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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Gordon Brown makes first Israel visit as British prime minister

 Last update - 00:12 20/07/2008       
Gordon Brown makes first Israel visit as British prime minister
By Haaretz Service and Reuters
British leader Gordon Brown arrived in Israel for a two-day visit on Saturday, his first trip as prime minister.
Brown will discuss a way ahead in Middle East peace moves and announce new aid for the Palestinians.
During his visit, Brown will announce 60 million euros in new aid for the Palestinian Authority and he will become the first British prime minister to address the Israeli parliament, the officials said.
On Sunday, Brown will hold talks on the peace process with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and take part in a British-Israeli business conference.
Brown's spokesman said the prime minister wanted to "discuss the way forward in the peace process" with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and to focus on economic reconstruction and development in the region.
Britain and the United States sponsored an investment conference in the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem in May, at which private investors pledged to pump 1.4 billion Euros into Palestinian businesses to bolster the economy.
Brown has made strengthening the Palestinian economy a key plank of his policy towards the region, arguing that the political and security situation there can only improve if there is a strong and sustainable Palestinian economy.
Before giving a speech to the Israeli parliament or Knesset on Monday, Brown will lay a wreath on Sunday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.
Olmert said this week that the Israelis and Palestinians had never been so close to a peace deal, though problems still had to be overcome.
Olmert and Abbas launched U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations last year with the aim of reaching an agreement before President George W. Bush leaves office next January, but progress has been hindered by vehement mutual recriminations.
Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair as British prime minister in June last year, has seen his poll ratings plunge as the credit crunch and high fuel prices have hit the economy. His Labour party lags the opposition Conservatives by up to 20 percentage points in opinion polls.
Prior to his arrival in Israel, Brown met with Iraqi leaders less than a week after an announcement of expected British troop cuts in southern Iraq.
Brown was greeted in Baghdad's protected Green Zone by Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. There were no public statements following the meeting.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Hamas: Shalt talks on hold, Israel violating "lull" (truce)

 Last update - 00:00 20/07/2008       
Hamas: Shalit talks on hold, Israel not meeting truce terms
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent, and Agencies
Hamas confirmed Saturday that the talks for the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit were on hold. A senior Hamas figure said that once the group understood that Israel was not fulfilling its end of the cease-fire agreement, it had decided that continuing the Shalit talks would be futile at this time.
The source told Haaretz it is unlikely a Hamas delegation will depart for Cairo where renewed talks on a possible exchange deal would take place under an Egyptian aegis.
However, despite the charges directed at Israel, Palestinian sources believe Hamas isn't willing to be flexible about Shalit at this time due to the recent prisoner swap with Hezbollah.
The same sources noted that the release of Samir Kuntar has led Hamas to the conclusion that the radical Islamic organization should stick to its demands, which includes the release of 1,000 prisoners, many of whom were sentenced to life in prison for their role in suicide bomb attacks.
At a political rally in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, Ismail Haniyeh, who was prime minister in a Hamas-led Palestinian government, called on Interior Minister Said Sayam, to issue Samir Kuntar a diplomatic passport.
In an aggressive tone, Haniyeh told the crowd in Gaza that Hamas will not give in on "any issue" related to the release of Shalit.
Hamas will insist on the release of prisoners who were sentenced to life in prison. He concluded his speech by shouting "Jerusalem is ours, Gaza, Haifa, Jaffa, all of them are ours."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Iranian Humor: Ahmadinejad's deputy: Iran is a friend of the U.S. and Israel

They must believe in "tough love."
Last update - 00:18 20/07/2008       
Ahmadinejad's deputy: Iran is a friend of the U.S. and Israel
The deputy to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that Iran was a friend of Israel, Iranian news agencies reported.
"Iran wants no war with any country, and today Iran is friend of the United States and even Israel.... Our achievements belong to the whole world and should be used for expanding love and peace," said Iranian Vice President Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, who is also head of the Cultural Heritage Organization.
The Cultural Heritage Organization news agency quoted him as saying that even during the eight-year war against Iraq, Iran just defended itself against the military invasion by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The remarks by the vice president followed last week's warnings by some Iranian officials that Tehran's long-range missiles could target the Jewish state if the U.S. and Israel realized their threats to attack Iran's nuclear sites.
Ahmadinejad himself caused international uproar with his anti-Israel tirades, voicing hope for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East, demanding its relocation to Europe or Alaska and doubting the historic dimension of the Holocaust during World War II.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Naomi Ragen: Who Really Cares About Our Soldiers? - the hostage swap

This is the second of two articles, in which Naomi Ragen argues well that the hostage swap was reckless and shameful. She is correct, up to the point that she argues that this can be corrected by changing the government. The folly is the product of a collective Israeli ethos. The swap was most popular among soldiers, and was opposed equally by some right wing and some left wing leaders. This particular stupidity is not the monopoly of a political party.
Ami Isseroff
Who Really Cares About Our Soldiers?
By Naomi Ragen

My article, Infamy, has been widely circulated.  The response has been overwhelmingly supportive.  But what I would like to do is speak not to those who were "shocked and disgusted" by my admission that I was ashamed to be an Israeli after the release of Sami Kuntar, the baby-killer Hezbollah is so proud of who says he can't wait to kill again- but to those who disagree for reasons I can respect.  In an article entitled: "Some Mistakes are Worth Making," Daniel Gordis quotes me without using my name and says that -unlike me-   he feels proud of what Israel did. He says that he can now face his sons, one of whom is about to be drafted, with the firm belief that  while the country he lives in demands much of its  soldiers,  it is also a country that "owes [them] everything in return and getting them part of that."

I also have a son who is in the army.  And as far as I see it, a soldier is sent to the front to defend the citizens of his homeland.  All the risks, the injuries, the loss of life that come to soldiers and their families, are based on the premise that the citizens of that country are worth defending, and that those  who  rise up to murder them must be stopped and punished, or at least put somewhere they can do no harm.  What I think
Israel owes its soldiers and their families is the vow that their sacrifices of life and limb will not have been in vain. 

By returning the bodies of soldiers who died to protect Israel's people at the cost  of turning loose a murderer who has declared he can't wait for his next opportunity to kill, the State of Israel is spitting in the face of that sacrifice.  Now that Hamas has openly declared the Kuntar trade has given them the determination to keep Gilad Shalit prisoner until hundreds of Palestinian murderers are let loose, I can only say this:  How many soldiers died and suffered permanent injuries to apprehend those murderers?  What of their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of their families?

And what of the families of the victims?  As Ehud Olmert hugged Karnit Goldwasser, weeping with her, he turned his back on  82 year - old Nina Karen, the mother of Danny Haran and grandmother of the two babies Kuntar was physically and morally responsible for murdering.   Karnit lost her husband because he was a soldier in the Israeli army.  He gave his life to defend us .  And Ehud Olmert turned that sacrifice into an empty gesture, a photo-op.

I was in a terror attack. It is known as the Passover Massacre.  A terrorist blew himself up in Netanya hotel just as people were sitting down to seder. Most of them were elderly Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren.  We were lucky.  We were upstairs.  What we didn't know, is that a second bomber was scheduled to blow himself up upstairs, and would have killed my entire family.  He was apprehended by Israeli soldiers at great personal risk soon after, and now sits in an Israeli prison until another corrupt Israeli politician decides to take the easy
way out and let him and hundreds more like him out into the streets to kill again, so that our soldiers will have to risk their lives again.

This is not a mistake worth making.  It's a mistake we are risking the lives of our soldiers to prevent.  Let us respect that and stop kidding ourselves that we can make something heroic out of something despicably wrong.  Let us get rid of the men and women whose brainless approach to leadership has already cost us a price we, and no nation, can afford to pay.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israel Conversion Row: A Modest Proposal (Naomi Ragen)

A Modest Proposal
by Naomi Ragen (12 June 2008)

What began as a routine divorce between a Danish-born convert and her Israeli husband now threatens to tear apart the country, opening deep wounds and revealing the ugly face of the haredi judges who rule Israel's Rabbinical Court system.

This all began during an uncontested divorce in Ashdod. Rabbi Avraham Attia, a member of the Ashdod Rabbinical Court, asked the woman a question or two about her religious observance (which was none of his business, by the way). Apparently, he didn't like her answer, or maybe he didn't like the way she was dressed. In any case, on February 22, 2007 - ignoring the reason she had come to court in the first place - he ruled that her conversion was invalid! Since she was not Jewish, she was not really married to her husband and therefore did not need a divorce.

By overturning this woman's conversion, which had taken place in the special conversion court set up in 1995 to help convert many Russian soldiers and other immigrants who wanted to be Jewish, but found the Rabbinical Courts unwelcoming, Attia, and his haredi counterparts, were calling into question the validity of thousands of conversions that have taken place there, and insulting its head, Rabbi Haim Druckman, the spiritual leader of religious Zionism in Israel.

On April 22, 2007, the couple appealed the lower court decision to the Higher Rabbinical Court, arguing that the Ashdod court had exceeded its authority and violated religious law, disqualifying Druckman's court without giving him a chance to defend himself.

The Higher Court ignored these issues. Instead, it chose to deal only with the question of whether the woman was observant.

Granting the divorce, the court also ruled that the Jewishness of the woman and her children was in doubt and needed to be re-examined, and that in the meantime the family should be added to the list of people who are forbidden to marry. Outrageously, they ruled that all Druckman's conversion decisions since 1999 should be canceled, and that marriage registrars not register a convert who does not look observant from his or her external appearance.

This unbelievable decision was not only a slap in the face to religious Zionism, but openly violated the severe Torah prohibition of oppressing the convert and causing them pain, i.e., Shemot 23:9 - "Do not oppress a convert; you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Ruth (not her real name) is on my mailing list. She is a convert. This decision has broken her heart. She writes: "At what point will my children and I no longer have to worry that someone will unilaterally and arbitrarily remove the cloak of Torah and Jewish identity out of our self-definition? How many years - 30, 50, 100 - never? Does this mean that if I ever speak a drop of lashon hara, or some of my hair peeks out from under my tichel, or my elbows become uncovered, or I wear my sandals without socks - that I must reckon with someone's claims that this is sufficient evidence to disclaim my Jewish soul? If the Rabbis today reject numerous sincere converts and needlessly oppress them, causing them untold pain, is this not a much more terrible sin than a convert who may not keep all her hair covered? We do not care to be involved in internal conflicts and back biting. We call upon all G-d fearing Jews to speak with one voice in our defense. We ask all Jews to not become embroiled and ensnared in this evil which will split the Jewish nation if not reined in now. We ask that you stand up for us and call our leaders to account."

Susan Weiss, an attorney for the Center for Justice for Women, who represents the Danish convert, has taken this case to Israel's Supreme Court. Her petition is aimed at Avraham Attia, Dayanim Avraham Sherman, Hagai Eiserer and Avraham Scheinfeld of the Higher Rabbinical Court. According to Weiss, the case highlights many of the faults of the rabbinical courts. "They have no concept of due process or fairness, and they display no sensitivity to those who come before them," she told Dan Izenburg of the Jerusalem Post.

I have a modest proposal. Since all the dayanim involved here have openly violated an oft-stated Torah prohibition against "oppressing the convert," and have spoken slanderously against a fellow rabbi (another strict prohibition), they can hardly be called G-d fearing or religious. In light of their behavior, I think we should retroactively invalidate their rabbinical ordination, and nullify all the decisions in which they've been involved. They should certainly be thrown out of their posts as judges.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Naomi Ragen on the hostage Swap I: Infamy

Naomi Ragen has written two very powerful indictments of the terrorist swap deal. I usually do not agree with her views, but in general I have to say that her criticism here is valid up to a point. The terrorist swap was a stupid and inexcusable and shameful folly, no matter how 'noble' the motives.

The problem is that she uses the terrorist swap deal as an issue for a political agenda of changing the government. But the terrorist swap had nothing much to do with "left-right" issues. Yossi Beilin, on the left, was opposed to it. The Sharon government carried out a similar swap. The moral imperative of "bring our boys home at any cost," though mistaken, is not a monopoly of left or right. If you are well integrated into Israeli society you understand that it is so, and why it is so.

This issue should not be used as a political football.

Ami Isseroff

by Naomi Ragen (16 July 2008)

I was a new oleh when the PFLP and two Germans hijacked a plane full of Israelis to Entebbe. I remember well those nail-biting days, the moral dilemma of freeing dangerous terrorists for live hostages; the idea that negotiations would just lead to more hijackings. But what other choice did we have? After all, they were in Uganda, so far away .

We found a way.

I will never forget the morning of July 4, 1976, waking up to the news. Our soldiers had gone in, at great personal risk. They had saved almost everyone, and killed the terrorists. We were not helpless victims anymore, the Jews. No, we were clever, and resourceful and courageous. We showed the world how to behave.

We led the way.

I wake up this morning of July 16, 2008 with quite another feeling. Our soldiers, kidnapped on our own land, not across any international border, are brought back to us in caskets after two years of sadistic playfulness with the hearts of their families by Hezbollah terrorists, who led us to believe they were alive.

And in exchange for dead bodies, we turn over a despicable baby-killer, Sami Kuntar.

Oh, you will hear the boosters of the Israeli government sigh.

What can we do? We are civilized and they are not. We care about our soldiers and their families.

No, I'm afraid you do not. If you cared, then you would have a death penalty for people like Kuntar, so that they too can be released in caskets. And if you cared, you would be intelligent enough, seeing our soldiers brought back to us dead, to have put a bullet through Kuntar and then turned him over to his friends.

Civilized is a euphemism for weak and helpless. Civilized is not a moral value, because we all know what Western civilization is capable of. Concentration camps. Civilian round-ups, the gassing of children. All this under the banner of laws and policemen and governments. On the other hand, the moral thing to do to a tried and convicted murderer like Kuntar is to spill his blood, because he has spilled the blood of others. That may not fit in with current civilized niceties, but let no one say it is immoral.

When it comes to immoral, to release Kuntar to a hero's welcome and the opportunity to murder others is on the top of the scale.

My government, the Israeli government, arranged this. They let it happen. They oversaw it and implemented it.

I am deeply ashamed to be an Israeli today. And I'm not very proud of being a Jew either, if this is how a Jewish country behaves. To lead the world in ever more despicable acts of appeasement is nothing to be proud of. The torch we always carried, the "light unto the nations" has been blown out by the hot-air of our politicians.

If we cared about our soldiers, we would not be showing our enemies that kidnapping and terrorism pay. We would not be setting the stage for the next murderous terrorist raid and hostage standoff. We would be passing laws with a mandatory death penalty for convicted terrorists with blood on their hands, as well as their accomplices. We would be making these laws retroactive. Then, we would be cutting off all water and electricity to Gaza until Gilad Shalit is released. If that didn't work, we'd begin executions within one week, increasing the number convicted terrorists facing firing squads with each passing day until Gilad is returned to us safe and sound. And if that didn't work, we would begin daily bombings of Gaza, with the same number and frequency of attacks that our own city Sderot has suffered over the past three years from the Gazans. Not civilized? Perhaps. But moral. Extremely moral.

My fantasy is that Israelis will rise up and overturn the political system which has left them with the dregs of their nation as leaders- a bunch of self-serving crooks and sycophants who will do anything to stay in office; an electoral system in which a party like Kadima, with its collection of felons and moral imbeciles , who got only 23% of the vote, is allowed to rule us into the ground. We have Mr. Olmert, and Ms. Livni, and Mr. Peres, and Mr. Ramon (a convicted sex offender, who is now in line to take over from Olmert) and many, many others to thank, for creating this day of infamy.

