Published on February 6th, 2011 | by Ali Gharib3
The Ideological West Bank Settler Behind “Iranium”
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.
The group’s latest salvo is an hour-long documentary called “Iranium”, which more or less gives airtime to a gaggle of neoconservatives and their allies on the Israeli right to advocate for a hawkish posture against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While warning of an ideologically-driven, religiously-inspired Iran, however, the filmmaker behind the movie himself comes from among the religious extremes of another Middle Eastern state.
The writer and director of “Iranium”, Alex Traiman, hails from the Israeli West Bank settlement of Beit El, one of the ideological religious Jewish outposts in occupied Palestinian territory bedeviling U.S.-Israel relations.
I spoke to Traiman, who sported a black kippah and a bright red tie, after a screening of “Iranium” at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, where neoconservative don Richard Perle introduced the film.
“That’s where I live,” Traiman told me, after a deep breath, when I asked him if he lived in Beit El. “I just live there.”
Traiman worked for four years for the Beit El-based Arutz Sheva, or Channel Seven, also known as Israel National News, a former pirate radio station aligned with Israel’s religious settlers. He has in the past referred to Beit El as “a Jewish settlement… located in the Biblical province of Samaria, commonly referred to today as the West Bank.” Settlers refer to the West Bank by the Biblical “Judea and Samaria.”
On Tuesday at Heritage, Traiman, who has also written for a U.S.-based conspiracy website, called the World Net Daily, and presumably other occupied Palestinian territories, as “disputed territories in Israel.”
Beit El is a religious nationalist settlement near Ramallah in the West Bank, where some 5,500 settlers live, Founded in 1977, the settlement is built in land seized in 1970 by the military on what Israeli courts, according to Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, later deemed to be bogus security justifications.
Unlike their secular counterparts, who usually move into settlements to take advantage of government housing subsidies, the enclave of Beit El is a religious-nationalist settlement where residents think that God gave them the land that Palestinians lived on.
Palestinians view settlements as gobbling up land on which they hope to eventually build their state. In a peace deal, the border between Israel and Palestine would likely be doctored to include large settlement blocks in Israel.
But at a recent Washington Institute forum on potential maps for a peace deal, Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl, a Middle East hawk, said Israeli annexation of Beit El is not realistic in a final peace deal: “Beit El dominates the road between the two major Palestinian towns of Ramallah and Nablus… This type of scenario is unacceptable to Palestinians.”
Last fall, a diplomatic row erupted when Israel refused a U.S. request for a three-month extension of a settlement construction freeze. The freeze extension was aimed at rescuing peace talks, and when Israel refused, with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu in the thrall of his pro-settler coalition members, the U.S.-sponsored talks collapsed.
The crumbling of the settlement freeze was celebrated in Israel’s settlements, whese construction boomed.
Other characters in and around “Iranium” come from the hardest of the hard-line ‘pro-Israel’ camp and the Israeli right, those who have long opposed Israel relinquishing control of the West Bank in any peace deal.
Not surprisingly, the Capitol Hill premiere in February is being hosted by a group, EMET, whose president and advisors worked together in the 1990s, behind the backs of Israeli and American leadership, to spike the Oslo process. Indeed, EMET’s Hill activism for a Greater Israel seems to be matched only by the efforts of key people from the Clarion Fund.
Ties between Clarion and Aish Hatorah, an evangelist Israeli ultra-orthodox group, are well know and long-established through Clarion’s founder and executive producer of its movies, Canadian-Israeli Raphael Shore, not to mention a host of registration and tax documents that make Clarion appear to be little more than an Aish off-shoot.
But Traiman, a former radio host and PR flak brought on board by Clarion to write and direct “Iranium,” appears is literally on the frontiers of the Israeli right.
According to social networking websites, Traiman worked at Arutz Sheva for four years, editing, writing, hosting a show, and acting as marketing director. In 2006, Traiman did a fundraising junket for the channel that brought him to New York and New Jersey, where he went to high school. (Arutz Sheva also raises money from U.S. Christian Zionists.)
Just two months before that trip, Traiman wrote an article for the U.S.-based conspiracy website World Net Daily (WND), where he gave space and sympathetic coverage to several Rabbis who theorized that the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war — then still raging — was caused by a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. At the end of the article, Traiman was listed as a writer for the Jerusalem bureau of WND, which has published articles about how Al Qaeda has 40 nukes (some already in the U.S.) and how “soy is making kids ‘gay’.”
The current chief WND‘s Jerusalem bureau is Aaron Klein, a birther and the New York Times best-selling author of “The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists”. (Klein also conducted the interview where Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf refused to condemn Hamas.)
Klein and Traiman co-edited their college paper when they were both at New York City’s Yeshiva University. “Following his completely secular education, Traiman decided to pursue a Jewish education at the only first tier university that could provide one,” says an article from the paper of the modern-orthodox Jewish university. If and how long Klein and Traiman worked together at WND is not clear.
Leaving WND aside, Arutz Sheva, where Traiman hosted a show, wrote and edited, and directed marketing efforts, has some conspiracy theory issues of its own. Last year, to celebrate the anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the “settler news organization,” as the New York Times labeled it, held a contest to find the best conspiracy theory providing a version of events different from the accepted history.
The accepted history, of course, is that religious Zionist Yigal Amir killed Rabin at a peace rally in 1995. In their 2009 book, “Jewish Terrorism in Israel”, Professors Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger wrote that Amir would have been inspired by the religious edicts from rabbis in West Bank settlements declaring Rabin din rodef, or a Jew who was willing to harm other Jews, a judgement punishable by death according to Jewish law. The professors also drop this nugget while recalling Amir’s machinations: “Only a fellow law school student, Margalit Har-Shefi—resident of one of the most prestige settlements, Beit El, and daughter of settler nobility—was let in on the finer details of the plan.” Har-Shefi even tried to break into the Beit El armory to get a weapon for the plot.
Arutz Sheva was founded by, according to various sources, either Beit El-based extremist Rabbi Zalman Melmand or Yaakov Katz, a politician from Israel’s National Union party, which has been accused of having ties to Israel’s banned extremist Kahanist political faction. Rabbi Meir Kahane was thought to be the “spiritual guide of those who allegedly conspired to kill Rabin.”
“There is a clear irony in having Israeli settler religious extremists urging the U.S. to bomb religious extremists in Iran,” said Lara Friedman, an expert on settlements and U.S. policy in the Middle East with American’s for Peace Now, in an interview.
Ali Gharib is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s a regular contributor to the LobeLog.