Saturday, June 19, 2010

Poll: Obama's ranking in Muslim world slides over Mideast

Latest update 10:31 19.06.10
According to Pew Research Center global poll, Muslim world support of Obama drops drastically, most countries do not support military action against Iran.
By Haaretz Service

Global public opinion of United States President Barack Obama's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the lowest rated topic among all other global issues, according to a new poll.
The Pew Research Center poll collected data from more than 25,000 respondents in 22 countries, out of which only France, Nigeria and Kenya thought favorably of Obama's actions relating to the Middle East dispute.
This is in contrast to the general outcome of the poll which showed that Obama has maintained general popularity in Western countries, especially over his handling of the global economic crisis.
According to the Pew Global Attitudes surveys, the levels of confidence and approval in Egypt have fallen from 41 percent to 31 percent, the lowest rates marked in Egypt since 2006.
The same drop has been noted in Turkey, after the support was surprisingly low in 2009 already, and now slipped from 33 percent to 23 percent supporters, the poll indicated. In 2009 only 13 percent of Pakistani Muslims expressed confidence in Obama, yet this initially low number has dropped even further to only 8 percent this year.
Although the Muslim world generally favors Obama over former U.S. President George Bush, the significant drop is a concern to the U.S., especially in light of the continuing Iranian threat, the poll concluded.
Another worrying figure showed a rise in Egypt in support of the belief that suicide bombing is often justifiable, rising from 15 percent last year, to 20 percent in the 2010 poll.
Global opinion of the war in Afghanistan remained largely unpopular, however, as many as half of the countries polled were in favor of the U.S. activity relating to Iraq and Iran, the poll showed.
According to the poll there was widespread agreement opposing Iran's nuclear program, however, the U.S. was the only country likely to support military action as preemptive action against Iran's nuclear activity.
Most countries were favorable of Obama's climate change efforts.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Trade unionists fight British Israel Boycott movement

Here are three transcripts of remarks at the TUFI (Trade Union Friends of Israel)  "fringe meeting" of UNISON (UNISON boycotts TUFI). They are all resounding anti-boycott statements by real unionists (not politrukim of the Palestine groupies). TUFI and Tulip, its online support voice, have been fighting the good fight against the British boycott movement and for real peace in the Middle East. They deserve the support of every decent person. 

Ami Isseroff   

German unionist tells UNISON: Don't boycott Israel

By ericlee

The following are the remarks delivered this week by Günther Jikeli to the Trade Union Friends of Israel fringe meeting at the UNISON conference.  Günther was born in Cologne and became a union member in 1992 when he  helped to established a representation of waiters within "Kaufhof". He then moved to Berlin for his studies and was engaged in anti-racist work, supporting and working together with refugees. He later co-founded the Kreuzberg Initiative Against Antisemitism, a neighbourhood project working mainly on education. He currently working on a PhD on contemporary antisemitism (TU Berlin) and is one of the directors of the International Institute for Education and Research on Antisemitism.

Dear friends of Israel,

I'm from the German union Ver.di, the largest union in Germany in the service sector. Within my union, luckily, calls for a boycott against Israel are not an issue and would not be successful right now. That doesn't mean that all is good in my union but the general discourse on the issue seems to be much better than in most British trade unions. The deputy general secretary of my union would not sing "viva Palestine" on a pro-Palestinian rally – without showing any kind of distance to Hamas.

Calls for a boycott against Israel are regarded by many in my union as what they are: expressions of antisemitism.

Of course, this has a lot to do with German history: a boycott against the Jewish state or Israeli companies is quickly associated with the Nazi boycott of Jewish shops in the 1930s.
Calls for a boycott against Israel in Germany today come from the extreme right and the extreme left and also from some Muslim groups.

I want to give you two examples.

The Neo-Nazi party NPD with committed Neo-Nazis as its members and leaders, has some seats in the parliament of Saxony, one of the states of the Federal Republic Germany. Upon their request the parliament of Saxony will have a debate tomorrow on, I quote, "no cooperation with 'rogue states' – stop the Israeli-Saxony partnership".
Neo-Nazis in Germany call Israel the Zionist entity and want to end all relations with Israel. I think that shows the spirit of it and the alliances you get if you call for a boycott against Israel. It is part of a fascist and antisemitic strategy and ideology.

However, some calls for a boycott also come from the extreme left. Leading members of the party "Die Linke" – "The Left", partly the successor party of the regime of the so-called communists of former East-Germany, leaders of that party went to show their support for Palestinians by cooperating with Islamists on the ship „Mavi Marmara" as part of the flotilla – without  a word of distance regarding the Jihadists, the Turkish fascists the Grey Wolves or the violent members of the Islamist group Insani Yardim Vakfi, the IHH an openly pro-Hamas group – all on board of the same ship. The activists cooperated with people who told the Israeli soldiers via radio transmission "go back to Auschwitz".

From the extreme left and from Neo-Nazis in Germany, calls for solidarity with Palestine include Israel-bashing and direct or indirect support for Hamas. Both does not help the Palestinian people at all – except Hamas, of course.
The picture is much more complicated. Hamas is the first oppressor of Palestinians in Gaza. Freedom for Gaza and for the people in Gaza will be, first of all, freedom from Hamas.

Ideologues and antisemites, of course, don't want to see that.

They don't want to see that the biggest problem for Palestinian trade unions in Gaza is Hamas – not Israel. Members of the Palestinian trade union PGFTU have to fear for their lives in Gaza.

I think, Leon de Winter, a famous author, is right: those who bash Israel are not interested in the fate of the oppressed people, but they are driven by sentiments against Jews and Israel who they want to see as the most evil oppressors.

What is the role of trade unions?

Trade unions are there to improve the living and working conditions of workers. The fight for individual rights and prosperity are the core values of trade unions around the globe, not battles of ideology. Therefore, I believe that this debate is one of the very understanding of what trade unions should do.

Do they act upon resentments and look out for scapegoats or -
do they fight for the improvement of workers' living and working conditions, including international solidarity!?

The latter is much more hard work and requires a look on the ground and on facts and an evaluation of what serves best the individuals and what improves their situation.

But this is why I am member of a union, this is what I want my union to stand for: the improvement of living conditions of all workers.

And this is why my solidarity is with Israeli and Palestinian trade unions.

And this is also why I condemn any boycott against Israel.

For the sake of  – not only Jews in Israel but for the sake of the people living in the Middle East and for the sake of a human world:
Long live Israel!
Thank you.


TUFI: Build solidarity between Israeli, Palestinian trade unionists

By ericlee

The following are the remarks delivered by Stephen Scott from Trade Union Friends of Israel to TUFI's fringe meeting at the UNISON conference.
Brothers, sisters, guests, welcome to the Trade Union Friends of Israel Unison fringe event.

Thank you for coming.  I must start by expressing my regret that TUFI has been barred from exhibiting at Unison's conference for the second consecutive year.  We are a moderate organisation that wants to see a two-state solution and to galvanise support for both Israeli and Palestinian workers.  We aim to disperse this pro-peace message and argue against extreme groups that propagate that Israel doesn't have the right to exist.  It is unfortunate that Unison's executive has gone out of its way to try and censor this message.  

In a long standing tradition, international trade union solidarity has been about that, solidarity, campaigning for peace, co-operation, economic development and education.

This is most acute in the Middle East where all efforts should be exerted towards solidarity between Israeli and Palestinians who support the peace process.

This is the policy being supported by almost all trade union centres around the world.  Support for a boycott is diametrically opposite to this.

Unfortunately, Unison has another very negative motion on the agenda this year, calling for boycotts and criticising the Histadrut (the Israeli TUC).  It is such a shame that a great union like Unison is pursuing these non-constructive efforts to help.  This is not the right, especially when there's real progress on the ground between Israeli and Palestinian trade unions.

It is a bit bizarre that UK unions are calling to boycott Israel at the same time as co-operation is gathering pace between Israeli and Palestinian trade unions.  TUFI's recent trade union delegations have visited Nablus, Ramallah and Tel Aviv, and we see clear evidence, in spite of all the well known problems, of trade unionists co-operating together and overcoming long standing obstacles.

This co-operation is not a phantom tale, but the reality on the ground.  In August 2008, Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists signed a landmark agreement to base future relations on negotiation, dialogue and joint initiatives to advance "fraternity and co-existence".  The historic agreement was negotiated under the auspices of Guy Ryder, the General Secretary of the world-wide International Trade Union Confederation.

The Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions and the Histadrut have both said publicly that they want to continue working together.

A recent agreement invites world unions to contribute to a joint training seminar between the two transportation workers unions signed last year.  And further recent developments between Israeli and Palestinian construction unions to give apprenticeships to Palestinians alongside their Israeli counterparts will provide the vital skills needed to develop the infrastructure of a future Palestinian state.

Whilst this is not a panacea to end the conflict, they are building blocks for trust and confidence towards a long-term peace settlement and crucially have the full endorsement and approval of the Palestinian unions.   A boycott would prevent these kinds of initiatives and prevent Palestinians from attaining vital skills for the future.

It is the irony of the boycott campaign that a boycott would harm the very people it is ostensibly being carried out for.  A boycott would stop all economic and social engagement between Israelis and Palestinians – hurting many communities, workers and their families.

It's another irony that the Histadrut is now being targeted when it has an impressive history of democratic, free trade unionism and does exemplary work for its members.   Last year alone it negotiated a five percent wage rise for all public sector workers and pension cover for the entire private sector workforce; something which the majority of trade unions across the world could only dream of.

These attacks on a fellow trade union federation are nothing more than the next cynical tactic by some UK groups to further delegitimise Israel whilst also attempting to thwart the budding PGFTU-Histadrut relationship.  There is no doubt that this relationship is seen as a threat to the UK trade union boycott campaign.  It seems they are willing to go to any length to wrench the two federations apart.

Don't be fooled.  The Histadrut unites hundreds of thousands of union members, regardless of religion, race or gender.  Palestinian-Israelis make up twenty percent of its membership and the head of the International Department, Nawaf Massalha, is a Palestinian-Israeli.  The Histadrut has also taken high court action to win higher pay and union rights for West Bank workers.

The Histadrut is not an unwavering supporter of everything the Israeli government does.  It has called for an end to settlement construction and only last week it called for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted.

Rather than baseless attacks, British trade unions should be voting for solidarity with their fellow workers and the leading democratic trade unions in the region.

Where are the motions in support of the trade unionists under attack in Gaza?  Soon after seizing power in Gaza, Hamas stamped down on trade unionism, taking over the PGFTU headquarters, removing all existing slogans and flags, and raising a Hamas flag over the building.  The Deputy General Secretary of the PGFTU had to flee to the West Bank after coming under attack and when public sector unions called for a strike in Gaza at the end of last year, Hamas threatened to sack everyone that took part.

The timing of the boycott calls could not come at a more inopportune time with President Obama's careful and systematic steps to revive the peace process gaining traction.  His personal commitment is clear and the engagement of Senator Mitchell, who played such an important role during the peace process in Northern Ireland, could reap dividends in the coming months.

There have been reports in the news recently highlighting the progress in the West Bank under the prime ministership of Salam Fayyad.  This progress does not get reported much, firstly because it is a slow incremental business and secondly because Gaza, under its Hamas leadership, has produced all the spectacular news of late.  But the fact is that under a better a more peaceful security environment, the West Bank economy has grown substantially in the last three years ago and shows what is possible.

We at Trade Union Friends of Israel invite all unions to co-operate with their Palestinian and Israeli counterparts.  The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union, for instance, hosted their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts at their last conference, where they pledged to work together despite their differences.

The hypocrisy is that this kind of initiative is ignored or even openly opposed by elements who profess to support Palestinians, but instead support the Hamas position of a boycott, the de-legitimisation of Israel and sectarian terrorist aims, not trade union solidarity!

This is no time for negative actions. We should be aiming for closer links being forged on the basis of support for a two-state solution.  Security and economic well-being for the region is surely the way ahead.

Simplistic negative efforts in the form of misguided resolutions is not the right approach for British trade unions to help, especially when there are positive actions that can express practical solidarity.

Turning the tide in the fight against BDS

By andrew

The following are notes from Eric Lee's presentation to the Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) fringe meeting at the UNISON conference in Bournemouth yesterday.  TUFI was banned this year from having a stall at the conference, but held a successful meeting across the road.

What has changed since we last met at a TUFI fringe event at Unison conference in 2009

TUC adopted for the first time ever a call for a partial boycott of Israeli goods, calls for unions to affiliate to PSC

Some unions considered this a triumph of compromise and reason, but we were sceptical

Unite, UCU vote for full boycotts and (in UCU's case) an end to the relationship with Histadrut

Unison bans TUFI this year on political, not administrative, grounds – after promising that this would not happen

ITUC at its upcoming Vancouver congress to debate COSATU amendment declaring Israel an apartheid state, full support for BDS, etc.

Sally Hunt of UCU – who appeared at the Gaza rally wearing a Palestinian flag in her hair – will represent the TUC there

Where we stand today

Israel more isolated than ever before in the international trade union movement

Union leaders are rushing ahead of their members and their own union's positions – e.g., Keith Sonnet at the London Gaza rally shouting 'Viva Palestina' – where is the commitment to a two-state solution?

British union leaders are following the lead of Guardian writers and BBC reporters – they are influenced by the political elite, not reacting to pressure from their own members

Only a tiny fraction of union members care about this issue and turn up for pro-Palestinian events (or indeed for any international issues)

There is no evidence that Muslim trade union members are driving this agenda at all; if anyone is, it's the hard left (SWP, etc)

Polls continue to indicate widespread public hostility toward and fear of Islamic fundamentalism – and support for Israel at the union base may be stronger than at the top

In Israel, there is growing concern about these developments in the unions and a recent report by the think tank Reut, which was widely publicized, strongly underlined the importance of unions as a battleground for Israel's survival

Make no mistake about it – Israel's survival is at stake, as it is facing a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, which is currently funnelling sophisticated weapons to its clients (Hamas, Hezbollah) – and its aims are clearly exterminationist

What happens next – and what we need to do

On a global scale, we are lurching from crisis to crisis

Those of us who support a two-state solution negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians find ourselves putting out fires, reacting to crises rather than pushing our own views

We need to be building a global network that is resourced and funded and that aims to turn the tide

We need to be confident that we can achieve this, and there are reasons to be confident

Our opponents have several key weaknesses that we need to exploit

They are closely linked to Iran, and the international trade union movement is currently engaged in a battle with the Iranian regime which is ruthless in its repression of trade unions

We have the Palestinian trade union movement on our side – even the recent call by Palestinian unions for dock workers to refuse to load or unload Israeli cargo following the flotilla tragedy – that was not actually endorsed by the PGFTU, which is also at best lukewarm on the question of BDS

Our opponents cannot count on Palestinian union support

The vast majority of union members in this country – and elsewhere – are not interested in this subject and are ill-informed

I recently had an email exchange with one trade union activist who demanded in an email to me that Israel withdraw its forces from Gaza; when I explained that Israel had done so in 2005, he actually apologized to me – sometimes all we need to do is to get the facts out

Finally, a real advantage we have – and it's unfortunate that we have this – is our opponents' views are so well known, and so dominate the liberal-left media, that they are largely unaware of an alternative view

We know exactly what they will say, but they have no idea what we will say

When we debate, as I have on several occasions, we will win because we know their arguments but they do not know ours

For this reason, TUFI should challenge the PSC to a debate at this year's TUC; if PSC refuses, we will publicize that refusal, and if they debate us, we will expose them and defeat them

We must never forget that at its core, the issue here is not geo-strategic, or even political, but fundamentally a moral one: do the Jewish people, and the Palestinians, have a right to a homeland of their own?

