Saturday, May 11, 2013

NGOs vs. Those who Serve Israel

by Caroline Glick


In 2010, Cpl. Eleanor Joseph became the first female Arab combat soldier in the IDF. Joseph, a Christian Arab told Ma'ariv that her good luck charm is a drawing of the Star of David with the caption: "I have no other land, even when my ground is burning." Her commander drew it for her.

Joseph explained, "It is a phrase that strengthens me. Every time I experience hardship, I read it. Because I was born here. The people I love live here: My parents, my friends. This is a Jewish state? Yes, it is. But it's also my country. I can't imagine living in any other place. I think every person should serve in the army. You live here? You make your home here? Then go defend your country. What does it matter that I'm an Arab?" 

Joseph's story represents an incipient trend of integration among Israel's Arab community.
Among other things, this is manifest in the consistently rising number of Israeli Arab students who elect to study in Hebrew-language schools and in the rising number of Israeli Arabs who elect to serve in national service, the civilian equivalent of military service.

A poll of Arab youth carried out in late 2007 made clear how widespread this integrationist impulse has become. Seventy-five percent of Arab youth aged 16 to 22 supported voluntary national service.

And yet, despite these sentiments and developments, Arab Israelis who seek to integrate into Israeli society and reject the separatist messages of their political leaders are forced to contend with extraordinary social pressures and even coercion to prevent them from acting in accordance with their wishes.

A study completed this week by Im Tirtzu exposes the vast array of NGOs generously funded by the supposedly pro-Israel New Israel Fund as well as by foreign governments which are running a campaign to oppose Cpl. Joseph and her comrades - Arabs and Jews alike. Since 1999, these groups have been conducting a campaign to undermine Arab integration into Israeli society specifically and to demoralize and reduce the social standing of those who serve in the IDF, national service and IDF reserves generally. The campaign is being carried out on a dual track of discouraging Israeli Arabs from serving in the IDF or national service, and of opposing government benefits to IDF veterans, reservists and those who undertook national service by claiming that these benefits unjustly discriminate against Israeli Arabs.

Im Tirtzu's report argues that the dual nature of the campaign, underwritten by the same funders, shows that the goal "is to prolong irredentism or non-integration of the Arab sector in order to encourage it to act as a sector demanding national recognition and advance the aim of transforming the State of Israel from a Jewish, democratic state into a bi-national state."

As the report notes, it is common practice in many countries to give government benefits and preferential treatment to military veterans and reservists. The US government provides massive assistance to veterans in employment, education, housing and other areas. The purpose of these benefits is to raise general motivation to serve and to reward those who have because the American people believe that their personal service advances the interests of American society as a whole.

To substantiate its claims against these NIF- and foreign government-financed Israeli NGOs, Im Tirtzu's organized its report as a timeline of efforts undertaken by various NGOs to advance the goals of Arab separatism and reducing the morale and social status of IDF and national service veterans and reservists across the board.

Although the Hebrew-language report is worth reading in its entirety, a few examples will suffice to show the scope of these efforts.

In 1999, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel published a report which claimed it was discriminatory for workplaces to make military service a qualification for employment. The report went so far as to insinuate that Israel could be likened to South Africa's apartheid regime due to workplace preference for veterans.

That report was followed by a series of petitions to the High Court beginning in 2002 submitted by ACRI, Adalah and other groups to overturn laws and government decisions that give preferential treatment to IDF veterans and those who served in national service. The petitions have not led to outright court victories. But in a number of cases, the lawsuits were dropped after the government canceled the benefits under challenge.

These groups have opposed every sort of benefit, including tuition discounts for students, differential reductions on government child allotments for those who served in the military and national service and those who did not, preferential treatment in state land tenders and grants and other housing benefits.

Some of these court cases directly targeted benefits to Arab IDF veterans. For instance in 2005, Adalah petitioned the court against the Israel Lands Authority for making military service a requirement for receiving ILA land grants in Beduin villages. And in 2009, Adalah petitioned the court to revoke preferential treatment to Cirassian veterans in an ILA tender for homesteads in Kfar Kama, a Cirassian village in the Galilee.

ACRI receives nearly a million dollars every year from the NIF, and receives funding as well from the EU, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, the Ford Foundation and Christian Aid.

Adalah similarly receives massive funding from the NIF, the EU, Switzerland and Scandinavian governments through their joint foreign aid organs. It also receives funding from George Soros's Open Society Institute.

Some of the organizations involved are both funders and participants. For instance, the Abraham Fund has participated in High Court petitions against benefits to those who have served.

And it is also a donor to Mossawa, an Israeli Arab group involved in the campaign. Mossawa was co-founded by NIF's Shatil organization.

According Im Tirtzu's report, active NGO campaigning against Israeli Arab national service and military service began in 2007. That year Baladna, which receives funding from the NIF, spearheaded what has become a continuous campaign to discourage Israeli Arabs from participating in national service. Baladna claims that national service is just military service in disguise.

In its words, "National service is a direct arm of the Israeli Occupation Army and of security frameworks that act and always have acted against the Arab population and the Palestinian nation generally. And so, all attempts to present the notion of civilian service as service for society are founded in a deliberate distortion directed at society generally and against the Arab sector in particular."

Following this line of reasoning, in 2010 Omar Nasser, the head of the Araba Local Council, kicked two Arab women serving in national service out of the local school. Defending his actions Nasser said, "I object in principle to the national service project because I view it as a means of paving the way for male and female volunteers to serve in the military in the future, and I strenuously object to that."

As the Im Tirtzu report indicates, the NGO-led campaign against Israeli Arab military and national service has contributed to a situation in which Israeli Arabs who support such service are subjected to physical abuse, social ostracism, humiliation and harassment.

In October 2012, the Forum for Military Service in the Christian Sector held a conference in Upper Nazareth whose purpose was to encourage Christians to serve in the IDF and national service. Three hundred people participated in the conference. One of the heads of Mosawa wrote a widely distributed article accusing the Christian leadership of collaborating with the IDF. She suggested blacklisting the communal leaders involved.

