August 25, 2009
Number 08/09 #07
This Update focuses on two stories making headlines in Israel for the last couple of days; the story in a Swedish newspaper alleging that Israel harvests Palestinian organs, and the appointment as Iranian defence minister of a man wanted in Argentina on terrorism related charges.
Last week, Swedish newspaper Aftonbadet ran a story alleging that Israel kidnaps Palestinians, harvests their organs, and returns the bodies to their families. The original coverage of the issue by Haaretz is here. Israel immediately condemned the story. The editor of the paper has also defended his decision to run the article – as well as a second article with more accusations – despite neither actually containing any evidence apart from Palestinian statements. A news article about the resulting diplomatic storm can be read here.
We lead with an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post written by Ilya Meyer, a former member of the Sweden-Israel Friendship Society, who discusses Swedish “governmental, church and trade union involvement in officially-sanctioned demonisation of Israel.” To read this op-ed, CLICK HERE. Gerald Steinberg, of NGO Monitor, also wrote an op-ed about how the Swedish government funds NGOs unfairly critical of Israel. The opinion piece is based on a longer report by his organisation from June this year.
Also making headlines in Israel was the decision by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to nominate for defence minister a man wanted in Argentina on terrorism-related charges. Ahmad Vahidi is one of five important Iranians sought by Argentina for his alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre, in which 85 people were killed. At that time, Vahidi was the commander of the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s statement on the issue can be read HERE. Meanwhile, the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy and national security committee head, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, has backed the decision.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s resident Iran expert Mehdi Khalaji has written an important brief about Ahmadinejad’s cabinet appointments, including Vahidi. His brief gives an insight into what Amhadinejad has planned for the next few years. To read it, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- An opinion piece on the Swedish story in the Jerusalem Post written by former Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Tzvi Mazel. Mazel’s wife Michelle had her own opinion piece published about the same issue.
- Blogger David Frankfurter revealed in 2004 that in 1997 the Swedish foreign aid department commissioned a report into Palestinian corruption, which recommended no further Swedish money be sent to the PA. According to Frankfurter, not only did Sweden ignore the report’s findings, but classified it until 2004.
- Adi Dvir believes the Israeli reaction has been overblown, and everyone should simply have ignored the original article. A Haaretz editorial said much the same thing, questioning the wisdom of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s comparison of the article to Sweden’s “silence” during the Holocaust.
- The Palestinian Maan news agency ‘confirmed‘ the Swedish news report late last week. The Jerusalem Post‘s story on the Maan article can be read here.
- The associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has weighed in, accusing the Swedish newspaper of resurrecting the age-old blood libel against the Jews.
- Public trials in Iran have begun for people accused of attempting to instigate a ‘velvet coup d’etat’ in the recent post-elections protests. MEMRI has some excerpts from Iranian TV. Among the accused is former Iranian Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi.
- Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is hoping to have face to face talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by the end of September. However, Abbas has signalled he has no intentions of meeting Netanyahu unless Israel freezes all construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.
- Israeli President Shimon Peres, in an interview with a Kuwait daily, has said Israel “knows that Hezbollah has 80,000 rockets.” He also said Israel wanted peace with Syria. Meanwhile, an opinion piece by Israeli academic Guy Bechor suggests Israelis shouldn’t be worried about the prospect of a Hezbollah attack in the near future.
- The trial of 26 suspected Hezbollah operatives commenced in Egypt. They are charged with spying for a foreign group and planning attacks against tourists and shipping in the Suez Canal. Reports from the ABC and Ynet.
- The Jerusalem Municipality is apparently planning the construction of enough housing for 200 Jewish families in the Arab area of Ras al-Amud, in eastern Jerusalem.
- Haaretz interviews Quentin Tarantino, the director of recently released Jewish revenge fantasy, Inglourious Basterds.
- The Jerusalem Post‘s Khaled Abu Toameh reports on Hamas’ ongoing efforts to enforce strict Islamic laws in the coastal enclave.
- A Christian American researcher has claimed to have cracked the code of the Copper Scroll, a Dead Sea Scroll made of copper (as opposed to leather or parchment) with a list of treasures and their locations, which the researcher claims are from the First Temple.
- The Israeli arms manufacturer Rafael has just signed a US$1 billion deal with India.
