Monday, December 13, 2010

Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East Strongly Criticizes Rabbinical Ruling in Israel

Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East Strongly Criticizes
Rabbinical Ruling in Israel

Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East strongly criticizes a recent ruling issued by dozens of Israeli Orthodox rabbis against selling or renting property to non-Jews and praises the Israeli government for joining in that criticism.

"In a moment in history when we are all hoping that peace is finally coming to the Israelis and Palestinians, this sort of racist commentary is most unfortunate," according to Msgr. Dennis L. Mikulanis, STD, Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego and Fair Witness Executive Committee member.

"We were therefore deeply heartened by the immediate and overwhelming outcry from so many sectors of Israeli society," said Rev. Dr. Bruce Chilton, Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College, also a member of the Executive Committee of Fair Witness. "Not only the expected Israeli civil rights groups are outraged. PM Benjamin Netanyahu himself blasted the ruling, making it clear that it was inconsistent with democratic values and contrary to Israeli policy. Israeli Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman called on the attorney general to launch an investigation into incitement to racism and the attorney general's office is indeed looking into possible criminal charges. Other rabbis have joined in the protest. The President of Tzohar, an organization of Orthodox rabbis in Israel, made clear that discrimination had no place in the Jewish state. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the top rabbinic authority for many ultra-Orthodox Jews, also weighed in against it."

"Thankfully this rabbinic ruling is not the law in Israel, and we would like to believe that its disturbing intolerance is not reflective even of the wider ultra Orthodox community," said Rev. Dr. Peter A. Pettit, Director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College and Fair Witness member. "We are equally mindful of the fact that a combination of laws in the Palestinian legal system make it unlawful to sell property to Jews, with a possible penalty of death for violations. Particularly at this point in history, both Israeli and Palestinian political leaders must take strong and courageous steps to lessen the level of fear generated by any such expressions of racism or intolerance among their people."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hanukkah: The pride & the pity

The traditional Hanukkah story is a source of pride for the Jewish people. We are taught that a small army of freedom fighters, the Maccabees, led by the heroic priestly family of Mattathias and his seven sons, successfully resisted the cruel pagan tyranny of the ancient Greco-Syrian Seleucid dynasty. This is not untrue, but it's only part of the story.

We are usually not taught the far more complex reality that the Maccabean war of liberation was also a civil war between rural “fundamentalist” religious adherents of the old order and the more educated and cosmopolitan Hellenized Jews of the city, who voluntarily and eagerly embraced the Greek culture of the Syrian empire. The Maccabees surely killed many of these “liberal” Jews in their struggle.

It is ironic that the Hasmonean family— the Maccabees’ ruling dynasty— within one generation of their victory for Jewish values over Hellenism, was taking Greek names, speaking Greek and transforming Judea into a Jewish Hellenistic kingdom. These rulers alienated the masses of the Jewish people by extreme acts of cruelty and debauchery. Their military prowess ultimately undermined their rule, as conquered peoples were converted to Judaism by the sword; Herod emerged from one such Judaized people to marry his way into the Hasmonean clan and murder them into extinction. Herod’s disastrously bloody reign led to Judea’s disintegration as an independent state and its domination by Rome.

Nevertheless, the Maccabees were brave and valiant warriors who did in fact win great victories over a powerful and authoritarian foreign enemy. But to take this snapshot in time as the whole picture is to accept a one-dimensional myth. For some of the reasons mentioned, Rabbinic Judaism accorded Hanukkah a minor religious status. (For example, although obligated to light the Menorah for eight nights, there is no requirement for religious Jews to refrain from work.)

When considered within its historic context of bloody Jewish civil wars and despotic rule, both embedded within the Hanukkah story and in the eventual downfall of Judea within its wake, Hanukkah provides a cautionary tale. Fifteen years after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, we should be warned against the dangers of fratricidal hatred, of demonizing our political foes, and of failing to understand the need at times for compromise and accommodation. Enjoy the holiday, but please make note of this history.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Glenn Beck, Soros & political paranoia

For such a small minority, it is amazing that Jews figure prominently on all sides of great economic and political debates.  We've got Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Misses on the laissez-faire right; we've got Jewish neocons; we've got Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernancke at the Federal Reserve; and Bob Rubin and Larry Summers left over from the Clinton administration--with Robert Reich, also a Clinton alum, on their left flank. Then of course, we've got the old-line Jewish banking families, like Rothschild, Lehman, Goldman, Schiff, Warburg, Loeb and a few others.  Not to mention the Jewish commies like Trotsky, Luxembourg (and Marx, of course, at least at his birth). 

Since these Jews are of all colors (politically speaking), shouldn't this refute Jewish conspiracy theorists? Instead, it likely reinforces antisemitic notions of Jews as all-powerful.  And antisemitic tropes are again seeping into anti-Federal Reserve and anti-Wall Street attitudes.

Glenn Beck's analysis is quite nutty and inadvertently borders on antisemitism (I believe it's inadvertent).  His attacks on the "demonic" influence of George Soros are truly idiotic, and his notion that this boyhood survivor of the Holocaust worked with the Nazis is outrageous.  For one thing, Jewish collaborators were virtually all eventually murdered anyway (it was just a matter of when for the Nazis).  For another, what on earth could a mere boy do for them anyway?

Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger has just posted a new piece on the Huffington Post that addresses right-wing populist conspiratorial thinking.  While focusing upon Beck's obsession with Soros, Strenger also touches upon other international manifestations, including Avigdor Lieberman in Israel.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The "Rogue Israel" debate that should never have taken place

This is sort of cross-posted or rather excerpted and adapted from Israel News.  I know others wrote about Gabriel Latner and the "Israel is a rogue state" debate, but I think they missed the main point, didn't they? The fact that the question was put to a debate at all, and came close to being accepted, is prett frightning  

The rogue debate about Israel

The bad news about 19 year old Gabriel Latner is that he is not a gentleman. It seems he didn't play fair in a debate about the proposition "Israel is a rogue state" held by the Cambridge University Cambridge Union in the UK. The proposition itself is ungentlemanly of course. It rather like holding a debate on "How often do you beat your wife?"

Gabriel Latner argued against the proposition, even though he had enlisted as a supporter. Supposedly that is not what got him barred from the Cambridge Union. He is reported to have told his opponent Lauren Booth, "I am going to nail you to the fucking wall up there." After the debate, he refused to apologize to her. If he really did all that, then he is no gentleman, of course.  Booth is Tony Blair's sister-in-law, a convert to Islam, a journalist and avid supporter of Hamas. We should always treat bigots and advocates of genocide with courtesy.

Part of the good news is that the proposition was defeated, a rarity in UK academia. YNET reported the event. The win was probably due to the skill of the pro-Israel team and not to Latner's efforts. In the UK, a proposition that Israel is a rogue state is a close call that requires the best British brains to examine whether Israel is better or worse than Iran under Ahmadinejad for example, or Sudan or Libya. The proposition was only defeated narrowly, 53 to 47%, by reports.

Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss reflexively attacked Latner as a "neoconservative," par for the course, and tried to blame the win on Latner's tactics. His headline read, "Cambridge debate on Israel is undermined by wily neocon (is that redundant?)." It never occurred to Philip Weiss that the proposition "Israel is a rogue state" ought to be defeated in any debate not held in a closed ward. In a reasonable world, respectable academics would not even raise the question, and people like Booth would not be invited to debate it. Perhaps Latner's tactics helped, or maybe they hurt.

Israel bashers are not known for telling the truth, Latner did not necessarily win the debate for the pro-Israel side, and he is not a neo-conservative.

Another bit of  good news is that Phillip Weiss fell into his own trap. So sure was he that Latner must fit the Weiss stereotype of the religious fanatic conservative warmonger Zionist, that he invited him to an email debate and, after mauling them as best he could by removing paragraphing and probably by selective quotes, Weiss  actually published the answers and the text of Latner's remarks at the debate. Next step for Weiss is to get Latner drunk in a bar and then film his answers to touchy questions about Israel. Not very gentlemanly, but that is the sort of thing Mondoweiss does.

Despite Weiss's probable mauling of Latner's words and obvious cheap journalistic tricks, Latner came through rather well.

Latner is a 19 year old Canadian agnostic with a life long attachment to Israel and Zionism. He is precisely the sort of young Jewish academic Zionist that Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss and the Israel basher lobby claim does not exist. Zionists, by the received Gospel according to Mondoweiss and company, are all superannuated religious fanatic and conservatives.

Here is Latner in his own words, as reported by Mondoweiss:

"I am not a neocon. I have absolutely no patience for any ideology that promotes the use of military force in any situation where the preservation of human life does not demand it."

Weiss's comment on this is worthy of the prosecution in a Nazi trial of a Jew:

Latner's defense is like someone who volunteered for Heidi Fleiss saying that they believe in abstinence.

A Zionist must be guilty by definition, no matter what he says. Heidi Fleiss is a well-known madam. What does that make Weiss?

Weiss also obsessed about the fact that Latner was a volunteer with Sar-El, an organization which supports the IDF. The IDF has to be bad, right?? It defends Israel. Weiss has no problem, presumably, with Booth's support of the genocidal Hamas terrorists. We can be sure they are not Zionist, and Booth is not a Zionist, right? Nobody went into the minutiae of Weiss's past and his various public positions, in the way that he questioned Latner, but I bet that would make interesting reading. It would probably be irrelevant.  That sort of argument is called ad hominem.  It is dirty pool. Not gentlemanly.

Here is why Latner supports Israel, in his own words:

As for my attachment to Zionism, that's harder to answer. I'm not sure how 'attached' a person can be to an ideology (I'm not being sophistic here, I'm just not very good at philosophy). I did go to a non-sectarian Jewish school for three years. I was dubbed an 'apikoros' by the staff. [free-thinker] I was raised by fairly secular Jewish parents in Reconstructionist Judaism. I'd consider myself 'Jewish' as a matter of culture and heritage…

My personal beliefs on 'Zionism' are fairly simple: I believe Israel has a right to exist, and to secure itself. I believe the Palestinians, Tibetans, Taiwanese, Kurds, and every other stateless population has the right to a homeland. I think that the last 150 years of conflict in the Middle East (let alone the last four or five millennia) is far too complicated for anyone but a scholar to understand. I think there is enough blame to go around. Israel is wrong when it permits settlements to be built. I think it made a mistake when it kept the Gaza Strip after '67. I was happy when Israel pulled out of the occupied territories. Then again, I am constantly afraid for my friends in family living there. Israel does face a serious threat. But I think every time Israel overreacts, new extremists are born. So yes, I could be considered a 'Zionist', but I think that term has been hijacked to a degree. I'm pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and pro-Peace.

Latner let down the side here  (maybe he did not, what did Weiss hide in the ellipses??). But he can't duck the accusation: He is a Zionist. Guilty as charged.

Weiss also reported , or claims to have reported, Latner's debate remarks. He admits that he mauled the remarks by removing paragraphs, using this lame excuse:

I lose paragraphs when I transfer copy from one program to another and don't have the time to stick them in

Would you believe this? With all the resources of "The Nation" magazine at his command, Weiss can't find software that will not maul someone's text. Funny thing, but all us mendicant bloggers never lose any paragraphing unless we want to do so. Weiss would not allow this to be done to his own text, of course. He is telling us, "The computer ate my homework." Some other things might have been "lost" in this way...

[ Read The rogue debate about Israel at Israel News for Latner's debate remarks.]

Latner used reasonable arguments, though he could possibly have found more in the Israel Advocacy Handbook.

That is hardly the point. Can anyone believe this proposition was ever debated??? It is certainly hard to believe that the proposition, "Israel is a rogue state," almost won. At any rate, the incident proves that there really are young liberal Zionists, though Weiss and company would have us believe they do not exist, and though the word "Zionism" has been hi-jacked as Latner notes.

Here is the really bad news: The campaign for delegitimization of Israel has been a resounding success if the proposition  "Israel is a rogue state" can be debated seriously in a western university. The proposition that Iran is a rogue state would not even come up for debate.

The brainwashing propaganda of Mondoweiss and "The Nation" magazine and the other Hamas groupies  has scored a great success if someone like Latner thinks he has to use subterfuges to defend Israel, and has to apologize for being a Zionist. Weiss and his Hamas groupie friends have made Zionism into a dirty word, haven't they? Weiss and Lauren Booth don't think they have to apologize for supporting the Hamas. Isn't that strange?? Genocide and racism are respectable, but Zionism is not.

Hat tips: Elder of Ziyon wrote about this as Why Israel is a Rogue State (Gabriel Latner). The Balfour Street blog just called it "Why Israel is a Rogue State" and Ray Cook called it "Gabriel – arch, but no angel. How a Cambridge student defended Israel."

Ami Isseroff

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Iran: Human rights for Bahai

Human rights violations against Bahai in Iran began in earnest after the Islamist coup of the Ayatollah Khomeini. They continue under President Ahmadinejad.

They include destruction of holy places, hanging of schoolteachers, denial of higher education to Bahai as well as the many rights violations documented below.

Ami Isseroff

Bahai in Iran

Last updated: 28 October 2010

Note: This report is provided as a service to news media and others desiring current information about the Baha'is in Iran. All details have been verified by the Baha'i International Community.

Words in italics have been altered or added since the previous update on 16 September.

The Baha'i community of Iran, numbering about 300,000 people, is the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the country.