When word of the conference got out, one priest who participated was banned from the Church of the Annunciation. Another priest had his tires slashed and a blood-stained rag placed at his doorstep.

The children who participated in the conference were singled out for abuse. Their photos were disseminated on Facebook and in the Arab media. They were humiliated by their teachers and classmates.

Soldiers like Eleanor Joseph feel compelled to take off their uniforms before they return home, because when they have worn them home, they have faced harassment. One female IDF soldier reportedly was severely beaten by her neighbors.

The general campaign against benefits for IDF veterans and those who served in national service also involves a similar campaign to demoralize high school students and encourage them not to serve. For instance, in 2008, Social TV, which is supported by the NIF and the US government, broadcast a propaganda film targeting Jewish Israeli youth. Its aim was to discourage them from serving in the IDF.

In 2009, 22 self-proclaimed feminist organizations, many of which are financed by the NIF, launched a campaign to support seven members of New Profile who are under police investigation for launching websites instructing young people how to dodge the draft - a felony offense.

But the main thrust of the anti-military campaign has been to prevent and undermine Knesset and government action to provide benefits for those who serve - Jewish and non-Jewish alike. According to Im Tirtzu, the campaign has intimidated Justice Ministry officials into obstructing bills still before committee hearings.

For instance, in May 2012, at a Knesset Economics Committee hearing on a bill to provide housing benefits for IDF reservists, MK Miri Regev said the bill was being held up because the attorney-general feared legal challenges in the High Court.

This week, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill that would allow IDF soldiers to sue for libel those who wrongly accuse them of having committed war crimes during their military service. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni opposed the bill. Her opposition indicates that the bill may face a similar fate as the Knesset's attempt to provide benefits to reservists.

Military and national service are vital national institutions. Integration of the Israeli Arab community is a vital national interest. It is obscene that a handful of well-funded radicals are able to undermine them both - while paralyzing our representative institutions.

Im Tirtzu's report concludes with a list of recommendations the Knesset and government ministries should take to help those who serve the country, and to protect Israeli Arabs who serve and those who support them. While they are all correct, and should be followed, they do not go far enough. The time has come for the government and the Knesset to rein in the twin forces - the NGO sector and the legal fraternity - which in the name of "democracy" undermine our democracy.

Every election we send our representatives to the Knesset. And every election the vast majority of our elected representatives share our desire to support those who serve in the IDF and national service without reference to their religion, race or gender. We want to support them because they contribute to the general good of all of Israel.

But due to a handful of NGOs that receive their funding from outside Israel from governments and groups that do not share our values and interests, and due to the cooperation they receive from activist judges and radical Justice Ministry attorneys, the will of the people is stymied again and again and again.

Caroline Glick


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

The Demise of the Anti-Israel Card

by Barry Rubin


For decades in the Middle East the most reliable political tool often seemed to be the Israel card, the idea that by condemning Israel, blaming it for the Arab world’s problems, and claiming that those who were insufficiently militant on the issue were traitors.

But the Israel card doesn’t work anymore, at least not in the way it used to do so. True, the rise of revolutionary Islamism has focused more hatred against Israel. Yet at the same time—and this analogy is imperfect—it is less of a single-issue movement. As revolutionary Islamists seek to destroy their rivals (nationalist, moderates, and each other) and fundamentally transform their own societies, they are kept pretty busy. Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official and supposed moderate, may insist that Israel is the main enemy of the Arabs and Muslims, but the Arabs and Muslims aren’t paying much attention. The Palestinian Authority which his group runs–and which rules only on the West Bank–has no Middle Eastern patron at all.

The Sunni-Shia conflict is deepening, with clashes already taking place in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and above all Syria. Indeed, the Syrian civil war is a full-scale contest between the two blocks. Even Muslim Brotherhood think-tanks have said that the Shia, and especially Iran, is more dangerous threats than is Israel.

The chance that these two blocs would cooperate against Israel is close to zero. It was different a few years ago. Before the “Arab Spring,” Iran seemed set to become the region’s Muslim superpower. If Tehran obtained nuclear weapons (sometimes referred to as the “Islamic bomb”) it was expected to wield growing influence throughout the Arab world.

Today, however, that situation has reversed itself. Sunni Arabs, whether they are Islamists or anti-Islamists, openly hate and fear Iran. A nuclear weapon in Tehran’s hands would not increase its strategic or political influence. Iran faces a Sunni wall against its ambitions and it is almost without Arab allies.

As for Hizballah, Iran’s sole reliable ally, it is not able to attack Israel from southern Lebanon. Thousands of its soldiers are ties up in Syria to keep an arms’ supply open, help the Bashar al-Assad regime win, and protect Shia villagers.  It also faces growing opposition from Sunni Muslims, financed by the Saudis and stirred up by hatred over Hizballah’s actions in Syria, within Lebanon itself. Plus the fact that the Lebanese don’t want to be victimized by Hizballah going to war with Israel given the damage suffered in the late round in 2006.

This is not, of course, due only to the Sunni-Shia issue. There has also been a sharp revival of Arab identity against the Turks and Persians. The region’s history of such ethnic clashes has been revived. If the Syrian civil war ends in a rebel victory, the winners will soon turn against their Turkish patrons. Indeed, while the trade between the two countries is still growing, the Syria issue has driven a deep rift between Turkey and Iran, who are supporting opposite sides.

Even Muslim Brotherhood Egypt and Muslim Brotherhood Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, have fallen out, albeit perhaps temporarily. The Egyptian government is unhappy that Hamas has not cracked down enough on the Salafists in Gaza and the Sinai who want to attack it.

In addition, Egypt—busy with internal transformation, domestic conflicts, and economic problems, wants Hamas to keep things quiet on its border with Egypt. Israeli officials describe current security cooperation with the Egyptian government, or at least the intelligence services and military, as being quite good. Disputes between Muslim Brotherhood groups and even more radical Salafists are creating problems in Egypt and Syria.

