Tuesday, January 03, 2012

What did Hillary Clinton say, and when did she say it?

Recently, the enemies of Obama, for their own reasons, have reacted with horror to something that Hillary Clinton said. Oh, dear! What could it have been?

Some say that she compared Israel to Iran. Of course, people who say this can’t possibly believe it, since Mrs. Clinton has re-affirmed the deep and abiding alliance between the United States and Israel, and at this very moment, the Department of Defense is drawing up war plans against Iran.

Perhaps we will never know what she said, since whatever it was it was allegedly said at the Saban Center  for Mid-East Policy of the Brookings Institute. The comments were off the record. Israeli media reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton derided “anti-Democratic” measures in Israel that target liberal non-governmental organizations and women.

Let’s take a look at the accusation that the treatment of women in Israel is, lehavdil, to be compared to Iran.

The gist of this complaint revolves around treatment of women by certain Jews who consider themselves to be extremely religious. They’re not, of course. What they are is extremely crazy. Thus, for example, they thought it was okay to spit on a young girl because she was dressed immodestly according to their standards. It should be noted that she wore the prim and proper attire of an 8 year old Orthodox Jewish girl, which is what she was, but this did not stop the despicable conduct that included calling her a prostitute. You can find the reaction of a mainstream Orthodox organization here.  Money quote: “Your actions are diametrically opposed to Judaism.” Chabad was unstinting in its denunciation: “Violent behaviors of individuals or groups who abuse, intimidate and insult others are a flagrant offense to Torah, and deserve to be unequivocally condemned.” Read the entire statement here.

The story first gained attention when it made the evening news in Israel. The story, which can be seen here, shows an Orthodox woman comparing the zealous lunatics to Iran. Indeed, the backlash which was both welcome and inevitable, has adopted as a slogan, “Don’t turn Israel into Iran.” Is Hillary Clinton to be criticized for saying essentially the same thing?

By the way, the growing influence of the lunatic fringe has manifested in other unfortunate incidents. In one incident, a meshugana physically prevented a public bus from moving because a female passenger refused to move to the back of the bus. Anybody who knows anything about America’s shameful history of segregation and the bravery of Rosa Parks can’t help but have a visceral reaction to this event. That would include Mrs. Clinton. Many lovers of Zion hear of this and feel that the image of Israel as an egalitarian democracy that is a homeland to all Jews, including secular Jews, is being tarnished. That, too, would include Mrs. Clinton. All honor to those who think that it is disrespectful of women to sit behind them, but I can not support their right to set the standards for public transportation for all of Israel. 

In another incident, a few soldiers, drafted from the ranks of the Haredi (religious), walked out of a military event because a female soldier sang, and listening to a female voice is against their view of proper conduct. It would not have been a big deal because the IDF rebuked the company commanders and instructed them to show sensitivity to the religious choices of their troops. Again, I respect the religious choices of the troops, though they are certainly not the ones I would make. And more power to these troops for defying the norms of their community to serve their country. If the matter had ended there we would not be talking about it here. However, in what is was surely an attempt to be provocative, one of the rabbis said that his followers should “face a firing squad” rather than obey an order which required them to hear a woman sing. This rabbi surely would not approve of his followers being in the army of a Zionist state. It is reasonable to think that this religious leader is trying to undermine the secular nature of Israel, and I can understand why any American Secretary of State would find it a matter of concern.

So, enough said about Hillary Clinton’s criticism of the religious extremists who are gaining influence in Israel. I join in those criticisms, and echo the sentiment of many Orthodox Jews, that these zealots are threatening to turn Israel from a democracy into a theocracy. We have enough theocracies, of which Iran is a despicable example.

The tougher issue concerns some anti-Democratic measures that are being legislated in Israel, most notorious of which is the so-called NGO bill. The Forward wrote about it in the December 23, 2011 issue under the headline Orwell Would Love Israel's Anti-NGO Bill with the sub-head “Move to Limit Funding Runs Counter to Global U.S. Policy”

The bill has three parts: First, it outlaws all foreign government funding of certain types of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are deemed threatening to the state. It also taxes their domestic Israeli donations at 45%. Second, it slaps a 45% tax on foreign donations to “political” NGOs such as Peace Now and B’Tselem (which monitors human rights violations of Israeli law in the territories) and the Israeli equivalent of the ACLU. Third, it creates a Knesset (not judicial or administrative) panel to hear appeals by organizations seeking exemption. The Forward’s article concludes, “The more you look at it, the more it becomes clear that the effect of the bill — its main intent, in fact — is to restrict or outlaw the advocacy of observing the laws of the state. Orwell would have loved it.”

You can read the Forward article to see why many Americans of good will believe this bill is bad news, even, anti-Democratic. Does Hillary Clinton have the right to such an opinion? Of course! But should she publicly criticize America’s closest ally? You be the judge, but remember, please, that Secretary Clinton’s comments were behind closed doors at the Saban Center.

A word or two about the kind of NGOs that Mrs. Clinton may or may not have criticized Israel for attacking. NGOs were in the news when another mid-Eastern country cracked down on them. You can read about it on the Huffington Post: Egypt Pro-Democracy, Human Rights Offices Stormed By Soldiers.

The Obama administration demanded Egyptian authorities immediately halt the raids on NGOs, saying they are “inconsistent” with long-standing U.S-Egypt cooperation.

The U.S. State Department called on the Egyptian government “to immediately end the harassment of NGO staff, return all property and resolve this issue.” Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. ambassador to Egypt and the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East have spoken to Egyptian officials about the situation and “made very clear that this issue needs immediate attention.”  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) threatened to cut off the $1.5 billion aid to the Egyptian Supreme Counsel of the Armed Forces (SCAF). As a result, Egyptian ministers are scurrying around to announce that they were shocked, shocked, to learn of the raids.

Contrast this to the mild rebuke of Israel, offered privately as one friend to another.

You don’t have to be a high level CIA analyst to figure out that these NGOs do more than just offer civics lessons to community organizers. Let’s take a look at the ones that were targeted by SCAF.

One of the pro-democracy/human rights offices was the International Republican Institute (IRI) an organizati­on funded by the United States government that conducts international political programs, sometimes labeled “democrati­zation programs.” Sen. John McCain is the chairman. 

Another was the National Democratic Institute for Internatio­nal Affairs (NDIIA or NDI), an organizati­on created by the United States government by way of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to channel grants for furthering democracy in developing nations. Taxpayer funding is provided by the Federal Government­, both directly from the United States Agency for Internatio­nal Developmen­t and the Department of State and indirectly through the National Endowment for Democracy. Additional funds are raised through voluntary donations from foreign governments. It is headquarte­red in Washington­ D.C. 

Freedom House was another group targeted by the Egyptian military. Freedom House’s website states “American leadership in internatio­nal affairs is essential to the cause of human rights and freedom” and that this can primarily be achieved through the group's “analysis, advocacy, and action” 

I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that maybe having these types of NGOs operating next door to Egypt might help that country transition to a real democracy rather than one which comes to power through elections but then imposes an Islamist, Muslim Brotherhood agenda.

If so, I can understand why our Secretary of State might reprove the Israeli government for actions that seem to target these NGOs. As supporters of Israel, we can only hope that she does it privately and quietly. You know, like at the Saban Center

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”