Summary of latest news

  • International Reaction: Governments, organizations and influential individuals around the world are continuing to condemn the harsh prison sentences given to the seven Iranian Baha'i leaders. In a report issued on 14 October, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon expressed strong concern over Iran's ongoing human rights violations, including its persecution of Iranian Baha'is. Britain's most prominent heads of religion have also called for the release of the seven Baha'i leaders. A statement describing the sentencing of the seven as a "gross violation of the fundamental human right to freedom of religion" – was signed by, among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury – who is the head of the worldwide Anglican communion; the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster; the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; and the Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Great Britain. The governments of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States of America, as well as the European Union and the President of the European Parliament, earlier condemned the sentences received by the seven.

  • No formal announcement on reduction of prison sentence: Lawyers representing the imprisoned seven Baha'i leaders were informed orally on 15 September that the 20-year jail terms they had each received had subsequently been reduced to ten years on appeal. Iranian authorities have so far made no formal announcement on either the initial or reduced sentences. 20 year jail terms were initially reportedly handed down to the seven after they faced charges of propaganda activities against the Islamic order and the establishment of an illegal administration, among other allegations, all of which were categorically denied.

  • Arrests and convictions: Since August 2004, some 329 Baha'is have been arrested in Iran. There are about 43 Iranian Baha'is currently in prison because of their religion. To date, the cases of some 271 Baha'is are still active with authorities. These include individuals in prison, those who have been released pending trial, those who have appealed their verdicts, those awaiting notification to begin serving prison sentences, and a few who are serving periods of internal exile. Thousands more have been deprived of education, questioned, threatened, denied their pensions, or debarred from earning a livelihood.

Further details

International reaction

Governments, organizations and influential individuals around the world are continuing to condemn the harsh prison sentences given to the seven Iranian Baha'i leaders.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon expressed strong concern over Iran's ongoing human rights violations, including its persecution of Iranian Baha'is. In a report issued on 14 October, Mr. Ban highlighted his continuing concerns over Iran's use of torture and the death penalty, its poor treatment of women, and repeated violations of due process of law and of freedom of assembly, speech and religion. The report also took note of the trial and reported sentencing of the seven Baha'i leaders, observing that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed "deep concern" over the absence of international observers and the lack of due process in that trial, which concluded in June. "The High Commissioner voiced grave concern that the criminal charges brought against the above-mentioned individuals appeared to constitute a violation of the Islamic Republic of Iran's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular those of freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression and association," said the report.

Britain's most prominent heads of religion have also called for the release of the seven Baha'i leaders. A statement by the United Kingdom's religious leaders – describing the sentencing of the seven as a "gross violation of the fundamental human right to freedom of religion" – was signed by, among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury – who is the head of the worldwide Anglican communion; the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster; the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; and the Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Great Britain.

Three of the United Kingdom's most distinguished lawyers also expressed their serious concern about the lack of due process accorded to Iran's seven Baha'i leaders during their trial. Dame Rosalyn Higgins QC, former President of the International Court of Justice, joined Linda Lee, President of the Law Society, and Mark Muller QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, in signing a letter published in The Guardian newspaper. "The charges and the sentences appear to be motivated solely by the fact that [the seven] are members of the Bahá'í faith. We urge the authorities to respect Iran's obligations under international law…" the lawyers wrote in the letter.

In Spain, the City Councils of Bailén and Guarromán – in the Spanish province of Jaén –unanimously approved separate institutional declarations stating concern over the deprivation of rights and systematic persecution faced by the members of the Baha'i community in Iran. They called upon the Spanish Government and the institutions of the European Union to urge Iran to ensure that due legal process is applied to the imprisoned seven Bahai leaders jailed solely for their religious beliefs.

Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs said on 17 September, "I note with regret reports that Iranian authorities have decided to continue the imprisonment of seven Baha'i community leaders, while reducing their sentences from 20 to 10 years. Canada maintains that these individuals appear to have been imprisoned because of their religious beliefs and that therefore they should be released unconditionally and reunited with their families as soon as possible."

The governments of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States of America, as well as the European Union and the President of the European Parliament, earlier condemned the harsh sentences received by the seven. Groups focused specifically on human rights have also launched letter-writing campaigns encouraging supporters to call for justice.

(For details of these and many other statements, see separate section on international reaction. Some of the media reports can be viewed here.)

No formal announcement on reduction of prison sentence

Lawyers representing the imprisoned seven Baha'i leaders were informed orally on 15 September that the 20-year jail terms they had each received had subsequently been reduced to ten years on appeal. Iranian authorities have so far made no formal announcement on either the initial or reduced sentences.

20 year jail terms were initially handed down to the seven after they faced charges of propaganda activities against the Islamic order and the establishment of an illegal administration, among other allegations, all of which were categorically denied.

The seven prisoners were moved from Evin Prison after receiving their sentence. They are now held in Gohardasht prison in Karaj. The move has imposed an added burden on their families, who now have to travel outside Tehran to visit the prisoners.

The trial of the seven began on 12 January after they had been incarcerated without charge in Tehran's Evin prison for 20 months. At the first hearing, they denied all charges against them.

A second appearance on 7 February was concerned mainly with procedural issues. The third session on 12 April, which was a closed hearing, was adjourned after the seven – with the agreement of their attorneys – refused to be party to the proceedings because of the presence of nonjudicial personnel. Three final morning sessions took place from 12 – 14 June.

The names of the seven are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm. Mrs. Sabet was arrested on 5 March 2008 and the others on 14 May 2008.

Until their imprisonment, the seven Baha'is were part of an ad hoc group called the Friends in Iran that, in the absence of formal Baha'i leadership, helped attend to the needs of the 300,000 Baha'is in that country. The Friends group has now been disbanded, as have smaller groups that assisted Baha'is at the local level.

Arrests and convictions

From August 2004 to 24 October 2010, some 329 Baha'is have been arrested in Iran. There are about 43 Iranian Baha'is currently in prison because of their religion.

To date, the cases of some 271 Baha'is were still active with authorities. These include individuals in prison, those who have been released pending trial, those who have appealed their verdicts, those awaiting notification to begin serving prison sentences, and a few who are serving periods of internal exile. Thousands more have been deprived of education, questioned, threatened, denied their pensions, or debarred from earning a livelihood.

Altogether, so far in 2010, detentions have occurred in Babolsar, Isfahan, Karaj, Kermanshah, Marvdasht, Mashhad, Nazarabad, Parsabad, Sari, Semnan, Shahrekord, Shiraz, Tehran, and Yazd. Other cities where Baha'is were arrested last year included Babol, Bushehr, Delijan, Ghaemshahr, Hamadan, Kashan, Kerman, Khorramabad, Khouzestan, Mahforouzak, Miandoab, Najafabad, Qazvin, Tonekabon, and Yasouj.

Most of the detentions followed the familiar pattern of agents of the Ministry of Intelligence showing up at the homes of Baha'is, searching the premises and confiscating items such as computers and books, then arresting the residents.

