In private conversations over the past week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has complained bitterly about American Jewish billionaire Ronald Lauder. According to media reports, Lauder played a key role in convincing US President Donald Trump that he can reach “the ultimate deal” with the PLO and Israel.
Netanyahu is surely right that Lauder shouldn’t be acting like he knows what’s good for Israel better than the Israeli government does. He doesn’t know better than Israel’s leaders. And no one elected him.
But Netanyahu is wrong about Lauder’s responsibility for the president’s sudden decision to start singing from Barack Obama’s hymnal on everything related to Israel and the PLO .
Lauder is far from the only member of the PLO ’s booster club.
First of all, there is the American foreign policy establishment.
After 23 years of successive administrations upholding the fantasy that all the Middle East’s problems will be resolved the minute Israel hands over Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to the PLO, it’s hard to find any establishment types who aren’t completely committed to the delusion that the PLO is the answer to America’s prayers.
Then there is the Israeli establishment. To understand its power, we need to consider the status of the Taylor Force Act.
The Taylor Force Act is a popular pro-Israel bill now being deliberated in Congress. If it passes, the US will be barred from transferring funds to the PLO-controlled Palestinian Authority so long as the PA pays salaries to convicted terrorists sitting in Israeli prisons and pays pensions to the families of terrorists killed while committing terrorist acts.
The bill, named for Taylor Force, a former US military officer murdered by a Palestinian terrorists in Tel Aviv in 2015, enjoys majority support in both houses. Nonetheless, it has hit an iceberg.
On Wednesday The Jerusalem Post reported that neither AIPAC nor the Israeli government support it.
AIPAC reportedly won’t lobby for the bill because it lacks support from Democratic lawmakers. This claim is ridiculous on its face.
If AIPAC can’t get Democrats to support a bill ending US funding of terrorism, then AIPAC might as well close its doors right now.
As for the government, it is far from clear how the government could be more supportive. Netanyahu has spoken publicly in favor of the bill.
So if Netanyahu supports it, which Israeli government opposes it?
The report didn’t say. But the answer is obvious to anyone who has spent time on Capitol Hill over the past 17 years.
Since the PLO initiated its terrorist war against Israel in 2000, US lawmakers have made repeated attempts to end US financial support for the PA. But every time they came close to defunding it, some member of the IDF General Staff appeared in their chambers and asked them to keep the dollars flowing.
The claim is always the same. If Congress cuts off the funds to the PA, the PA security services will stop cooperating with the IDF. That cooperation, the generals tell them, is critical to Israel’s counterterrorism efforts. So cutting off US funds to the terrorism-supporting PA is tantamount to supporting terrorism.
This claim has become so routine that no one ever bothers to think it through. But it needs to be scrutinized.
Let’s begin with the following question: If the PA weren’t funding terrorism, (to say nothing of inciting terrorism and glorifying terrorists), would the level of Palestinian terrorism rise or fall?
The answer, of course, is obvious. The level of terrorism would fall if the PA weren’t funding, glorifying and inciting terrorism.
And if the levels of Palestinian terrorism drop then IDF’s need for security cooperation with the PA’s security services would also diminish.
The fact that the IDF’s General Staff has failed to draw the obvious conclusion that less money for terrorism means less terrorism indicates that something is preventing our generals from drawing rational conclusions from their institutional experience.
Two recent stories explain the source of this cognitive blockage.
The first story involves Lt. (res.) Dean Issacharoff.
Issacharoff completed his IDF service in 2015 and went to work for Breaking the Silence where he serves as the anti-IDF group’s spokesman.
Breaking the Silence is a foreign government-funded organization that works to blacken the IDF’s reputation by publishing generally anonymous war crimes allegations against Israeli soldiers.
At a Breaking the Silence conference in Kiryat Ono on April 4, Issacharoff was filmed telling his audience that he himself is a war criminal.
Issacharoff said that during his military service as a combat officer in Hebron, he violently assaulted a Palestinian who posed no threat to himself or his soldiers.
Issacharoff said that he committed this crime in front of his soldiers and his company commander.
On April 25, Ad Kan, a volunteer organization that counters radical political NGOs, sent a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit asking him to open a criminal probe against Issacharoff. Ad Kan attached a video of Issacharoff’s remarks to its letter.
Given the severity of the crimes Issacharoff claims to have committed, Mandelblit could have been expected to immediately order the State Prosecution’s Criminal Division to launch a probe. But as it happened, for two weeks, Mandelblit sat on his hands.
Then, on May 7, Issacharoff’s claims came to the public’s attention when another volunteer organization, Reservists on Duty, which defends IDF soldiers from slander, exposed it in an online film. Issacharoff’s company commander and his soldiers stood before the camera and one after another they rejected his claims saying, “Dean Issacharoff, you’re a liar.”
