Saturday, July 31, 2010

Will Potts on the PC(USA) anti-Israel resolutions: I’m vilifying you. For God’s sake, pay attention

Will Potts has been fighting the good fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias in his church for quite a while.

This is his take on this year's round of anti-Israel condemnations.

Not the Post I Planned

This is not the post I planned to write.

That post was called "From Fictions to Lies:  Institutional Support for the MESC".  It was a scandalized reaction to recent official and semi-official Presbyterian strategic moves to push forward the anti-Israel agenda at the General Assembly.  I found myself thinking about how best to persuade, how best to counter, how to even get a hearing from commissioners.

Then I remembered a line from the 1968 movie, Lion in Winter:

I'm vilifying you.  For God's sake, pay attention.

(I admit it; I'm a sucker for quotes.)  When I thought of this, I laughed out loud.  It struck me as eminently appropriate; it described both what I was doing in my intended post (and what I have done in one or two others), and what the MESC, the ACSWP, the MRTI, the IPMN, and some presbyteries are doing to Israel and to the Jewish people.

I'm no good at strategy; I detest marketing; I don't even particularly like politics – except as a study in human behavior.  I'm just a guy with a blog, spending way too much time (I don't really have), hoping to dissuade people I actually care about from embracing something ugly, harmful, and untrue.  At that point, I realized there was nothing I could do to improve the situation – the 219th General Assembly was going to do what it was going to do, and my best response was to wait it out.

So here we are, several days later.  The 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has adjourned.  For good or ill it has completed its work.  And for the next few weeks a variety of interested parties will attempt to interpret their actions – both to Presbyterians and to people outside the denomination.

How did they do?

My first reaction is to say, "The lamps are going out in Presbyterian churches all over America; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

But that is unjust.  It is not an accurate reaction.  It is no more true than the statements that celebrate the miracle at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

More accurately, the 219th General Assembly attempted to split the difference.

They seem to be seeking the illusion of safety by carefully steering a course between the virulently anti-Israel, the occasionally anti-Judaic, the sometimes openly antisemitic on one side and the less virulently anti-Israel and moderately prejudiced on the other.  At this point commissioners do not seem to have realized that the coveted middle ground is only middle ground within the context of business items overwhelmingly skewed in one direction.

What they did that was good:

1.  They rejected divestment.

2.  They rejected the use of the word "apartheid".

3.  They elected to only receive the first section of the Middle East Study Committee Report. As such, it has no real status in the PC(USA) – so its statements criticizing American Jewish groups, its quirky theology, its patronizing letters, and the peculiar vignettes (whose status was never clear – as these were randomly interspersed in this section) aren't PC(USA) policy.  Nonetheless, receiving this section and using it as rationale for the large number of approved recommendations gives it some authority.

4.  They altered the language on the Gaza blockade from blanket opposition to this:

Calls on the Israeli and Egyptian governments to limit their blockade of Gaza solely to military equipment/devices and to guarantee adequate levels of food, medicine, building supplies, and other humanitarian items, and to allow free commercial exchange in and out of Gaza, and calls on the U.S. government to end any support for the blockade that interferes with the adequacy of such items or such exchange.

5.  They explicitly re-affirmed "Israel's right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders in accordance with United Nations resolutions."

6.  They rejected the call for the MESC to become a permanent monitoring group. Instead, they call for the creation of a seven member group selected by the current and immediate past moderators (Elder Cynthia Bolbach and Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow).  This group must include at least one but no more than two MESC members; the total membership must "together comprise an authentic balance representing the fullness of the spectrum of commitments within the PC(USA) toward the people and issues in the region".

7. They rejected part 3 of the report with its extremely one-sided history. Instead they solicited eight narratives of comparable length, four "from the range of authentically Palestinian perspectives" and four "from the range of authentically Israeli perspectives" to take its place.  These narratives and an additional bibliography are to be approved by the monitoring group.

Clearly, the GA made some improvements to the MESC Report, and clearly the GA chose to avoid extremity in a couple of business items.  Nonetheless, a great deal now hinges on the good faith of the current and immediately past moderators to select an authentic balance of participants in the new monitoring group.  It should be pointed out that a similar requirement for balance was in place when the original, highly unbalanced MESC was selected.

There is one other positive outcome I must mention – in order to be fully honest and accurate.  A large number of clearly moderate and even very pro-institutional Presbyterians (with regular critics of Israeli actions among them) recognized that the Middle East Study Committee Report went too far – was too unfair – and needed a greater degree of balance.  Even two members of the committee supported some change in this regard.  Some people place great hope in this change of heart; I am not among them.  But it is a development worth watching.

What the 219th GA did that was neutral:

1.  They switched the order of words in their partial endorsement of the Kairos document. Perhaps this helps to clarify the intent of the MESC recommendation.  Yet it still leaves an open question:  what exact elements of the Kairos document are indicated by, "emphases on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation"?  [For those unfamiliar with the document, it should be mentioned that (among other things) it supports boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, and it rejects the concept of a Jewish state.  The bottom line:  the moral character of this endorsement depends entirely what exactly it is interpreted to entail.]

2.  They passed resolutions criticizing the U.S. for its military aid to Israel, and calling on the U.S. to make all aid to Israel "contingent upon Israel's compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts." [I have listed this as neutral because it is not a new action for the PC(USA); prior General Assemblies have made comparable demands.  Yet the modified MESC report replaced the original report's "military aid" with the broader phrase "U.S. aid to Israel".]

What the 219th GA did that was bad:

1.  They referred the paper, "Christians and Jews:  People of God", for a re-write. [Rejecting the paper was not necessarily bad in itself - one could have had legitimate reasons to do so.  Nonetheless, the instructions the GA gave for the re-write, the overture to which it responded, and the fact that it passed the paper, "Toward an Understanding of Christian Muslim Relations" add up to an extraordinarily negative decision.  Among other things, this rejected paper included a Presbyterian rejection of Christian antisemitism.]

2.  They approved the inexcusably unbalanced ACSWP Human Rights Update 2010. [This committee was tasked with

Identify[ing] Violations of the Civil Rights of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the United States and Other Areas of the World, Along with Other Incidents of Violation of Religious Freedoms, as Part of the Regular Human Rights Report to the General Assembly.

