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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Everyone should be a political party, right?

Under the Israeli system, everyone can be a political party. Didn't like the job you got? Start a party. Didn't get a seat in the cabinet? Start a party. Sneh, by the way means Bush. Sneh should remember that a Bush in the Knesset is worth two in the bush. So now we will have the Sneh party, perhaps with a fancy name like "Party of progress and renewal of the pioneering spirit and Zionist ideals of the workers of Israel" or just "Tafnit" ("turning point") or "From the foundations." Behind the fancy name, the content will be, "Party of Sneh and his cronies."  Ben Gurion initiated showed the way when he quit Labor and formed "Min Hayesod," which was really "Party of Ben Gurion and his cronies."
If Kadima had any future, no doubt Sneh would have joined Kadima, along with other discards and renegades from Likud and Labor. Someone should explain to Sneh that he is not Ben Gurion.
Ami Isseroff  
Labor MK Ephraim Sneh is to announce Sunday his intent to break from the Labor party and set up a new political party, Israel Radio reported on Saturday.

Labor sources said that Sneh's decision was made after party chairman Ehud Barak dismissed him from the position of deputy defense minister when he was appointed minister, and failed to assign him to a new function in cabinet.

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Is Israel a democracy?

Dr. Eugene J. Fisher Responds to America Magazine Editorial, "Israel at 60"

While I can sympathize with much of the America editorial, which quite rightly reminds readers
of the needs, plight, and rights of Palestinians, I can only say that the statement that Israel
is not a democracy in the Western sense is ill conceived and very misleading.  It seems to
presume that all Western democracies have never had any problems with minorities,
unlike Israel.  Say again?  The USA has not, ever (according to this editorial) ever in any sense
mistreated its native American or Black American or, currently its Hispanic American citizens? 
And the French and British and Germans are not, right now, having problems dealing with their
Arab/Muslim minorities, and none have ever, ever persecuted their minorities?

I'm sorry.  Israel may not be a better Western democracy than the USA, England, France, Germany,
Denmark, etc., but to say it is not one of us is to entirely miss the point of what defines Western
democracies, which for all our faults I will defend and, therefore, perforce, defend our friend Israel.

Dr. Eugene J. Fisher
Great Falls, VA. 22066

(Dr. Fisher is the Former Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB))


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Messianic Jews (Christians) and Bible Burning

Messianic Jews (== Christians) are out to convert Ethiopian Jews. This is certainly an obnoxious provocation, but burning the New Testament is reall NOT the answer. Everyone needs to respect the faith of the other.
For Jews, missionary work by Christians is an abomination and that needs to be respected. But Christians are going to be rightly incensed by burning of their scriptures, and THAT needs to be respected too.
Play nice, you all.
There is no law against trying to return Messianic Jews to Judaism, is there? That is a more constructive path for those who oppose them.
Ami Isseroff
Israel hit by Bible burning row

Proselytizing to Ethiopian Jews is an historically sensitive issue
Messianic Jews in Israel say they want an inquiry into the burning of hundreds of copies of the New Testament by Orthodox Jews in Or Yehuda last week.
The books were given to the town's Ethiopian Jews by the Messianic Jews, who believe in Jesus as a saviour.
Or Yehuda's deputy mayor says he received complaints about the books, and arranged for them to be burnt.
He has now apologised after his actions have been compared to those of Nazis who burnt Jewish holy scriptures.
Proselytizing to Ethiopian Jews is sensitive because historically they were the target of missionaries who converted many to Christianity in Ethiopia - though they later argued the conversion was forced and they had never really abandoned their Jewish faith, the BBC's Frances Harrison says.
The dispute is revealing growing tension between Messianic Jews and their Orthodox opponents who do not recognise them as Jews, our correspondent adds.
'Dumped and burned'
Many of the details of exactly what happened in Or Yehuda are now disputed.
But the deputy mayor says Messianic Jewish missionaries had targeted an area of the town where many Ethiopian Jews live, distributing packages containing New Testaments and pamphlets.
He says he received complaints and then drove around the area with a loudspeaker urging people to hand over the material to Orthodox religious students who went door-to-door collecting it.
The books were then dumped in a pile and burned.
Messianic Jews complain of institutionalised discrimination and are demanding all those involved be put on trial.
Meanwhile, Orthodox Jews are applauding the destruction of texts they say urge Jews to convert.

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Iran: Mahmoud is mad and I'm glad

Syria's vehement denial that it would cut its ties with Iran is beside the point. The very mention of peace talks with Israel drives a wedge between Iran and Syria. Assad had to know that would be the result of the announcement.
Mahmoud is mad
And I'm glad
And I know what will please him
A bottle of Arak to make him shine
and Bashar Assad to squeeze him
Ami Isseroff


Sources close to Iranian president tell London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper he did not hide discontent, amazement after being informed of negotiations between Damascus, Jerusalem. 'This is a violation of the mutual commitments between the two countries, and Tehran will prepare an appropriate response,' source says
Roee Nahmias Published:  05.23.08, 17:01 / Israel News 
The joint statement issued simultaneously Wednesday in Jerusalem, Damascus and Ankara on the resumption of mediated talks between Israel and Syria has raised tensions between Tehran and Damascus, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat reported Friday.
According to sources close to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the latter did not hide his discontent and amazement after receiving detailed information on the secret talks held between Syria and Israel.
This took place only several weeks after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem paid a visit to Tehran, during which Ahmadinejad attempted to strengthen the "bear hug" around Syria's neck.
The Iranian leader warned Moallem and the moderate Arab states that whoever will join the United States will be doomed along with Washington.
A source noted that Ahmadinejad referred to the developments as "a Damascus violation of the mutual commitments between Syria and Iran."

It was also reported that the Iranian Supreme National Security Council will look into the message relayed by Damascus in regards to its talks with Israel, in order "to prepare an appropriate response."
On Thursday, Damascus rejected Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's demand that Syria distance itself from terror organizations, including Hamas and Hizbullah. Syrian Information Minister Muhsin Bilal said that "when they make these demands, they are setting conditions and the issue of peace, the peace process does not require prior conditions."
Following the publication of the Israel-Syria talks Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he had no illusions regarding the negotiations with Damascus.

"The negotiations will not be easy or simple and the process will involve difficult concessions," he said during an event at the Kibbutz College of Education, adding however that "in situations like this it is always better to talk than to shoot and I am happy both sides here have decided to talk."

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Kastner, Demon of anti-Zionists and Revisionist Zionists, turns out to be a saint

Rudolf (Rezso) Kastner was villified by revisionist Zionists who wanted to prove that the Zionist executive had collaborated with the Nazis. They found an ignorant American, Ben Hecht, who believed their fabrication, and wrote a mendacious book accusing Kastner and the Zionists of selling out the Jews of Europe. Anti-Zionists and anti-Semites took up the cause, and it has since become a staple of neo-Nazi hate literature.
Kastner himself was murdered by fanatics inspired by the right-wing demagoguery.  It was all a fabrication. The man was a hero, murdered because of the machinations of depraved and power hungry fools.
The blood of thy brother....
Ami Isseroff
Last update - 20:11 23/05/2008       
Secret Holocaust hero has reputation restored in new books, film
By Reuters
History has not been kind to Rezso Kasztner.
He saved more Jews from death in the Holocaust than any other Jew. His reward was the accusation that he sold his soul to the devil and assassination by Jewish extremists.
But Kasztner's reputation may be about to be restored, more than 60 years after he negotiated a "blood for money" deal with an armed, drunk and often ranting Adolph Eichmann to save Jewish lives in exchange for cash, jewels and trucks.
Two new books about Kasztner have been published and a documentary film is being prepared for distribution later this year. All paint him as a hidden hero of the Holocaust, a man who risked his life in countless bargaining sessions with the Nazis.
During World War II, he negotiated a train to carry almost almost 1,700 Hungarian Jews to safety in Switzerland, while he stayed behind to continue negotiating.
Later in the war, he also accompanied an SS officer on visits to concentration camps to tell commandants to stop the killings, saving up to 100,000 Jews according to some experts.
At that point, it was clear that Germany was on the verge of losing the war and there would be trials afterward. SS Col. Kurt Becher took Kasztner along possibly because he wanted a Jewish witness to his good deed.
Anna Porter, whose book "Kasztner's Train" draws on seven years of research, scores of interviews and previously unknown papers, says that it is time to honor Kasztner and to dismiss the many accusations against him.
The second book, German literature professor Ladislaus Lob's "Dealing with Satan: Rezso Kasztner's Daring Rescue Mission," is part reexamination of Kasztner and part memoir.
Lob was 11 years old when he escaped with his father on Kasztner's train to Switzerland from the Bergen-Belsen camp.
At the time, Kasztner was an obscure official of a minor Zionist committee but who had links with Jewish rescue groups in the United States, Turkey and Switzerland.
"He was a nobody who had muscled his way into the negotiations," said filmmaker Gaylen Ross. "He was just a member of a small group of Zionists." Ross' upcoming film has the working title of "The Persecution and Assassination of Dr Israel Kasztner."
After the war, Kasztner and his family emigrated to Israel.
Complaints against him surfaced along with a scathing book by American screenwriter and journalist Ben Hecht. Hecht painted Kasztner as a Nazi collaborator who withheld key information from the Allies, stuffed the train with his own relatives and charged for the seats.
Kasztner had saved 19 of his relatives by getting them seats on the train but 100 other relatives died in Auschwitz.
As for making money off the train, 150 people paid for tickets and that was enough to cover the costs of the other, poorer Jews.
In 1952 he was accused of collaborating with the Nazis by Machiel Grunwald, an elderly pamphleteer.
The Israeli government sued Grunwald for libel but the trial proved to be an all-out attack on Kasztner, with the lone judge ruling that he had made a deal with the devil.
The verdict was overturned in 1957 but by then it was too late. Kasztner had been assassinated outside his home by three extremists, his reputation already dead in the courtroom.
Holocaust author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel says of Kasztner, "I followed his trial and I think he wanted to help but he chose the wrong method."
Ross, the filmmaker, likened Kasztner to the Rorschach inkblot test, a psychological evaluation in which patients are asked to interpret inkblot patterns.
"For me, Kasztner is a Rorschach test. People put on him what they feel," Ross said.
First and foremost, there is the guilt felt by the survivors for having lived while others died and then there are the moral questions of dealing with the Nazis and of buying Jewish lives for cash, Ross said.
Jews questioned the motives of other Jews, forgetting that the Holocaust was a crime against humanity perpetrated by the Nazis, not Jews, Ross said.
For Porter, the Kasztner story is how his acts of bravery could be so fiercely debated even though they equaled those of righteous Gentiles Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg.
"He wanted to be seen as a savior of Jews and he was essentially a good man. Schindler called him the most fearless person he knew," Porter said.

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Syria will not allow IAEA to inspect bombed reactor site

 Last update - 20:57 23/05/2008    
Syria hesitant to let IAEA inspect alleged nuke site hit by IAF
By Reuters
Syria has yet to accept a request from the UN nuclear watchdog to visit a site where Washington says Damascus covertly built an atomic reactor, and has demanded more details about the proposed trip, diplomats said.
The head of the UN body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on May 7 that he hoped to be able to shed light "in the next few weeks" on whether a Syrian facility, bombed by Israel last year, was an undeclared nuclear reactor.
Syria, an ally of Iran whose secretive nuclear program is under UN sanctions and IAEA investigation, has rejected as fabricated U.S. intelligence pointing to an almost completed graphite reactor erected with North Korean help.
Damascus, whose only declared nuclear facility is an old research reactor under IAEA inspection, has said Israel's target was only a disused military building in its eastern desert that had no nuclear link.
At the start of May, the IAEA wrote to Syria asking to see the targeted area. Syrian atomic energy chief Ibrahim Othman visited Vienna on May 9 for talks with the agency's chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, diplomats familiar with the matter said.
Those talks did not produce any agreement on the timing and nature of a trip by senior inspectors, they added.
One diplomat said on condition of anonymity that the agency had received a letter from Damascus earlier this week asking for more details on the proposed visit. The agency has replied and is now waiting for a further response, the diplomat added.
Syria's UN envoy said in late April that Damascus would cooperate with the IAEA inquiry and had "nothing to hide."
ElBaradei has chided the United States for waiting until last month to share its intelligence. Analysts citing fresh satellite photos said Syria had razed the site in the meantime, possibly to erase evidence and put up a new building.
Diplomats close to the IAEA said it would be harder for inspectors to detect evidence than before the bombing of a site where Washington said secret nuclear activity dated from 2001.
It is highly unlikely inspectors would find major components of a reactor or related equipment, but they will want to test for traces of graphite or uranium alloys and examine the local water supply system, Israeli nuclear analyst Ephraim Asculai said in an emailed statement earlier in May.
Another report this month by independent nuclear experts briefed by U.S. officials said Syria went to great lengths to foil aerial surveillance by building a false roof and walls to alter what are the normal telltale contours of a reactor.
Some analysts have questioned whether the U.S. material amounted to proof of any undeclared nuclear arms program.
Gregory Schulte, the U.S. envoy to the IAEA, reiterated on Wednesday the facility at the site was not a typical power or research reactor.
"Syrian authorities have a lot of explaining to do," Schulte told journalists. "They must allow IAEA inspectors to visit the site and ensure there are no other undeclared activities."