Another factor is the economic catastrophe that is striking or going to hit much of the Arab world. The incompetence and bad policies of the Islamists are making a mess. In Iran, of course, this is heightened by international sanctions. The obsessively anti-Israel strategy of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become unpopular as being unnecessarily provocative.

The fact is that Syria is wrecked for many years to come; that Iraq is not in good shape due to internal battles; and that Egypt is on the verge of disaster. Obviously, the attempt to stir up hatred against Israel as being responsible for these problems in order to mobilize popular support is tempting.

But what can be done about it? Israeli flags can be burned in Cairo; tourism there may become impossible; and the embassy could be closed. Yet will Egypt court war, with a reluctant military, the need for international financial aid, and the possibility that the United States could cut off the arms’ supply? Unlike the Arab nationalists, who could depend on the USSR, the Sunni Islamists have no big-money patron, at least outside Qatar.

Finally, something has been learned by the Arab masses and leaders over the last half-century. The old cries that Israel could easily be destroyed by cooperation and determination don’t seem quite as persuasive in the face of many Arab military defeats. There’s a lot more caution. Among the elites there’s even the idea that Israel can be an asset in their struggle against Iran.

I don’t want to overstate the case. Moves toward peace—with Islamists in power or looking over the regime’s shoulders and eager to inveigh against treasonous moderation—are unlikely. Vicious propaganda will continue unabated. Terrorism will be launched at every opportunity.

Ironically, this change coincides with a frenzied effort to reduce support for Israel in the West, including in Jewish communities through boycotts, sanctions, divestment, and massive misinformation. One wonders at times whether this campaign is a substitute for relative disinterest in doing much in the Middle East itself. Perhaps this is taken as justifying inaction or perhaps it is seen as still another attempt to find a victorious strategy when so many others have failed.

Perhaps someday, if and when revolutionary Islamists have consolidated power in several countries, the situation will change again. But until then, yelling “Israel” at a crowded rally–at least in the Middle East–will not prove a panacea for the political problems of Arab governments and politicians.

Barry Rubin


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

The Benghazi Lie

by Mark Steyn

President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Andrew Air Force Base, September 15, 2013.
Throughout the all-night firefight in Benghazi, Washington’s priority seems to have been to do everything possible to deny that what was actually happening was happening at all. To send “soldiers” on a “mission” to “fight” the “enemy” was at odds with the entire Obama narrative of the Arab Spring and the broader post-Bush Muslim world. And so the entire U.S. military was stood down in support of the commander-in-chief’s fiction.

As Mr. Hicks testified, his superiors in Washington knew early that night that a well-executed terrorist attack with the possible participation of al-Qaeda elements was under way. Instead of responding, the most powerful figures in the government decided that an unseen YouTube video better served their political needs. And, in the most revealing glimpse of the administration’s depravity, the president and secretary of state peddled the lie even in their mawkish eulogies to their buddy “Chris” and three other dead Americans. They lied to the victims’ coffins and then strolled over to lie to the bereaved, Hillary telling the Woods family that “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.” And she did. The government dispatched more firepower to arrest Nakoula Basseley Nakoula in Los Angeles than it did to protect its mission in Benghazi. It was such a great act of misdirection Hillary should have worn spangled tights and sawn Stevens’s casket in half.

The dying Los Angeles Times reported this story on its homepage (as a sidebar to “Thirteen Great Tacos in Southern California”) under the following headline: “Partisan Politics Dominates House Benghazi Hearing.” In fact, everyone in this story is a Democrat or a career civil servant. Chris Stevens was the poster boy for Obama’s view of the Arab Spring; he agreed with the president on everything that mattered. The only difference is that he wasn’t in Vegas but out there on the front line, where Obama’s delusions meet reality. Stevens believed in those illusions enough to die for them. One cannot say the same about the hollow men and women in Washington who sent him out there unprotected, declined to lift a finger when he came under attack, and in the final indignity subordinated his sacrifice to their political needs by lying over his corpse. Where’s the “partisan politics”? Obama, Clinton, Panetta, Clapper, Rice, and the rest did this to one of their own. And fawning court eunuchs, like the ranking Democrat at the hearings, Elijah Cummings, must surely know that, if they needed, they’d do it to them, too. If you believe in politics über alles, it’s impressive, in the same way that Hillary’s cocksure dismissal — “What difference, at this point, does it make?” — is impressive.

But the embassy security chief, Eric Nordstrom, had the best answer to that: It matters because “the truth matters” — not least to the Libyan president, who ever since has held the U.S. government in utter contempt. Truth matters, and character matters. For the American people to accept the Obama-Clinton lie is to be complicit in it.

Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2013 Mark Steyn


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

Palestinians in Syria Killed, Injured, Displaced Arabs, Human Rights Organizations, Media Yawn

by Khaled Abu Toameh

It is not only the Arabs and the Palestinian governments who are turning a blind eye to the mass displacement of Palestinians. Human rights organizations and the mainstream media in the West are also ignoring the plight of the Palestinians. This is, after all, a story that lacks an anti-Israel angle.
More than 55,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee Syria to Lebanon and Jordan over the past two years, according to figures released by the United Nations Work and Relief Agency [UNRWA].

According to Palestinian sources, more than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed in Syria, most in recent months, by both the rebels and the Syrian army.

Most of the Palestinians who fled Syria have found shelter in neighboring Lebanon, where more than 500,000 Palestinians live in several refugee camps in different parts of the country.

It is worth noting that Palestinians in Lebanon are subjected to apartheid laws that deny them work, social and health benefits, and freedom of movement.

UNRWA now estimates that approximately 235,000 Palestinians have been displaced inside Syria since the beginning of the conflict two years ago.

Just two weeks ago, some 6,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in Ein al-Tal, a refugee camp near Aleppo in northern Syria.

This was not the only UNRWA-run refugee camp in Syria to be targeted by both the opposition and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

"Ein al-Tal is the latest manifestation of a cycle of catastrophic violence in which the conduct of all parties has transformed refugee camps into theaters of conflict in which heavy weapons are used, resulting in severe suffering for Palestinian civilians," UNRWA said in a statement. "Palestinian refugees in Syria are being killed, injured and displaced in greater numbers than even before."