The only nation the ACSWP saw fit to mention by name as a violator of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim civil rights and a violator of religious freedoms was Israel.]

3.  They denounced Caterpillar. [Although stopping short of divestment, as symbolic gestures go, I'm not sure Israel-based denunciation is any better.]

4.  They approved the rest of the recommendations of the MESC report. [See here for a more detailed listing of problematic items contained in the modified report.]

5.  They approved the Belhar Confession [which is being used by anti-Israel activists as a (false) justification for church condemnations of Israel.]

6.  They rejected the proposal to amend the process for forming PC(USA) social witness policy [which would at least have broadened Presbyterian participation in decision making.]

A great many people will try to put the best face on this set of outcomes.  Yet I cannot call the 219th General Assembly's actions good.  The PC(USA) is in a worse position than it was two weeks ago.  It is more anti-Israel; it has taken steps to affirm biased, anti-Israel, and even anti-Jewish statements on the part of its staff, its networks, and partners; it has once again taken the lead position among anti-Israel U.S. denominations.  Yes, there are glimmers of hope:  it was not as bad as it threatened to be; the moderators may do a fairer job at selecting Middle East monitoring group members; influential Presbyterians may have started to see that there are limits to how far the PC(USA) should actually go.

Is the glass nine-tenths empty or ten percent full? I guess it depends on your perspective.

What I do know is this:

The situation of Israelis and Palestinians is very complicated.  It is not, as it is often cast, solely a justice issue with Israeli perpetrators and Palestinian victims.  There are injustices certainly – and these need to be corrected.  But this cannot be done by unjustly hearing only the concerns of one side.

It is possible to be pro-Palestinian without being anti-Israel.  It is difficult, but it is a worthwhile effort – especially for church organizations.  This requires a greater degree of creativity and work than that exhibited thus far within the PC(USA).  Yet it is a failing shared among the pro-Palestinian advocacy community and those Presbyterians committed to fairness and accuracy.

Antisemitic and anti-Judaic themes are NEVER OK.  They are ugly, dangerous, and unworthy of followers of Jesus Christ.  [Given the history of Christian antisemitism, this is an area about which Christians should be vigilant.]

Holding Israel to a standard different than that to which you hold all other nations is bias, it is prejudiced, it is unjustifiable – and it is being done here.

Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism.  Antisemitism is antisemitism.  Criticism of Israel can be biased – in which case the critic is guilty of anti-Israel bias.  Some critics of Israel also happen to dabble in antisemitic themes.  Bias is a problem, but it is the antisemitism that is THE problem – not the criticism of Israel.

The PC(USA) (like many groups involved in Middle East advocacy) has a systemic problem of anti-Israel bias, the employment of anti-Judaic themes, and the occasional use of classical antisemitic arguments.  This problem remains unaddressed by the 219th General Assembly – not so much by silence but by actual choice on the part of commissioners to reject anything that might limit it.

The penultimate Presbyterian fiction is this:  that Presbyterians in the pews are not accountable for the actions of the national organization.  It is easy to regard this as the product of eight days in Minneapolis, an event of which many Presbyterians took little notice and which has little effect on them.  But six years have passed since the PC(USA) emerged into the public consciousness with its divestment initiative.  Three General Assemblies have come and gone.  Much press coverage has been lavished on the PC(USA).  By this point, the policies of the national organization on Israel and Palestine are the property of ordinary Presbyterians – whether they agree with them or not.

Will Spotts

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Egyptian Journalist: Gaza Is Not Under Siege

What does this do to PM Cameron's claim that Gaza is a prison??
Ami Isseroff

Resort in Gaza., July 21, 2010

In an article in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram on the economic situation in the Gaza Strip, journalist Ashraf Abu Al-Houl wrote about the burgeoning recreation industry and of the low merchandise prices.

Also as part of the interest in the economic situation in Gaza, the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida published articles describing the expensive resorts that have been established for Gaza's newly rich, and a Palestinian website reported on the new mall recently opened in the city.  

The following are excerpts from the articles:

Stores Overflow with Goods

Journalist Ashraf Abu Al-Houl wrote in Al-Ahram: "I was last in Gaza in mid-February. Returning three weeks ago, I found it almost unrecognizable... and the greatest surprise was the nature of that change. I would have expected a change for the worse, considering the blockade – but the opposite was the case; it seemed as if it had emerged from the blockade.

"A sense of absolute prosperity prevails, as manifested by the grand resorts along and near Gaza's coast. Further, the sight of the merchandise and luxuries filling the Gaza shops amazed me. Merchandise is sold more cheaply than in Egypt, although most of it is from the Egyptian market, and there are added shipping costs and costs for smuggling it via the tunnels – so that it could be expected to be more expensive.

"Before I judge by appearances, which can be misleading... [I would like to point out that] I toured the new resorts, most of which are quite grand, as well as the commercial markets, to verify my hypothesis. The resorts and markets have come to symbolize prosperity, and prove that the siege is formal or political, not economic. The reality [in Gaza] proves that the siege was broken even before Israel's crime against the ships of the Freedom Flotilla in late May; everything already was coming into the Gaza Strip from Egypt. If this weren't the case, businessmen would not have been able to build so many resorts in under four months."

Significantly Lower Prices

"[I] began my search for the truth regarding the siege in Rafah, at the Saturday market, which was loaded with large quantities of merchandise and products of various kinds – at prices mostly lower than in Egypt, particularly for food products. Nevertheless, there weren't many customers, and this for two reasons: One, supply is much greater than demand, and two, the workers were all waiting to get paid their wages.

"Business owner Abu Yousuf stood at his shop surrounded by hundreds of cans of food. Their price had dropped significantly in the past two months; in some cases by as much as 50%. Clothing vendor Abu Muhammad Al-Masri noted that there was an unprecedented glut on the clothing market in the Gaza Strip. Clothing comes into Gaza from two sources: the tunnels, which provide large quantities, and the border crossings to Israel, via which even more goods arrive, most of which piled up at Ashdod port [and are now coming into the Strip]. He clarified that the merchants wanted to sell [lots of] goods to get back some of their money... and so had increased the supply in the markets, leading to lower prices.

