Saturday, March 6, 2010

Objection, Your Honor: European Courts Placate Islamists.


by David J. Rusin

Even as Shari'a courts sprout up like mushrooms on UK soil, secular ones across Europe increasingly bend to an Islamist worldview.

Consider the phenomenon of exempting Muslims from the standard practice of rising before judges. In January, seven radicals on trial for shouting insults at British soldiers during a 2009 homecoming parade refused to stand when the judge entered — because, in the words of one of their lawyers, "it is a grave and cardinal sin to show respect in this way to anyone other than God himself." The response from Judge Carolyn Mellanby? Appeasement and more appeasement:

Eventually, a compromise was reached where they would enter the court after her during the trial, which is expected to last six days. The maximum penalty each of the men can receive is a £1,000 fine.

The defendants were given an extra 20 minutes on top of their lunch break to go to pray at a mosque a few minutes' walk away.

A separate "quiet" room has been set aside for their regular prayer intervals for the rest of the week.

Mellanby "said she did not wish to 'set a precedent' by charging them with contempt of court." Instead, it was the defendants themselves who apparently "set a precedent" here. Also of note: Five were convicted in the harassment case but went unpunished. Ordered to reimburse court costs only, the men gleefully declared that, as they are on welfare, taxpayers will foot the bill.

In the Netherlands, the bar association is leading the way to mollify Islamists. An appeals chamber of that organization recently overturned a reprimand of attorney Mohammed Enait, who had been censured because he does not rise for judges and dons an Islamic hat in court sessions. It ruled that he can remain seated and wear his head covering; as the article explains, the panel found that "his refusal to rise and his headgear are not meant to show contempt of court." (Be sure to read the humorous passage about Enait and his "secretaries" at the above link.)

Other events demonstrate the growing deference to Islam in Europe's courtrooms: A woman made history last summer by becoming the first in Denmark to testify while wearing a niqab. Earlier this year, Judge Cherie Blair, wife of Tony, drew fire for her leniency toward a British Muslim convicted of assault, to whom she said, "You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behavior." Finally, foot-washing basins have been installed in a German courthouse so Muslims can clean themselves before prayer; a spokesman justified the facility by "saying that in the past toilets have been stopped up with toilet paper and used for feet washing."

How drenching one's feet with toilet water advances cleanliness is unclear. Equally difficult to grasp is how Europe's legal establishment could think that this spate of accommodations will inspire anything but more and more outrageous demands from Islamists.


David J. Rusin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Islamic strategy.

The global Islamic jihad is threatening the entire free world, and it is succeeding, and we don’t even know what has hit us!  The West is sliding into Islamicization, because of a strategy outlined decades ago by the Islamic Brotherhood, which says: You set up your institutions, you then use the mores of your designated country to give you more and more, you Islamicize the country, and then you take it over.  The central point of this strategy is the demoralization caused by the intellectual confusion brought on by the psychological warfare, the essence of which is that the victims have no idea of what is being done to them. The West doesn’t get it, at all.  We must fight against their verbal fire – and realize that if our minds are enslaved, then our bodies will be next.


Just Open :

Friday, March 5, 2010

Syria – Another Obama Diplomatic Triumph.


Michael Freund

If you listened carefully this past week, you could almost hear the sound of champagne glasses clinking together loudly in Damascus, as Syrian President Bashar Assad undoubtedly raised a toast to celebrate Washington's latest act of groveling before his autocratic government. Just days after Assad's regime had engaged in a war of words with the Jewish state, threatening America's closest ally in the region, Barack Obama decided to respond by conferring upon him yet another undeserved diplomatic gift.

In a truly breathtaking display of weakness, the U.S. State Department indicated it was ramping up its "dialogue" with Assad and had agreed to send a high-level American diplomat – Undersecretary of State William Bums – to pay him a courtesy call in the Syrian capital. Incredibly, when asked about the matter last Friday at the daily State Department press briefing, spokesman Phillip J. Crowley told reporters that the Burns visit "reflects our growing interest in working constructively with Syria and the leaders of that country." Now isn't that sweet.

The Obama administration would like to "work constructively" with a government that is allied with Iran, supports Hamas and Hizbullah terrorists, and has aided the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq to do battle with American servicemen. Good luck with that one, Mr. Bums.

Indeed, it was just two weeks ago, on February 3, that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem made the following "constructive" comments to reporters: "Don't test the determination of Syria, Israelis. You know that war this time would move to your cities." Muallem's remarks raised eyebrows even among the Western press, with ABC News noting that, 'The threatening language implied Syria would be willing and able to target Israeli population centers with long-range missiles in a conflict. It was the first time such a threat had been made." But, that brazen act of intimidation on Syria's part barely seemed to register with the White House, which appears determined to rush headlong into a warm embrace with Muallem's boss.

Another compelling sign of the sea-change in American policy came last month. On a visit to Damascus, Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell reportedly notified Assad that a new American ambassador to Damascus would soon take up his post. This will mark the first time the U.S. is sending an ambassador to Syria since February 2005. At the time, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalled diplomat Margaret Scobey after the Syrian government allegedly ordered the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Now, five years later, all that is forgotten, as Washington intensifies its inexplicable romance with this brutal regime.