One family has been particularly affected in the past year or two. Seven relatives of Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani – one of the seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders– have been detained in three different cities. Those arrested include a son, nephew, grandnephew, grandson, granddaughter, the granddaughter's husband, and a niece's husband. Most of them have gained temporary release by putting up exorbitant amounts of collateral, mainly property deeds, for bail.

Trumped-up charges against Baha'is are used to justify arrests. A Baha'i woman in Semnan was sentenced to 3½ years in prison for, among other things, "membership in anti-regime groups associated with Baha'is."

The number of Baha'is in detention varies as new people are arrested but others released after posting cash, property deeds, or business licenses as collateral.

Distribution of anti-Baha'i propaganda

In recent years, there has been an increase in false portrayals of the Baha'is in the press, on radio, television and even in scholarly publications. Since 2005, for example, the semi-official Kayhan newspaper has run more than 200 false, misleading or incendiary articles about Baha'i teachings, history and activities – an effort that has been echoed on television and radio. The Kayhan articles engage in a deliberate distortion of history, make use of fake historical documents, and falsely describe Baha'i moral principles in a manner that would be offensive to Muslims.

Recently an anti-Baha'i tract, titled "Supporters of Satan", has been widely distributed in the city of Kerman. The tract purveys the usual misrepresentations of Baha'i history and the Faith's principles, falsely asserting that it was a creation of the British and is intimately linked with Zionism.

Homes demolished in campaign to drive Baha'is out of Iranian village

Homes belonging to some 50 Baha'i families in a remote village in northern Iran were demolished as part of a long-running campaign to expel them from the region. The action occurred in Ivel, Mazandaran, when inhabitants – incited by elements inimical to the Baha'i community – blocked normal access to the village, while allowing trucks and at least four front-end loaders to begin leveling the houses. Amateur video, shot on mobile telephones and posted by Iranian human rights activists on the Internet, showed what appeared to be several buildings reduced to rubble as well as fiercely burning fires. The demolitions are the latest development in an ongoing, officially-sanctioned program in the area which has targeted every activity of the Baha'is.

Most of the Baha'i homes in Ivel have been unoccupied since their residents fled after previous incidents of violence or as a result of official displacement.

Economic pressure

Economic pressure is acute, with both jobs and business licenses being denied to Baha'is. Numerous cases have been reported of long-time shop owners being forced to surrender business licenses under threat of arrest.

Optical shops owned by Baha'is have been particularly targeted. Two such shops in Tehran recently received warning letters from the Opticians' Trade Union to close down. Earlier, optical shops in Khomein and Rafsanjan were forced to close. In Nazarabad, the operator of one of five optical stores owned by Baha'is– shops that were closed by authorities well over a year ago – managed to get a court verdict allowing her to reopen, but the Ministry of Intelligence prevented her from doing so.

Government jobs are denied to Baha'is, and Muslims often are pressured to fire Baha'is in their employ.

Authorities also use the tactic of arresting Baha'is and demanding huge sums of money, or the equivalent in property deeds for bail, as a method of impoverishing the Baha'is.

Cemetery vandalised

The vandalization of Baha'i cemeteries has become commonplace in 2010. Recently, it was reported that, on more than one occasion, truckloads of construction refuse and soil were dumped on graves in the Baha'i cemetery of Boroujerd.

The Baha'i cemetery in Mashhad was vandalized on the night of 29 May by unknown intruders who used a front-end loader and other heavy machinery. The cemetery's walls, the mortuary, and the place where the prayers were recited were severely damaged.

Harassment over Baha'i burials and the desecration of cemeteries are clear indications that the persecution is based solely on religion and not the result of any threat posed by Baha'is, as officials sometimes claim. In the past year or so, Baha'i cemeteries in Tehran, Ghaemshahr, Marvdasht, Semnan, Sari, and Isfahan have been defaced, bulldozed, or in some way blocked to the Baha'i community. In late April, a small Baha'i cemetery in Gilavand with only four graves was desecrated by intruders using a tractor; all four tombs were destroyed. Earlier, in March, a Baha'i family in Najafabad was prevented from burying a loved one in the Baha'i cemetery there, despite their having secured a permit to do so.

Persecution by educational institutions

Bahai school children at all school levels continue to be monitored and slandered by officials in schools. Secondary school students often face pressure and harassment, and some have been threatened with expulsion. Religious studies teachers are known to insult and ridicule Baha'i beliefs. In a few reported cases, when Baha'i students attempt to clarify matters at the request of their peers, they are summoned to the school authorities and threatened with expulsion if they continue to "teach" their Faith.

Recently in Karaj, the parents of a first-year high school student were told that she would be expelled unless they signed an agreement that would force her to take part in the school's political and religious events.

A Ministry of Education policy now requires declaration of religion on the registration form for the entrance exam for schools for gifted students. In the past, Baha'i pupils were allowed to take the entrance exam but any known Baha'i accepted to one of these schools was later denied admission. The new form only allows students to select between Muslim, Christian, Jew and Zoroastrian.

Universities and other institutions of higher education to a large extent remain closed to Baha'i students. In recent years, those who do manage to get admitted generally have been expelled during the course of their first year.

At Tarbiyyat Moallem University in Tehran, two Baha'is were able to get to their eighth semester but in February were finally expelled; one of them was told openly that by law, Baha'is have no right to post-secondary education.

Other recent expulsions have occurred in Semnan, Zanjan, Yazd, Gonbad, Khoramshahr, and Chabahar. There are continuing reports of youth being denied enrollment in high schools and even primary schools, and of students being harassed by teachers and other officials.

Summary of types of persecution

Harassment of Baha'is is pervasive and includes many incidents of all of the following:

  • Arrests and detention, with imprisonment lasting for days, months, or years. In cases where the Baha'i is released, substantial bail is often required.
  • Direct intimidation and questioning by authorities, sometimes with the use of high-intensity lights and physical mistreatment.
  • Searches of homes and business, usually with Baha'i books and other items confiscated.
  • School expulsions and harassment of schoolchildren.
  • Prohibition on Baha'is attending universities.
  • Court proceedings where Baha'is are accused of promoting propaganda against the government "for the benefit of the Bahaist sect."
  • Monitoring of the bank accounts, movement, and activities of Baha'is, including official questioning of Baha'is requiring them to give information about their lives, actions, neighbors, etc.
  • Denial or confiscation of business licenses.
  • Denial of work opportunities in general.
  • Denial of rightful inheritances to Baha'is.
  • Physical assaults, and efforts to drive Baha'is out of towns and villages.
  • Desecration and destruction of Baha'i cemeteries, and harassment over burial rights.
  • Dissemination, including in official news media, of misinformation about Baha'is, and incitement of hatred against Baha'is.
  • Evictions from places of business, including Baha'i doctors from their offices and clinics.
  • Intimidation of Muslims who associate with Baha'is.
  • Attempts by authorities to get Baha'is to spy on other Baha'is.
  • Threatening phone calls and letters to Baha'is.
  • Denial of pension benefits.
  • Denial of access to publishing or copying facilities for Baha'i literature.
  • Confiscation of property.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Osama Bin Laden threatens France: As You Kill, So Shall You Be Killed

This message, which is supposedly from Osama Bin Laden, threatens retaliation

Bin Laden in Audio Message to France: As You Kill, So Shall You Be Killed

Following are excerpts from an audio-tape by Al-Qaeda Leader Osama Bin Laden, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV on October 27, 2010.

