Israel wary as protests engulf Muslim countries

Israel stepped up security after a controversial American film, “Innocence of Muslims,” sparked protests at U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Sudan, as well as violence in Lebanon. In Libya, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats were killed.

Several dozen protesters from the Islamic Movement’s northern branch demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on Sept. 13 and held posters with slogans such as “A film that demeans the Prophet Muhammad is a despicable and contemptible act,” “We love Muhammad,” and “We will sacrifice our blood and souls for Muhammad.”

Jerusalem police forces reinforced their presence in the capital due to the expected expansion of the protests. Hundreds of policemen secured the al-Aqsa mosque and other areas within the city. Protests also took place in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on the U.S. to apologize “before the affront to the Prophet Muhammad in the film in question ignites a revolution in the Islamic nation to preserve the prophet’s honor.”

The intelligence leading up to the embassy attacks will be examined to “see if there was any way of forecasting this violence,” House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in an interview Sept. 13.

President Barack Obama, speaking at a campaign event in Colorado, also vowed that the perpetrators would be punished. “I want people around the world to hear me,” he said. “To all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished. I will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”

As of Sept. 13, there was no intelligence indicating that what happened in Benghazi was planned, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the investigation into the attack. Intelligence officials said they believe it was more likely that the attack was “opportunistic or spontaneous,” with terrotists taking advantage of the demonstration to launch the assault. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation publicly.

There is also no evidence that the attack was tied to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, one of the officials said. But the Libyan-based terrorist group Ansar al Shariah is the leading suspect for carrying out the violence, possibly with help from al-Qaida’s main African-based offshoot, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The officials said it may be hard to determine definitively which group was responsible, because many terrorists are members of both.

As far as protests go, it is virtually impossible to predict when a crowd might form and turn violent, according to retired U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who served as chief of mission at five posts, including Iraq, and is a former director of national intelligence.

“These things can be mobilized on the spur of the moment, set off by a spark,” especially in places such as Egypt and Libya where the ruling strongmen have just fallen, Negroponte said. “When you get rid of authoritarian regimes, there’s little or no institutional framework left …That’s why there's disorder and chaos” that is so easily hijacked, he said.

Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood called for demonstrations after Friday prayers Sept. 14, as did authorities in Iran and the Gaza Strip. The White House said it was prepared for more protests but stressed that any violence would be unjustified.

“It is important to note that as these protests are taking place in different countries around the world, responding to the movie, that Friday, tomorrow, has historically been a day when there are protests in the Muslim world,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters in Colorado. “And we are watching very closely for developments that could lead to more protests. We anticipate that they may continue.”

Around the world, U.S. missions issued warnings to Americans about demonstrations that could turn violent. More than 50 embassies and consulates released such alerts, the State Department said.

Jewish reaction

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations condemned the attacks, saying there is “no justification and no legitimization for such violence.”

“We hope that all parties, governmental and non-governmental alike, will strive to restore calm and prevent the exploitation of the situation by extremist elements,” the Conference of President said in a statement. 

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said the group affirms “the U.S. government’s statement that those responsible must be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice.”

“The Jewish tradition is unequivocal in its belief that taking one life is akin to destroying the entire world,” Schonfeld said in a statement.

Jewish Council for Pubic Affairs President Rabbi Steve Gutow said, “As a rabbi, American, and human being, I am shocked and heartbroken by this heinous attack.”

“People of goodwill everywhere should stand up and unequivocally condemn these cold blooded murders,” he said in a statement.

Filmmaker’s identity

Sam Bacile—the name of the alleged producer of “Innocence of Muslims”—is a pseudonym, and the real producer is neither Israeli nor Jewish, according to reports.

“I don’t know that much about him,” said Steve Klein, a home insurance salesman from Riverside, Calif., who has been described in several media accounts as a consultant to the film, according to the Atlantic. “I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He’s not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones (the fundamentalist Christian pastor) is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he’s Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.” 

Californian Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, confirmed that he was involved with “Innocence of Muslims.” Although he denied being Sam Bacile, a phone number called by the Associated Press matched Nakoula’s address. These findings suggest that the film may have been produced by Coptic Christians to protest their persecution in Muslim countries.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Bacile had originally identified himself as a 52-year-old Israeli-American real estate developer from California who raised $5 million from Jewish donors to make the film. News outlets were unable to contact Bacile to confirm his identity. 

France summons Israeli ambassador over Gaza raid that injured consul

France’s Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador over an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip that injured the French consul and his family.