To be sure, one could argue it is in America's interests to attempt to pry Syria away from its Iranian allies, particularly in light of the mounting tension with Tehran over its nuclear program. And, there is no doubt that were Syria to change tack, and abandon its extremist policies, it would have a profound impact on the stability of the Middle East. That is precisely where Obama is making such a terrible and foolhardy mistake.

Attempts to woo Damascus into the so-called moderate Arab camp date back to the Clinton administration, and they have produced nothing but frustration and failure. Here is just one example: back in May 2003, Secretary of State Cohn Powell met with Assad and declared that Syria had promised to close the offices of terror groups such as Hamas which were operating in downtown Damascus. Nearly seven years later, that simple and very basic promise remains unfulfilled.

The fact is, Syria is firmly ensconced in the rejectionist camp and no amount of cozying up to Assad or kowtowing to his demands is going to change that. Moreover, the message Obama is sending is both hazardous and counterproductive, as Damascus has done nothing to deserve the gestures and attention that it is getting from Washington. If anything, the Syrians will see that they can persist with regional mischief-making while still reaping some handsome diplomatic rewards in the process.

Only a firm stance, which directly links American gestures to verifiable changes in Syrian behavior, can possibly hope to elicit any modification to Damascus's policies. But, such an approach does not currently appear to be in the offing. Instead, Assad and his cronies will continue to enjoy a good laugh at Obama's expense, as they surely marvel at how the last remaining superpower beats a hurried and ill-conceived path to their door. As for the rest of us, we can only look on in wonder and distress as America's position and role in the world are weakened still further. And, that, of course, is no laughing matter.



Michael Freund served as deputy director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office under Benjamin Netanyahu from 1996 to 1999.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Far From Home.


by Marina Benjamin


On the eve of the Iraqi elections, the daughter of Iraqi Jews mourns the destruction of Baghdad’s once-vibrant Jewish community

As Iraq’s March 7 election draws near, I can’t help reflecting on how far the Iraqi nation, now entrenched in factionalism, has departed from the commitment to multiculturalism so vital to its birth. “There is no meaning in the words Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the terminology of patriotism, there is simply a country called Iraq and all are Iraqis,” King Faisal proclaimed in 1921, soon after the British installed him as king. These were fine words, underscored by a constitution that granted all of Iraq’s indigenous minorities equal rights. But Faisal’s valiant experiment in diversity proved short-lived, as I know all too well—my own family was forced into exile in 1951, after the government decided to eject Iraqi Jews en masse from the country.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say my family exploded into exile, atomizing in the process. Some members landed in Israel, some in Iran, and some in North America; my immediate kin escaped first to India and then eventually to the United Kingdom. The dynamite involved was—as is ever the story with Jews—racial hatred, which played itself out in the Iraqi political arena as an inability to resolve escalating tensions between Arab Nationalism and Zionism.

My family was far from alone in being shattered. Iraq’s entire Jewish population—a community with roots in Mesopotamia that pre-date the birth of Islam by a millennium—was unceremoniously ejected from the country between 1950 and 1951. But first the Iraqi government had “denaturalized” the Jews, effectively making them refugees in their own land and rendering them defenseless against marauding gangs eager to harm Jews in a kind of skewed quid pro quo for the displacement of Palestinian Arabs.

 The improved security prevailing in Iraq over the last two years has resulted more from the increased deployment of U.S. troops known as “the surge” than from any deep rapprochement between the country’s religious and ethnic factions. Once the Americans leave, the security situation may quickly deteriorate. I am thankful that I managed to make it safely into Iraq and back home to London in 2004. At the time I was researching a memoir about my grandmother’s life in Baghdad. I felt compelled to go there, driven by a determination to visit the land of my ancestors and to find out whether any ghostly traces remained of my family’s past, or of the wider Jewish community that had so hastily departed, leaving jobs, homes, community property, and business concerns to their own uncertain fate.

I knew that Saddam Hussein had gone on a series of vengeful campaigns of property destruction in the 1970s and 1980s and that numerous synagogues had been razed. (Baghdad once boasted 65 synagogues, which were obliged by law to be less conspicuous along the city skyline than Baghdad’s mosques.) I also knew that the houses and riverside villas deserted by fleeing Jews in 1950 and 1951 had long ago been repossessed, bought on the cheap at government auctions held after liquidators had completed their inventories of frozen Jewish assets. Still, I’d heard that in the Old City one could find cigarette-shaped indentations in the doorposts of houses, to which mezuzahs, long ago pilfered for their silver, had once been nailed, and Stars of David ingeniously incorporated into a building’s brickwork: empty spaces and silent traces, hinting at prior occupancy.

I was to be disappointed in my quest for concrete evidence of Jewish habitation. The Old City is shaped like a clenched fist, with narrow streets and alleyways threading round endless turns that invariably lead you back to where you started. Along with my guide, I spent a day fruitlessly exploring; the old city was protective of its secrets. Not one mezuzah tray nor Star of David was in sight. As we hunted, I cursed my ignorance of my ancestral past and chastised myself for not interrogating elderly relatives about their lives in Baghdad when opportunity allowed. Now, of course, I see each spasm of self-reproach as a reminder of history’s propensity to slip from our grasp even as we cling to preserve it.

