con-text (kon'tekst) n. 1. the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specified word or passage and can influence its meaning or effect. 2. the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event or situation
Israel is a close ally of both Great Britain and the United States,
the only full democracy in the Middle East along with Iraq, and is under
constant fire from Iranian and Syrian-backed terrorist groups such as
Hamas and Hizbollah. Its very existence is threatened by the rise of a
nuclear-armed Iran, which has malevolently warned of another Holocaust.
Yet, the leader of the Liberal Democrats still thinks it's necessary to
demonise Israel, one of our only friends in the region. He's doing
everything but directly call Gaza an Israeli-administered concentration
In his statements, Clegg has drawn a dangerous and false parallel
between the Israelis and Islamist terrorist groups. For example he wrote
a piece for The Guardian in January 2009 entitled "We
Must Stop Arming Israel" condemning Israel's response to Hamas
attacks, and in effect calling for the EU to isolate and even sanction
Israel: . . ..
In June 2008, Israel's interior ministry approved construction of an
additional 1,300 apartments in Ramat Shlomo.
Approved, yes. Or maybe (see below). But implemented? No.
On March 10, 2010, Israel's government approved construction of an
additional 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo.
The question is, were these two separate projects? Or one project that spent a few years in the pipeline for various reasons before being resubmitted?
When originally constructed in 1995-96, the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood consisted of more than 2,000 housing units. As of June, 2008, it hadn't grown, though the population was bursting at the seams. Most current reports say there are 2,200 - 2,300 units there today.
So it's clear that the 2008 plan to build 1,300 new apartments wasn't implemented. Upon closer examination, it appears that it was just an earlier version of the same plan that was approved last month.
Condi Rice slammed Israel over this plan in 2008, but it remained largely background noise. Why, then, did the Obama administration feel the need to take it on again, as if it was a new issue, and hammer it to death? With the so-called "pro-peace" groups cheering loudly in the stands?
This analysis of the March, 2010 construction approval posted by Americans for Peace Now notes that "the plan was originally for 1300- 1400 units (although it erroneously
appears on the Municipal computer as 650 units)." The report references Plan number 11085. Ditto this report from Eyes on the Ground (Settlement Watch East Jerusalem). The latter post includes this map, with the area slated for expansion in red.
And here's a slide show prepared by Ir Amim, an Israeli group basically dedicated to promoting the palestinian narrative on Jerusalem (their funding sources, according to NGO Watch, include the Ford Foundation, the New Israel Fund and several European governments). Jerusalem Settlement Presentation - July 10, 2008
This presentation was last updated July 10, 2008. The page above reports that as of that date the building plan was awaiting deposit for public view before the regional planning board. The plan for Ramat Shlomo consisted of 1300 housing units designated Plan 11094 and an additional 660 units designated Plan 11085. (Various reports from around that time indicate that the community had requested an additional 2000 units but that only 1300 were approved.)
The sliver of Ramat Shlomo highlighted for expansion here in 2008 is exactly the same as that highlighted in the Settlement Watch report for expansion in 2010. Same area, same units, same plan number (although there's some confusion as to which part of the plan which number refers to).
A recent report in Ha'aretz also implies the projects are one and the same, but this one doesn't add up. A few days after Biden's visit last month, Akiva Elder wrote this rambling exposé of alleged conflicts and undue influence within the Jerusalem municipal planning process. In it, he claims that plans for expansion of Ramat Shlomo (among other projects) were "shelved" by the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee, first in 2006 and then again on June 10, 2008.
From that time until the visit of U.S. Vice President
Joe Biden, the plan went back and forth between the municipal engineer
and the district planner. The committee not only upended ties with the
United States; it upended the decision of June 2008.
It's tough to square this report with the Interior Ministry's announcement on June 13, 2008, that 1,300 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo had been approved or the reaction of the U.S. State Department to that announcement. It seems that Elder is off the mark here, and I can't find any corroboration of or response to this report anywhere.
In any case, it's pretty clear that the construction never went forward, and that the decision that raised the ruckus last month was of nothing more than a revised version of the same old plan. Surely Obama and Clinton knew this. Yet another factor pointing to the contrived nature of the "outrage" and "insult" over pretty much nothing.
What is it about the building of new homes in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Ramat Shlomo that makes it such a powerful magnet for hyperbole and misinformation? And why isn't there clearer and more accurate information available?
After reading this NYT op-ed by Yossi Alpher last week, my frustration reached some sort of critical mass. The main thrust of his argument, for those who aren't registered at the Times, is that a disturbing lurch to the right has prevented Israel from taking advantage of the many opportunities for true and lasting peace that have been offered by her magnanimous neighbors, including Syria and the Palestinian Authority. Seriously.
