American Web Site Causes Stir Among Israeli Politicians

By Eric Marx

Published September 05, 2003, issue of September 05, 2003.
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The most right-wing party in the Israeli government is vowing to sue a Philadelphia-based activist that they say is fraudulently claiming to be its North American representative.

At issue is a Web site operated by Philadelphian Arno Weinstein, who identifies himself as the executive director and vice president of American Friends of Israel’s National Union. But Israeli Tourism Minister Benny Elon, head of the National Union party and its Moledet faction, said that he did not approve the creation of such an organization and had never heard of Weinstein prior to the creation of the Web site.

The Web site appears to toe the National Union political line, posting party press releases and like-minded opinion columns by Weinstein defending Israel’s construction of a security fence and slamming the American-backed road map peace plan. But National Union leaders worry that Weinstein might choose to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, and observers will mistakenly assume that he is acting with Elon’s backing.

“God forbid they put out a statement saying, ‘Ariel Sharon is a traitor and we’re leaving the government tomorrow,’ and the media picks this up,” said an Elon spokesman who asked not to be identified. “They’ll think this is representative of how we feel.”

Fueling concerns, the spokesman said, is that National Union leaders and right-wing activists have never heard of Weinstein.

“Who’s this person Arno Weinstein?” the spokesman said. “Not only have I not heard of him but, if you know the right-wing world, the right-wing world is a pretty small place. Nobody knows who he is. None of the members of the Knesset, none of their staffers, nobody on the board of Moledet or the National Union, either in Israel or in the States. This person certainly has an interest in Israeli politics and is probably a right-winger, but he’s not an authorized right-winger.”

Elon was more diplomatic but said that the party would take Weinstein to court.

“Maybe the man means good,” Elon said. “I understand that he built the domain, but if we have to sue, we will.”

Weinstein said he’s a concerned Israeli citizen who established the Web site at the behest of a party official that he refused to identify for the record. When contacted, the official in question said he did not know Weinstein and was unfamiliar with the site.

Weinstein’s site attempts to collect yearly membership dues ranging from $54 to $2,500 but does not pass on any of the monies to the National Union, according to party officials. By contrast, the far less active, officially sanctioned American Friends of Moledet does not collect money.

“I think most Americans get their information generally about international issues from only a few sources that really don’t represent the full view of the Israeli political system,” Weinstein said. “We want to enlighten Americans.”

Weinstein said he might agree to close up shop if he gets a direct request from Elon.

Elon’s spokesman appeared to rule out the idea of a call from Elon to Weinstein, comparing the situation to a person in the United States who refused to stop operating an unsanctioned Web site unless he heard directly from President Bush. “That’s absurd,” he said.






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