And what have the Palestinians' two governments – Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – done to help the displaced Palestinians? Almost nothing, according to the displaced families.

What have the Arab countries done to help the Palestinians fleeing Syria? Almost nothing.
Neither the Palestinian governments nor the Arab countries has even asked for an emergency UN Security Council session to discuss the new Palestinian tragedy.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is too busy touring the world and fighting with his prime minister, Salam Fayyad.

The Hamas government is too busy inciting Palestinians and preparing for the next wave of terror attacks against Israel.

As for the Arab countries, why should they care about Palestinians when hundreds of Syrians are being killed every day and no one in the Arab world seems to care?

It is no secret that most of the Arab governments despise the Palestinians and continue to treat them as third-class residents and a potential threat to Arabs' national security.

The Arab League foreign ministers who recently met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington did not even bother to raise the issue of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forced out of their homes in Syria.

For these ministers and the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, construction in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank is more urgent than the lives of thousands of Palestinians and Syrians.

But it is not only the Arabs and the Palestinian governments who are turning a blind eye to the mass displacement of Palestinians. Human rights organizations and the mainstream media in the West are also ignoring the plight of the Palestinians. This is, after all, a story that lacks an anti-Israel angle.

Khaled Abu Toameh


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

Welcome to Obamastan

by Melanie Phillips

Fort Hood, Benghazi, the Boston bombings, Iran/Syria, Israel. The pattern is unmistakeable; the danger to America is exponentially increasing; the scandal is deepening into something nearer to a national crisis. 

The Obama administration is playing down the Islamist threat to the US and the free world, empowering Islamists at home and abroad, endangering America and betraying its allies -- and covering up its egregious failure to protect the homeland as a result of all the above, while instead blaming America for its own victimisation.

What is coming out in the Benghazi hearings would be jaw-dropping if it had not been apparent from the get-go that the administration failed to protect its own people in the beseiged American mission where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff were murdered in 2012, then lied about the fact that this was an Islamist attack, and then covered up both its failure and its lie. (Apparent, that is, to some -- but not to the American media, most of which gave the Obama administration a free pass on the scandal in order to ensure the smooth re-election of The One).

But the administration has form on this -- serious, continuing form. After the Fort Hood massacre in 2009, in which an Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas shouting ‘Allahu akhbar’, not only was it revealed that his radicalisation and extremist links had been ignored but the Department of Defense and federal law enforcement agencies classified the shootings merely as an act of ‘workplace violence’.

Weeks after the Boston marathon terrorist atrocity, there is still no explanation of why the FBI did not act against the Tsarnaev brothers, despite having had one of them on their books as a dangerous Islamic radical after a warning from Russian intelligence; and why, as the House Homeland Security Committee heard yesterday, the FBI didn’t pass on their suspicions about the brothers to the Boston police. 

Even now, the US authorities are playing down or even dismissing  Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s extremist Islamic views. Whether or not the brothers had links to foreign extremists is still unclear. But what is bizarre is the authorities’ belief that if they did not have any such links, they cannot have had any religious motive. 

Despite evidence such as Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s outbursts at a Boston mosque, where he denounced clerics' references to Thanksgiving and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as ‘contrary to Islam’, the brothers were described by Philip Mudd, the former Deputy Director of National Security at the FBI and the former Deputy Director of the Counterterrorist Centre for the CIA, as merely ‘angry kids’. Mudd told Charlie Rose:

‘They may be disenfranchised. They may have had a bad experience at school. They may not have friends, and they say, “Look, we want to do something.” This tactic of terrorism is a tactic of the 21st century. I don’t necessarily think these are real jihadi terrorists. I think they’re angry kids.’

You really do have to pinch yourself. How in heaven’s name can a guy like Mudd, with his background in so-called intelligence, possibly come up with anything quite so stupendously shallow? It is precisely such angry, isolated, disturbed kids who are vulnerable to Islamist preachers who target, groom and manipulate them -- whether in person or through the internet -- to believe that ‘Islam is the answer’ and that they are its soldiers engaged in holy war against the unbelievers.

The wilful and perverse refusal to acknowledge the religious nature of this holy war -- and worse, to lay the blame for such terrorism on the the society that is its victim -- is what lies behind the Benghazi scandal. 

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings this week produced testimony from Gregory Hicks, the former deputy to the murdered Ambassador Stevens, that was simply devastating for the Obama administration and its former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton -- who infamously erupted, under questioning last January about the nature of the attack,

‘What difference, at this point, does it make?’

Well, Mr Hicks has started to provide the answer. Despite repeated calls for more security to combat the clear threat of jihadi attack on the US mission, Mrs Clinton’s State Department had farmed out its security to none other than a jihadist group. When the fatal attack started, Mr Hicks vainly appealed for fighter jets to buzz the besieged compound. As the Times (£) reported:

‘When a team of four special forces troops were about to leave Tripoli, at Mr Hicks's request, their leader had to stand them down because he was not cleared by senior military chiefs to travel. Mr Hicks said the furious officer told him: “This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has shown more balls than someone in the military.”’

Disingenuously, the Pentagon says in response that no forces could have arrived in time to mount a rescue. But there was more lethal testimony from Mr Hicks.

After the attack, the Obama administration claimed that it had resulted from a protest that had got out of hand over an anti-islam YouTube video. But Mr Hicks testified that it was known from the start that it was a jihadi attack which had nothing to do with that video. The Wall Street Journal reported:

‘Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Tripoli, recalled his last conversation with Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who told him, "Greg, we're under attack." Mr. Hicks said he knew then that Islamists were behind the assault. In other words, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's public claim at the time that an anti-Islam YouTube video spurred the assault was known inside the government to be false when she and White House spokesman Jay Carney said it.
‘Mr. Hicks said he briefed Mrs. Clinton that night, yet the father of victim Tyrone Woods says she later told him that the YouTube video maker would be “prosecuted and arrested” as if he were responsible for Benghazi. Stranger still, Mr. Hicks says Mrs. Clinton's then chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, ordered him not to give solo interviews about the attack to a visiting Congressional delegation.’