Of course Israel does have real enemies. Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah
present growing existential threats to the Israeli public. But the right
wing's hard-line stance leads the government to ignore genuine
opportunities for progress toward peace, such as the successful
state-building enterprise of the Palestinian Authority's prime minister,
Salam Fayyad, in the West Bank, or Syria's repeated offers to renew a
peace process that could, if successful, strike a blow against Iran and
Ludicrous as this proposition is, I want to back up to what Alpher had to say in the preceding paragraph about Ramat Shlomo, because that's the focus of this post.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition almost seems programmed to
provoke. .. . Housing is in the hands of Shas, a party based in the
low-income Sephardic Orthodox community -- hence the housing construction
in places like Ramat Shlomo in East [sic] Jerusalem, where land is cheap.
Some people, given the distorted media coverage of this issue, may actually be unaware that the housing construction in Ramat Shlomo was not started under Netanyahu's watch, but Yossi Alpher isn't one of them. He knows full well that building in the community was started in 1993. The Prime Minister was Yitzhak Rabin (Labor). The Housing Minister was Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor). 2,000 units were built, and the population of the town grew to 16,000 people.
In 2008, an additional 1,300 housing units were approved in Ramat Shlomo. The Prime Minister was Ehud Olmert (Kadima). The Housing Minister was Zeev Boim (Kadima). I must, in fairness, point out that the Bush administration responded badly.
The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, yesterday accused Israel of
undermining peace talks as Israel announced plans to build thousands
more homes in settlements in east Jerusalem.
Upon arrival in Jerusalem to help the faltering peace talks, Rice
expressed her frustration at the Israeli housing ministry announcement
of plans to build 1,300 more homes in Ramat Shlomo, a settlement on
Palestinian land in east Jerusalem which was captured in the 1967 war.
The more things change?
So we have here a policy and a plan that was started under a Labor government headed by Rabin and approved for expansion under a Kadima government headed by Olmert. But Yossi Alpher deems the latest iteration of that same expansion as evidence of "a reshaping of Israeli society that has fortified right-wing designs on
the West Bank and strengthened resistance to a peace agreement."
Utter nonsense. This sort of irrational and non-reality-based demonizing of the right, by all and any means at hand, ought to be of concern to those on the left and in the center as well as those who are targeted. It doesn't bode well for a peaceful resolution of anything at any time soon.
But I have a question, which I'll address in part 2 of this post. What about those 1,300 housing units in Ramat Shlomo that were approved in 2008? Were they ever built? Or are they more or less the same units that were approved at a different level last month? The evidence I've found suggests the latter. Stay tuned.
It's still not getting much attention, but that letter from the Senate to Secretary Clinton urging the Obama administration (among other things) "to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds that tie the United States and Israel together and to diligently work to defuse current tensions" now has 76 signatures.
I take it personally: Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wants to
murder me, my family and my people. Day in, day out, he announces the
imminent demise of the "Zionist regime," by which he means Israel. And
day in, day out, his scientists and technicians are advancing toward the
atomic weaponry that will enable him to bring this about.
. . . Had [Hitler] been stopped before the invasion of Poland and the start of World
War II, the lives of many millions, Jews and Gentiles, would have been
saved. But he wasn't.
And it doesn't look like Ahmadinejad will be either. Not by the United
States and the international community, at any rate. President Obama,
when not obsessing over the fate of the ever- aggrieved Palestinians of
the West Bank and Gaza Strip, proposes to halt Ahmadinejad's nuclear
program by means of international sanctions. But here's the paradox: The
wider Obama casts his net to mobilize as many of the world's key
players as he can, the weaker the sanctions and the more remote their
implementation. . . .
You'd think this was one of those "hard line" Israelis writing this, wouldn't you? He goes on to call Obama's refusal to allow Israel to launch a preemptive strike against Iran's nukes while his own administration has taken any meaningful deterrent off the table "immoral." Harsh words.
. . . The problem is that even if severe sanctions are imposed, they
likely won't have time to have serious effect before Iran succeeds at
making a bomb.
Obama is, no doubt, well aware of this asymmetric timetable. Which
makes his prohibition against an Israeli preemptive strike all the more
immoral. He knows that any sanctions he manages to orchestrate will not
stop the Iranians. (Indeed, Ahmadinejad last week said sanctions would
only fortify Iran's resolve and consolidate its technological prowess.)
Obama is effectively denying Israel the right to self-defense when it is
not his, or America's, life that is on the line.
Ain't that the truth?
The American veto may ultimately consign millions of Israelis, including
me and my family, to a premature death and Israel to politicide. It
would then be comparable to Britain and France's veto in the fall of
1938 of the Czechs defending their territorial integrity against their
rapacious Nazi neighbors. Within six months, Czechoslovakia was gobbled
up by Germany.