"During my tour of the Rafah and Khan Younis markets, I noticed that the merchants were drastically marking down their merchandise, so as to get rid of goods smuggled in through the tunnels, and to prevent heavy losses... after Israel has decided to allow in Israeli and imported goods, as part of Israeli government measures to ease the blockade following the Freedom Flotilla massacre.

"Despite the drop in price due to the plethora of goods in the Gaza markets, the residents sense that even lower prices are on the way, due to the easing of the Israeli blockade. The consumers are carefully watching prices, [particularly for] smuggled electrical appliances and cars, and refrain from buying, expecting that merchandise will arrive via the border crossings [leading to a further drop in prices].

"A Gaza car showroom salesman said that he hoped to sell off his inventory and that he was not bringing in any new vehicles for fear of heavy losses, because Israel had decided to allow vehicles into Gaza for the first time since 2006. Anyone walking in the Gaza streets will see hundreds, if not thousands, of cars that entered Gaza from Egypt via the tunnels, and some of them are stolen. At the home and kitchen appliance dealers, there is a tempting array of all kinds of smuggled goods that sellers want to get rid of, due to the ongoing information about new products that Israel has decided to allow into to the city... "

Resorts for the Nouveau Riche

"The Gaza resorts paint a picture of prosperity enjoyed by only a few groups, most of which have become rich from the blockade, because they either own tunnels or else work for the many international organizations in Gaza, headed by UNRWA.

"The Gaza resorts are divided into several [categories], each of which has its own price range. This is not like it used to be, when all the tables on the beach were for the use of all the residents... I noticed that most of the resorts set a certain price for the tables near the sea, and a different price for tables farther away. This is in addition to high fees to enter the resort – no less than NIS 20 – and each activity within the [grounds] has its own fee. In short, a family visit, with a sandwich for each child, can cost up to NIS 500.

"Several months ago, Gaza had only one luxury resort, Zahrat Al-Madain. Today, another one opens up every day, such as Crazy Water, Aqua Park, and Al-Bustan. Most of them are owned by members, or associates, of Hamas. In addition, the Hamas municipalities [also] charge high fees, in Gaza terms, for the use of public beaches."

"'Aed Yaghi, senior official of the Al-Mubadara Al-Wataniyya party, which is headed by Palestinian Legislative Council member Mustafa Al-Barghouti, said, 'These resorts make you wonder. It is logical to invest when times are good – but when Gaza is suffering under siege and there is a possibility of renewed aggression [by Israel], no one knows what profitability there is in building resorts.'

"Walid Al-'Awwad, a member of the Palestinian People's Party political bureau, said, 'In the past two years, money-laundering has flourished in Gaza, as reflected by the construction of numerous resorts – all of which belong to influential individuals who participate in trafficking via the tunnels. Compared to the tunnel owners' increasing wealth, the [status] of the [established] wealthy families has waned... The spread of the grand resorts reflects the emergence of a bourgeoisie. Some of the fluidity in the Gaza market stems from the activity of clandestine elements – distributors of drugs, arms, and tunnel merchandise.'

"Human rights activist and political correspondent Mustafa Ibrahim said, 'Building resorts in the north [of the Strip] is contrary to the most fundamental principles of investment, because they are in regions exposed to shelling and destruction, due to the unceasing Israeli threats. Thus, veteran investors don't dare invest in this area. The elements behind the investment [in the north], who are sometimes hasty, rely on profits from trafficking via the tunnels for funding... This huge investment in the leisure industry is taking place today in Gaza at a time when 80% of the residents depend on aid from UNRWA and other organizations, and unemployment is at 45%. This creates a distorted picture, particularly when merchandise is piling up in the shops in a way that does not reflect the economic situation. Perhaps the current government created this distorted situation in order to show that it had succeeded in breaking the siege..." [1]

Photos: Al-Ahram, Egypt, July 17, 2010

The Al-Bustan Resort and Bisan Tourism City

The PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida stated: "The Al-Bustan resort, on the coast, belongs to an Islamic association linked to Hamas. It offers a cafeteria, a restaurant, and fish ponds; it gets 1,000 visitors a day, and about 2,000 during the weekend, says manager Ahmad Qadoura. A Gaza resident whose home was destroyed in the Gaza war, Abu Kamal Al-Awajeh, expressed his resentment over the resorts' high entry fee of NIS 35... He says, 'priority should be given to rehabilitating Gaza and building housing for those whose homes were destroyed by the occupation in the war.' Nearby, the Wa'ed prisoners' association, which is close to Hamas, has built the Al-Hurriya ["Freedom"] Resort.

"In May, Bisan Tourism City was established in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip. Previously a garbage dump, the 270-dunam [site], which belongs to the Hamas government, provides a leisure and vacation [destination] for Gaza residents... It cost $1.5 million, under the oversight of Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad. The city includes an 86-dunam park and a small zoo, and two Olympic-size swimming pools for children and adults. According to its administration, on weekends it hosts some 6,000 visitors... The administration bans hookah smoking and card games, and three religious conventions are held there every week."[2]

Mall Opens in Gaza

The Palestinian website Firas Press reported: "This week, Gaza's first mall opened. The inaugural ceremony was attended by Hamas ministers and officials, along with merchants and investors. Hamas Welfare Minister Ahmad Al-Kurd said, "The mall will participate in meeting the basic needs of the population, against the backdrop of the siege, with merchants bringing in [goods] via the border crossings and the tunnels."[3]

Photo:, July 21, 2010


[1] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 18, 2010

[2] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), July 22, 2010

[3],  July 21, 2010

The critical moment: US Presses for direct negotiations - Abbas is adamantly opposed.