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Corruption of Saudi Youth by the Kabbalah

No kidding...

Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat- Today it is common to see large numbers of young Saudi men sporting a piece of red string around their wrists. This trend has spread all over the world in recent years especially since A-list celebrities and football players were spotted wearing the red string bracelet that is believed to ward off the evil eye. However, the cultural connotations of this trend that include a religious or ideological belief in the Jewish sect known as Kabbalah are a cause for concern amongst some Saudi experts who are against what they consider a form of "cultural invasion".
The wearing of the red string is practiced by followers of the Kabbalah, a school of thought that focuses on the mystical aspects of Judaism.
A number of Arabic websites have warned against this trend that is gaining popularity amongst secondary school students in Saudi Arabia.
Dr Abdullah al Yusuf, professor of sociology at Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, told Asharq Al-Awsat that any imported foreign trend will have an influence on the society to which it has been introduced and that the consequences of such a trend are considered a form of cultural invasion as new behaviors are adopted. He added that young people in general are attracted to eccentric concepts and like to follow new trends.
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Dr Amal al Arfaj, associate professor of Tafsir [Quran interpretation] at the Faculty of Arts in Dammam, who is also active in preaching the Islamic faith, said that young people often follow trends without fully understanding what they represent.
As an example, Dr Amal explained that young people purchase clothes and other items that carry phrases that could be deemed morally or religiously offensive. These young people, she said, buy and keep these products without understanding their meanings or any dangers that they entail. She argues that if young people were asked about the significance of the red string that is worn around the wrist they would not be able to give an adequate answer.
Dr al Arfaj expressed regret towards the weak role of the family in this regard and believes that young people are primarily influenced by their friends and peers. Moreover, according to al Arfaj, shop owners and market traders also contribute to the spread of foreign cultures in Saudi society by promoting new trends and do not differentiate between what is good and what is bad and fail to understand the effects of some new trends on the youth.
The majority of male youth who have embraced the Kabbalah-inspired fashion make their own red string bracelet by cutting a piece of thread rather than buying the bracelet from a shop like their female counterparts.
Thamir Abdullah, a secondary school student, said that many of his friends were influenced by international football players in wearing the red string bracelet. He added that he stopped wearing his own red string band after reading some of the warnings that were carried by websites.
Some young Saudi girls wear green or yellow thread around their wrists as they believe that this would bring them good luck.
Another trend that is gaining popularity amongst young Saudi girls is EMO fashion accessories such as colored rubber bracelets. Experts attribute this to an eagerness amongst the young to follow fashion regardless of any cultural or social consequences.

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Clawson: Iran attack not so scary

In  Is an attack on Iran a big risk? Patrick Clawson tells Yossi Melman it might not be. Iran has generally not responded violently when attacked - for example when the US downed a airliner. Iran, of course, does not have a terrorist group with 20,000 missiles stationed on the border of the United States, and the US is not Israel.  
Clawson believes, for some reason that the Hezbollah might not respond to an Israeli attack on Iran:
There is no guarantee that Hezbollah will react automatically. They will make their considerations on the basis of their interests, as they understand them. In Hezbollah, they are very aware of Israel's strength, and of the harsh reaction that may result if Hezbollah attacks.
Hezbollah is Iran and their interests are identical. If Americans didn't understand that until now, they have a lot of catching up to do. In any case, attacks on Iran are a subject that benefits from less, rather than more, public discussion.
Here's the interview. Judge for yourself:
The standard assumption is that a military attack by the United States or Israel to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons would be disastrous for the attackers, and would threaten the stability of the entire Middle East.
Various experts outline doomsday scenarios for such an occurrence, and warn especially of Iran's harsh reaction. Fearing the reaction of the ayatollahs has a paralyzing effect. Even before the first shot has been fired, Iran can credit itself with a success. It created an image of an omnipotent country that will not hesitate to use its power to respond and avenge a military operation against it. This is an impressive psychological achievement.
But a new paper, to be published this month in the U.S. by two well-known experts on the subject, sketches a different and more complex picture. The paper is "The Last Resort," written by Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The main point, notes Dr. Clawson in an interview with Haaretz, is that the success or failure of a military attack depends on many variables, and not just the degree of damage the attack would cause.
What are these variables?
The type of weapons chosen for the attack - will nuclear or conventional weapons be used? Who attacks - the U.S. or Israel? Will the attack cause serious collateral damage to the surroundings, that is causing a lot of civilian casualties? Will only the nuclear sites be attacked, or other regime targets? After the attack, will President Ahmadinejad announce Iran's departure from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty? If the attack completely destroys Iran's nuclear program that is one thing, but if it does not, that is a different story. Then Iran will be able to continue to develop its nuclear program, and the world will no longer care about that. In short, this is subject that is dependent on many variables.
Nevertheless, what would be deemed a success?
If the attack does destroy the nuclear facilities, and it leads to a broad consensus in Iran that nuclear weapons are dangerous for the future of the regime or the nation. In other words, success or failure is determined by the political result of the military attack. The primary objective of the military option has to be to convince Iran to cease its nuclear program, that it's not worthwhile to continue. Destroying the nuclear facilities is not an end in and of itself; it is merely a means to an end. And therefore it is necessary to create the political conditions that will increase the chances for the success of the attack.
And what will be a possible result of an Israeli attack?
Again, my answer is that it depends. Israel has to create the circumstances in which world public opinion will understand Israel and its motives, even if it regrets the attack.
That's more or less what happened with the attack against the nuclear facility in Syria?
Yes, it is quite similar. Israel benefited from President Assad's hostile attitude to the world, and therefore the international community showed understanding of the Israeli air force's attack. Israel did not have to do much because Assad did the job for it. In this respect, Israel also benefits from Ahmadinejad and his statements. They help Israel present its position to the world and explain the threat it faces.
Do you share the sweeping assessment of most experts that Iran's reaction if attacked will be harsh and painful?
No. Iran's record when it comes to its reactions in the past to attacks against it, or its important interests, is mixed. When the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan and persecuted the Shi'ite minority there, Iran mobilized military forces on the border and threatened to respond, but in the end it did nothing. The same occurred when the U.S. shot down an Iranian passenger airline in 1988: Iran threatened to avenge the incident, but in the end the exact opposite happened. Not only did Iran not respond, but also the incident hastened its decision to agree to a cease-fire in the war with Iraq for fear that the U.S. was about to join the war on Saddam Hussein's side.
In another incident during the war, Iranian boats attacked an American naval force that set out to mine the Gulf. The U.S. did not expect Iran to react, and was surprised. This did not stop it from sinking half of the Iranian fleet in response.
Iran has lately been threatening that if it is attacked it will close the Straits of Hormuz and block the flow of oil, and thereby damage the world economy. But this is a problematic threat, since it would also affect Iran's friends and supporters, such as China and India. I have no doubt that in such a case, they would be angry at Iran.
But most experts estimate that in the event of an Israeli attack, the Iranians will respond with force and launch Shihab missiles at Israel.
It is possible, but first, the Shihab missiles are not considered particularly reliable. Iran deploys them without having done hardly any significant tests. Second, the Shihab's guidance system is not very accurate. The missile's range of accuracy is up to a kilometer. And finally, Israel's aerial defense system - the Arrow missiles would certainly intercept quite a few Shihab missiles. Moreover, Iran's firing missiles at Israel would enable Israel to respond in a decisive manner.
And what about Hezbollah? They will certainly mobilize to help Iran and respond against Israel.
There is no guarantee that Hezbollah will react automatically. They will make their considerations on the basis of their interests, as they understand them. In Hezbollah, they are very aware of Israel's strength, and of the harsh reaction that may result if Hezbollah attacks.
In other words, you're basically saying that things are not as they seem? That Iran is like a dog whose bark is worse than his bite?
There's something to that. My assessment is that contrary to the impression that has been formed, Iran's options for responding are limited and weak.

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Obama Woos Joos: 'unshakable commitment' to Israel if elected

US Presidential candidates are outdoing themselves in vows of support for Israel. Of course, what they do in office is another matter.  
Last update - 09:16 23/05/2008       
Obama promises 'unshakable commitment' to Israel if elected
By News Agencies
If you get e-mail that says I'm a Muslim: not true
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Thursday promised an "unshakable commitment" to Israel if he is elected.
Obama also explained the roots of his unusual name, listed some of his Jewish friends and voiced support for Israel on Thursday during a synagogue visit designed to shore up Jewish support for his U.S. presidential bid.
Obama, an Illinois senator and the front-runner for his party's White House nomination, addressed concerns about his views on Israel, his religion and his race during a nearly two-hour session at a synagogue with Democrats and Republicans in Florida, a state that will be key to winning November's general election.
"There is not a single trace of me ever being anything more than a friend of Israel and a friend of the Jewish people," Obama said, telling the crowd not to believe fliers and e-mails that suggested otherwise.
"Judge me by what I say and what I've done. Don't judge me because I've got a funny name. Don't judge me because I'm African-American."
Critics have raised doubts about Obama's commitment to the Jewish state, floating rumors that he was a Muslim and linking him to Louis Farrakhan, a prominent black Muslim leader known for his anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Obama is a Christian, has denounced Farrakhan, and has vowed not to change staunch American support of Israel - a mainstay of U.S. Middle East policy.
"If you get one of these e-mails that says I'm a Muslim: not true," he told the crowd.
The questions from the B'Nai Torah Congregation touched on Obama's policy proposals and his personal life. When asked about his name, Obama said it had the same roots as a similar Jewish one and meant "one who's blessed."
One questioner asked the Illinois senator to name close friends who were Jewish and pro-Israel.
"I hesitate to start listing them out," Obama said, cautioning against a stereotype that having acquaintances in a minority group meant you did not behave in a prejudiced way. He then identified three of his close Jewish friends.
Questioners also drilled him on his willingness to meet with U.S. foes like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denounced Israel and denied the Holocaust occurred.
Obama, while critical of the Iranian president, said direct diplomacy with Iran would be more effective in advancing U.S. and Israeli interests than a lack of engagement.
Not everyone agreed.
"I think that our commander in chief should not propose talks with someone who calls for the destruction of Israel," Stephen Lippy, 51, told Reuters.
Some said they were concerned about Obama's support for the Jewish state before his visit but came away satisfied.
"I think today convinced me," said Aaron Levitt, 32, a rabbi and Democrat. "I feel like he made it very clear that Israel's at the center of his Middle East policy and would be a very important ally in his presidency."
Obama, who would be the nation's first black president, addressed the issue of race directly, saying he was concerned that a historic connection between African Americans and Jewish Americans had slipped.
"I want to make sure that I am one of the vehicles by which we can rebuild those bonds," he said.
A sample of audience members said race would not affect their votes, while admitting it could be an issue for some.
"I think that people don't realize it, but I do think it's there," said Obama supporter Barbara Schneider, 55.
"As a Jew, would I vote for a black person? Sure," said Lippy. "But ... my issue is will he be the best commander in chief when it comes to assisting Israel and our other Western democratic allies".

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No surprise: Iranians shocked by Israel-Syria talks.

