Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Israel’s Herzliya Center Sneaks Into Lebanon

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivers a speech during the annual international conference on security and policy in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, on 2 February 2010. (Photo: AFP - Jack Guez)
Published Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When a civil society activist in Tripoli received an email invitation to participate in an all-expenses-paid Israeli-Arab dialogue in London, he was surprised to see that it came from a foreign journalist he had assisted as a fixer. One of the parties hosting the event is none other than the Israeli Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

Rami (not his real name) is an activist from Tripoli, who works in Palestinian camps and with civil society organizations in northern Lebanon. A few days ago, he received an email inviting him to participate in an “Arab-Israeli” dialogue on “understanding and peace.”

The dialogue, organized by the International Center for the Study of Radicalism and Political Violence (ICSR) in London, will span four months with all expenses paid.

Rami’s shock was twofold. He was initially provoked by the title and content of the invitation. But then he was surprised to see that it was forwarded to him from a foreign journalist he had worked with as a translator during the Bab el-Tabbaneh-Jabal Mohsen clashes a few months ago.

“It was strange because she knows me and knows my principles, my position against the occupation, and my support for the resistance and the Palestinians. We spoke about this several times,” he says, looking surprised.

The Dutch journalist tried to encourage Rami in the accompanying email. “She said she had worked in the host center and considers me a perfect candidate to participate in the activity,” he explains.

A few hours later, Rami received a call from another friend and civil society activist in Tripoli. His friend told him that he received a similar “strange” invitation to the same conference from the same journalist.

As many activists in Beirut, Tripoli, and other areas with media attention in Lebanon, Rami and his friend moonlight as translators and fixers for foreign journalists who travel to the country. These young men and women are providing a service for foreign correspondents and assisting them in performing their jobs.

But it seems that some correspondents are relaying “useful” information about their assistants and are “classifying” them according to several criteria, in order to contact them “as needed.” The “need” is neither “innocent” nor journalistic or personal. It is a purely political assignment, such as what happened with Rami and his friend.

After viewing the email sent by the Dutch journalist to the activist from Tripoli and the attached invitation, Al-Akhbar investigated the identity of the hosts and their objectives. Apparently, Israel and the lobby that serves its interests around the world have identified “human targets” for recruitment. They use some journalists, with or without their knowledge, to get to their “targets” in what could be identified as hard to reach areas for direct recruitment.

Based on ICSR’s invitation letter, the declared target audience are “young leaders – typically from government, business, academia, and the media – who occupy positions from which they can shape politics and public opinion in Israel and the Arab world.”

The “Arab-Israeli dialogue” is part of an ICSR fellowship supported by the Atkin Foundation. The duration is four months in King’s College London and participants will subsequently become members of the center’s team.

“For the forthcoming intake, in addition to Israelis, we are looking for applicants from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria only,” the invitation says.

To apply for the fellowship, the candidate must answer the two following questions: “How will the fellowship impact your career and future personal development?” and, “In your opinion, what methods will have a positive impact on the Arab-Israeli conflict?”

Some might see this fellowship as a friendly opportunity to start a dialogue on peace and solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Others, might innocently feel that they could send a positive signal to the Israeli “other” so they can perhaps build a better future together.

But a quick glance at ICSR’s partners and sponsors leaves no doubt about the identity of the center or the aims of its activities or scholarships, under a university-academic veil.

The London-based center claims to be a “unique partnership” including five equal stakeholders: King’s College London, Georgetown University (Washington, DC), University of Pennsylvania, the Regional Center for Conflict Prevention (Amman), and Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC Herzliya), whose main principles and goals are rooted in Zionism. IDC Herzliya seeks “to train a future Israeli leadership...while maintaining a Zionist philosophy...and striving to strengthen the State of Israel” and organizes the annual Herzliya conference.

ICSR declares that its goals range between “conflict resolution,” “diplomacy,” “strategy,” “counter-terrorism,” and “security,” according to its website. The center considers the Atkin fellowship as one of its main activities through which it can contribute to “create networks of moderate leadership among young leaders on both sides of the [Arab-Israeli] conflict.”

The center’s staff includes Jordanians, Egyptians, Lebanese, and Israelis from various professional and scientific backgrounds. They are teachers, engineers, civil society activists, media workers, rights activists, and experts on Islamic movements and al-Qaeda.

One of them is a Lebanese activist called Sarah Kilany, a Lebanese American University (LAU) graduate. She is introduced as a civil society activist from Lebanon who previously worked with a women’s organization in Lebanon. She also participated in monitoring parliamentary elections with the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) before joining ICSR a few months ago.
Today, Sarah’s research focuses on “Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and the role of civil society in finding a solution to their socio-economic situation.”

The question remains how many Lebanese will take the bait and help IDC Herzliya and its big name partners build a Middle East with “a politically neutral environment” to “strengthen the State of Israel.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian  
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