May G-d redeem us from them.

Continued (Permanent Link)

What is worse than Hamas? Salafi Jihadists

There is something worse than Hamas, but to Israelis, it really doesn't matter how dead you are, once you are dead.
By Ulrike Putz in the Gaza Strip

SPIEGEL ONLINE 07/18/2008 05:33 PM 

Global power is their goal, and they are willing to slaughter innocents to get there. A group of ultra-radical Islamists are training in the Gaza Strip, and SPIEGEL ONLINE met with one of their leaders.
It's not easy to find a place to meet the man who goes by the name of Abu Mustafa. A number of places were agreed on and jettisoned. Finally, after hours of cruising around Gaza City with Abu Mustafa's driver, the call came.
 The meeting would take place on the beach. There are enough people on the beach that one doesn't attract so much attention, the caller explained. How absurd this notion was would soon become clear.
Most people don't stick out on the beaches of Gaza to the degree that Abu Mustafa does. He picks his way across the sand on crutches, his leg wrapped in a cast up to his thigh. The Pakistani clothes he wears are also foreign -- and the white shirt that hangs to his knees makes walking on crutches even more difficult. Finally he slumps in a plastic chair. "Peace be upon you," he says quietly, welcoming his guest.
Many people would like to speak with Abu Mustafa these days -- he guesses about 10 men call him each day. Abu Mustafa holds the key to an ideology that many are turning to in the Gaza Strip: Salafist jihadism, a belief in the most radical form of Islam. "We meet secretly in mosques and private  homes," says Abu Mustafa, who has become an entry point to the movement for many. He says the Salafis now number up to 5,000 people, not counting the women and children.
'A Very Dangerous Man'
"We aren't well enough organized yet, but we are in the process of building networks," says the 33-year-old. Eventually, he hopes, a powerful movement will be born. Members are already receiving weapons training and are schooled in both dogma and strategy. "When the fight begins, they will show no mercy," said a middleman for the interview -- himself a fighter in an armed militia -- prior to the beach meeting. "Abu Mustafa is a very dangerous man."
Salafis -- sometimes referred to as Wahhabis -- dream of a world before Islam became cluttered with new innovations and cultural influences. They seek to live a pious, god-fearing life governed by the laws of religion, a life resembling those of the original Muslims. At first glance, such a belief system doesn't differ much from that of other utopian sects -- were it not for their ideas related to holy war. To make their vision a reality, Abu Mustafa and his men are willing to fight -- and they are willing to slaughter innocent bystanders.
"Look," says Abu Mustafa, whose beard cascades down his chest, "there will be three possibilities. Some will find their way to Islam. Those who don't want to convert will be able to live in peace under the authority of Islam." For those who don't want to accept the hegemony of Islam, however, holy war is the only recipe. "Then we have to fight -- just like our brothers on Sept. 11," Abu Mustafa says.
The attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. seven years ago were a response to the contempt held for Islam by the Western world, he says. "If Muslims are attacked anywhere in the world, one has to hit back, and it doesn't matter where." Salafist Islam is like a cat, he says. "It is very friendly, but if it is attacked, it turns into a tiger."
The True Islam
"We feel just like al-Qaida and we think as they do," Abu Mustafa says. He won't say if he has contact with Osama bin Laden's terror group, but calls it vaguely "a possibility." He also dodges the question of whether foreigners have joined the Salafist movement in the Gaza Strip.
Abu Mustafa is not fond of speaking with journalists. It is still risky for the group to come out of hiding, since Hamas -- the Palestinian Islamist group which controls the Gaza Strip -- views Salafis with suspicion. Both groups claim to represent true Islam, and both compete for the same followers. The fact that Abu Mustafa finally agreed to a meeting with SPIEGEL ONLINE comes out of gratitude, he says. "I owe the Germans a lot," he explains in his slow, careful German.
Abu Mustafa has a degree from the University of Saarbrucken in Germany's far  west. For seven years, until 2000, he studied chemical engineering and led a  largely normal student existence. He had periodic jobs with a moving company  or in construction, and he occasionally cooked up Palestinian specialties  for other students living in the dormitory. "I miss Germany," he says. He's  even looked on Google Earth for the street where he used to live and the  cafeteria where he used to eat.
He explains that he was largely accepted in Germany and found people there  to be quite friendly. The only problems came about when he encountered  scantily clad women or fellow students who spent much of their time in clubs  and bars. He says such experiences rooted him even deeper in his beliefs.  "It would be better for such people were they to follow the pure Islam," he  says. "We are going to try and bring the faith to them."
The Salafi warns that Germany, by supporting Israel and participating in  operations in Afghanistan, is a clear target for his fellow Islamists. He  claims he himself would never move against his "second home," but he warns  that "Germany should be afraid of being attacked."
Struggle for Global Influence
Salafis from the Gaza Strip first stepped into the global spotlight in March  2007, when jihadis from Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) kidnapped BBC  journalist Alan Johnston, who was based in the Gaza Strip. The group is a  small faction among Salafis. They held Johnston hostage for four months,  threatening to kill him and showing images of him wearing a suicide belt.  Abu Mustafa says it was a legitimate tactic in the struggle for Islam. "It  was nothing personal. It was a message to the West that they should release  imprisoned Muslims." For the moment, he adds reassuringly, foreign  journalists are not in danger in the Gaza Strip.
Indeed, Abu Mustafa says, he and his comrades in arms realize they need to  be patient. There's a long way to go before they can begin their struggle  for global influence. First, they have to take care of an enemy closer to  home: Hamas.
So far, Hamas has done what it can to keep the Salafis under control. They  know the ultra-radicals are just waiting to take over Hamas' position of  leadership. "They are traitors," Abu Mustafa says of Hamas. "Compared to us,  they are Islamism lite."
Nevertheless, he's willing to be merciful. "We will give them the chance to  turn away from the false path," he says. And what happens if they don't take  up the offer? "Then there will be confrontation," Abu Mustafa promises,  bringing his fists together. Still, he doesn't think it likely that the  Salafis will have to take up arms against Hamas. "It won't be necessary.  They will destroy themselves."
Power Struggle
His explanation is clear. "For many people in Gaza, Hamas embodied the  promise of a good, Islamic lifestyle," Abu Mustafa says. But once the group  seized power in the Gaza Strip over a year ago, many were disappointed. Of  the 10 defectors who call him everyday, many of them are Hamas fighters, he  claims. "These are tough men and they have insider knowledge. They will be  very useful should it come to a power struggle."
The group's greatest sin, says Abu Mustafa, who is also the father of two  children, is its effort to bring Islam and democracy together. "Hamas  represents an American style of Islam. They have tried to curry favor."  Which is not such a bad thing for Abu Mustafa and his Salafis. "Hamas is  like a block of ice in the sun," he says. "Every minute they get smaller --   and we get larger."
Abu Mustafa's broken leg and the scars on his right hand are the result of  an Israeli rocket attack. In January, he and a few of his comrades fired  rockets across the border into Israel. Afterwards, as they were heading  home, an Israeli missile hit them.
Four men were injured and one, as Abu Mustafa says, became a martyr. The  fact that his leg still hurts six months later is something he bears with  stoicism. "It is not important how one feels in this life, rather whether  one enters paradise or hell after death," he says.
For his part, Abu Mustafa claims he is not afraid of death. He says he is  not fighting for worldly things. And he hopes he will fall in the struggle  for his beliefs.
"On the other hand," he says before pushing himself up and limping back to  his car, "I would love to see my daughter wed. Maybe she will marry first,  and then I will become a martyr."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Kidnappings: What I predicted will come to pass

Don't say you didn't know. Don't say you were not warned. See With blood on their hands.
All those who favored the swap of Samir Qantar (or Kuntar) for dead bodies of Israeli soldiers should be held accountatable for all future kidnappings and deaths resulting from those kidnappings. 
Ami Isseroff  
 Last update - 13:08 19/07/2008       
Hezbollah vows to carry out more abductions of IDF troops
By Army Radio
Hezbollah will make more attempts to kidnap Israel Defense Forces soldiers, according to statements made Saturday the deputy head of the Lebanese Shi'ite militia, Sheikh Naim Kassam.
According to an Army Radio report Saturday, Kassam made the statement during an interview with a Qatari newspaper, in which he said that Hezbollah is in a state of war with Israel, which "continues to infiltrate the skies of Lebanon and poses a serious threat."
Kassam added that Hezbollah is still obligated to revenge the killing of former senior Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mugniyah, who perished in a car bombing in Damascus in February.

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Fatah policeman killed by Hamas gunmen in Gaza Strip

 Last update - 12:24 19/07/2008       
Fatah policeman killed by Hamas gunmen in Gaza Strip
A member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement was shot and killed early Saturday in the northern Gaza Strip, sources said.
According to witnesses, a group of militants in the early morning attacked the house of Abdel Salam Abu Taqia, 23, near Jabaliya refugee camp and killed him.
Hours later, the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry said the murderer was arrested, and claimed the incident was motivated by family differences.
Abu Taqia was a member of the pro-Abbas naval police until Hamas routed all forces loyal to Abbas and took control of Gaza Strip

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Obama in Afghanistan, visit to Israel raises security concerns

 Last update - 11:55 19/07/2008       
Report: Obama's planned visit to Mideast raises serious security concerns
By Haaretz Service
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday, as part of a Middle East trip that has many concerned about the candidate's safety.
"At approximately 3:15 a.m. (0715 GMT), I received a phone call telling me that Senator Obama had landed at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan," Robert Gibbs, a top aide to the Illinois senator, said in a written statement.
Few citizens in impoverished Afghanistan were aware of Obama's unannounced visit, and few have been following the U.S. presidential race, being too busy eking out an existence amid soaring violence and with limited access to news media.
But some interviewed Saturday said they would welcome an Obama presidency if he could help their country end the fighting, corruption and poverty that have crippled it for so long.
"Obama is a good person," said Abdul Basir, 40, a former army officer. During his campaign I heard he was saying that if I become president I will withdraw the U.S. troops from Iraq and bring them to Afghanistan and I will attack on the terror center on other side of border (in Pakistan). It is very important and I appreciated that.
The Afghans expressed a readiness to see the end of George W. Bush's
presidency. Obama's racial heritage also has drawn attention here.
"He's welcome to our war-torn city, said Habibullah Hamdard, a 42-year-old teacher. If he has loved his children, he should love the Afghan children who are dying around the country every day. The white guy couldn't do anything, let's see what the black guy can do."
Obama left the United States on Thursday and stopped first in Kuwait, where he visited troops, Gibbs said.
Obama's upcoming trip to Israel and the West Bank has raised serious security concerns among American officials, the U.S.-based news website Drudge Report reported Friday.
Obama was scheduled to visit Israel and the West Bank in the coming days as part of a swing through the Middle East, Palestinian and Israeli officials said earlier this week.
Obama will be in Israel on July 22 and 23 and hold talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israeli official said.
Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said Obama would also meet President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah next Wednesday.
The Drudge report said that security concerns were raised after a border policeman shot himself dead at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport last month, 200 meters from where French President Nicolas Sarkozy was getting ready to board a plane ending his trip to Israel.
"I would prefer if he did not make the trip to Ramallah," the report cited a Washington official as saying, adding that "he must use extreme caution throughout Israel at this time, in my opinion, especially Jerusalem."
Over the last four months the capital has seen three terror attacks in which 11 people had been killed and dozens had been wounded.
Senior sources revealed that Obama's foot tour of the Old City had been canceled, the report added.
Obama's official itinerary was not made public.

Continued (Permanent Link)

From Syria with love - Drug smuggler killed by IDF, others captured.

 Last update - 11:43 19/07/2008       
IDF says troops shoot and kill Syrian drug smuggler
By Haaretz Service
Israel Defense Forces troops killed a drugs smuggler from Syria and wounded another on Saturday as they crossed a fence into territory controlled by Israel on the occupied Golan Heights, the Israeli army said.
An IDF spokesman said troops on routine patrol along the heavily fortified fence in the northern part of the Golan Heights spotted four men in the area and opened fire at them, they later found large quantities of drugs at the scene.
"A routine joint army and police patrol working in the area to prevent smuggling spotted a group of men and opened fire at them ... one of the suspects was killed and another was wounded. Two others were apprehended shortly afterwards," the spokesman said.
He added that the two men who had been hit were Syrian nationals and that the body of the dead man and the wounded, who was being treated in hospital, were taken to Israel. He said the two other men were Israeli nationals.
"The army considers any approach towards the border from Syria as a threat against the state and its citizens," the spokesman added.
A search of the area after the arrest turned up a large bag containing 15 kilograms of cocaine and heroin.
An army spokesman stated that troops didn't cross the border into Syria during the raid.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Hope springs eternal: US plans Israeli-Palestinian peace parlay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to host peace talks in Washington with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on July 30, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Thursday.
Rice met a Palestinian delegation in Washington on Wednesday and offered to host the three-way meeting between herself, chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurie and his Israeli partner, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Erekat said.
The top U.S. diplomat is mediating efforts to reach a peace agreement this year between the Palestinians and the Israelis, in the waning months of Bush administration, which ends in January 2009.
Erekat said efforts were also under way for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert next week, but he had no further details.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to confirm the July 30 date for three-way talks but he said Rice would continue to work hard on Palestinian statehood negotiations and this included such meetings.
"Trilateral meetings, she's going to, I'm sure -- in the coming weeks and months -- she's going to have more of them," said McCormack.
The White House also said it could not provide details. "There's nothing to report right now," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment on such a meeting but Rice has met the negotiators from both sides on several occasions to try and move the talks forward.
The United States revived Palestinian statehood negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, last November, with the hope of completing a deal by the time President George W. Bush leaves office.
But disputes over Jewish settlement expansion on occupied West Bank land, a corruption scandal involving Olmert and Abbas' own political troubles and security issues have all undercut U.S. efforts to reach a statehood deal so far.
(Reporting by Sue Pleming and Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Adam Entous in Jerusalem, editing by Patricia Zengerle)
© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

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Six Arabs arrested in Israel for allegedly plotting attack on Bush

 Last update - 21:59 18/07/2008       
Six arrested in Israel for allegedly plotting attack on Bush
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service
Israel Police and the Shin Bet Security Service have arrested six Arabs - two of them Israeli citizens and the other four Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem - with alleged links to the Al-Qaida terror network. A gag order lifted on Friday revealed that the suspects allegedly planned to attack U.S. President George W. Bush's helicopter during one of his recent visits to the region.
An indictment has been issued against the suspects at the Jerusalem District Court. The men range in age from 21 to 24.
According to the charges, the suspects had been in contact with Al-Qaida over the Internet with the purpose of establishing a terror cell in Israel.
The indictment states that one of the suspects - a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem - provided Al-Qiada with photographs from his cellular phone of the U.S. president's planned landing site near the university stadium.
According to the Shin Bet statement, the student - Nazareth resident Mohammed Nijam - lived in a college dormitory overlooking the landing pad. Nijam allegedly sent a message to a Web site linked to Al-Qaida and asked about shooting the helicopter down.
The other Israeli Arab suspect is also a student at the Hebrew University.
The Shin Bet said that investigators found bomb-making instructions on the personal computers of several of the suspects.
Second round of Al-Qaida arrests in less than month
This was the second time this month that security services have arrested Israeli citizens for alleged links to Al-Qaida. Israel security services revealed in early July that they had arrested two Israeli Bedouin suspected of passing strategic information to Al-Qaida, a charge the men's relatives are denying.
The two Bedouin, residents of the southern village of Rahat, allegedly transferred information about Israel Defense Forces military bases and other strategic sites through the Internet, the Shin Bet said.
The two are also suspected of giving the militant network details about key Tel Aviv loactions, including the Azrieli towers and Ben Gurion International Airport, as well as other populated public places that could be used as targets in potential attacks.
That incident was apparently the first time that Israeli security forces have arrested any citizens for alleged cooperation with al-Qaida.
The men were arrested at the end of May and beginning of June, the Shin Bet statement said.
There is no known al-Qaida presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, though Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have both expressed concern about the group trying to enter the Palestinian areas.
While there are several shadowy hardline Muslim groups in the Gaza Strip that have claimed responsibility for attacking Christians, bombing coffee shops and internet cafes because of their perceived Western influence, they do not belong to the global extremist network.

