The INS Rehav, Israel’s fifth Dolphin class submarine, arrived home to its Haifa port yesterday with a crew of 50, to much official fanfare.
Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO
Built in Germany, at a cost of over $400 million (one third of which was picked up by the German government), it is the “the most advanced, complex and most expensive item in the Israeli military’s arsenal.” according to President Ruby Rivlin.
Over 220 feet (67 meters) long and weighing more than 2,000 tons, this diesel-fueled sub has an air-independent propulsion system, which operates through a fuel cell instead of oxygen-dependent sources, allowing it to remain underwater without surfacing for weeks at a time.
“In the decades to come, the INS Rahav will take an active part in defending the country and its maritime territory, by acting deeper, further and longer underwater. Seeing without being seen, keeping a watchful eye, and projecting our operational abilities on the naval front.”
Although there has been no official comment on this, the sub is said to be able to deliver a nuclear payload. This is what Prime Minister Netanyahu did say:
“Above all else, our submarine fleet acts as a deterrent to our enemies who want to destroy us. They won’t achieve their aims. They need to know that Israel can attack, with great might, anyone who tries to harm her.”
A sixth submarine was purchased from Germany in 2013, and will be complete in a few years.
This, my friends, is good news. As is the following:
“Israel’s first-ever stealth fighter jet took a significant step towards completion at the end of last week, when the new “Adir” F-35 entered the advanced production stages at Lockheed Martin’s plant in Forth Worth, Texas. A ceremony was held on-site to mark the milestone.
“…The Defense Ministry has ordered 33 of the fighter jets from (example pictured) the US at a total cost of $4.75 billion, which includes the building of infrastructure from which the aircraft can operate as well as making changes specified by the IAF.”
Credit: Lockheed Martin
In 2013, Lockheed Martin Aircraft Industries announced that Israel would be the first nation outside of the US to receive its F-35 stealth fighter jets – capable of evading radar and integrated air defense systems. It is the most expensive weapon in U.S. history.
Also good news is the consistent shift we are seeing in Israeli policy with Tzipi Hotovely serving as Deputy Foreign Minister:
“Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) on Wednesday led a tour of Samaria of the foreign service school cadets, accompanied by local council head Yossi Dagan, as part of the effort to familiarize Israel’s future emissaries abroad with the realities on the ground back home. ‘Today you will learn about the great settlement endeavor that has risen here, you’ll see the topographic importance of the area, the coexistence in the industrial parks — in short, you can’t really represent Israel without having been here physically.’
“Traditionally, Israel’s foreign service has been staffed with old guard, pro-left personnel, who on occasion sided with Israel’s opponents over issues like the value of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. Hotovely, who is identified with the right-wing, pro-settlement segment of her party, has set out to change that through educating the next generation of Israeli diplomats.
“Hotovely reiterated the Israeli government’s position that ‘the settlements are legal, and the foreign ministry has issued a legal paper on this matter. The State of Israel engages in legal construction, and all the homes are sitting either on state owned land or on legally purchased land….’” (Emphasis added)
Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/JPost
Now about that “intrusion”:
To “intrude” – says Merriam-Webster – is “to thrust or force in or upon someone or something especially without permission, welcome, or fitness.”
Unfortunately, what I have observed is that foreign officials/governments seem to think they have the right to intrude in Israeli affairs, making comments that are inappropriate (because, who asked them?) and, far worse, trying to manipulate matters to their liking.
Here I want to focus on one particular issue (with other related issues to follow):
Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) has sponsored a bill regarding NGO funding transparency. A draft has already passed through the Ministerial Committee on Legislation – with a nod from the prime minister – and is on its way to the Knesset, where there is a good likelihood it will pass.
Credit: Flash 90
The bill would require all NGOs that receive more than 50% of their funding from foreign governments to declare the precise sources of their funding and to make the fact of that funding known when they enter the Knesset (via wearing a badge).
It does not penalize them for receiving that funding, nor does it prohibit them from continuing to receive those funds.
The purpose of this (long over-due) bill is not difficult to comprehend. Foreign governments invest money in specific Israeli NGOs, with compatible positions, in order to advance their own agendas. As a result of this foreign funding – which is often considerable – the selected NGOs are better able to promote particular positions inside of Israel. This may include the lobbying of members of Knesset and bringing petitions to the Court, all done in the name of Israeli organizations, not foreign governments.
What is more, it would be naïve in the extreme to imagine that the NGOs receiving large sums from specific governments are anything but devotedly attentive to their agendas and concerns. At the most basic level, this is simply the way it works. If they wish to sustain those major donations, the NGOs know they have to produce results that will keep the foreign governments happy. (I will not address here the possibility that certain NGOs ultimately perceive themselves as partners with foreign governments in doing their work.)
The foreign governments are thus able to have an effect on the policies and practices of NGOs that are registered as Israeli organizations.
The result is an intrusion into the workings of the Israeli government by foreign governments. Minister Shaked makes the point, with great validity, that if foreign governments wish to influence Israel’s government there are proper diplomatic channels for doing so.
There has been a considerable outcry from certain quarters about this pending legislation. This rush to protest, in and of itself, I would suggest, indicates how badly the legislation is required.
Perhaps most telling is the fact that an EU-associated group on December 15th gave a 30,000 euro grant to B’Tselem to fight the legislation. This was reported by NGO-Monitor, whose spokesman, Aaron Kalman, observed:
“The nature of the grant, openly aiming at influencing Israeli legislation, again highlights the infringement on sovereignty and the manipulative intent of European government funding in the context of Israeli democracy.”