 Last update - 09:21 23/05/2008       
Israel-Syria talks leave the 'Iranians in shock'
By Barak Ravid and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents
The announcement of the renewal of negotiations between Israel and Syria will have an immediate effect on Iran's status in the region, senior Israeli sources said on Thursday.
The officials noted that Iran has not yet responded publicly to the talks. "It seems the Iranians are in shock," one of them said.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner Thursday that both sides know what they need to do for peace and insisted that Israel had not made any prior commitments to the Syrians. "I told them if you want to talk come and talk. The Syrians know what we want and we know what they want," Olmert told Kouchner.
Olmert told Kouchner that the talks with Syria would not detract from peace efforts on the Palestinian front, saying that "Israel intends to hold parallel peace talks [with the Palestinian Authority and Syria] without having one set of talks take precedence over the other."
However, Israeli officials feel that there is a better chance of reaching an agreement with the Syrians than with the Palestinians, and a Syrian agreement has a better chance of being implemented.
A senior official in the Prime Minister's Bureau said that "the Syrians are serious and their intentions appear to be sincere. It is clear that if we reach an agreement it will be possible to implement it."
The sources say it should be easier to reach a deal with the Syrians because the issues on the Syrian front are only territorial, while those relating to the Palestinians concern a number of sensitive matters including land.
In addition, because President Bashar Assad has full control over Syria, an agreement with him will be honored and implemented, Israeli officials say.
The talks on both the Syrian and Palestinian fronts will continue for now, with the Palestinian negotiations in the hands of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The talks with the Syrians will be handled by the prime minister's bureau.
Olmert, Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak presented a unified front Thursday regarding Israel's expectations from Syria.
Livni said Syria must distance itself from Tehran and cut ties to Iranian-backed groups like Hezbollah and Hamas if it wants to make peace with Israel.
"Israel wants to live in peace with its neighbors, but Syria also needs to understand that it needs full renunciation of supporting terror - Hezbollah, Hamas and of course Iran," Livni said. She called Syria's ties with Iran "problematic," referring to the Israeli accusations that the Islamic republic sponsors Hamas and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
"The Syrians also need to understand that ... they must distance themselves completely from their ... problematic ties with Iran," Livni said before the start of a meeting with Kouchner.
Barak discussed the talks in public for the first time Thursday, tempering high hopes by saying that the road to peace is long.
"The Syrians know that concessions are a two-way street, and the distance from here to a peace agreement is vast," Barak said, speaking at a ceremony for Israel Defense Forces reservists at the President's Residence.
"Peace will come only from a position of power and security," Livni said.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who also met with Kouchner, told him that while Israel is ready to make painful concessions for peace, an agreement will not be reached if Damascus continues to provide support to Hezbollah and Hamas, and to serve as Iran's central ally.
Olmert spoke to the 27 ambassadors from EU nations in Tel Aviv and called on the EU to add Hezbollah to its list of terrorist organizations. He asked them to support sanctions on groups that aid Hezbollah and to prevent the transfer of funds to the group.
Israel has asked the EU numerous times to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and more so since the Second Lebanon War. But many European countries refuse due to the complex Lebanese political situation and Hezbollah's participation in the Lebanese government.
The EU lists Hamas as a terrorist organization, and keeps to the official policy of not having any contact with the group, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist and does not renounce terror.
On Wednesday, Olmert told Kadima and Labor Party officials that the defense establishment had been in on the secret of the Syrian talks, and that Barak was updated on their progress. Olmert said Barak supported him and gave advice.
Livni was also updated on the Syrian channel, Olmert said, except for the last few days when the talks were held in Turkey. In addition, the Americans knew of the talks, but did not take a stand one way or the other.
The security cabinet is expected to meet next Thursday to discuss the northern front, and most likely the talks with Syria as well. On Sunday, the cabinet will have a security briefing; a number of ministers are expected to voice reservations on the negotiations with Syria.

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Hagee says God sent Hitler to hunt Jews, McCain rejects him

Remember, Hagee was a major speaker at the AIPAC convention!
And you thought kids say the darndest things.  
Last update - 09:14 23/05/2008    
McCain rejects pastor's support after 'God sent Hitler' comment
By The Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate John McCain has rejected the endorsement of an influential Texas televangelist criticized for his anti-Catholic views.
John Hagee, the Texas preacher, withdrew his endorsement at the same time.
McCain issued a statement after audio surfaced in which Hagee said "God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land."
McCain said in a statement: "Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well."
Hagee also issued a statement saying he was tired of baseless attacks and he was removing himself from any active role in the 2008 campaign.

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A shameful act: UN backs Lebanese gov't capitulation to Hezbollah

Western leaders have dangerous illusions about the events in Lebanon. They view them in terms of public opinion effects in a democratic society. Public opinion will not matter in the sort of state the Hezbollah are about to create
Last update - 11:07 23/05/2008       
West backs Lebanese gov't capitulation to Hezbollah
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies
The United Nations Security Council on Thursday welcomed a Lebanese peace deal brokered by Qatar, an agreement that may have averted a new civil war in the Middle East.
The council said it "welcomes and strongly supports the agreement reached in Doha ... which constitutes an essential step towards the resolution of the current crisis, the return to normal functioning of Lebanese democratic institutions, the complete restoration of Lebanon's unity and stability."
In the nonbinding statement, a French initiative, the council also urged the parties to implement all aspects of the agreement.
Rival Lebanese leaders signed the deal on Wednesday to end 18 months of political conflict that had threatened to push the country into a new civil war.
The agreement, which was reached after six days of Arab-mediated talks, also paved the way for the election of a new president.

The declaration thus represents a Western stamp of approval to an agreement that is in practice a capitulation to Hezbollah demands, including a greater share of the political decision-making power in Lebanon.
The agreement was the culmination of weeks of turmoil, during which violent incidents initiated by Hezbollah, including the group's takeover of parts of Beirut, gripped the country.
According to the terms of the Doha agreement, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora will resign in the coming days; the commander of the army, Michel Suleiman, will be installed as president, and the government will comprise 30 ministers.
Most significantly, however, the agreement meets a key Hezbollah demand to reshape the structure of government representation. Members of the Shi'ite organization will account for one-third of the government ministers, plus an additional portfolio, thus enabling the group to veto any government decision. Hezbollah will now wield more political clout than it ever has in the past.
Despite enhancing Hezbollah's position within the Lebanese power structure, the U.S. will support the Security Council statement praising the agreement, which is viewed as a vehicle to promote the internal stability of the country.
The representatives of all Security Council member states are currently holding consultations over the precise language of the statement in hopes that the wording will be approved by consensus. One of the drafts being considered by the body includes an expression of gratitude to the Arab parties who worked in mediating the deal, among them the Arab League and Qatar.
One potential stumbling block over the final wording of the statement centers around the issue of whether to include references to prior Security Council resolutions passed in relation to Lebanon in recent years, including Resolution 1701, which brought an end to the Second Lebanon War.
Another Security Council resolution that is to be mulled is 1559, which includes a clause stipulating the decommissioning of weapons belonging to the various militia forces in the country. The U.S. and France insist on including mention of the resolution in the statement. Libya has stated its opposition, while Russia has also expressed reservations.
U.S. and U.K. say Hezbollah weaker after Beirut fighting
The United States and Britain said on Thursday they believed Hezbollah had been weakened by this month's fighting in Beirut despite the greater
influence the militant group gained in Lebanon's Cabinet.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband rejected the view that the show of force by Hezbollah had increased its power.
"Hezbollah lost something very important, which is any argument that it is somehow a resistance movement on behalf of the Lebanese people," Rice told reporters traveling with her and Miliband on a trip to her California hometown.
"What it is, is a militia that, given an opportunity, decided to turn its guns on its own people. It is never going to live that down," she said.
Miliband said Hezbollah had shown an "unacceptable" show of force in the streets which created an "illusion" of its power. More than 80 people were killed in the military campaign by Hezbollah amid fears of a return to full-scale civil war.
"What struck us in subsequent days is that the reaction of the people of Lebanon has been very negative about that. The guns of Hezbollah were trained on their own people. The long term consequences of that are potentially going to strengthen the forces of democracy in Lebanon," said Miliband.
Zvi Barel contributed to this story.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Abbas: 'East Jerusalem must be returned'

Khaled Abu Toameh , THE JERUSALEM POST  May. 21, 2008
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday opened the Palestine Investment Conference in Bethlehem by declaring that east Jerusalem belonged to the Palestinian people and must be returned to them.
"East Jerusalem is ours and it's an occupied territory," Abbas said in his speech. "It must be returned."
The conference, the first of it kind in the PA, is aimed at boosting the Palestinian economy by encouraging local, Arab and international businessmen to invest in various projects.
More than 1,000 businessmen and politicians are attending the three-day conference, including some from Israel, the US and the EU.
The PA invested nearly half a million dollars in decorating the streets of the city and its surroundings ahead of the conference.
The deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Muhammad Bin Hamdan al-Nihayan, is heading his country's delegation to the conference. The delegation arrived aboard a Jordanian helicopter that landed near the Dheisheh refugee camp.
An Iraqi businessman who asked not to be identified is also among the participants.
About PA 2,000 policemen have been assigned to enforce law and order and guard the guests. Four hundred journalists are in Bethlehem to cover the conference, which has been described by PA officials as an "historic event."
Abbas told the conference that he would pursue his efforts to bridge the gap in the peace negotiations with Israel.
"We are holding serious and thorough talks with the Israelis with the hope of reaching an agreement before the end of this year," he said. "Our hands are extended to anyone who wants security and stability for this precious land."
There were "encouraging reports" from Cairo regarding Egypt's efforts to achieve a truce between the Palestinians and Israel, Abbas said. He also welcomed reports about the launching of negotiations between Israel and Syria and the agreement reached Wednesday between the Lebanese government and Hizbullah.
Abbas urged Hamas to end its control of the Gaza Strip, saying he was prepared to hold early presidential and parliamentary elections soon after that happened.
Hassan Abu Libdeh, executive director of the conference, sounded optimistic as he talked to reporters. He said that a Saudi company has agreed to invest in a $250 million construction project in the West Bank.
He said the project would include office and apartment buildings, as well as malls and a hotel in Bireh, adjoining Ramallah.
Altogether, the Palestinians are hoping to attract during the conference some $2 billion in investment. Several Palestinian businessmen attending the conference expressed hope that Israel would ease travel restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip so as to encourage investors.


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Prehistoric cave uncovered in Western Galilee

Prehistoric cave uncovered in Western Galilee
A stalactite cave containing prehistoric remains was exposed in the Western Galilee. Among the artifacts found are flint implements and the bones of animals that have long since become extinct from ‎the country's landscape
(Communicated by the Israel Antiquities Authority Spokesman )

 While carrying out development work connected with the construction of a sewage line in a forest of the Jewish National Fund, a large stalactite cave was accidentally breached inside of which an abundance of prehistoric artifacts were discovered.
Immediately upon exposing the cave personnel were summoned there from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Center for Cave Exploration and the Western Galilee Rescue Unit.
According to Dr. Ofer Marder, head of the Prehistory Branch of the Israel Antiquities Authority who examined the cave, "It seems that during the past 40-50 years no cave has been found with such a wealth of prehistoric finds and certainly not inside such a lovely stalactite cave. The cave includes a number of chambers, of which the main chamber measures c. 60 x 80 meters. Inside it is a soil accumulation that contains numerous flint tools that were knapped by man and a variety of zoological remains of animals that are no longer present in our country's landscape such as the red deer, fallow deer, buffalo and even the remains of bears".
 The cave is being researched by the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Jewish National Fund and the Center for Cave Exploration. The initial impression of those who first examined the cave is that it seems to date to the Upper Paleolithic period (40,000-20,000 YBP); however, it is possible that the cave was also used in earlier periods and a final determination with regards to this can only be made following a thorough study of it.
At this point, the cave is sealed and access to it is not possible. The Israel Antiquities Authority is inspecting the special finds that were discovered there and at a later stage a study will be required to examine the animal population, climate and geology of the region during the periods when the cave was being used. The cave will also be dated by means of advanced scientific methods that will provide researchers with an absolute chronological range

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Gaza Truce: Suicide bomber blows up truck at Gaza crossing

No comment is necessary, is it?
 Last update - 09:45 22/05/2008       
Suicide bomber blows up truck at Gaza crossing; no IDF soldiers hurt
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff , Haaretz Correspondents and Reuters
A Palestinian bomber blew up a truck on the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza Strip border early Thursday morning. The driver was the only casualty in the attempted attack.
A spokesman for Islamic Jihad said his group carried out the attack in cooperation with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's more secular Fatah faction. Jihad described the attack as a successful martyrdom operation.
An Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman confirmed that there had been an explosion in the area. No IDF soldiers were hurt.
The explosives-laden truck may exploded on the Palestinian side due to a technical failure. As it approached the border, other militants fired mortar shells at the crossing.
Shortly after the explosion, the Israel Air Force attacked a vehicle carrying several Palestinians that were apparently connected to the attempted attack. The IDF said two militants were killed in the strike.
Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad's armed wing, said the truck was carrying four tons of explosives. He identified the suicide bomber as 23-year-old Ibrahim Nasser from Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said the vehicle was driven by a suicide bomber under cover of heavy early morning fog and that he was accompanied by gunmen.
Residents in the Gaza Strip who live over 30 km (20 miles) from the crossing reported hearing the blast.
Israel's Channel 10 television said troops had prevented the truck from getting close to the crossing by firing at it before it exploded.
Thursday's incident was one in a string of recent Palestinian militant attacks on Israeli crossings on the Gaza border. Last month, on the eve of Passover, Hamas gunmen wounded 13 Israeli soldiers in a well-coordinated assault by explosives-laden vehicles against the Kerem Shalom crossing.
One week prior, Gaza militants killed two Israeli civilian workers at the Nahal Oz crossing's fuel depot.
Israel has heavily restricted the movement of Palestinian people and goods through its border crossings with Gaza since Hamas seized the territory from Fatah in fighting last June.
In Egyptian-mediated talks on a truce between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, Hamas has demanded the crossings be re-opened in return for a cessation of violence.
"Resistance is strong and we are not begging for calm," Abu Ahmed said after the attack.
Separately, but at the time of the bombing, IDF troops raided a village in the central Gaza Strip and shot dead a 63-year-old man, medical workers and Hamas said.
An IDF spokesman had no immediate information on the incident. Israel frequently carries out raids and air strikes in the Gaza Strip as part of what it describes as efforts to curb Qassam rocket fire at Negev towns.