If you believe, as do some in the PSC, that the Israelis should be driven into the sea, or sent back to Germany and Poland, you're an anti-Semite and you have no place in our movement

In fighting against this hatred of Jews and the Jewish state, we are fighting for the very soul of the trade union movement



Turkish newsphotos support Israeli version of flotilla events

The photos published in Turkey seem to bear out the Israeli version of flotilla events.
Israeli soldier gaza flotilla
By Daniel Steinvorth and Christoph Schult
The deadly raid on the Gaza aid flotilla triggered a propaganda war between Israel and pro-Palestinian activists. Surprisingly, it was Turkish newspaper Hürriyet that published the most spectacular photos.
On Friday, June 4, an agitated man with a bald head and full gray beard walked into the headquarters of the Muslim aid organization IHH in Istanbul. The 53-year-old man identified himself as Kevin Neish, a peace activist and amateur photographer from Victoria, Canada. Four days previously he had been on board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, he said. He had taken photos that night when Israeli soldiers stormed the vessel. "Do you have a computer?" Neish asked breathlessly and handed a memory card containing digital photos to a surprised office worker.
The photos that appeared on a computer screen at IHH provide a fairly accurate portrayal of what happened on May 31 some 100 kilometers off the Israeli coast. They show two pro-Palestinian activists armed with iron bars standing in front of a door. One of the photos shows an Israeli soldier covered in blood and lying on the floor, the other shows a dead activist who appears to have been shot in the head. The photos show that a deadly scuffle took place on board -- one in which activists were killed by Israeli soldiers, but which was provoked by the Turkish and Arab passengers of the Mavi Marmara.
The IHH staff didn't like every photo they saw. Only Neish, who had managed to smuggle the memory card past the Israeli authorities and into Turkey, felt satisfied. "I hid the card everywhere while the soldiers were questioning us," he said. "I had it in my mouth, once in my shoes, and once in my underpants."
Three days later, on June 7, the photos were published in Turkish newspaper Hürriyet -- together with other photos taken by Turkish photographer Adem Özköse, who works for the Islamic publishing house Hayat Dergisi.
The fact that "the moments when the Israeli soldiers were beaten up," as Hürriyet put it, were published in a Turkish newspaper of all places is the climax of a bizarre war of interpretation that pro-Palestinian activists and the Israeli government have been waging against each other ever since the deadly raid.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed against Israel's "banditry and piracy." But Hürriyet belongs to the media group of entrepreneur Aydin Dogan which has been critical of the government in the past. Initially, Dogan's newspapers had criticized the Israeli raid just like Turkey's pro-government papers. But since then they have been warning against excessive Israel bashing and against the prime minister's increasingly authoritarian style of government.
Clash Between Turkish Newspapers
"I am afraid," wrote Turkish political columnist Nuray Mert, "not just because emotions have supplanted reason in foreign policy but because one is immediately accused of Zionism and silenced whenever one criticizes government policy."
Erugrul Özkök, the former editor-in-chief of Hürriyet, regards the photos as a "journalistic success" that could not be censored. "Israel damaged itself with this mission, but it is also wrong of Erdogan not to classify Hamas as a terrorist organization," he said.
Pro-government newspapers are accusing the Dogan group of playing into Israel's hands by publishing the photos. Fehmi Koru, one of the best-known columnists close to the ruling AKP party, has a simple explanation for the approach being taken by Dogan's paper's: the media mogul is a business partner of Germany's Axel Springer publishing group, says Koru, and Springer pursues a strategy of unquestioning solidarity with the Jewish state. Springer rejects this as absurd.
But not everyone in Israel is happy about the publication of the beaten-up soldiers. The sight of comrades in peril could hurt the morale of the troops, some generals fear -- an argument the army command used to try to prevent publication of video footage on the day of the raid. It took more than 12 hours for black-and-white sequences from the beatings to be made public, but by that time the version of the pro-Gaza activists was already dominating the news.
Reuters Criticized for Cropping Photos
But for the political leadership in Jerusalem, the photos are final proof that activists on the Mavi Marmara wanted to "lynch" the soldiers. As a result, Jerusalem was all the angrier when the Reuters news agency manipulated the photos before it passed them on to its clients, newspapers and television stations around the world. On one photo showing an Israeli photo lying on the floor, Reuters cropped out the hand of one pro-Palestinian activist holding a knife, and on another photo a pool of blood was missing.
The agency has been accused before of editing photos in Israel's disfavor. During the 2006 Lebanon war, a Reuters photographer added darkened smoke in a picture of Beirut, which made an Israeli air raid look far more dramatic. Reuters said the most recent image crops were a mistake. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said they were further evidence of the "prejudice" of the international community.
That is one reason why the Israeli cabinet this week rejected an international investigation of the incident. It will only allow two "international observers" to join the Israeli commission which will be led by the former judge of the top court, Jacob Turkel. But those two foreign observers are known as being friendly towards Israel: David Trimble, the Protestant Nobel Peace Prize winner from Northern Ireland, and the former Canadian judge Ken Watkin, who converted to Judaism several years ago.
The Turkel commission is only supposed to clarify whether Israel acted in accordance with international law. Only the army itself is permitted to investigate the actual military operation.
There is cause to doubt that the international community will be satisfied with that. It has not ruled out that the UN Security Council will yet vote in favor of instituting a commission. Turkey, which currently is a member of the Council, is insisting on one. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara doesn't trust the Israeli commission. Israel, he said, was in the dock, yet wanted to be prosecutor and judge at the same time.

If Israel goes down, we all go down - Aznar

Israel has some very good friends in Spain, even though the current government is not very sympathetic.
Ami Isseroff
Anger over Gaza is a distraction. We cannot forget that Israel is the West's best ally in a turbulent region
By José María Aznar
For far too long now it has been unfashionable in Europe to speak up for Israel. In the wake of the recent incident on board a ship full of anti-Israeli activists in the Mediterranean, it is hard to think of a more unpopular cause to champion.
In an ideal world, the assault by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara would not have ended up with nine dead and a score wounded. In an ideal world, the soldiers would have been peacefully welcomed on to the ship. In an ideal world, no state, let alone a recent ally of Israel such as Turkey, would have sponsored and organised a flotilla whose sole purpose was to create an impossible situation for Israel: making it choose between giving up its security policy and the naval blockade, or risking the wrath of the world.
In our dealings with Israel, we must blow away the red mists of anger that too often cloud our judgment. A reasonable and balanced approach should encapsulate the following realities: first, the state of Israel was created by a decision of the UN. Its legitimacy, therefore, should not be in question. Israel is a nation with deeply rooted democratic institutions. It is a dynamic and open society that has repeatedly excelled in culture, science and technology.
Second, owing to its roots, history, and values, Israel is a fully fledged Western nation. Indeed, it is a normal Western nation, but one confronted by abnormal circumstances.
Uniquely in the West, it is the only democracy whose very existence has been questioned since its inception. In the first instance, it was attacked by its neighbours using the conventional weapons of war. Then it faced terrorism culminating in wave after wave of suicide attacks. Now, at the behest of radical Islamists and their sympathisers, it faces a campaign of delegitimisation through international law and diplomacy.
Sixty-two years after its creation, Israel is still fighting for its very survival. Punished with missiles raining from north and south, threatened with destruction by an Iran aiming to acquire nuclear weapons and pressed upon by friend and foe, Israel, it seems, is never to have a moment's peace.
For years, the focus of Western attention has understandably been on the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. But if Israel is in danger today and the whole region is slipping towards a worryingly problematic future, it is not due to the lack of understanding between the parties on how to solve this conflict. The parameters of any prospective peace agreement are clear, however difficult it may seem for the two sides to make the final push for a settlement.
The real threats to regional stability, however, are to be found in the rise of a radical Islamism which sees Israel's destruction as the fulfilment of its religious destiny and, simultaneously in the case of Iran, as an expression of its ambitions for regional hegemony. Both phenomena are threats that affect not only Israel, but also the wider West and the world at large.
The core of the problem lies in the ambiguous and often erroneous manner in which too many Western countries are now reacting to this situation. It is easy to blame Israel for all the evils in the Middle East. Some even act and talk as if a new understanding with the Muslim world could be achieved if only we were prepared to sacrifice the Jewish state on the altar. This would be folly.
Israel is our first line of defence in a turbulent region that is constantly at risk of descending into chaos; a region vital to our energy security owing to our overdependence on Middle Eastern oil; a region that forms the front line in the fight against extremism. If Israel goes down, we all go down. To defend Israel's right to exist in peace, within secure borders, requires a degree of moral and strategic clarity that too often seems to have disappeared in Europe. The United States shows worrying signs of heading in the same direction.
The West is going through a period of confusion over the shape of the world's future. To a great extent, this confusion is caused by a kind of masochistic self-doubt over our own identity; by the rule of political correctness; by a multiculturalism that forces us to our knees before others; and by a secularism which, irony of ironies, blinds us even when we are confronted by jihadis promoting the most fanatical incarnation of their faith. To abandon Israel to its fate, at this moment of all moments, would merely serve to illustrate how far we have sunk and how inexorable our decline now appears.
This cannot be allowed to happen. Motivated by the need to rebuild our own Western values, expressing deep concern about the wave of aggression against Israel, and mindful that Israel's strength is our strength and Israel's weakness is our weakness, I have decided to promote a new Friends of Israel initiative with the help of some prominent people, including David Trimble, Andrew Roberts, John Bolton, Alejandro Toledo (the former President of Peru), Marcello Pera (philosopher and former President of the Italian Senate), Fiamma Nirenstein (the Italian author and politician), the financier Robert Agostinelli and the Catholic intellectual George Weigel.
It is not our intention to defend any specific policy or any particular Israeli government. The sponsors of this initiative are certain to disagree at times with decisions taken by Jerusalem. We are democrats, and we believe in diversity.
What binds us, however, is our unyielding support for Israel's right to exist and to defend itself. For Western countries to side with those who question Israel's legitimacy, for them to play games in international bodies with Israel's vital security issues, for them to appease those who oppose Western values rather than robustly to stand up in defence of those values, is not only a grave moral mistake, but a strategic error of the first magnitude.
Israel is a fundamental part of the West. The West is what it is thanks to its Judeo-Christian roots. If the Jewish element of those roots is upturned and Israel is lost, then we are lost too. Whether we like it or not, our fate is inextricably intertwined.