My day in the Old City was not entirely lost, however, in that my guide managed to locate the old, and now abandoned, Jewish Community Office on River Street, offering the Muslim caretaker a little baksheesh to smooth our way inside. We found two dusty rooms, each filled with a heap of upturned office furniture resembling a bonfire in waiting. Along the walls, bookcases with smashed glass doors housed ledger books documenting community business of various kinds. I pulled out one tattered and dusty volume, bound in peeling red leather, wanting to take a closer look, whereupon my guide explained, heartbreakingly, that the carefully scripted lists I found in its pages were logs of marriages in the community. By now the caretaker was leery of our unexplained presence and insisted that we leave.

What has since become of the ledgers and marriage registers is unclear, since current reports claim that only eight Jews are left in Iraq today, and no one else could conceivably have an interest in preserving them. When I visited in 2004, the Jews numbered 22, and none of them had visited the Community Office since a Palestinian gunman let loose a hail of bullets in the mid-1990s, killing two Jews and two Muslims before escaping into the crowded streets of the Old City.

Battered by years of persecution, followed by war, then sanctions, then more war, the Jews I found surviving in Baghdad were not the kind of people to mobilize and regroup, to insist on their rights, or to call to account the powers that be. They were anxious only to keep their heads down, so as not to attract unwanted attention, and to go about their business as quietly as possible. That business—insofar as it related to their faith—was to maintain religious observations at Baghdad’s last standing synagogue, the Meir Tweg Synagogue in Betaween, and to tend the Jewish cemetery in Sadr City, which had suffered bomb and fire damage in the fighting of 2003.

I visited both the synagogue and the cemetery when I was in Iraq. The former turned out to be a stupendously grand edifice; two stories high and occupying a full housing block; it had clearly been built to hold a substantial congregation. The central chamber, containing the ark and bimah, was hung with giant chandeliers, while thick Persian rugs lay on the pews. The ark once held the sum of Baghdad’s Torahs, each encased in carved silver, but on my visit there were only 13 scrolls left. The rest had been stolen in an impromptu raid by the secret police in the 1980s and most likely ended up among the haul of Jewish artifacts found by the allies in 2003—artifacts that had been left to languish in a sewage-filled basement at secret-police headquarters.

The cemetery was where I felt most at home in Iraq, surrounded by the silent and comforting presence of my ancestors. The brick tombs were being repaired with funds that came, circuitously, from the Jewish Agency, and their Hebrew engravings, many of which had been badly eroded, were being airbrushed, chemically fixed, and preserved. I presumed that my grandfather was likely buried there, though I quickly gave up trying to find his grave after I recalled that the Jews used to bury several bodies in vertical graves. Instead, I sat down beside an anonymous grave and wondered at the miracle that allowed a fragment of my heritage to remain.

The remaining Jews of Baghdad could not be said to constitute a community. They were merely a tiny remnant of a once-great people, and they now find themselves marooned in a sea of anti-Jewish hostility—isolated, frightened, and largely forgotten. Meeting and talking with them, I found it difficult to believe that Jewish people had joyfully thrived in Iraq. Even in the middle of the last century, when their number had fallen from an historic high of several million to just 150,000, Jews still made up one-third of the population of Baghdad.

The first half of the 20th century witnessed a Golden Age for Jews in Iraq, beginning when statehood granted them full citizenship instead of second-class, or dhimmi, status. Iraq’s Jews clamored to contribute to the country’s early political and cultural flowering. They took up seats in Parliament and advised Arab ministers. They populated the officer class in the army, served in the judiciary, and were particularly active members of Baghdad’s café society. The community produced novelists and poets who wrote in Arabic, founded literary magazines, and established intellectual salons. Iraqi Jews invented the classic musical form known as the Maqaam. They formed several orchestras. One of Iraq’s most popular singers, Selima Murad, was a Jew.

The tragedy is that, in the end, none of this history counted for anything. Up against a powerfully antagonistic political milieu, the community collapsed. The injury that compounds the tragedy is that even now Iraqis are engaged in erasing Jewish history, as if determined to pretend it never happened. Since 2003, Iraqi authorities have repeatedly promised to preserve and maintain the nation’s many Jewish shrines, including the tombs of Ezekiel, Ezra, Daniel, Nehemiah, Nahum, and Jonah. Yet nothing has been done. As for the most magnificent of these sacred sites, the carved tower that marks the tomb of Ezekiel at Al-Kifl, the Antiquities and Heritage Authority has announced that a huge mosque is to built there, and already Hebrew inscriptions and ornaments are being removed from the site as part of the “renovations.”

When I talked to Samir Shahrabani, one of Baghdad’s last Jews, he reflected soberly. “We have high tower in the desert,” he said. “Each day this tower sinks, one inch by one inch. One day we will have nothing. This is how we are.” He was talking metaphorically, of course, but in light of the plans to “renovate” the shrine of Ezekiel his words take on a sharper meaning. Today there are eight Jews left in Iraq. One day, in the not too distant future, there won’t be any.


Marina Benjamin, a journalist living in London, is the author of Last Days in Babylon, a memoir about her Iraqi grandmother and the lost Jewish community of Baghdad.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Bashar Assad: What you see is what you get.


by Jonathan Spyer

Syria's president is not a 'pragmatist' but fiercely anti-Israel, which is why efforts to lure him out of Iran's orbit aren't working.