The bottom line is that if Abbas does not agree to direct talks with Israel soon, the train will leave the the station without a Palestinian state and U.S. policy will move on. Abbas, for his part, is trying to delay the moment as long as possible and to extort the maximum amount of concessions. .
Presidential spokesman says Obama sent Mubarak letter expressing commitment to exert efforts toward direct peace negotiations aimed at creating Palestinian state
Associated Press
Published:  07.29.10, 07:20 / Israel News
Egypt said Wednesday it has received US assurances that may help in restarting direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel.
Egyptian presidential spokesman Suleiman Awwad did not disclose details of the US assurances, which come on the eve of a crucial Arab League meeting to determine the future of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is under intense international pressure to restart direct peace talks with Israel frozen in 2008.
Arab foreign ministers will meet Thursday to consider the matter of direct talks, potentially adding more pressure on the Palestinian president.

Abbas has insisted he will only upgrade the current US-mediated indirect talks with Israel if it agrees to a halt on settlement construction and accept a Palestinian state in West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to be pinned down on a framework for negotiations.
 This week The Associated Press obtained a Palestinian document that revealed that special US envoy George Mitchell warned Abbas that if he does not agree to direct talks, President Barack Obama will not be able to help the Palestinians achieve a state of their own.
The indirect talks and a partial Israeli freeze of settlement building will end in September.
Awwad said that Obama has committed to exerting efforts toward direct peace talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
He said President Hosni Mubarak has received a letter from Obama, followed by calls from Vice President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, all signaling a US commitment to establish a Palestinian state.
"These are all indications which we hope are pursued and yield Arab and international consensus to launch direct peace talks with a time table and clear terms of reference," Awwad said.
Assurances from the US might convince Abbas to restart the talks.
Netanyahu has called for resumption of direct negotiations without conditions. He has accepted the concept of a Palestinian state but has refused to outline his stance on the main issues, including borders, before the talks resume.
In a speech Tuesday in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said a Palestinian state must be demilitarized and recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also demanded undefined security arrangements.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the Arab foreign ministers are looking to hear from Abbas about the reassurances he also received from the Americans.
Egyptian officials say enthusiastic engagement from Obama could help efforts to resume direct talks. But the Palestinian document noted that Mitchell demanded Palestinian agreement for direct talks before Obama gets involved.

Palestinian Solidarity Group supports Hamas, targets supermarkets in failed boycott campaign demonstration

Pro-Israel groups should consider a BUY-In (or BUYcott): Buy at stores that feature Israeli products, especially those targeted by the bad guys.  

Palestine Solidarity Campaign – not many trade unionists, but proud of links to pro-terror IHH

By ericlee

The website of the London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign boasts  that it "organised a supermarket action to mark the fifth anniversary of the BNC's call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on July 9″ and that "representatives from some of Britain's largest trade unions, Unite, Unison and PCS" participated in the event.  This is followed by a link to the campaign's photostream on Flickr.  But when you look at the photos, three things become obvious.

First, there are very few people participating in the action.  Even if there were representatives of the three unions named, there are at most a handful of them in attendance.  How representative they actually are of unions with several million members is not clear.

Second, there is only one union banner, which you can spot in the background, if you look carefully enough, for the PCS union representing civil servants and one lone Unite member holding a union flag. Everyone else is carrying signs bearing the name of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign or another pro-Hamas NGO.  Hardly a convincing display of a union presence at the event.

And finally, when you look through the rest of the organization's photostream, you come across some photos which were taken before the last Gaza "Freedom Flotilla" set sail.  These proudly display the banner of the Turkish IHH — and are labelled as such.  Of course the PSC doesn't tell anyone that the IHH is widely believed to be a terrorist organization, closely linked to Hamas.  It clearly considers the IHH a fraternal organization.

The PSC uses the fact that some trade unionists — a handful, at most — showed up at an event to show mass support for their agenda of boycotting and demonizing Israel.  But the fact that their Flickr page gives so much more prominence to the banners of Turkish pro-terror group shows where the PSC's real support lies.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Obstacle to peace: Palestinians to reject direct talks

According to this July 28 article from Haaretz, Palestinians are still dragging their feet about direct negotiations.

Palestinians set to reject move to direct peace talks with Israel

Mahmoud Abbas to tell Arab League that indirect talks with Israel have not progressed enough to justify face-to-face negotiations.

By Reuters 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will tell the Arab League on Thursday indirect talks with Israel have not progressed enough to justify face-to-face peace negotiations, a Palestinian official said on Wednesday.

"Abbas will tell them that, until this moment, there is nothing to convince us to go to direct talks," the official told Reuters. "There is nothing new."

Resisting U.S. pressure, the Palestinian leader has said he first wants indirect talks to make progress, specifically on the issues of the security and borders of a Palestinian state he aims to found on land occupied by Israel since 1967.

He will brief the Arab League's peace process committee in Cairo on Thursday on the state of the current U.S.-mediated indirect talks that began in May after the forum's approval of a four-month timeframe, due to end in September.

U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, last met Abbas on July 17 in Ramallah. Palestinian officials said that at that session, Abbas turned down a U.S. request to begin direct negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he wants to begin direct talks with the Palestinians immediately.

But the Palestinian official said: "We will tell the Arabs that the Americans brought nothing with them. We will most likely continue the remaining two months (of indirect talks) and see what happens."

Settlement freeze

Obama, seeking to revive the Middle East peace process, said earlier this month he hoped direct talks would begin by September - before Israel's 10-month partial freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank ends.

Netanyahu has voiced reluctance to extend the moratorium, which could further complicate U.S. efforts to get Abbas to the negotiating table.

Netanyahu heads a coalition that includes hard-line parties, including one led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said on Wednesday there was "no place for any moratorium after 25 September".

The fate of Jewish settlements built on Israeli-occupied land is one of the main issues confronting the diplomatic process.

Abbas, a central figure in years of negotiations aimed at creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel, is seen as wary of face-to-face talks with a right-wing Israeli leader he doubts is willing to make an offer the Palestinians can accept.

Israeli cabinet minister Isaac Herzog, a member of the center-left Labor Party, called the Israeli-Palestinian impasse a "chicken-and-egg" situation.

"Abu Mazen (Abbas) says: 'I don't want to enter direct negotiations until I know what the final result will be.'," Herzog told Israel Radio.

"Netanyahu says: 'Enter direct negatiations and I will also tell you what the final result will be.' Each one looks at it opposite, and we are in a sort of political trap."