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Muhamad Al Dura - The little Shahid who never was

Muhamad Al Dura - The little Shahid who never was and the war that was made by the media

France-2's film of Muhamad al-Dura supposedly being murdered by Israeli troops was very dramatic. It was used to kindle Palestinian violence that lasted five years and resulted in thousands of death. But al-Dura was probably not killed by Israeli soldiers, and France-2's film does not prove that he did.
It will be interesting to see how many of the media that highlighted the original story and kept it in front of the public, will now publish the truth. So far, very few large media outlets outside of Jewish and Israeli media have published the news. Liberation, in France is an exception.
Ami Isseroff

French court overturns al-Dura libel judgment

The French Court of Appeals on Wednesday found in favor of Jewish activist Philippe Karsenty, overturning a lower court decision that he had libeled France 2 and its Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin when he accused them of knowingly misleading the watching world about the death of the Palestinian child Muhammad al-Dura in the Gaza Strip in 2000.

"The verdict means we have the right to say France 2 broadcast a fake news report, that [al-Dura's shooting] was a staged hoax and that they duped everybody - without being sued," Karsenty told The Jerusalem Post shortly after the verdict was issued at 1:30 p.m. Paris time.

Al-Dura was filmed cowering with his father, Jalal, behind a barrel at the Gaza Strip's Netzarim junction on September 30, 2000, during an apparent gun battle between Palestinians and IDF troops.

Fifty-five seconds of video footage were released to the world by France 2 at the time, out of some 18 minutes that were shown in court and even more footage that France 2's detractors claim is not being shown to the public.

The video, taken by Palestinian cameraman and France 2 stringer Talal Abu Rahma, shows al-Dura hiding, and then cuts to footage of him lying, apparently dead, at the junction. It does not show the child killed.

The footage, and Enderlin's broadcast assertion of Israeli responsibility for the killing of al-Dura, turned the 12-year-old's death into a cause célèbre in the Muslim world.

According to Middle East and media expert Tom Gross, "Osama bin Laden referred to al-Dura in a post-9/11 video; the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl placed a picture of him in their beheading video; streets, squares and academies have been named after al-Dura. He became a poster child for the [second] intifada."

Karsenty, the head of the media watchdog Media Ratings, was sued for libel after calling for Enderlin's and France 2 news director Arlette Chabot's dismissal, saying the footage was "a hoax."

Enderlin, who was not present in Gaza at the time of the incident, has vehemently denied the charge, expressing confidence in cameraman Abu Rahma's honesty.

Convicted of libel in 2006, Karsenty was slapped with two $1,380 fines - one to be paid to France 2 and one to the station's reporter - and ordered to pay another $4,000 in court costs when he wrote that the incident constituted a "masquerade that dishonors France and its public television."

On Wednesday, his appeal against that conviction was upheld.

The IDF, which initially apologized for the death of al-Dura, concluded after an investigation that the boy could not have been hit by Israeli bullets.

A statement forwarded to the Post from Enderlin said "the appeals court ruled that Karsenty's words were, in fact, libelous, and that Karsenty failed to prove that the news was staged and/or false."

The statement added that the case was nevertheless overturned because "the court believed Karsenty had the right to stridently criticize the [France 2] report, since it dealt with an emotional topic, and that Karsenty's investigation into the matter convinced the court he was being sincere."

A source close to Enderlin's side of the case explained that "you can get out of a libel suit either by proving you're right, or by showing you were sincere and had some research. The court found the latter to be the case."

The source also said Enderlin and France 2 would appeal the verdict, noting that they had won three out of four instances of judgment in the matter.

But, replied Karsenty, the only appeal left would be to France's Supreme Court.

"If they continue to insist they are correct," added Karsenty, "we will have victims of terror attacks that directly resulted from the [al-Dura] footage sue France 2."

Karsenty also called on French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who Karsenty sees as "ultimately responsible" for the publicly owned television station, "to take responsibility for the French state's defense of the worst anti-Semitic lie around. It's time to apologize to the world for broadcasting a fake news report that has inflamed the Muslim world and endangered world peace."

Karsenty's claims are based on inconsistencies in the footage, including a publicly available video-taped admission by Abu Rahma that there are untold secrets related to the case, the fact that only seven bullet holes are seen behind al-Dura despite Abu Rahma's repeated statements that the child survived 45 minutes of continuous shooting by Israeli forces directed at the boy, footage clearly showing pretend gun battles and faked ambulance runs at the junction that day, testimony of the IDF soldiers stationed at the junction who said they did not participate in any firefight that day, and the lack of footage of al-Dura's actual shooting.

Despite France 2's playing down of the verdict, some analysts believe it is significant. According to Gross, "Today's ruling shows there are serious doubts about France 2's version of events, and that the entire world press was irresponsible in being so quick to take at face value the claims of a local Palestinian cameraman, who has admitted his partisanship."

Several months ago, the deputy commander of the IDF Spokesman's Office, Col. Shlomi Am-Shalom, wrote to France 2 asking for the entire unedited 27-minute film shot by France 2's Palestinian cameraman on September 30, 2000, as well as footage the cameraman filmed on October 1, 2000. Am-Shalom stressed that the IDF had "ruled out" the notion that al-Dura was killed by Israeli fire.

Citing the findings of the IDF's probe into the incident, ordered by then-OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yom Tov Samia, Am-Shalom wrote, "The general has made clear that from an analysis of all the data from the scene, including the location of the IDF position, the trajectory of the bullets, the location of the father and the son behind an obstacle, the cadence of the bullet fire, the angle at which the bullets penetrated the wall behind the father and his son, and the hours of the events, we can rule out with the greatest certainty the possibility that the gunfire that apparently harmed the boy and his father was fired by IDF soldiers, who were at the time located only inside their fixed position [at the junction]."

The text of Wednesday's ruling has not yet been released to the media.


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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Some of my best friends are anti-Semites

Funny and blog-able article from the Australian.
Barry Cohen | May 21, 2008
MY favourite definition of an anti-Semite is "a person who hates Jews more than is absolutely necessary". Susan Chandler, the former Victorian Liberal Party campaign manager who described a colleague as a "greedy f..king Jew", appears to qualify.
The object of Chandler's affection was Adam Held, the Liberal candidate at the recent federal election for the Victorian seat of Melbourne Ports. Held is Jewish, as is his opponent, the sitting member Michael Danby.
It appears Held earned Chandler's ire during the campaign when he committed the unforgivable sin of doing an Oliver Twist and asking for more. It wasn't gruel he was after but extra political pamphlets for his campaign. Chandler obviously thought it was a plot by the Elders of Zion to corner the market in political pamphlets. Today pamphlets, tomorrow the world.
One would have thought that in view of Held's work ethic a more apt description would have been "a hardworking f..king Jew".
Clearly, Chandler is not the sharpest knife in the Liberal drawer. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature would not have committed such terms of endearment to email. Nor would they have been outraged at the suggestion that they had done anything wrong. "Anti-Semitic? Moi? Some of my best friends are Jews." She may have a few less in the not-too-distant future.
It's strange how anti-Semites rarely recognise their own prejudice. As a young and promising golfer I indicated to my boss, a charming and cultured man, that I was interested in joining his golf club. "Sorry, son, no Jews, jockeys or jailbirds." He couldn't recognise his responsibility as a human being to take a principled stand against anti-Semitism.
In the 1940s, when Jews were unable to join any of the A-grade clubs in Sydney or Melbourne, they decided to build their own clubs and were immediately attacked for being exclusive. That the clubs had non-Jewish members was conveniently ignored.
After World War II, and the attempt by the Nazis to destroy European Jewry, there was sympathy and support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the mandated territories of Palestine. When the UN voted in November 1947 to create an Arab and a Jewish state, the neighbouring Arab countries attacked the Jewish state.
That Israel survived was first met with disbelief, then awe and finally anger. Those, particularly on the Left, who had wept openly for the murdered millions, started to resent Jews no longer being victims.
How dare Jews win? How dare they defend themselves against those who wished to destroy them? How dare they refuse to accede to the absurd demands of the people who had created the problem by refusing to accept the UN decision? Jews had decided that they no longer wanted the sympathy and tears of the liberal Left. They wanted to survive, on their own terms.
As Israel repulsed attempts to destroy it, the anger of the liberal Left increased in intensity. As internationally famous lawyer Alan Dershowitz stated, "Throughout the world, from the chambers of the UN to the campuses of universities, Israel is singled out for condemnation, disinvestment, boycott and demonisation."
Anti-Semitism? "No! No!" cried Israel's critics. "We don't hate Jews, just Israel." For many, Israel became the pariah state. Anti-Semitism became acceptable again. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman responded: "Criticising Israel is not anti-Semitic and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction, out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East, is anti-Semitic and not saying so is dishonest."
It's the double standards by which Israel is judged that incenses Jews and their supporters.
Dershowitz's story of Harvard University president A. Lawrence Lowell's attempt to limit the number of Jews admitted to Harvard in the 1920s because "Jews cheat" is the classic double standard. When an important alumnus objected on the grounds that non-Jews also cheated, Lowell replied, "You're changing the subject. I'm talking about Jews."
In Australia today many journalists are incapable of recognising their own deep-seated prejudices. When I asked one journalist why he and many of his colleagues felt it necessary to mention that certain businesspeople were Jewish, particularly those who had brushes with the law, he bridled at the suggestion that this was anti-Semitic. "It's part of the story," he spluttered.
"Really?" I replied. "How, exactly?" He was unable to give a coherent reply. I asked, "Do you know and mention the religion of James Packer, Rupert Murdoch, Christopher Skase, Kerry Stokes or Alan Bond?"
"No," he replied, somewhat shamefaced.
"And nor should you," I told him, "Because it's irrelevant."
Others were more astute. No mention of religion. They just pointed out that the person they were writing about was a regular visitor to Israel. More clever still was the television program about a Jewish businessman who had just been released from jail. No mention he was Jewish, just a shot of him with his rabbi. Anti-Semitic? Perish the thought.
Then there's the sinister Jewish lobby. One Canberra journalist becomes apoplectic on the subject. Again, no mention of the Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, union or dozens of business and special interest groups that continually lobby governments. No suggestion that they are insidious or sinister.
Oh dear, no. Selective indignation, dear readers, is anti-Semitism.
As a young boy growing up in the aftermath of World War II, I hoped that anti-Semitism would gradually fade away. Regrettably, that has not been the case. It is alive and well and, it would appear, still common among what was once called polite society.
Barry Cohen is a former minister in the Hawke government.

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Israel and Syria to launch indirect talks mediated by Turkey

The report below about peace negotiations between Israel and Syria is confirmed by official Syrian sources. However, the leaked "agreements" posted at Ha'aretz are the same materials that were publicized quite a while ago. They are not binding on the sides, and probably do not represent the content of an agreement.
Ami Isseroff 
 Last update - 12:57 21/05/2008       
Israel and Syria to launch indirect talks
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent
Israel and Syria are set to begin peace negotiations brokered by Turkey, the prime minister's bureau and the Syrian foreign ministry confirmed on Wednesday.
"The two sides have begun indirect talks under Turkish auspices," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said in a statement.
"The sides have declared their intention to conduct the talks without prejudice and with openness," the statement said. "They have decided to conduct the dialogue in a serious and continuous manner with the aim of reaching a comprehensive peace."