In Damascus last week, the full array of leaders of the so-called "resistance bloc" sat down to a sumptuous meal together.

Presidents Ahmedinejad of Iran and Assad of Syria were there, alongside a beaming Khaled Mashaal of Hamas and Hizbullah General-Secretary Hassan Nasrallah. There were some lesser lights, too, to make up the numbers – including Ahmed Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a fossil from the old alphabet soup of secular Palestinian groups.

The mood – replicated a few days later in Teheran – was one of jubilant defiance.

The reasons underlying Syria's membership in the "resistance bloc" remain fiercely debated in western policy discussion. It has long been the view of a powerful element in Washington – strongly echoed by many in the Israeli defense establishment – that Syria constitutes the "weakest link" in the Iranian-led bloc.

Adherents to this view see the Syrian regime as concerned solely with power and its retention. Given, they say, that Syria's ties to the Iran-led bloc are pragmatic rather than ideological, the policy trick to be performed is finding the right incentive to make Damascus recalculate the costs and benefits of its position.

Once the appropriate incentive tips the balance, it is assumed, the regime in Damascus will coolly absent itself from the company of frothing ideologues on display in Damascus and Teheran last week, and will take up its position on the rival table – or at least at a point equidistant between them.

The specific incentive required to perform this trick varies depending on who you ask. In Israel, it is generally assumed that the recovery of the Golan Heights is the great prize. In this view, Syrian backing for Hizbullah and for Palestinian terror groups is intended to keep up the pressure on Israel, in order to force it to concede the Golan.

In Washington, one may hear a number of other incentives discussed – the removal of the Syria Accountability Act, US aid and investment, and so on.

The logic of all these positions depends on the basic characterization of the Assad regime as ultimately motivated purely by Machiavellian power interests. This characterization remains received wisdom in Israeli and US policy circles to a far greater extent than the evidence for it warrants.

Western wooing of Syria has undeniably produced remarkably little in terms of changing the regime's behavior. In recent weeks, the Obama administration increased the volume of its formerly cautious overtures to Damascus. Undersecretary of State William Burns visited Damascus, and attempted to raise the issue of Syrian support for insurgents in Iraq, and for Hizbullah and Palestinian terror groups. Assad, according to reports, denied all knowledge of such support.

The recently announced US decision to return an ambassador to Damascus was followed by the resistance jamboree in Damascus – in which Assad openly mocked US hopes for a Syrian "distancing" from Iran.

It has now been announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is considering a visit to Damascus.  In the meantime, Syria is gaily crashing through the red lines on its military support for Hizbullah. Sophisticated anti-aircraft equipment, such as the Russian-made Igla system, is rumored to be following the advanced surface-to-surface missiles and antitank systems supplied to the Lebanese terror group.

Which brings us back to the core question of Syrian motivation.  Clearly, the Syrians have a habit of swallowing incentives and giving nothing in return. But if the alignment with Iran is purely pragmatic, then why does it prove so difficult to offer Syria the right carrot to lure it away from Teheran?

There are two possible answers. The first and most obvious one is that Syria calculates, probably correctly, that since there will be no real price imposed on it for not changing its behavior, it can afford to maintain its current level of relations with Iran, while happily accepting any gestures from the west or Israel designed to induce it to change them.

But this explanation fails to account for the brazenness and fervor of Syria's current stance of defiance. The statements of individuals close to the Syrian regime in recent months suggest that there is more to the current Syrian stance than simply playing all sides off against the middle.

Rather, the Syrians believe that a profound restructuring of the balance of power is under way in the Middle East – to the benefit of the Iran-led bloc. This restructuring is being made possible because of the supposed long-term weakening of the US in the region.

This enables the aggressive, Islamist regime in Teheran to fill the vacuum. It also renders feasible policy options – such as direct confrontation with Israel – which in the 1990s seemed to have vanished forever.

The characterization of the young Syrian president and his regime as ultimately cool-headed and pragmatist is incorrect. The Damascus regime always held to a fiercely anti-Israeli and anti-American view of the region.

In the 1990s, realities appeared to require a practical sidelining of this view. But the 1990s were over a while ago.

Regimes like that of the Assads (and even semi-farcical figures like old Jibril and his PFLP-GC) are not anomalies in the alliance based on Iranian ambition and regional Islamist fervor. Rather, they are natural partners, sharing a base-level understanding of the region, common enemies, and a common, brutal approach to asserting their interests.

It is for this core reason that attempts to prise Bashar Assad away from his natural habitat will continue to prove fruitless.

Jonathan Spyer is senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Biden's lost cause.


by Caroline B. Glick

US Vice President Joseph Biden's job is about to stop being easy. Indeed, it is about to become impossible.

On Monday Biden will arrive in Israel for a three-day visit. Biden, who will meet with Israel's leaders, will be the most senior official in the cavalcade of senior US officials that have descended on Israel in recent weeks. Biden will replace Senator John Kerry, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who was here this week. Kerry himself replaced Adm. Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was here two weeks ago.

In his press conference in Jerusalem on Monday, Kerry explained the purpose of these visits. As he put it, "…I am here and other people were here and Vice President Biden is coming shortly… to make sure we are all on the same page and that we are all clear about [Iran]."

