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Foreign Minister Javad Zarif Accuses Iranian Media of Quoting US Fact Sheet and DEBKAfile Instead of Himself

By DEBKAfile

In a bitter outburst in Tehran Wednesday Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif complained that his country's media preferred to quote DEBKAfile instead of himself. Who tells the truth? He asked. I, the foreign minister of Iran? Or the Zionist website DEBKA which disseminates falsehoods?

It was the second time in this week that Zarif vented his frustration with DEBKA's popularity in Iran. Tuesday, addressing a student audience at Tehran University, he accused the non-official media of his country of drawing heavily on foreign sources, such as "the Fact Sheet put out by the White House in Washington and the Israeli DEBKA" while neglecting to cover official statements.

He asked rhetorically: "Why do our news sites, which claim to represent Hizbullah so frequently quote the Israeli site DEBKA, which disseminates inaccurate information, instead of trusting the words of their own foreign minister?" The students responded to Zarif's grievance with half-jeering cries of "Mashallah! Mashallah! (an Arabic phrase used to show appreciation for a person or happening)."

Our own Iranian sources confirm Zarif's charge and understand his irritation. In recent weeks, DEBKAfile was cited more prominently than ever before in most mainstream Iranian publications - newspapers, websites, blogs and also Facebook and Twitter – none of which minded using materials directly contradicting official regime statements.

References to DEBKA's disclosures about Iran are often heard bandied about in parliamentary debates in the Majlis, and are quoted extensively in Iranian op-ed articles and political sites. A search on Google under Debka in Farsi reveals hundreds of articles based on our Iranian coverage in a large number of Iranian Internet publications. Many others simply copy, paste our stories without attribution.

Three of the most influential Iranian publications are also those which quote DEBKAfile most frequently, often carrying complete items. They are the semi-official Fars news agency, which is owned by the Revolutionary Guards Corps; Tasnim, another Guards mouthpiece and one of the most important sources of information on Iran; and Kayhan, which represents radical Islamist opinion and is a leading voice of opposition to President Hassan Rouhani and the foreign minister.

Mandela Had Jewish Friends But Was Resolutely Loyal to Palestinians

By The Times of Israel

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had close friendships and alliances with many Jews, but his relationship with the Jewish state was complicated. While always courteous and never hateful, the South African icon's dealings with Israel were overshadowed by Jerusalem's staunch support for his tormentors and, even more so, his ironclad loyalty to the Palestinian cause.

In the name of reconciliation, he made no big deal about Jerusalem's strong long-term partnership with the apartheid regime after he was released from a lengthy prison sentence and became South Africa's first black president in 1994. He professed the legitimacy of Zionism as Jewish nationalism and, upon receiving the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, he said Yitzhak Rabin deserved it more But his primary concern in dealings with Israel's government was the advancement of the peace process and the well-being of the Palestinian people.

"Mandela always strove to be scrupulously fair to both sides, even though his inclination was very much towards the Palestinian side," said David Saks, the associate director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. "He was deeply supportive of the Palestinian struggle for independence, but never deviated from his view that this could only be attained through all parties recognizing Israel's legitimate right to exist within secure borders."

Jews played a crucial role in various stages of Mandela's life, especially in his early decades. Indeed, the only white person he ever called "my boss" was Lazer Sidelsky, a Jewish lawyer from Johannesburg, who in the 1940s hired him as a legal clerk.

"It was a Jewish firm, and in my experience I have found Jews to be more broadminded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice," Mandela wrote in his 1994 autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom." "The fact that Lazer Sidelsky, one of the firm's partners, would take on a young African as an articled clerk — something almost unheard-of in those days — was evidence of that liberalism."

In 1995, a year after Mandela became president, he gave a signed copy of his book to "my former boss Laz," calling him "a man who trained me to serve our country." Mandela reportedly attended the bar mitzvah of Sidelsky's son Barry (Dov) Sidelsky, who now lives in Jerusalem. "When I was a boy I met Mandela and what had etched an indelible impression on me was that when he got married the wedding procession passed by our house in Johannesburg as a sign of tribute to and respect for my father," Barry recalled during a 1999 television interview he gave in honor of Mandela's first and only visit to Israel.

But in his fight against apartheid, Mandela also had Jewish adversaries. Percy Yutar, for example, was the chief prosecutor in the 1960s Rivonia trial in which the future president was sentenced to a lifelong prison sentence. Yutar served for many years as the head of a group of Orthodox synagogues in Johannesburg.