José María Aznar was prime minister of Spain between 1996 and 2004.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Christians fleeing Lebanon, Middle East

The massive flight of Christians from Muslim countries has been going on for many years, particularly in Lebanon, which used to have a Christian majority, and more recently from Iraq, Palestine, Iran and other countries. The fact of this emmigration is usually not discussed, while media often play up imaginary Christian hardship in Israel.
Ami Isseroff
Sfeir Warns against Rapid Rise in Christian Emigration,  Sarkozy Vows Not Leave Lebanon Vulnerable to Conflicts
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir warned during a meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy at Elysee Palace against the rapid rise in Christian emigration.
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI warned that the Christian community in the Middle East would soon disappear if no solution to regional conflicts was found.

The Pope had said that the rising political Islam and its extreme currents were a threat to Christians and Muslims alike.

Sfeir quoted Sarkozy as saying that the Christian presence in the Middle East was a "guarantee against the rise extremism."

Sarkozy, according to Sfeir, vowed to protect and support Lebanon.

"France will spare no effort to help Lebanon," Sarkozy pledged.

Sarkozy also pledged "not to leave Lebanon once again sink in a sea of differences and regional and international conflicts that loom on the horizon."

How America is encouraging Middle East tyranny

Recently, a man was beaten to death for using the Internet in Egypt, after he refused to show his ID at an Internet Cafe. Here is what it was really about:
A young man was dragged out of an Internet café and beaten to death after refusing to show his ID card to police.

Patrons of Internet cafés are often required to provide identification details before logging on, and then their searches and activities online can be monitored. Police officers carry out random raids on Internet cafés and gather identification information from those present, even though there is no justification in Egyptian law for this kind of demand.

On the evening of June 7, 2010 what appeared to be one of these random raids escalated into the horrific brutalization of a young man by two policemen. Reports now reveal that the man may have been targeted for exposing police corruption. He posted a video on the internet depicting officers sharing the profits of a drug bust
Repression of basic rights is not uncommon in Middle Eastern Regimes. As Saad Eddin Ibrahim explains below, it is getting worse owing to current U.S. policies.
By Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
When a billboard appeared outside a small Minnesota town early this year showing a picture of George W. Bush and the words "Miss me yet?" the irony was not lost on many in the Arab world. Most Americans may not miss Bush, but a growing number of people in the Middle East do. Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain unpopular in the region, but his ardent support for democracy was heartening to Arabs living under stalled autocracies. Reform activists in Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and elsewhere felt empowered to press for greater freedoms during the Bush years. Unfortunately, Bush's strong support for democracy contrasts sharply with President Obama's retreat on this critical issue.
To be sure, the methods through which Bush pursued his policies left much to be desired, but his persistent rhetoric and efforts produced results. From 2005 to 2006, 11 contested elections took place in the Middle East: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and Mauritania. These elections were not perfect, but the advances sparked unprecedented sociopolitical dynamism and unleashed tremendous pent-up desire for democratic choice. Photos of jubilant Iraqi women proudly displaying the indelible ink on their fingers after voting were followed by images of Egyptian opposition voters using ladders to enter polling stations when regime officials tried to block the doorways.
Peaceful opposition groups proliferated in Egypt during the Bush years: Youth for Change, Artists for Change, Egypt's Independent Judges and, perhaps the most well-known, Kefaya. That Iraq has held two genuinely contested and fair multiparty elections, on schedule, indicates that democracy is indeed taking root again there after 60 years of the most oppressive dictatorial rule.
To be fair, Bush did back away from his support for Arab reform in his second term. But the image of his support stuck. Why has Obama distanced himself from his predecessor's support for democracy promotion? One unsurprising outcome is that the regime in Egypt has reverted to wholesale imprisonment and harassment of political dissidents.

Despite his promises of change when speaking in Cairo last June, Obama has retreated to Cold War policies of favoring stability and even support for "friendly tyrants." Far from establishing an imaginative policy of tying the substantial U.S. foreign aid to the region to political reform, the Obama administration has given a free pass to Egypt's ailing 82-year-old autocrat, Hosni Mubarak. Last month when Mubarak's regime extended the "emergency law" under which it has ruled for 29 years, prohibiting even small political rallies and sending civilians to military courts, Washington barely responded.
Apparently the Obama administration thinks that strengthening ties with Mubarak will encourage Egypt to become more proactive in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But Mubarak has not advanced Israeli-Palestinian peace beyond what his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, accomplished in the 1970s, and the Egyptian leader has tightened his crackdown on Egypt's brave young pro-democracy bloggers. Egypt is scheduled to hold two important elections over the next 18 months, votes that could well shape the future of democracy in the Middle East's largest country and the region itself. What tone does President Obama want to see established in this volatile neighborhood?
Democracy and human rights advocates in the Middle East listened with great anticipation to Obama's speech in Cairo. Today, Egyptians are not just disappointed but stunned by what appears to be outright promotion of autocracy in their country. What is needed now is a loud and clear message from the United States and the global community of democracies that the Egyptian people deserve free, fair and transparent elections. Congress is considering a resolution to that effect for Uganda. Such a resolution for Egypt is critical given the immense U.S. support for Egypt. Just as we hope for a clear U.S. signal on democracy promotion, we must hope that the Obama administration will cease its coddling of dictators.
The writer, an Egyptian sociologist and democracy activist living in exile, is a distinguished visiting professor at Drew University in Madison, N.J.

What makes Israeli liberals tick?