Netanyahu, who has pledged to take "political risks" for peace but has yet to announce promised confidence-building gestures towards the Palestinians, says Abbas is wasting time.

Abbas, head of an administration that depends on Western aid, has surprised many observers with his resistance to U.S. pressure. The 75-year old is under domestic pressure to avoid more negotiations in which he is by far the weaker player.

African American Jewish NBA star Amar'e Stoudemire heads to Israel after discovering Jewish roo

Amar'e Stoudemire found out he has a Jewish mother, and decided to seek his Jewish roots in Israel.
From Haaretz:  

U.S. Basketball star Amar'e Stoudemire is apparently on his way to Israel for a voyage of discovery after learning he has Jewish roots.

"On the flight to Israel. This is going to be a great trip," announced the power forward, who plays in the NBA for the New York Nicks, via the micro-blogging site Twitter.
According to an Army Radio report, Stoudemire plans to spend time in Israel learning Hebrew, having recently learned he has a Jewish mother.

"The holy land. Learn about it," he wrote, adding "ze ha'halom sheli" – Hebrew for 'this is my dream'.

News of Stoudemire's trip quickly had Israeli basketball fans buzzing with speculation that they might one day see him playing alongside another Jewish NBA star, Israel's Omri Caspi, on the national team.

Arabs serve in the IDF, women too: Israel's first female Arab combat soldier

Believe it or not, there are still people, including the Washington Post who insist that no Arabs serve in the IDF.

First Female Arab Combat Soldier in IDF is Proud to Serve Israel

26 July 2010 09:18

Soldier Elinor Jozef

"I know I am part of the Jewish state's army and therefore when we speak about that, I listen and learn. I got used to it and I respect it''. Photo: IDF Spokesperson

Cpl. Elinor Joseph, the first female Arab combat soldier in the IDF:"This will always be my home"

Rotem Caro Weizman

"Look at the beret," says Elinor, smiling from ear to ear, showing off the bright green beret that she earned after completing the trek which is part of her combat training in the Karakal Battalion.  Her excitement is accompanied by a new historical precedent, since Elinor is the first Arab female combat soldier in IDF history.

Cpl. Elinor Joseph was born and raised in an integrated neighborhood of Jews and Arabs in Haifa, but attended a school in which all her classmates were Arab. She later moved to Wadi Nisnas, an Arab neighborhood where she currently lives. Despite the fact that she would always wear her father's IDF dog-tag around her neck from when he served in the Paratrooper's Unit, she never thought she would enlist. "I wanted to go abroad to study medicine and never come back," she said. To her father it was clear that she would enlist in the IDF, as most citizens in Israel do. This was something that worried her very much. "I was scared to lose my friends because they objected to it. They told me they wouldn't speak to me. I was left alone."

Despite their opposition, she decided to move forward and enlist. She explained her motive: "I decided to go head-to-head, to check who my true friends are, to do something in life that I have never done before. I understood that it was most important to defend my friends, family, and country. I was born here." At the end of the day, she says she realized it was the right thing to do, "With time, when you do things from the heart, you begin to understand their importance."

"I might as well go the whole way"

Unlike most teenagers in Israel, Elinor did not undergo any kind of special preparations for her recruitment. Other than listening to some of her father's combat stories and speaking to an IDF officer who helps minorities with enlistment, she didn't know what she was getting herself into. She came to the Reception and Placement Base, known in IDF slang as the Bakum, and requested to be a combat medic because she decided, "If I enlist, I might as well go the whole way. I thought my father would absolve me from it, but it didn't happen." Despite her will to be in combat service, the response to Elinor was otherwise. "The placement officer laughed in my face and said I was too delicate. I started to cry," she remembers.   

After fighting to receive a high enough medical categorization in order to be placed in a combat position, and following many attempts to persuade the placement officer, Elinor was informed she would be a combat soldier. She remembers that upon arrival to the Reception and Placement Base, "It was the first time I saw my father cry. But then they told me I wouldn't be a combat soldier, so I cried again." She says she came to Basic Training not understanding what was going on around her, "I had no preparation so I really didn't understand what it meant to stand at attention, or to salute my commander or even stand in formation." Despite initial shock and disappointment that she wouldn't be in a combat unit, she decided to take a positive perspective and be the best soldier that she could be. "I didn't want to disappoint those that supported me. I decided that if I am volunteering, I would need to prove myself and be an exemplary soldier, and I succeeded. In the end, I ended up enjoying it."

The fact that Elinor is a Christian Arab did not escape the attention of the girls around her. Her accent was the first thing that gave her away. "In the beginning everyone thought I was Argentinean. When they found out the truth, they were surprised," she says.

"I treated all the people in the same manner, because we are all human"

After her basic training, Elinor went to a training base for a medic's training course, where she was selected as the outstanding soldier of the course and received her commander's personal pin. After the course, she was assigned to be a medic within the military police at the Qalqilya crossing. "I enjoyed it there. I liked the people and thanks to my blue beret (that of military police) nobody wanted to sit next to me in the bus so I always had a large place to sleep", she laughs. The difficult dilemma she felt in serving at a border crossing was not easy for her but she said during moments of difficulty and misgiving she would remember, "there was a Katyusha [rocket] that fell near my house and also hurt Arabs. If someone would tell me that serving in the IDF means killing Arabs, I remind them that Arabs also kill Arabs."

"I treated all the people at the checkpoints in the same manner, because we are all human. For this reason, no one reacted to me in a negative manner, and to tell the truth, that surprised me." Elinor's presence also helped change people's perceptions, "People knew I was there and that I wouldn't hold my tongue if need be, so they had a constant reminder to treat the Palestinians well. But really, their treatment was always full of respect." 

Despite enjoying her service, the amount of responsibility given to her did not satisfy her, and she wanted to contribute more. After many discussions with a colonel in the Northern Command and with a senior officer in the Human Resources Branch who warned her that a military promotion would not be transferable to a combat role, Elinor was not convinced and tried out to be selected to serve in the Karakal Battalion. "When I said to my commander that I was accepted, he just turned around and walked away because he had wanted me to stay."