Senior officials from both sides were currently in Turkey, an Israeli government official said. Olmert's aides Yoram Turbovitz and Shalom Turjeman, have been in Ankara since Monday holding indirect talls with Syrian officials under Turkish mediation.
The Israeli official said: "The prime minister visited Turkey in February 2007 and in talks with the Turkish prime minister it was agreed that Turkey would start to act in a mediating role.
"The idea was to restart the peace process with Syria... We feel these contacts reached fruition about three weeks ago. It was decided to have a gathering in Ankara. The two officials have been there since Monday, in parallel with Syrian representatives," the official said, stopping short of confirming any direct talks between the two sides.
The foreign ministry in Damascus confirmed the report, shortly after it was released in Israel, Turkey and Syria.
"Syria has started indirect peace talks with Israel under Turkish auspices. Both sides have expressed their desire to conduct the talks in good will and decided to continue dialogue with seriousness to achieve comprehensive peace," a Syrian foreign ministry statement said.
Israel and Syria last held peace talks, in the United States, in 2000 but they collapsed after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on the fate of the Golan Heights, Syrian territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
A government official said that preparations for the talks have been underway since last year. "This has been worked on for quite some time... This started already last year, during a visit by the prime minister to Turkey, and it's coming to fruition now."
Analysts, including former senior Israeli officials, believe there is little prospect of a peace between Israel and Syria without a shift in U.S. policy toward Damascus, possibly once President George W. Bush steps down in January.
One view is that, aside from territory, Israel has little to offer Syria and that Damascus would move its allegiances away from Tehran only on the prospect of being embraced economically and diplomatically by the United States and its allies.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier this month that Washington would support Turkish-brokered talks between Israel and Syria.
But she repeated U.S. demands that Damascus should change its policies on Lebanon, where Syria's allies have been at odds with other factions backed by the United States.
The U.S. government had asked Turkey to increase efforts to advance negotiations between Israel and Syria, according to a report published by the London Arabic daily Al-Hayat on Saturday.
According to the report, the U.S. request comes in light of the recent political crisis in Lebanon, and U.S. assessments that peace between Israel and Syria will help distance the country from Hezbollah.
The report quoted a source as saying that Washington has hinted to Israel more than once the importance of progress in talks with Syria.
The source added that the U.S. said they are ready to participate in talks between the countries if Turkey is able to achieve a breakthrough between them.
Last week, Olmert said he was prepared to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and Syria during his term in office, according to a report in the magazine Paris Match.
Ankara would like both sides to commit to a signed declaration as a starting point for talks. According to the report, Turkey decided to postpone the proposed sit-down after the Syrians revealed Jerusalem's stated willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace.
The newspaper added that the Syrian leadership was assuaged by Olmert's refusal to deny or backtrack from the claims when word reached the news media in Israel.

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Report: Israeli-Palestinian agreement and disagreement

The Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations: What was – and was not – Agreed On, INSS Insight No. 56, May 21, 2008
Benn, Aluf

At the Israeli Presidential Conference "Facing Tomorrow," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that real progress has been made in Israel's talks with the Palestinian Authority. According to Olmert, "understandings and agreements regarding highly important matters have been achieved, though some issues are still outstanding."

            The talks between Olmert and PA president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in tandem with the talks between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmad Qurei (Abu Ala) are meant to achieve an agreement of principles by the end of 2008, as announced at the Annapolis conference. Olmert is interested in accelerating the time table and completing the formulation of the agreement by the end of the summer, in order to bring it to the Knesset for approval during the winter session.

            The agreement is supposed to present the outline for the two-state solution while postponing its implementation for the future, in accordance with the roadmap. At its core will be the future borders between Israel and the Palestinian state and the delineation of security arrangements between the two countries. The question of Jerusalem is to be postponed, and the two sides are still at odds over the issue of the refugees.

            Apparently the most important understanding achieved in the talks concerns the status of the settlements in the interim period, from the time the agreement is signed until its implementation. Determining an agreed-upon border in the West Bank will clarify which settlements are headed for future evacuation and the number of evacuees in question. Olmert made clear that once the border is determined, the government will begin procedures for "evacuation and compensation" legislation for residents of the settlements who choose to leave; furthermore, there will be a freeze on construction in the settlements slated for evacuation. In return, Israel will be free to build in the settlement blocs that are to remain within its borders.

            The disagreement over the border focuses on the land to be annexed by Israel and the compensation in kind to the Palestinians. The Palestinian position during the talks was similar to the proposals presented during the Taba talks and what appears in the Geneva initiative, whereby Israel would retain some 3.5% of West Bank land. The Palestinian state would receive 2% in land exchanges, and another 1.5% in a Gaza to West Bank crossing. Olmert and Livni suggested that Israel hold on to a larger area of the West Bank, some 8-10%, and that the land exchange formula give extra weight to the crossing between the two Palestinian geographical areas because of its strategic importance to the Palestinians. In the prime minister's opinion, it is possible to come up with a solution to the border dispute.

            Olmert has also proposed that the agreement refer to the refugee question as well and include a general declaration about principles for a solution, even if the discussion over practical steps is postponed. Apparently the Palestinians are reluctant to concur, and prefer that the agreement cover only the issues of borders and settlements.

            From Israel's point of view, the main advantage of formulating the agreement lies in easing international pressures to end the occupation of the West Bank. Through its commitment to a future withdrawal from the vast majority of West Bank territory, to be accompanied by a building freeze in the settlements and a voluntary evacuation by the settlement residents, Israel will be signaling that it does not intend to perpetuate its rule over the Palestinians. The ratification of the agreement in an international forum such as the Security Council would lend authorized approval to the two-state solution and dampen the calls by hostile elements for a one-state solution.

            Attaining the agreement will also be seen as a political achievement for outgoing US president George W. Bush. One may assume that in the prime minister's view, proven progress in the Palestinian arena will make it easier for Bush to take a harsher stance with regard to Iran before the end of his term, perhaps even including a show of force. The link between the Palestinian question and the Iranian nuclear issue was manifested by the speeches of both leaders in the Knesset, which, in all probability, were discussed in advance between Jerusalem and Washington. Olmert promised that the agreement with the Palestinians would be approved in the Knesset by a wide majority, and Bush said that Iran can never be allowed to have nuclear weapons.

            The weakness of the agreement lies in its being a "shelf" agreement, and its future need to match its conditions to the reality on the ground. It is hard to set up detailed security arrangements when the nature of the future Palestinian regime is still unclear. Israel will also have reason to be concerned if it achieves an agreement with Palestinian moderates but will have to implement it while a Hamas government is in power.

            If an agreement is reached, the political challenge before Olmert will not be simple. He will have to recruit the Shas faction, as well as Knesset members from the right wing of Kadima who might well oppose an agreement with the Palestinians and an evacuation-compensation law. Without their support, there is no "large majority" in the Knesset to approve the agreement.

            The main arguments Olmert will present in favor of the agreement are that it conforms to the basic principles of the government; that its implementation is postponed and conditional upon the Palestinians making a change in the conditions on the ground; that it contains the security arrangements vital to Israel; that it postpones dealing with the issue of Jerusalem; that it allows unrestricted construction in the settlement blocs to be annexed to Israel, and that its signing will guarantee Israel unprecedented backing and support from the international community. It is safe to assume that selling the agreement will also be helped by declarations of friendship by President Bush, which will be reinforced with promises to upgrade the relations between the United States and Israel.

            The coming weeks will be decisive, and by the end of the summer it will be clear whether an agreement has been reached or if the Annapolis process will join the list of the failures that preceded it.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Lebanese Agreement to end Crisis

According to the headline: Lebanese Leaders Reach Agreement Ending Crisis
That remains to be seen. Here is the story from Naharnet:
Lebanese leaders reached an agreement in Doha early Wednesday to end a long-running political crisis that nearly drove the country to a new civil war.

"An agreement has been reached," between the pro-government majority and the Hizbullah-led opposition, MP Ali Hasan Khalil told reporters.

The agreement calls for electing a president immediately, formation of a government based on a 16-11-3 formula (16 for the majority, 11 for the opposition and 3 to be chosen by the president), adoption of the Qada-based 1960 electoral law such as Beirut is divided into three constituencies ( 5 -4 - 10) for one time only.

"We expect a (parliamentary) vote to elect a president on Thursday or Friday," Khalil said ahead of a Wednesday deadline for the Doha talks to wrap up.

Another opposition delegate who requested not to be named had said earlier that a joint committee formed to iron out differences over a decisive electoral law for parliamentary polls due next year had been "making final touches to a deal."

Lebanese rivals agreed last year on electing army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman as a successor to Damascus protégé Emile Lahoud, who stepped down at the end of his term in November.

But they have differed over shares in a proposed unity government and the electoral law.

The talks hung in the balance Tuesday after Qatari hosts announced a Wednesday deadline to receive responses to two proposals put forward by an Arab ministerial committee led by Qatar.

Qatar had put forward a compromise proposal calling for an immediate parliamentary vote to elect Suleiman as president and the formation of a unity government while postponing talks on a new electoral law, a government delegate said earlier.

The Syria- and Iran-backed opposition refused to put off discussion of the disputed electoral law, and insisted on getting a "blocking minority" in a proposed unity government.

According to the government delegate, a second proposal suggested a return to an electoral law adopted in 1960, which is no longer in force. That would require amendments to disputed constituency boundaries in the capital Beirut -- the bedrock of support for Sunni parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri.

Rival parties aim to secure as many as possible of the capital's 19 seats in the 128-member parliament.

Both proposals also offered the opposition the long-demanded blocking minority, the same delegate said.

The 18-month-old political deadlock erupted into bitter sectarian fighting earlier this month that saw 65 people killed and during which Hizbullah and its Shiite allies briefly seized Sunni areas of mainly Muslim west Beirut.(AFP-Naharnet)

Beirut, 21 May 08, 07:05

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Continued (Permanent Link)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Israel - Hamas truce - supposedly, it is about to happen

A mistake in the making?
 Last update - 11:40 20/05/2008       
Israel-Hamas truce in Gaza could take effect later this week
By Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff, and Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondents
The cease-fire (tahdiyeh) being negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip is expected to go into effect in a number of days, following developments at the end of meetings held by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday with the Egyptian leadership.
The Egyptian Chief of Intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, who has been mediating between the parties, is scheduled to meet Tueday with the heads of the Palestinian factions in the Strip.
Israel is waiting to learn from Suleiman whether the Palestinian groups, headed by Hamas, will agree to an unofficial deal on a cessation of terrorist activities in the strip, in return for an end to IDF attacks.
Israel does not intend to officially announce that it has accepted the tahdiyeh deal, but will let the situation unfold gradually - and evaluate the indirect accord with Hamas on the basis of results on the ground.
Tuesday's meeting between Suleiman and a Hamas-led delegation from the Gaza Strip headed by the deputy head of the group's politburo, Mussa Abu Marzouk, is critical to whether the cease-fire deal will be closed.
Suleiman will present Israel's position on the cease-fire and its other demands to the Hamas representatives.
According to Egyptian sources, Hamas will find the Israeli position acceptable.
Suleiman will meet with Israeli officials following the meeting with Hamas, and a decision will be made on H-hour, the point at which the cease-fire will go into effect.
Barak on Monday met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Suleiman, Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit, and Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
During his meetings, Barak presented the Egyptians with Israel's conditions for a cease-fire with the Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip.
Barak broke down the stages of the cease-fire, and said that the IDF will conduct itself within an agreement for "security calm" only after a complete cessation of the Qassam rocket attacks targetting communities in the western Negev, as well as all terrorist attacks originating in the Strip.
Israel is also demanding that at this stage Hamas cease smuggling weapons, funds and persons trained in paramilitary activities.
The Egyptians told Barak that they will step up their efforts to prevent weapons smuggling from Sinai into the Strip, and claimed that they are already seeing a major improvement.
Last year the two sides agreed to set up a hotline for dealing with problems along the border, but this has yet to materialize.
However, the issue of smuggling was the subject of discussion for officers and officials from both sides at a recent meeting.
Egyptian sources said that Israel presented a position that offers the cease-fire agreement real chances of success.
"Both sides, Hamas and Israel, appear interested in the cease-fire," the Egyptian source said.
However, Barak also warned that "if the rocket attacks on the western Negev communities and the terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip continue, this may accelerate the downward spiral toward a military confrontation between Israel and Hamas in the Strip."
The defense minister insisted that even if there is a cease-fire in the Strip, Israel will retain the freedom of action in the West Bank.
Barak also presented the Egyptians with another demand: "Israel is asking for furthering and accelerating the negotiations for the release of the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit as part of the overall process of settling the situation in the area [the Gaza Strip]."
Egyptian sources said that Israel did not condition the agreement for a cease-fire on the release of the abducted soldier, but added that Israel would like to renew efforts to restart the frozen process of releasing prisoners.
Egypt has made it clear that if the cease-fire agreement is accepted, then the efforts for the release of Shalit will pick up pace.
A senior Hamas source said yesterday that the Egyptians have not tried to link the question of Shalit and the cease-fire. The same source said that the Hamas does not believe Israel will foil the tahdiyeh over Shalit.
"It is a very complicated issue that may delay the cease-fire for weeks," he said.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Hamas: truce does not mean an end to "resistance"

'Truce doesn't mean end of resistance'  states Hamas, hinting broadly at their strategy:
Israel is mistaken if it thinks that a truce with Hamas would mean that the "resistance operations" would end, a senior Hamas official said Monday.

