Egypt welcomes U.S. remarks on Morsi; food stocks dwindle


Egypt's interim rulers welcomed on Thursday remarks from the U.S. State Department describing the rule of toppled leader Mohamed Morsi as undemocratic, read in Cairo as a signal that Washington will not cut off its $1.5 billion in annual aid.

In a stark illustration of the desperate state of Egypt's economy, a former minister from Morsi's ousted government said Egypt has less than two months' supply left of imported wheat, revealing a far worse shortage than previously disclosed.

The army's removal of Egypt's first freely elected leader last week, after millions took to the streets to protest against him, has left the Arab world's most populous country polarized by divisions unseen in its modern history.

Violence between supporters of Morsi and soldiers at a military compound this week has deepened the fissures.

Washington has been treading a careful line. U.S. law bars aid to countries where a democratic government is removed in a coup. So far Washington has said it is too early to say whether the Egyptian events meet that description.

Nevertheless, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday Morsi's government “wasn't a democratic rule”.

“What I mean is what we've been referencing about the 22 million people who have been out there voicing their views and making clear that democracy is not just about simply winning the vote at the ballot box.”

The new U.S. remarks were warmly received by the interim government and swiftly denounced by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

The comments “reflect understanding and realization about the political developments that Egypt is witnessing in recent days, as embodying the will of the millions of Egyptians who took to the streets,” said Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Badr Abdelatty.

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad Haddad said the remarks showed American hypocrisy: “There is no way the Egyptian army would have gone through with this coup if it would not have been sanctioned by the U.S.”

VIOLENCE

Two and a half years of political turmoil has left Egypt on the brink of economic collapse, scaring away tourists and investors, shriveling hard currency reserves and threatening its ability to import food and fuel for its 84 million people.

Speaking to Reuters near midnight in a tent at a vigil by thousands of Morsi supporters, the ousted president's supply minister, Bassem Ouda, revealed that government stocks held just 500,000 metric tons of imported wheat.

Egypt, the world's biggest buyer, usually imports about 10 million metric tons of wheat a year, half of which is given out by the state in the form of subsidized bread sold for less than one U.S. cent a loaf.

The imported wheat stock figure, previously a closely-guarded secret, means Egypt will need to urgently start spending a $12 billion financial aid lifeline it has been given in the past two days by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, rich Gulf states that welcomed Morsi's downfall.

Egypt had not bought any imported wheat since February, its longest absence from the market in years, until the eve of Morsi's downfall when it bought 180,000 metric tons.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report that Egypt risked serious food security problems if insecurity and a shortage of foreign currency hinder imports.

“I think the aim of the Arab countries is to make sure Egypt doesn't fail with respect to food security and financial commitments with the international banking system, so I would think they will push to get the aid through quickly,” said Kisan Gunjal, economist and food emergency Officer at the FAO.

ROAD MAP

Adli Mansour, the interim president named by the general who removed Morsi, has moved briskly to implement an army “road map” to restore civilian rule. This week he announced a temporary constitution, plans to amend it and a faster-than-expected schedule for parliamentary elections in about six months.

He also named 76-year-old liberal economist Hazem el-Beblawi as interim prime minister. Beblawi held his first meetings with political leaders on Wednesday and told Reuters that he expects the transitional cabinet to be in place early next week.

Negotiations are difficult, with the authorities trying to attract support from groups that range from secularists to ultra-orthodox Muslims, nearly all of whom expressed deep dissatisfaction with elements of the interim constitution.

Those political moves have been accompanied by a crackdown on the Brotherhood, the Islamist movement which worked in the shadows for 85 years before emerging as Egypt's best-organized political force when autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011.

On Wednesday, Egypt's public prosecutor ordered the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and several other senior Islamists, accusing them of inciting violence on Monday when 53 Morsi supporters and four members of the security forces were killed in a dawn clash near a barracks.

Morsi's supporters say those killed were peacefully praying when fired upon. The army says terrorists provoked the violence by attacking its troops.

Morsi's whereabouts have not been revealed. The government says he is safe at an undisclosed location.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have maintained an around-the-clock vigil near a mosque in northeast Cairo demanding he be reinstated, an aim that now seems in vain.

The start of the Ramadan Muslim fasting month has done little to dampen the Brotherhood protest. Supporters are sheltering in tents from the summer heat during daylight hours when they are forbidden to eat or drink, and coming out in greater numbers in the evening.

They have called for protest marches on Friday, the Muslim prayer day, as has the anti-Morsi Tamarud group, raising the risk of more violence. Fighting between Morsi's supporters and foes killed 35 people last Friday, although the situation in Cairo and other cities has been calmer since Monday's clash.

Both sides in Egypt have become more anti-American in recent weeks. Morsi's opponents say President Barack Obama's administration supported the Muslim Brotherhood in power, while Morsi's supporters believe Washington was behind the plot to unseat him.

“Obama supports democracy, but only if it goes to those who aren't Islamists,” heavily bearded Morsi supporter El-Sayyed Abdel Rabennabi said at the Brotherhood vigil.

On Tahrir Square, where Morsi's opponents gather, the animosity is no less fierce. In the days before Morsi's downfall, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo attracted criticism from Morsi's opponents for a speech that stressed Morsi was democratically elected and discouraged street protests.