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Spat between Jews and Muslims sours Saudi interfaith summit

 Last update - 20:56 18/07/2008       
Spat between Jews and Muslims sours Saudi interfaith summit
By Reuters
MADRID - A groundbreaking interfaith conference this week ended on a sour note, with a political spat between Muslims and Jews that Saudi organizers wanted to avoid.
Hopes of a follow-up meeting appeared to be dashed.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah had gathered followers of the world's major faiths for the Madrid conference to seek religious reconciliation and showcase a more liberal image of his kingdom's austere version of Sunni Islam.
It was the first time Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims cannot practice their faith openly, had invited Jews to such a meeting and the aim was to skirt hot issues like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in order to focus on problems facing humanity.
But televised exchanges between Jewish Rabbis and Muslim participants went too far, according to one Middle Eastern diplomat.
"This was too much, it crossed the line," said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.
Organizers played down a discussion on Zionism between Ezzeddin Ibrahim, an adviser to the president of the United Arab Emirates, and Rabbi Marc Schneier, North American chairman of the World Jewish Congress, which drew media attention.
"UAE Official Attacks Zionism at Saudi Conference," read a headline in the New York Sun newspaper.
"People said I attacked Zionism, I did not," Ibrahim told reporters, adding that no interfaith conference would be complete without Jews.
Schneier also gave a strong defense of Israel in a debate on Thursday, after a Muslim participant referred to Zionists.
"The fact there are some discrepancies, some differences between participants, that's normal," said Abdullah Al Turki, Secretary General of the Muslim World League organizers.
But the conference's final statement disappointed many.
"The Madrid declaration does not contemplate holding another conference," said Al Turki. "Whether this conference emphasizes the organization of other conferences, other symposiums in the other parts of the world, remains to be seen."
Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee had said earlier the event would be little more than a photo opportunity unless it led to a follow-up in Saudi Arabia with Israeli Jews.
But participants said getting people from so many faiths under one roof had been an achievement in itself, even if there were no Israeli Jews or Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
"There is a desire for this to continue," said Anthony Ball, an aide to the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Images on Saudi television of Abdullah meeting Buddhists and Hindus were also unsettling to most Saudi clerics, given their Wahhabi Islam considers believers in such faiths heathens. Buddhists saw no problem.
"From a Buddhist point of view, if the motivation is good, then the result will be good, it is cause and effect" said Hongchih Shih, a Buddhist nun from Taiwan.

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Even the Arab envoys came to bid farewell to Israel's UN ambassador

 Last update - 18:37 18/07/2008       
Even the Arab envoys came to bid farewell to Israel's UN ambassador
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondent
Ambassadors from Arab countries and the Gulf states were among the guests at a reception yesterday for outgoing United Nations Ambassador Dan Gillerman, who is completing a six-year tour of duty. One veteran UN reporter for an American television network told viewers he could not recall such an impressive Arab turnout for a diplomatic event for a senior Israeli official.
The envoys from Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Oman were seen at the reception, which took place in the official apartment of the Israeli ambassador in Manhattan.
A particular surprise was the attendance at the party of the Palestinian observer at the UN, Riyad Mansour, the senior Palestinian envoy, who usually eschews Israeli diplomatic events and who embraced Gillerman. At a recent Security Council meeting Gillerman and Mansour exchanged heated remarks.
In his words of thanks at the reception, Gillerman noted his particular appreciation for the Palestinian representative for coming, despite criticism of his doing so.
Also at the party was Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and media star Barbara Walters.
Gillerman is to return to Israel at the beginning of August. He will be replaced at the UN by Professor Gabriela Shalev

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Using Bombs to Stave Off War

July 18, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor
Using Bombs to Stave Off War
Li-On, Israel
ISRAEL will almost surely attack Iran's nuclear sites in the next four to seven months — and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country's nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war — either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.
It is in the interest of neither Iran nor the United States (nor, for that matter, the rest of the world) that Iran be savaged by a nuclear strike, or that both Israel and Iran suffer such a fate. We know what would ensue: a traumatic destabilization of the Middle East with resounding political and military consequences around the globe, serious injury to the West's oil supply and radioactive pollution of the earth's atmosphere and water.
But should Israel's conventional assault fail to significantly harm or stall the Iranian program, a ratcheting up of the Iranian-Israeli conflict to a nuclear level will most likely follow. Every intelligence agency in the world believes the Iranian program is geared toward making weapons, not to the peaceful applications of nuclear power. And, despite the current talk of additional economic sanctions, everyone knows that such measures have so far led nowhere and are unlikely to be applied with sufficient scope to cause Iran real pain, given Russia's and China's continued recalcitrance and Western Europe's (and America's) ambivalence in behavior, if not in rhetoric. Western intelligence agencies agree that Iran will reach the "point of no return" in acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in one to four years.
Which leaves the world with only one option if it wishes to halt Iran's march toward nuclear weaponry: the military option, meaning an aerial assault by either the United States or Israel. Clearly, America has the conventional military capacity to do the job, which would involve a protracted air assault against Iran's air defenses followed by strikes on the nuclear sites themselves. But, as a result of the Iraq imbroglio, and what is rapidly turning into the Afghan imbroglio, the American public has little enthusiasm for wars in the Islamic lands. This curtails the White House's ability to begin yet another major military campaign in pursuit of a goal that is not seen as a vital national interest by many Americans.
Which leaves only Israel — the country threatened almost daily with destruction by Iran's leaders. Thus the recent reports about Israeli plans and preparations to attack Iran (the period from Nov. 5 to Jan. 19 seems the best bet, as it gives the West half a year to try the diplomatic route but ensures that Israel will have support from a lame-duck White House).
The problem is that Israel's military capacities are far smaller than America's and, given the distances involved, the fact that the Iranian sites are widely dispersed and underground, and Israel's inadequate intelligence, it is unlikely that the Israeli conventional forces, even if allowed the use of Jordanian and Iraqi airspace (and perhaps, pending American approval, even Iraqi air strips) can destroy or perhaps significantly delay the Iranian nuclear project.
Nonetheless, Israel, believing that its very existence is at stake — and this is a feeling shared by most Israelis across the political spectrum — will certainly make the effort. Israel's leaders, from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert down, have all explicitly stated that an Iranian bomb means Israel's destruction; Iran will not be allowed to get the bomb.
The best outcome will be that an Israeli conventional strike, whether failed or not — and, given the Tehran regime's totalitarian grip, it may not be immediately clear how much damage the Israeli assault has caused — would persuade the Iranians to halt their nuclear program, or at least persuade the Western powers to significantly increase the diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran.
But the more likely result is that the international community will continue to do nothing effective and that Iran will speed up its efforts to produce the bomb that can destroy Israel. The Iranians will also likely retaliate by attacking Israel's cities with ballistic missiles (possibly topped with chemical or biological warheads); by prodding its local clients, Hezbollah and Hamas, to unleash their own armories against Israel; and by activating international Muslim terrorist networks against Israeli and Jewish — and possibly American — targets worldwide (though the Iranians may at the last moment be wary of provoking American military involvement).
Such a situation would confront Israeli leaders with two agonizing, dismal choices. One is to allow the Iranians to acquire the bomb and hope for the best — meaning a nuclear standoff, with the prospect of mutual assured destruction preventing the Iranians from actually using the weapon. The other would be to use the Iranian counterstrikes as an excuse to escalate and use the only means available that will actually destroy the Iranian nuclear project: Israel's own nuclear arsenal.
Given the fundamentalist, self-sacrificial mindset of the mullahs who run Iran, Israel knows that deterrence may not work as well as it did with the comparatively rational men who ran the Kremlin and White House during the cold war. They are likely to use any bomb they build, both because of ideology and because of fear of Israeli nuclear pre-emption. Thus an Israeli nuclear strike to prevent the Iranians from taking the final steps toward getting the bomb is probable. The alternative is letting Tehran have its bomb. In either case, a Middle Eastern nuclear holocaust would be in the cards.
Iran's leaders would do well to rethink their gamble and suspend their nuclear program. Bar this, the best they could hope for is that Israel's conventional air assault will destroy their nuclear facilities. To be sure, this would mean thousands of Iranian casualties and international humiliation. But the alternative is an Iran turned into a nuclear wasteland. Some Iranians may believe that this is a worthwhile gamble if the prospect is Israel's demise. But most Iranians probably don't.
Benny Morris, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Ben-Gurion University, is the author, most recently, of "1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War."

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Islamist fundamentalism on the move in Yemen

Well, we can't be against protecting virtue and fighting vice, can't we?
Ami Isseroff

Abdul Majid Al-Zindani, Sadiq Al-Ahmar, Hussein Al-Ahmar and company prepare to address the crowd of 6,000 who gathered to hear about the new "Authority for Protecting Virtue and Fighting Vice." YT photo by Almigdad Mojalli

SANA'A, July 15 — A meeting hosted by Sheikh Abdul Majid Al-Zindani announced on Tuesday that it intends to create a new para-governmental authority to comb the streets and root out anything in society that the committee deems to be a vice, including co-education in schools and universities and television series played during the month of Ramadan.
The newly-created Authority for Protecting Virtue and Fighting Vice said they will work side-by-side with the concerned governmental authorities. Members said they plan that the authority will be responsible for finding offenders who are promoting vice and report them to the police, who will then decide what to do with them. The group said that it would be the Yemeni police force who would decide whether or not to punish those caught by the authority.
However, the government released a statement the same day as Al-Zindani's meeting saying that only the government should concern itself with citizens' freedom, and no other institution can give or take away rights. Likewise, various political opposition parties launched an intense campaign against the authority since hearing of its plans in May.
"The authority was supposed to be composed of 25 clerics and five ministers," said Hamoud Al-Tharehi, the Supreme Committee member from the Islah Islamic Party. However, during the meeting, it was decided that the authority will instead consist of 42 clerics alone. "We reconsidered the issue and decided to restrict the authority to the Yemeni Clerics Association," added Al-Tharehi, pointing out that cooperation between clerics and governmental authorities might be difficult and lead to more problems.
Abdul Majid Al-Zindani, the head of Al-Iman University and a controversial figure in Islam as well as in Yemen, reaffirmed that the security forces would really be the ones protecting virtue and fighting vice. "Our only medium of change is the word, but the act is left for the state," said Al-Zindani.
Al-Zindani also said that the authority will ask the government to close any workplace spreading vices like serving alcohol and permitting prostitution. "We will never be silent towards any place, wherever it is," he added.
Al-Tharehi stated that the authority would specifically target private institutions frequented by the wealthy. He said that those are the institutions that smuggle children and promote prostitution.
Al-Tharehi denied that the authority had any hand in recent restaurant closures, but praised those who were responsible.
"The individuals who closed the restaurants don't belong to the authority, but they have good faith," said Al-Tharehi. "Also, there are individuals in Hodeidah who have good faith and individuals in Aden who have good faith," he mentioned in reference to the vigilante anti-vice squads in those cities that seemingly spontaneously cropped up in the last year.
The Yemeni clerics who will make up the new anti-vice authority released a statement of their own, expressing shock at the spread of vices in the country. They said these vices included bringing Arab and foreign female singers and dancers to Yemen for performances, opening nightclubs, broadcasting or holding fashion shows, mixed-sex dancing and pornographic channels in some hotels.
The statement also condemned broadcasting certain television series that play during Ramadan, which they said contradicts with morals during the holy month.
Yet another vice in the eyes of the authority, according to its published statement, is sending female students away to study in foreign countries without companions from their families. The authority said it also considered co-education in schools and universities to be a vice.
In another statement, members of the authority condemned what it called "the press campaign" against the Authority of Protecting Virtue and Fighting Vice, accusing the press of encouraging the building of churches and an overall increased "Christianization" in Yemen. The statement also accused the media of insulting and satirizing verses from the Holy Quran, the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and Islamic clerics in general. It added that the press was a herald for vice and pornography.
The meeting's attendees numbered around 6,000 people, consisting of tribal sheiks, clerics and Members of Parliament (MPs). However, the meeting didn't involve any academics, government representatives or women. Female journalists, including one from the Yemen Times, were turned away from the meeting and told leave. Al-Zindani claimed in the meeting that he had sent 100 invited to academics, but none responded.
Most of the attendees were wearing traditional Yemeni garments including the thobe and the jambiya and the overwhelming majority had long beards.

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Moderate Palestinian Leader Abbas congratulates Kuntar's family for killer's release

Is any comment really needed here? It speaks for itself.
Ami Isseroff
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday congratulated the family of notorious Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar , who was freed on Wednesday with four Hezbollah guerillas as part of a prisoner exchange with Israel.
Abbas welcomed the swap between Israel and the Lebanon-based militant group, and in a statement congratulated the families of the "liberated prisoners," issued during a visit to Malta.
Kuntar has been imprisoned in Israel since 1979. He was convicted of one of the grisliest attacks in Israeli history - killing three people including, a man in front of his 4-year-old daughter, and then killing the girl herself by crushing her skull.
In Gaza, meanwhile, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday hailed Kuntar as "a great hero" and said Israel's decision to release him and four Hezbollah fighters had undermined Israel's policy of not freeing "prisoners with blood on their hands."
Haniyeh also branded the exchange of prisoners as "a victory" for Hezbollah and armed resistance against Israel.
"The Israelis should pay the price for the release of Gilad Shalit," Haniya said in a statement in central Gaza, referring to the Israel Defense Forces soldier kidnapped by Gaza militants in June, 2006 cross-border raid.
"It is hard to see thousands of prisoners still held in Israeli jails," He added.
People celebrated in the streets of the Hamas-controlled coastal territory, and handed out sweets in support of Hezbollah.
"Today is a great victory for the resistance movements and to Hezbollah, said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "It shows that the only successful way to free the prisoners is by kidnapping soldiers."

