February 2009 Archives

Best news in a while

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Ok, that's not saying much. But it's something.

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration has decided not to participate in a UN conference against racism dubbed 'Durban 2', which is scheduled to take place in Switzerland in April. A senior US official said the White House would announce its intention soon.

US President Barack Obama's administration sent two representatives to Geneva last week, where negotiations on a document leading the event were taking place. The administration hoped it would succeed in getting anti-Israeli references dropped from the document, which characterizes Israel as a racist and occupying nation.

While the US presence was warmly welcomed, the senior official said Friday that in the negotiations a bad document became worse.

In choosing to withdraw participation from the conference the US is following the lead of Israel and Canada, and a number of European countries are currently awaiting an official statement from the White House in order to declare their refusal to participate as well.

If you've been following Anne Bayefsky's reporting on the pathetic attempts of the US representatives to steer this conference away from blatant antisemitism, this comes as cautiously welcome news. I say "cautiously" because it's not a done deal yet. And I'm skeptical of anything coming out of the White House these days. But just yesterday Bayefsky laid out in very clear terms that we were headed into the deep weeds and the point of no return was rapidly approaching. Maybe someone actually listened.

According to the AP, the decision to withdraw is contingent upon a failure of the conference "to drop all references to Israel and its criticism of religion" in its final document. That's a bet I'd take.

Shabbat Shalom.

Choudhury attacked -- again

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This report from Sunita Paul is an update of her previous reports on the trials and tribulations of Bangladeshi pro-Israel Muslim journalist Shoaib Choudhury. As such, it contains a great deal of valuable background for those not familiar with his story and his mission.

This time not Islamists or religious fanatics, but, this time, our Hero and my brother and a loving brother of millions of people around the world, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is attacked by the very party cadres of Bangladesh Awami League, a party now in power in Bangladesh, which pretends to be following secularist ideology.

According to a Press Release, distributed by U.S. Peace activist Dr. Richard L Benkin and a tireless defender of Shoaib Choudhury, office of anti Jihadist newspaper, Weekly Blitz in Bangladesh came under attack on Sunday morning (February 22, 2009) by armed members of the ruling party in presence of law enforcing agencies. The team of thugs was led by one Shamim from DGFI (Military Intelligence).

The details are quite harrowing and starkly reveal how badly Bangladesh's attempts to achieve democracy continue to slide backwards.

At 10 a.m. Sunday, local time, internationally-acclaimed journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, was attacked as he was working in the office of his newspaper, Weekly Blitz, by 'a gang of thugs' claiming to be from Bangladesh's ruling Awami League. Choudhury is now under medical treatment for eye, neck, and other injuries suffered in the attack. The renewed violence marks the first against him since he was abducted by Bangladesh´s dreaded Rapid Action Battalion a year ago.

A large group led by one Shamim introducing himself to be an official of DGFI stormed Blitz premises and attacked newspaper staff until they found Choudhury. At that point, he said, 'they dragged me (and two staffs) into the street' where they beat them in broad daylight. They looted Blitz office and stole Shoaib Choudhury´s laptop with all his important information. As of this writing, the attackers continue to occupy the Blitz office and there is no sign of any action from the government in Dhaka.

Police were impassive and seemed intimidated when the attackers emphasized their party membership and accused him of being an agent of the Israeli Mossad. They later threatened to attack his home should Choudhury go to the police again.

A case has been lodged with Paltan Model Police Station. Case No. 65. Under section 143, 448, 323, 342, 384, 380, 227 and 506 of Bangladesh Penal Code. Police although claim to have already started searching for the culprits who were involved in this broad day crime, according to Weekly Blitz; there is no action from the police in arresting the culprits. Meanwhile, a number of culprits are continuing to give threat calls to Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and reminding him of not taking any legal action on Sunday's incident. They are saying, "You should know, Awami League is in power and we can do almost everything, whatever we want. You will be a dead man if you proceed."

Elements in the international community and governmental pressure from the U.S. have probably been the only thing standing between Shoaib Choudhury and a death sentence for the crime of attempting to attend a writers' peace conference in Tel Aviv in November, 2003. This resolve is constantly being tested, and the reported indifference (back in 2006) of Senator Obama to Shoaib's situation has surely been noted by and has no doubt encouraged those hoping to make him quietly disappear.

Let's disappoint them -- again.