Jerusalem Post, August 23, 2009
Silence is golden according to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, the government official who insists his country’s ambassador to Israel must refrain from expressing an opinion on virulent anti-Semitic accusations in the Swedish left-wing tabloid Aftonbladet. Accusations intended as a blood-libel against all Jews and Israelis everywhere.
The article’s author Donald Bostr?m freely admits that he has no evidence of any of his allegations but says it is up to Jews and Israelis to prove themselves innocent. An interesting if not entirely original twist – Jews are guilty until they prove themselves innocent. The basic tenets of democracy do not appear to be familiar to either Bostr?m or Aftonbladet.
Much of the material in Bostr?m’s article came from a book he published in 2001 Inshallah which was jointly financed by the Swedish Foreign Ministry and various other government-backed organizations.
Here is what Bostr?m writes in the acknowledgements section (comments in brackets are my explanations): “Thanks to Diakonia [90% government-financed Christian aid organization], Forum Syd [government-financed aid organization], Graphics Industry Union, Stockholm Graphic Workers’ Union [part of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, co-owner of Aftonbladet], the Swedish Christian Study Center, the Brotherhood Movement [Christian branch of the Social Democratic Party], the Swedish Palestinian Solidarity Movement [partly government-financed], Trade union TCO and the Swedish Foreign Ministry for their financial donations.”
A worrying pattern emerges of governmental, church and trade union involvement in officially-sanctioned demonization of Israel.
This is no one-off phenomenon. Rampant Swedish media distortion and the tacit and blatant anti-Semitism expressed in various Swedish governmental and quasi-governmental organizations can be charted with the utmost clarity in an NGO Monitor report “A Clouded EU Presidency: Swedish Funding for NGO Rejectionism.”
THE RESULTS of media distortion and constant demonizing of Jews and Israelis are felt in Sweden all the time – most recently Saturday in a soccer match involving Jewish youth club IF Hakoah, in which spectators raced onto the pitch during and after the match to assault the Hakoah players for the crime of being Jewish.
One problem, however: at this particular match, none of the Hakoah players happened to be Jewish. Not that it mattered in a climate of hate cloaked in government silence.
Other aspects of Swedish silence that are equally worrying if one steps back and examines the broader canvas. Sweden is one of the world’s largest per capita donors to Palestinian Arab welfare. This funding comes in the form of tax revenues paid dutifully by hard-working Swedes lucky enough to still have a job, to the tune of about of 700 million kronor per annum and increasing yearly.
And despite the millions that he takes from Swedish citizens to give to Palestinians, Bildt deliberately chooses not to condition these payments on the Palestinians’ release of the only Jew in the Gaza Strip: the young Gilad Schalit who was captured by Hamas 1200 days ago and has since not been allowed contact with his family, legal representation or visits by the Red Cross – itself a gross violation of his human rights.
Bildt has every reason to be tight-lipped. Talking would put Sweden’s decades-old policy of selective silence in jeopardy. There’s too much at stake if people start asking questions. Swedes might start demanding that some of their tax money be spent on their own welfare rather than on Palestinians.
IN SWEDEN, anti-Semitism is not punishable. Neither is crass stupidity. Nor, for that matter, is gross incompetence in public office. But an ambassador who expresses her honest dismay over anti-Semitism while at the same time upholding Sweden’s proud tradition of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, is censured by the Swedish foreign minister.
Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden Benny Dagan gave a resounding interview summarizing his nation’s and his people’s view of Sweden’s often uneasy relations with Israel.
Carl Bildt had no comment.
The writer served as chairman of the Board of Information of the Gothenburg Jewish Community, was vice chairman of the Sweden-Israel Friendship Society, West Sweden Branch, and is a former board member of the Interfaith Dialogue Group, West Sweden Division.
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 23 Aug 2009
Iran once again revealed to the world the true nature of its regime and the actual intentions of its leadership. It did so by appointing a terrorist wanted by Interpol to be its Minister of Defense.
On Wednesday (19 August), President Ahmadinejad announced that Ahmad Vahidi was nominated to be Iran’s defense minister. Perhaps it is only fitting that a terrorist-supporting regime would appoint an internationally-wanted terrorist as its Minister of Defense. Maybe it is entirely appropriate that a Holocaust-denying President would appoint a perpetrator of the largest antisemitic massacre since the Holocaust to his Cabinet. Nevertheless, Iran’s promotion of Vahidi to minister of defense should not fail to shock those of good conscience around the world.