“America made an alliance with the Brotherhood against the Egyptian people,” said aircraft mechanic Tawfiq Munir at a recent rally there. “Now the Brotherhood are fighting us in the streets, fighting to take back power, and America is sitting on the fence.”

Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz, Maggie Fick, Mike Collett-White, Tom Perry, Peter Graff, Ali Saed, Seham el-Oraby and Shadia Nasralla; writing by Peter Graff; editing by Philippa Fletcher

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrives in Israel in blast’s wake


U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in Israel, where he is expected to press Israel and the Palestinians to restart peace talks in the wake of increased unrest.

Gates, who landed in Israel on Thursday morning, less than a day after a bomb attack in central Jerusalem and following days of attacks between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, is in the Middle East assessing the U.S. posture after a wave of uprisings has shaken some regimes and supplanted others.

He is scheduled to meet his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, in Tel Aviv on Thursday, followed by a meeting with President Shimon Peres. Gates is scheduled to meet the next day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Friday.

Israeli media said Barak intends to raise Israeli concerns arising out of the unrest.

Gates, who has said this is his last year in a post he has held since 2006, is arriving from Cairo, where he met with the interim military leadership in Egypt that assumed power following the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Israel has sought reassurances that the new Egyptian regime will maintain the 1978 Camp David peace accords.

U.S.: Egypt of ‘deep concern’ [UPDATE]


[UPDATE: 11:15 AM] Events in Egypt are of “deep concern,” the Obama administration said, and its government should show restraint.

“Events unfolding in Egypt are of deep concern,” P.J. Crowley, the state department spokesman, said Friday through the Twitter social network. “Fundamental rights must be respected, violence avoided and open communications allowed.”

Video posted on the Internet has depicted indiscriminate Egyptian police violence against protesters, and authorities have shut down much Internet access.

Late Friday, Egypt called its military in to quell riots—a rare occurrence in a country with a vast police force. Reports said two people were killed Friday.

In a statement she read live on Friday, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, urged Egypt’s government to “engage immediately” with its people on political, economic and social reforms, and called on it to restrain its security forces.

“We support the universal human rights of the Egyptian people, including the right to freedom of speech, of association, and of assembly,” she said. “We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications.”

Politico reported that the Obama administration called for a rare Saturday meeting of its “principles,” high-ranking officials of the relevant agencies, to discuss Egypt.

It was the fourth day of clashes in Egypt, and riots have erupted in Jordan and Yemen as well. There have been protests in Lebanon and the Palestinian areas, and Syria has reportedly limited Internet access.

The clashes erupted after similar protests led to the downfall of the Tunisian dictatorship.

The other refugees



Is there a more loaded word in the Arab-Israeli conflict than “refugee”? Is there anything more visceral or emotional than the sight of millions of Palestinians living in miserable refugee camps for three generations?

If any one thing has symbolized the Palestinian cause and put Israel on the defensive, it is this image — this powerful and constant reminder to the world that Israel’s creation 60 years ago came with an “original sin,” and that Palestinians deserve the “right of return.”

You can debate the fairness of this claim, but in our world of easy sound bites, the image of Palestinian suffering has become an albatross around Israel’s neck. The fact that few Jews would ever agree to this right of return — which would erode Israel’s Jewish character — has made this an enormous obstacle to any reconciliation between the two people.

But here’s the question: Will Israel ever be able to claim the high ground when it comes to justice for refugees?

This week in Montreal, where I am spending Passover with my family, I met a man who thinks the answer is yes. He is one of the leaders of the Jewish community here, and he is actively fighting for justice for Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees, that is.

As Sylvain Abitbol explains it, the expulsion and exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little-known injustices against humanity of the past century. For hundreds of years, and in many cases for millennia, Jews lived in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. In several of these countries, the Jewish population was established more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. From the seventh century on, special laws of the Dhimmi (“the protected”) subjected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to prohibitions, restrictions and discrimination — not to mention harsh conditions of inferiority. Still, many Jews managed to prosper despite these circumstances.

Things took a turn for the worse after the birth of Israel in 1948. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the local governments; Jewish property was seized without compensation; Jewish quarters were sacked and looted and cemeteries desecrated; synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed; and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.

To this day, Arab countries and the world community have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations or provide compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.

But activists like Abitbol are fighting back, all the way to the White House and the U.S. Congress. Abitbol, the first Sephardic Jew to lead the local Jewish Federation in Montreal and now co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, connected with this movement a year ago when he joined the board of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Together with other organizations like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), the movement, which is officially called the International Rights and Redress Campaign, toiled for years in obscurity.

A few weeks ago, they hit the jackpot.

That’s when the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the first-ever resolution to grant recognition as refugees to Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. House Resolution 185 affirms that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally, which means it will now be official U.S. policy to mention “Jewish refugees” whenever there is mention of Palestinian refugees in any official document.

It’s a huge victory, but only a beginning. The United Nations and the world media are the next fronts in this battle for Jewish justice. Abitbol, a sophisticated man in his mid-50s who’s fluent in French, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish, has no illusions about Israel’s precarious image in the world. But he’s far from being a cynic. He’s passionate about fighting for the rights of Jewish victims, and he is also a Jewish refugee (from Morocco). Yet he hardly acts like either a refugee or a victim.