Mr Hicks further claims that he was instructed by officials not to talk to congressional investigators, and then demoted after he asked why senior Clinton aides had blamed the attack on a video protest. Again, officials have denied his claim of demotion. But the cat is now out of the bag. The Times (£) reports that an e-mail has surfaced  revealing that senior State Department figures — including Ms Clinton — knew within 24 hours that the group responsible for the Benghazi attack was linked to Islamic terrorists.

Meanwhile, from the beginning of this affair there have also been persistent questions about quite what the US mission was actually doing in Benghazi. Now the Washington Times has reported this:

A U.S. intelligence official tells Inside the Ring that the hearing and congressional inquiries have failed to delve into what the official said is another major scandal: CIA covert arms shipments to Syrian rebels through Benghazi.
‘Separately, a second intelligence source said CIA operations in Libya were based on a presidential finding signed in March 2011 outlining covert support to the Libyans. This source said there were signs that some of the arms used in the Benghazi attack — assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades — ended up in the hands of the terrorists who carried out the Benghazi attack as a result of the CIA operation in Libya.
‘The unanswered questions — that appear unasked by most congressional investigators — include whether the CIA facility in Benghazi near the diplomatic compound and the contingent of agency officers working there played a role in the covert transfer through Turkey of captured Libyan weapons or personnel to rebels fighting the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.
‘“There was a ship that transported something to Turkey around the time Ambassador Chris Stevens met with a Turkish diplomat within hours of his murder,” the official said. “Was the president's overt or covert policy to arm Syrian rebels?”’

Was it indeed. If it was, then Benghazi might turn out to be yet another and particularly terrible example of the damage Obama has wrought upon the security of America and the free world.

This is a President who, by persisting with the charade of negotiation with Iran over its race to manufacture its nuclear bomb, has allowed it to become the dominant power in the region. 

That is why Iran’s puppet Assad, who has just accrued hundreds of Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists to help him win his bloody civil war, has been able to slaughter more than 80,000 Syrians and use chemical weapons against them -- while Obama himself may have ineptly armed al Qaeda inside Syria. For the Washington Times report goes on:

The official said congressional investigators need to ask whether the president indirectly or directly helped bolster al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the Jabhat al-Nusrah front rebel group in Syria and whether the CIA ran guns and other weapons captured in Libya to the organization.
 ‘“Every troubling Middle East-Southwest Asia country — Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and now maybe Syria — where the Obama administration made a significant policy push has gone over to Islamists that are now much more hostile to the United States,” the official said.’


The Benghazi attack was not just appalling in itself; nor was there merely almost certainly a catastrophic failure by the Obama administration to protect its people, and then a mighty cover-up of that failure. Benghazi also serves as a symbol of America’s tragic abandonment, under the Obama administration, of its historic mission to protect life and liberty both in its own homeland and in the free world.

Welcome to Obamastan.

Melanie Phillips


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

The Talibanization of Gaza

by P. David Hornik


What a relief that Israel withdrew from Gaza, liberating the Palestinians there.

Well, not exactly. As summed up on Israel National News, this week the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported that
Hamas is lobbying for a stricter enforcement of Islamic law in Gaza—including provisions to cut off the hands of thieves, and execution of individuals who cheat on their spouses…. Hamas expects the new regulations to take effect in the coming months, after introduction of the legislation in the PA parliament.
The report notes that “Existing laws mete out the death penalty to individuals convicted of murder, spying, homosexuality, or selling land to Jews” and that the new legislation will also include “lashes for a large number of ‘crimes,’ including drinking alcoholic beverages and gambling.”

And furthermore, “Hamas has a large majority in the PA parliament, with 74 of the 134 parliamentarians belonging to the Islamist party,” and the new legislation
is expected to easily pass. Once it does, the laws will be extant in both Gaza and Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, but it is not clear if they will be enforced there.
It is also not clear at this point whether the Palestinian Legislative Council, which for the time being has ceased to function, could be reconstituted for such a vote.

What is clear, though, is that horrific Islamic abuses are already occurring in Gaza. Last week the UK’s Telegraph told this harrowing tale:
It’s three weeks since his arrest but Ismail Halou still has streaks of purple bruising on the soles of his feet. The 22 year-old was filling cars at his family’s petrol station in Gaza City at 5 pm on April 4th when a black jeep pulled into the forecourt, plain-clothed police stepped out and ordered him into the car. He was blindfolded and driven to the nearest police station.
“I could hear the screams of people being beaten in the rooms next to me. Two men held my legs down and tied them together on a wooden board then they beat the soles of my feet with a plastic rod. They beat me for at least five minutes. I was crying and screaming with agony. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt,” Mr Halou recalls.
It was only after the beating that police officers set to work trying to shave off the one-inch fin of gelled hair that was the cause of his arrest.
“At no point did they tell me why they had arrested me. I found out from neighbours when I got home that it was because of my hair,” Mr Halou explains, running a hand over the fuzzy regrowth on his head. He could not walk for three days after his release.
April, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, was indeed a cruel month:
Police in Gaza…arrested at least 41 men on charges of immodesty this April.
Most of them were beaten, all of them had their heads forcibly shaven. Some were shaven because their haircuts…were deemed culturally inappropriate, others because their trousers were either too low-slung or too fitted…. Gaza is gripped with a palpable fear that Hamas is driving the population towards unapologetic, militant, Islamic fundamentalism.
It was, of course, the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank who overwhelmingly chose Hamas in parliamentary elections in 2006. Presumably, they knew something about this movement’s nature. They may not have thought, though, they were getting something that looks increasingly like an Arab version of the Taliban.

Which is not to say Fatah, the relatively secular movement running the West Bank, is a bed of roses. At the end of March the UK’s Daily Mail published a hair-raising report on its use of torture. Last week when an Israeli father of five was stabbed to death, Fatah’s Facebook page erupted in praise and celebration.

