since hope springs eternal, here’s hoping for the dawning of a new day, starting right now.

David Harris is the executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

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With north beginning to boil, Eisenkot is right man at right time

Analysis: The new IDF chief of staff will have to face a potential massive conflagration on the northern border, but he has the tools to deal with whatever is thrown at him.

Ron Ben Yishai, 02.17.15

As the Israel Defense Forces’ 21st chief of staff, and the country’s most influential professional military authority, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who stepped into the position Monday, will be operating in the seam zone between military thinking and action and the positions and decisions of the political echelon, particularly at critical junctures at which an error of judgment could exact a very high price in blood.

At present, with the Middle East in general, and Israel’s neighbors in particular, becoming less predictable and increasingly fragmented, volatile and self-destructive by the day, the most important challenge facing the incoming chief of staff is to prevent a large-scale conflagration in the wake of an incident in the field that gets out of hand and escalates, albeit contrary to the wishes of the leaderships of the sides involved.

The chief of staff doesn’t always intervene. However, when an incident has the potential to spark an escalation, he is the one who, after a very brief decision-making process, issues directives to the commanders in the field. And in doing so, the chief of staff essentially determines the height of the initial flames, and then advises the defense minister and cabinet on how to move forward. More precisely, he presents a number of alternatives and explicitly states his preference.

Eisenkot is one of only a handful of senior IDF officials who have military experience as a fighter, a commander and a senior General Staff officer. He has demonstrated composure and level-headedness during various large-scale conflagrations, such as the Second Lebanon War and Operation Protective Edge; and the fact that he served in the past as military secretary to former prime minister Ehud Barak also helps to make him ripe for the position of chief of staff.

His critics claim that as a general, Eisenkot is “not offensive” enough; but even his detractors can’t deny his military mindset, which particularly befits the challenges of the current period. He is blessed with almost all it takes to function properly in situations that require quick decision-making, flexible thinking, composure and the will to win.

Until about a month or so ago, Military Intelligence and General Staff officials were of the opinion that the Palestinian arena (Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip, and the delegitimization campaign around the globe) would be the IDF and its chief of staff’s primary concern and field of operation during the course of 2015. The prevailing assessment now, however, is that the northern arena is about to become the main source of potential for a large-scale conflagration.

Hezbollah, under the leadership of Hassan Nasrallah, and senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials responsible for the Syria-Lebanon arena have initiated this development. They are the ones who decided recently to turn the Golan Heights into an active conflict zone with Israel, and they have made extensive headway, too, in their preparations to realize their intentions.

This strategic shift in behavior vis-à-vis Israel on the part of the radical axis of the Iranian leadership stems from two main reasons. The one: Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting in Syria is sparking harsh criticism of the organization in Lebanon. Some Shia officials are even claiming that Sunni groups Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra are operating against Lebanon because Hezbollah is fighting to preserve Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria.

Hezbollah therefore needs renewed legitimacy to exist and operate as an independent army from Lebanon’s sovereign territory. The legitimacy is “defending Lebanon and its sovereignty” against Israel; but Hezbollah fears that operating against Israel from Lebanon would lead to a deadly and destructive war in which Israel, too, would suffer, but Lebanon would be pushed back into the Stone Age.

Hezbollah and the Iranians have been unable thus far to stop the air strikes in Syrian territory on the convoys of “tie-breaking arms” that the foreign media attribute to Israel. Hezbollah can’t respond to the attacks from Lebanese territory (for the above-mentioned reasons), and it can’t attack from Syria either because the organization does not want to admit to the international community that it is violating Syrian sovereignty. And another reason – Nasrallah doesn’t want to embroil Assad in a large-scale Israeli response that would weaken him in his conflict with the Syrian rebels.

But things are changing of late. Hezbollah and the Iranians are not yet ready to take direct action against Israel from Lebanon, but they are certainly ready to open a new front against it on the Golan Heights. Nasrallah has even declared so in public, in a speech he delivered a few weeks ago.

The reason for the change is that the Iranians and Nasrallah have finally come to the conclusion – the seemingly correct one – that Israel has no desire to get embroiled in a large-scale military conflict in Syria, and has no interest, too, in toppling the now chemical weapon-free Assad regime, which serves as a barrier against the brutal Sunni Jihadists.

Furthermore, the Syrian regime would very much like now to regain control of the Golan Heights, with the assistance of Hezbollah fighters and Iranian advisers, and thus alleviate the pressure the rebels are putting on Damascus. Israel understands all of this, but it is not going to allow Hezbollah and the Iranians to carry out their plan.

Proof of this may have been the attack attributed to Israel on the convoy carrying Jihad Mughniyeh and the Iranian general. Israel, in keeping with a cabinet-approved policy, has no intentions either of allowing “tie-breaking arms” to be passed on from Syria to Hezbollah.

Whether or not Nasrallah and his Iranian patrons have precise plans and principles regarding when and how to carry out operations against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights still remains unclear; but the potential now for a flare-up in the north is great.