Over tea at my mother’s house, he reflected on the major influences of his life. One of the things that stuck with me was something Abitbol said he learned early in his career, when he was in sales. Abitbol, who has two engineering degrees and is chairman of an innovative software company called uMind, calls the technique “listen and adapt:” You adapt your strategy and your communication to the values of your audience.

He gave me a fascinating example. While in Dubai recently on business, an Arab businessman confronted him on the situation in Israel. Abitbol, seeing that the man was a devout Muslim who believed that everything comes from God, gently explained — in Arabic — that if Israel has survived so many wars over 60 years, maybe it’s because it is “Inshallah” (God’s will). Abitbol got the other man’s attention.

Same thing when he spoke recently at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the subject of Jewish refugees. Directly facing representatives of Arab countries, he used the language of indignation and human rights that Arabs have used so successfully against Israel for so many decades, only this time it was on behalf of Jews.

Of course, he added that there is one major difference: Jews didn’t put their 850,000 refugees in squalid camps so they could have a powerful image on the evening news. They helped them resettle, so that one day, one of them would learn five languages and fly to Geneva to speak up on their behalf.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Briefs: Some West Bank settlers would agree to leave, Israel OKs Palestinian police stations


Some West Bank Settlers Would Leave If Offered Government Support, Poll Finds

Approximately one in five Israelis living east of the West Bank security fence would leave if offered government support, a poll found. According to an internal government study, whose results were leaked Tuesday to Yediot Achronot, approximately 15,000 of the 70,000 settlers whose communities are not taken in by the fence would accept voluntary relocation packages.

The poll was conducted at the behest of Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon and Minister Ami Ayalon, who want Israel to group settlers within the fence on the assumption that it will serve as the de facto border with a future Palestinian state. The newspaper did not provide details on how many people were polled or the margin of error.

Israel’s failure to satisfactorily rehabilitate many of the 8,000 Jews it removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005 has raised speculation that West Bank settlers would think twice about accepting government relocation offers.

Israel OKs Reopening of 20 Palestinian Police Stations in West Bank

Israel will allow the reopening of 20 West Bank police stations under Palestinian control. The stations will have a staff of approximately 500 and are located in a zone under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control. This is the first time Israel has permitted such a move since 2001. It is part of commitments made last week by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to ease the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

“This aims to enhance security and impose law and order under the Abbas security plan,” Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Ministry, told Reuters.

Al Qaeda Assails Hamas’ Purported Willingness to Support Peace Accord

Al Qaeda came out against Hamas’ purported willingness to support a future Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a statement on the Internet Tuesday attacking the Palestinian Islamist group after its leaders told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that they could support a future peace accord if it passes a Palestinian referendum.

“As for peace agreements with Israel, they spoke of putting it to a referendum, despite considering it a breach of shariah,” Zawahiri said, referring to Muslim law. “How can they put a matter that violates shariah to a referendum?”

Hamas has made clear, however, that it would continue in its refusal to recognize the Jewish state, no matter what peace terms Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reaches with the Israelis. The referendum demanded by Hamas also would have to include millions of “exiled” Palestinians, many of them radicalized refugees, making it a nonstarter in terms of logistics and of the possibility of endorsing a vision of two-state coexistence.

Rising Anti-Semitism in Muslim Countries Fueling Hostility to Israel, Study Finds

Official anti-Semitism is on the rise in Muslim countries of the Middle East, fueling long-term hostility to Israel, a study found. Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published a study this week arguing that in Iran and Arab states — even those that have recognized the Jewish state — officially sanctioned statements of anti-Semitism with a Muslim slant are increasing, often as a means of diverting internal dissent from the government.

One salient example is Holocaust denial twinned with allegations that Israel is practicing a “real” holocaust against the Palestinians. Anti-Semitism tends to rise in parallel to progress in diplomatic rapprochement between Arab regimes and Israel, calling into question the long-term efficacy of such accords.

The study singled out Iran as a country whose anti-Semitism poses a potential threat to Israel’s existence, given Tehran’s supposed nuclear program.

“Anti-Semitism supported by a state, which publicly adheres to a policy of genocide and is making efforts to arm itself with nonconventional weapons which will enable it to carry out that policy, is unprecedented since Nazi Germany,” the study said.

IDF Investigating Cameraman’s Death

Israel announced an investigation into the killing of a Reuters cameraman by its forces in the Gaza Strip. Following calls for a probe by Reuters and international watchdog groups, the Israeli military said Sunday it was gathering information to determine the circumstances behind the death of Fadel Shana.

Shana was killed while filming a central Gaza combat zone, and film from his camera showed an Israeli tank firing in his direction. An autopsy revealed that he had been hit by a kind of dart used in Israeli shells.

Some critics have suggested the tank crew targeted Shana, although it knew he was a journalist. The Israeli military rejected this.

“The IDF wishes to emphasize that unlike terrorist organizations, not only does it not deliberately target uninvolved civilians, it also uses means to avoid such incidents,” the IDF said in a statement. “Reports claiming the opposite are false and misleading.”

Israel Foils Two Hamas Border Attacks

Israeli forces foiled a massive Palestinian assault on a key Gaza Strip border crossing. Using an armored car and two explosives-laden jeeps painted to resemble Israeli military vehicles, Hamas terrorists rammed the Kerem Shalom border terminal before dawn last Saturday. Israeli soldiers at first responded with small-arms fire, but took cover as the jeeps were blown up by their drivers.