Vahidi is no ordinary terrorist. He is one of five prominent Iranians wanted by Interpol for the suicide bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Argentina (AMIA). In that horrific attack in the morning of 18 July 1994, a large part of that building was destroyed, killing 85 innocent Argentinian citizens and wounding 240.
An extensive investigation by Argentina unequivocally determined that the attack was carried out by Hizbullah, with the support of leaders of Iran’s government. On Friday (21 August), Alberto Nisman, an Argentinean prosecutors who investigated the attack, said that Ahmad Vahidi is accused of “being a key participant in the planning and of having made the decision to go ahead with the attack” against AMIA. In 2007, Interpol issued a “red notice” placing him on its list of wanted persons, stating that it would help Argentina apprehend Vahidi and four other high-ranking Iranian officials wanted in connection with the attack. In light of the severity of the accusations against him, the European Union saw fit in June 2008 to place a freeze on his personal assets and bar his entry into its member states.
Ahmad Vahidi participated in the Jewish community center attack as the then-commander of Iran’s Quds (Jerusalem) Force. The Quds Force is part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the strongest military-security force in Iran and the primary supporter of the Islamic regime. It is an elite unit, noted for its militancy and strict ideological adherence. The Quds Force is the primary Iranian apparatus for supporting terrorist organizations, carrying out secret operations beyond Iran’s borders and operating sleeper networks of terrorists and supporters around the globe.
In recent years, Iran has lowered its profile in directly carrying out terrorist attacks abroad, in order to protect its international image. Nonetheless, it has directed the Quds Force and its intelligence services to establish sleeper cells outside Iran. This will enable Iran, either directly or through Hizbullah, to launch terrorist attacks against Israeli/Jewish or other Western targets, when it believes the time is ripe.
By appointing Vahidi, Iran has demonstrated that it will continue to support international terrorism. At least four nominees (defense, intelligence, interior and oil) have ties to the Revolutionary Guards. Iran today is the largest exporter of terrorism in the world and all signs from the new government demonstrate that it has no intentions of changing.
It is incumbent on the international community to scrutinize closely the appointment of Vahidi, so as to gain a better understanding of the intentions of the Iranian leadership, which has chosen to appoint an international terrorist as its Minister of Defense.
The bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires – July 18, 1994
85 Argentinian citizens were killed in the blast and hundreds more were wounded. It was the single deadliest terrorist attack in the history of Argentina, the home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America. The seven-story AMIA building, the center of Argentina’s Jewish communal activities, was totally reduced to rubble.
By Mehdi Khalaji
Washington Institute for Near East Policy PolicyWatch No. 1571, August 21, 2009
On August 19, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad submitted his list of cabinet nominees to the Majlis (Iran’s parliament). The president’s choice of individuals clearly shows his preference for loyalty over efficiency, as he fired every minister who, while strongly supportive of him on most issues, opposed him recently on his controversial decision to appoint a family relative as first vice president. Ahmadinezhad’s drive to install loyalists involves placing members of the military and intelligence community in the cabinet, as well as in other important government position. Despite the president’s positioning, Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, remains in firm control of the country’s vital ministries.
On August 23, the Majlis will either approve or challenge the president’s cabinet appointments. Ahmadinezhad has a relatively free hand to choose the majority of cabinet seats, but the country’s key ministries — intelligence, interior, foreign affairs, defense, and culture and Islamic guidance — are, in all practical terms, preapproved by Khamenei before the president submits their names. As such, the Majlis is all but guaranteed to accept these particular individuals. The president is also empowered to directly appoint the secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security (SCNS) — the individual responsible for Iran’s nuclear dossier and negotiations — but because this position is of particular importance to Khamanei, it also must be preapproved.
Economic and Foreign Affairs
Ahmadinezhad’s nominations suggest that he is not bothered by the ongoing criticism of his foreign policy and economic agenda, since the ministers of foreign affairs, industries and mines, economic affairs, cooperatives, and roads and transport will remain unchanged. Masoud Mir Kazemi, previously the oil minister, is the president’s choice to become minister of commerce. Ahmadinezhad is also expected to reappoint Said Jalili as secretary of the SCNS — a development that seemingly dims hope for a change in Iran’s nuclear strategy.