Hello Bibi

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So it's official. Benjamin Netanyahu will be given first crack at forming the next Israeli government coalition under his leadership. It certainly seems that, should he succeed, Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beyteinu party will be at his side. Israel's three religious parties joined in the recommendation to President Peres to give Bibi the nod. And that coalition would give him 65 seats, enough to form a small, solidly right-wing, majority. Except on religious issues, that is, where the solidarity would take a hit.

Will Kadima join the Labor, Meretz and Arab parties in the opposition? Or will Livni cave and agree to join the 65 already in Bibi's camp? Will the religious parties and Lieberman be able to reconcile their differences? Or will the religious parties bolt, which could open the door for a 70 seat Likud-Israel Beyteinu-Kadima coalition?

However it turns out, it appears that Israel has learned the lessons the U.S. has not. Maybe that's because of the rockets' red glare, which we seem to forget, ignore or dismiss. Good for Israel. Too bad for us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Oh. Ooops.

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Newsflash.

Shimon Peres has now decided that the "disengagement" from Gaza was a mistake.

President Shimon Peres said Wednesday that he had erred in supporting Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

The revealing remarks come three years after Israel's evacuation of the volatile coastal strip which has since been seized by Hamas.

"Whatever will happen in the future, we shall not repeat the mistakes we made in leaving Gaza," Peres said in a question and answer session with a group of American Jewish leaders. "It should have been done otherwise. I was for leaving Gaza. I consider myself as one of the persons mistaken."

Three and a half years, almost to the day, but never mind.

I'm sure that the people who were physically torn from the homes they'd built with their own hands, the people who watched their gardens and their loved ones' graves being dug up, the people who lost their livelihood and still after three and a half years have no jobs and no permanent place to live, the people still living in Sderot and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai and those in Ashkelon and Beersheva who have endured the steady barrage of kassams ever since ... I'm just absolutely sure that all of those people are feeling much, much better to hear that their lives have been destroyed for a mistake.

On the other hand, at least Peres has finally admitted it. Olmert, the architect, not so much.

Beyond enough

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In the pre-election buzz, the Jerusalem Post had a very important editorial on Sunday called "Misguided Compassion." It said a lot of things that nobody wants to hear but that needed to be said.

This week's news cycle began with a flurry of rumors that a deal for the release of Gilad Schalit, a Hamas hostage for over 950 days, might shortly be wrapped up. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held an unusual Saturday night meeting to discuss Schalit and a Gaza cease-fire.

The troika met again prior to Sunday's cabinet meeting. Afterwards Barak updated President Shimon Peres on the Schalit-cease-fire negotiations between Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad and Egypt's Omar Suleiman. Peres will need to grant 1,000 pardons to the imprisoned terrorists who are reportedly to be exchanged for Schalit.

Of course, nothing has come of this. But the critical part of the piece is its attempt to bring some sober and reality-based reflection to the public perception of the horrible dilemma facing decision makers.

SCHALIT RUMORS touch an emotional nerve in the Israeli psyche every time they come to the fore. Hamas has hardheartedly refused to allow the Red Cross to visit him, so no one can credibly guarantee that he is alive and well.

Knowing what we know about Hamas's malice, the idea that our young soldier has been their hostage for so long fills Israelis with dread. We shudder to think about his physical and psychological well-being. So when Israelis deliberate what blood ransom to pay for our soldier's freedom, the quarrel takes place within Clal Yisrael - the House of Israel - where no one has a monopoly on compassion for Gilad and his parents, Aviva and Noam.

This is the first terrible prong and the one that no one wants to talk about. The "guarantees" that Gilad is alive, let alone well, are all empty and all rely upon trust of those who cannot and should not be trusted. How many Israeli soldiers have been returned from captivity well? How many have been returned alive?

But there's more.

WE LACK confirmed specifics, granted, but how is this deal different from the one Israel has been rejecting since June 25, 2006 - the day Palestinian gunmen violated our border, killed the forgotten Lt. Hanan Barak and St.-Sgt Pavel Slutsker, and took Schalit captive? Why do Israeli politicians speak in code about the "painful" price to be paid if the deal goes ahead? Don't they have the moral fiber to name names?

Do Olmert, Livni and Barak really intend to free Hamas's top West Bank terrorists? The masterminds of the Hebrew University and Sbarro bombings? The engineer of the Pessah massacre in Netanya? What will they say to those who risked their lives to capture these fiends in the first place?

Moreover, the troika purportedly plan to parlay Israel's capitulation to Hamas into another gesture to "help Abu Mazen," this time by freeing one of the main arsonists of the second intifada, Marwan Barghouti, and wiping away his culpability for the slayings of dozens of Israelis.