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Anti-Semitism think-tank launched in London

Anti-Semitism think-tank launched in London
Jul. 16, 2008
Jonny Paul, Jerusalem Post Correspondent , THE JERUSALEM POST
"The academic boycott of Israel is ignorant on so many different levels; it's ignorant, as it will achieve nothing, it's ignorantly ineffective, it's ignorantly motivated and it's driven by politics," UK Minister for Europe Jim Murphy said this week at the launch of a new think-tank dedicated to examining the growth and development of anti-Semitism in the world today.
Speaking at the launch of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism (EISCA) in Parliament, Murphy highlighted the extremes of both Left and Right, and spoke about the legitimization of contemporary anti-Semitism by other faiths.
EISCA director Dr. Winston Pickett said the institute's goal was "to become a leading think-tank on anti-Semitism, generating new strategies to counter and overcome it. Its research trajectory seeks to analyze anti-Semitism as a global phenomenon with deep historical roots and a resilient ability to adapt to present circumstances.
"Our aim is to provide clear thinking on anti-Semitism - and this means regarding it as central to understanding contemporary prejudice and racial hatred today."
In keeping with this goal, Pickett said, the think-tank plans to offer a Web-based network for the most comprehensive scholarship in the field and toward solutions-oriented research that explores ways to address anti-Semitism in all its forms.
At the launch, Murphy enumerated two motives behind right-wing anti-Semitism: the tangible hatred of "the other" and the conspiracy theories of influence, which he said the far Left had also utilized.
"For the extreme Left, I would argue it is their unresolved relationship with Israel which drives their philosophy," he said. "The idealistic dreams of Israel as a potentially enduring socialist and collectivist state were strong. But particularly during Israel's second decade as a state, some international anti-imperialists came to a different conclusion. Israel's relationship with the US was part of this. And for a tiny minority, anti-Israelism took on an air of anti-Semitism."
Murphy stressed that "being critical of Israel in no way makes you an anti-Semite, any more than Zionism equals racism." But he said there were those who had "gone beyond criticism of Israel into the entirely darker sphere of anti-Semitism."
"Once you set aside the legitimate criticisms people have of Israel, then you can only come to one conclusion, which is, for the vocal minority, [that] they are driven by anti-Semitism," he said.
Murphy also talked about the anti-Semitism championed in the Islamic world.
"In addition to the anti-Semitism of political extremes, there is also, of course, the anti-Semitic pulse from a minority in the Islamic world," he said. "President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad of Iran is the highest-profile proponent, but he is not alone. Sections of the Islamic media tolerate and on occasion advocate anti-Semitism."
Murphy called for wider research on anti-Semitism and talked about the need to be much better at collecting statistics on anti-Semitic incidents throughout Europe. He made it clear that the British government was fully committed to supporting the new initiative and had already provided some financing for the think-tank, via a £20,000 grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government, to publish a report later this year on anti-Semitic discourse, stemming from a key recommendation of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism.
"Our commitment is absolute," he said. "That is the reason we welcomed the All-Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism and its important recommendations to the police, the Home Office, government departments, schools and universities on steps to take to monitor anti-Semitism better and to reduce levels of abuse. In particular, the report calls for further research on the correlation between conflict in the Middle East and attacks on the Jewish community."
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Stephen Pollard, chairman of EISCA, said he felt Murphy's speech set down an important marker.
"Jim Murphy stressed that the government is committed to leading the fighting against anti-Semitism," he said. "That is good news, but it is terrible that in the modern world such a commitment is necessary. That is why EISCA has been formed - to study, analyze and act against the roots of contemporary anti-Semitism."

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Amman gunman wounds Israeli, 5 others before shooting self

 Last update - 10:11 17/07/2008       
Amman gunman wounds Israeli, 5 others before shooting self
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent, and The Associated Press
A gunman shot and wounded six people, including an Israeli Arab woman, near a Roman amphitheater in Jordan's capital Wednesday, authorities said.
The gunman shot himself in the head as he was chased by police, and was in critical condition, Jordan's state minister for information, Nasser Judeh, said. The six victims were not seriously injured, he added.
A police official identified the assailant as Thaer al-Weheidi, 19, a resident of Baqaa camp, the largest of 11 Palestinian refugee settlements in Jordan.
Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem said Thursday that the motive for the shooting was criminal, and thus could not be viewed as a terrorist attack.
Judeh said the victims included four Lebanese, an Israeli Arab woman and their Jordanian bus driver. He described the nighttime shooting as a "criminal" incident, and said it did not appear terrorist-related.
The police official said al-Weheidi has a criminal record and was implicated in previous cases of attempted murder and looting. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still under way.
There have been several shootings and other attacks in the Jordanian capital in recent years, some targeting tourists at the site of the amphitheater in downtown Amman.
The country's worst terrorist attack was a triple suicide bombing at Amman hotels that killed 63 people in 2005.
In a September 2006 shooting, a lone gunman fired on a group of Western tourists outside the amphitheater, killing a British man and wounding six other people.
In March, a man stabbed and wounded a German tourist as he was walking with his wife near downtown Amman's al-Husseini Mosque.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The high price of folly

Ehud Olmert said; We paid a high price for our troops out of moral duty
But the price is not yet paid. It will be paid by the victims of the next kidnapping, which has been invited by this swap. He said:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that Israel's duty to its soldiers led the government to carry out a prisoner exchange earlier in the day, in which Israel released five Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces reservists abducted by Hezbollah in 2006.
Israel's duty to its soldiers and its citizens is to protect the live ones first. There is little doubt that the exchange will cause further kidnappings. Since Israel was once again willing to exchange live prisoners for dead ones, Hamas will have no compunction about killing hostages.
Ami Issroff
 Last update - 23:00 16/07/2008       
Olmert: By Barak Ravid and Anshil Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondents
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that Israel's duty to its soldiers led the government to carry out a prisoner exchange earlier in the day, in which Israel released five Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces reservists abducted by Hezbollah in 2006.
The coffins holding the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were later >delivered to an army base in northern Israel where their families were waiting.
The statement by Olmert acknowledged the apparently skewed exchange, in which Israel freed one of its most notorious prisoners, Samir Kuntar, and four Hebzollah fighters in return for the bodies.
The sheer power of Israel's moral obligation to its soldiers prompted the exchange, even such at a heavy price, Olmert said.
"Today the doubts have been dispelled, especially regarding the fates of Udi [Ehud Goldwasser] and Eldad, but also regarding the power of Israel's moral and ethical obligations."
"It is this power that drove our decision to bring the hostages home, even at the heavy price of releasing a heinous murderer."
Kuntar has been imprisoned in Israel since 1979. He was convicted of one of the grisliest attacks in Israeli history - killing a man in front of his four-year-old daughter, and then killing the girl herself by crushing her skull. The girl's two-year-old sister was accidentally smothered by her mother, who kept her hand over the toddler's mouth to stifle her cries as they hid from Kuntar and his accomplices.
He was also considered Israel's last bargaining chip in efforts to determine the fate of Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad, who disappeared when his plane went down over Lebanon in 1986.
Olmert said Wednesday: "A foreigner wouldn't understand what every Israeli knows well - the mutual responsibility and the obligation to ensure the welfare of each and every one of our soldiers. It is the glue that holds our society together and enables us to survive while surrounded by enemies and terror organizations."
"I pity the people who are celebrating at this time the release of an animal who crushed the skull of a little girl of four," he concluded.
Upon the completion of the prisoner exchange Wednesday evening, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said "on this day let there be no doubt ? just as Israel is willing to pay a price to defend its values, Israel has demanded, and will continue to demand a high price from its enemies in its endeavor to defend itself, if needed."
"For us," the foreign minister continued, "the heroes are those who fight to defend civilians, those who fight to preserve our existence, and those who go into battle not only with a weapon, but with the willingness to make sacrifices and the knowledge that they are protecting people who share their values and would also be willing to pay a price to implement those values."
Meanwhile Wednesday, President Shimon Peres denounced the red carpet treatment that welcomed the five prisoners that returned to Lebanon on Wednesday, comparing between the behavior of Israelis, who mourned the return of Regev and Goldwasser, and what he called Lebanese "dancing and drumming."
"I see and hear what is happening on both sides of the barricade. In Lebanon there are victory celebrations," Peres said in a special address.
"The heads of states, heads of Hezbollah are dancing and drumming before welcoming Kuntar - the murderer who with his rifle's butt smashed the skull of Einat, of blessed memory, who was four years old, and who shot her father in cold blood. In Israel, the people are crying. Today we are all the Goldwasser and Regev families."
The Lebanese government has declared Wednesday a national holiday to celebrate the "liberation of prisoners from the jails of the Israeli enemy and the return of the remains of martyrs."
"We have paid a painful price in order to bring Ehud and Eldad home, to rest the respite of warriors at their homes," Peres said of the swap. "With us, with everyone, with the fallen and the living."
"You can see where the pain is, where the happiness is. But if you ask really where is the supreme moral victory, and where is the human defeat - [look] in the reception of a unparalleled, base murderer, and the lighting of memorial candles for the remembrance of our loved ones - the answer is clear," Peres added.

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Zionist plot? Saudis offer Russia billions to break with Tehran

Supporters of Iran like to create the impression that only Zionists want to isolate the Iranian regime. It is not so. Iran is perceived as a clear and present danger by most of the Gulf (Arabian Gulf or Persian Gulf) countries.
Ami Isseroff
Saudis offer Moscow billions to break with Tehran: report
Agence France-Presse - 16 July, 2008

Saudi Arabia has offered to buy Russian arms worth 2.4 billion dollars (1.5 billion euros) if Moscow stops supporting Iran, a Russian newspaper reported Tuesday, citing diplomatic sources.

"The kingdom's government advised Moscow to cut back its cooperation with Tehran, and in exchange it held out the prospect of profitable contracts with Saudi Arabia," the daily business newspaper Kommersant wrote.

A spokesman for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied the report.

"Any claims that military-technical cooperation between Russia and Saudi
Arabia is in any way linked to Russian-Iranian dialogue are inappropriate and do not correspond to reality," the Interfax news agency quoted Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

The newspaper report came one day after Putin met with the general secretary of Saudi Arabia's Security Council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

Citing sources in Russia's defence industry, the newspaper said Saudi Arabia was ready to buy at least 100 BMP-3 combat vehicles, 150 T-90 tanks and 160 Mi-17, Mi-26 and Mi-35 helicopters.

Kommersant put the total value of the equipment at about 2.4 billion dollars.

Moscow has opposed stiffer international sanctions on Iran for its nuclear programme, which Tehran says is civilian in nature.

Relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia -- a traditional US ally -- have warmed considerably in recent years.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Bodies of Israeli soldiers returned by Hezbollah

The first part of the shameful "prisoner" swap deal is concluded: Bodies to be identified before Israel hands over prisoners.  The Hezbollah, of course, never had any prisoners to swap - just dead bodies. The article notes:
"This process exemplifies the IDF's deep moral commitment to making every effort to return soldiers who have been sent on an operational mission," it added. "The process reflects a moral and ethical strength that stems from Jewish tradition, the ethics of Israeli society and the IDF code."

Actually, it exemplifies the stupidity and moral bankruptcy of a system gone bad. In the future, Israel will pay a very steep price for those two coffins. We won't know how steep until the next kidnapping, which was invited by this swap. Meanwhile, the Hezbollah can celebrate a big victory.  
As Ha'aretz's Tzvi Bar'el observes:
Hezbollah has been touting the prisoner exchange deal with Israel as confirmation that the Shi'ite militant group ultimately defeated Israel in the Second Lebanon War, but the swap is at least as much of a Hezbollah victory within Lebanon.
"The signatures of Olmert and Peres on the swap means official confirmation of the defeat and failure of the July aggression in the face of the will of the resistance," said Nabil Kaouk, Hezbollah's commander in southern Lebanon.
But the swap may be even more significant within Lebanon. Since the end of the war, Hezbollah has been trying hard to prove that even if it was mistaken in its assessment of Israel's response to its abduction of Israeli soldiers, the war had a positive outcome.
Ami Isseroff

Continued (Permanent Link)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Iran wants you to think that they want

This is not a realistic vew of Iran. The tactic of alternately warming and cooling relations in an arbitrary and unpredictable way, noted here, is well known from Soviet and Nazi diplomatic maneuvers.
Foreign Policy
Posted July 2008
Calling for dialogue one day and firing off missiles the next, Iran has baffled many observers with its seemingly erratic behavior of late. Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explains how the Islamic Republic responds to pressure, why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad laughs in the face of danger, and what Tehran's hard-liners think of Barack Obama.
Foreign Policy: Last week, Iran sounded conciliatory notes when Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki hailed a "new trend" in negotiations with the West over the nuclear issue. But this week, Iranian officials vowed to strike back against any U.S. or Israeli attack and test-fired missiles that they claim can hit Tel Aviv. What explains this shift in tone?
Karim Sadjadpour: The last two weeks have been very representative of the worldview of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his modus operandi of neither confrontation nor accommodation with the West. Last week, we saw conciliatory signals from Tehran, saying: "We're capable of being diplomatic." And this week, Iran was sending signals to the Israelis and Americans saying, "If you want to escalate, we have the means to reciprocate." Khamenei wants to send a clear signal: "Don't think that pressure is going to moderate our behavior," because he has always believed that if you give in to pressure, you only invite more of it.
FP: Also this week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the possibility of an attack on his country as a "funny joke." What do you think he's trying to accomplish?
KS: He's always genuinely thought that the likelihood of an attack is very slim, and his reading of U.S. domestic politics is that the Democrats won the 2006 midterm elections precisely because the U.S. public doesn't have any appetite to embark on any more Middle East adventures. So, he believes that U.S. politicians have their hands tied.
That said, a U.S. military attack would be more carrot than stick for Ahmadinejad. There are two things that would really rehabilitate his presidency: One is a U.S. attack on Iran, and the second is a major U.S. diplomatic overture to Iran. I think the United States should not offer him either.
FP: What about an Israeli attack?
KS: I think the odds are very low. When Israel bombed Osirak in 1981, and when they bombed Syria more recently, there was "radio silence" before and after the operation. Whereas now with Iran, it's been a much more public campaign. If the Israelis were serious about doing it, there would be a much more studied silence. I don't think they want to do it and are hoping to intimidate Iran into compromise.
FP: Some analysts argue that, under certain circumstances, an attack might cause Iranians to blame Ahmadinejad for miscalculating.
KS: I would disagree with that. After the fall of the Taliban, there was a great deal of romanticism in Iran about the prospects of some type of 24-hour U.S. regime-change operation. But after what they've seen on a daily basis -- and this is one thing the regime has done very effectively, broadcasting the carnage taking place next door in Iraq --I don't see any scenario whereby Iranians would put the onus on their own leaders rather than the United States or Israel. Keep in mind, upwards of 80 percent of the Iranian public gets their news directly from official state television. You would have a segment that would blame their own leadership, but they're marginalized politically. Iran's liberal elite stay on the sidelines.
FP: What does Iran wants to see in Iraq right now? Is Iran pushing the Maliki government to impose a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops?
KS: For the moment, the status quo in Iraq works quite to Iranian leaders' advantage because they have their friends, their Shiite coreligionists, in a position of power, and they have their main adversary, the United States, bleeding very heavily.
But over the long term, there are actually a lot of overlapping interests between the United States and Iran with regard to Iraq. Both want to see its territorial integrity preserved. Iran supports the democratic process in Iraq probably more than any of Iraq's neighbors, given that the Shiites are the demographic majority. And remembering what happened in Afghanistan, the last thing Iranian leaders want is for Iraq to break down into an al Qaeda-infested, failed state.
FP: Seymour Hersh recently reported in the New Yorker that the United States is working with ethnic minority groups to stir up trouble for the Iranian government. If Hersh's allegations are true, how do you think Iranians will react?
KS: Iranian officials have been saying for a while now that they have concrete intelligence proving that the United States is trying to foment ethnic and sectarian unrest within Iran. Any type of U.S. policy along those lines would be unequivocally disastrous, and it would alienate just about every single Iranian. You have to remember: Iran is not a post-Ottoman entity that was drawn on a cocktail napkin by Winston Churchill. It has more than 2,000 years of being a nation state. Whether you're Persian or Azeri or Kurdish or even Baluchi, there's a strong sense of attachment to the soil of Iran. So, if Washington's goal is truly to bring about a more democratic Iran, you're going to tremendously alienate the Iranian nationalists and democrats that you want to see one day come to power if they perceive that you're trying to tear the country apart.
FP: What do Iranians think about the U.S. presidential election and John McCain versus Barack Obama?
KS: There's far more intrigue about Obama than about McCain. Apart from the fact that he advocates dialogue with Iran, he's African-American and his middle name is Hussein, who is the paramount figure in Shiite history and culture. If Obama were to win, it would be much more difficult for Iran to constantly paint the United States as this grand oppressor. It's interesting to note that a few days after the hostages were taken at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the Iranians released all the women and blacks because they said these groups were historically oppressed by Americans.
An Obama victory in November could tremendously change the dynamics in U.S.-Iran relations. If you're a hard-liner in Tehran and you survive in isolation, like Ayatollah Khamenei, it presents far more of a quandary for you to have a president in Washington who says "Let's be friends" than one who says "Let's be enemies" and essentially continue the status quo. I would wager the vast majority of Iran's political elite, who do want to see some sort of reconciliation, support Obama. But then you have a small, but powerful minority who survive in isolation, much like Fidel Castro in Cuba. They see Iran opening up to the world as a threat to their interests, and I'm sure they would much prefer John McCain to be president.
Karim Sadjadpour is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author most recently of Reading Khamenei: The World View of Iran's Most Powerful Leader.