IRGC in Charge of Internal Affairs
Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said recently, “There was a perception that confronting hard threats was the top priority, but after careful study, we came to the conclusion that it was the IRGC’s duty to confront the regime’s soft threats, including cultural, economic, political, and social ones.” Ahmadinezhad’s first presidential term was characterized by the ascendance of the IRGC into Iran’s political system. Considering the makeup of the president’s new cabinet nominees, this trend — backed by Jafari’s suggestion that the IRGC should take over crucial political and cultural government positions — will continue into Ahmadinezhad’s second term:
Interior minister. Sadeq Mahsouli, the outgoing interior minister, was not renominated. Known as a “billionaire IRGC general,” Mahsouli was the main Iranian official responsible for the controversial presidential election in June. By replacing him, Ahmadinezhad may be trying to prevent further Majlis discussion of the election, since there would be considerable debate about the minister’s record. The president was likely also dissatisfied with Mahsouli’s handling of the election, with the widespread allegations of fraud and popular street demonstrations. The man nominated to succeed him, Mustafa Mohammad Najjar — a career IRGC man — was Ahmadinezhad’s defense minister for four years and has a close relationship with Khamenei.
Culture and Islamic guidance minister. Mohammad Hosseini comes from the intelligence community, and if confirmed by the Majlis, he can be counted on to follow his predecessor, Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, in putting restrictions on publication houses, the press, the movie industry, and the arts in general.
Oil minister. Masoud Mir Kazemi was the head of IRGC Center for Fundamental Studies for many years.
Defense minister. Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi is connected to Iran’s Qods Force, and he, along with Mohsen Rezai, former IRGC commander-in-chief, and Ali Fallahian, former intelligence minister, is wanted by Interpol for involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina.
Intelligence minister. Heydar Muslehi is a cleric who was Khamenei’s representative in the IRGC and Basij militia, and was the head of Endowment and Charity Organization. He was trained in the Imam Khomeini Institute for Education and Research, which is run by Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, a radical cleric in Qom. In a recent speech to Basij members, Mesbah Yazdi, who is known for his support for Ahmadinezhad, stated that “obedience to the president is obedience to the Hidden Imam and God.” Despite Muslehi’s inexperience in the intelligence business, the Majlis is not likely to question Ahmadinezhad’s decision, since Muslehi was presumably preapproved by Khamenei.
Gap Widens Between Clerics and Ahmadinezhad
Ahmadinezhad considers himself an authentic representative of pure Islamic ideology, one that has no need for clerical guidance on political issues. As such, the relationship between Ahmadinezhad and Iran’s clerical establishment has soured over the years — though not so with Khamenei, who is more of a politician than a cleric.
Ahmadinezhad’s nomination of three women to his cabinet — for the ministries of health, education, and welfare and social security — could exacerbate these tensions. Many members of the Majlis consider these female nominees unqualified, and many conservative clerics in Qom, such as Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi, see the move as a violation of Islamic law.
A major episode that revealed the depth of the clerical-Ahmadinezhad split was the president’s unconditional support of Rahim Mashai, who is closely related to Ahmadinezhad by marriage. Mashai drew the ire of the conservatives when he said that Iran has no quarrel with the people of Israel, even though it may dislike the state of Israel. In the last weeks of his first term, Ahmadinezhad appointed Mashai, then director of the Cultural Heritage Organization, as his first vice president. Facing unprecedented clerical and conservative pressure — and the opposition of many previous cabinet members — Ahmadinezhad did not reverse his decision until Khamenei intervened and forced him to do so. The president then appointed Mashai as his chief of staff, the head of the president’s office. In addition to his statements on Israel, the clerical establishment dislikes Mashai because he, along with Ahmadinezhad, believes in the imminent return of the Mahdi (the Twelfth Imam) — an event that would make the clergy superfluous.
Ahmadinezhad’s list of cabinet nominees reveals his self-confidence and readiness to be challenged by the predominately conservative Majlis. Leading Majlis figures have already expressed concern about Ahmadinezhad’s potential nominees, but the president ignored their objections. Reportedly, he believes that since he received more votes than all the Majlis members combined, he should not have to compromise with them. Ahamdinezhad’s new cabinet nominees are also the result of unofficial coordination with Khamenei. Although the Majlis will likely disagree with some of Ahmadinezhad’s selections, the president’s first-term policies will essentially continue into his second term, as evidenced by the same people occupying key ministries — with Khamenei’s approval — and the increasing number of IRGC and intelligence personnel taking top government positions.
Mehdi Khalaji is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on Iranian politics and the politics of Shiite groups in the Middle East.