The second prong, the quantifiable price to be paid, truly boggles the mind. Especially in light of time that has passed since the same deal was supposedly offered. It goes without saying that the timing is suspect. No, "suspect" is way too kind a word.

Finally,

We all want Gilad Schalit back home. The question is one of price and consequence. Is it truly in keeping with Jewish compassion to purchase the freedom of one beloved captive at the almost certain cost of unleashing fresh acts of terrorism on our buses, in our cafes and malls, and on our roads - violence that would send many more innocents to their deaths?

And this is the most terrible of all, the future price, the price that can't be defined or quantified. How many more will die by these already bloody hands, how many more will be abducted and held, their families and friends and again the whole country in daily agony, because this tactic has been proven to work? Enough already.

But in the end, it really doesn't look as if there was ever really a deal in the offing. Once again, after succeeding in provoking Israeli leaders into public speculation about how far they will go, how low they will bend, and after all the demoralization that is always bound to accompany such speculation, Hamas appears to have changed the subject and removed Gilad Schalit from the equation. For now.

Again, enough. Far beyond enough.

Shabbat Shalom.

In honor of Tu B'Shvat

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Some wonderful photos of trees in Israel, from Arutz 7 and photographer Michelle Baruch.

A pomegranate tree budding near Jerusalem

Many more here.

Friday political rant

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I must get out of this habit. It's not a good way to end the week. The news, however, is not cooperating. So I'll make this short. (Ok, no, I guess I won't.)

President Obama stepped up pressure on Congress today to pass a massive economic stimulus bill, citing new unemployment numbers to charge that further delay is "inexcusable and irresponsible."

In remarks at an appearance to introduce a new Economic Recovery Advisory Board, Obama also stressed that his election in November gave him a mandate for change, and he endorsed the size, scope and priorities of the stimulus package -- now totaling more than $900 billion -- in the face of Republican opposition.

What's inexcusable and irresponsible is trying to ram through this unstimulating "stimulus" crap under cover of the economic crisis. As Charles Krauthammer so aptly put it in his op-ed today,

It's not just pages and pages of special-interest tax breaks, giveaways and protections, one of which would set off a ruinous Smoot-Hawley trade war. It's not just the waste, such as the $88.6 million for new construction for Milwaukee Public Schools, which, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have shrinking enrollment, 15 vacant schools and, quite logically, no plans for new construction.

It's the essential fraud of rushing through a bill in which the normal rules (committee hearings, finding revenue to pay for the programs) are suspended on the grounds that a national emergency requires an immediate job-creating stimulus -- and then throwing into it hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus, that Congress's own budget office says won't be spent until 2011 and beyond, and that are little more than the back-scratching, special-interest, lobby-driven parochialism that Obama came to Washington to abolish. He said.

And, by the way, where is the media outrage at the presdent playing the "politics of fear?" Sorry. That outrage is permanently Reserved For BUSH! At least for now.

As for this "mandate for change," it's quite unseemly how both Obama and Biden keep waving their election victory in everyone's face. "I won," is something you might expect to hear from a 12 year old who succeeded in being elected student council president after a particularly nasty campaign. Coming from a president of the United States, it's downright embarrassing. Obama won the election. And he won it by a healthy 7.2% margin. But 47% of the Americans who voted didn't opt for his brand of change. And like it our not, he's our president too. I didn't like this "mandate" talk when it came from President Bush and I like it even less now.

We still have an independent legislative branch in this country and each and every one of our representatives is entitled and expected to excercise his or her best judgment in the service of his or her constituents. They'd better keep it up, even in the face of presidential temper tantrums.

If Obama would start behaving a little more like a leader and a little less like a spoiled brat, he just might find a way to bring the folks in Washington together to figure out a solution that would actually help to steer us through this global and national crisis. So far, all I see is lots of bad ideas and even more money being thrown at them. It's not good. It's not hopeful. And it's not change that most of us can or should believe in.

Shabbat Shalom.

Interference

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On Sunday, Michael Totten posted this transcript of a talk he attended a few weeks ago given by Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh to a group of journalists in Israel. I didn't see the post until after I had returned home Monday afternoon ... from a talk given by Khaled Abu Toameh at the Jewish Federation in Philadelphia (co-sponsored by CAMERA, the JCRC and the Center for Israel and Overseas).

For the most part, the content was the same. But perhaps due to both the passage of time and the change of audience, there were differences. For the most part, I'm only going to summarize and comment on the things that weren't already covered in Totten's report, so I highly recommend reading it in its entirety.

