Richard Silverstein gets duped again by a ‘high level Israeli source’

When Richard Silverstein isn’t expressing support for the end of the Jewish statedefending terror groups like Hamas, or engaging in smears and reckless attacks against his opponents, he’s often busy peddling false scoops about Israel based on the flimsiest of evidence.

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Richard Silverstein

While CiF Watch’s exposes on his hateful rhetoric may have been partially responsible for his near disappearance, since Dec. 2009, from the pages of ‘Comment is Free’ (a possibility he openly acknowledged), his notoriety somehow hasn’t prevented him from being taken seriously, on one or two occasions, as a “journalist” by other media outlets.

Bibi’s Secret War Plan: 

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In August, 2012, one “serious” news source was duped by a Silverstein “scoop” titled “Bibi’s Secret War Plan”.  

Silverstein’s post claimed to be based on information he received from a high-level Israeli source detailing the possible methods of an upcoming attack on Iran.  However, the “secret document” he had “obtained” was a near verbatim quote from a Hebrew forum which had appeared online days before his post, and which itself was based on mere speculation from open-source information.

Prisoner X:

Today, Feb. 13, Silverstein reported this about the identity of an unknown prisoner who was being held in solitary confinement in an Israeli jail – known as “Prisoner X” – who committed suicide in 2010.

“Back in 2010, I reported that Israel had arrested an unidentified individual, and imprisoned him in total secrecy in an Israeli jail.  …Even his jailers didn’t know who he was.  His jailers apparently did a lousy job of monitoring Prisoner X, as he was called and he hung himself from a bar in his cell.

Now Australia’s ABC network blows open the story.

He was a Mossad agent named  Ben Zygier”

However, the alleged (and completely unverified) identity of Prisoner X, which Silverstein is now reporting, totally contradicts his original Dec. 2010 “scoop”, where he first “revealed” the identity of the ‘secret’ prisoner.

Here’s Silverstein on Dec. 11, 2010:

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“Until today, we didn’t know [the identity of] “Prisoner X”…a story I broke [in] June (2010).

[But], through a confidential Israeli source I have exposed his identity.  He is a former Iranian Revolutionary Guard general and government minister under former President Khatami named Ali-Reza Asgari.  Western news outlets reported in 2007 that he either defected or was kidnapped by the Mossad, with the assistance of western intelligence agencies (either the CIA or British or German intelligence depending on the source) in Istanbul.  A conservative Iranian publication first reported last year that Asgari was in an Israeli prison and this wasreported by AP as well.”

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Photo and caption which accompanied Silverstein’s post

So, it seems as if Silverstein was again duped by his “high level” Israeli source.

In today’s post, however, Silverstein explained his “error”, thus:

“A word now about the error in my own reporting.  My source was told by an Israeli intelligence official that the dead man was Ali Reza Asgari.  In hindsight, it appears this was a ruse designed to throw the media off the scent of the real story.”

Whilst information on the true identity of the prisoner has not been definitively corroborated, as one Twitterer cheekily observed at the time of his ‘Bibi War’ post, about the credulity of those in the media who take Silverstein’s gossip  as serious “scoops”:  

They’re more likely to obtain incisive Middle East analysis from a man on the street corner with a sandwich board reading ‘The End is Nigh!’.

On Tisha B’Av: Israel’s mission as Guardian of the Jews

The following is a revised version of an essay I wrote which was published in the journal of the South African Board of Deputies, Jewish Affairs

“People resent the Jews for having emerged from their immemorial weakness and fearlessly resorted to force.  They thereby betrayed the mission that history had assigned to them – being a people…that did not get tangled up in the obtuse narrowness of the nation-state.” – Pascal Bruckner, The Tyranny of Guilt

It is now Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout their history on the same date on the Hebrew calendar – the ninth day of the month of Av.

Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, but on this day we also reflect on the many other tragedies which occurred on this date, from the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 to the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Like many in Jerusalem, I intend to spend some time on this day at the Kotel participating in what represents a public bereavement for the many victims of our collective calamities.  Typically, however, in addition to such mourning, I can’t help but reflect on this painful annual recollection of suffering and catastrophe in the context of the Jewish community’s often ambivalent relationship with power.  Such ruminations are only heightened by my new citizenship in the state of Israel, a nation often forced to exercise power in order to prevent additional tragedies from befalling the Jewish people.

Jewish worshippers pray at the Kotel (The Western Wall) as they mark Tisha B’Av

Indeed, Israel’s rebirth can be seen as a direct response to these calamitous events – an attempt to turn history around and act instead of being acted upon. Whether defending itself in war, or aiding/rescuing endangered Jewish communities around the world, the Jewish collective has had at its disposal for the past 64 years – and for the first time in over 2000 years – a state apparatus with the means (logistically, politically, diplomatically, and militarily) to protect its people’s interests, just as other communities represented by nation-states have had through the ages.

However, with this organized exercise of strength comes a price, a unique moral burden that many Jews seem unwilling or unable to bear – as any exertion of power, or control over your own fate, inevitably carries with it a the loss of innocence often projected upon people perceived to be victims and lacking in moral agency.

Israeli military power (exercised against terrorism and small-scale regional threats, and in actual wars against state actors, and its territorial repercussions), and the relative success and political power of Jewish communities in the West – as well as the influence of a political culture which selectively eschews particularistic moral sympathies which fall on the wrong side of the arbitrary post-colonial divide – seems to instil in many Jews a loss of identification with their community. 

This chasm often finds expression in the need to identify in a way uniquely separate from such seemingly crude “ethnocentric” expressions of political and military power. Many Jews today find it more ethically comforting to identify with non-Jewish “progressive” causes than with their own community – which carries with it the necessity of physically defending a nation (one representing a very particular identity) in all the complexities and compromises that are invariably associated with even the most progressive national enterprises.

Before the birth of the modern Jewish state, German-Jewish philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig, in his pre-Holocaust book ‘The Star of Redemption’ expressed his belief that a return to Israel would embroil the Jews into a worldly history they should shun. He viewed Judaism as a supra-historical entity, whose importance lies in the fact that it is not political but presents a spiritual ideal only.  He saw the creation of a nation-state as a blow to the Jewish ideal of an apolitical spiritual life.

From the recent revival of Mussar (and other similar movements which aspire to furthering individual Jewish ethical and spiritual development) to the progressive mantra of “Tikkun Olam” (which views seeking “social justice” and performing acts of individual charity as the greatest expressions of Jewish devotion), this recurring Jewish tendency to pay greater attention to their own moral performance and good deeds than to the nitty-gritty, everyday, necessities of collective survival is an inclination that writer Ruth Wisse characterizes as “moral solipsism.”

While personal spiritual improvement is indeed admirable, and the desire to tend to the needs of “the other” (by, feeding the hungry or protecting the environment) is certainly a noble impulse, it can also represent a political pathos – a moral escapism rooted in a blindness to the undeniable political lessons of Jewish history.

Wisse, in her book, Jews and Power, argues that, historically, Jews, in displaying the resilience necessary to survive in exile, and not burdened by the weight of a military, believed they could pursue their mission as a “light unto the nations” on a purely moral plane. She demonstrates how, in fact, perpetual political weakness increased Jews’ vulnerability to scapegoating and violence, as it unwittingly goaded power-seeking nations to cast them as perpetual targets.

Throughout their pre-state history, Jews inhabited a potentially precarious position, ever exposed to the whims of rulers and the resentment of the populace. Their trust in God as the absolute arbiter of history allowed them to endure unimaginable indignities, turning inward to concentrate on their own moral excellence.  Wisse concludes that “Jews who endured the powerlessness of exile were in danger of mistaking it for a requirement of Jewish life or, worse, for a Jewish ideal.”