Osama Bin Laden: To start with, let me tell you [the French]: The capture of your experts in Niger, who are under the protection of your proxy there, was a response to your oppression of our Muslim nation. How can you possibly take part in the occupation of our lands, and support the Americans in the killing of our women and children, yet expect to live in peace and security? How can you possibly interfere in the matters of the Muslims, especially in North Africa and in West Africa, support your proxies against us, plunder many of our resources in dubious deals, while our people there suffer all kinds of misery and poverty?


Since you have acted tyrannically, believing that you have the right to prevent free-born women from wearing the veil, don't we have the right to expel your invading men by striking their necks? Of course we do.

The equation is simple and clear: As you kill, so shall you be killed, as you abduct, so shall you be abducted, as you ruin our security, so shall we ruin your security, and the fault lies with the one who initiates [the hostilities].

The way to protect your security is to end all your offenses and their effects on our nation. One of the most important things is for you to withdraw from Bush's accursed war in Afghanistan. It is high time that the so-called direct and indirect colonialism come to an end. You should consider the state to which the US has deteriorated as a result of this unjust war. It has reached the verge of bankruptcy in all the major areas, and soon, it will go back beyond the Atlantic Ocean, Allah willing.

Happy is he who learns from the lessons of others, and peace be upon those who follow the guidance.

Video Clip



Monday, October 25, 2010

Political Correctness undermines peaceniks re Iran

The Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD)  describes itself as promoting "a new, progressive, and non-militaristic U.S. foreign policy."  Its leadership can be characterized as part of the democratic left with what used to be known as a "third camp" orientation that was both anti-Stalinist and anti-capitalist.  There is an overlap in its leadership with the politics and editorial board of the journal, "New Politics." 

The CPD is currently circulating a petition with a dual purpose: to "End the War Threats and Sanctions Program Against Iran [and] Support the Struggle for Democracy Inside Iran."  So while supporting the democratic opposition inside Iran, it categorically opposes any punitive sanctions or military option to curtail Iran's nuclear program.  

I share at least some of CPD's values and goals, but I cannot accept its doctrinaire anti-Israel and anti-American pronouncements, including those expressed in this petition.

Iran can easily end this confrontation by unconditionally opening itself to international inspections and stopping its outrageous provocations against Israel's existence.  Moreover, Pres. Obama has made a reasonable diplomatic overture to Iran that was rejected last year.

Nearly a year later, Iran agreed to a similar deal in discussions with Brazil and Turkey. By that time, however, experts concluded that its nuclear program had created enough additional enriched uranium that Iran could build one or more atomic bombs anyway.  Apparently, Iran was being deceitful, and Brazil and Turkey allowed themselves to be used in its cynical game.

Far from even addressing the Iranian regime's aggressive actions and threats (e.g., arming Hezbollah and Hamas, its development of missiles with the capacity to A-bomb all of Israel, its Holocaust denial and strident anti-Zionist rhetoric), the moral weight of this statement is against Israel and the United States.  I would hate to see either the US or Israel attack Iran, but I certainly understand why most Israelis feel themselves mortally threatened.  It is grossly wrong for this petition not to strongly condemn Iran's aggressive anti-Israel and anti-Jewish policies.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Engagement in Syria - to a three year old

Wouldn't want her to be an old maid, would we??

Syrian boy, 5, gets engaged to three-year-old... and parents buy rings for the happy couple to exchange

By Mike Theodoulou
Last updated at 5:29 PM on 21st October 2010

Their engagement in Syria after a whirlwind holiday romance could set an unenviable world record.

Khalid, the would-be groom, is five. Hala, his fiancee, is a tot of three.

Their parents, astonishingly, are not only taking the betrothal seriously – they even arranged the ceremony and bought the rings which the 'couple' exchanged as if they were adults.

Young love: Hala (left), three, and Khalid (right), five, will marry in 10 years, when the groom is 15. Both sets of parents have gone along with the idea - and even helped with the wedding rings

Young love: Hala (left), three, and Khalid (right), five, will marry in 10 years, when the groom is 15. Both sets of parents have gone along with the idea - and even helped with the wedding rings

They say the playschool-aged pair consented to the match and are acting of their own free will, although they will not wed for another 10 years.

'We know Khalid or Hala might change their mind in the future, but what we do know at this stage is that they are very happy and talk to each other every day,' the boy's father, Juma, told Gulf News.

'Khalid is waiting until he is 15 to marry Hala.'

The boy is said to have met and fallen in love with Hala while he was holidaying with his parents in Lattakia, on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

Khalid was supposedly lovesick on his return home to Homs - a town about 100 miles north of Damascus, the Syrian capital - and refused to go back to his nursery unless Hala joined him.

Love sick: Khalid, shown here exchanging rings with Hala, refused to go back to nursery as he was missing his girlfriend, who he met on holiday

Love sick: Khalid, shown here exchanging rings with Hala, refused to go back to nursery as he was missing his girlfriend, who he met on holiday

'Khalid told me and his mother that he would like to have stayed with Hala or bring her home to Homs,' Juma said.

Instead of treating it as a case of premature puppy love or kindergarten role-playing, his parents called Hala's mother to seek her opinion.

'She said her daughter had developed similar symptoms of loneliness and the family would be very happy to see them engaged,' Juma continued.

'The young bride seems very genuine.'

Khalid's family returned to Lattakia for the ceremony.

Khalid, an only child, was born after Juma had been married for 20 years.

During his wife's 'complicated pregnancy' Juma vowed that if the child was a boy he would have him engaged at the age of five and 'marry him to a woman of his choice at the age of 15'.

Child marriages are condemned by international human rights groups.

The UN recommends that countries adopt a minimum age for marriage of 18 for both sexes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A song of peace?? "Pull the trigger - redeem the country"

Song broadcast on PA TV:
Pull the trigger - redeem the country

by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik

PA TV broadcast a Palestinian dance group performing and singing about conquering Israel through war. The song describes Israelis as "despicable" and an "invading enemy" and declares that "the Palestinian revolution awaits [them]." Israeli cities Lod and Ramle as well as Jerusalem are presented as Palestinian cities to be liberated through "Jihad" by Palestinians who have "replaced bracelets with weapons." The song then calls to: "Pull the trigger."

The performance was broadcast on official Palestinian Authority TV this week, two days before the latest round of peace talks.