In parallel, another Hamas armored car tried to smash through the Gaza-Israel border fence north of Kerem Shalom but was destroyed by tank fire. Thirteen soldiers were wounded in the Kerem Shalom incident, and four Hamas gunmen were killed.

Israel’s top brass said Hamas had been denied its objective of killing a large number of troops and abducting others in a blow to the Jewish state’s morale on Passover eve. Six Hamas gunmen and another Palestinian were killed in later Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

Israel Upgrades Dress Code for Official Meetings

A more formal dress code is being adopted in the halls of Israel’s government. Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel sent ministers and other top Israeli officials an advisory that following the Passover vacation, they will be expected to dress formally at government-level meetings, Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday.

Can Olmert’s goodwill gestures kick-start peace?


After the plethora of goodwill gestures Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made in his meeting Saturday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, politicians and pundits on both sides are asking one question: Will it be enough to kick-start the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Leaders on both sides are optimistic. They see Olmert’s moves as part of a new and wider American plan for Israeli-Palestinian accommodation.

Pundits, however, are downbeat. Few believe Abbas will be able to create the necessary conditions on the Palestinian side for successful negotiations with Israel.

The meeting was the first between the two leaders since Olmert’s election victory last March. Its primary purpose was to help strengthen Abbas and his relatively moderate Fatah movement in their ongoing power struggle with the radical Hamas.

Olmert’s moves were part of a two-pronged plan: To show the Palestinian people that more can be achieved through Abbas-style dialogue with Israel than armed confrontation, and to strengthen Fatah militarily by allowing it the wherewithal to build up its armed forces ahead of a possible showdown with Hamas over approaches to Israel.

With this in mind, Olmert made the following goodwill gestures:

  • Israel would release $100 million in frozen Palestinian tax money.
  • It would remove dozens of checkpoints to facilitate Palestinian movement in the West Bank.
  • It would ease passage in and out of Gaza to enable the free flow of goods and medicines.
  • It would consider freeing a few dozen Palestinian prisoners in early January to mark Id el-Adha, the Muslim feast of the sacrifice, ahead of the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas-affiliated terrorists.
  • It would agree to set up joint committees to consider further prisoner releases and the removal of key Fatah operatives from Israel’s wanted list.
  • It would allow Egypt to supply Fatah with 1,900 Kalashnikov rifles.
  • It would allow the Palestinian Badr Brigade, currently stationed in Jordan, to redeploy in Gaza.

Olmert went out of his way to show friendship and respect for Abbas and his presidency, waiting for Abbas outside the prime minister’s residence and embracing him warmly on arrival.

Olmert also made a major symbolic gesture: For the first time, Palestinian flags were flown in an official Israeli state building.

“Abu Mazen is an adversary — he is a not an easy adversary, but with an adversary like this, there is, perhaps, a chance of dialogue that will bring an accord between us and the Palestinians,” Olmert said in a speech Sunday, his first public comments following the two hours of talks with Abbas.

Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat also was cautiously optimistic.

“It would be a mistake to think that all the problems could be solved in one meeting, but the meeting improved the feeling on both sides,” he said.

Writing in the mass-circulation daily, Yediot Achronot, political analyst Itamar Eichner summed up the new friendship between Olmert and Abbas.

“They have a common interest not to mention a common enemy: to block the rise of Hamas, which enjoys massive support from Iran,” he wrote.

The Israeli moves complement U.S. and European efforts to strengthen Fatah.

The Americans are soon expected to release about $100 million to Abbas, and they also have been training Fatah forces.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a mid-December visit to Ramallah, outlined economic projects from which the Palestinians could benefit if they reached accommodation with Israel.

All of these moves are part of a wider plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that has begun to take shape in the U.S. State Department. The new American thinking envisages leapfrogging stage one of the internationally approved “road map” for Israeli-Palestinian peace and moving directly to stage two, which calls for the establishment of an interim Palestinian state with provisional borders.

Discarding stage one means that talks could go ahead without the Palestinians first stopping all violence and without Israel dismantling West Bank outposts.

The idea is that once a ministate is established, those things would be much easier for the parties to handle.

By strengthening Abbas, the Americans hope to create conditions for the establishment of a new Palestinian government that would recognize Israel and become a serious negotiating partner. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to make a visit to the region soon to press the plan.

The American approach is not much different from ideas being bandied about in the Israeli Foreign Ministry and supported by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Livni, who favors going directly for an interim Palestinian state, told a meeting of Europe-based Israeli ambassadors in Jerusalem on Sunday that the Olmert-Abbas meeting was important not as “a lone gesture, but as a process of which gestures are a part.” She added that in her view, moderate Arab and Muslim states should be involved, as well.

On the Palestinian side, Abbas also expressed the hope that the meeting would lead to peace talks.

Israeli pundits, however, are skeptical. They doubt Abbas will be able to carry off the necessary first step: the establishment of a Palestinian government that makes the right noises about recognizing Israel, accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and renouncing violence.

“First that must happen, but as we know from experience, something on the way is bound to go wrong, and all we’ll get is more of the same,” political analyst Ben Caspit wrote in the Ma’ariv daily.

“Many meetings between Palestinian and Israeli leaders have taken place up till now, but it seems that never have two such weak partners sat on either side of the table — Abu Mazen on the verge of a civil war and Olmert after a war and embroiled in an investigation,” Caspit wrote.

