Chabad rabbi building ‘1st mikvah in West Africa’ in Nigeria


An Israeli firm and a Chabad rabbi working in Nigeria are preparing to open the first known Jewish ritual bath, or mikvah, in West Africa.

Yisroel Ozen, a prominent Chabad emissary based in Nigeria, is supervising the construction of a mikvah for women in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on land purchased for him by an Israeli firm operating in the country, the Israeli daily Maariv reported Tuesday.

Ozen said the mikvah is the only known one in West Africa, a claim that is also stated on a Hebrew- and English-language sign announcing the project in front of the construction site.

Ozen said Nigeria has “a thriving Israeli community that nonetheless lacks basic amenities.” He said that from the point of view of the halacha, Jewish religious law, “a community cannot exist without a mikvah because it’s the key to the continuity of the Jewish people.” Some 1,200 Israelis live in Nigeria, according to the Maariv article.

Jewish law states that women should immerse themselves in the mikvah before marriage and at least once a month in a ceremony meant to purify them after menstruation.

Another mikvah is planned at a later stage for men, Maariv reported, and may be broadened after the opening this year to include a community center.

EMI Systems LTD, a security firm that is based in Abuja and is owned by the Israel-born businessman Eyal Mesika, ordered materials from Europe and the United States to build the mikvah. The article did not specify the cost of construction.

Israel quarantines Nigerian tourist feared infected with Ebola


A Nigerian visiting Israel was quarantined in Jerusalem for fear she may have contracted the Ebola virus.

The patient, a tourist who works as a nurse in Nigeria and arrived in Israel several days ago, was admitted to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem with fever, Israel Radio reported on Friday. The hospital put the woman in quarantine as part of its protocol for treating patients feared to be infected with Ebola.

But a spokesperson for the Israeli Health Ministry said that “the probability that the woman has contracted Ebola is low.”

On Thursday, the World Health Organization said that more than 1,900 people have died in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak. There have been 3,500 confirmed or probable cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

More than 40 percent of the deaths have occurred in the last three weeks, the W.H.O. said, suggesting that the epidemic is fast outpacing efforts to control it, according to the BBC.

On Wednesday, the first British person to contract Ebola during the outbreak was discharged from a hospital after making a full recovery.

Symptoms of the virus, which spreads through bodily fluids, include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage. Fatality rate can reach 90 percent, though the current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55 percent.

West Africa Ebola outbreak could infect 20,000 people, WHO says


The Ebola epidemic in West Africa could infect over 20,000 people and spread to more countries, the U.N. health agency said on Thursday, warning that an international effort costing almost half a billion dollars is needed to overcome the outbreak.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a $490 million strategic plan to contain the epidemic over the next nine months, saying it was based on a projection that the virus could spread to 10 further countries beyond the four now affected – Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

With the IMF warning of economic damage from the outbreak, Nigeria reported that a doctor indirectly linked to the Liberian-American who brought the disease to the country had died of Ebola in Port Harcourt, Africa's largest energy hub.

In Britain, drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline said an experimental Ebola vaccine is being fast-tracked into human studies and it plans to produce up to 10,000 doses for emergency deployment if the results are good.

So far 3,069 cases have been reported in the outbreak but the WHO said the actual number could already be two to four times higher. “This is not a West African issue or an African issue. This is a global health security issue,” WHO's Assistant Director-General Dr Bruce Aylward told reporters in Geneva.

With a fatality rate of 52 percent, the death toll stood at 1,552 as of Aug. 26. That is nearly as high as the total from all recorded outbreaks since Ebola was discovered in what is now Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976.

The figures do not include 13 deaths from a separate Ebola outbreak announced at the weekend in Congo, which has been identified as a different strain of the virus.

Aylward said tackling the epidemic would need thousands of local staff and 750 international experts. “It is a big operation. We are talking (about) well over 12,000 people operating over multiple geographies and high-risk circumstances. It is an expensive operation,” he said.