"The confrontation with the [Israeli] occupation will continue despite the talk about a tahdiyah [calm]," said Osama Hamdan, Hamas's representative in Lebanon.
"Hamas does not trust the Israelis because they are likely to violate the tahdiyah and launch fresh aggressions against our people. As far as Hamas is concerned, all options remain open."
Hamas will violate the truce, perhaps letting Islamic Jihad do the dirty work, or claiming that an 'operation' was not sanctioned by any group. Israel will eventually be forced to retaliate and then Hamas can claim that Israel "violated" the truce.
Ami Isseroff

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Political Esperanto: Israel at Sixty: An Interview with Mitchell Cohen

A cogent discussion of the issues. Even if all the points have been covered before, Cohen does it better than most. For example:  

 From its origins in the late nineteenth century, the Zionist movement was pessimistic about the future of the Jews in the West and in Russia. Many liberals and leftists told them that they were too "particularist" and should put all their faith in universalizing political movements—communism or liberalism, for examples—but nobody can look back at the last century and say that the Zionists were wrong in seeing that emergency was at hand and that what might be called political Esperanto was wrong.
Remember that one - "Political Esperanto"

Israel at Sixty: An Interview with Mitchell Cohen

Daniel Buarque: You point out in your article, "Anti-Semitism and the Left that Doesn't Learn" (Dissent, Winter 2008), that Israel's legitimacy is often questioned in the world because of conflicts in the Middle East and because of Israel's relationship to the Palestinians. Should the rest of the world celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Israeli independence? Why?

Mitchell Cohen: One of the points I tried to make is that Israel is subjected to double standards, especially on the left. Saying that gives me no joy: I identify with the left so my criticism comes from within the left. I celebrate the birth of the state of Israel because it represented the success of a national liberation movement. Here you have a people, the Jews, who had been persecuted for centuries, who had been the internal "Other" of the West. Their suffering culminated in the Nazi slaughter. From its origins in the late nineteenth century, the Zionist movement was pessimistic about the future of the Jews in the West and in Russia. Many liberals and leftists told them that they were too "particularist" and should put all their faith in universalizing political movements—communism or liberalism, for examples—but nobody can look back at the last century and say that the Zionists were wrong in seeing that emergency was at hand and that what might be called political Esperanto was wrong.

Back in the 1930s, David Ben Gurion, the head of Mapai (the Israel Workers Party), debated Vladimir Jabotinsky, leader of the Zionist right-wing (Benjamin Netanyahu is his heir). Jabotinsky insisted that a national movement had to be "pure" and free from all "foreign" ideas but Ben Gurion, who later became Israel's first prime minister, insisted that any national movement could be good or bad—it depended on its social content, the type of society it sought to create. I agree with Ben Gurion's view then that one must be a universalist and a particularist at the same time, even if that doesn't always work easily and sometimes the effort fails. I am against both integral nationalism and integral cosmopolitanism.

I often disagree strongly with Israeli government policies. But recall that Israel was led by the social democratic left until 1977 when Menachem Begin was elected prime minister. One must distinguish policies of different governments and prime ministers from the Zionist project itself. Palestinian nationalism does not become illegitimate just because Arafat was a very bad leader. The Jewish state represents the successful reconstruction of a persecuted, brutalized, and murdered people, and that is why the world should celebrate its sixtieth anniversary. To do so doesn't contradict a keen sympathy for the Palestinians Arabs or support for a compromise solution. For me, that would mean a two state solution, Israel and Palestine, and a return by Israel to the 1967 borders (more or less, depending on negotiations). So I would object strongly to "critics" who really seek to de-legitimize the existence of Israel in order to see it vanish. There are legitimate Palestinian grievances and they need to be addressed, but morally speaking they comprise only half the story.

D.B.: Is this kind of criticism a threat to the country's existence? How about the views of Israel's enemies in the region, like the president of Iran, who says that Israel should be erased from the map. Is that a real threat?

M.C.: Today's Israel is militarily strong. Sometimes its strength is used wisely, sometimes less so. Criticisms of various Israeli policies are not necessarily a threat, but a global campaign that demonizes, relentlessly so, a Jewish state in language that sounds quite often like traditional anti-Semitism certainly is a threat. A small country needs sympathy and friends. These sorts of campaign aim to deprive Israel of sympathy and friends and to brand or isolate the Jewish state in all circumstances and forums. Consider the attempts to prevent European book fairs from honoring Israel (See "
The Turin Book Fair Controversy" Dissent online). It troubles me that some of Israel's loudest intellectual and political foes in the West make demands of the Jewish state that they make of nobody else and with a fervor that is not found when it comes to other topics. In the meantime, they don't insist that the millions of Germans who lost homes after World War II in Poland or Czechoslovakia have a "right to return." When Saddam Hussein butchered Kurds, they were barely interested.

Of course the regime in Iran poses a threat to Israel. Iran is a major and ambitious force in the region and it is run by religious extremists. I know critics of Israel say that you must "understand the context," that is, Iranian resentment of Western imperialism. Well, Western imperialism was very bad but everything cannot become a matter of Western imperialism. In the nineteenth century a German Social Democrat, August Bebel, accused anti-Semites on the left of the anti-capitalism of fools and nowadays we have "the anti-Imperialism of fools."

Consider this context today: A regime of religious extremists that wants regional hegemony says openly that it wants to destroy you. It supports with arms and funds various groups (let's call one of them Hezbollah) that attack you, and then seeks the most destructive weapons in the world. It misled the UN and everyone else on these weapons for two decades. How do you respond? I hope the situation is resolved diplomatically, but I do know this: You don't respond by second-guessing a regime that acts and speaks this way, and certainly not if your own country is filled people whose grandparents were the victims of genocide. What exactly would a regime of religious extremists have to do or say–or what weapons would they have to possess—before you found it a threat?

D.B.: Why do you think it is wrong to blame Israel for the violence in the region and the problems with the Palestinians?

M.C.: It is simple. Israel is not to blame for everything that happens in the region or even in the Israeli-Palestinian zone. Indeed, some of Israel's foes seem to think that there is nothing that can be done by a Palestinian that is not the fault of an Israeli. (The Israeli right-wing reverses this type of thinking). If a peace is ever to be achieved, this sort of thinking must become a thing of the past. Not all conflicts are black and white and in the case of Israel and the Palestinians, there is right and wrong on both sides. But it is ludicrous to think that Israel is to blame for everything—even if advocates of the anti-imperialism of fools say so and can never think beyond clichés.

In the 1980s, there was a war between Iran and Iraq in which there were close to a million casualties. Iraq attacked Iran yet the leaders of both countries—Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah Khomeini—were denouncing each other publicly for being "Zionists." Was the war the fault of the Israelis? "The Zionists" had nothing to do with it and there have been conflicts for centuries in this part of the world. Conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites long antedated the birth of Israel. The same was true with communal violence in Lebanon. There was massive sectarian violence there in 1860, for example, and there was no such thing as Zionism or Israel then. I often think that those who blame Israel for everything should study the last 500 years of Mideast history.

That is not to say that Israel is blameless. It has made some errors, including some very, very serious ones, such as the settlement policy. The right-wing in Israel has constantly—and too successfully—confused security and religious-nationalist issues. I think security matters are legitimate but not settling beyond the 1967 borders for religious or nationalist reasons. The Palestinian leadership is no less to blame. Arafat had a great opportunity in 2000 to make peace at Camp David—Ehud Barak made it clear that he was willing to go further than any previous Israeli leader—but the Palestinian chairman seems to have thought that he had to get everything he wanted before negotiations. Palestinians speak of al Nakba (the Disaster) of 1948, but their own leaders have been a disaster for them and the greatest disaster today is Hamas.

D.B. Professor Josef Joffe published an article in Foreign Policy trying to figure out what would the situation be like in the region if Israel didn't exist. What do you think it would be like?

M.C.: I haven't read Professor Joffe's article so I cannot speak to his specific points. But, again, if you look at the history of the region for centuries—not just since the birth of Israel or even the intrusion of Western imperialism—and you will find incessant conflicts and instability. In the long view, Israel/Palestine is just one such conflict.

There is no simple or easy answer if you ask why there has been so much instability in the region over centuries. It is a complicated and multi-dimensional part of the world. Part of the problem is certainly due to problems of political culture, but here we should be careful because political cultures are diverse in the region. Still, authoritarian political cultures, which are not genetic and change, can also be intransigent and don't change easily, let alone quickly.

So the short answer to your question is that I think that if Israel didn't exist, the region would still be pretty tumultuous. But what does it mean to pose this sort of question? Perhaps Joffe poses it to make just the points I am making – that most or many of the region's problems are not due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that to claim that they are is misleading, and usually due to attempts to scapegoat Israel for every mess there is. What if Foreign Policy asked someone to write an article that posed these questions: What would the Middle East be like if there were no Kurds? What would the region be like if there had been no division between Sunnis and Shiites? Of course, we can construct counter-history: if there were no Kurds, there wouldn't be Kurdish problems in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. I am not sure of the use of such a discussion. The painful problem of Israel and the Palestinians must be addressed on its own grounds and not as the key to all issues in the region.

Perhaps the question should be turned around: what would the Middle East be like if there were a fair resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? I think that such a resolution would be good in itself and salutary for the region, for Israelis and Palestinians, but the Middle East would still have many, enormous difficulties and they would continue.

D.B: Some critics say Israel uses the Holocaust as an excuse to act with violence against its enemies. What do you think about that?

M.C.: I think this claim is usually a canard asserted by critics who think Israel has no right to exist period–and no right to defend itself either. Is "the Holocaust" abused sometimes in political debate? Yes, but probably a lot less than the claim that Israel is an "imperialist racist aggressor, etc." It would be useful to have a debate on the legitimate and illegitimate uses of historical memories in contemporary politics. Still, it seems to me that there is much more demonization of "the Zionists" these days—they are called "Nazis" often enough—than there is abuse of the Holocaust for Israeli political gain. It would be useful for the left around the world, especially its "post-modernists" and "post-colonialists," to debate whether or not they (or too many of them) succumb to some very dangerous and clichéd thinking when it comes to Israel.

When Israel acts with force against its enemies, this must be judged according to the normal standards of what is just and unjust in armed conflict. When Palestinian groups attack the Israeli army, that is not an act of terrorism. It is an act of war and Israelis have a right to respond to acts of war, within the limits of what is right and what is wrong in warfare. When Palestinian groups blow up kids in a pizza parlor, that is an act of terrorism and Israel also has a right to respond within the limits of what is right and wrong in warfare. If Hamas or Islamic Jihad attacks Israel, they are legitimate targets. Palestinian civilians are not legitimate targets.

D.B.: Demographic studies say that the population of Arab Israelis may supersede the Jews in Israel by 2020. How do you think Israel is going to deal with it without breaking up with democracy?

M.C.: It is important to distinguish between Arabs who are citizens of Israel and Arabs who live in the West Bank and are not citizens of Israel. Israeli doves have warned since 1967 that annexation of the occupied territories would mean the end of Israel as a democratic Jewish state. I think that they were (and are) right. When Israel occupied the territories in 1967, it did so in the name of self defense. I think this was in fact the case but then the territories should not have been settled at all and should have only been bargaining chips to achieve a peace that provides security to Israel and a fair deal for Palestinians. In a fair peace deal, Israel would no longer be ruling the West Bank Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel would have the same democratic citizen rights and security that minorities everywhere (like diaspora Jews) should have.