Indeed some Jews I have known express their disapproval of Israel, or the Jewish community at large, by lamenting this newly acquired capacity to exercise political and military power by exclaiming that (with a tone that almost approaches longing) “Jews have always been the underdog.”  Such Jews, in fetishizing weakness, fail to see the role that such powerlessness has played in the suffering that has befallen their community through the ages.

Yes, with national sovereignty there is a price that has to be paid in terms of responsibility for the occasional infliction of human suffering (even if unintentional) that invariably occurs as the result of even the most responsible and judicious use of national power. But in the lives of individual adults, as in the lives of nations, rarely is there the luxury of making choices that will allow one to live a life of puerile innocence, nor one which offers decisions which will result in perfect justice for all concerned.

Rather, with every serious decision in front of her, Israel must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of various possible acts and try to make the decision that will likely result in the most positive outcome, while also taking into account how such actions will affect the safety and well-being of future generations of Israelis, and the broader Jewish community, as well.

Israel has a profound responsibility in carrying out the arduous, thankless – but, ethically necessary – task of collective self-defense (A national Zionist vision which Theodore Herzl referred to as “The Guardian of the Jews”).  For Israel, in an era replete with concrete military threats by state and non-state actors – as well as less quantifiable, but no less dangerous, delegitimization campaigns by loosely connected political networks – an unapologetic and fiercely determined self-defense is an ethical imperative.

Protecting yourself, your family, your community, and your nation from potential harm should never be misconstrued as inconsistent with the highest Jewish ethical aspirations – an idea the broader Jewish community would be wise to take seriously while lamenting the suffering of so many throughout our history on Tisha B’Av.

On Mondoweiss, “progressive” Jewish enemies of Israel, and use of the Israel-Nazi analogy

This is a revised version of an essay which I had published by Elder of Ziyon.  The post was specifically about the anti-Zionist Jewish blog, Mondoweiss – and anti-Semitic tropes the site often engages in, such as the Israel = Nazi Germany narrative.  But as such accusations are leveled by Jewish writers and bloggers other than Phillip Weiss’s site, I wanted to expand on my original discourse.  I’m speaking of CiF contributors Tony Greenstein and Slavoj Zizek, as well as Richard Silverstein (of the Orwellian named blog, Tikkun Olam), Norman Finkelstein, UK Jewish MK Gerald Kaufman, and others.  It is worth noting that such grotesque analogies – between the Jewish state (the only free and democratic state in the Middle East), and the fascist Nazi regime which murdered one out of every three Jews in the Holocaust – are leveled by non-Jewish writers at the Guardian, and expressed in CiF’s reader comment section.

Nazi anti-Semitic caricatures during and preceding the Holocaust often portrayed Jews as an octopus-like creature, or some other beast – a category of anti-Semitism known as Zoomorphism. Such depictions would appear in official Nazi publications such as Der Sturmer. These cartoons would sometimes include images of a Jewish beast wrapping its tentacles around the world, representing the malicious control they were purported to exert on international affairs – consistent with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories codified in, among other sources, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Here is one such Nazi cartoon, circa 1938–An octopus with a Star of David over its head has its tentacles encompass the world.

Nazi, Soviet, and, more recently, Arab anti-Semitic caricatures often portray Jews as spiders, cockroaches, and Octopuses – dehumanizing Jews by turning them into animals that are destructive, inhuman and evil. The cartoon below, by the notorious anti-Zionist cartoonist, Carlos Latuff, was posted on the “progressive” Jewish anti-Zionist blog, Mondoweiss recently – by a frequent Mondoweiss blogger named Seham – in reference to the Gaza flotilla incident. (Here’s the link. Scroll to bottom to see cartoon link)

This ugly caricature of the Jewish state manages to both employ Nazi-like anti-Semitic imagery of a beastly and monstrous Jewish collective while simultaneously asserting that the Jewish state has become the new Nazi Germany. (Note the Jewish Magen David on the Israeli flag is morphed into a swastika) Such insidious depictions of Israel and Israelis are mostly seen on extremist websites, and is a phenomenon known as Holocaust inversion, or Abuse of Holocaust Memory.