The operation marks a major raising of the response by the WHO, which had been accused by some aid agencies of reacting too slowly to the outbreak.

Medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) welcomed the WHO plan but said the important thing was now to act upon it.

“Huge questions remain about who will implement the elements in the plan,” said MSF operations director Brice de le Vingne. “None of the organizations in the most-affected countries … currently have the right set-up to respond on the scale necessary to make a serious impact.”

EXPERIMENTAL DRUGS

Early this month, the WHO classified the Ebola outbreak as an international health emergency. Concerns that the disease could spread beyond West Africa have led to the use of drugs still under development for the treatment of a handful of cases.

Two American health workers, who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia, received an experimental therapy called ZMapp, a cocktail of antibodies made by tiny California biotech Mapp Biopharmaceutical. They recovered and were released from hospital last week.

The virus has already killed an unprecedented number of health workers and is still being spread in a many places, the WHO said. About 40 percent of the cases have occurred within the past 21 days, its statistics showed.

Previous Ebola outbreaks have mainly occurred in isolated areas of Central Africa. However the current epidemic has spread to three West African capitals and Lagos, Africa's biggest city. The WHO said special attention would need to be given to stopping transmission in capital cities and major ports.

“This epidemic is a challenge. Challenging to Liberia and challenging to all of those who are friends and partners of Liberia,” President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said on Wednesday, receiving a donation of ambulances from the Indian community.

“We can only return to our normal business … if together we beat this demon that is amongst us.” 

Authorities in Nigeria announced the doctor's death in Port Harcourt, the main oil industry terminal of Africa's largest crude exporter. The doctor had treated a patient who evaded quarantine after coming into contact with Patrick Sawyer – a U.S. citizen who died in Lagos after flying in from Liberia last month.

Health Ministry spokesman Dan Nwomeh wrote in his Twitter feed that 70 people were now under surveillance in Port Harcourt, which is home to foreigners working for international oil companies.

A spokesman for leading operator Royal Dutch Shell said in London that the firm was “liaising with health authorities on the steps being taken to contain the disease”.

Oil traders in Europe said insurance premiums for Nigerian cargoes had gone up slightly, but otherwise business was continuing as normal.

Analysts urged caution. “While major disruption to oil production appears unlikely, any further spread of Ebola … is likely to cause serious operational challenges,” said Roddy Barclay of the Control Risks consultancy.

According to new figures released on Thursday, Nigeria has recorded 17 cases, including six deaths, from Ebola, since Sawyer collapsed upon arrival at Lagos airport in late July.

While Nigeria has yet to suffer any major economic disruption, the International Monetary Fund said the smaller, poorer nations at the heart of the epidemic were being badly hurt. “The Ebola outbreak is having an acute macroeconomic and social impact on three already fragile countries in West Africa,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters in Washington.

Rice said the IMF was assessing the impact and any extra financing needs with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Lagos case contributed to the decision by a number of airlines to halt services to Ebola-affected countries. Air France said on Wednesday it had suspended flights to Sierra Leone on the advice of the French government.

Aylward said it was vital to restore commercial airline routes to the region to help transport aid workers and supplies, but in the meantime the WHO plan includes an “air bridge” to be operated by the U.N.'s World Food Programme.

“We assume current airline limitations will stop within the next couple of weeks. This is absolutely vital,” he said. “Right now the aid effort risks being choked off.”

West African health ministers meeting in Ghana on Thursday echoed the WHO's concerns and called for the reopening of borders and an end to flight bans.

Boko Haram leader says ruling Nigerian town by Islamic law


The leader of Nigeria's Islamist group Boko Haram said his fighters were now ruling the captured northeastern town of Gwoza “by Islamic law”, in the first video to state a territorial claim in more than five years of violent insurrection.

The Nigerian military denied Boko Haram had taken control of the town during fighting over the past week, although security sources and some witnesses said police and military there had been pushed out.