Although Biden is just the latest senior US official to visit Israel to try to coerce the government not to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, his visit is novel in one respect. In addition to his meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the rest of Israel's senior officials, Biden intends to make a case for the Obama administration's policies towards Iran, the Palestinians and Israel directly to the Israeli public. During his trip he will give what is being billed as a major policy speech at Tel Aviv University.

In light of the gaping disparity between the Obama administration's policies and those of the Israeli government, the apparent goal of Biden's address is to shore up the position of the Israeli Left as an alternative to Netanyahu. Apparently, the picture emerging from all of the senior US officials' meetings with Netanyahu is that Israel's leader still feels comfortable defying them. Presumably, they now believe that the only way to force him to toe their line is by making him believe that the price of defiance will be his premiership.

This of course is a difficult task. The Left after all was roundly defeated in last year's elections. Making it a credible alternative is no mean task.

The Israeli Left for its part is doing its best to tie its own fortunes to the administration. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni placed herself squarely in the Obama camp this week during her confrontation with Netanyahu at the Knesset. Belittling the results of last month's Gallup poll which showed that Israel enjoys the support of two-thirds of Americans, (and 80 percent of Republicans vs. 53 percent of Democrats), Livni blamed the premier for Israel's international standing. By not bowing to Obama's demands and ending all Jewish construction in Jerusalem and accepting the radical peace proposals she and former prime minister Ehud Olmert made to the Palestinians during their tenure in office, Livni claimed that Netanyahu is ruining Israel's diplomatic position in the US and throughout the world.

There is nothing new or surprising about Livni's use of the Obama administration's animosity towards the government as a means of positioning herself as an alternative to the government. And on the surface it makes sense for her to use it. After all, it was by building a partnership with the Clinton administration against Netanyahu the last time he was in power that the Israeli Left was able to bring down his government and win the 1999 elections.

The Left's hope of forming a coalition with Obama against Netanyahu was given its most explicit expression last July in an op-ed by Ha'aretz's editor-at-large Aluf Benn in the New York Times. After expressing his support for Obama's policies, Benn bemoaned the fact that due to Obama's low approval ratings among Israeli Jews, (at the time they stood at 6 percent and later plunged to 4 percent), it would be hard for him to convince the Israeli public to abandon its support for Netanyahu in favor of Obama's — that is the Israeli Left's — policies. To improve this dismal state of affairs, Benn suggested that Obama simply needs to make his case to the Israeli public, which "will surely listen," to him.

As far as Benn — and his fellow leftists were concerned — Obama's credibility problems redounded not to his policies, which the Left supports. Instead they owed to his failure to dazzle the Israeli people with the same rhetorical magic he used on the Arabs and the Europeans. It was Obama's tone, not his programs that needed to be improved.

In arguing thus, Benn, like Livni and their colleagues on the Left are acting on their memories of their glory days with the Clinton administration. As president, Bill Clinton was able to simultaneously embrace Yassir Arafat, and take down Netanyahu without anyone ever questioning his undying love for Israel and the Jews. And because of this, he became the hero of the Israeli Left which he swept back into power in 1999.

As the Left sees it, Clinton retained his reputation as the greatest friend Israel ever had in the White House, despite the fact that his policies were the most hostile policies the US had ever adopted towards Israel, because he knew how to charm the Israeli electorate. His frequent visits to Israel and his saccharine, lip-biting declarations of love for Rabin and Israel were all it took in their view to convince the public to reject the Right. If Obama would just repeat Clinton's practices, he too could bring down Netanyahu and convince the Israeli public to trust him.

When Benn's article was published his recommendation was shrugged off by the administration. So too, the White House rejected repeated requests from the local media for interviews with the President. Now however, with Obama's approval rates slipping and his Iran policy in tatters, the White House apparently decided that it needs to embark on a charm offensive in Israel to make Netanyahu more vulnerable to coercion.

Biden was selected as the man for the job because he is widely perceived as the most pro-Israel senior member of the administration. The fact that before becoming Vice President Biden had one of the most pro-Iran voting records in the Senate has done nothing to mitigate this perception. Indeed, despite the fact that Biden voted repeatedly against sanctions on Iran, claimed that Iran's quest for nuclear bombs was understandable and called for the US to sign a non-aggression pact with the mullocracy while threatening to move for George W. Bush's impeachment if he were to order a military strike against Iran's nuclear weapons programs, Biden continues to be viewed as a solid supporter of Israel.

And indeed, in line with this perception, he can be expected to declare his undying love for the Jewish state several times during his speech. Yet still, and sadly for the Israeli Left and for the Obama administration, his charm offensive will fail to get the girl. The most his visit is likely to yield is a momentary rise in support among Israelis that will quickly recede. And there are four reasons this is the case.

First, Obama himself is far weaker than Clinton was. His obsequious attempts to curry favor with the Arabs and Iran have been even more disturbing to Israelis than his refusal to visit the country. Moreover, unlike Clinton, who was popular with Israelis even before he was elected, Obama has never been popular in Israel. Part of this can perhaps be chalked up to timing. Clinton of course succeeded George H.W. Bush who was deeply unpopular in Israel. Obama replaced his son — who was regarded as a great friend of Israel.