-May 9, 2008

Daniel Buarque is an international reporter for G1, the website for Globo Networks of Sao Paulo, Brazil where this interview first appeared in Portuguese (May 14).

Mitchell Cohen is professor of political science at Bernard Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York and co-editor of Dissent. His books include Zion and State: Nation, Class and the Shaping of Modern Israel (Columbia University Press).

Continued (Permanent Link)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Redefining Zionism at Kibbutz Holit

This is the sort of dynamic vitality that is needed to keep the flame alive.

Never-ending story: Debating Hashomer Hatzair ideology
By Fadi Eyadat  / Ha'aretz /  May 18, 2008

Vika Olshansky, 23, a graduate of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement from the Ukraine, came to Kibbutz Holit in the western Negev along with 140 other graduates and members of the socialist-oriented movement to participate in a world conference marking the movement's 95th anniversary by updating its basic tenets. Among them, aliyah to Israel.

"The Zionist movement has fulfilled the goal of aliyah. The process brought problems and ghettoization to Israeli society. We need to educate toward aliyah cautiously, Olshansky said in an interview along with five other graduates, who hail from Belarus, Brazil and Ukraine.

"It's a process that started four years ago. All nests [movement branches] the world over had to redefine the movement's basic tenets, and its relevance in the Jewish world," Jayme Fuchs Bar, the movement's educational director, told Haaretz. "Now, we will be making new decisions about what socialism, Judaism and Zionism, our national task, is in Israel, and the significance of hagshama," he said, referring to a basic Hashomer Hatzair term meaning fulfillment of its ideals.

Kibbutz Holit, with only 25 members, is not only the conference venue, it is a also goal for movement action: Some of its graduates are to establish an "alternative society" there based on an ecological-social concept, Fuchs Bar said. The group will also work in neighboring communities and will live off the products it produces.

Hashomer Hatzair, founded in 1913, has been present at every crossroads in Zionist and Jewish history, according to the coordinator of nests for South America, Dario Teitelbaum. Members of the group were leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, in the establishment of Israel and in the struggle for peace and equality for minorities in Israel, he said.

In the "deep discussions," as Fuchs Bar described the conference debates, delegates could not agree on two basic tenets - Zionism and socialism. While Latin American graduates favored classic socialism, the European delegates sided with democratic socialism. By last night, another round of discussions had been called for.

"Those from Eastern Europe still carry baggage from the communist regimes in their region," Kevin Levine, a movement member from Argentina said. "But we believe the social democrat is part of the capitalist system and perpetuates social gaps," he said.

According to Dana Merweiss, from Argentina, the way to implement socialism today is by education and creating communities with socialist awareness.

Levine said the movement in the past required its members to work within its community; however, today "we say we should also work outside our community as part of the fulfillment of the principle of socialism. In Argentina we work in poor neighborhoods, Jewish and non-Jewish," he said.

In Israel, the movement is also active among the Bedouin, the Ethiopian community and elsewhere. The group said that formerly coming to live in Israel was the highest goal of Hashomer Hatzair, and this has now changed. "Israel today needs the Diaspora no less than the Diaspora needs Israel," said Jamila Garfinkel, who came from Argentina and has moved to Kibbutz Holit.

Although Merweiss and Levine said that Israel's existence is no longer threatened, they believed the Zionist task has not yet been fulfilled. "This is not the country Syrkin and Borochov envisioned," Levine said, referring to early 20th-century Zionist-Socialist leader Nachman Syrkin, and Marxist
Zionist Ber Borochov. Israel is still not at peace and social gaps are deep," Levine said.

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Negotiate for what? Bring On the Foreign Policy Debate

Bolton writes:
Negotiation is not a policy. It is a technique. Saying that one favors negotiation with, say, Iran, has no more intellectual content than saying one favors using a spoon. For what? Under what circumstances? With what objectives? On these specifics, Mr. Obama has been consistently sketchy.
Actually, negotiation is more like a tactic... The first question is, "What are the objectives of the negotiations?" The second one is "And what happens if negotiations fail?" What is "plan B?"  
Ami Isseroff
Bring On the Foreign Policy Debate
May 19, 2008; Page A15
President Bush's speech to Israel's Knesset, where he equated "negotiat[ing] with the terrorists and radicals" to "the false comfort of appeasement," drew harsh criticism from Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders. They apparently thought the president was talking about them, and perhaps he was.
Wittingly or not, the president may well have created a defining moment in the 2008 campaign. And Mr. Obama stepped right into the vortex by saying he was willing to debate John McCain on national security "any time, any place." Mr. McCain should accept that challenge today.
The Obama view of negotiations as the alpha and the omega of U.S. foreign policy highlights a fundamental conceptual divide between the major parties and their putative presidential nominees. This divide also opened in 2004, when John Kerry insisted that our foreign policy pass a "global test" to be considered legitimate.
At first glance, the idea of sitting down with adversaries seems hard to quarrel with. In our daily lives, we meet with competitors, opponents and unpleasant people all the time. Mr. Obama hopes to characterize the debate about international negotiations as one between his reasonableness and the hard-line attitude of a group of unilateralist GOP cowboys.
The real debate is radically different. On one side are those who believe that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time. That is where I am, and where I think Mr. McCain is. On the other side are those like Mr. Obama, who apparently want to use negotiations 100% of the time. It is the 100%-ers who suffer from an obsession that is naïve and dangerous.
Negotiation is not a policy. It is a technique. Saying that one favors negotiation with, say, Iran, has no more intellectual content than saying one favors using a spoon. For what? Under what circumstances? With what objectives? On these specifics, Mr. Obama has been consistently sketchy.
Like all human activity, negotiation has costs and benefits. If only benefits were involved, then it would be hard to quarrel with the "what can we lose?" mantra one hears so often. In fact, the costs and potential downsides are real, and not to be ignored.
When the U.S. negotiates with "terrorists and radicals," it gives them legitimacy, a precious and tangible political asset. Thus, even Mr. Obama criticized former President Jimmy Carter for his recent meetings with Hamas leaders. Meeting with leaders of state sponsors of terrorism such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong Il is also a mistake. State sponsors use others as surrogates, but they are just as much terrorists as those who actually carry out the dastardly acts. Legitimacy and international acceptability are qualities terrorists crave, and should therefore not be conferred casually, if at all.
Moreover, negotiations – especially those "without precondition" as Mr. Obama has specifically advocated – consume time, another precious asset that terrorists and rogue leaders prize. Here, President Bush's reference to Hitler was particularly apt: While the diplomats of European democracies played with their umbrellas, the Nazis were rearming and expanding their industrial power.
In today's world of weapons of mass destruction, time is again a precious asset, one almost invariably on the side of the would-be proliferators. Time allows them to perfect the complex science and technology necessary to sustain nuclear weapons and missile programs, and provides far greater opportunity for concealing their activities from our ability to detect and, if necessary, destroy them.
Iran has conclusively proven how to use negotiations to this end. After five years of negotiations with the Europeans, with the Bush administration's approbation throughout, the only result is that Iran is five years closer to having nuclear weapons. North Korea has also used the Six-Party Talks to gain time, testing its first nuclear weapon in 2006, all the while cloning its Yongbyon reactor in the Syrian desert.
Finally, negotiations entail opportunity costs, consuming scarce presidential time and attention. Those resources cannot be applied everywhere, and engaging in true discussions, as opposed to political charades, does divert time and attention from other priorities. No better example can be found than the Bush administration's pursuit of the Annapolis Process between Arabs and Israelis, which has gone and will go nowhere. While Annapolis has been burning up U.S. time and effort, Lebanon has been burning, as Hezbollah strengthens its position there. This is an opportunity cost for the U.S., and a tragedy for the people of Lebanon.
President Bush is not running this November, no matter how hard Mr. Obama wishes it were so. Mr. McCain will have the chance to set out his own views on when and where diplomacy is appropriate, and where more fortitude is required. In any event, from the American voter's perspective, this debate on the role of negotiations in foreign policy will be critically, perhaps mortally, important. Bring it on.
Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).

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Why Israelis are happy

Why Israel is the world's happiest country
By Spengler
Envy surrounds no country on Earth like the state of Israel, and with good reason: by objective measures, Israel is the happiest nation on Earth at the 60th anniversary of its founding. It is one of the wealthiest, freest and best-educated; and it enjoys a higher life expectancy than Germany or the Netherlands. But most remarkable is that Israelis appear to love life and hate death more than any other nation. If history is made not by rational design but by the demands of the human heart, as I argued last week , the light heart of the Israelis in face of continuous danger is a singularity worthy of a closer look.
Can it be a coincidence that this most ancient of nations [1], and the only nation persuaded that it was summoned into history for God's service, consists of individuals who appear to love life more than any other people? As a simple index of life-preference, I plot the fertility rate versus the suicide rate of 35 industrial countries, that is, the proportion of people who choose to create new life against the proportion who choose to destroy their own. Israel stands alone, positioned in the upper-left-hand-quadrant, or life-loving, portion of the chart [2]. Those who believe in  Israel's divine election might see a special grace reflected in its love of life.
In a world given over to morbidity, the state of Israel still teaches the world love of life, not in the trivial sense of joie de vivre, but rather as a solemn celebration of life. In another location, I argued, "It's easy for the Jews to talk about delighting in life. They are quite sure that they are eternal, while other peoples tremble at the prospect impending extinction. It is not their individual lives that the Jews find so pleasant, but rather the notion of a covenantal life that proceeds uninterrupted through the generations." Still, it is remarkable to observe by what wide a margin the Israelis win the global happiness sweepstakes.
Nations go extinct, I have argued in the past, because the individuals who comprise these nations choose collectively to die out. Once freedom replaces the fixed habits of traditional society, people who do not like their own lives do not trouble to have children. Not the sword of conquerors, but the indigestible sourdough of everyday life threatens the life of the nations, now dying out at a rate without precedent in recorded history.
Israel is surrounded by neighbors willing to kill themselves in order to destroy it. "As much as you love life, we love death," Muslim clerics teach; the same formula is found in a Palestinian textbook for second graders. Apart from the fact that the Arabs are among the least free, least educated, and (apart from the oil states) poorest peoples in the world, they also are the unhappiest, even in their wealthiest kingdoms. 

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Israeli-Palestinian porn for peace

Should we get indignant about this, or sorry we didn't think of it first?
 Last update - 15:56 19/05/2008       
Make love not war: Israeli adult Web site promotes reconciliation in new way
By Jon Kalish, The Forward shows amateur pornography only featuring Israeli Arabs and Jews.
There is one place in the Middle East where Arabs and Jews seem to be getting along quite well. It's the Israeli Web site, where amateur pornography features Arabs and Jews at each other's throats - but only for erotic purposes.
Founded by two Tel Aviv computer professionals, the Web site has been serving up such X-rated fare as "Kosher Lesbians," "The Rabbi's Daughter" and "Sex Party in Jerusalem" since 2001. Parpar1 has hundreds of hours of video porn featuring amateur performers. It is a pay service that can be accessed on the Web or via mobile phone.
Co-owner Avi Levy said that in addition to Israel, cell phones can get the adult content in England, Spain and Italy. Romania will soon follow. Levy says Parpar1 videos will be available on cable television in Canada eventually.
Despite an introductory video that proclaims "Make Love, Not War," the 42-year-old computer programmer-turned-porn entrepreneur says his porn site is clearly a commercial endeavor with no political overtones.
"I'm not a politician. I'm here to make money," Levy said. Levy and his partner, a Web developer named Shay Malol, were convinced that the way to succeed in their new business was to offer something special in the world of porn. And they decided that the niche they would stake out would be hardcore pornography featuring homegrown Israelis, both Jews and Arabs.
"We don't think the Arab is less than the Jew," Levy said.
None of the "performers" in Parpar1's sex films was born outside the Holy Land.
"Many Russians here call me, but I don't hire them," Levy said, referring to a recent wave of immigrants to Israel.
The Web site shoots videos every week, sometimes in hotel rooms or a rented villa, sometimes in natural settings such as a beach or a forest. The site advertises for performers both online and in Israeli newspapers. So far, around 70 to 80 young Israeli women have agreed to be filmed, according to Levy. And hundreds of men have been involved in the productions.
Many of the amateur sex performers are college students, but Levy insisted that "all kinds of people" participate in his hardcore videos, including married women who bring their husbands to the set. "For them, it is an adventure to do it," he said.
Parpar is Hebrew for "butterfly," but over the years it has been used as a slang term to describe a swinger. When it is used as a verb, as in "to act as a butterfly," it means "to sleep around."
With Web sites offering pictures and videos in every imaginable sexual category and in such national groupings as British, Brazilian, Czech, Filipino, Korean and Mexican, Levy and Malol's strategy of creating an Israeli niche is not as farfetched as it might seem. Sherri Shaulis, editor of Adult Video News Online Magazine, which monitors the Internet sex industry, had not heard of Parpar1, but she said she was not surprised that such a site exists.
"The [porn] industry is getting very, very niche-specific these days," Shaulis said. "It only makes sense that as the market becomes more saturated, you're going to have people break it down even further."
Although Levy said there are Arab men in other places who film themselves having sex with their wives and upload the video to the Internet, he believes that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where there is a commercial porn business operating openly.
It doesn't operate totally openly, though. Customers who are billed for access to Parpar1's X-rated Web site will see an item on their bank statement attributed to 'fuel supplies.'
Jon Kalish is a Manhattan-based radio reporter and podcast producer.

