Boycott Backers Busted
Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, was arrested by Israeli authorities on Monday and charged with tax evasion. Barghouti allegedly hid $700,000 in income from tax authorities over a ten-year period, including unreported income from book royalties and global speaking tours placed in in an American bank account. While BDS was apparently lucrative for Barghouti, his campaign has had few tangible successes to its credit, despite claims to the contrary.
Another anti-Israel activist suffered a setback on Thursday when Rasmeah Odeh pled guilty on charges of immigration fraud, a plea deal that will lead to her being deported to Jordan. Odeh, who was convicted of a 1969 Jerusalem bombing that killed two Israeli university students before being freed in a prisoner swap and moving to America, accepted the deal rather than face a retrial on charges that she lied on her immigration application by omitting information about her prior imprisonment. She was originally convicted of immigration fraud in 2014, but a judge threw out that conviction last December and ordered a new trial. Odeh claimed that her conviction in Israel was based on false testimony obtained through torture, but Prof. William Jacobson of Cornell University Law School demonstrated that there were many inconsistencies in Odeh’s story.
One person who has escaped legal consequences, at least for now, is Ahlem Tamimi, who helped plan the 2001 Sbarro suicide bombing in Jerusalem and transported the bomber to the restaurant. The United States publicly gave Jordan an extradition request last week for Tamimi, who was one of the more than 1,000 terrorists freed in exchange for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Jordan’s high court ruled on Thursday that the request was invalid and refused to extradite her. Tamimi has expressed that her only regret was that the she didn’t kill more Israelis.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a message last week that the United States would leave the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and stop giving it funds unless the controversial organization underwent significant reforms. Undaunted, the UNHRC had its regular Israel-bashing session on Monday, focusing on its Agenda Item 7, the only item focused on a single country. The United States boycotted the meeting.
Among those addressing the hearing was Muhammad Aliyan, whose son Baha Aliyan killed three Israelis, including American-Israeli Richard Lakin, on a bus in October 2015. Since then, the elder Aliyan has campaigned for Palestinian schools to be named after his son, and has “established cub scouts, reading programs, met with just about everyone on the planet, and has been consistently inciting to violence,” Lakin’s son, Micah Avni, said in a taped message to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. Avni asked Haley to introduce a motion to dissolve the council, saying that the UNHRC “reached a new low” by inviting an unapologetic terror supporter to address it.
Congress has been following the issue closely. A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on Thursday aimed at fighting international attempts to economically isolate Israel. Rep. Juan Vargas (D – Calif.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, stated that the legislation shows that the United States “will not tolerate international efforts” to boycott Israel, and that “opponents of Israel cannot continue to threaten its security or force a solution between Israelis and the Palestinians. We must continue to support Israel and reaffirm our long-standing commitment to strongly oppose any efforts that delegitimize and undermine our ally.”
Building the Car of the Future
Israeli automotive technology has continued to make waves after Intel’s acquisition of the Israeli company Mobileye last week for a record $15 billion. The Israeli startup Autotalks announced on Wednesday that it completed a $30 million fundraising round. Its technology, which helps cars community with each other, will be increasingly important in the future due to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s mandate that such technology be included in all new light vehicles by 2023. Autotalks has concluded deals with a number of car manufacturers to include its technology in their lines.
As technology becomes a more important component of cars, Israel’s value as a center of research and development for car makers has increased too. Avi Jorisch, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, observed earlier this month that Israel was becoming a global center for automotive technology. Central to this development is a push by auto manufacturers to develop autonomous vehicles. Jorisch explained:
Future cars will use less sheet metal and iron and rely more on software. Engineers must overcome huge challenges to seamlessly integrate cutting-edge computer chips, communication devices, and data analytics, all while protecting vehicles and drivers from potential cyberattacks. Israel’s strong military and academic culture, along with its edge in information technology and cybersecurity, gives it a competitive advantage.