By and large, the same people who have made the Palestinians and their alleged rights a cause célèbre for decades cannot be gotten interested in these realities. There are certain to be more Israeli Apartheid Weeks next spring, but there will be no Gaza Torture or Gaza Sharia weeks. Back when waves of Palestinian suicide bombers were strewing body parts all over Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, it was Israel’s checkpoints and separation fence that became the focus of—supposed—moral concern.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry has launched yet another major diplomatic initiative aimed at restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that are supposed to lead to “peace.” The ongoing refusal to internalize the problematic nature of the “Palestinian people”—who exhibit the same afflictions so evident in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere in the region—is stunning to behold.

P. David Hornik


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An Israeli Peacenik Meets the Reality of Palestinian Arab Intransigence


Lital Shemesh is a young, liberal Israeli journalist, considered a rising star in the Israeli media who openly expresses her political aspirations.
She wrote a must-read article from Walla, translated by Baruch Gordon on his blog:

Peace? From the Palestinian Standpoint, There is a Past, No Future
by Lital Shemesh

I participated in the Dialogue for Peace Project for young Israelis and Palestinians who are politically involved in various frameworks. The project’s objective was to identify tomorrow’s leaders and bring them closer today, with the aim of bringing peace at some future time.

The project involved meetings every few weeks and a concluding seminar in Turkey.

On the third day of the seminar after we had become acquainted, had removed barriers, and split helpings of rachat Lukum [a halva-like almond Arab delicacy] as though there was never a partition wall between us, we began to touch upon many subjects which were painful for both sides. The Palestinians spoke of roadblocks and the IDF soldiers in the territories, while the Israeli side spoke of constant fear, murderous terrorist attacks, and rockets from Gaza.

The Israeli side, which included representatives from right and left, tried to understand the Palestinians’ vision of the end of the strife– “Let’s talk business.” The Israelis delved to understand how we can end the age-old, painful conflict. What red lines are they willing to be flexible on? What resolution will satisfy their aspirations? Where do they envision the future borders of the Palestinian State which they so crave?

We were shocked to discover that not a single one of them spoke of a Palestinian State, or to be more precise, of a two-state solution.

They spoke of one state – their state. They spoke of ruling Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Akko, Haifa, and the pain of the Nakba [lit. the tragedy – the establishment of the State of Israel]. There was no future for them. Only the past. “There is no legitimacy for Jews to live next to us” – this was their main message. “First, let them pay for what they perpetrated.”
In the course of a dialogue which escalated to shouts, the Palestinians asked us not to refer to suicide bombers as “terrorists” because they don’t consider them so. “So how do you call someone who dons a vest and blows himself up in a Tel Aviv shopping mall with the stated purpose of killing innocent civilians,” I asked one of the participants.

“I have a 4-year-old at home,” answered Samach from Abu Dis (near Jerusalem). “If God forbid something should happen to him, I will go and burn an entire Israeli city, if I can.” All the other Palestinian participants nodded their heads in agreement to his harsh words.

“Three weeks ago, we gave birth to a son,” answered Amichai, a religious, Jewish student from Jerusalem. “If God forbid something should happen to him, I would find no comfort whatsoever in deaths of more people.”

Israelis from the full gamut of political parties participated in the seminar: Likud, Labor, Kadima, Meretz, and Hadash (combined Jewish/Arab socialist party). All of them reached the understanding that the beautiful scenarios of Israeli-Palestinian peace that they had formulated for themselves simply don’t correspond with reality. It’s just that most Israelis don’t have the opportunity to sit and really converse with Palestinians, to hear what they really think.

Our feed of information comes from Abu Mazen’s declarations to the international press, which he consistently contradicts when he is interviewed by Al Jazeera, where he paints a completely different picture.

I arrived at the seminar with high hopes, and I return home with difficult feelings and despair. Something about the narrative of the two sides is different from the core. How can we return to the negotiating table when the Israeli side speaks of two states and the Palestinian side speaks of liberating Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea? How can peace ever take root in a platform which grants legitimacy to terrorism?

This is not the first time a group of Israelis who pine for peace have met with their liberal Arab counterparts - only to find that they have no counterparts at all. 


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Local Law Enforcement Never Informed About Tsarnaev Brothers

by John Rossomando

Last month's Boston Marathon bombings exposed that federal and local law enforcement agencies still haven't corrected failures in intelligence sharing emphasized after the 9/11 attacks, according to testimony given Wednesday before the House Homeland Security Committee.

"We learned over a decade ago, the danger in failing to connect the dots. The cornerstone of the 9/11 Commission Report was that agencies had 'stove-piped' intelligence, which prevented us from seeing potential terror plots," Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said in his opening statement. "In fact, the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) was created in the wake of 9/11 to help fix this problem. My fear is that the Boston bombers may have succeeded because our system failed.

"I was disturbed in the days following the attack to read some 'officials' had closed the case on whether there was a 'foreign connection,'" when the FBI had just begun its investigation," McCaul continued. "As a former counterterrorism prosecutor, this rush to judgment was both premature and irresponsible."

Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis testified that his department received no information about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the FBI prior to April 19, when the rest of the world learned their identities.

Davis said his department would have kept tabs on them if he knew that Russian intelligence informed the FBI about Tamerlan Tsarnaev's Islamic radicalism.

The Massachusetts State Police, which has seven troopers on a Joint Terrorism Taskforce, similarly was unaware of the Tsarnaev brothers prior to the bombing, said Massachusetts Undersecretary for Homeland Security & Emergency Management Kurt Schwartz.

"My understanding is that at no times prior to the bombings did any member of the Massachusetts State Police or the fusion center have any information or knowledge about the Tsarnaev brothers," Schwartz said.

McCaul and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who testified at the hearing, expressed concern about an emerging narrative that downplays the spread of the global jihadist movement. Lieberman criticized those who oversimplify the problem by making it solely about al-Qaida.