“They have a great many qualities in common: not a bad vision and considerable courage. On the other hand they are lacking in leadership and confidence, exhausted and shackled by political constraints, enemies inside and out.”

The trouble is, Palestinian society is deeply divided over how to proceed.

In Abbas’ view, the Palestinians will always be outgunned and therefore will lose in any violent confrontation with Israel. Thus, negotiation is the way forward.

Hamas holds that time is on the Palestinians’ side, and the best path is to establish a temporary truce, use it to stockpile weapons and wait for Iran to become the dominant regional power.

Israeli intelligence estimates that if Abbas is able to rekindle a peace process, Hamas will escalate its violence against Israel in a bid to extinguish it.

Complicating matters even further, the fight on the Palestinian streets is not only between Fatah and Hamas. Poverty and the breakdown of law and order have spawned violent, armed gangs loyal only to themselves and contemptuous of authority, whether from Fatah or Hamas. They will probably continue to use terror against Israel, even if Abbas and Hamas agree to a cease-fire.

If the latest American initiative is to succeed, it will have to find a way of neutralizing both Hamas and the street gangs. Otherwise, new peace prospects will drown in a sea of Palestinian chaos.

Making peace at the best of times would not be easy. In these circumstances, it will be a very tall order indeed.

Leslie Susser is diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem report.
JTA correspondent Dan Baron in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Paper on ‘Israel Lobby’ Poses Threat


Are we Jews too sensitive to what non-Jews say about us? The haggadah, which we just read on seder night, hints at the answer. The telling of the story of our enslavement in Egypt begins, “The Egyptians [spoke] evil about us” (usually mistranslated as “the Egyptians did evil to us”), followed by Pharaoh’s exhortation to the Egyptians to deal cleverly with the Jews, lest they grow too numerous and betray Egypt by joining forces with its enemies.

The haggadah hints that Jews ignore the way they are spoken about at their own peril. Actions too often follow words.

For that reason, the recently published paper, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” by the dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Stephen Walt, and University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer deserves to be taken seriously. The authors claim that a powerful pro-Israel lobby has, for decades, subverted American interests in favor of those of Israel, a nation that can lay no strategic or moral claim to the massive support it receives from the United States.

Walt and Mearsheimer’s core concept of an Israel lobby proves hopeless as an analytical tool. In their telling, this amorphous lobby includes those who disagree on every aspect of American and Israeli policy: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal editorial pages; the Brookings Institute and the American Enterprise Institute; Ehud Barak’s leading supporter, billionaire toymaker Haim Saban; and neo-conservative supporters of Binyamin Netanyahu. In short, everyone who does not call for Israel’s dismantling.

(Though Walt and Mearsheimer offer the usual pro forma assurance that they, too, do not question Israel’s right to exist, they offer an Elysian vision of a world without Israel and use fabricated quotes to portray Israel’s birth as an instance of ethnic cleansing. They mention no threat to America, other than those caused by Israel’s existence — neither a nuclear Iran nor Islamic fanaticism. The Nixon administration’s airlift of arms during the 1973 war, when Israel’s existence hung in the balance, is cited as an example of the Israel lobby’s undue influence.)

As former Jerusalem Post Editor Bret Stephens noted in The Wall Street Journal, the alleged conspiracy includes, or has infected, nearly all Americans — 66 percent of Americans who follow foreign affairs support Israel, as opposed to 9 percent who are more sympathetic to the Palestinians. The Walt/Mearsheimer thesis sounds like nothing so much as the 1950s sci-fi classic, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Curiously, the one group immune to the machinations of the lobby is American Jews. The war in Iraq is the coup de grace in Walt/Mearsheimer’s indictment of the lobby’s kidnapping of American foreign policy on behalf of Israel. Yet American Jews opposed the war in higher percentages than any other group.

Their best evidence of an all-powerful Israel lobby consists of the self-serving claims of past and present AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) officials who consistently overrate their own efforts and downplay those factors that predispose Americans to support a strong Israel.

However weak as an analytical tool, the Israel lobby is a potent rhetorical device. Walt and Mearsheimer accuse supporters of Israel of attempting to squelch debate on American policy toward Israel, but it is they who seek to suppress debate. They prefer to dismiss such renowned scholars as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami as members of the lobby, than to engage their arguments, and to portray President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (not to mention former President Bill Clinton) as helpless dupes of the lobby, than to discuss their policy choices.

In particular, Walt and Mearsheimer seek to secure the predominance of anti-Israel views on university campuses, which they note, in a rather large understatement, remain the last bastion into which the tentacles of the lobby have not reached. Indeed, if there were an Israel lobby, and labeling all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic were its tactic, the steady drumbeat of criticism of Israel on elite campuses and in the elite press would be the clearest proof of its inefficacy.

As an example of the lobby’s attempt to intimidate critics, the authors cite Daniel Pipes’s Campus Watch project, which publicizes the classroom statements of anti-Israel professors. They do not explain, however, why the classroom statements of professors should be any more immune from scrutiny and criticism than those contained in their published works.

Walt and Mearsheimer cite the documentary, “Columbia Unbecoming,” exposing the biases of Columbia University’s department of Middle East and Asian languages and cultures (MEALAC), as a particularly egregious example of attempted intimidation. They rely on the “findings” of an internal Columbia University committee to exonerate MEALAC.