South Africa's first Jewish attorney-general, Yutar is remembered by anti-apartheid activists for the "unnecessarily abrasive, indeed often vindictive, manner in which he carried out his duties," writes Saks. "Even Mandela, generally so ready to acknowledge the good in even his avowed enemies, cannot bring himself to recall Yutar with anything more than disdain," Saks wrote. However, Mandela later had lunch with Yutar, reportedly offering him a kosher meal.

Today's Jewish community in South Africa likes to highlight the Jews fighting side by side with Mandela to marginalize the role of those who supported the regime. "South Africans of Jewish descent have historically been disproportionately represented among our white compatriots in the liberation struggle," Mandela said at a congress of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies in 1993.

Yet the South African Jewish community's relationship with the apartheid regime is a "very mixed picture," according to Gideon Shimoni, the former head of the Hebrew University's Institute of Contemporary Jewry, who was born and brought up in Johannesburg. While certain individuals were openly opposed to apartheid, as a collective the Jewish community adopted an "attitude of neutrality" to the racist rule in their country, he said.

"Even Mandela kind of bought the line that those individuals who were active in the opposition kind of saved the record of the Jewish community. But it's a much more complicated situation than that," said Shimoni, who examined the issue in depth in his 2003 book "Community and Conscience: The Jews in Apartheid South Africa."

The Jews fighting the racist regime were in most cases very critical of the organized Jewish community, he said. "They believed that the Jewish community has to throw its lot in with the struggle against apartheid, irrespective of what happens to Jewish community." They also rejected the Jewish community's allegiance to the Zionist cause, according to Shimoni.

`His whole attitude — to everything — was not to look for vengeance but rather to work for a reconciliation and to look forward. The last thing he would do is raise Israel's record' Madiba himself was no declared enemy of Zionism. Although he was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause — and of Palestinian and other Islamist leaders — he believed that both Jews and Palestinians had legitimate national ambitions.

"As a movement we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism," he said in 1993. "We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination."

As a statesman, Mandela's relationship with Israel was businesslike and at times cordial, but never truly warm. When he became president in 1994 he maintained diplomatic relations and tried to focus on the hope for a better future rather than dwell on the disagreements of the past. Yet he never forgot Jerusalem's strong alliance with the apartheid state. Israel and South Africa upheld very extensive military cooperation over decades, and Jerusalem was one of the last to join the international campaign to isolate the racist regime.

"The ANC, in common with the international community, was extremely unhappy about the military cooperation between the State of Israel and the apartheid regime in South Africa. The refusal of Israel, over many years, to honor its international obligations to isolate the apartheid regime did influence our attitude towards that government," Mandela said a few months before being elected president.

"He certainly was very sympathetic to Zionism in the sense of being a movement for freedom and self-determination of the Jewish people," Hebrew University's Shimoni said. "But at the same time he had very strong loyalties to those who assisted him, whether it was [late Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi on the one hand or Arafat on the other. And he made it clear that those who are the enemies of the Jews are not necessarily his enemies."

Indeed, one of Mandela's first acts as a free man was to visit Yasir Arafat. The photos of the two men embracing — taken at a time before the Oslo Accords, when the PLO was officially still devoted to Israel's destruction — raised concerns in Jewish communities around the globe.

"Mandela's initially dismissive response to Jewish concerns exacerbated the situation," Saks wrote. However, the future president acted quickly and in a meeting with Jewish leaders alleviated fears by stating that his movement recognized Israel's right to exist in secure borders.

While Mandela was very critical of Israel's support for apartheid regime, "he didn't make a big issue of it," Shimoni said. "His whole attitude — to everything — was not to look for vengeance and not to dig up the records in the past, but rather to work for a reconciliation and to look forward. So the last thing he would do would is to raise the whole question of the record of Israel. Other people in the African National Congress have done it, up to this day. But not Mandela. It was a characteristic of Mandela to work for reconciliation, and not to dig up old hatreds and anger."

Saks, who remembers Mandela as an "extremely warm" person, said Mandela's attitude "was never to brood over past wrongs, but to acknowledge what had been done wrong and go forward." While Israel's close relationship with South Africa after 1973 did inevitably have a negative impact on his attitude towards the Jewish state, "he was not bitter about it. I think he understood, at some level at least, that the relationship had been one of convenience — realpolitik."

On April 27, 1994, Mandela won South Africa's first free multiracial elections. On the first weekend following his victory, the president-elect decided to visit a church, a mosque and a synagogue. In his address to the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation in Cape Town, he called on Jewish expatriates to return to South Africa, albeit with the exception of "those Jews who left for their homeland" — Israel.