"The Boston Marathon attacks should again teach us that the enemy we face is violent Islamic extremism, not just al-Qaida," Lieberman said. "Osama Bin Laden is dead and the remaining leadership of al-Qaida is on the run but the ideology of violent Islamic extremism is rapidly spreading.

"We do not know yet whether the Tsarnaev brothers were involved with any foreign group, but we do know that the extremely false narrative of violent Islamic extremism – that Islam and America involved in a struggle to the death with each other."

Lieberman stressed the need for better relations with the Muslim community to intercept people like the Tsarnaev brothers before they strike because they will be the "first line of defense."

John Rossomando


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Qatar's Duplicitous Game

by Paul Alster

In the first of a two-part assessment of its growing role on the world stage and dubious influence on Middle East and Arab politics, Paul Alster looks at Qatar's carefully crafted image that masks the real direction of this autocratic nation. In part two he concentrates on Qatar's on-the-ground financing of Islamist militias and revolutions in the Arab world.

Haifa, Israel - Sometimes the most stunning deceptions occur in broad daylight. It's the classic ruse of the pathological manipulator; the hugely successful benefactors of a myriad of good causes such as disgraced financial moguls Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford.

The State of Qatar falls into a similar category. The Arabian Gulf island nation has insinuated its way to the top table of world affairs through financial muscle established on rich natural gas and oil reserves. Qatar has befriended and works closely with some of the most powerful nations (including the United States), and has established a series of high-profile charitable foundations and outstanding world-leading brands, while at the same time, it has brazenly sponsored terrorist entities across the Arab world and beyond.

For a tiny country, it has ambitious aims to advance the global Muslim Brotherhood and promote Sunni Islam in its fight against Shia. But that agenda attracts little attention. Qatar has promoted and financed the cause of the Islamist opposition forces that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, has promoted the now-ruling Ettafdid Movement in Tunisia, the FSA in Syria, and most recently, has supported the rebel forces in Mali.

"I think the U.S. is less aware of this [than it should be]. I mean it's hard to miss! It really has been ignored or shunted aside," Professor Ze'ev Magen, Middle East Studies chairman at Bar Ilan University, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

"There is a constant attempt to attribute the breakdown [of the previous Arab status quo] to other factors," Magen said. "But in the end, what you see is the Iraqis, Syrians and the Lebanese Shiites, all lining up together with Iran, and then you've got the Sunni world that is most prominently represented by the Wahabbi Islam of the Gulf States [including Qatar] and the Muslim Brotherhood working together on the Sunni side."

Qatar's generosity in helping Egypt during its current critical financial difficulties will not be without payback, Abdel Rahman Youssef, an Egyptian journalist specializing in political and religious affairs, wrote last month for the Lebanon-based Al Akhbar website, adding that Qatar may have its sights set on acquiring the Suez Canal and the Suez industrial zone currently owned by the Dubai Ports.

"It should come as no surprise that today the canal looms large over many of the serious discussions concerning the future of Egypt and the entire region … The Gulf country's [Qatar's] economic reach inside Egypt was apparent in recent statements by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassim. 'Qatar will not let Egypt collapse economically,' he said. Qatar provided Egypt with aid and a deposit of around $5 billion. However, this all pales in comparison to rumors that the Qataris wish to acquire a large portion of UAE's investments in the Suez region."

Suez journalist Sayyed Noun added "The street will not easily accept the news since many believe that Qatar wants to 'strangle the Canal.'"

In February, Al Akhbar also reported that Qatar's alleged support of the Islamist rebels against the local troops in Mali and their French allies may have prompted France to block a major international telecom deal with Qatar.

"Indicating a rift between the two allies, France stood in the way of Qatar's purchase of the company Vivendi Africa, a telecom giant active in North and West Africa. The obstruction of the sale occurred after word emerged that Qatar is possibly supporting jihadi groups in Mali." Correspondent Al Mokhtar Mohammad wrote. "The sale could hinder France's ability to surveil jihadi communications, especially since there are parties within France that have accused Qatar of supporting Mali armed groups."

Qatar has been a refuge for terrorists – providing 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Muhammed a base in the 1990s – and now hosting recently re-elected Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. On April 5, the Pakistan Daily Times reported that Qatari capital Doha is to host a new regional office for the Taliban with the blessing of Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai.

Qatar manages to maintain a very close relationship with the U.S. despite this situation. The massive Al Udeid airbase is on Qatari soil even though the U.S. has other good friends in the region such as Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, on whom they could rely.

According to a Wikileaks cable reported back in 2010, one man who long ago saw through Qatar's carefully crafted public image is Meir Dagan, former head of Israel's Mossad security agency, who told American diplomats, "Qatar is trying to cozy up to everyone. I think that you should remove your bases from [Qatar]. [The Qataris] owe their security to the presence of the Americans]."

The seemingly limitless pretentions of its Wahabbist autocratic ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani are furthered under the guise of promoting 'democracy in the Arab world.' That's ironic, given that Qatar is ruled exclusively by members of one family who rigidly control all media and outlets to free speech.

When Sheikh Hamad overthrew his own father in a 1995 coup, he initiated a gradual transformation placing Qatar at the center of world affairs. One of his masterstrokes was the funding and creation of Al Jazeera, the hugely successful mouthpiece for his regime that has changed many people's perception of events in the Arab world to subliminally reflect the opinion held by the ruling Qatari family.

Al Jazeera attracted a roster of high profile, well paid and talented international journalists. As it grew, the independence of the original editorial line and the creeping replacement of secular staff with Islamists became ever-more apparent. By 2011, as the 'Arab Spring' gathered pace and Qatar's behind-the-scenes role in the revolutions needed to be even more carefully stage managed, Sheikh Hamad replaced Al Jazeera's long-time editor Wadah Khanfar, a conservative Islamist whose ties to the Muslim Brotherhood had prompted his arrest in Jordan, with an even more hard-line man at the helm, his own royal cousin, Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer al Thani.