But they fail to note that the committee was hand-picked to whitewash the charges: Two of its five members had signed a petition calling on Columbia University to divest from all companies connected to the Israeli military, and the university vice president to whom the committee reported was one of the petition’s initiators. A third committee member served as the thesis adviser of one of the professors most criticized by the documentary.

Walt and Mearsheimer complain of a handful of university Israel studies departments, chiefly financed by Jewish philanthropists, but ignore entirely the far more numerous and larger Middle East studies departments dominated by pro-Arab professors and supported by Saudi and other Arab oil money.

By raising the spectre of an Israel lobby, Walt and Mearsheimer have laid a trap for the American Jewish community: The more the Jews protest, the more they “prove” the existence of a lobby. And we have fallen into the trap. With the exception of James Taranto of the online Opinion Journal, the most effective responses to Walt and Mearsheimer have all come from prominent American Jews: Alan Dershowitz, Ruth Wisse, Elliot Cohen, Martin Peretz, Dennis Ross, Bret Stephens, Martin Kramer, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), CAMERA and the New York Sun (a remake of the old Forward).

The Jewish community has repeated the same mistake that it made over “The Passion of the Christ,” when instead of letting Christian New Testament scholars carry the ball, the Anti-Defamation League took the lead in attacking Mel Gibson’s film. Non-Jewish academics should have been allowed to take the lead in exposing the rot at the heart of the Walt/Mearsheimer paper.

But the paper cannot be ignored. It provides a potent alert to what Jewish students face on America’s elite campuses, and the poisons being fed the next generation of American leaders.

Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, where this work originally appeared.

 

First Person – A Coming Out (of Egypt) Story


Sixteen years ago this month, I planned to take the Passover message of liberation to heart. I was going to come out of the closet to my sister and my parents and, in doing so, free myself from the bondage of keeping this huge and personal part of me from them. I was going to verbalize the secret I had feared revealing to them for more than 15 years since I first was able to put words to the feelings.

I grew up in a small, quaint New Jersey suburb of New York, a commuter town ideal for raising children. Since having moved to Los Angeles in 1987, at the age of 25, I generally visited my parents and sister back in New Jersey an average of once a year. That once a year was usually Passover time, since I had the time off from my work as a day school educator (and would enjoy the additional bonus of being able to lock up my home for the holiday and sell my chametz without having to go through the cleaning and other laborious pre-holiday preparations and rituals).

Perhaps my plan to come out during Passover was just practical, since that was when I typically returned home; or perhaps it was a flair for the dramatic or symbolic, since I had come to think of the emotional bondage of keeping my secret as a modern-day equivalent to the physical slavery of my ancestors. Either way, it was during Passover of 1990 that I had planned to come out to my parents and tell them I’m gay. I returned to my childhood home that year armed with several articles and a book titled, “Now That You Know: What Every Parent Should Know About Homosexuality,” all designed to prove how normal it was to be gay.

I had come out a year earlier (also at Passover) to Rob, one of my best friends from college on whom I had had a crush. We got in his car, and I asked him to pull over on the way to wherever it was we were going because I had something really important and serious to tell him. He pulled into a parking lot (my elementary school parking lot) and turned off the engine. I loosened my seatbelt, turned to face him, took a deep breath and said, “I’m gay.”

To which he responded, somewhat anticlimactically, “Is that all?”

I don’t know if I was more relieved or disappointed, but there was no rejection. My first coming out was successful.

It took an entire year after that to muster the courage to tell my sister — who responded, “I still love you, and of course I won’t tell anyone.” To this I said that I wasn’t telling her so that she would now have to keep the secret. Coming out to my sister was planned to precede the coming out to my parents by several days. It was my warmup, my practice. But anticipating these two experiences, as anxiety-filled as they were, was nothing compared to the immeasurable angst I felt as I practiced and replayed over and over how I would reveal my secret to my parents.

The day I was going to tell them, I went to New York City to visit friends. I took the commuter train back to our town and felt the rumbling in my stomach as I anticipated freeing myself from my personal Egypt. The train sped closer and closer to home. With each station the train pulled into I could feel the rumbling in my stomach increase, and as I walked to my parents’ home (my childhood home) my stomach was on the verge of exploding. I tried to eat normally, but my appetite was limited. The meal, the conversation were overshadowed as I got closer to the point of expelling my truth, all the while wondering whether I would actually be able to follow through on my plan.

After dinner, I told my parents that I had something I wanted to say. They sat down at the table, dishes already cleared. With the gasses in my stomach doing triple axels, I mustered the courage — more courage than I had ever needed to do anything to that point in my life — and I said the words that liberated me from the self-imposed oppression that I had endured since realizing years earlier (beginning in third grade, if not even before) that I felt different than what I thought others felt: “I have something that’s really hard to say … I’m gay.”

Silence. Unbearable silence. To fill the silence I gave them the book and articles that I had brought. Perhaps I had brought them as much to help my parents through this new world as to prove to them that I was serious and that this was thought out. My father’s first words were: I’m shocked but I’m not shocked. (I had never really dated girls and though not effeminate, I fit some of the stereotypes.) My mother, tears filling her eyes, expressed her fears and her anxiety for me — I wouldn’t have a happy life, I would be alone — I did my best to assuage the concerns, but I had, after all, been working toward this moment for years and for them it was all new. And, frankly, I hadn’t thought through the post-liberation experience. The idea of telling my parents that I’m gay was so overwhelming that I hadn’t thought past anything but their initial reactions.