Two days later Mandelblit forwarded Ad Kan’s letter to his criminal division.
The reason that Ad Kan and Reservists on Duty were compelled to act is that the IDF’s legal authorities have been amazingly passive about Issacharoff’s claims. The Military Advocate-General’s Office rejected Reservists on Duty’s request to open a criminal probe into Issacharoff’s claims.
The MAG claimed that since Issacharoff’s alleged crimes were committed more than a year ago, the State Prosecution rather than the IDF is responsible for investigating and prosecuting him.
But in truth, if the IDF wanted jurisdiction over its reserve officer who is publicly slandering its soldiers and officers, all it needed to do was call him to duty and send him to the Military Police for investigation.
The fact that the IDF has refused to take action, and that Mandelblit only transferred Ad Kan’s letter to his criminal division after the story hit the news, indicates that Israel’s military and legal establishment would have let Issacharoff get away with either committing a war crime or slandering his fellow soldiers and officers if Ad Kan and Reservists on Duty hadn’t alerted the public.
This then brings us to the second story. It revolves around Breaking the Silence’s comrades in B’Tselem.
Over the past decade, B’Tselem has spent millions of shekels on a campaign to slander the IDF and its soldiers.
The foreign-government financed group’s Camera Project uses video production to blacken the IDF’s good name and impede its operations. Participants in B’Tselem’s Camera Project enter closed military zones in Judea and Samaria with video cameras. The selectively edited videos they produce uniformly portray IDF soldiers and officers as cruel and callous.
Over the years, B’Tselem’s snuff film project has damaged the IDF’s international reputation, its operational capacity and the morale of its soldiers. But despite the fact that it has numerous legal means to fight B’Tselem, the General Staff has taken no action against the group.
This week, emboldened by the IDF’s passivity, B’Tselem escalated its campaign against the IDF.
On Sunday B’Tselem posted a menacing message on its Facebook page addressed to the parents of a young active duty IDF officer.
It read, “To the parents of the officer with a beauty mark over his upper lip, that in February of this year served by the Yitzhar settlement: If you want to bask in the glory of your son the hero in the course of his operational activities, go to the Cinematheque in Tel Aviv. Your son will be starring in a film there – cocking his weapon against civilians… barking orders in broken Arabic…”
A photo of the officer and two of his soldiers was posted below the message.
B’Tselem’s action was prominently covered in the media. Its video of the officer and his soldiers was played and replayed.
This was no mere snuff film.
B’Tselem’s post, publicly shaming a serving officer, was a steep escalation of its political war against the IDF and its soldiers and officers. Now all IDF soldiers and officers are on notice. The next B’Tselem post may be a defamatory post against them addressed to their parents.
Given the demoralizing effect B’Tselem’s assault on the officer and his family had on their soldiers, the generals might have been expected to open criminal proceedings against B’Tselem.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, the IDF Spokesman, Maj.-Gen. Moti Almoz, wrote a post on his Facebook page.
“Greetings to all of our slanderers,” he began.
Rather than pledge to take necessary legal action to defend IDF soldiers and officers from abuse and harassment at the hands of B’Tselem, Almoz treated B’Tselem’s hostile act as an adolescent prank.
Almoz concluded his post, which never even mentioned B’Tselem by name, “You will continue to make movies as if in the name of freedom of expression, despite the fact that your expression is unconnected to reality. And we will continue to protect the people of the State of Israel and ensure the security of its citizens, without inserting the IDF into political disputes.”
Almoz’s conclusion is particularly problematic because the fact is that his statement that the IDF’s position is apolitical is misleading.
It is true that there is nothing political about soldiers lawfully carrying out their missions. But, the General Staff’s decision not to defend its soldiers and officers from the likes of B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence is a political decision.
In choosing to treat anti-Israel groups like Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem with kid gloves, the General Staff is inserting itself directly into Israeli politics.
Likewise, when IDF generals lobby Congress to maintain US funding of the PA, and when “military sources” express their opposition to Trump’s plan to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, they are behaving as political activists.
This returns us to Netanyahu and his frustration at Trump’s sudden embrace of the PLO, which places the most pro-Israel president in history on a collision course with Israel.
Netanyahu is right to be angry. But his rage at Lauder is misdirected. The real culprit is the General Staff.
Since no prime minister can dispute the holy grail of “security concerns,” Lauder, the vain billionaire got blamed.
This situation is insufferable. Our generals cannot continue to receive a pass for their political activism.
When they lobby for the PLO and against moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem they cross the line into gross insubordination. When they protect Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem rather than their soldiers, they commit a grave dereliction of duty.