The following is a transcript and description of the performance:

Band member recites a poem:
"Fight, brother, the flag will never be lowered,
the torches will never die out."
On [Mt.] Carmel (in Israel) and in the [Jordan] Valley,
we are rocks and streams.
In Lod (Israeli city) we are poems, and in Ramle (Israeli city) - grenades.
We, my brother, shall remain the revolution of the fighting nation."
Vocalist sings:
"The Zionists went out from [their] homelands,
compounding damage and enmity.
But the Palestinian revolution awaits [them].
The orchard called us to the [armed] struggle.
We replaced bracelets with weapons.
We attacked the despicable [Zionists].
This invading enemy is on the battlefield.
This is the day of consolation of Jihad.
Pull the trigger.
We shall redeem Jerusalem, Nablus and the country."
[PA TV (Fatah), Sept. 12, 2010]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Iranian defiance of IAEA "troubling and reprehensible"

Perhaps if they were potential targets of an Iranian nuclear strike,  diplomats would be bit more "troubled."
West hits out at Iran over ban on atom inspectors

2:30pm EDT
By Fredrik Dahl and Sylvia Westall

VIENNA (Reuters) - Western powers accused Iran on Wednesday of trying to intimidate the U.N. atomic agency by barring some nuclear inspectors and the United States warned the Islamic state of possible diplomatic consequences.

Iran's envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh hit back during a tense meeting of the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying during a heated outburst that IAEA chief Yukiya Amano had "completely missed the facts," diplomats said.

The escalating row has further worsened ties between Iran and the IAEA and deepened concern about Iran's nuclear work, which the West suspects is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

"Relations between Iran and the IAEA are the lowest they've ever been," said one Western diplomat who attended the closed-door session. "Soltanieh was shouting," said another, adding Amano had responded calmly to the criticism against him.

In comments that angered Tehran, Amano told the board earlier this week that Iran's refusal to admit some experienced inspectors was hampering the agency's work.
Iran, which says its nuclear programme is aimed at generating electricity, has said two inspectors it banned in June had provided false information about its activities.
It says it is within its rights to refuse inspectors under its non-proliferation accord with the U.N. body and the agency has a pool of more than 150 other experts it can use.

Glyn Davies, U.S. envoy to the IAEA, said Iran was making a "clear effort" to intimidate inspectors and influence them.

"It is unprecedented for a state to reject inspectors because they report accurately ... what they see and hear."

In a separate statement, France, Germany and Britain voiced concern about what they called Iran's growing failure to work with the IAEA, saying this was "troubling and reprehensible."

Besides those barred in June, Tehran canceled access for a senior Middle East inspector in 2006 and has objected to several other designated inspectors in the past.
If Iran continues to refuse inspectors it could face diplomatic consequences at the IAEA, whose governors referred Iran's dossier to the U.N. Security Council in 2006 over its nuclear secrecy and lack of full cooperation.
Davies referred to language in the IAEA's agreements with member states governing inspections, which he said "indicates that the board should consider 'appropriate action' when inspections are being impeded" by the rejection of inspectors.

Relations between Iran and the IAEA have deteriorated since Amano took over in December. He has taken a firmer approach than his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei, saying in his reports that Tehran could be trying to develop a nuclear-armed missile.

Iran has accused Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat, of issuing misleading and politicized reports.Amano's latest report to the board showed Iran was pushing ahead with its nuclear work despite tougher sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.

It expressed growing frustration over what the IAEA sees as Iran's failure to respond to concerns about possible military dimensions to its activities.

The EU trio said Iran seemed "determined to pursue a nuclear programme which could provide it with military capabilities."

Soltanieh said Iran would take legal action to seek compensation for "huge damages to my country as a result of continuous baseless allegations" over its atomic work. He also called on Amano to report on Japan's nuclear material stockpile.


Palestinian Rocket fire during peace talks

Palestinian Attacks Threaten to Overshadow Peace Talks

More than a dozen rockets hit Israel
  • Major city under fire
  • Peace talks continue in Jerusalem

Rockets and mortar rounds pounded southern Israeli residents on Wednesday (Sept. 15) as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Jerusalem for the second round of peace talks this month.

Gaza-based Palestinian terrorists launched at least a dozen projectiles; two reportedly landed in Ashkelon, a coastal Israeli city with a population of about 110,000. There were no reports of injuries.

In response, the Israel Defense Forces targeted tunnels that run under Gaza's border with Egypt.[1] Israel maintains Iran-backed Palestinian terrorist organizations use the passageways to smuggle weapons and terrorists in and out of the Palestinian coastal enclave. [2]

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest attacks but Iran-backed Hamas, which controls Gaza, did say it carried out two terror attacks on the eve of the Sept. 2 launch of peace talks.[3]

A new Palestinian video, said to be created by Hamas, offers a view of what Palestinian terrorists think of the ongoing peace process. The clip culminates with the Palestinian takeover of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Much of the funding for Hamas activities emanates from Iran. [4] which also injects money into the coffers of the South Lebanon-based Hezbollah. [5]

From 1993-2006, Iran's financial support of Hamas was estimated at $30 million annually. It has increased to several hundred million annually since then. Since Hamas' January 2006 electoral victory, funding has increased significantly. In April 2006, Iran pledged $50 million in aid to Hamas. In November 2006, Iran donated $120 million to Hamas.

Iran has provided Hezbollah with weapons, funding, guidance, and intelligence, giving more than $200 million to Hezbollah annually in addition to an estimated $300 million after Israel's defensive war with Hezbollah in 2006.

Wednesday's barrage from Gaza occurred as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was chairing talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Clinton said she was "well aware of the obstacles that stand in the way of peace," but added that she is convinced "this is the time and these are the leaders."

Israeli President Shimon Peres told Clinton that peace "can be achieved. It must be achieved," Peres made the remarks as they spoke to reporters at his official residence.[6]

The U.S. secretary of state repeated Washington's apparent desire for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a secure, democratic Jewish state.

Clinton is slated to hold talks with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman before leaving the region.

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell will travel to Syria and Lebanon on Thursday to update their leaders on the peace process.

Experts available for 1-1 media interviews in Israel

To schedule an interview with Dov Weisglass or Gilead Sher please be in touch with Shai Ornan in our Washington DC Office at  202-857-6644/ or Ronit Shebson in our Israel Office on  011-972 2-623-6427/  All other experts may be contacted direct via their contact details below.

Peace Negotiators

Dov Weisglass
: Ariel Sharon's Chief of Staff, public face for Sharon during the 2004 withdrawal negotiations and the diplomatic delegate for negotiating with U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Field: Peace Negotiations.