A dominant theme of both talks was this: U.S. "engagement in the peace process," i.e., interference and meddling, has been detrimental both to the cause of peace and to the welfare of both Israelis and palestinians. How and why?

Well, first we brokered the Oslo accords and brought Arafat back, and with him a regime of terror, corruption and incitement. Then we gave him guns and money and media access. He used the guns for more terror, the money for more corruption, and the media for more incitement. So we gave him more guns and more money, which he used to suppress the very reformers we were supposed to be encouraging to emerge. Meanwhile, due to a combination of his suspect Western support and his misappropriation of the funds he'd been given, he lost the trust of his people. Into that breach, stepped Hamas with its charitable and medical and social services and its suicide bombing recruitment.

Then we pushed for democratic elections. What did Hamas do? It participated. It promised an end to the internal terror and corruption. It put a bunch of "good guys" on its list of candidates. Intellectuals, academics, etc. Fatah's list, meanwhile, was full of murderers and known corrupt politicians. And it was backed by the U.S. The kiss of death.

"Everyone knew Hamas was going to win except Condoleeza Rice," says Khaled. The Bush administration was clueless. He wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on the eve of the elections, in which, he says, he predicted the overwhelming Hamas victory. (But judge for yourself.)

In spite of the stunning Hamas victory, we continued to support Fatah. Again, the kiss of death, first because there was an overwhelming distrust of our motives and our influence and second because we were seen as trying to undermine the express will of the people in the very elections we had sponsored. The U.S. has no business, says Khaled, supporting the losers against the winners. By doing so, we helped to facilitate the "coup" in which Hamas threw Fatah out of Gaza altogether.

Khaled says the U.S. needs to butt out. Israelis and Palestinians understand each other much better than the U.S. understands either one. They're cousins, after all.

In addition to his frustration with international journalists and their utter refusal to report the truth of what they see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears, Khaled also expresses frustration with the Israeli government and its seeming inability to snatch victory from the jaws of ... victory (e.g., leaving Lebanon in 2006 before the job was finished, ditto with Gaza last month). Israeli politicians run on one platform and when they get elected they do the opposite, sometimes even adopting the very ideas they ran against (as did Rabin with Oslo and Sharon with the "disengagement."). They make the same mistakes, over and over, never learning. "Fool me once," he says,"shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." A lot Israelis, he continues, are willing to die for peace. He doesn't want to die for peace. He wants to live in peace.

An interesting highlight of Khaled's presentation here was his account of a two hour meeting he had with Barack Obama, sometime prior to the election. He didn't specify the date, but it was probably at least a year ago because he said he asked why he was scheulded for a one-on-one with this guy and was told he was going to be next president of the United States. He says Obama told him he had never before heard the things Khaled was telling him, about how American "engagement" was really received, about the corruption and misappropriation of funds by the PA, about the real reasons for the Hamas victory. He says Obama told him it sounded similar to things he had heard from his father about Kenya (when he was 10 years old?). And he advised Obama to listen to what people say in their own language. He says Obama took notes. I hope he remembers.

Khaled also talked about the persecution of Christians in the disputed territories. This is one of those well-documents facts that no one wants to write about. Before Oslo, he points out, Christians constituted 70% of the population of the city of Bethlehem. Today, they are less than 20% and the number continues to dwindle.

And he talked about Iran, saying that the threat it poses is not only the bomb and not only to Israel. The threat is to all moderate Arabs and Muslims, and they should be the ones leading a coalition against Iran and against radical Islam. Interesting.

I was particularly stuck, however, by a personal statement he made about his own experience and his own identity as a Muslim Arab living in Israel. He bought a house in a Jewish neighborhood near the Green Line, obtained a goverment mortgage and received a stipend for "strengthening Jerusalem." His daughters go to a Jewish school. He says he's "proud to be an Israeli citizen." And that he would rather live in Israel as a second class citizen (which he's quick to assure us he is not) than in Gaza or the West Bank as a first class citizen.

I reported on another local appearance by Khaled a few years ago. At the moment my older archives are still not officially up (honestly, I am going to take care of this in very short order) but here's a repost of most of it. I have a great deal of admiration for this man and for the courage he displays in speaking and writing his mind, at what is clearly considerable risk. He spends a great deal of his time in Gaza and Ramallah. And when he does speaking tours in the U.S., his audiences aren't always as uniformly friendly as the one on Monday nor, apparently, do they always hear (or think they hear) the same message. Hardly surprising.

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