Is this a good analysis, or an excuse for ignoring legitimate crticism, or maybe both?
Ami Isseroff
Why some liberals lose perspective 
What impels people of this caliber to contribute to self-deprecating outbursts in the foreign media?  
It is surely ironic that simultaneously with the emergence of a broad consensus endorsing a centrist position and the marginalization of extremist left- and right-wing factions, a number of Israeli intellectuals – mainly writers and academics – are intensifying their public condemnation of their country at a global level.
I am not relating to post-Zionists or demented lunatics who hate their country, but to those with a track record of genuine Zionist endeavor, national icons like Amos Oz, one of our most gifted writers, who, one assumes, loves Israel.
There was a time when Oz would resolutely refuse to condemn Israel to the global media or when he was in a foreign country. I recollect while visiting Australia 20 years ago, his response to media questioning his attitude to the Shamir government was "I am a proud Labor Zionist and while in Israel I can passionately criticize my government. But when I travel abroad, I regard myself as an ambassador for my country and leave political differences behind me."
This contrasts starkly to the approach Oz currently adopts. With the country isolated as never before and the entire world applying double standards and pouring venom upon us, Oz, who shares the frustration of most Israelis with the botched Gaza flotilla imbroglio, contributed an op-ed to the Guardian and The New York Times which extended far beyond the issue of the flotilla. He told Americans and British readers that "power has intoxicated us," that we are "fixated by the concept of military force" and that we abuse this power not for reasons of self-defense but to "squash ideas and smash the problems" confronting us with brute force.
In a widely circulated US blog, his daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of Haifa and Australia's Monash University, conveyed similar sentiments. She said, "Every true Israeli patriot ought... to apologize very humbly to the dead and injured of the 'Free Gaza Movement' flotilla, to the Turks, to the international community. And while we are at it, also to the innocent majority of Gazans." Her message to the international community was "your almost unanimous condemnation is spot on. As a private citizen, I join it. As a habitual Israeli patriot, I am ashamed."
A SIMILAR article appeared in The Guardian by David Grossman, another outstanding writer, who lost a son in the IDF during the Second Lebanon war. Last week, the German Book Trade honored him with the same "peace prize" it had awarded Amos Oz in 1992. In his column, Grossman stated, "No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed" and "there are those here who seek to spin the natural and justified sense of Israeli guilt into a strident assertion that the whole world is to blame. Our shame, however, will be harder to live with."
What impels talented people of this caliber, who consider themselves devoted to the welfare of Israel, to contribute to such self-deprecating outbursts in the foreign media at a time when the nation is united in fending off the most vicious global defamation since its birth? Indeed, aside from Haaretz, even the habitually masochistic Israeli media have been echoing the bitterness of most who feel that notwithstanding errors or operational blunders that were committed, the country is being singled out, demonized and delegitimized in an unconscionable manner.
The call for "ending the blockade" implies that a government should sit with folded arms while the Iranians flood Hamas with missiles and other weapons. Even the principal opposition party, Kadima, is calling on the government to stand firm and maintain the blockade. Could one possibly visualize any country not blockading a neighbor which openly proclaims that its primary objective is to annihilate it, rains missiles on its civilian population and abducts a soldier, boasting that it intends to launch further kidnappings? As to "ending the occupation," we are still reeling from the fallout from our unilateral Gaza disengagement.
In fact, despite frequently being accused of heading an extreme right-wing government, Binyamin Netanyahu has been remarkably successful in achieving a national consensus. There are no fundamental ideological differences between Likud and Kadima. The truncated Labor Party is in the government and the far-left Meretz party has been reduced to an all time low of three out of 120 elected Knesset members. The bitterly hostile remarks conveyed to the foreign media by these intellectuals thus find little resonance among the public and generate much anger.
Why then, do intellectuals and writers like Amos Oz, who love Israel and have no desire to be associated with the loony anti-Israeli extremists, express such rabid criticism against their country knowing that their words will be exploited by our fiercest enemies? THE TRUTH is that being educated or intellectually gifted does not necessarily bestow political wisdom.
For example, throughout history, in antiquity, the Middle Ages and especially in modern times, the genesis of anti-Semitic movements could usually be sourced to intellectual elites rather than originating from the grass roots.
However, the prime motivating factor encouraging liberal Israeli and Diaspora intellectuals to distance themselves from Israel is a desperate passion to be recognized as rising above the parochial interests of the tribe or the nation. Since emancipation, the constant struggle for Jews was to find a balance between particularism and nationalism. Until recently, despite considerable internal opposition, Zionism was accepted as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. As long as Jews suffered and were perceived as underdogs, liberals had few inhibitions in supporting the Jewish state.
However, with the dramatic growth of postmodernism after the Cold War and the emergence of the New Left (which also impacted on Labor Zionism), many liberals began adopting a negative attitude toward all forms of nationalism, including Zionism. The combination of the suffering of the Palestinians, even if self-inflicted, the military power of Israel and the romance of the left with Islam, led to the Jewish state being portrayed as the global epicenter of evil. That was massively reinforced by the explosion of Jew hatred, in which "Zionist colonialism" assumed the role of a surrogate for traditional anti-Semitism.
Today, this has culminated with condemnation of Israel becoming a major prerequisite for being considered a liberal. Thus, many Jewish intellectuals, for whom liberalism was akin to a secular religion and who were desperate to remain within the "progressive" fold, consciously or unconsciously felt impelled to dissociate themselves from the "negative image" of the Jewish state, especially one led by a "right"-wing government.
Needless to say, many Israeli liberals with legitimate criticisms of their government manage to express their opposition without defaming the country in the foreign media or providing ammunition to the global enemies of Zion.
One can only express profound regret that the hubristic inclinations of some talented Israelis have encouraged them to employ their gifts to damn their own without regard to the consequences of their actions.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Habits of anti-Judaism Critiquing a PCUSA report on Israel/Palestine

Old habits die hard. Despite numerous attempts by mainline Protestant denominations to promote historically informed studies of Judaism, repudiate supersessionist theologies and engage in conversations with Jews, the old habit of bearing false witness against Jewish neighbors lives on. In recent years this practice has thrived especially in mainline Protestant statements on the Middle East.

Congregations, denominations and councils have rightly advocated for Palestinians suffering because of Israeli policies. The injustice is real; the situation is urgent. But church statements too often slip from a laudable call for a just peace—a call with which a large and growing number of American Jews would agree—into false and negative depictions of Jews. This slippage contradicts the churches' own theological convictions. It distorts Jewish teaching and history. And it can discourage both Palestinian Christians and their U.S. supporters from building alliances with Jews who share their commitments to peace and human rights.

Members of the churches that issue these statements frequently express sincere desires to avoid anti-Semitism. Supporters of problematic statements are rarely bigots; they are more likely people committed to justice who have also absorbed centuries-old patterns of Christian anti-Judaism. This false witness is more a matter of habit than of hate. It lives on through good intentions.

Good intentions are crucial resources for the work of breaking bad habits. But good intentions can become obstacles to change when they short-circuit serious conversation about the nature, history and impact of actions. Breaking habits requires bringing them to consciousness. And that requires attending to the gap between action and intention.

A report just issued by the Middle East Study Committee (MESC) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provides an important example of this gap between action and intention—and it presents a real opportunity to begin to learn better habits. The report will be considered this July at the denomination's General Assembly in Minneapolis. The MESC was created at the 2008 General Assembly, which asked the moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow, to work with his two immediate predecessors in appointing the committee's nine members. The assembly charged the committee with preparing "a comprehensive study, with recommendations, that is focused on Israel/Palestine within the complex context of the Middle East."

The study committee made several moves that demonstrate its desire to avoid some of the most common forms of false witness against Jews. For example, it notes that most Presbyterians reject supersessionist narratives in which "Christians have supplanted Jews" to become "the only legitimate heirs of God's covenant with Abraham." Signaling this rejection of supersessionism, the report speaks of "Older Testament" and "Newer Testament" in its biblical references. Such language is neither necessary nor sufficient for avoiding supersessionism, but it at least suggests a desire to proclaim a gospel that does not begin with God's rejection of Jews.

Yet Christian false witness persists in the report despite its authors' intentions. Habits have that kind of power. Below we name some of these habits and trace the dynamics by which they survive. We write as a Presbyterian and a Jew, as colleagues on a divinity school faculty and as teachers who continue to see the habits of false witness in the work of even our most talented and committed students. We know firsthand how deep-seated the habits can be and how quickly they can outrun our best intentions. We seek not to single out the Presbyterian report, but to illumine patterns that recur in many forms of Christian witness.

Echoes of past interpretations: The report's opening biblical reflections make conspicuous efforts to avoid anti-Jewish exegesis. But the report pays scant critical attention to Christianity's long history of anti-Jewish interpretations, and so echoes of these interpretations linger. Those echoes then become amplified by other sections of the report.

The report's title, "Breaking Down the Walls," echoes the celebration in Ephesians 2:11-22 of God's overcoming of divisions between gentiles and Jews in Jesus Christ. The passage, which speaks of abolishing Torah and the formation of "one new humanity in the place of two," has a long history of supersessionist deployment. There are other ways to read this passage, but the committee does not offer them. The report affirms that Jesus breaks down "the dividing wall of hostility between any two peoples or groups within God's creation." Read in the context of the full report, however, that vague affirmation takes on supersessionist content. The church is asked to consider a historical narrative that points indirectly to a single state—a new social body—in which a Palestinian majority displaces Jews. The report's consistent lament that the time for a two-state solution is rapidly ending solidifies that impression. "Breaking down the walls" in order to form "one new humanity in the place of two" evokes old echoes of theological supersessionism and transposes them into a political key.