Identity issues

Elinor returned to the Intake and Sorting Base, but this time she received the red combat boots that she had been dreaming of. The beginning wasn't easy for her. "In the beginning I missed being in the military police.  The relations with people there were very different because I knew them not only in a personal but also in a medical way, and this creates a very intimate connection with people, this is a different relationship. But then I realized I was now in a new place. I got to know people little by little and now I really love them all".

Within the frameworks of her military service in general and of her combat training in particular, emphasis was always laid on the Jewish identity of the country in many ethical activities and in the general message that was passed on to the soldiers. This did not deter her. "I know I am part of the Jewish state's army and therefore when we speak about that I listen and learn. I got used to it and I respect it, although I do not delve too much into the country's identity – I have my own identity and I will respect that of the country".

Right now, after finishing her training, she says wholeheartedly that she does not regret any of her choices. "I sometimes wondered what would have happened if I had studied abroad as planned, but I understand that I was not as experienced and responsible then as I am now. It is a satisfaction to complete challenging things. I feel that in the army I matured a lot and became more responsible than I used to be". She also feels satisfied from the respect she gained from the others. "Although everybody is surprised in the beginning I have always been respected, not just me but also my customs and my religion.  Nobody ever disturbed me. I feel a lot of serenity and support and somebody even opened a group about me on Facebook. My parents also are very proud of me, maybe a little bit too much."

"I believe in what I am doing"  

Elinor did not only create a change within the army but also among her friends. "I was surprised to find out that even the ones who refused to talk to me accepted my choice in the end. I know that some parents of young men are not so enthusiastic if they go out with me because of my military service, probably because of the fact that I am a combat soldier. There were also people who read things about me and reacted in a very hurtful manner, but I have learnt not to pay attention to it. I believe in what I am doing.  In my eyes, I am here for a mission".

Elinor believes that being a combat soldier means that she is granting all Israeli citizens, including Israeli Arabs like her parents, a better and quieter life. "At the end of the day, this will always be my home too", she says before expressing her thought that despite the conflict and difficulties, the hope for peace still exists. "I still believe that peace will come and faith creates reality".

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Goldstone report for the US and Britain?

Can the Goldstone report serve as a precedent for war crimes persecutions agains the British and Americans? Something tells me it will not happen. The real precedent is, "It's OK to dump on Israel. Leave the big boys alone." The U.N. has no special rapporteur for Afghanistan. There is no Committee on the Inalienable rights of the Taleban. There is no U.N. Secretariat Department overseeing the rights of Al-Qaeda.
Ami Isseroff



Leaks on mass civilian casualties in Afghanistan could form basis for Goldstone style prosecutions against American, Britain and other coalition countries.

This weekend's release of thousands of secret official files about coalition operations in Afghanistan paints a harrowing picture of the fog of war, most troubling of all of the accidental killings by British soldiers of hundreds of innocent civilians – revellers at wedding parties, kids in school buses, ordinary people going about their daily business who tragically found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Given that the Taliban systematically hides behind the civilian population this sort of thing is, of course, inevitable. Nonetheless, it is understandable that the revelations by Wikileaks have caused embarrassment to the governments of all the coalition countries.

But for those coalition countries in Europe – Britain first among them – who are currently cheerleading the passage of the Goldstone Report on Gaza through the United Nations, this is more than an embarrassment. In the light of Goldstone, it represents an outright threat to the security of their soldiers on the ground as well as to their national interests in international tribunals.

In my experience, the Mideast crowd at the British Foreign Office and its equivalents elsewhere in Europe tend to be a little on the slow side. So let me spell this out, so there is no ambiguity.

International laws, norms and procedures to a great extent operate on the basis of precedent. So when Britain and other European countries allowed the Arab dictatorships to push a report through the United Nations specifically designed to criminalize the Israeli military's attempts to deal with terrorists hiding behind a civilian population in Gaza, they simultaneously set a precedent for all countries, including their own.

Now that it has been revealed – via official documents – that British soldiers, for example, have been involved in exactly the same kind of operations against exactly the same kind of terror groups using exactly the same tactics and resulting in exactly the same kind of outcomes in terms of the loss of civilian lives, British soldiers and ministers could face exactly the same kind of censure and penalties as Israel.

This could range from the purely verbal assaults of the kind mounted by European governments during Operation Cast Lead, right up to prosecutions in international tribunals or through universal jurisdiction laws in countries around the world that have adopted them.

Of course, I am using Goldstone as both a concrete precedent in its own right, but also as a proxy for the whole panoply of terror-appeasement policies and norms that outfits such as the British Foreign Office have allowed to develop, or have actively supported, in the international community over decades.

The Foreign Office and its equivalents are thus proved not merely to have been engaged in the vilest of discriminatory hypocrisy over Israel, Goldstone and all that it represents, they are shown to have been deliberately and willfully allowing a depraved anti-Israeli agenda to take precedence over their own national interests.

I didn't realize that undermining one's own military or one's own national interests was what our diplomats were being paid to do. Perhaps they would care to comment?

The writer is director of international affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London. He is the author of A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel.

Viable Palestinian state by 2012 - Bernard Kouchner

Viable Palestinian state by 2012 - Bernard Kouchner
Published today (updated) 27/07/2010 13:33

A little less than three years after the International Donors' Conference for the Palestinian State, held in Paris on 17 December 2007, the Palestinians - despite numerous constraints and the absence, at this stage, of a political agreement - are laying the groundwork for their State under the leadership of Mr Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.
The international community and the European Union in particular have made strong contributions, but the principal merit goes to the Palestinians. They have reorganized their administrations, made their public finances transparent, and have achieved unquestionable results with respect to security and respect for the rule of law, which have been welcomed by the international community.
On 1 July I had the opportunity to reaffirm the following to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: France supports the creation of a viable, independent, democratic Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel by the first quarter of 2012, in accordance with the objective established by the Quartet in its communiqué of 19 March 2010.
To help achieve this objective and guarantee its credibility, our country supports the immediate establishment of the institutions of the future Palestinian state, in line with the spirit of the Paris Conference.
In this context, we considered it timely to move to a new level, in close coordination with the Palestinian National Authority, by upgrading the status of the General Delegation of Palestine in France.
This decision, applicable immediately, will have three consequences:
1) The General Delegation of Palestine will now be called the "Palestinian Mission."
2) The Palestinian Delegate-General will now be designated the "Palestinian Ambassador, Chief of Mission."
3) When he arrives at his post, the new "Palestinian Ambassador, Chief of Mission" will bear a letter from the president of the Palestinian Authority that will be presented to President Sarkozy during a presentation of credentials ceremony.
2010 must bring decisive progress on the road to peace. If we wait, we will diminish the chances for peace. The status quo benefits only extremists. The time has come to push aside agendas, resistance to change, and timidity to resolve a conflict whose consequences are not regional but global. France wants to hold a summit reviving the three tracks of the peace process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The parties must be encouraged to establish a timetable culminating, before the end of the year, in the signing of an agreement and the creation of a viable, democratic, modern Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.
We will continue to mobilize our efforts until the plan for establishing the Palestinian state comes to fruition. The Palestinians must be permitted to exercise their sovereignty within the framework of their state. This is what France, along with her EU partners, is striving for.