Abubakar Shekau's forces have killed thousands since launching an uprising in 2009, and are seen as the biggest security threat to the continent's leading energy producer.

The militant leader's often rambling videoed speeches have become a regular feature of his bid to project himself as public enemy number one in Africa's biggest economy.

In the latest video released late on Sunday, the militant who says he is fighting to create an Islamic state in religiously-mixed Nigeria, said his forces had taken control of the hilly border town of Gwoza, near the frontier with Cameroon.

“Allah has granted us success in Gwoza because we have risen to do Allah's work,” Shekau says, reading out a statement off a notebook, with two masked gunmen on each side of him and three four-wheel-drive vehicles behind him in thinly forested bush.

“Allah commands us to rule Gwoza by Islamic law. In fact, he commands us to rule the rest of the world, not only Nigeria, and now we have started.”

Nigerian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Local newspaper ThisDay quoted Major-General Chris Olukolade as saying the claim Boko Haram controls Gwoza was “false and empty”.

“KILL WITHOUT PITY”

In an attack on Sunday in the remote northeastern town of Gamboru, the insurgents killed 15 people, survivors said on Monday. The gunmen came in armed pick up trucks, throwing explosives and spraying the town with bullets. May fled over the border into Cameroon, witnesses said.

“They were shouting 'Allah Akbar' (God is Greatest) and were shooting sporadically,” Alice Adejuwon, a businesswoman and resident of Gamboru, told Reuters by telephone.

“We saw corpses on the streets as we ran out of the town.”

The video includes footage of what appeared to be an attack on Gwoza, showing fighters, backed by armoured personal carriers, pick-up trucks with attached machine guns, and one tank-like vehicle with track wheels and a large gun.

They unload salvos of gunfire across the town from trucks and on foot. The fighters are all armed with AK-47s or rocket propelled grenades, some in military uniform, others in civilian clothes. Many of them walk casually as they take over the town.

They also fire into the hills at what appear to be fleeing security forces and civilians, and they help themselves to weapons and ammunition seized from security forces. It ends with scenes of executing captives in pre-dug mass graves, some of them beaten to death with spades.

Witnesses said Gwoza remained a battleground but that Nigerian forces had largely fled. A security source also confirmed that the insurgents were still laying siege to it.

Resident Hannatu John escaped the town during the attack, running into the hills as the rebels fired at them, fleeing eventually to the capital of Borno state, Maiduguri.

She has heard nothing of her father or sisters in the town since early last week, she told Reuters in Maiduguri.

“We are in the dark and full of despair,” she said. “Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow.”

Police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said on Sunday that 35 policemen were missing after an attack on a mobile police training camp in Gwoza.

Shekau also taunts France, Israel and the United States in the video.

“Democracy is worse than homosexuality, worse than sleeping with your mother,” Shekau says. “You are all pagans and we will kill you, even if you do not attack us we will kill you … Allah commands us to kill without pity.”

Islamist groups across the world have become increasingly bold in making territorial claims in recent months. Sunni group Islamic State has declared a “caliphate” across large areas of Syria and neighbouring Iraq while an affiliate of al Qaeda said in July it aimed to set up an emirate in east Yemen, local media reported.

Shekau makes no mention of Islamic State in the video, although he does mention Iraq in the context of U.S. intervention there.

In separate violence, at least 13 people were killed in a communal clash between rival Fulani and Jikun ethnic groups in Wukari town, Adamawa state, also in the northeast, police spokesman Joseph Kwaji said by telephone.

Reporting by Isaac Abrak; Additional reporting by Lanre Ola and Bodunrin Kayode in Maiduguri, and Tim Cocks in Lagos; Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Ralph Boulton

Los Angeles rabbis’ statement and prayer for the three Israeli kidnapped teens


Last month, the international community expressed its outrage at the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian school girls by the Radical Muslim Boko Haram. This past week a similarly radical Palestinian group kidnapped three Israeli high school students. We call upon the international community to raise its voice again, to loudly and definitively condemn this vicious act directed against innocent teenagers.