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Bolton: Let Israel attack Iran if needed

Israel, Iran and the Bomb
July 15, 2008; Page A19

Iran's test salvo of ballistic missiles last week together with recent threatening rhetoric by commanders of the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards emphasizes how close the Middle East is to a fundamental, in fact an irreversible, turning point.
Tehran's efforts to intimidate the United States and Israel from using military force against its nuclear program, combined with yet another diplomatic charm offensive with the Europeans, are two sides of the same policy coin. The regime is buying the short additional period of time it needs to produce deliverable nuclear weapons, the strategic objective it has been pursuing clandestinely for 20 years.
Between Iran and its long-sought objective, however, a shadow may fall: targeted military action, either Israeli or American. Yes, Iran cannot deliver a nuclear weapon on target today, and perhaps not for several years. Estimates vary widely, and no one knows for sure when it will have a deliverable weapon except the mullahs, and they're not telling. But that is not the key date. Rather, the crucial turning point is when Iran masters all the capabilities to weaponize without further external possibility of stopping it. Then the decision to weaponize, and its timing, is Tehran's alone. We do not know if Iran is at this point, or very near to it. All we do know is that, after five years of failed diplomacy by the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany), Iran is simply five years closer to nuclear weapons.
And yet, true to form, State Department comments to Congress last week – even as Iran's missiles were ascending – downplayed Iran's nuclear progress, ignoring the cost of failed diplomacy. But the confident assumption that we have years to deal with the problem is high-stakes gambling on a policy that cannot be reversed if it fails. If Iran reaches weaponization before State's jaunty prediction, the Middle East, and indeed global, balance of power changes in potentially catastrophic ways.
And consider what comes next for the U.S.: the Bush administration's last six months pursuing its limp diplomatic efforts, plus six months of a new president getting his national security team and policies together. In other words, one more year for Tehran to proceed unhindered to "the point of no return."
We have almost certainly lost the race between giving "strong incentives" for Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and its scientific and technological efforts to do just that. Swift, sweeping, effectively enforced sanctions might have made a difference five years ago. No longer. Existing sanctions have doubtless caused some pain, but Iran's real economic woes stem from nearly 30 years of mismanagement by the Islamic Revolution.
More sanctions today (even assuming, heroically, support from Russia and China) will simply be too little, too late. While regime change in Tehran would be the preferable solution, there is almost no possibility of dislodging the mullahs in time. Had we done more in the past five years to support the discontented – the young, the non-Persian minorities and the economically disaffected – things might be different. Regime change, however, cannot be turned on and off like a light switch, although the difficulty of effecting it is no excuse not to do more now.
That is why Israel is now at an urgent decision point: whether to use targeted military force to break Iran's indigenous control over the nuclear fuel cycle at one or more critical points. If successful, such highly risky and deeply unattractive air strikes or sabotage will not resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis. But they have the potential to buy considerable time, thereby putting that critical asset back on our side of the ledger rather than on Iran's.
With whatever time is bought, we may be able to effect regime change in Tehran, or at least get the process underway. The alternative is Iran with nuclear weapons, the most deeply unattractive alternative of all.
But the urgency of the situation has not impressed Barack Obama or the EU-3. Remarkably, on July 9, Sen. Obama, as if stumbling on a new idea, said Iran "must suffer threats of economic sanctions" and that we needed "direct diplomacy . . . so we avoid provocation" and "give strong incentives . . . to change their behavior." Javier Solana, chief EU negotiator, was at the time busy fixing a meeting with the Iranians to continue five years of doing exactly what Mr. Obama was proclaiming, without results.
John McCain responded to Iran's missile salvo by stressing again the need for a workable missile defense system to defend the U.S. against attacks by rogue states like Iran and North Korea. He is undoubtedly correct, highlighting yet another reason why November's election is so critical, given the unceasing complaints about missile defense from most Democrats.
Important as missile defense is, however, it is only a component of a postfailure policy on Iran's nuclear-weapons capacity. In whatever limited amount of time before then, we must face a very hard issue: What will the U.S. do if Israel decides to initiate military action? There was a time when the Bush administration might itself have seriously considered using force, but all public signs are that such a moment has passed.
Israel sees clearly what the next 12 months will bring, which is why ongoing U.S.-Israeli consultations could be dispositive. Israel told the Bush administration it would destroy North Korea's reactor in Syria in spring, 2007, and said it would not wait past summer's end to take action. And take action it did, seeing a Syrian nuclear capability, for all practical purposes Iran's agent on its northern border, as an existential threat. When the real source of the threat, not just a surrogate, nears the capacity for nuclear Holocaust, can anyone seriously doubt Israel's propensities, whatever the impact on gasoline prices?
Thus, instead of debating how much longer to continue five years of failed diplomacy, we should be intensively considering what cooperation the U.S. will extend to Israel before, during and after a strike on Iran. We will be blamed for the strike anyway, and certainly feel whatever negative consequences result, so there is compelling logic to make it as successful as possible. At a minimum, we should place no obstacles in Israel's path, and facilitate its efforts where we can.
These subjects are decidedly unpleasant. A nuclear Iran is more so.
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).

Continued (Permanent Link)

Left and Zionist

Reflections of a Sometime Israel Lobbyist speaks for many Jews, perhaps the silent majority, in expressing our attitudes toward Israel, anti-Zionism and the peace process. But in some ways Fein "doesn't get it." The big problem with Mearsheimer and Walt is not that they don't understand the "Jewish Massada Complex," but that much of their thesis is based on lies. Israel did not push the US into a war with Iraq, and Israel is a strategic asset to the U.S. Jimmy Carter, not a friend of Israel, did not ensure there would be a $3 billion annual aid package to Israel because of the "Israel Lobby." He did it to help ensure US presence and leverage in the Middle East. The "Israel Lobby" is not shutting up Walt and Mearsheimer or Jimmy Carter. Most Jews will not support groups that threaten the existence of Israel because they recognize that Israel is the best thing that happened to Jews in 2000 years, our single greatest achievement.

Still, it nice that at least some few of us still hope that the rightful place of Zionism is with progressivism, and that the rightful stance of the left is support for Israel. Not uncritical support, but certainly support for the right of the Jews to have a state of our own.

If right wing extremists have coopted Zionism, that is in large part the fault of the Zionist left, who largely deserted the arena of defense of Israel, and handed the leadership of the Zionist movement to the right on a silver platter. Fein's article, with all its faults, is therefore a welcome step in the right direction.

Ami Isseroff

Reflections of a Sometime Israel Lobbyist

HERE'S A SECRET, the kind we hardly acknowledge to ourselves.

But first, you may be wondering who this "we" is, on whose behalf I am writing. In truth, I am not sure. Maybe it is the Jews. But the problem with "Jews" is—well, not all Jews are in on the secret. Or maybe it is the Zionists. But the problem with "Zionists" is that the word has come to seem musty, at best, and in these last several decades it has been appropriated by exclusivist fanatics. So let me spell it out: the "we" here means old-fashioned liberal Zionists, people who intuitively endorse the idea of a Jewish state, people who acknowledge that to secure the safety of that state and to ennoble its character are the compelling Jewish projects of our time, hence people who these days suffer considerable anxiety and are not strangers to disappointment. Things are not going very well, or even just average well.

And what is the secret we hardly acknowledge? We are all for a two-state solution, we are eager to call a halt to Israel's expansion, to put an end to the settlement movement, to restore Israel's good name, to make almost any compromise consistent with the preservation of Israel's character as a Jewish state and its commitment to democracy. We are, in a word, "doves." But we don't trust the Palestinians; we worry about Iran; we haven't a clue about how you get from here to peace; we don't take America's support for granted; and even if we did, we are not exactly proud to have to depend on that support. We worry that Israel has taken multiple wrong turns, not only on the big question, its peace policy, but on a range of domestic issues as well—most notably, its increasingly inegalitarian economy (where it now ranks with the United States on disparities in income distribution); its corrupting entanglement of religion and state; the decline in the quality of its educational system; its manner of dealing with the 20 percent of its citizens who are Palestinian. We are dismayed by the extent of public corruption. In short, we fear that Israel is at risk both domestically and internationally.

Now, none of that is secret. Psychic dissonance is hardly an unknown phenomenon. The secret is that because we are apprehensive, we are not entirely upset that "out there," in the public square, those who speak authoritatively on Israel's behalf—meaning, principally, AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations—are considerably more rigid, more hawkish, if you will, than we are.

Which brings me, of course, to the curious case of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who make a repeated point in their controversial book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, of the discrepancy between "official" Jewish pronouncements regarding American policy toward Israel and the consistent finding of public opinion surveys, which show that American Jews are considerably more dovish than those who speak in their name.

Mearsheimer and Walt don't know the secret, meaning they don't know the Jews. They look at Israel and see the strongest military power in the region, a prosperous, high-tech economy, and they conclude that all the talk of Israel's vulnerability is merely hokum, clever propaganda intended to keep American aid at its (allegedly) wildly disproportionate level. The source of the propaganda, the explanation for the level of American aid? The Lobby. "The Lobby," in their view, is a social scientist's dream; it explains not only America's unconditional support for Israel, it explains everything. Two words, three syllables, and you have the key to the whole of the special relationship: you know why America invaded Iraq, you know why Camp David II failed, you know why both Congress and the administration are without spine in dealing with the chronic conflict between Israel and its neighbors. It's the lies the leaders of the Lobby have told and continue to tell us.

What Mearsheimer and Walt miss (among many other things) is any understanding of the depths of apprehension currently experienced by the Zionist left. On any given day, in connection with any given episode, Israeli officials and much (but not all) of the pro-Israel activist community in the United States may, indeed, repeat the tired slogans, the inflated claims, the whole of the familiar litany of rationalization and justification: Israel is the only democratic state in the region, it faces implacable enemies, it is America's ally in the war on terrorism, its values and America's are the same, its response to threats to its security is measured—all dismissed by Mearsheimer and Walt as false pleadings. That may be true, but it is essentially irrelevant. Whether true or false (and it is at least partly true), the dismissal doesn't speak to Jewish apprehensions, shared fully by liberal Zionists. Our leaders may inflate, exaggerate, even lie; the lies of Israel's enemies are vastly larger. But neither lies nor truths are assessed by a dispassionate lie-detecting machine. They are assessed by people riddled with apprehension, and if there is any one word that captures the substance of the apprehension that word is "abandonment."

For Jews, abandonment is an old, old story. The world may abandon Israel; Israel may abandon the Zionist dream. The project may fail. Look around, the portents are everywhere. There's a rush to disinvestment, a palpable abandonment. There are mainstream claims that Israel's own policies are the necessary and sufficient explanation of the conflict, that Israel is therefore the villain of the piece. And, for liberal Zionists especially, there's the growing fashion of Left alienation from Israel, sometimes (though not always) combined with romanticization of the Palestinians. Nathaniel Popper, a young journalist who works for the Forward, writes that when he reported to his friends on his recent visit to Israel, "they seized on my skepticism—of both the Palestinians and the Israelis—to rail against Zionism. Something snapped; I whipped to Israel's defense, summoning arguments I had heard at the pro-Israel conferences I attend for work." He does not add, but might well, that part of what snapped was his comfort with those friends, his ability to take for granted a roughly similar weltanschauung. Whiplash, and suddenly we are Israel's embattled defenders, perceived as imposters on the left, insufficiently dismissive of the parochial claims of the Jews. Where, then, do we belong?

As if empathy for the Israelis precludes sympathy for the Palestinians. As if this is all a zero-sum game, as if Mr. Bush's gross "You are either with us or against us" were a sober appraisal not only of the battle with terrorism but also of the war between Israel and its neighbors—as if there's no place for qualification, for ambiguity, for nuance. As if there's no appreciation for tragedy.

NADAV SAFRAN was a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard.

Born in Egypt, he'd lived in Israel (and fought in its War of Independence) before coming to the United States. His first major book, published in 1963, was The United States and Israel. In his preface to that book, Safran wrote, "I believe that fundamentally both Arabs and Jews have an unassailable moral argument. A person who cannot see how this is possible does not understand the essence of tragedy; much less does he realize that his position serves only to assure that the Palestine tragedy should have another sequel, and yet another."

Safran was prescient. Exclusivists on both sides of the conflict have indeed brought on sequel after sequel, by now an ongoing calamity. It matters not at all which set of exclusivists is the more to blame, which less. What matters is that together they've come to own the crowded stage.

There's Hamas, of course, in a class by itself. There are the settlers and their avid defenders. There are a handful of hard-line American Jewish organizations like the ZOA (Zionist Organization of America). And there are Nathaniel Popper's friends—presumably (I don't know Popper) people of the left—who have neither use for nor patience with the Jewish state. It's racist, it's militaristic, and it's an anachronism. Nationalism was never a good thing, and the Jews were supposed to know that.

AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents are at most unwitting support personnel for the tedious drama. Nominally, they support a two-state solution, which—by definition—the exclusivists do not, and which by now has become the litmus test of a pro-peace (which means pro-Israel and pro-Palestine) stance. True, there are times when they and some right-leaning others set the bar so high that their endorsement of a two-state solution seems little more than lip service. But it is not helpful or accurate to lump them together as part of the exclusivist camp.

THERE'S A dynamic here, worth attending to: where the left has closed the door to Israel, gone beyond tough criticism all the way to demonization, we are left out in the cold; we will have no truck with exclusivists, whether of the right or the left. But while we cannot, do not, will not dance with those who believe that pro-Zionist passion requires the suspension of critical judgment, we prefer the company of those who wish Israel well to the company of those who wish it ill, even though the course endorsed by those who wish it well seems to us too often mistaken.

The left has a hard time with nationalism and is particularly irritated by Jewish nationalism. "Tribalism," they call it, and tribalism it sometimes is. Somehow, it is supposed that the Jews should know better, whether because we have so often in the past been victims of nationalism or because there's something awkward about people who have been comfortable living at the margins suddenly insisting that they have a fixed address and a fire in the fireplace or because nouveau powerful is no more attractive than nouveau riche or because statecraft is not a particular strength of a people of artists, scholars, merchants, a people with so pacific a history as ours. And look, they say, at what a mess the Zionists have made of things. Pacific? Only so long as they were not allowed to carry guns. Now, with guns, they become hunters.

Well, look: though pocked with imperfections, some no cosmetics can mask, the record's hardly one of unrelieved bungling. There are grace notes galore and much to admire: freedom of speech, the rule of law, distinguished science, and an ongoing effort to balance the twin imperatives of the Jewish understanding—on the one hand, the claims of the tribe; on the other the claims of the whole world; on the one hand, the particular; on the other, the universal.