Such echoes also linger in the report's treatment of the story of Jacob and Esau. Framing the story as an illustration of general "processes of human reconciliation," the report explicitly refuses to identify Palestinians and Jews with one brother or the other. But it describes Jacob in ways that resonate with anti-Jewish stereotypes. He is "characteristically untrusting and wily." He cannot accept forgiveness. And "in spite of his having seen 'the face of God' and received a new name, he had no experience of 'new being,' of 'new creation.'"

The ambiguity of these associations takes on a more pernicious clarity when this retelling of the story of Jacob and Esau is compared to the report's main historical narrative. The narrative describes the birthright of a peaceful, multicultural Palestine being appropriated by an influx of European Jews. It says that these Jews refused to assimilate, but preferred—like Jacob—to move ahead on their own. It says that Israel—like Jacob—has refused the offer of full reconciliation. While the biblical reflection suggests that Jacob might also be like Palestine, no part of the document suggests how this might be. Jacob/Israel becomes the guilty brother.

Such associations defy the report's stated intentions. The failure to root them out allows them to resound and replay in later arguments.

Ambiguities about covenant: The report's biblical section draws upon at least three different understandings of covenant and land. First, its analysis of the term Zion concludes that the church "fully transferred the locus of God's concrete presence in the world of space and time from the place of Zion—that is, Jerusalem—to the person of Jesus, who had been crucified and raised from the dead just outside Jerusalem." The covenant has been fulfilled, and its fulfillment involves a transcendence of place in the person of Jesus. Covenant no longer concerns land.

Consonant with this view, the report reaffirms a prior PCUSA statement that "the State of Israel is a geopolitical entity and is not to be validated theologically." Thus Israel, having neither special sanction nor special obligations, should be judged by the same standards applied to any other nation.

But a second understanding of the land checks this approach. Appealing to a survey of Presbyterians and a collection of biblical texts that limit Israel's claim to the land, the report states, "Most Presbyterians . . . hold that this promise [of offspring and land] is conditioned by concepts found elsewhere in the first five books of the Bible," such as the idea that the gift of land is conditional upon Israel's "adherence to justice." Here God's covenant with Israel did and does include provision of land. But that covenant also includes special obligations. And so the report insists that "Israeli Jews" must "fulfill their 'land responsibilities'" and their "covenant obligation." Israel is here not just another nation, but a nation held to a special standard. Its claim on the land is not unconditional, like the claims of other peoples upon the places where they live.

A third view of the land further complicates the report's thinking. When it seeks to expand the Abrahamic covenant to include Palestinian Christians, it appeals to Paul's view that in Jesus Christ God's covenant with Abraham expands to include the church. But when the report expands the covenant to Palestinian Muslims, it argues that the covenant extends to all Abraham's descendants. Thus the report offers different views on who is included in the Abrahamic covenant and how people come to be included. But in neither case does it mention special covenantal obligations. Again the report promotes a vision in which conditional Jewish claims to the land are surpassed by and then reformulated within the seemingly unconditional claims of other communities.

All three views draw upon old tropes of Christian anti-Judaism. The first describes the incarnation as a rejection of God's covenant with Israel. The second singles Jews out as a people condemned to wander, a people without "natural" ties to land like other people. The third follows a narrative in which Jews are replaced by others.

The use of any of these tropes would be problematic. The problems increase when the report entangles these different strands of thought, with the only significant consistency supplied by political conclusions that stress unconditional Palestinian (Christian and Muslim) covenantal roles while minimizing and holding to special standards Israeli (Jewish) covenantal roles.

Comparative trauma and false stereotypes: The MESC report rightly refuses to engage in comparisons of suffering. It rejects attempts to compare the systematic murder of 6 million Jews (ha-Shoah) and the forcible displacement of 750,000 Palestinians (al-Nakba). Instead it argues that these two catastrophes should be regarded as parallel but incomparable "psycho-traumas." But the report compromises this sound principle when it compares present-day suffering, calculating that the "ratio of all Israeli to Palestinian deaths [between 2000 and 2008] is 1 to 8.5 and for children it is 1 to 7.4." Thus suffering is incomparable when comparison might speak on behalf of Israel, but quantifiable to a tenth of a life when it benefits Palestinian claims.

The report makes a further unhelpful comparison in tracing the effects of these traumas. It states, "This sense of historical victimization creates for some Israelis a compensatory reflex to choose power and armament; to reject the claims and critique of others; and the adoption of a philosophy that the 'end justifies the means,' even if that means the loss of human rights, life, and the dignity of others." The summary of effects for Palestinians invites comparison: "The inexplicable pain of the Nakba creates for some Palestinians a sense of historical victimization, which creates a compensatory reflex to choose violence; to reject the claims and critique of others; and the adoption of a philosophy that the 'end justifies the means.'"

Israelis have a "sense of victimization"; Palestinians have "inexplicable pain." The Israeli psyche is so damaged that it leads to the "loss of human rights, life, and the dignity of others." The Palestinian psyche appears better preserved. This comparison is neither social psychology nor pastoral counseling. It is at best unfortunate rhetoric—all the more unfortunate because it draws upon stereotypes of Jews as neurotic, legalistic, bellicose and xenophobic. Again the report's rhetorical habits betray its best insights: traumas are wounds to be tended, not arguments to be deployed.

Narratives of replacement: The report's longest section is a sprawling 68-page "Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis," written by a professor of bioethics and a professor of Old Testament. This study appears alongside a nine-page piece by a Reform rabbi titled "Notes from a Humanistic, Liberal Zionist: A Personal Perspective." The two documents seem intended, despite the disparity in size, to balance one another.

They do not. "Plea," which stresses a Palestinian perspective, was written by members of the MESC, and its arguments appear elsewhere in the report. "Notes" exerts no discernible influence on other parts of the report. Even the titles of the pieces suggest asymmetry: "Plea" makes a much stronger rhetorical claim on readers than some comparatively skimpy "Notes."

The problem here is not simply imbalance. The problem is that neither document is rigorously historical. "Notes" is a collection of personal anecdotes. "Plea," despite its length and footnotes, ignores violence against Jews in the region both before and after 1948 and so can be easily dismissed as partisan.

The lack of critical historiography in "Plea" also allows old narrative habits to structure the material. For example, "Plea" notes that between "the fourth and the seventh centuries C.E., the majority of those who lived in the Roman province of Palestine were Christians . . ." But it ignores the reasons for this shift, including Christian persecution of Jews, an influx of Christian immigrants and an imperially supported program of Christianization. Worse, it argues that "when Jerusalem was captured by the Persians in the seventh century of the Common Era, it was the Christians, not the Jews, who sang a lamentation over the Holy City." Here, Christians replace Jews in lamenting Jerusalem, and this replacement then legitimates Christian claims to the land. The form of supersessionist narrative endures, even as the topic shifts from soteriology to politics.

Presentations of history always involve decisions about what data to present and how to present them. The canons of academic history—canons that "Plea" largely ignores—do not eliminate the necessity of such judgments. But they can check political interests, force reflection on inconvenient truths, create conditions for meaningful disagreement and disrupt too-familiar narrative forms. They can expose bad habits and serve as a tool for their reform.

Mischaracterizing Jews: The report begins with a series of letters to groups the committee believes have a stake in the report. One letter, addressed to "Our American Jewish Friends," laments the difficulty of working with "organizations within the mainstream Jewish community." This difficulty should be the occasion for dialogue, not an excuse for avoiding it. Moreover, the report does not name these "mainstream" groups. The open-ended designation has the effect of suggesting that most Jews do not care about Palestinian suffering.

Nor is it clear that the committee seriously attempted to engage with this Jewish "mainstream." Its schedule of interviews included an associate director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, but no other representatives of U.S. rabbinic assemblies, let alone the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The committee did meet with the American Jewish Committee's representative in Israel, but he told the Jewish Week, "They listened to nothing." Also missing is a conversation with Americans for Peace Now (APN), a "mainstream" Jewish organization and a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. APN was established to mobilize support for the Israeli peace movement, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), and is the most prominent American Jewish Zionist organization working to achieve a comprehensive, just political settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The report silences some Jews by naming them as difficult. It silences other Jews by presuming to speak for them without having spoken to them. The report states that it is "hopeful as organizations like J Street, B'Tselem, Jewish Voice for Peace and others continue to raise the banner that being pro-Israel and being truly Jewish is not tantamount to complicity in the excesses of Israeli policy." However, a J Street spokes person indicated that the committee did not consult her organization. She added that J Street had "serious disagreements" with the recommendations and deep concern that the report "consistently downplays Israel's very real security concerns, appears to shrug off any Palestinian responsibility for resolving the ongoing conflict, and downplays the Israeli narrative throughout."