Given Obama's weakness, it is hard to see how he can convince the Israeli public that he will be capable of protecting the country from a nuclear-armed Iran or that he can force the Palestinians and the Syrians to end their support of terror in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria or the Golan Heights.

Second, the Netanyahu Obama faces is not the Netanyahu Clinton faced in the 1990s. Today the premier leads a far broader coalition than he did in his previous government. It is also more stable. Labor Party chief Defense Minister Ehud Barak knows he cannot unseat Netanyahu. Indeed, he knows he can't even trust his party to continue supporting him if he leaves Netanyahu's government. As for opposition leader Tzipi Livni, the latest polls show her trailing far behind Netanyahu as the people's choice for prime minister. Her party's popularity rates are decreasing, Likud's are growing.

Third, there is the fact that today the Left does not control public opinion to the degree it did the last time Netanyahu was in power. During his first government, due in large part to the media's delegitimization of the Right in the wake of Rabin's assassination, the media was able to market the PLO as a credible peace partner for Israel. Yassir Arafat himself was portrayed by a popular television show as a sweet, peace loving sock puppet who only wanted to make peace with the craven, war mongering Netanyahu. Consequently it became socially unacceptable in polite circles for Israelis to admit that Arafat and the Palestinians were less than devoted to the notion of peaceful coexistence with Israel or that Netanyahu was right not to give up the store. So too, it was socially unacceptable in certain quarters to criticize Clinton who presented himself as Rabin's greatest friend. Today, people are far less embarrassed to make these claims.

This is the case of course, for the fourth reason that Biden will fail in his mission. In the 11 years since Netanyahu was forced from office, the Left's political platform has been discredited by events. Since 1999 the Palestinians — as well as the Lebanese — have demonstrated that the Left's appeasement policies are disastrous. The 1,500 Israelis who have been killed since then by the Palestinians and Hizbullah, the transformation of post-Israeli withdrawal southern Lebanon and Gaza into jihadist enclaves, the rise of Iran, and Fatah's open rejection of Israel's right to exist have all made the Left's policies unacceptable to a wide majority of Israelis.

The public's rejection of the Left's policies is so overwhelming that it has even rejected the Left's current central claim — namely that Israel will lose its Jewish majority if it abstains from surrendering Judea and Samaria. By a 53-28 percent margin, a Ha'aretz poll last month showed that Israelis do not believe that Israel's continued presence in the areas will lead to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

What all of this shows of course is that it will take much more than a change in tone for the Obama administration to win over the Israeli public. Indeed, Obama's open hostility towards Netanyahu has probably been a significant factor in shoring up the public's approval of his performance in office.

The Israeli public is not interested in a change of tone — from Obama or from the Israeli Left. It is interested in a change of policy. Until it gets it, the public will in all likelihood remain loyal to Netanyahu.

Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

How the Mubarak Regime Enables the Persecution of Egypt's Copts.


A briefing by Magdi Khalil

Magdi Khalil is an Egyptian-born human rights activist and prominent figure on Arabic media, such as Al Jazeera and Al Ahram. He is director of the Middle East Freedom Forum, an Egyptian think-tank that campaigns for human rights, secularism, and democracy. On February 26, Mr. Khalil addressed the Middle East Forum via conference call on the situation of Egypt's Copts.

If Islamists failed to terrorize America on Christmas Day, they amply succeeded in terrorizing the Copts, Egypt's indigenous Christian minority, when they shot and murdered six Copts leaving church after Christmas mass. But according to Mr. Khalil, not only are the Copts increasingly being persecuted by Islamists; the Mubarak regime increasingly scapegoats them in order to redirect public anger from its own corruption and onto the Copts, exasperating an already intolerable situation for Egypt's Christians. (Considering that Egypt bases its constitution on Shar'ia law, which mandates the subjugation of Christians, this is only to be expected.)

The result is a systematic program of public persecution and state discrimination, or what Mr. Khalil terms "state crimes" against the Copts. In fact, when it comes to religious freedom, Egypt ranks just behind nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

According to Mr. Khalil, Copts have suffered over 1,500 attacks and have lost millions of dollars worth of property. Yet they have received no compensation, as Islamists (who "always stick together") occupy prominent positions in law enforcement, the legislative council, and the intelligence services. Most tellingly, Coptic girls are frequently abducted, raped and forced to convert to Islam — yet not a single perpetrator has been prosecuted by the state.

Mr. Khalil affirmed that the Nag Hammadi massacre of six Copts on Christmas Eve was likely carried out with the sanction of state-security forces, as the police took several hours to arrive at the scene of the massacre, a phenomenon that occurs regularly whenever Copts contact the police due to Islamist attacks.

Despite all this, according to Mr. Khalil, hope for political reform in Egypt rests primarily in the Copts themselves, as they are by nature Egypt's foremost proponents of secularism and democracy, and better relate with the West and Israel.

Asked if Mubarak is the better of two evils — the other being the Brotherhood — Mr. Khalil asserted that there are several popular liberal reformers within Egypt, emphasizing that Mubarak uses the Brotherhood as a pretext vis-à-vis the West to justify his autocratic regime.