Bernard Kouchner is the French minister of foreign and European affairs.

I'll buy this - Join the BUYcott

Here's something everyone living outside Israel can do to fight BDS...

Ami Isseroff

Join the BUYcott

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement is becoming increasingly strident, using every conceivable tactic to delegitimise Israel in every forum. Academic, trade and industrial boycotts are called - often using tricks and lies that we are all sick of hearing.  Generally, the impact in economic terms is small. But often, the campaigns and counter-campaigns surrounding each proposed boycott generates so much publicity, that even unsuccessful campaigns generate significant damage to Israel's standing in the world court of public opinion.

Letters to the editor, to academic institutions or shop owners targeted, and all the "usual" activities are important.  But friends around the globe who have been faced with boycotts in their local communities have told me from personal experience that there is one tactic that has consistently proved a winner.  A Buycott. 

Wherever a boycott is announced or threatened, local supporters go out and BUY the product involved.  They let their friends know and ask them to help.  And then they let the store owners know how pleased you were with the purchase. And after the boycott has failed, go back and buy again.  Make the boycott a long term a bonus for the store and for Israel!

Faced with failure, Palestinians have resorted to exaggeration and barefaced lies to encourage their activists around the world to keep up the program.

Here's the latest example from the 
Palestinian Maan News Agency, which reports a claim by the Palestinian responsible , Omer Qabaha, that one such success of his BDS activities is that the Israeli dairy Tara has moved its manufacturing plant from "occupied" Katzrin in the Golan Heights.

So I checked, and got the following reply:

Dear David,

Tara has no factory on the Golan Heights and there were never any products marketed under the name Tara processed at the dairy processing plant on the Golan
Shabbat Shalom

Ralph Ginsberg
Israel Dairy Board

So there! 

Join in a successful campaign for Israel!   Ask your stores to stock Israeli products, look for them, buy them, talk about them and encourage your friends to buy them.  If you are in business, look for ways to promote Israeli products in your product range or include them in your manufacturing processes.  If you need a starting point, I would be pleased to help you source Israeli inputs.  Then, if you are really lucky, someone will declare a boycott and help promote your business.

David Frankfurter

Survey: Israel is the happiest country in the Middle East, eighth in the world

As reported in Forbes, a recent Gallup poll found Israel tied for 8th place with three other countries as happiest country in the world. Denmark was first. Israel is the second happiest country in Asia, and the  happiest country among those surveyed in the Middle East. Though the study concluded that money can buy happiness, oil-rich Arab Sheikhdoms did not register very high scores. Despite soaring per capita GDPs, Kuwait ranked 23 and Qatar ranked 35.  
"Quantifying happiness isn't an easy task. Researchers at the Gallup World  Poll went about it by surveying thousands of respondents in 155 countries, between 2005 and 2009, in order to measure two types of well-being.

First they asked subjects to reflect on their overall satisfaction with their lives, and ranked their answers using a "life evaluation" score from 1 to 10. Then they asked questions about how each subject had felt the previous day. Those answers allowed researchers to score their "daily experiences"--things like whether they felt well-rested, respected, free of pain and intellectually engaged. Subjects that reported high scores were considered "thriving." The percentage of thriving individuals in each country determined our rankings."