Gilead Sher
: Former Head of Bureau and Policy Coordinator of Israel's Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak; peace negotiations co-chief negotiator in 1999-2001 at the Camp David summit and the Taba talks; Served under the late PM Yitzhak Rabin, as delegate to the 1994-5 Interim Agreement negotiations.
Field: Peace Process; Israeli Politics

Dore Gold

Affiliation: President, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; former principal foreign policy advisor to Ariel Sharon; former Israeli ambassador to UN
Fields: Israeli and global Jewish affairs; foreign policy; conflict management/conflict resolution
Contact through spokesman Adam Shay
Tel.: 011-972-2-563-2947; 972-02-588-3182; 972-02-561-9281 (switchboard)

Dr. Yehuda Ben-Meir
Affiliation: Former deputy minister of foreign affairs; former member of Knesset;
Principal Research Fellow and Director of the National Security and Public Opinion Project at the Institute for National Security Studies; author of "National Security Decision making: The Israeli Case"
Fields: Israeli public opinion and attitudes, specifically regarding national security and the peace process; Israel-U.S. Relations; Israel-Palestinian conflict
Tel.: 011-972-3-640-0400, ext. 469; 011- 972-50-380-8849

Dr. Tal Becker (background only)
: Senior policy advisor to Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006-2009; lead negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations during the Annapolis peace process.
Field: Israel Foreign Affairs; Peace Process
Tel.: 011-972-50-651-0055
US-Israel Relations

Zvi Rafiah
Field: US-Israel Relations
Tel.: 011-972-3-695-0535; 011-972-54-201-0708 (cell)

Ambassador Zalman Shoval
Ambassador to the U.S. from 1990-1993 and 1998-2000, Former Deputy Foregin Minister
Field: US-Israel Relations
Tel.: 011-972-54-453-3747 (cell)
Herb Keinon
Affiliation: Veteran diplomatic correspondent, The Jerusalem Post
Fields: Jewish residents of the West Bank; Israeli popular attitudes towards the settlements
Tel.: 972-50-205-2616 (cell)

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi (USA)
Founder and President of The Israel Project (TIP). Mizrahi meets regularly with top Israeli leaders such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Ambassador Michael Oren, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon and many others. She recently returned from meetings in Ramallah with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Chief Palestine Liberation Organization Negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Tel: +1 202 857 6644 / +1 202 365 0787 (cell)

Marcus Sheff, Executive Director of The Israel Project's Israel Office
Tel: 011-972-2-623-6427

Eli Ovits, Director of Communications, TIP-Israel
Cell: 011-972-54-807-9093

In the United States

David Makovsky
Affiliation: Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Fields: Arab-Israeli relations; peace process; U.S. policy; Middle East democratization; Israeli politics; the Palestinians
Tel.: 202-452-0650 (office)

Mitchell Bard
Affiliation: Executive Director, American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise
Fields: U.S.-Israel relations; Israeli politics; Arab-Israeli conflict; Middle Eastern politics
Tel: 301-565-3918

Aaron David Miller
Affiliation: Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center
Fields: U.S.-Middle East relations; Arab-Israeli negotiations; Arab world and Palestinian politics; Israeli politics
Tel.: 202-691-4040
Web site:

Prof. Yoram Peri
Affiliation: Director, Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies, University of Maryland; Former political adviser to late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; former editor-in-chief of the Israeli daily Davar newspaper
Fields: Israeli domestic politics; peace process
Tel.: 301-405-9413
Web site:


[1]"South under attack; IDF strikes Gaza," Yediot Aharonot, Sept 15, 2010,,7340,L-3954408,00.html

[2]"Palestinian terrorist infiltrators killed; IAF targets terror tunnels in Gaza Strip," Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 21, 2010,

[3]"Peace Talks to Commence in Shadow of Second Hamas Terror Attack," The israel Project, Sept 2, 2010,

[5]"Hezbollah as a strategic arm of Iran," Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S), Sept 8, 2006,

[6]Cahsman, Greer Fay, "Hillary Clinton and Shimon Peres: A special friendship," The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 15, 2010,

UK trade unions against peace

UK trade union federation to continue boycott support

TUC drops plans for general boycott of Israel, but settlement goods ban to continue; group to strengthen ties with Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Britain's trade union federation voted at its annual conference in Manchester on Tuesday to continue its boycott of Israeli goods and services from West Bank settlements but dropped plans for a full boycott campaign.
The Trade Union Congress also voted to strengthen ties with the radical fringe group the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

However the motion stopped short of a full general boycott of Israel.
"Congress instructs the General Council to work closely with the PSC to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of companies who profit from illegal settlements, the occupation and the construction of the wall," the motion said.
At its conference last year, the TUC voted to support a targeted consumer-led boycott of goods from the West Bank settlements and to work closely with the PSC in order to build an effective boycott campaign. 
It also voted to campaign for disinvestment from companies associated with "the occupation" as well as those engaged in building "the separation wall". Consequently, many expected a stronger course of action at Tuesday's conference furthering the boycott and divestment campaign, but in the end it was dropped from the motion.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the decision to not implement a full boycott saying it was a blow to the boycott movement.
"The TUC today rejected a general boycott of Israeli goods, despite the efforts of the PSC. This is good news, and a serious setback for the pro-boycott movement. We recognise the efforts of serious trade unions, the TUC and international TUC leaders in opposing this divisive measure," said Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman in a joint statement with Mick Davis, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council's executive committee.
"However, the tone of the TUC's resolution is at odds with the realities of Israeli-Palestinian trade union cooperation and the renewed peace process. We are also concerned that the resolution again mandates TUC to work closely with the PSC, an organization that does not share TUC's support for a two-state solution. Communal leaders will be meeting with TUC leadership to raise these concerns."

The motion was raised by the transport union TSSA whose president Andy Bain accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing" urging delegates to "make the boycott work."
"The occupation has seen industries taken over. You are moved off your land and walls are built to divide people from their land," he said.
The motion also condemned the Histadrut trade union federation for its backing of the government during the Gaza flotilla incident in May.
Hugh Lanning, from the PSC group, said the vote showed that British trade union members were prepared to stand up "in support of an oppressed people" in the same way they had during the effort to end apartheid in South Africa.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Arab Lobby- another take

The Arab Lobby

A new book explores the 'petrodiplomatic complex' and Saudi influence on U.S. foreign policy

By Lee Smith | Sep 1, 2010 7:01 AM |

CAOne of the characteristic laments of the Arab intelligentsia in both Washington and the Middle East concerns the inability of Arab nations to make their cases to the U.S. public. If only the Arabs weren't so divided, the refrain goes; if only they better explained themselves and the plight of the Palestinians; if only the Arabs were as clever as the Jews; if only there was an Arab lobby as powerful as the Israel lobby.

But there is an Arab lobby in the United States—one as old as, if not older than, the Israel lobby, and it has helped to shape U.S. foreign policy and economic life since the end of World War II. Mitchell Bard's The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East describes how this Arab lobby—from U.S. foreign service officers, oil companies, Christian anti-Zionists, and Ivy League universities to Gulf Arab states, Arab-American activists and Islamist ideologues—exercises its influence in U.S. politics. The book is already being dismissed by critics as a slapdash attempt by a former AIPAC employee to answer Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's 2007 book, The Israel Lobby. But those who actually read the new book will find a serious and timely look at a powerful and remarkably under-studied influence on U.S. foreign policy.