But will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu follow in Czech
President Edvard Benes' footsteps? Will he allow an American veto to
override Israel's existential interests? And can Israel go it alone,
without an American green (or even yellow) light, without American
political cover and overflight permissions and additional American
The overwhelming consensus seems to be no. But this apparent hard-liner has other ideas.
An Israeli attack might harm U.S. interests and disrupt international
oil supplies (though I doubt it would cause direct attacks on U.S.
installations, troops or vessels). But, from the Israeli perspective,
these are necessarily marginal considerations when compared with the
mortal hurt Israel and Israelis would suffer from an Iranian nuclear
attack. Netanyahu's calculations will, in the end, be governed by his
perception of Israel's existential imperatives. And the clock is
Benny Morris used to be a darling of the anti-"occupation," post-Zionist Israeli left. Lately, not so much. Now he's even accused of making Islamophobic and racist statements towards Arabs and Muslims. He says his positions haven't really undergone any radical transformation and that people have misinterpreted his intentions. Maybe. His post-Zionist credentials were pretty convincing, though. But he continues to surprise. In a good way. He doesn't sound like much of a post-Zionist in this op-ed.
In an unprecedented open letter to President Obama, Ronald Lauder,
the President of the World Jewish Congress asks
the President to stop his public feud with the State of Israel and
start dealing with real issues like a nuclear Iran.
In a letter that will be published tomorrow in the Wall Street
Journal and the Washington Post, Mr. Lauder takes the bold step of
standing up for Israel and the Jewish people. With tension growing
between the Obama White House and the government of Israel, this is the
first time the World Jewish Congress has publicly challenged the conduct of American
foreign policy toward Israel. The concerns and questions raised in Mr.
Lauder's letter represent a respectful, but very troubling, expression
of anxiety about the diplomatic confrontation the Obama Administration
seems set on seeking with Israel.
Watch for it.
The World Jewish Congress' unprecedented decision to "go public" with its
concerns about the Obama Administration indicates that growing friction
between the Obama Administration and Israel continues to cause real
anxiety in the Jewish community. This is in line with the soon to be
released McLaughlin poll which shows that among Jews who originally
voted for Obama only 42% would vote for him again.
President Obama's policy choices to date are wreaking havoc on the brand
that Democrats cultivated carefully over the past twenty years. Bill
Clinton worked long and hard to make it so that voters could say "fiscal
conservative" and "Democrat" in the same sentence, but voters are
finding it difficult to say that again.
Unfortunately, voters have been finding it difficult to say "fiscal conservative" and "Republican" in the same sentence as well. But that could be changing. The prognosis:
If brand damage is truly seeping over into Congressional races - and the
polling suggests it is - then the Democrats are in very, very deep
trouble this election. There is a very real risk that they could be
left with nothing more than Obama's base among young, liberal, and
minority voters, which is packed into relatively few Congressional
districts. It would be the Dukakis map transformed onto the
Congressional level, minus the support in Appalachia.
PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' favorable rating of the Democratic Party
dropped to 41% in a late March USA Today/Gallup poll, the
lowest point in the 18-year history of this measure. Favorable
impressions of the Republican Party are now at 42%, thus closing the gap
between the two parties' images that has prevailed for the past four
Better yet, look who's actually beating them by a smidge. Graphic!
In case you haven't heard (and judging by the MSM's disinterest, that's not a stretch), this letter to Secretary Clinton circulated through the House of Representatives last week.
We are writing to reaffirm our commitment to the
unbreakable bond that exists between our country and the State of Israel
and to express to you our deep concern over recent tension. In every
important relationship, there will be occasional misunderstandings and
Spearheaded by Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the original letter bears their signatures along with two other Democrat and two other Republican members of the House and has so far attracted a total of 333 signatures in that body. 163 of them are Democrats, so this is about as close to bi-partisan as it gets. Sadly, my Representative is not among them (good luck with that Senate campaign, Joe).
But that's not all. A second letter to Clinton is now circulating through the Senate. It contains similar language. Leading the charge on this one are Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). As of yesterday, 58 Senators had signed it, including 25 Democrats (among them, both of my Senators, so thank you for this one, Bob Casey and Arlen Specter!). I expect there will be more. [Late update: a/o 4/20, 76 Senators have signed, including 38 Democrats, plus Joe Lieberman (I), of course]
Media claims of Congressional indifference appear to have been premature. Unsurprisingly, the letters and their signatories are being vilified on the
hate sites and elsewhere (no links but not hard to find), so if your Senator or Congressman is among those who have signed, please let them know you appreciate their support. And if not, you might want to ask them why not.