And yet we know there's an urgency to boundaries; Esperanto doesn't work. Again and again, Hillel's questions are heard simultaneously, not sequentially, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" and "If I am only for myself, what am I?" Others may find contradiction here; we find enduring and productive tension.

Some of us get it wrong all the time, opting either for radical universalism or for stultifying particularism. And all of us get it wrong some of the time. But we are held together (when we are) by memories of the dreams we have dreamed, of what it is supposed to be like: the swords into plowshares, the spears into pruning hooks, all under their own fig tree and none shall make them afraid.

Is it necessarily the case that the moment you tie a rag to a branch and call it a flag, you become obsessed with your own narrowly defined interests and to hell with the others? There is that risk, as ample precedent makes clear. And Israel's destiny, in the end, may be to be a nation like all the other nations rather than the light unto the nations that the utopians imagined. In the Jewish tradition, there are two Jerusalems. In the heavenly Jerusalem, Moses teaches, David sings, Solomon dispenses wisdom; in the earthly Jerusalem, there are curses alongside the blessings, people shove in line and cheat on their income taxes, they laugh and hug and hate, grandeur and pettiness cohabit. The haunting question is how the two Jerusalems can be brought closer together.

And maybe they cannot be, neither here nor anywhere. Or maybe they can be, but we are still off course somewhere in the desert. All we have learned so far is that being Jewish does not immunize against the baser appetites and the evil inclinations. And that hurts; we were taught to expect more and better. We had it figured out, what Max Weber called "the theodicy of disprivilege." How does an oppressed people explain its persecuted status? By imagining that it is morally advantaged. That is what we were taught, quite often explicitly: the oppression, the advantage. Now both seem remote. And though we still proclaim our unbending commitment to justice, we also whine a lot.

Some of us have given up, dream dreams derived from other stories; others of us feel betrayed, thereby embittered; and there are those who take their cue from Anthony Burgess in his retelling of the Exodus story (Moses: A Narrative), when the people complained to Aaron: "And one said: 'I don't like this sort of talk at all. It's all blown up, like a sheep's stomach full of wind. Life is . . . life is what we see, smell, feel—the taste of a bit of bread, a mouthful of water, sitting at the door, watching the evening come on with the circling of the bats. The things you talk of are only in the mind. We are too old, I tell you, for this talk of common goals and purposes and journeys.'" Today life is no longer just the taste of a bit of bread or a mouthful of water; these days we have pastries and fine wines. These days, busy meeting with senior officials of the Defense Department to talk about Israel's pressing needs for this new weapons system or that, meeting over at State to make sure that Israel is not pressed too hard, meeting with Members of Congress to trade support for support—who has time or disposition for talk of purposes and journeys?

THE ISRAEL LOBBY includes all those who, because they take neither Israel nor America's support for Israel for granted, because they remain haunted, prowl the corridors of American power to press the case for "the special relationship." And yes, they are powerful, albeit not nearly so powerful as their critics contend. And yes, power, as Acton taught, corrupts. But we know that impotence is even more corrupting. And the strange truth is that we feel both powerful and powerless at the same time. That is how we see ourselves and that is how we see the Jewish state, and that is also how the Israelis see themselves and their nation. We were slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt and we have known pharaohs ever since; underneath our designer costumes we wear a shroud.

FOR SOME OF US, that means that even with the Land, we still remain in Exile, Exile as an existential condition rather than a geographic space. All the pastries and the fine wines cannot erase our tortured wisdom; though rich, we are not comfortable. We are imprisoned both by our memories and by the world's disorder. Our only remedy is to remain prisoners of hope as well, to remember not only yesterday but also tomorrow, the promised tomorrow.

The world of the lobbyists, by and large, is less fragmented. They have learned to work the system; in some ways, they have become the system. If that were a crime, they would be guilty. But it is not a crime. The argument cannot be whether there should be a lobby or whether, once there is a lobby, it is entitled to be powerful. Those are the givens of the system.

So the argument is really about the means by which the lobby maintains its power and the ends to which it devotes that power. The broadest statement of the lobby's purpose is that it seeks to preserve and enhance the special relationship between Israel and the United States. That relationship has deep and diverse cultural and historical roots; it is not an artifact of which the lobby is the author. AIPAC (and the others) work within a hospitable context; the engine of its power is a vast and devoted grassroots constituency.

And what of the liberal Zionists? Chiefly Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom—we also lobby, and just as energetically, albeit with considerably more limited resources. Pound for pound, we may even be as effective, as powerful one might say, as the others, but we are welterweights. We do what we can to promote a genuine two-state solution and to reverse those policies of the Israeli government—settlements especially though not exclusively—that stand in its way, thereby evoking rebuke and sometimes condemnation from the mainstream. We insist that "pro-Israel" has many shades of meaning and cannot be a term reserved for the most hawkish of Israel's supporters. We persist in our love of Zion, thereby evoking rebuke and sometimes contempt from erstwhile and natural allies on the left. We believe that classical Jewish values and current Israeli interests are of a piece and, with Seamus Heaney, that one day "hope and history will rhyme."
Leonard Fein is a Boston-based writer and teacher, a regular columnist for the Forward, founding editor of Moment magazine, and a member of the board of Americans for Peace Now.

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Continued (Permanent Link)

Mona: A Bahai Martyr

For more about the hanging of the Bahai school teachers, and a picture of Mona and the other victims, see Persecution of the Bahai in Iran.
Thursday, 10 July 2008 
She is called the Angel of Iran, because she lived her short life angelically. The demonic Islamist Mullahs, true to their nature, couldn't bear an angel in their midst. On June 18, 1983, they hanged the young woman, barely past childhood, for refusing to renounce her belief: the belief in love, justice, and equality for all children of God.
Her name was Mona, a 17-year old Baha'i Character School (Sunday school) teacher. Her pupils loved the indescribably gentle loving teacher who taught them to grow up as exemplary humans with hearts brimming with the love of God, all his people and his creation.
One day the Mullahs' agents came to her house while the young school-girl was studying for her next day English exam. The savage Islamists had another much tougher exam in mind for her to be administered in the horrific prison of the Mullahs. They were certain that they could break the frail young woman under pressure and torture; that they could make her recant her faith and adopt their bigoted creed.
Our great Zoroaster, the luminous ancient prophet of Persia, spoke of the ongoing battle between the forces of good under Ahuramazda—God, and the forces of evil directed by Ahriman—the Satan. Zoroaster warned us not to fall for the enticements or be deceived by the machinations of Ahriman. He further informed us that evil can be recognized by the deeds of its people; people who would oppose the precepts of Ahuramazda.
And the child-woman Mona was seen by the Islamist clergy as a threat to their very demonic precepts and practices. They felt compelled to either convert her to their creed of darkness or extinguish her young life.
Mona, the young teacher, deeply loved children and believed that they had to be brought up as champion workers for Ahuramazda.
Baha'is claim that the founder of their religion, Baha'u'llah , is the reappearance of the spirit of Zoroaster; that Zoroaster's triad teachings of Good Thoughts, Good Speech, and Good Behavior are elaborated in greater details by Baha'u'llah.
Mona's lessons for the children, a detailed exposition of Zoroaster's teachings, are summarized in the passage below by Baha'u'llah.
"Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, and a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility."
Ten Baha'i women of Shiraz, Iran were among the many Baha'is who were arrested by the Islamists for their faith. The young Mona was one of them. These women endured months of endless abuse in the prison of the Mullahs, yet every one of them refused under threat of death to recant their faith of love.
The heartless Mullahs finally decided to make good on their threat and hanged these magnificent human beings, one-by-one. The Angel of Iran was the last to be hanged for she wished to pray for each woman as she was hanged. When Mona's turn came, she kissed the noose and placed it around her own neck with prayers on her lips.
The savage Islamists hanged the magnificent child-woman Mona after a long period of tortuous imprisonment. By killing her, the agents of Ahriman aimed to kill love. But assuredly they can never kill love. They only kill the lover.
Oh, you earthly angels!
You immigrating birds,
Whose only adornment
Is a bed of white feathers!
The innocent children of Iran,
Are wearing your white glowing robe,
And have left the memories of life,
To others! 
I see the poor black swallows,
Flying over the ruins of our city!
I see overflowing pain,
With the hearts of every Persian!

My heart stops palpitating!
My breath starts to dry up!
My faith simply fades away,
And my bed falls silent.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Hezbollah increasingly entrenched in Lebanon

Hezbollah's strength, tragically, is the result of bad Israeli, French and American policies, as well as their own shrewd manipulation.
Defying U.S., Hezbollah stronger than ever
Mon Jul 14, 2008 11:40am EDT
By Tom Perry - analysis
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hezbollah is set to achieve its long-held goal of winning the release of Lebanese prisoners held in Israel this week, emboldening the Iranian-backed group which has emerged even more powerful from recent conflicts.
Two years after standing its ground in a 34-day war with Israel, Hezbollah has reinforced its military wing and routed its U.S.-backed adversaries in Lebanon -- defying the United States, which sees it as a terrorist group and proxy of Tehran.
Hezbollah is now seeking reconciliation with its Lebanese rivals, hoping to cool sectarian tensions inflamed by its May takeover of Beirut. Those enmities could pose a threat to both the Shi'ite group and Lebanon if left unhealed.
"Hezbollah, far from being weakened in the 2006 war or in the subsequent political battles in Beirut, is stronger than ever," said Andrew Exum, a researcher on the group based at Kings College, London.
For Iran, the stature of a group established with the help of its Revolutionary Guards in 1982 is a great asset in its own confrontation with the United States and other powers over its nuclear ambitions and influence in the Middle East.
Hezbollah has replenished and expanded its arsenal since the 2006 war. Estimated to have received military and other aid worth several billion dollars from Iran, it is seen as one of the region's toughest fighting forces despite the February assassination of its commander, Imad Moughniyah.
Hezbollah brought some of its military power to bear on the streets of Beirut in May when it briefly took over Muslim areas of the city, effectively imposing its terms for an end to 18 months of political conflict with the governing coalition.
"Hezbollah is now certain that its position is guaranteed by the (Lebanese) military and the government," said Suleiman Taqieddin, a columnist with as-Safir newspaper, which is sympathetic to the opposition alliance led by Hezbollah.
A Qatari-mediated agreement after the street fighting met the main demands of Hezbollah and its allies -- a domestic triumph for a group which commands the loyalty of a majority of Lebanese Shi'ites, the country's biggest single community.
But the Doha settlement sidestepped many issues at the heart of conflict in Lebanon, including the fate of Hezbollah's arms. Having shaken off foreign and local pressure to disarm, nobody expects the group to give up its guns any time soon.
But with sectarian animosity at its worst since the 1975-90 civil war, Hezbollah's military clout is also a threat to the group's standing in the medium term, said Nabil Boumonsef, a columnist with the pro-governing coalition an-Nahar newspaper.
"In the same measure as Hezbollah is strengthened by its weapons, it is weakened internally because it inspires the fear of all. Weapons in Lebanon cause fear and will draw in more weapons," he said.
Seeking to ease tensions, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has stressed the need for reconciliation with rivals, the most prominent of whom is Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri.
Nasrallah has tried to use the prisoner swap with Israel that is expected to take place on Wednesday as a platform for internal rapprochement, calling it "a national accomplishment".
Hezbollah is to exchange two Israeli soldiers for five Lebanese said by Nasrallah to be the last held by Israel. The soldiers -- believed dead although Hezbollah has not said so -- were seized in a cross-border raid which sparked the 2006 war.
"This occasion is a unifying, national occasion," Nasrallah has declared.
But full reconciliation needs the support of Hariri and his foreign backers, including Saudi Arabia. The Sunni-ruled kingdom, which has its own Shi'ite minority and is concerned about the spread of Iranian influence, may not see acquiescing in Lebanon's new power balance as in its interest.
Even though a national unity government was formed last week after weeks of wrangling, sectarian tensions still smolder.
"Hezbollah's early May actions inflamed the Sunni 'street' in Lebanon and contributed to a dramatic increase in sectarian tensions," said U.S. Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald Kerr.
"Lebanon has seen an upswing of rearmament among all factions during the last year or more and the events of early May will no doubt increase this trend," he said in a May 29 address to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"The way ahead in Lebanon is uncertain."
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Continued (Permanent Link)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hebrew Univ. to Readmit Convicted Terrorist to Chemistry Lab

Hebrew Univ. to Readmit Convicted Terrorist to Chemistry Lab
by Gil Ronen  14 July 2007
[For Channel 2 TV report (Video)  ]

( A professor at Hebrew University wants to allow a convicted Arab terrorist who stole bomb-making materials from his chemistry lab to be allowed back to the lab, Channel 2 TV reported Sunday.

Six years ago, 160 liters of acetone - a chemical which is used for making the common explosive acetone peroxide - disappeared from the Laboratory for Medicinal Chemistry at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The theft led to an investigation by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), which in turn led to the arrest of Adel Hadmi, a doctoral student at the laboratory.

According to Channel 2, Hadmi was convicted of being a member of a terror cell that planned suicide attacks against Israelis. In addition, he recruited other Arabs to the cell. He was convicted and jailed but is now free again, and would like to complete his doctoral studies in the very same laboratory the acetone was stolen from.

Prof. Goldblum thinks otherwise

The laboratory's previous director, Prof. Avi Domb, adamantly vetoed the idea of Hadmi's return, but his successor, Prof. Amiram Goldblum, thinks otherwise. Goldblum, one of the founders of radical leftist group "Peace Now," said that the university has no grounds to refuse to readmit Hadmi and allow him to finish his doctorate, because he has already been punished and served his jail sentence. Last week, the lab's students were told to free a table in the lab for Hadmi.

Domb, who was shocked to hear of Goldblum's decision, wrote a letter to the university in which he said that allowing the convicted terrorist back to the scene of his crime was both irresponsible and immoral. Students in the lab also protested but as of now, the university has not rescinded the decision to let the terrorist back in. The university did say, however, that he will probably not be allowed near dangerous substances because of his
terrorist past.

According to watchdog group CAMERA, Prof. Goldblum was considered a radical even by his colleagues in Peace Now "after he explained away Saddam Hussein's Scud attacks and threats of annihilation as due only to Israel's alleged failure to make concessions to the Palestinians." In 1990, after an Arab stabbed and killed three Israelis in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem where Goldblum lives, "even his own neighbors began to stone his house in frustration at what they saw as his outspokenly pro-PLO views."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Assad snubs Olmert

Someone should remind M. Sarkozy: Rafiq Hariri is still dead, and his murderers have not been brought to justice. What is the rush to make peace with Assad, and what sort of peace could it be?

Assad snubs Olmert

Devorah Lauter and JTA Staff

Though Syrian President Bashar Assad shared a conference room with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Union for the Mediterranean summit in Paris, Assad managed to avoid the Israeli leader.

PARIS (JTA) -- It was the snub of the day.

Despite overtures by Israel's prime minister to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Assad refused to acknowledge, shake hands, be photographed with or listen to Ehud Olmert when the two shared a conference room at Sunday's Union for the Mediterranean in Paris.

Just hours before the Paris summit, Olmert sent Assad a message pressing for direct talks between the two countries before a new U.S. administration takes office, and insisting on his "serious" desire for peace.

Israel and Syria are engaged in indirect peace talks through mediation by Turkey, which delivered Olmert's latest message to Assad.

But Assad chose to rebuff Olmert rather than engage in any rapprochement with him at the 43-nation Paris confab.