The thinness of the committee's consultation with Jews is especially striking when the report is compared to another Presbyterian document, "Christians and Jews: People of God." This document followed eight meetings between PCUSA theologians and representatives of the National Council of Synagogues and four additional meetings of Presbyterian ministers and Conservative, Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis.

Erasing Israel: Breaking old habits is hard work. Guidelines can help. But guidelines become fault lines when they slip from being guides for transforming action into standards for justifying action.

A crucial guideline for Christians seeking to break habits of anti-Judaism is to criticize Israeli policies in the same ways they criticize the policies of other states—without calling the very existence of Israel into question. The report follows this guideline in its letter to American Jews: "We want to say to you in no uncertain terms," it insists, "we support the existence of Israel within secure and recognized borders. No 'but,' no 'let's get this out of the way so we can say what we really want to say.'"

Having sworn off qualifications of its support for Israel's existence, the report then offers them: "The phrase 'the right of Israel to exist' is a source of pain for some members of the 2009-2010 Middle East Study Committee, who are in solidarity with Palestinians who feel that the state of Israel has denied them their inalienable human rights."

This frank acknowledgment helps interpret a series of notable silences. While the letter to American Jews affirms Israel as a "home for the Jewish people," language about a "Jewish state" appears in no policy recommendation. Affirmation of Israel as any sort of state is absent from the letters to American Muslims, Palestinians and Christians in the Middle East. The recommendations do not call the General Assembly to reaffirm its commitment to Israel's existence. And the recommendations—despite a promise in the summary of past GA positions—do not call "Palestinians and other Arabs to recognize Israel's existence within secure borders."

At two points the report insinuates the illegitimacy of Israel through connections to Nazi Germany. A committee member quotes an unnamed Israeli activist as saying that Israel "acts as a Nazi state." By quoting an Israeli, the report draws the unfortunate connection even while exculpating itself of having made it.

The report also quotes Martin Niemöller's famous litany: "First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist. . . . They came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew." Then it calls for human rights "not just for the Jew, but for every suffering victim in the world today, including the Palestinians." When Palestinians become Jews in the quote, Israel becomes Nazi Germany. It is hard to see how such rhetoric attends to the "psycho-trauma" noted in the social analysis. And it is hard to see how it squares with the strong affirmation of Israel's existence contained in the letter to American Jews.

Critics of Christian statements on Israel/Palestine have too often relied on premillennialist theologies or blanket charges of anti-Semitism that stop conversation before it can begin. The former exempt Israel from criticism because of divine favor; the latter exempt Israel from criticism because of human guilt. We have tried to avoid both gambits. We do not wish to muzzle Christian critics of Israeli policy. We have criticisms of our own. We rather seek to foster conversations that can consider Middle East politics without being overwhelmed by old habits of anti-Judaism.

Ted A. Smith and Amy-Jill Levine teach at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Is the Obama adimistration set to favor Middle East extremists?

This analysis may be exaggerating. William Brennan is the wrong man to put in charge of counter terrorism possibly, but from the perspective of that job it makes sense to differentiate between terrorists who want to bomb you ("extremists") and terrorists who can be persuaded to bomb someone else ("moderates"). The Saudis have been doing that sort of thing for years. It works in the short run. In the long run it is disastrous of course, because the terror always comes home. In the long run of course, Brennan and Obama won't be in office, and the policy fulfills the number 1 requirement of "not on my watch."
But we have to understand that Brennan does not make foreign policy, which is a different field.
Ami Isseroff

Extreme Makeover
Obama's Middle East policy may soon shift away from moderates in favor of extremists
By Lee Smith | Jun 16, 2010 7:00 AM
Obama's point-man for his latest approach to the Muslim world is John Brennan, the White House's counterterrorism czar, recently described by the Washington Post as one of the president's most trusted advisers. Two weeks ago Brennan explained to a Washington audience that "we need to try to build up the more moderate elements" within Hezbollah, Lebanon's Shia militia. The State Department rushed in to explain that there was no change in U.S. policy toward a group it has designated a terrorist organization—however, this was the second time Brennan had spoken of reaching out to Hezbollah "moderates" (and the second time he was corrected by the State Department), which means he has the President's approval.
In reality, there is no such thing as Hezbollah moderates. The party itself claims there is no difference between what the British incorrectly describe as Hezbollah's political and military wing. And so identifying Hezbollah "moderates" is just political cover for the real work, which as Brennan, a longtime CIA hand, surely knows, is speaking to the hard men, the extremists, since they are the only people worth speaking to.
This is news: moderate Muslims, the darlings of the George W. Bush administration's foreign policy, don't matter, or so Obama has concluded. Ever since he was on the campaign trail Obama has promised to reach out to Iran and Syria, state sponsors of terror and Hezbollah's patrons, and now the reason why is clear: because he believes that it's Middle East extremists who call the shots. Someday soon, the Obama administration is going to reach out to Hezbollah, as well as other terrorist organizations, in Afghanistan, Gaza, and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Indeed, the Middle East's savviest rulers have already read the writing on the wall. Look at Turkey. The Bush administration believed that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan's AKP government represented the model of a moderate and democratic Islamic state that would influence its neighbors, especially Iraq. Now, under the Obama administration, Turkey will still serve its traditional role as a bridge to the Muslim world—not to the moderates but to the extremists. As if to polish up his resume for this new direction, Erdogan stacked the Mavi Marmara with activists from the IHH, as if to prove that he has relationships with Hamas. Now, when Washington wants something from the armed gang that runs Gaza, they can use Ankara as a mediator.
Obama, it seems, doesn't care about moderate Muslims for the same reason that he doesn't make much noise about human rights and democracy promotion in the Middle East: For all his talk of hope and change, he takes a much more pessimistic—and more realistic—view of the region's political culture than the Bush administration did.
And the truth is that the Bush White House was never entirely serious about backing up its talk about moderate Muslims with action. Sure, the White House rode Cairo and Riyadh hard for their human rights abuses, but it still wound up describing Egypt and Saudi Arabia as "moderate" Arab states—meaning that they were less bad than Iran. Worse yet, the Bush administration committed the cardinal sin of Middle East politics: failing to protect its (moderate) allies and punish (extremist) enemies. Take the case of the late former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, an exemplary moderate Muslim politician, whose foundation provided tens of thousands of scholarships to students from all confessions while Hezbollah's culture of resistance turned the Shia community into a death cult. And yet five and a half years later, after Hariri was killed in a car-bomb explosion in Beirut, there's not even an indictment in his murder. The message is clear: There's not much use for Middle East moderates since, like Hariri and Anwar Sadat before him, their moderation only gets them killed by extremists.
The politically ambitious Obama chose to sit in the church of a man who spouted lunatic conspiracy theories about how the CIA was killing black babies not because he believed it, but because he knew back then that extremists confer legitimacy—especially when you are an outsider hoping to curry favor with the locals, as he is now with the Muslim world.
What Obama knows about extremists and moderates was not lost on our founding fathers, who understood that the great and vast moderate majority anywhere are a bunch of saps who will gladly follow the knave who knows how to play on their grievances and lusts. The moderate majority is the hash you get when you have made a virtue of human nature by balancing off competing prejudices, fantasies, fears, and vanities; and if you want to deal with this moderate majority you must go to their leaders, the men of fierce purpose who nurture the worst in mankind.
It is typically assumed that the president's history, his family background, and the time he has spent in the Muslim world have made him deeply sympathetic to the Muslim masses. Another possibility is that it has left him wary of what he has seen and heard. As someone with a Muslim father who grew up partly in a Muslim country, and who embraced radical political tropes, it is notable that Obama chose to become a Christian, and reject his father's religious faith. Both his critics and defenders are quick to argue that his choice must have been motivated by naked political expediency. But what if it was a conscious decision to distance himself from a Muslim world he found distasteful?
In any case, Obama sees, correctly, that the real choice isn't between moderates and extremists, but between cutting a deal with the extremists or making war against them. The fact is that a war against all the extremists in the Muslim world—Sunni and Shia, from the Persian Gulf to Western North Africa—is effectively a war against Islam. And a decades-long war of civilizations is not a war that an economically damaged United States can afford to wage. We have neither the money, nor the manpower, nor the will. A total war of the kind that appears to be on offer would change U.S. society in ways that are unimaginable, and which would make the Bush years look like an idyllic holiday. Our few remaining allies—with the exception of Israel—would no longer wish to fight beside us, and would make deals of their own, if they already haven't.
So instead, we're going to bargain with the actors who have the final say over war and peace: the extremists.
The present moment is not the first time the United States has had to choose between war with Muslim extremists and appeasing them. As Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren detailed in his 2007 book Faith, Power and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present, America's first policymakers considered paying off the Barbary Coast pirates and the local sultans on whose behalf they took captives and booty, as the French and British did. After a public outcry, they decided to make war. Taxes were then levied to establish the U.S. Navy, tasked to defend American commerce on the high seas and take the fight to the enemy.
Looking back to the origins of the United States' blue-water navy is a reminder that the founding fathers judged that fighting, rather than paying tribute, was what best suited the character of the American people. And there's little doubt that U.S. citizens will again rebel against policymakers who have chosen appeasement, especially since the extremists will negotiate by killing more of us, in the streets of U.S. cities as well as in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is unclear whether the political damage that the incumbent will suffer because his countrymen are dying is sufficient to change his thinking, which is that it is more cost efficient for a weakened United States to buy off extremists than it is to run the rest of the world at the end of a gun.
But negotiating with extremists will look like war, just that only one side will be fighting while the other side—the United States—tries to stop the bloodshed by petitioning the extremists to accept more But negotiating with extremists will look like war, just that only one side will be fighting while the other side—the United States—tries to stop the bloodshed by petitioning the extremists to accept more ransom. The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Muslim speaks out against Ground Zero Mosque