Israel has more than 5,000 startups and 750 venture-capital-backed companies, and the country attracts more venture money than any other country in the world relative to the size of its economy. In addition, Israel’s so-called Silicon Wadi, or valley, has the second largest number of technology startups per capita, right behind California. Even though Israel lacks a native automobile production industry, companies focusing on this global sector comprise about 15 percent of Israel’s industry sector businesses, and their numbers are growing steadily. In the last two years, Israeli automotive startups have raised $820 million, according to Yoram Oron, founder of Vertex Ventures and a member of the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings. In addition, over 500 Israeli companies are currently focused on creating the infrastructure for driverless vehicles.
Some of the world’s top car makers have set up research and development centers in Israel, including General Motors, Honda, Volvo, and Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz. Last year, Ford bought an Israeli startup that specializes in machine learning. Globes also reported this week that BMW (which was already working on driverless cars with Intel and Mobileye) is considering opening a “smart car” development center in Israel.
In a tweet earlier this month, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei boasted of his nation’s “respect for green nature.” But in reality, the Iranian regime has devastated the country’s environment, as Iranian-Canadian geologist and journalist Nik Kowsar documented.
Iran’s leadership has “caused the unhealthiest water conditions in the country’s long history,” Kowsar wrote, arguing that the situation “threatens the very foundations of Iran itself.”
He explained that revolutionary Iran’s second president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (who died in January), “would prove to be one of the most important figures in the new, reckless water policies.” Rafsanjani, along with his advisor Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, encouraged the creation of dozens of dams, often built by the construction arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
This construction boom was spurred by consulting firms, politicians, and parliamentary candidates who saw large infrastructure projects as a way to consolidate their political support. The bigger the dam, the longer they would hold office. Often, their proposals verged on madness. This became a vicious cycle: Rafsanjani loved to have his picture taken at the site of major construction products, and Zanganeh was well aware of this fetish. He also had to feed the IRGC, while consulting firms had to keep proposing new dams to stay in business and politicians needed them to advance their careers.
This cycle of corruption had predictable results: project managers rarely had the dams built on time, since the longer construction took, the more money the firms received. This also drove up costs, which filled the coffers of the IRGC and kept politicians in power, but resulted in ruinously expensive projects that produced few results.
Through these actions, Kowsar wrote, “The Islamic Republic has literally killed a large number of aquifers and alluvial plains, and blocked the rivers that fed these aquifers through its compulsive dam-building.”
Kowsar’s writing on the problems of Iran’s water management during the 1990s received the attention of new president Mohammad Khatami, who encouraged Kowsar to share his opinions. But Kowsar soon found that his views were being blocked from being published, and eventually received threats. Kowsar was eventually summoned to a revolutionary court, forcing him to flee the country.
Toward the end of his essay, Kowsar described Lake Urmia, which was once the world’s second-largest saltwater lake, but is now one-ninth of its original size due to over-pumping in the lake’s vicinity. The result is “a mere ghost of the original lake remains, and toxic dust storms are a fact of life.”
“Lake Urmia’s fate is being shared by much of Iran,” Kowsar wrote. “The country’s main wetlands and lakes are swiftly drying up, and the regime has no one to blame but itself.”
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Three Big Questions
Former Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor praised Haley and UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a Newsweek column on Wednesday for taking a stand against an anti-Israel report issued last week by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. By condemning the report and ordering that it be removed from the agency’s website, Guterres precipitated the resignation of the agency’s head. Prosor argued that following this initial success, there is a need for Western democracies to support the American campaign to fight anti-Israel bias and bring about much-needed reforms in the UN. European Union representatives stopped attending the UNHRC’s Agenda Item 7 meetings in 2014, but continued to support the council’s overall direction. When will they follow Prosor’s advice and stop giving cover to the anti-Israel hatefest?
Although Jordan’s high court refused to extradite Ahlam Tamimi to the U.S., the country in 1995 did surrender Eyad Ismoil, who was wanted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. As the blogger Daled Amos argued, if an extradition treaty was used in 1995, “why can’t it be used now to extradite the terrorist Tamimi?”
In one of his first public comments since becoming head of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar said on Wednesday that “Hamas will continue in the path of [group founder Ahmed] Yassin for the liberation of all of Palestine — we will not surrender even a morsel.” Did Sinwar not get the memo that Hamas was supposed to be moderating?
[Photo: The Guardian / YouTube ]