"We are not seeking symbols," Assad told a French TV station, saying he avoided a handshake with Olmert because Syria and Israel are still only in indirect peace talks.

In some ways, the elaborate conference held at the Grand Palais, an imposing Art Nouveau structure with a glass roof and pale green arches, served to highlight the long road left to go before Israel is recognized by some of its Arab neighbors in the Mediterranean region.

Several Arab leaders refused to be photographed with the Israeli leader, so there was no joint photo at the meeting's end.

A Reuters photographer captured a shot of Olmert apparently trying to catch Assad's attention while Assad blocks his face with his hand to avoid eye contact.

On Monday, an Israeli official said in an interview with JTA that although "Olmert sat through and listened to everything Assad said" during the Syrian leader's speech at the conference, "Assad left when Olmert spoke."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy denied that any intentional snub took place Sunday. Assad reportedly left the conference room for hallway consultations a half-hour before Olmert spoke.

Last week, Israeli and French officials had expressed hopes that some sort of direct contact between Assad and Olmert might take place at the weekend summit.

Before the conference, Olmert asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to convey to Assad that Olmert is "extremely serious in his desire to move forward in peace talks" with Syria, Israeli officials said.

Despite the undiplomatic maneuvering, attendees and observers noted that the broad participation in the conference may have helped lay a foundation for improved dialogue and cooperation in the region.

The leaders of such countries as Syria, Algeria, Morocco and Israel all shared a common table, and they reached some concrete agreements toward improving cooperation on regional issues.

Assad's cold shoulder wasn't the only snub at the conference. Morocco's king reportedly skipped a meeting attended by the president of Algeria due to the rivalry between the two countries.

Despite Assad's avoidance of Olmert, Assad told Al-Jazeera TV on Sunday that he wants to "normalize" relations with Israel once a peace accord is reached.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Lebanon Needs A Peace Treaty With Israel

Lebanon Needs A Peace Treaty With Israel
By: Elias Bejjani


On Wednesday July 9th of this year, national news agencies reported that the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora had refused without any declared justifications, an Italian peace initiative presented to him by Italy's Ambassador to Lebanon, Mr. Gabriel Kekya. News reports stated that the Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who was on an official visit to Israel, had asked his country's ambassador in Beirut to inform Mr. Saniora that he is willing to seriously mediate peace talks between Lebanon and Israel.

Mr. Saniora, bizarrely and for unexplained reasons, had also rejected on the tenth of last June, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's call for bilateral peace negotiations with Lebanon. Saniora rationalized his refusal by alleging that the outstanding issues between Lebanon and Israel are all governed by UN Resolutions including that of the Sheba Farms and in such, there is nothing to talk about. Olmert's call came a month after unveiling the ongoing indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel under Turkish auspices.

Lebanon's emotional and ignorant stance of stubbornly refusing peace talks with Israel is no longer acceptable, nor logical or justifiable.

One wonders why or what prevents Lebanon from doing what every other major Arabic country has done in initiating contact for purposes of peace with Israel. What could be especially said of Baathist Syria'?

Lebanon needs to remove its hesitation and relieve itself from the yoke of the 'Jamal Abdel Nasser Complex' and bury once and for all the stigmatizing Arab anti-Israeli phobia. Like it or not, Israel is a reality like the rest of the Middle East countries, and will remain so for many years to come.

While Lebanon's leadership is obviously afraid from Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and other Fundamentalist Arab regimes and Islamic armed militias, and accordingly keeps on avoiding any kind of peace talks with the Israelis, we find that those same countries and organizations are actively talking with the Israelis on many levels and on numerous issues!

The foremost runner in this context is Syria who adopts two completely contradicting stances. Overtly, and of course rhetorically, Syria tells its people and the Arabs that Israel is the enemy and should be dealt with accordingly, while covertly it is begging the Israelis for a peace treaty. During the past thirty years and without any sort of fear or embarrassment, Syria has never retreated from negotiating with the Jewish state either directly or through mediators. The latest series of talks are still ongoing via Turkey.

Many Syrian officials are even bragging about the extensive progress they have made in their negotiations with the Israelis and are calling on the US, the 'Great Satan' (as they and their allies the Iranians like to call it), and France to sponsor the whole process and assume full partnership in it.

Yesterday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who side by side with the Israelis attended the 43-nation Union for the Mediterranean summit in Paris, told Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera that Damascus would establish "normal" relations with the Jewish state, including the opening of embassies.

It is worth mentioning that last year in April, Syrian-American negotiator Ibrahim Suleiman, who is a very close friend to the Syrian ruling Al Assad Family visited Israel and gave a speech publicly in its Knesset. He called on the Israelis to engage with the Baathist Syrians into a negotiating process in a bid to sign a peace treaty between the two countries. Reports that came from Israel during his visit stated that he offered the Israelis Syrian promises and guarantees that once the peace treaty is reached Syria will disarm and dismantle all the terrorist and fundamentalist Islamic organizations including Hezbollah and Hamas. In return, Syria was asking for Israeli, and American guarantees that the Assad ruling Family and its Baath Party will be helped and supported to remain in powe

We can not fail to point out that the assassination of the notorious Hezbollah terrorist, Imad Mughniyeh on February 13th of 2008 in the centre of the Syrian capital had been considered by many respected international observers as a Syrian blood message to both USA and Israel that said: Secure our control and ruling powers over Syria and in return we shall eliminate all the organizations and elements that bothers you.

The Lebanese people have the right to know why their government is refusing to talk peace with the Israelis while keeping a blind eye on Hezbollah's on going negotiations with the Jewish State under the German and UN auspices. Hezbollah's Secretary General admitted in one his fiery speeches last month that his group is negotiating with the Israelis through the UN who assigned a German mediator for this task.

It is also worth mentioning that a deal for exchanging body remains and prisoners between Hezbollah and Israel was sealed a few days ago and will be implemented later this week. The Lebanese government did not have any role in this deal and all its negotiating authorities were bluntly confiscated by Hezbollah.

The Lebanese people have the right to know why their government is refusing to talk with the Israelis, while the Palestinians themselves became full partners with the Israelis after the "Oslo Accord" and had accepted the right of Israeli's existence and renounced their armed struggle against it.

The Lebanese people have the right to know whether the rulers of Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, the Arab Gulf states and other members of the Arab League are all traitors because they have either forged peace accords with Israel or have established diplomatic, trade and intelligence relations with its government.

The Lebanese people have the right to know why Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinians, all the Arab and Muslim countries, the Iranians and every other country and individual on this earth are allowed to talk with the Israelis while the legitimate Lebanese authorities are singled out and forbidden from doing so.

The painful and shocking reality is that Lebanon is to remain the final battle ground and an attractive arena for all Arab armed extremists, terrorists and fundamentalist groups as is the situation now with Hezbollah, the armed Iranian militia that has erected a state inside the Lebanese state and is on its way to topple the whole Lebanese regime and erect an Iranian one in its place. It has been devouring Lebanese institutions day after day while the whole world is watching and doing nothing.

No, this official Lebanese position is not more acceptable under any pretext, and there must be an immediate end put to it!

Lebanon's officials and its sovereign religious and political leaders have a legal and national obligation towards their fellow Lebanese citizens. They ought to put on the table all the reasons and elements that force them to keep Lebanon alienated from the Middle East process.

In case they are all helpless and threatened by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah they have to publicly admit these intimidating obstacles and officially call on the UN, the Arab League and free world countries to take over and face militarily the axis of evil powers as was the situation in Afghanistan, East Timor, Iraq and other African countries.

We call on the Lebanese officials and religious and political leadership in general especially President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Fouad Saniora in particular, to stop squawking like parrots their "Dhimmitude" rhetorical and humiliating slogan that says: Lebanon will be the last Arab country to negotiate with Israel and sign a peace treaty with it, because in fact Lebanon is the only country in the entire Middle East that is still holding itself hostage in this bizarre and unrealistic anti-Israel futile position.

Elias Bejjani
Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council (LCCC)
Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator.
Spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation (CLHRF)

LCCC Web Site
CLHRF Website

Continued (Permanent Link)

Media Watch International: some background

Here are some notes on Media Watch International, a pro-Israel advocacy group that has been mentioned in media reports about Prime Minister Olmert's finances.

Israel police on July 9 questioned Sharon Tzur, executive director of the New York-based group. Investigators reportedly asked Tzur about her connection to Morris Talansky, who had told police that Tzur was present on at least one occasion when Olmert received an envelope containing thousands of dollars. Media articles have described Tzur as an Olmert confidante and former Likud activist, and as "the mastermind behind"

In May, the newspaper Haaretz reported that in 2005 Tzur and Media Watch International paid a $2,200 bill for Olmert and his wife, Aliza, at the Peninsula hotel in New York City. According to the newspaper, Tzur said Olmert, who was then a cabinet minister, took part in eight meetings on behalf of her organization.

According to the group's website, "Tzur founded Media Watch International to counter the growing media bias in coverage of the Middle East. She oversaw the runaway success of, until it reached over 50,000 activists and became an independent organization."

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted Tzur in 2001 as explaining that Aish HaTorah helped create Media Watch International: "In December [2000], the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox group focused on outreach to secular Jews, provided close to $150,000 in seed money to create Media Watch International for a dual purpose: to absorb HonestReporting and continue with its activism and media watchdog work, and to educate the media with position papers, Tzur said." HonestReporting began as a project of Jewish university students in London after the Second Intifada broke out in late September 2000.

On its U.S. tax return, Media Watch International states that its primary purpose is to "monitor, review and evaluate the accuracy, quality and fairness of media coverage regarding the Middle East."

In 2006, the most recent period for which its tax return is available, Media Watch International reported it received tax-exempt gifts of $496,468 and spent $522,566. The outlays included $111,430 in salary and pension benefits for Tzur, who is listed as the organization's president. Its assets at the end of 2006 were $29,100 in cash, according to the tax return.

According to the tax return, the group's corporate name is "Media Caravan Inc. D/B/A Media Watch International."

The Media Watch International website states that its flagship program is Caravan for Democracy, which "fosters pro-Israel sentiment about Israel and the Middle East on colleges throughout the United States."

Media Watch International's website lists four other key people in addition to Tzur:

* Laura B. Newmark, manager of programs

* Lenny Ben-David, consultant and writer. A former deputy chief of mission at the Israel embassy in Washington, Ben-David is an independent consultant and publishes a blog at

* Ronn Torossian, communications and marketing consultant. Owner of a New York public-relations business with a Los Angeles office, Torossian publishes a blog at

* "Our ghost writer," described as a New York native who lives in Israel.

How does Media Watch International compare to other pro-Israel organizations engaged in public affairs and media monitoring? Here are some highlights from tax returns for 2006:

The Israel Project, Washington, D.C.
Purpose: "The purpose of the Israel Project is to help protect the existence of Israel and the Jewish people and to combat anti-Semitism by educating the public in the US and in other countries about Israel and situation in the Middle East, and by educating opinion leaders and the media to the same effect."
Total revenue: $6,088,157
Officers' salaries and benefits:
$200,000 - Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
Net assets: $2,808,608

Zionist Organization of America, New York City
Purpose: "Public affairs -- to create public awareness in communities around the country about the happenings affecting the Jewish people. Zionist education -- to educate the public concerning the values of Zionism."
Total revenue:
Officers' salaries and benefits:
$279,346 - Morton Klein, president
$170,144 - Meir Jolovitz, executive director
$48,000 - Sheldon Fliegelman, executive director
Net assets: $11,315,771

Middle East Media and Research Institute, Inc. (MEMRI) Washington, D.C.
Purpose: "to serve as a clearinghouse for information regarding news and other cultural media in and on the subject of the Middle East"
Total revenue: $4,078,038
Officers' salaries and benefits:
$87,268 - Steven Stalinsky, executive director
$62,314 - Yigal Carmon, president (20 hours per week)
Net assets: $1,551,622

Committee on Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, Inc., Boston, Mass. (CAMERA)
Purpose: "To provide the educational services necessary to give members and the general public the ability to evaluate Middle Eastern reporting"
Total revenue: $2,559,469
Officers' salaries and benefits:
$174,368 - Andrea Levin, president
$115,707 - Alex Safian, associate director
Net assets: $4,169,269, Inc., New York City (Middle East Media Watch, Skokie, Ill.)
Purpose: "To monitor and promote objective reporting by the media of events emanating from the Middle East in connection with the Israeli-Arab conflict."
Total revenue: $1,146,018
Officers' salaries and benefits:
Net assets: $230,626
NOTE:, Inc., reported a total U.S. payroll of only $20,880. It listed as key officers [Rabbi] Ephraim Shore, Beitar, Israel, president; Joe Hyams, Beit Shemesh, international director; [Rabbi] Shraga Simmons, Kiryat Sefer, Israel, secretary; and Michael Weinstein, Jerusalem, treasurer. Its largest expense item was a $414,476 payment to HonestReporting Israel.

--Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

Labels: , ,

Continued (Permanent Link)

Obama:'poor phrasing' in undivided Jerusalem remark

And the point is, that anyone who is so ignorant that he is not aware of the significance of "undivided Jerusalem," should not be president of the US.  
Last update - 09:28 14/07/2008       
Obama: I used 'poor phrasing' in undivided Jerusalem remark
By Reuters
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said on Sunday he used "poor phrasing" in a speech supporting Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
"You know, the truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech. And we immediately tried to correct the interpretation that was given," he said in an interview aired on Sunday on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria - GPS."
"The point we were simply making was, is that we don't want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the '67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent," Obama said.
Obama's campaign has issued similar clarifications since the candidate's speech to pro-Israel lobby group after he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination early last month.
In the speech, Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that if elected president in November, he would work for peace with a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided," the Illinois senator said. Palestinian leaders reacted with anger and dismay.
Israel calls the city its undivided and eternal capital, but this status has never been recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, for a future capital.
The U.S. Congress passed a law in 1995 describing Jerusalem as capital of Israel and saying it should not be divided, but successive presidents have used their foreign policy powers to maintain the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and to back negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the status of Jerusalem.
Obama, who plans a trip to the Mideast this summer, has faced wariness among some Jewish voters over his commitment to Israel, fueled by suspicion over his comments indicating willingness to talk to Iranian leaders.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Syrians: No concessions to weak Olmert