For those who think the Ground Zero mosque is at least in bad taste, this is how to write about the issue, and this is who should write about it: Muslims with a conscience and sensitivity for the feelings of victims of the 9-11 attack. It is the wrong place for a Madrassa and an Mosque and the wrong time.
An interfaith monument or meeting place would be far more appropirate.
Ami Isseroff
Mosque unbecoming
Last Updated: 4:35 AM, May 24, 2010
Posted: 2:06 AM, May 24, 2010
In the 1960s, my parents left their despotic motherland of Syria for the promise of genuine liberty and religious freedom in America. In the decades since, we have led the construction of a number of mosques in the towns where we lived.
Some went up without challenge from the local community, but others met with palpable local discontent. In those cases, the law and the natural American affinity for religious freedom eventually paved the way to the ribbon cutting.
These were all humble mosques, funded locally by our congregations. It's plain the planned "Ground Zero mosque" is something very different. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, his wife, Daisy Khan, and an investor intend to build "Cordoba House," an ostentatious $100 million, 13-story Muslim community center including a gym, a swimming pool, a performance-arts facility and a mosque.
My first concern is whether the financing truly represents the local American Muslim community or comes with strings from foreign Islamists. But that is far from my last concern.
I am an American Muslim dedicated to defeating the ideology that fuels global Islamist terror -- political Islam. And I don't see such a "center" actually fighting terrorism or being a very "positive" addition near Ground Zero, no matter how well intentioned.
To put it bluntly, Ground Zero is the one place in America where Muslims should think less about teaching Islam and "our good side" and more about being American and fulfilling our responsibilities to confront the ideology of our enemies.
Khan and Rauf avoid discourse on reform and political Islam. Instead, they simply give us the familiar, too vague condemnation of "extremism and violence." They seem to conveniently view 9/11, al Qaeda and every manifestation of militant Islamism as simply a public-relations problem for "Muslims in the West." Imam Rauf has even gone so far as to bizarrely say that the 9/11 terrorists were "not Muslims."
As controversy over the project has become heated, Rauf's Web site has scrubbed the term "mosque" in exchange for "center" -- again missing the boat of why so many Americans are offended. (Meanwhile, the plans of another local Islamic group to rebuild near Ground Zero only added to the quandary.)
This is not about the building of a mosque or a religious facility. It is not about religious freedom. This is about a deep, soulful understanding of what happened to our country on 9/11.
When Americans are attacked, they come together as one, under one flag, under one law against a common enemy that we are not afraid to identify. Religious freedom is central to our nation - and that is why the location of this project is so misguided. Ground Zero is purely about being American. It can never be about being Muslim.
The World Trade Center site represents Ground Zero in America's war against radical Islamists who seek to destroy the American way of life. It is not ground zero of a cultural exchange.
We American Muslims cannot merely passively avoid Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots. We need to ask ourselves: Are we Americans who happen to be Muslim or Muslims blindly demanding to be American?
American Muslims will be better served if this project is built further away from Ground Zero and focuses on leading a reform effort. If we help build anything at the WTC site itself, it should be timeless memorials to all those who lost their lives on 9/11 -- memorials blind to faith, race, creed or national origin.
On Sept. 12, 2001, I was first an American. When those planes hit the World Trade Center, they hit at the core of my being as an American. The attack on my faith by the terrorists was secondary to their attack on my homeland.
We need to focus our efforts more transparently on teaching Muslim youth that the American concepts of liberty and freedom are preferable to sharia and the Islamic state. American Muslims represent the best opportunity to fight Islamist radicalization not because we understand Islam but because we have experienced and understood what American liberty provides to the Muslim experience.
Americans must always remember the horrors of 9/11 and must be vigilant in not allowing political Islam to wear down the principles that built our country.
This center is trying to change the narrative of 9/11 -- to diminish what happened at Ground Zero. That can only weaken us against the very real threat of Islamist radicalization.
M. Zuhdi Jasser is president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a former US Navy lieutenant commander.

Ground Zero mosque Imam supports Gaza flotilla charity

The Imam of the ground-zero mosque project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is not the friend of peace and moderation that he makes himself out to be, and the mosque won't be a center for moderate Islam. The Madrassa (euphemistically termed an Islamic center in Englsih) is to be called Cordoba. Cordoba was a great center of tolerance, but Cordoba was also in al Andalus - Spain, which is part of the irredentist claims of radical Islam. And Cordoba was under Muslim rule. It was a model of "tolerance" in which Jews and Christians were accepted conditional on their submission to Islamic rule, and their acceptance of second class citizenship.
Ami Isseroff  

Imam unmosqued
Last Updated: 11:49 AM, June 5, 2010
Posted: 3:59 AM, June 5, 2010
The imam behind a proposed mosque near Ground Zero is a prominent member of a group that helped sponsor the pro-Palestinian activists who clashed violently with Israeli commandos at sea this week.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a key figure in Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization, according to its Website.
Perdana is the single biggest donor ($366,000) so far to the Free Gaza Movement, a key organizer of the six-ship flotilla that tried to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip Monday.
Nine passengers aboard the largest ship died in clashes with Israeli commandos, and a new confrontation loomed today, when another Free Gaza Movement ship was due to reach Gaza waters in defiance of Israel.
Efforts to reach Imam Abdul Rauf yesterday for comment were unsuccessful.
Deborah Burlingame, the sister of the American Airlines pilot whose hijacked plane struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, said the indirect ties of the imam to the protesters who confronted Israeli forces Monday were not surprising.
"I think it goes to show he is not the man he represents himself to be. We have two Imam Raufs," she said.
"We have the anti-Israel, anti-democratic imam, and we have the smiling, soft-spoken moderate Muslim who says 'Why can't we all get along?' "
The Free Gaza Movement is a charity that has made nine seaborne aid missions in the past two years to break the Israeli blockade.
In the latest effort, the group's ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, which sails under an Irish flag, had made it about 35 miles off the Gaza coast last night before it was intercepted.
Israeli ships were shadowing the vessel, but it had not been boarded. Earlier yesterday, the Irish government said it had reached an accord with Israel to avoid another showdown, but the activists aboard rejected the deal.
Irish diplomats said that under the agreement, the ship would have docked at the Israeli port of Ashdod for inspection of its cargo under the supervision of UN officials.
Israel agreed to transfer all the content, except weapons and war materials, to Gaza, accompanied by two Free Gaza members, according to the agreement. But the activists said they would only allow a security check at sea.
"We will never stop at Ashdod," said Free Gaza Movement spokeswoman Greta Berlin.
With Post Wire Services