In May that year, both Arafat and Israeli president Ezer Weizman were invited to Mandela's inauguration ceremony. Since the two leaders had never met, Mandela decided soon afterward to invite them to participate in his first official working meeting as president. After a short discussion, he took them to a separate room and asked them to "sit here and talk until you finalize everything," according to Liel, who accompanied Weizman to the meeting (Arafat came with his adviser Ahmed Tibi, now a member of Knesset).

Mandela didn't visit Israel during his presidency but agreed to receive, in South Africa, an honorary doctorate from Be'er Sheva's Ben-Gurion University in 1997."The significance of Mandela's acceptance of the honor should be seen in the context of how viscerally opposed many people even within his own party were to maintaining any kinds of friendly ties with Israel," Saks wrote.

In October 1999, a few months after he concluded his presidency, Madiba finally came to Israel. He visited Rabin's grave and Yad Vashem and met with newly elected prime minister Ehud Barak. Most of the hour-long meeting was devoted to the conflict with the Palestinians, with Mandela voicing his frustration about the failure of the Oslo process, according to Liel, who was present. Mandela offered to mediate between the two parties but Barak rejected that idea, arguing that because of Madiba's close ties to Arafat, he could not serve as an honest broker.

Mossad's Supermen, Wonder Women Receive Honors


A ceremony honoring the Mossad intelligence agency's best officers took place Thursday evening at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. President Shimon Peres gave citations of excellence to 12 of the espionage agency's finest, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Mossad Head Tamir Pardo in attendance. The officers honored received the citations for standing at the forefront of the effort to thwart the unconventional weapons threat, the war on terror and the prevention of other threats against Israel.

Peres noted with satisfaction that four of the 12 employees receiving the honor are women. "I am filled with pride to see you, warriors who are also mothers to children, who defend not only their children but their countrymen. You are a wonderful organization whose people are courageous and full of wisdom, who have no motive within them except to risk their own lives for the sake of their country. I salute the Mossad, its fighters and especially the 12 excellent ones."

Netanyahu told the Mossad audience: "The citizens of Israel do not know what you are doing, but I know what great things you are doing for the security of the state. When I approve your operations, I am awed by your daring. Your imagination knows no bounds. There are four excellent female agents today. What Gal Gadot will do in a film as Wonder Woman, you do in real life. I have heard the stories of the 12 excellent agents, and I want to tell you that although your names are not known, thanks to you the Mossad's name and reputation precede it. Thank you, in the name of the citizens of the state of Israel."

Pardo told his employees: "The strength of the Mossad is in its people, who serve in it with resourcefulness, persistence, creative thought outside the box, alongside modesty and honesty, with which campaigns can be won – even those that appear impossible and unreasonable."

Not much can be told about the 12 recipients of the citations, except to say that they include young agents and seasoned ones, who spearhead the organization's operations, intelligence gathering and analysis. They include an intelligence gathering officer who has already received an award from the president for his groundbreaking thinking, his outstanding performance and special abilities, thanks to which the Mossad was able to realize its goals in safeguarding Israel's security interests.

Another agent who received the citation comes from the technological field. He became a central figure in the organization after recognizing a certain technology's potential and turning it into an operational system that yields intelligence. His friends say that although many hi-tech firms are interested in hiring him, he has chosen to remain in the Mossad, where he can serve the country and make the most of his unique abilities.

Two daring female operational agents were also honored for their work in threatening arenas, where they risked their lives while displaying daring and level-headedness. One of the two left a promising career to work against Israel's most bitter foes. Her supervisors said that she used her rational and logical thinking skills to solve complex problems in a creative way. The second is a "courageous warrior" who "pushed the operational envelope." Both are mothers and also manage to maintain "model families."

Land of Israel in 19th Century, in Color


Up until now, one could only read about what the Land of Israel looked like in the 19th century through the eyes of an American tourist, in Mark Twain's famous travel memoir "The Innocents Abroad." Now, we have the opportunity to see it too through the lens of the camera of an American who toured the country from 1890 to 1900.

The United States Library of Congress has published this fascinating collection of photos documenting the country between the First Zionist Aliyah and the Second Aliyah. The pictures were refurbished in the photochrome technique – in other words, black and white photos were colored. It's unclear who the photographer was and what he was doing in the Middle East. In addition to the Land of Israel, the series also includes pictures from Lebanon and Syria.

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