 Last update - 09:26 14/07/2008       
Syria sources to Haaretz: We'll grant no goodwill gestures to weak Olmert
By Zvi Bar'el and Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondents and Agencies
Syrian President Bashar Assad senses that he is in a strong position and has no intention of relinquishing his preconditions in the indirect peace talks with Israel, Syrian officials told Haaretz.
"The indirect negotiations will continue as long as there is no American partner. Assad will also not make, at this stage, any gesture of goodwill to the Israeli prime minister, not even a handshake, because there is no reason to grant such a gesture to a weak prime minister," a Syrian official said.
"[Syria's] concern is that such a gesture will be used by [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert for political leverage for domestic needs, and not to achieve progress in the peace process with Syria."
Israel and Turkey are currently seeking a formula that will allow the United States to participate in the negotiations with Syria so Damascus will agree to move from indirect to direct talks.
Olmert met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for about 30 minutes Sunday; the two discussed the talks with Syria in which Ankara is serving as mediator. The meeting also included Olmert's senior aides, Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turgeman, as well as the Turkish officials involved in the mediation, senior foreign policy advisers Ahmet Davutoglu and Feridun Sinirlioglu.
Olmert asked Erdogan to pass on a message to Assad: "I am serious in my intentions to progress in negotiations."
Olmert added that it is possible to convince the United States to participate in the talks, sources said.
Immediately after his talk with Olmert, Erdogan went to a meeting with Assad, which lasted around 45 minutes. According to sources in Erdogan's entourage, Turkey is trying to convince President George W. Bush "not to lose momentum in the talks and allow progress by including a U.S. representative in the talks."
The same source added that Turkey hopes a U.S. representative will participate in the upcoming round of negotiations, which is expected to take place in Istanbul by late July.
For his part, Assad did not reject the possibility for direct negotiations, which he deems necessary for progress. He said it could take from six months to two years to reach a peace deal with Israel if the two sides agreed to face-to-face talks.
"Signing a peace accord with Israel ... it's a question that requires six months to two years maximum if both parties are serious in engaging in direct talks," Assad said Sunday on France 2 television.
Assad said that anyone who wanted peace in the Middle East needed to talk to Syria, but repeated that he did not believe any accord could be reached this year while Bush remained in office.
At a press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert declared that "Israel is continuing with efforts to achieve peace with Syria, and I hope that soon the talks will become direct so that we can progress in them more.
"In any case, it [progress on the Syrian track] will not come at the expense of negotiations with the Palestinians."
On French television, Assad mentioned the issue of shaking Olmert's hand and said that he had not done this.
"No. We are engaged in indirect talks. We are not looking for symbols. We are trying to create a new reality; peace instead of war," he said.
"Once peace is signed then symbols take on a great importance."
According to the Syrian line of thinking, France's role as the sponsor of the talks with Israel is a stopgap measure, but Paris cannot replace the Americans in this role.
Regarding the chances that negotiations between Israel and Lebanon may begin, a Syrian source said that "the traditional Syrian view is that the Lebanese track is tied to the Syrian track, and this has not changed. However, under the current circumstances, as long as Syria does not achieve its goals in the peace process with Israel there is no room for parallel tracks."
On the other hand, Lebanese sources said that talk of a separate Lebanese negotiating track was simply unrealistic at this stage.
"The reason for this is not the Syrian opposition but the political structure in Lebanon and the power of Hezbollah, which will not allow any Lebanese government, with Syrian support or without, to progress in a peace process with Israel."
Syria also aspires to have a direct role in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Damascus made clear to Abbas during his visit to the Syrian capital 10 days ago that it supports a national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and that it will do its utmost to convince the radical Islamic organization to soften its stance.
Assad and Abbas met Sunday at the Union for the Mediterranean conference and discussed ways of furthering Palestinian reconciliation.
According to Egyptian sources, Egypt also intends to mend its ties with Syria and contribute to a reconciliation between Damascus and Saudi Arabia.
If this happens, Syria is expected to take a much more active and overt role in the bridging of differences between Fatah and Hamas. It would also get involved in the indirect talks between Hamas and Israel

Continued (Permanent Link)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Joint Communique with Mr. Bashar Al Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic

Published on 12-07-08 at 20:34
Joint Communique with Mr. Bashar Al Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic
Original in French

The President of the French Republic, Mr. Nicolas SARKOZY, and the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Mr. Bashar Al Assad, carried out a wide-ranging review, referring to bilateral issues of regional and international interest.

In the light of positive regional developments, the two Presidents agreed on a work plan to ensure the revival of bilateral relations, with a common goal of strengthening political, economic and cultural ties between the two countries, particularly in the liguistic, education and  academic domains. .

In this context, the French President will visit Syria at the invitation of President Bashar Al Assad, before mid-September 2008.

This visit will be prepared by a trip to Paris of  Deputy Prime Minister DARDARI, 21 and 22 July and a visit to Damascus of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bernard Kouchner.

Both Presidents emphasized the importance of the Syrian-Israeli peace process and noted the progress already made in the indirect talks held between Syria and Israel under the auspices of Turkey.

The Syrian President said that he hoped that France, with the USA, can make its full contribution to a future peace agreement between Israel and Syria in the phase of direct negotiation as in the implementation of the agreement, including security arrangements as may be necessary. The French President  noted the availability of France to respond to any request to that effect, if the parties were interest.

The two presidents reiterated their full support for the Doha agreement. The French President welcomed the strong determination of the President of Syria to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon, after the formation of a Lebanese government of national unity .

The French President, on behalf of the Presidency of the European Council,
will initiate the appropriate procedures for signing the association agreement between the EU and Syria, and the launch of the ratification process as soon as possible.

The two countries will cooperate in an active manner to ensure the success of the Mediterranean Union.

Continued (Permanent Link)

My visit to Kibbutz Ein Harod

My visit to Kibbutz Ein Harod

By Ted Belman

Mike Packard, a longtime friend of Israpundit, invited me to spend Shabbat with him and his family in Kibbutz Ein Harod. I gratefully accepted. So on Friday I hopped on a bus in Jerusalem headed for Beit Shean.

The bus travelled down to Jericho, a trip I had taken in 1968 when I was first in Israel. The drop in elevation went from 2100 feet above sea level to 1200 feet below. What surprised me was that the Bedouin camps I remembered from the first trip were still there with their decrepit black tents and lifestyle. One cannot help but notice as one drives through the Judean Hills east of Jerusalem, the complete barrenness of the landscape which consists entirely of white-beige sandstone.

At Jericho, which is close to the north end of the Dead Sea, we turned left and traveled North parallel to the Jordan River. On the east side could be seen the very prominent Jordanian hills which dominate the valley. These hills are known as the Moabite Mountains from biblical times. It is where Moses died after G-d refused him entry into the promised land for doubting him. Joshua went on to cross the Jordan and conquer Jericho.

Progressively, as we moved north, farming communities appeared amidst the otherwise inhospitable surroundings. This farming is made possible because it is all done under plastic tents which serve to protect the plants from excessive sunshine and to capture evaporated water and return it to the soil. Before the soil was useable it had to be washed for weeks to cleanse it of excess salt.

Finally, we arrived at Beit Shean which is a community of some 16,000 residents mainly of Sephardic origin. It is a "frontier town" thereby entitling residents and businesses to various tax breaks. It sits about five miles north of the northern greenline.

From there we drove west for 10 miles to Kibbutz Ein Harod, my destination.

Mike was there to meet me and take me to his place on a scooter. His wife Sherry, from New York originally, welcomed me with open arms. Their guests included Iris who was a Sabra, born of Iraqi expellees, with her young daughter. In addition two of their daughters were present and participated in the "family" gathering, the oldest of which was married to a Russian who made aliya in 1990.

Kibbutz Ein Harod is situated in Jezreel Valley, which is the bread basket of Israel. (It is not to be confused with the Huala Valley which lies at the foot of the Golan Heights). It wasn't always so productive, as it originally was all mosquito infested swampland. These are the lands the Halutzim reclaimed through backbreaking work and dedication. To accomplish this task they lived in collective communities which still exist today as separate Kibbutzim. Ein Harod, having been started in 1921, is the oldest.

The swamps had you be drained and kept drained. So it was necessary to lay drainage pipes underground enabling the excess water to be continuously drained away. In my ignorance, I thought, that once drained that's the end of it.

For supper we made our way to the dining room which functioned like a cafeteria and was large enough to accommodate 1500 persons. The building which housed it, looked out over a fertile value which had as its backdrop, Gilboa Mountains. One particular mountain in this range is known as Mount Saul where King Saul intentionally fell on his sword after losing a battle with the Phillistines.. Thereupon David cursed the mountain and it remained barren for 3000 years.

    Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.

It remained so, until Keren Kayemit planted a forest on it which is visible today from the dining room. This was no small feat as the soil had been totally eroded making it necessary to plant the trees in small crevices and indentations in the rocks. Over time the new forest created soil in which more trees could grow naturally.

On the way back to the house we walked along the main drag which was notable for its very large trees which lined the road and produced welcomed relief from the noonday sun and beautified the place.

We had breakfast Shabbat morning out on the porch. Mike proudly pointed out his fig trees, producing red figs on one and white on the other. Unfortunately for me, the figs weren't ready to be eaten. But the Muskat grapes were just about ready and I ate them off the vine. Date palms were all over the place.

Sherry served me various cheeses that were made on the Kibbutz.and this lead to a discussion about their dairy herd. I always thought that cows just gave milk. Little did I know that the cows had to be impregnated first in order to give milk. The cows produce milk for about seven months after birth and then had to be impregnated again for the next cycle. Of course they gave birth after a nine month gestation period producing male and female calves. The males end up in the abattoir when the time comes for a good steak.

Continued here: My visit to Kibbutz Ein Harod

Continued (Permanent Link)

More rumors about Israeli or US attack on Iran

Here is yet another probably groundless rumor about an Israeli or US attack on Iran. Note that the story really says much less than the headline:
" President George W Bush: US officials acknowledge that no American president can afford to remain idle if Israel is threatened"
Well yes, that must be true.
President George W Bush has told the Israeli government that he may be prepared to approve a future military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities if negotiations with Tehran break down, according to a senior Pentagon official.
He may, or he may not.
Despite the opposition of his own generals and widespread scepticism that America is ready to risk the military, political and economic consequences of an airborne strike on Iran, the president has given an "amber light" to an Israeli plan to attack Iran's main nuclear sites with long-range bombing sorties, the official told The Sunday Times.
"Amber means get on with your preparations, stand by for immediate attack and tell us when you're ready," the official said. But the Israelis have also been told that they can expect no help from American forces and will not be able to use US military bases in Iraq for logistical support.
Not really. Amber used to mean "Do it, but don't expect our help." Israel can do all the preparations it wants, without any lights from Washington. An article in the Atlantic explains that Israeli planes must fly over Iraq, and therefore Israel requires US permission and cooperation for an attack on Iran.
Ami Isseroff
July 13, 2008
President George W Bush backs Israeli plan for strike on Iran
As Tehran tests new missiles, America believes only a show of force can deter President Ahmadinejad
President George W Bush: US officials acknowledge that no American president can afford to remain idle if Israel is threatened
Uzi Mahnaimi in Washington
President George W Bush has told the Israeli government that he may be prepared to approve a future military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities if negotiations with Tehran break down, according to a senior Pentagon official.
Despite the opposition of his own generals and widespread scepticism that America is ready to risk the military, political and economic consequences of an airborne strike on Iran, the president has given an "amber light" to an Israeli plan to attack Iran's main nuclear sites with long-range bombing sorties, the official told The Sunday Times.
"Amber means get on with your preparations, stand by for immediate attack and tell us when you're ready," the official said. But the Israelis have also been told that they can expect no help from American forces and will not be able to use US military bases in Iraq for logistical support.
Nor is it certain that Bush's amber light would ever turn to green without irrefutable evidence of lethal Iranian hostility. Tehran's test launches of medium-range ballistic missiles last week were seen in Washington as provocative and poorly judged, but both the Pentagon and the CIA concluded that they did not represent an immediate threat of attack against Israeli or US targets.
"It's really all down to the Israelis," the Pentagon official added. "This administration will not attack Iran. This has already been decided. But the president is really preoccupied with the nuclear threat against Israel and I know he doesn't believe that anything but force will deter Iran."
The official added that Israel had not so far presented Bush with a convincing military proposal. "If there is no solid plan, the amber will never turn to green," he said.
There was also resistance inside the Pentagon from officers concerned about Iranian retaliation. "The uniform people are opposed to the attack plans, mainly because they think it will endanger our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan," the source said.
Complicating the calculations in both Washington and Tel Aviv is the prospect of an incoming Democratic president who has already made it clear that he prefers negotiation to the use of force.
Senator Barack Obama's previous opposition to the war in Iraq, and his apparent doubts about the urgency of the Iranian threat, have intensified pressure on the Israeli hawks to act before November's US presidential election. "If I were an Israeli I wouldn't wait," the Pentagon official added.
The latest round of regional tension was sparked by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which fired nine long and medium-range missiles in war game manoeuvres in the Gulf last Wednesday.
Iran's state-run media reported that one of them was a modified Shahab-3 ballistic missile, which has a claimed range of 1,250 miles and could theoretically deliver a one-ton nuclear warhead over Israeli cities. Tel Aviv is about 650 miles from western Iran. General Hossein Salami, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, boasted that "our hands are always on the trigger and our missiles are ready for launch".
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said she saw the launches as "evidence that the missile threat is not an imaginary one", although the impact of the Iranian stunt was diminished on Thursday when it became clear that a photograph purporting to show the missiles being launched had been faked.
The one thing that all sides agree on is that any strike by either Iran or Israel would trigger a catastrophic round of retaliation that would rock global oil markets, send the price of petrol soaring and wreck the progress of the US military effort in Iraq.
Abdalla Salem El-Badri, secretary-general of Opec, the oil producers' consortium, said last week that a military conflict involving Iran would see an "unlimited" rise in prices because any loss of Iranian production — or constriction of shipments through the Strait of Hormuz — could not be replaced. Iran is Opec's second-largest producer after Saudi Arabia.
Equally worrying for Bush would be the impact on the US mission in Iraq, which after years of turmoil has seen gains from the military "surge" of the past few months, and on American operations in the wider region. A senior Iranian official said yesterday that Iran would destroy Israel and 32 American military bases in the Middle East in response to any attack.
Yet US officials acknowledge that no American president can afford to remain idle if Israel is threatened. How genuine the Iranian threat is was the subject of intense debate last week, with some analysts arguing that Iran might have a useable nuclear weapon by next spring and others convinced that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is engaged in a dangerous game of bluffing — mainly to impress a domestic Iranian audience that is struggling with economic setbacks and beginning to question his leadership.
Among the sceptics is Kenneth Katzman, a former CIA analyst and author of a book on the Revolutionary Guard. "I don't subscribe to the view that Iran is in a position to inflict devastating damage on anyone," said Katzman, who is best known for warning shortly before 9/11 that terrorists were planning to attack America.
"The Revolutionary Guards have always underperformed militarily," he said. "Their equipment is quite inaccurate if not outright inoperable. Those missile launches were more like putting up a 'beware of the dog' sign. They want everyone to think that if you mess with them, you will get bitten."
A former adviser to Rice noted that Ahmadinejad's confrontational attitude had earned him powerful enemies among Iran's religious leadership. Professor Shai Feldman, director of Middle East studies at Brandeis University, said the Iranian government was getting "clobbered" because of global economic strains. "His [Ahmadinejad's] failed policies have made Iran more vulnerable to sanctions and people close to the mullahs have decided he's a liability," he said.
In Israel, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, has his own domestic problems with a corruption scandal that threatens to unseat him and the media have been rife with speculation that he might order an attack on Iran to distract attention from his difficulties. According to one of his closest friends, Olmert recently warned him that "in three months' time it will be a different Middle East".
Yet even the most hawkish officials acknowledge that Israel would face what would arguably be the most challenging military mission of its 60-year existence.
"No one here is talking about more than delaying the [nuclear] programme," said the Pentagon source. He added that Israel would need to set back the Iranians by at least five years for an attack to be considered a success.
Even that may be beyond Israel's competence if it has to act alone. Obvious targets would include Iran's Isfahan plant, where uranium ore is converted into gas, the Natanz complex where this gas is used to enrich uranium in centrifuges and the plutonium-producing Arak heavy water plant. But Iran is known to have scattered other elements of its nuclear programme in underground facilities around the country. Neither US nor Israeli intelligence is certain that it knows where everything is.
"Maybe the Israelis could start off the attack and have us finish it off," Katzman added. "And maybe that has been their intention all along. But in terms of the long-term military campaign that would be needed to permanently suppress Iran's nuclear programme, only the US is perceived as having that capability right now."
Additional reporting: Tony Allen-Mills in New York

Continued (Permanent Link)

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