Mr. Khalil concluded his speech by calling on Americans and others to raise awareness of the Copts' dire situation and to support organizations such as his Middle East Freedom Forum, which campaigns for Copts to participate in Egyptian politics and works to promote human rights, democracy, and secularism for all.


Summary written by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


How About A Real Campaign Against Abuses?


by Alan M. Dershowitz


Every year at about this time, radical Islamic students -- aided by radical anti-Israel professors -- hold an event they call "Israel Apartheid Week." During this week, they try to persuade students on campuses around the world to demonize Israel as an apartheid regime. Most students seem to ignore the rantings of these extremists, but some naive students seem to take them seriously. Some pro-Israel and Jewish students claim that they are intimidated when they try to respond to these untruths. As one who strongly opposes any censorship, my solution is to fight bad speech with good speech, lies with truth and educational malpractice with real education.

Accordingly, I support a "Middle East Apartheid Education Week" to be held at universities throughout the world. It would be based on the universally accepted human rights principle of "the worst first." In other words, the worst forms of apartheid being practiced by Middle East nations and entities would be studied and exposed first. Then the apartheid practices of other countries would be studied in order of their seriousness and impact on vulnerable minorities.

Under this principle, the first country studied would be Saudi Arabia. That tyrannical kingdom practices gender apartheid to an extreme, relegating women to an extremely low status. Indeed, a prominent Saudi Imam recently issued a fatwa declaring that anyone who advocates women working alongside men or otherwise compromises with absolute gender apartheid is subject to execution. The Saudis also practice apartheid based on sexual orientation, executing and imprisoning gay and lesbian Saudis. Finally, Saudi Arabia openly practices religious apartheid. It has special roads for "Muslims only." It discriminates against Christians, refusing them the right to practice their religion openly. And needless to say, it doesn't allow Jews the right to live in Saudi Arabia, to own property or even (with limited exceptions) to enter the country. Now that's apartheid with a vengeance.

The second entity on any apartheid list would be Hamas, which is the de facto government of the Gaza Strip. Hamas too discriminates openly against women, gays, Christians. It permits no dissent, no free speech, and no freedom of religion.

Every single Middle East country practices these forms of apartheid to one degree or another. Consider the most "liberal" and pro-American nation in the area, namely Jordan. The Kingdom of Jordan, which the King himself admits is not a democracy, has a law on its books forbidding Jews from becoming citizens or owning land. Despite the efforts of its progressive Queen, women are still de facto subordinate in virtually all aspects of Jordanian life.

Iran, of course, practices no discrimination against gays, because its President has assured us that there are no gays in Iran. In Pakistan, Sikhs have been executed for refusing to convert to Islam, and throughout the Middle East, honor killings of women are practiced, often with a wink and a nod from the religious and secular authorities.

Every Muslim country in the Middle East has a single, established religion, namely Islam, and makes no pretense of affording religious equality to members of other faiths. That is a brief review of some, but certainly not all, apartheid practices in the Middle East.

Now let's turn to Israel. The secular Jewish state of Israel recognizes fully the rights of Christians and Muslims and prohibits any discrimination based on religion (except against Conservative and Reform Jews, but that's another story!) Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel (of which there are more than a million) have the right to vote and have elected members of the Knesset, some of whom even oppose Israel's right to exist. There is an Arab member of the Supreme Court, an Arab member of the Cabinet and numerous Israeli Arabs in important positions in businesses, universities and the cultural life of the nation. A couple of years ago I attended a concert at the Jerusalem YMCA at which Daniel Barrenboim conducted a mixed orchestra of Israeli and Palestinian musicians. There was a mixed audience of Israelis and Palestinians, and the man sitting next to me was an Israeli Arab, who is the culture minister of the State of Israel. Can anyone imagine that kind of concert having taking place in apartheid South Africa, or in apartheid Saudi Arabia?

There is complete freedom of dissent in Israel and it is practiced vigorously by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. And Israel is a vibrant democracy.

What is true of Israel proper, including Israeli Arab areas, is not true of the occupied territories. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza several years ago, only to be attacked by Hamas rockets. Israel maintains its occupation of the West Bank only because the Palestinians walked away from a generous offer of statehood on 97% of the West Bank, with its capital in Jerusalem and with a $35 billion compensation package for refugees. Had it accepted that offer by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, there would be a Palestinian state in the West Bank. There would be no separation barrier. There would be no roads restricted to Israeli citizens (Jews, Arabs and Christians.) And there would be no civilian settlements. I have long opposed civilian settlements in the West Bank, as many, perhaps most Israelis, do. But to call an occupation, which continues because of the refusal of the Palestinians to accept the two-state solution, "Apartheid" is to misuse that word. As those of us who fought in the actual struggle of apartheid well understand, there is no comparison between what happened in South Africa and what is now taking place on the West Bank. As Congressman John Conyers, who helped found the congressional Black caucus, well put it:

"[Applying the word "Apartheid" to Israel] does not serve the cause of peace, and the use of it against the Jewish people in particular, who have been victims of the worst kind of discrimination, discrimination resulting in death, is offensive and wrong."