My father left to go to a meeting. My mother went to the sink to do the dishes. There was quiet again, but this quiet was the aftermath, the quiet that occurs when the truth and all of its realities, some becoming known and others not yet thought, become real, and we are trying to make sense of the implications. I felt a confusing mix of feelings – relief, anxiety, disappointment – and freedom from the mitzrayim, the narrow places, in which I had been stuck all those years.

On reflection, I wonder whether, thousands of years ago, the Israelites, too, didn’t experience the disappointment that the liberation wasn’t quite as easy and complete as expected. I suppose the fantasy was that I would come out of the closet and would be told, “Is that all?”

But my parents had more invested than my college friend. Their picture of my future, and by extension their future, would take longer to sort through, reimagine and come to terms with. The beginning of my liberation was now, in some ways, their new wilderness. It would be up to them whether they would turn it into a self-imposed bondage.

Due — in no small part — to my coming out, I have come to believe that our primary task in life is to know ourselves, accept ourselves and to love ourselves and to hope that those who love us will do the same. Each year we are to imagine ourselves as slaves in Egypt and to re-experience the bitterness of the oppression symbolically through retelling the story and through the sensory experiences of the seder. We are to think about the way we are enslaved and oppressed today, how we oppress ourselves and how we can help end the oppression of others. How we can take ourselves out from our personal house of bondage. How we can free ourselves and how we can come out.

Jeff Bernhardt is an educator, Jewish professional and writer living in Los Angeles.

A Divine Call to Action


Once, on a mission to Israel, we needed a minyan for a prayer service during the airplane flight. We were a total of six men in our group, so we began to scan the plane for the remaining four for the requisite 10 men.

As I went up and down the aisles, one fellow turned to me and said, “Rabbi, make sure you get Jews for the minyan.”

I looked at him in astonishment and assured him that I had no other plans. But why was he worried? He replied that many years ago on a flight to Israel they also needed four men to complete a minyan. They went around calling out “We need four for a minyan — four for a minyan.” Before they knew it, four guys got up and joined them. They handed the men kippot and started the service. Suddenly the newcomers stopped the proceedings and asked what was happening. The others explained that they needed four more men to make the minyan. The newcomers, astounded, said, “We thought you were asking for four Armenians, so we joined you. We are not even Jewish.”

These fellows responded to the call but misinterpreted the message. This week’s Torah portion teaches the same lesson about the importance of hearing the call correctly. The portion begins with the words: “And the Eternal called unto Moses,” (Leviticus 1:1). Our sages point out that this wording is unusual. Generally, in Scripture, we encounter the expression that “God said to Moses” or “God spoke to Moses.” As one rabbi noted, you don’t have to be a biblical scholar or even barely familiar with Hebrew grammar to appreciate that the phrase “and He called” suggests that the mind of the person addressed is not attuned to or in communion with the mind of the speaker. One doesn’t call a person with whom one is in intimate conversation or rapport. One calls a man to attract his attention.

The midrash in the Yalkut Shimoni uses this insight to provide a beautiful homily. The midrash points out that the one who flees from positions of honor and authority, achieves honor and authority. The Yalkut provides many examples of great Jewish leaders who illustrate this principle and comments that Moses represented the best example of all.

The Yalkut tells us how Moses tried to reject the appointment to be the savior of the Jewish people and lead them out of Egypt. God, however, was adamant, and Moses performed admirably. At this point the Midrash comments:

“In the end he brought them out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, brought down manna from heaven, provided water from the well and quail from heaven, caused them to be surrounded with the clouds of glory and erected for them the sanctuary. Having reached this stage, Moses said, ‘What more is there for me to do?’ And he sat in retirement. Thereupon the Holy One, Blessed be He, reproved him saying, ‘By your life! There is still a task for you to perform that is even greater than that which you have done until now — to teach my children my laws and to instruct them how to worship Me.'”

If “Vayikra,” the call to continue his task, applied to the greatest leader we ever had, how much more does it apply today?

Why, for example, is philanthropy for Jewish causes suffering among the most affluent and generous of Jewish generations?

Why is higher education in Jewish studies absent among the most educated and cultured in Jewish history?

Why is commitment to a Jewish homeland missing after only one generation past the Holocaust?

At a similar juncture in Jewish history, the great sage Hillel asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” That question challenges us today to go back to work, “Vayikra,” to achieve a positive response to God’s call.


Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

First Step in Removing Terror Regimes


The American war against Saddam Hussein represents a
significant departure from the traditional U.S. posture of appeasing Arab
terrorist regimes.

Hopefully, it will be just the first step in a new approach
to combating terrorism.

In the past, the United States consistently refrained from
taking serious action against Arab regimes that sponsored terrorists. Instead,
it tried to appease those regimes by offering them military and financial
assistance and pressuring Israel to make territorial and other concessions.

After the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization
in 1964, the governments of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia provided the
PLO with funds, safe haven, training facilities and weapons. One Israeli anti-terror
raid on PLO bases in Lebanon uncovered crates of United States-made rifles that
had been given to Saudi Arabia, which the Saudis then gave to the PLO.