Al Jazeera staffers started to despair during Khanfar's tenure. In June 2009 the Jerusalem Post Magazine reported, "The meteoric rise of the network and its increasing popularity have led many political and media commentators in the Arab world to wonder exactly who or what was behind what appears to be its main purpose: encouraging opposition and promoting incitement against Arab regimes, exposing the corruption of their leaders and their entourage, while holding to an extreme Arab nationalist attitude against the US and Israel and extolling the values of conservative – and sometimes extremist – Islam. It did not take long for one name to emerge: the Muslim Brotherhood."

A series of cables from the U.S. embassy in Doha, published by Wikileaks, reflected the way Al Jazeera promotes Qatar's world vision, while the government stifles dissent in its own backyard.

"The Qatari government claims to champion press freedom elsewhere, but generally does not tolerate it at home," the U.S. embassy in Doha reported in June 2009.

Around this time, Robert Menard resigned as director of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, together with a significant number of staff, after facing unprecedented interference in his work.

"But certain Qatari officials never wanted an independent Centre, one that was free to express its views without being limited by political or diplomatic considerations, one that was free to criticise Qatar itself," Menard said. "But how can you be credible if you say nothing about the problems in the country in which you are based?"

In January, Al Jazeera purchased former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV. This acquisition gives it a ready-made platform in the United States to promote Qatar's version of events in the Middle East, prompting expectations of it subtly (or unsubtly) guiding viewers towards its support of and praise for the International Muslim Brotherhood, as well as its persistent criticism of Israel.

As Sultan Sooud al Qassemi of the respected Al Monitor website noted in June 2012, "Al Jazeera Arabic's love affair with the Muslim Brotherhood was clear from the channel's beginning. And since the Brotherhood decided to run a candidate for the Egyptian presidency, the channel has blatantly promoted him. What viewers end up with is propaganda, and it's damaged more than one revolution."

As an example, al Qassemi wrote: "On June 22, 2012, Al Jazeera's correspondent Ayyash Darraji interviewed a woman for three minutes and allowed her to criticize former presidential contender Ahmed Shafiq without any interruption. As soon as the lady said one critical word about Morsi, he pulled the mike and cut her off."

The network's expansion also targets Europe. "[Al Jazeera is also] preparing to launch a news channel in Britain while studies are at an advanced stage for a French-language channel," Middle East Online reported in March.

"You're not going to find objective reporting there [Al Jazeera] almost ever," Magen told the IPT. "I don't know who exactly is watching Al Jazeera? I guess they think they're getting an inside picture of the Muslim world, but what they're actually getting is the inside picture that Qatar – a conservative, Sunni Muslim hierarchy – wants them to get."

Qatar's relationship with Israel changed dramatically after it supported Hamas in the Israel-Gaza war. Relations were relatively good before that, with Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni visiting Doha in 2007 and 2008.

"Qatar decided in 2009 to sever all ties with Israel and it has since been a very vociferous proponent for any anti-Israel group from Hamas to Syria," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told the IPT. "There are no relations to speak of."

"If there is anything that Qatar wants to do – rather than spread hatred and ignorance as it usually does – that would be to spend its money on peacemaking," Palmor added. "That would be a welcome change."

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani recently began refocusing his attention and inflaming passions in the Israel-Palestine conflict, while portraying himself to the international community as an honest broker in regional affairs.

During an Arab League meeting last month, he called for a $1 billion Jerusalem fund to support programs that would "maintain the Arab and Islamic character of the city and reinforce the steadfastness of its people," the Gulf Times reported.

Hamad pledged $250 million from Qatar and expects the balance to be contributed by other Arab states.

"(Jerusalem) is in serious danger, which requires of us serious action. Palestinian, Arab and Islamic rights in Jerusalem cannot be compromised. Israel must realize this," Hamad reportedly told Arab leaders.

In a typically chameleon-like maneuver however, Qatar recently hinted at its interest in investing in Israeli hi-tech companies, dangling a carrot under the noses of potential Israeli businessmen currently facing a reducing pool of international corporate investors. Israeli government officials suggested such news should be treated with plenty of caution.

Qatar's latest move designed to portray itself to the Arab world as the flag bearer in the fight to make Jerusalem Palestinian is its bid to oust Canada – a staunch supporter of Israel - from its long-standing role as home of the UN-body, the ICAO.

Since 1947 the International Civil Aviation Authority has been based in Montreal, but Qatar has seized upon Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's recent visit to east Jerusalem to push to replace Canada as host of the ICAO. Baird met with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on what the Arab world considers occupied land, a gesture that has angered many Arab nations and given Qatar a golden opportunity to rally regional support and to push for a vote to transfer the prestigious body from Montreal to Doha.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Lavoie called Qatar's prime minister twice last week, promising to "'fight tooth and nail' to keep the ICAO in Montreal – and he won't change his tune on his visit to east Jerusalem," the Globe and Mail reported May 2.

Sheikh al-Thani irked the U.S. and many others in October when he became the first world leader to visit the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip officially and deliver a $400 million donation. Yet despite the clear evidence from the leaked diplomatic cables displaying private doubts as to the sincerity of the Qataris, the U.S. appears to have no plans of reviewing its relationship.

American business giants such as the Boeing Corporation, Lockheed Martin, Conoco Philips, and Exxon Mobil all have significant interests and partnerships with Qatar. And the U.S. government appears willing to overlook Qatar's failings. But Palmor has no qualms in spelling out the dangerous game being played on Israel's doorstep that Qatar and its Al Jazeera network cannot disguise.

"The Emir of Qatar has visited the Hamas-controlled Gaza, has embraced Hamas rulers, and has promised money which in this case he has sent into the hands of Hamas. At the same time he has never visited the Palestinian Authority (PA) or the government in Ramallah [even though] he has repeatedly promised to do so. Ignoring Israel is one thing, but taking sides in Palestinian politics and clearly taking the side of a terror organization, is another thing. That is clearly taking part in armed and violent conflict and that is what Qatar is doing. It has always been on the side of terrorists and on the side of violence."

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who blogs at and can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster


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