There’ll be no cause to envy Chief of Staff Eisenkot if and when he receives information from Military Intelligence or the Mossad that requires preparations for military action, or when Hezbollah decides for whatever reason to launch a deadly anti-tank missile at an Israeli patrol. The next time, under different circumstances, military sources say, Israel will struggle “to contain” the incident as it did some two weeks ago.

Another major challenge facing the new chief of staff is to prevent the current unrest in the West Bank from escalating into a third intifada. Under the current circumstances, such an escalation, even in the form of so-called popular terrorism, if it occurs conducted through so-called “popular terrorism” (stones, Molotov cocktails, cold weapons and sporadic shootings), could deteriorate into full-scale fighting and spell disaster for both sides.

Mahmoud Abbas, therefore, and most Palestinian civilians probably, don’t want that, and neither does Israel. But the unrest in the West Bank is increasing due to the political deadlock, the incitement on the part of Hamas, and the freeze Israel has imposed on the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority. Additional measures that Israel is likely to adopt against the PA in response to the delegitimization campaign that Abbas and his people are initiating will only worsen the situation.

IDF officials, along with the coordinator of government activities in the territories, believe that the growing unrest in the West Bank could see the Palestinians take to the streets en masse. Under such circumstances, Chief of Staff Eisenkot will have to make sure that the commanders in the field keep the casualties on both sides to the minimum (every fatality fans the flames and sparks further flare-ups) and then restore calm to the area, including the prevention of Jewish terrorism.

This will require the deployment of large and well-trained IDF and Border Police riot-control forces at every site of mass unrest. In addition, these forces will have to be equipped with sufficient non-deadly riot-control measures to deal with large crowds, and the rules of engagement will have to be crystal clear and stringently enforced by the commanders in the field – not complicated but critical.

The Gaza challenge is well known. Hamas did indeed take a severe beating in Operation Protective Edge (recently gathered intelligence indicates this emphatically), but the organization is rebuilding and strengthening because its leadership believes that another round of fighting with Israel is just around the corner. The money promised by the donor countries isn’t coming in at the desired pace; UNRWA has suspended some of its rehabilitation operations; and the closure imposed by Egypt is making life in the Strip even harder.

Under such circumstances, Hamas, along with the Gaza residents, may very well decide that they have nothing to lose – and initiate another round of fighting. They would be the ones to suffer most, but they would also recapture international attention and take comfort in the pain and suffering they cause to the citizens of Israel.

In keeping with his outlook, Eisenkot will probably try to help Major General Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, promote political and economic initiatives, Israeli and international, to up the pace of Gaza’s recovery and thus prevent another fruitless military operation.

In the military field, Eisenkot will urgently have to find better answers to a series of problems. First things first, he will be responsible for coming up with a combined defensive-offensive response to short-range projectiles (mortars, Qassam rockets and the like), and ensuring at the same time that the David’s Sling system, designed to intercept medium- to long-range rockets and cruise missiles, is finally completed and ready for action.

And then there’s the issue of finding a comprehensive solution to the problem of the tunnels. A third key task for Eisenkot will be to maintain the IDF’s ability and readiness to prevent Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons – if and when the time comes. The capability exists now, but it requires improvement and refinement.

Another challenge that Eisenkot will have to come up with an answer for is how to act, despite Israel’s political isolation, when faced with a dangerous threat that requires a preventative or preemptive strike, which could lead to economic and diplomatic sanctions against Jerusalem. We paid a high price in Operation Protective Edge for international legitimacy to press ahead with the ground maneuvers. On the other hand, we must remember that a preventative or preemptive strike is the best way to spare lives and property – ours and the enemy’s. 

A fifth key challenge concerns the IDF’s obligation to preserve the sense of security of Israel’s citizens at large, and those on the frontline in particular. Today’s army needs to know not only how to fight and win physically. The battle for the minds and hearts of the civilians is no less important – if not more so.

The circumstances under which Eisenkot is stepping into his role make things a little difficult for him: A large number of the General Staff officers are new in their jobs, and elections are coming up. He still doesn’t know whose government he’ll be working with or what the security cabinet will look like; but Eisenkot, as we’ve said, is experienced in such matters, and it is safe to assume that he will manage just fine with whoever the Israeli voter presents to him.


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Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into right wing extremist movements in Australia


Much of the Arab world knows Hamas ‘is the problem’: Colin Rubenstein on Sky News

Image: Shutterstock

Faith: Shavuot

Image: Shutterstock

Australia must never be a party to cynical, pro-Hamas lawfare

Image: X/Twitter

AIJAC expresses appreciation to PM, Leader of the Opposition, for bipartisan stance against extremism and antisemitism

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Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into right wing extremist movements in Australia


Much of the Arab world knows Hamas ‘is the problem’: Colin Rubenstein on Sky News

Image: Shutterstock

Faith: Shavuot

Image: Shutterstock

Australia must never be a party to cynical, pro-Hamas lawfare

Image: X/Twitter

AIJAC expresses appreciation to PM, Leader of the Opposition, for bipartisan stance against extremism and antisemitism