On Facebook, Jewish Social Activism, and Israel Advocacy

Facebook is an interesting window into what people in your extended community think about – what occupies their time – what moves them culturally socially and politically. A few status updates, or the posting of a link or video, can tell you who’s a Yankees fan and who roots for the Red Sox; who grooves to Madonna and who prefers Brahms; who likes hanging out at the trendy downtown club and who feels more at ease at the neighborhood dive bar; whose sister just had a baby, and who recently returned from vacation.

Someone as political as me, however, is constantly looking for signs of friends’ political leanings. Do they identify with a political party/ideology/movement on their Info page? Do they subscribe to fan pages for politicians of certain political persuasions? Did their posts reflect support for Obama or McCain during the recent election? Do they show their support or disapproval Obama’s healthcare reform proposals? Do they post patriotic messages on July Fourth? Are reproductive rights important to them, or environmentalism? And, who inspires them to anger – evangelical conservatives or secular liberals?

While I post many non-political updates, am fond of commenting on pop cultural or sports, sometimes post the latest pic of my little nephew, and will post the simply humorous, the pithy one-liners, and the ”just because” updates like most people, my greatest political passion involves Israel and, as such, Facebook for me is an incredible opportunity to use the new social networking media as an extension of my Zionist activism. From linking to my latest blog posts, to posting links to polemics I find persuasive, or more creative/personal essays I find moving or evocative, Facebook is a great way to spread the ”word” about Israel and to rebut the dangerous rhetoric of Israel’s critics.

Recently, I posted a link to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s latest speech in which he once again called for the elimination of Israel and denied the Holocaust. I later posted a link to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at the UN, where he eloquently criticized those in attendance at Ahmadinejad’s speech who actually applauded at its conclusion. I also, posted a link to a translation of a Hamas children’s show in which the main character, a bear named Nassur, informs the children that it is their duty to slaughter all of the Jews.

Among many of my progressive Jewish friends on Facebook, however, religious and non-religious, even those whose support for Israel has been demonstrated by frequent visits to the Jewish state, there is (with some notable exceptions) not much political content about Israel on their updates, nor are there comments (or the Facebook ”thumbs-up) to Israel-related posts by Zionist activists within their network. And, to the degree that these at least marginally socially aware friends do post political content, the issues which they seem most comfortable highlighting their support for tends to be healthcare, environmentalism, poverty, homelessness – lending their support for ”social justice” related concerns, consistent with how they view a commitment to ”Tikkun Olam” (repairing the world).

While many of these causes are indeed admirable, there is a ferocity in their support for these causes which seems, anyway, strangely absent in their support for Israel. For instance, the anger among my progressivefriends with Republican opposition to President Obama’s healthcare proposals was palpable in a supportive post which people were being asked to use as their status update, which read:

”No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick.”

If you agree, please post this as your status update for the rest of your day’

While I’m not certain if this status update exactly went viral, many of my friends responded in kind to this request, and posted this sentiment, which was then seen by their network of friends, etc. While my thoughts on Obamas’s health care plan are a bit complicated, I do admire the passion many have for this topic, and – while I wish there was a bit more tolerance for those of us who had at least some reservations about increased government involvement in the health care sector of the U.S. – I am, more broadly, heartened whenever I see people engaged in a cause greater than their own self-interest. However, it seems that the only ones who ever post on Israel are (again, with a couple notable exceptions) those on the political right – broadly defined. While using my admittedly limited social network on Facebook (500 friends) to assess a community’s passion for a given cause is, I readily acknowledge, not the most rigorous method for determining such a complex phenomena, there are polls and more empirically driven data which seem to indicate at least prima facie evidence in favor of my conclusions.

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