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Hamas Parler Francais - talks to French

The question is, whether the French will indignantly deny the talks or not.
 Last update - 16:42 19/05/2008       
Hamas confirms informal contacts with French officials
By The Associated Press
A Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip confirmed his group's contacts with France on Monday.
Sami Abu Zuhri says the Palestinian militant group has held contacts with many European officials, including French representatives.
He says the talks were to discover Hamas' opinions on political issues and there were no discussions of opening formal diplomatic relations.
Abu Zuhri will not say what other countries have spoken to Hamas. He says they have to decide whether to go public.
Earlier Monday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that Paris has had informal contacts with the leaders of Hamas.
Kouchner was speaking on Europe-1 radio after a report Monday in the daily Le Figaro in which a retired French diplomat says he met with Hamas leaders a month ago.
According to the paper, the diplomat, Yves Aubin de la Messuziere, says Hamas told him they were ready to accept a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. He was quoted as saying that that amounts to an indirect recognition of Israel.
Le Figaro also reported the retired diplomat said that Hamas is ready to stop suicide attacks and recognizes the legitimacy of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

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Report: Israel will accept de-facto Hamas cease fire

Is this good or bad news?
 Israel to agree unofficially to Egypt cease-fire deal; skeptical Barak to discuss plan with Mubarak Monday
By Amos Harel and Barak Ravid
Israel plans to accept the Egyptian-mediated cease-fire proposal with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but does not intend to officially declare a commitment to it. Instead, Israel will treat the deal struck indirectly with Hamas as a series of steps beginning with a lull in hostilities, followed by gradual relaxation of the financial blockade of Gaza.
Ehud Barak, who will discuss the cease-fire with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh Monday, is skeptical about the chances of achieving long-term quiet with Hamas, and his feelings are shared by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
However, Barak, who will be attending the World Economic Forum, is set to tell Mubarak and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman that Israel is prepared to stop its military activities in Gaza if Hamas stops firing rockets at Israel. Israel will also try to get Egypt to step up efforts to stop weapons from being smuggled into Gaza. Barak is also expected to say that Israel will lift the blockade and open border crossings only if progress is made on talks aimed at releasing captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
Once quiet reigns, Israel hopes to gradually raise the number of trucks allowed to bring goods into the Strip (only about 60 trucks a day, on average, are now allowed in). If a deal is reached on returning Shalit, in exchange for Israel's release of 450 prisoners, Israel would also agree to reopen the Rafah crossing, essentially lifting the blockade almost completely.
Israel is also softening its position on freeing prisoners. It has eased criteria for the prisoners with "blood on their hands," but Hamas is still seeking the release of some militants who were behind mass-casualty terror attacks. Security sources said the gap on the prisoner swap is slightly smaller than it was a few months ago.
Government officials are slowly coming to realize that a large-scale military operation in Gaza does not serve Israeli interests right now.
It appears from talks which Olmert and senior cabinet ministers held recently with representatives of the Bush administration and key European Union states that Israel will not have international support if it organizes an assault on Gaza now. However, Israeli sources said they think if it turns out, in a few weeks or months, that the cease-fire has failed because of Hamas, the U.S. and some European states might be more understanding about an attack.
Israel is also hesitating about launching a military offensive in the Strip because of the increasing concern over Iran's influence over the situation in countries bordering Israel, particularly Lebanon. A large operation in Gaza is liable to lead to escalation of Hezbollah activities in Lebanon and the opening of a northern front. Israel is feeling the Iranian threat more strongly, in part due to the closer relations between Tehran and Damascus, and the Iranian connection to decisions being made by Hezbollah in Beirut and by Hamas in Gaza.
The political-security cabinet is due to meet Wednesday to discuss the cease-fire, which Suleiman said had a good chance of succeeding.
"If Ehud Barak gives the green light to the components of the agreement concerning a calm, it will be possible to determine by tomorrow already the hour the cease-fire begins," Suleiman told MK Yossi Beilin(Meretz-Yahad) at Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday. Suleiman said Israeli approval of the deal would pave the way to an agreement with the Palestinian factions during a meeting Tuesday in Cairo.
Suleiman said if Israel were to agree to free the prisoners Hamas has named, Shalit's release could be included as part of the cease-fire deal, but he added that since Israel is rejecting most of the names, more negotiations will be necessary after the cease-fire takes effect.
The Israel Defense Forces will receive an order to begin an operation only if the Egyptian proposal fails, and Qassam fire from Gaza intensifies to the point of incurring serious losses in the western and northern Negev. As the politicians talk about a cease-fire, the IDF is preparing for the chance that the security situation in the South will worsen.

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Israel may release Kuntar, but not Palestinians for Hezbollah held MIAs

Last update - 07:16 19/05/2008    
Israel will not release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah, it recently informed the Lebanese organization. And if Hezbollah continues to insist that Palestinians be included in the deal, Israel may break off the negotiations, a senior official familiar with the talks told Haaretz.
In that case, the official said, Israel would have to evaluate whatever intelligence it has about the two soldiers and decide whether it justifies declaring them dead.
Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were kidnapped by Hezbollah in a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006. Their abduction ignited the Second Lebanon War. Since the war, Israel and Hezbollah have been conducting indirect negotiations on a prisoner swap via a German mediator, Gerhard Konrad. Ofer Dekel, who Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appointed to conduct the talks for Israel, frequently meets with Konrad in Europe.

Israel recently asked Konrad to give Hezbollah what it termed its "final offer": In exchange for the two soldiers, or their bodies if they are dead, Israel will release Lebanese prisoners. Israel would also return the bodies of Hezbollah members buried in Israel, but would not release any Palestinians.
"From Israel's perspective, we have reached the outermost limits of the negotiations," the senior official said. "The ball is now in Hezbollah's court, and it must make a decision."
Throughout the talks, Hezbollah has insisted that Israel release thousands of Palestinians in addition to the Lebanese prisoners. But this would strengthen the radical Shi'ite organization's standing among Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole, which Israel does not want to do, the official explained.
If Hezbollah insists on including Palestinian prisoners, the official added, that will bring about "an end to the negotiations because there will no longer be anything to talk about." In that case, Israel would have to consider classifying Regev and Goldwasser not as MIAs but as fallen soldiers whose place of burial is unknown.
The Israel Defense Forces' chief rabbi is responsible for making this decision, but it must be based on solid intelligence and medical information indicating that the two are dead - which the IDF does not yet believe it has.
Until a few months ago, Dekel had been hinting to Hezbollah that Israel might include Palestinians in the deal if it received a sign of life from the kidnapped soldiers. The assumption at that time had been that the deal would be conducted in two stages: first a sign of life, then the actual return of the soldiers.
In the almost two years since the kidnapping, however, Hezbollah has consistently refused to provide any sign of life, and Israel is now convinced that it has no intention of ever doing so.
"But from our experience in the talks and in past deals with Hezbollah," the senior official cautioned, "our assessment is that only on the day of the deal will we know for sure whether they are alive or not."
In addition to Kuntar - who is not a Hezbollah member, and whose terror attack was carried out on behalf of a Palestinian group, the Palestine Liberation Front - Israel currently holds four Hezbollah militants who were captured during the Second Lebanon War. In addition, the bodies of about 10 Hezbollah militants who were killed in clashes with the IDF are buried here.
But Kuntar is by far the most prominent Lebanese prisoner in Israel. For the past decade, Hezbollah has demanded that Kuntar be part of every prisoner swap it conducted with Israel, but Israel has consistently refused, saying that Kuntar would be released only in exchange for information on air force navigator Ron Arad, who has been missing since his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.
Until now, Israel's position has prevailed. Thus Kuntar was not released in the last swap with Hezbollah, in 2003, when Israel freed some 400 other Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in exchange for kidnapped businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum and the bodies of three kidnapped soldiers, Benny Avraham, Omar Suweid and Adi Avitan. Instead, it was agreed that Kuntar would be released as part of a follow-up deal in exchange for information on Arad.
Israel has now apparently dropped its objection to releasing Kuntar. But the senior official insisted that even if it is compelled to trade Kuntar for Regev and Goldwasser, Israel will still demand that Hezbollah keep its promise to supply information on Arad's fate.
Independent of any prisoner swap, Israel soon plans to release Nissim Nasser and deport him to Lebanon, Haaretz has learned. Nasser is a Jew who converted to Islam but then managed to immigrate from Lebanon to Israel. Nasser was convicted of spying for Hezbollah and sentenced to six years prison, but recently completed his sentence.
The defense establishment had considered continuing to hold him as an administrative detainee and use him as another bargaining chip in the negotiations for the abducted soldiers, but after consultations with the Justice Ministry it concluded that it could not legally do so. And in any case, he was of no real value in the negotiations, defense officials said.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Saudi's attack "illegal" Iraq war

An editorial in the Saudi government's Arab News, a showpiece English language newspaper, has blasted the 'Illegal War' in Iraq, while Saudi Arabia continues to expect US backing against extremist regimes.  The Saudis have placed themselves as judges, interpreting the US constitution and international law, and as jury and prosecuting attorneys.
Quoth the editors:
Even if the US-led invasion had brought stability and reconstruction quickly to Iraq, the war would still have been illegal because Bush acted without the approval and backing of the international community and on the basis of deliberate lies. Now Washington is bogged down trying to clear up the bloody chaos that it itself created.
The Iraq war may have been a mistake, but there are few criteria for judging "legal" or "illegal" wars. Someone should tell these folks that every country is allowed to act in self defense according to the US charter, that the president of the United States is responsible for the defense of his (or her) country and that this responsibility does not depend on the United Nations. There is no provision in the UN charter for declaring a war to be illegal. The Iraq war could, theoretically, be declared an act of aggression, but it was not.
It would serve the Saudis right if the US withdrew from Iraq, and allowed Iran to take over the entire Gulf region.
Ami Isseroff 

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Talks with Hamas?

The logic of those who urge talks with Hamas under these conditions escapes me. What can Israel gain?
 Last update - 02:49 18/05/2008       
Is Israel breaking its own taboo on talks with Hamas?
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent
Participants at a recent inner cabinet meeting were listening to details of the Egyptian mediation initiative between Israel and Hamas on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip recently, when a senior minister reportedly reminded those present that Israel does not negotiate, directly or indirectly, with Hamas. Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin interrupted, saying there was no other way to describe the talks.
A letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the details of which were revealed Friday, called for the indirect and secret talks with Hamas to be recognized. As for Israel's greatest concerns - that Hamas will use a lull in hostilities to rearm and that Egypt's promises to fight weapons smuggling bear no weight - the writers of the letter offered no solution.
Among the signatories' names, that of MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) is to be expected. More surprising are the names of the former Shin Bet chief Ephraim Halevi, who has actually been calling for talks with Hamas in recent months, along with former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Brigadier General (res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former Gaza Division commander. This is an attempt to provide a military stamp of approval to a step Israel has officially sworn it would not take. What was taboo two years ago is no longer.
It is Hamas that has not changed its position over the past two years, that has not accepted the Quartet's conditions, and has remained adamant not to recognize Israel and previous agreements, and not to renounce terror. The economic blockade has certainly strengthened Hamas' desire for a cease-fire. But make no mistake, a senior military figure said: "Hamas is not coming to negotiations because it is in decline. Its regime will not fall if the blockade continues."
Negotiations are expected to rev up this week following talks between Egypt and Hamas, and a meeting Tuesday between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Barak in Sharm al-Sheikh. But without an agreement that includes significant progress toward the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, Israel is close to deciding on a large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip. The rising number of casualties in the western Negev cannot be ignored. Additional losses could spur the government to an operation, despite doubts voiced by generals and ministers as to its effectiveness.

Continued (Permanent Link)

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