The current "Israel Apartheid Week" on universities around the world, by focusing only on the imperfections of the Middle East's sole democracy, is carefully designed to cover up far more serious problems of real apartheid in Arab and Muslim nations. The question is why do so many students identify with regimes that denigrate women, gays, non-Muslims, dissenters, environmentalists and human rights advocates, while demonizing a democratic regime that grants equal rights to women (the chief justice and speaker of the Parliament of Israel are women), gays (there are openly gay generals in the Israeli Army), non-Jews (Muslims and Christians serve in high positions in Israel) and dissenters, (virtually all Israelis dissent about something). Israel has the best environmental record in the Middle East, it exports more life saving medical technology than any country in the region and it has sacrificed more for peace than any country in the Middle East. Yet on many college campuses democratic, egalitarian Israel is a pariah, while sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, terrorist Hamas is a champion. There is something very wrong with this picture.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


The Vision Thing.


by  Emmanuel Navon


The man whom George W. Bush used to dismissingly call "The Eye Doctor" seems to be doing fine without glasses. Bashar al-Assad, an ophthalmologist who inherited his father's hereditary job only because his older brother was killed in a car accident, has turned the tables on the United States. Five years ago, he complied with the American injunction to pull his troops out of Lebanon. Today, he is publicly humiliating the United States.


In February 2005, the US withdrew its ambassador to Syria following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Assad's involvement in Hariri's murder was so obvious that former French President Jacques Chirac, a personal friend of Hariri (and long-term guest in his Paris apartment), has been boycotting Assad ever since. By recalling its ambassador, the US was also expressing its discontent with the fact that Syria hosts and shields Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, transfers weapons from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, lets terrorists crossing into Iraq, supports Iran's foreign policy goals, and cooperates with Iran and North Korea to develop nuclear capabilities (concerns about Syria's suspected nuclear program were brought to the world's attention by the Israeli bombing of an alleged nuclear facility in eastern Syria in 2007).


Last month, five years exactly after the scolding of the Bush Administration, President Obama nominated Robert Ford as the new US Ambassador to Syria. The rationale of the current US Administration is that Assad can be sweet-talked into trading his alliance with Iran for a deal with America. Obama's gamble has produced immediate results, but not the expected ones. Shortly after the nomination of Ambassador Ford, Ahmadinejad paid an official and pompous visit to Damascus (where he also met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah). Baffled, Hillary Clinton asked Assad why he was doing the opposite of what her government's policy was supposed to produce. Assad responded as follows: "We have a hard time understanding Clinton, either because of a translation problem or because of our limited capabilities." Hillary Clinton is being pushed around by Middle Eastern machos and America is being ridiculed.


Since retreating from Lebanon in 2005 under US pressure and in the face of a popular uprising against its interference, Syria has clawed its way back to a position of dominance. Exploiting Lebanon's fractiousness, Syria pushed its allies to undermine the pro-Western coalition that won Lebanon's general election in 2005. Though pro-Syrian parties failed to end the coalition's parliamentary majority in the June 2009 election, they have been able to prevent the Lebanese government from functioning. Only when the pro-Western coalition (also known as "The March 14th Alliance") met Syria's demands did Assad's Lebanese allies suddenly fall into line. As a result, the Lebanese government allows Hezbollah to keep its army, and does not press for the UN to look into Syria's involvement in Hariri's murder.


Syria's policy toward Israel has paid dividends too. Syria hosts Hamas' leadership and serves as a conduit for Iranian arms and money to Hezbollah. Rather than flipping on Iran or abandoning its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, Assad has upheld "resistance" as the best way to apply pressure on Israel, while offering to negotiate with it. After hosting Ahmadinejad in Damascus, Assad said (through his foreign minister) that Syria was willing to make peace with Israel. While apparently confusing, the plot is actually obvious: Syria is convinced that it has nothing to gain from ending its relationship with Teheran, and it diverts Western pressure by pretending that the only way for Syria to reconsider its pro-Iranian policy is for Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights.


This clever strategy enables Assad to keep his pro-Iranian policy intact, while having the US court him and put pressure on Israel. Not bad for an accidental leader whose regime was dubbed a "low-hanging fruit" by neoconservatives after the conquest of Iraq.


Fortunately for Assad, the Americans are not the only suckers. In December 2007, President Sarkozy said he would shun Assad until the latter allows Lebanon to have a consensus president. With the election of Michel Suleiman in May 2008, Assad officially met Sarkozy's demand (although Assad has been meddling in Lebanese politics ever since). Since then, Sarkozy has been going out of his way to "engage" Assad. He invited him to the launching summit of the "Union pour la Méditerranée" in Paris in July 2008. Last week, French Prime Minister François Fillon was in Damascus. Not only has Sarkozy secured a new recruit for his now almost-defunct Mediterranean Union, but he is incidentally reaping economic benefits too. A French consultant is working on engineering designs for the Damascus metro, and the French-based Airbus aircraft industry is in line for a contract to re-equip Syria's national airline, whose fleet is now down to just six serviceable aircraft.


The current US and French policy is convincing Assad that duplicity pays and that Syria can count on America's fear of a nuclear Iran and on France's economic interests to continue its successful juggling. One wonders what else needs to happen for Barack Obama to understand that Assad will not help him on Iran. The only thing Assad can do for his American counterpart is to check his eyesight. Unfortunately, there is no worse blind man than he who does not want to see.



Emmanuel Navon

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.