"Unlike Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, I don't think it's illegitimate to lobby for one's interests," Bard told me on the phone last week. The executive director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, Bard wrote his dissertation at UCLA on the limits to domestic influence on U.S. Middle East Policy. "I've been writing for more than 20 years about this issue," he said. "The point of my book is to inform the American public that an Arab lobby exists despite the claims of others that it does not and to explain what its interests are."

In describing AIPAC's Arab cousin, Bard draws some useful comparisons between the two lobbies, which are not as similar as one might imagine from his book's title. AIPAC is a grassroots organization funded by U.S. citizens that represents the broad sentiment of Christians and Jews who are interested in one issue—protecting and promoting the U.S.-Israel relationship. The Arab lobby, by comparison, has little organic U.S. backing and divides its efforts between two causes—oil and Palestine. The former is managed in Washington by what Bard calls the "petrodiplomatic complex" of former U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers, politicians, and defense executives. Funded by oil companies, the weapons industry, and Arab energy producers, mainly Saudi Arabia, it enjoys virtually unlimited financial resources. For instance, AIPAC's annual operating budget is $60 million a year—pocket change to a Saudi prince, like Alwaleed Bin Talal, who in 2005 gave $20 million apiece to Georgetown and Harvard.

The Palestinian issue is paramount to the Arab-American sector of the Arab lobby. However, just as the Palestinians are divided against themselves—between Hamas and Fatah, among contending Fatah factions, as well as among competing clans—it is not the Palestinian cause that unites the Arabs or Arab-Americans but anti-Israel sentiment. The same goes for many of the Arab lobby's domestic anti-Zionist partners, some of whom are motivated by religious conviction, especially the Presbyterians, and others by political ideology, but all of whom can agree on disliking first the idea and then the reality of a Jewish state.

The Arab lobby's Palestine agenda, then, tends to be negative and, as Bard writes, "aimed at undermining the US-Israel relationship," only rarely promoting a positive vision of a Palestinian state as a regional beacon of social justice or economic development, or defending the rights of Palestinian journalists, Christians, or other endangered social groups against the threats of the Palestinian political leadership. This part of the Arab lobby, writes Bard, "is small and mostly impotent."

The real power is in the hands of the Arab lobby's oil sector, the role of which is to keep the Arab oil producers happy by ensuring that Americans stay addicted to oil, that the defense industry keeps its production lines open, and that the image of Arab states stays polished, even for state sponsors of terror, like Saudi Arabia, and states whose rule is founded on flagrant social inequalities, the torture of dissidents and unbelievers, and other practices that most Americans rightly find abhorrent.

Surely the most depressing aspect of Bard's book is his depiction of the craven subservience of so many U.S. diplomats and officials to the Saudi royal family. "Even when the Saudis had no money, and they only started to pump oil," Bard told me, "a fear permeated the State Department that if we didn't give in to them, we would lose our interest there. And the Saudis were clever about exploiting our fear. First they said they'd go with the British instead of us, then they threatened that they'd go with the Soviet Union, even as they portrayed themselves as anti-Communist and said they needed U.S. weapons to defend themselves against Moscow."

Bard says that the Saudis are using the Iran threat now in similar ways. "The U.S. knows that in the end we have to defend the royal family," he said. "The Saudis just want the latest toys and act like petulant children until they get them. Then the U.S. tells the Israelis not to worry when they sell the Saudis weapons because they can't use them, but we go to Congress and say Riyadh needs these arms for their defense."

With all the demands for U.S. presidents to pressure Israel, it's worth noting that U.S. officials have rarely done anything but accommodate the Saudis. The one striking exception, as Bard notes, was John F. Kennedy's demand that Saudi Arabia abolish slavery. Typically, U.S.-Saudi relations have been conducted in the dark, a trend that started in July 1945, when President Harry Truman approved construction of the Dhahran air base using existing War Department funds to evade congressional oversight. This became a precedent for keeping most of the U.S.-Saudi relationship secret, or at least beyond public scrutiny. For years, the U.S. government acceded to the wishes of the Saudis and other Gulf states to conceal information about Arab investments in the United States, and even U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia were classified between 1950 and 1972.

Today the unspoken issue is Saudi support for terror. Were U.S. officials to complain about how the kingdom funds jihad against the United States and its allies, "there's a fear," says Bard, "that the Saudis may punish us by withdrawing some of their billions of dollars in investments, cut U.S. companies out of deals to explore for gas or oil, or take other measures to damage our interests."

Nor are the Saudis shy about promising to unleash jihad against those who cross their path, as when they threatened the British government when it was investigating the unsavory details of a Saudi arms purchase from a British weapons maker.

Given the nature of the Saudi regime, it is little wonder that the oil lobby prefers to work in the shadows. As one publicist explained in laying out his PR strategy for Riyadh: "Saudi Arabia has a need to influence the few that influence the many, rather than the need to influence the many to whom the few must respond."

"This is a fairly smart lobbying tactic," Bard told me. "It is very difficult to take a democratic approach, when most people don't take your position."

The story of the Arab lobby is also a story about Washington, more specifically an influential segment of the U.S. political elite that has contempt for the rubes who don't understand that it is in the U.S. national interest to lean on the Zionists in order to make the Middle East's Muslim Arab majority happy.

Bard believes that the Arabs and their Washington handlers were spitting in the wind of a post-World War II history that had turned in favor of the Jews. The Arabs, Bard writes, were "convinced that the United States supported the Zionists because of their propaganda. … Consequently, [the Arabs] never understood the depth of Americans' feeling for the justness of the Zionist cause."

Perhaps that is true, but it's worth remembering that at the same time the Zionists succeeded in lobbying the Truman Administration to support a Jewish state, there was still widespread anti-Semitism throughout America, even as the horrors of the Final Solution were becoming known to the general public. It is comforting to believe that the 63 percent of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll, who side with Israel rather than the Palestinians are now and will always be stalwart friends of the Jews. But in the end all we know for certain about Americans is that they can smell what stinks. The Saudi lobby pays Washington power-brokers to talk over the heads of ordinary Americans because the latter have enough horse sense to know that a regime that withholds the rights of women as well as those of its Shia minority, outlaws the practice of Christianity and Judaism, and promotes anti-American causes is not in any meaningful sense of the term a U.S. ally.

As Bard's book documents, the Saudis' well-paid American agents have been making the same arguments for 60 years. The reason their message is not getting through is not that Americans are stupid and susceptible to Zionist propaganda or that the Jews who "control" Congress and the media are blocking access to the truth. The majority of Americans haven't yet joined in the chorus led by Walt, Mearsheimer, and their cohort because Americans simply do not like to be threatened by extortionists who warn that if you don't do what we say we will turn off your lights and shut down your car engines, and if you don't change your position on Israel, we will kill you.