As spiritual leaders of the Los Angeles Jewish community, we ask our fellow Jews to join our people around the world in prayer on behalf of the captives and their families. We invite our friends in all faith communities to join in that prayer.

May our children be returned to their homes and reunited with their families speedily and safely.

ושבו בנים לגבולם

Yirmiyahu 31:16

Signed by,

Rabbi Muskin
Rabbi Wolpe
Rabbi Kanefsky
Rabbi Ed Feinstein
Rabbi Morley Feinstein
Rabbi Kligfeld
Rabbi Halevy
Rabbi Geller
Rabbi Bouskila

Boko Haram attack kills at least 24 Nigerian security personnel


Boko Haram gunmen attacked a Nigerian military base and adjacent police barracks simultaneously in the northeastern town of Buni Yadi, killing at least 24 security personnel, security sources and a witness said.

The attack late on Monday in Yobe state occurred not far from where the Islamist insurgents shot or burned to death 59 pupils at a boarding school in February.

A witness and resident of Buni Yadi, who identified himself only as Mustafa for fear of retribution, said the militants arrived in an armoured personnel carrier and six Hilux trucks before dismounting and firing into the air.

The witness, and two security sources, one in the Yobe state capital of Damaturu and another at the army's northeast headquarters in Maiduguri, said that at least 11 soldiers and 14 policeman were killed. The security source in Damaturu state said 17 soldiers may have actually died.

In what has become rare for a movement that has often killed civilians, Boko Harm called out to people on the street not to run away as they had only come for the security forces, according to Mustafa and the Yobe police source said.

The insurgents also burned down the police barracks, the army base, the high court and the residence of the district head Abba Hassan.

Boko Haram, whose violent struggle for an Islamic state in northern Nigeria has killed thousands and made them the biggest threat to security in Africa's top oil-producing state, are still holding more than 200 girls kidnapped on April 14.

Reporting by Joe Hemba and Lanre Ola; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Nigeria’s Boko Haram kills 29 in village attack


Suspected Boko Haram gunmen have shot dead 29 farm workers as they tilled their fields in a village in the remote northeast, a police source said on Thursday.

The source at police headquarters for Borno state, in the heart of the insurgency, said around 10 more people had been wounded in Wednesday's attack on Chukku Nguddoa, in which most of the village, including its grain store, were razed.

In the past two months, Boko Haram militants have stepped up their five-year-old campaign to carve an Islamic state out of religiously mixed Nigeria. They have relentlessly targeted civilians, especially in the northeast, whom the military seems helpless to protect.

Bomb attacks are growing more sophisticated, including two on the capital Abuja last month, and massacres of villagers in the area where Boko Haram is based are an almost daily occurrence.

Militants killed 17 people in Alagarno village on Tuesday and razed several houses to the ground..

Hours earlier, a double bomb blast in the central Nigerian city of Jos killed 118 people, according to the emergency services, while men on motorbikes had killed nine people in a raid on the nearby village of Shawa on Monday.

While authorities suspect Boko Haram of carrying out all these attacks, there have been no claims of responsibility.

Boko Haram has no direct line of communication with the Western press and its purported leader, Abubakar Shekau, claims only occasional attacks – including the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from a village last month – through videos circulated to local journalists.

Reporting by Lanre Ola; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Israel offers to help Nigeria find abducted girls


Israel offered Nigeria help on Sunday in locating 200 schoolgirls abducted last month by Islamist rebel group Boko Haram in an attack that has drawn global condemnation and prompted some Western powers to provide assistance.

“Israel expresses deep shock at the crime against the girls,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office quoted him as telling Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan by phone. “We are ready to help in finding the girls and fighting the cruel terrorism inflicted on you.”

The statement did not elaborate on how Israel might enlist in the search, with which British and U.S. experts are also helping. A spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry said he knew of no cooperation efforts under way.