Yet instead of taking action against these terror sponsors,
the Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford administrations pursued
friendly relations with Cairo, Damascus, Amman and Riyadh, gradually increasing
U.S. aid to those regimes. Even worse, the United States began pressuring
Israel to give those regimes the strategically crucial territories that Israel
had won in self-defense when Egypt, Jordan and Syria attacked in 1967.

The policy of appeasing pro-terror regimes continued during
the Jimmy Carter administration. The supply of American weapons to Egypt,
Jordan and Saudi Arabia increased, and Israel was pressured to make concessions
to the Palestinian Arabs.

When Israel struck at PLO terrorists in Lebanon and
temporarily took over a narrow strip of border territory that had been used by
the PLO, Carter pressured Israel to retreat — just five years after PLO
terrorists, acting on Yasser Arafat’s direct orders, murdered two American
diplomats in Khartoum.

Officials in the Ronald Reagan administration seemed to
understand the terror threat more clearly, yet when it came to Arab regimes
that sponsored anti-Israel terror, that familiar blind spot surfaced. Instead
of using its leverage to force the Arab regimes to stop sponsoring terror, the
administration unveiled the 1982 Reagan Plan, which, in effect, rewarded the
Palestinian Arabs for their terrorism by proposing an Israeli withdrawal to the
indefensible pre-1967 borders, and the creation of a Palestinian Arab regime in
the vacated territories.

Israel’s leaders called the plan “national suicide for
Israel.” Reagan’s token bombings of Libya and Syria, in response to specific
anti-American terrorist attacks sponsored by those regimes, turned out to be
one-time gestures, not manifestations of a new policy.

During the administrations of George Bush (senior) and Bill
Clinton, the appeasement policy reached new lows. Courting pro-terror Arab
regimes and pressuring Israel became a central focus of U.S. foreign policy.
Bush did go to war against Iraq — but because of its occupation of Kuwait and
its oil fields, not because of Iraqi sponsorship of terror.

And all the while, U.S. military aid continued to flow into
Egypt (over $2 billion annually), Jordan (its $700 million debt to the United
States was forgiven and new weapons were supplied) and Saudi Arabia, and trade
with Syria continued — despite those regimes’ continuing sponsorship of
terrorism.

The United States failed to take decisive action against the
terrorists or their sponsors, even when the attacks were directed at Americans.
There was no serious response to the taking of American hostages by Iran, the
bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi
Arabia, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, the downing of Pan Am 103 and so
many other terrorist attacks. It was case after case of risk-free massacres of
Americans.

The Clinton administration mastered the art of using
pro-Israel rhetoric to soothe Israel’s supporters, while carrying out policies
that appeased terrorists and undermined Israel.

Palestinian Arab violations of the Oslo accords were
ignored. Palestinian Arab terrorism galvanized the administration to put even
more pressure on Israel. Arafat was showered with $100 million each year and
was invited to the White House more often than other foreign leaders.

Clinton’s secretaries of state visited Damascus literally
dozens of times, desperately and unsuccessfully courting Syria’s pro-terrorist
regime. Just down the block from where U.S. officials met with Syrian leaders
were the headquarters of at least 10 international terrorist groups, yet
Clinton turned a blind eye.

The Bush administration’s record has been equally troubling.
Palestinian Arab violations have been whitewashed, and Israel’s self-defense
policies have been condemned as “excessive.” The same administration that
demanded regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq because of their sponsorship of
terror, is pressuring Israel to give the terrorist Palestinian Authority regime
its own sovereign state.

Under the Bush administration, Saudi Arabia is treated as an
ally, despite its deep involvement in promoting Islamic terrorism. Syria is
praised, despite its sponsorship of international terrorist groups.

Media reports indicate Bush is seeking a rapprochement with
terrorist Libya. The administration even claims to detect signs of “moderation”
in terrorist Iran and continues to prevent American victims of
Iranian-sponsored terrorism from implementing court-ordered seizures of Iranian
assets.

Terrorism cannot be fought on one front and ignored on
another. To defeat terrorism worldwide, America needs to be consistent and
uncompromising. Kabul and Baghdad should be just the first steps.

Replacing the pro-terrorist regimes in Riyadh, Damascus and
Ramallah should be next on America’s list.


Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America

Hate Israel, Love McFalafel


It wasn’t the idea of a McFalafel that sparked the ire of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), but a McDonald’s ad campaign in Egypt for the new falafel patty.

The commercial featured an innocuous jingle with the lyrics “If you eat a bite, you can’t stop before finishing the whole roll.” But the singer was Shaaban Abdel-Rahim, who has recently become a major star in Egypt with his first chart-topping single, “I Hate Israel.”

Roughly translated from the Arabic, the song goes like this: “I hate Israel/ I’ll say it if asked/ Even if I die or if I’m imprisoned/ I hate Israel.”

“Certainly, McDonald’s can find a way to sell falafel without enlisting a hate-monger as a spokesman,” said Shulamit Bahat, AJC’s acting executive director.

McDonald’s pulled the campaign immediately after AJC expressed their concerns. “It’s not in our nature to offend anyone,” a McDonald’s spokesman noted, blaming the ad on a “local marketing initiative by McDonald’s Egypt that was obviously not researched.”