(by % Thriving)
Country Region Percent
1 Denmark Europe 82 17 1 7.9
2 Finland Europe 75 23 2 7.8
3 Norway Europe 69 31 0 7.9
4 Sweden Europe 68 30 2 7.9
4 Netherlands Europe 68 32 1 7.7
6 Costa Rica Americas 63 35 2 8.1
6 New Zealand Asia 63 35 2 7.6
8 Canada Americas 62 36 2 7.6
8 Israel Asia 62 35 3 6.4
8 Australia Asia 62 35 3 7.5
8 Switzerland Europe 62 36 2 7.6
12 Panama Americas 58 39 3 8.4
12 Brazil Americas 58 40 2 7.5
14 United States Americas 57 40 3 7.3
14 Austria Europe 57 40 3 7.7
16 Belgium Europe 56 41 3 7.3
17 United Kingdom Europe 54 44 2 7.4
18 Mexico Americas 52 43 5 7.7
18 Turkmenistan Asia 52 47 1 7.5
20 United Arab Emirates Asia 51 48 1 7.7
21 Venezuela Americas 50 48 2 8.0
22 Ireland Europe 49 49 2 7.5
23 Puerto Rico Americas 47 45 8 7.6
23 Kuwait Asia 47 50 3 7.0
23 Iceland Europe 47 49 4 8.2
26 Colombia Americas 46 47 7 7.7
26 Jamaica Americas 46 49 5 7.7
28 Cyprus Asia 45 50 5 6.6
28 Luxembourg Europe 45 54 1 7.3
30 Trinidad and Tobago Americas 44 51 5 7.9
30 Argentina Americas 44 50 6 7.8
30 Belize Americas 44 50 6 6.8
33 Germany Europe 43 50 7 7.4
34 El Salvador Americas 42 51 7 7.7
35 Chile Americas 41 52 7 7.3
35 Uruguay Americas 41 54 5 7.5
35 Qatar Asia 41 58 1 6.8
38 Guatemala Americas 40 50 10 7.7
38 Malta Europe 40 48 12 6.6
40 Czech Republic Europe 39 51 9 6.6
40 Italy Europe 39 54 7 7.1
42 Honduras Americas 37 49 14 7.5
43 Spain Europe 36 58 6 7.0
44 Dominican Republic Americas 35 54 11 7.3
44 France Europe 35 60 6 7.0
46 Bolivia Americas 34 59 7 7.0
46 Ecuador Americas 34 52 15 7.6
48 Paraguay Americas 32 59 9 8.3
48 Bahrain Asia 32 45 23 7.0
50 Guyana Americas 31 64 5 7.0
50 Greece Europe 31 57 11 7.0
52 Nicaragua Americas 30 53 17 7.4
52 Jordan Asia 30 61 8 6.7
54 Belarus Europe 29 59 12 6.5
54 Kosovo Europe 29 65 6 6.2
56 South Korea Asia 28 61 12 6.9
56 Poland Europe 28 61 10 7.1
58 Saudi Arabia Asia 27 69 3 6.7
58 Pakistan Asia 27 50 23 6.2
58 Slovenia Europe 27 57 16 6.8
61 Croatia Europe 26 60 14 6.2
61 Montenegro Europe 26 58 16 6.2
63 Malawi Africa 25 64 10 8.0
63 Peru Americas 25 65 11 7.2
63 Moldova Europe 25 62 13 6.1
63 Lithuania Europe 25 57 18 6.2
67 Libya* Africa 24 68 8 6.0
67 Botswana Africa 24 65 11 7.3
67 Cuba* Americas 24 66 11 6.7
70 Kazakhstan Asia 22 72 6 7.2
70 Taiwan Asia 22 64 14 7.5
70 Portugal Europe 22 61 17 7.1
73 South Africa Africa 21 71 8 7.3
73 Lebanon Asia 21 64 15 6.3
73 Russia Europe 21 57 22 7.0
73 Ukraine Europe 21 53 26 6.6
73 Romania Europe 21 56 23 6.6
73 Slovakia Europe 21 60 19 6.5
79 Thailand Asia 20 75 5 8.0
79 Bosnia and Herzegovina Europe 20 59 20 6.2
81 Iran Asia 19 66 14 6.3
81 Hong Kong Asia 19 65 16 7.1
81 Singapore Asia 19 75 6 6.9
81 Japan Asia 19 69 12 7.4
85 Somaliland Africa 18 77 5 7.1
85 Algeria Africa 18 77 6 6.7
85 Nigeria Africa 18 78 4 7.3
85 Uzbekistan Asia 18 75 6 7.8
85 Indonesia Asia 18 72 10 8.2
90 Estonia Europe 17 62 21 6.8
91 Myanmar* Asia 16 82 2 7.1
91 Bangladesh Asia 16 71 13 6.9
91 Serbia Europe 16 63 21 6.2
94 Malaysia Asia 15 80 5 8.1
94 Philippines Asia 15 68 18 7.2
96 Cameroon Africa 14 77 9 7.0
96 Tunisia Africa 14 77 9 6.8
96 Zambia Africa 14 78 8 7.6
96 Yemen Asia 14 62 24 6.3
96 Vietnam Asia 14 76 10 6.9
96 Palestinian Territories Asia 14 70 15 5.8
96 Macedonia Europe 14 54 32 6.8
103 Turkey Asia 13 67 20 6.0
103 Kyrgyzstan Asia 13 81 7 7.3
103 Azerbaijan Asia 13 70 17 6.6
103 Hungary Europe 13 53 34 6.9
103 Albania Europe 13 67 19 5.6
108 Central African Republic Africa 12 75 13 6.4
108 Ethiopia Africa 12 67 21 6.4
110 Namibia Africa 11 79 10 8.1
110 Angola Africa 11 81 8 6.8
110 Armenia Asia 11 55 33 5.9
110 Iraq Asia 11 71 18 5.2
110 Latvia Europe 11 64 25 6.5
115 Mozambique Africa 10 78 11 7.2
115 Egypt Africa 10 71 19 6.1
115 Mauritania Africa 10 83 7 7.2
115 Zimbabwe Africa 10 73 17 7.3
115 Morocco Africa 10 80 10 7.0
115 Sri Lanka Asia 10 66 24 6.9
115 India Asia 10 69 21 6.9
115 Syria Asia 10 66 24 6.8
115 Georgia Asia 10 56 35 6.2
115 Afghanistan Asia 10 69 21 6.2
125 Kenya Africa 9 78 13 7.5
125 Ghana Africa 9 83 8 7.5
125 China Asia 9 77 14 7.6
128 Congo (Brazzaville) Africa 8 73 20 6.9
128 Guinea Africa 8 89 3 7.1
130 Sudan Africa 7 81 12 7.4
130 Djibouti Africa 7 86 8 7.5
130 Madagascar Africa 7 84 10 7.0
130 Nepal Asia 7 82 11 7.4
130 Mongolia Asia 7 81 12 7.0
130 Laos Asia 7 89 4 7.1
130 Tajikistan Asia 7 74 19 6.5
137 Uganda Africa 6 71 23 6.8
137 Tanzania Africa 6 70 24 7.5
137 Senegal Africa 6 88 6 7.3
137 Bulgaria Europe 6 58 36 6.5
141 Chad Africa 5 88 7 7.1
141 Liberia Africa 5 90 5 6.7
141 Mali Africa 5 77 18 8.0
144 Ivory Coast Africa 4 84 12 7.2
144 Congo (Kinshasa) Africa 4 85 11 6.4
144 Benin Africa 4 80 16 6.7
144 Haiti Americas 4 60 35 6.2
148 Niger Africa 3 86 11 7.9
148 Rwanda Africa 3 75 22 7.8
148 Burkina Faso Africa 3 71 26 6.5
148 Sierra Leone Africa 3 74 23 6.3
148 Cambodia Asia 3 75 22 7.6
153 Comoros Africa 2 75 23 7.7
153 Burundi Africa 2 58 40 7.5
155 Togo Africa 1 67 31 5.0
Data: Gallup World Poll