The French Foreign Ministry on Tuesday confirmed that France’s consul to the Gaza Strip, Majdi Shakoura, his wife and 13-year-old daughter were wounded by flying glass, and that his wife suffered a miscarriage after Israel’s Air Force targeted a Hamas naval police base near their home early Monday morning in retaliation for a rocket fired from Gaza at southern Israel.

On Wednesday, Israel’s ambassador to France was summoned to a meeting at the French Foreign Ministry in Paris where French officials explained to him “how strongly we deplore the consequences of the raid,” ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

France’s ambassador inTel Aviv also complained to Israeli authorities.

“France condemns the consequences of the raid,” Valerotold reporters on Tuesday. “While remaining committed to Israel’s security, France had reminded Israel of the need to avoid all harm against civilians.”

One Hamas member was killed and four were wounded in the attack.

No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rocket attack that preceded the Air Force strike.

‘We are fighting an Iranian proxy’: Q&A with Israeli Consul General Yaakov Dayan

Yaakov Dayan is Israel’s consul general for the Southwestern states. He is a 14-year veteran of the Foreign Service, has served in Europe and the United States and has conducted sensitive negotiations with Palestinian, Jordanian and Syrian officials. The Jewish Journal interviewed Dayan last Sunday.

Jewish Journal: It’s been widely remarked that both Israel’s military and public relations arms were better prepared for the Gaza operation than, say, at the start of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Did you receive an advance tip-off and instructions from Jerusalem before the air attacks started on Dec. 27?
Yaakov Dayan: I won’t go into specific details, but we knew exactly what to do; we didn’t have to wait for instructions. On the first day alone, I handled 15 media interviews, and the pace hasn’t slowed down. Today is Sunday and [Deputy Consul General] Gil [Artzyeli] is meeting with the media in Denver, Shahar [Azani, consul for media and public affairs,] is speaking at a rally in Phoenix, and TV crews have been coming to my home all day. In between, we’re calling governors, senators and local officials for public declarations of support, and so far we have about 60 such statements.

JJ: Your base is in Los Angeles, but it seems that Israel expects you to reach out well beyond the city and the state in the global public opinion struggle.
YD: You have to understand that Los Angeles is one of the top three or four pro-Israel strongholds in the world, matched in importance only by New York. Most everywhere else in Europe and Asia, there are mainly pro-Palestinian voices. So Los Angeles has to fill in the gaps Complete Gaza Coveragein our strength. For instance, CNN’s worldwide service broadcast clips of pro-Hamas demonstrations from all over the world, but at least it was also able to show the pro-Israel rally in front of the Federal Building here.

JJ: With television and newspapers constantly showing pictures of injured Gaza children and distraught parents, what can you do to counteract the image of Israel as a heartless aggressor?
YD: It’s difficult, because photos are stronger than words. However, we must keep conveying the fact that we’re dealing with a brutal and cynical enemy who takes advantage of Western values and respect for human life by using civilians and children as human shields.
For instance, last week our air force targeted a Gaza building full of ammunition. We first phoned the Hamas activist inside that we would bomb the place in 30 minutes and that he should evacuate his family. Instead, he sent his four wives and their kids to stand on the roof of the building.

JJ: How would you evaluate media coverage locally and elsewhere?
YD: Fox News definitely has the best coverage, from our point of view. In general, the media are a little more balanced than on previous occasions, but I can’t say I’m not upset when I see on the front page of the Los Angeles Times a photo of two dead Arab girls. Admittedly, in a following issue, the Times showed a hole in the roof of a kibbutz building, hit by a Hamas rocket. Sometimes, I cringe at the op-eds, but occasionally, they’re all right. Interestingly, the Arab coverage in Egypt and Jordan is relatively all right, they understand that we are fighting an Iranian proxy.

JJ: What do you expect Los Angeles Jews and Israelis to do while the conflict lasts?
YD: We now have an Israeli flag flying outside the consulate on Wilshire Boulevard, and I am calling on everybody to stand by that flag, literally and symbolically. Everyone has an obligation to stand for Israel; that’s such a rewarding act, and I’m not speaking about money.
It’s great that 1,000 turn out for a rally, but why not 10,000? Write letters to the press, write op-eds, join solidarity missions, be active in your professional or social organization.

JJ: What was your toughest assignment during the last two weeks?
YD: I was on Air America [a self-described progressive talk radio network] for a national call-in program, and for an hour I answered comments and questions, all of them negative. No one called in to support Israel. At the end of the scheduled hour, the host said there were still lots of listeners wanting to talk to me, so we went at it for a second hour. At the end of this, I was completely exhausted.

JJ: So how are you holding up personally?
YD: Look, here I’m running between TV interviews, but in Israel they’re running between missiles. Who am I to complain?