As protests against the legislation have been advanced, there have been more than a few misrepresentations of fact.
It has been said that this bill is directed selectively at left wing organizations. Not so. It applies across the political spectrum without distinction. However (surprise!), it happens that international governments (primarily the EU or EU nations) are only interested in left wing NGOs.
Left wing organizations such as Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) and B’Tselem, which work mightily to remove Jews from Judea and Samaria, are major recipients directly, or indirectly via NIF, of European funds. The Legal Grounds Campaign, which I co-chair, works just as mightily to demonstrate the legal basis for Israel’s rights in Judea and Samaria. And yet, not even one European nation has ever offered to provide funds for us. I say this tongue in cheek. Of course, we have never expected European funds, for the Europeans promote Palestinian Arab rights to a state.
What we see then is an inequity. Left-wing, pro-Palestinian Arab organizations and Jewish nationalist organizations do not operate on a level field, in terms of making their respective cases to the public and the Knesset. For, as a result of foreign funding, the left wing operates with far greater fiscal ability to do PR, run tours, hire lawyers to bring court cases, produce expensive videos, etc.
And that leads to the next point of criticism: that the legislation works against the democratic process. That is unmitigated nonsense. For quite the contrary is true. As Gerald Steingberg, head of NGO-Monitor, put it (emphasis added):
“In democracies, civil society organizations are supposed to arise indigenously and not as tools of external actors promoting their own interests and political manipulations.”
There have also been claims that this legislation will interfere with free speech, and I have no clue, frankly, as to how they think they can make this case. The representatives of NGOs supported by foreign governments will be as free to speak out and make their case as they ever were.
What may happen, of course, is that their words will be less heeded when it is understood that foreign interests may be promoting them. And that, quite frankly, is precisely as it should be. Or, to put it in the vernacular: Tough.
Again from Gerald Steinberg: “…in Israel, this is not a free speech issue; rather, the NGO legislation seeks to counter what is seen by many as costly and unjust demonization and warfare enabled by European governments.”
Aaron Kalman, cited above, refers to “infringement of sovereignty,” I would like to return to this briefly. A sovereign state is autonomous, operating independently without outside control or infringement. When I wrote about foreign governments thinking they have the right to intrude in Israeli affairs, this is what I was talking about. There is a pattern we can discern – we see foreign governments (Western governments) that fail to respect Israel’s sovereignty. This problem transcends the issue of funding for NGOs.
One of the nations that has registered “concern” about the pending legislation is the US. US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro spoke out on this and held a meeting with Minister Shaked to explore the issues.
Credit: Flash 90
Here you can see all of those “concerns” spelled out:
Said he: In a healthy democracy, “governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.”
Sigh. Diplomatic doubletalk. I would like him to explain how the law would prevent “free expression and peaceful dissent.”
But there is one issue he raised that I do wish to explore. Comparisons have been made between the current Israeli draft legislation on NGO transparency and FARA in the US – the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Shapiro insisted that there is no comparison, for “FARA requires individuals or organizations to register as foreign agents only if they engage in certain specified activities at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal – not simply by receiving contributions from such an entity.”
After he made this statement, I contacted an American-Israeli lawyer who has helped with the drafting of the proposed Israeli legislation and has familiarity with FARA, as well What I learned is that it is not as simple as Shapiro would have it. He makes it seem as if there must be a contract between a foreign government and a US individual or organization before foreign agent registration is required. However, my legal advisor said, actually FARA allows for determination that someone is a foreign agent to be made via oral agreements as well. It is a question of “circumstances,” which can be proven by “context,” and not just by documentation. This resembles what I discussed above.
A statement released by the US Embassy indicated that “Ambassador Shapiro sought more information about the draft legislation from the Minister.”
It’s his business?
Shaked’s response, released shortly after, was appropriate:
“I met the American ambassador and was under the impression that the American administration’s interest and concern is sincere. But there is no cause for concern. Israel is a strong democracy and as such there is no need for other nations to intervene in internal legislation.” (Emphasis added)
We might ask why the US is suddenly so concerned about Israeli democracy. This issue did not worry Obama when he sent political advisors to Israel during an election campaign, in an attempt to influence the election. One is hard put not to come to the conclusion that the true American concern here is blocking the transparency bill.
Shaked, as a representative of the Israeli government, has gracefully acknowledged the American concern for Israeli democracy as “sincere.” I would like to share one incident that casts a very different light on the matter (with emphasis added):
“Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton considered a secret plan created by her then-advisers to foment unrest among Palestinian citizens and spark protests in order to push the Israeli government back to the negotiating table, according to emails released as part of the investigation into the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s private email server.
“In a Dec, 18, 2011, email, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Thomas Pickering suggested that Clinton consider a plan to restart then-stalled peace negotiations by kick starting Palestinian demonstrations against Israel.
“Pickering described the effort as a potential ‘game changer in the region,’ recommending that the United States undertake a clandestine campaign to generate unrest. Clinton requested that his email be printed…
“’Most of all the United States, in my view, cannot be seen to have stimulated, encouraged or be the power behind it for reasons you will understand better than anyone,’ he wrote, suggesting that the government enlist liberal non-profit groups in Israel. ‘I believe third parties and a number NGOs [non-government organizations] on both sides would help.’”
I close with a fascinating video of starlings doing a “dancing cloud” over Israel.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.