Israel has defense ties with Nigeria, and has provided it in the past with surveillance drones. Last September, Israel was among several countries that sent advisers to Kenya to assist in a stand-off with Islamist gunmen who attacked a mall in Nairobi.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

Boko Haram offers to swap kidnapped Nigerian girls for prisoners


The leader of the Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram has offered to release more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by his fighters last month in exchange for prisoners, according to a video seen on YouTube.

About 100 girls wearing full veils and praying are shown in an undisclosed location in the 17-minute video in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaks.

Boko Haram militants, who are fighting for an IslLanre Olaamist state, stormed a secondary school in the northeastern village of Chibok on April 14 and seized 276 girls who were taking exams. Some managed to escape but about 200 remain missing.

A government official said “all options” were being considered to secure the girls' release.

Nigeria has deployed two army divisions to hunt for the girls while several nations including the United States, Britain, Israel and France have offered help or sent experts.

In a 1.25 minute clip of the video on YouTube, scores of girls in black and grey veils sit on the ground and chant, before Shekau, wearing military fatigues and holding an AK-47, addresses the camera. He appears confident and at one point laughs.

“All I am saying is that if you want us to release the girls that we have kidnapped, those who have not accepted Islam will be treated as the Prophet (Mohammed) treated infidels and they will stay with us,” he said, according to a translation of his words originally spoken in a Nigerian language.

“We will not release them while you detain our brothers,” he said, before naming a series of cities in Nigeria. It was not clear whether he was in the same location as the girls.

The government has seen the latest video, Mike Omeri, a senior official in the Ministry of Information, told a news conference.

“The government of Nigeria is considering all options towards freeing the girls and reuniting them with their parents,” he said.

Authorities are holding hundreds of suspected Boko Haram militants and there have been several jail break attempts. Suspected militants overpowered guards at a prison near the presidential villa in Abuja in March, triggering a gun battle that killed 21 people.

In another incident the same month, insurgents attempting to free captured comrades fought a two-hour battle in March at Giwa barracks in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.

Human rights groups have said previously that Giwa barracks has been used to illegally detain and torture suspects, something the military denies.

SUMMIT IN FRANCE

The Nigerian government has been criticized for its response to the abductions but President Goodluck Jonathan said on Sunday that international military and intelligence assistance made him optimistic about finding the girls.

A Nigerian military source told Reuters on Monday in Maiduguri that two foreign counter-terrorism units were already on the ground.

“They have visited Chibok on Sunday for preliminary investigation with our troops and experts before fully kick-starting the rescue mission,” the source said.

Jonathan will attend a summit in Paris on Saturday to discuss security in the region.

“The objective is to deepen the cooperation and partnership between Nigeria and her neighbors,” Jonathan's spokesman Reuben Abati said.

Leaders from Chad, Benin, Cameroon and Niger are also due to attend along with representatives from the European Union, Britain and the United States, likely to be at foreign minister level.

The mass abduction of schoolgirls has touched a chord around the world, and triggered a support campaign using the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Boko Haram has killed thousands since 2009 and destabilized parts of northeast Nigeria, the country with Africa's largest population and biggest economy.

Additional reporting by Isaac Abrak, Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Toby Chopra

Obama says kidnapping of Nigerian girls shows man’s ‘darkest impulses’


President Barack Obama issued a somber warning on Wednesday that the kidnapping of Nigerian girls and sectarian conflicts worldwide are a sign that “we have not extinguished man's darkest impulses.”

Obama accepted a humanitarian award from director Steven Spielberg at the University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation, a Holocaust museum founded by Spielberg after he made the film “Schindler's List.”

Obama spoke about a variety of global conflicts including Ukraine, Syria, and the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls by the Boko Haram Islamist militant group.

“We only need to look at today's headlines: The devastation of Syria, the murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, the sectarian conflicts, the tribal conflicts to see that we have not yet extinguished man's darkest impulses,” Obama said.

He expressed alarm about a rising tide of anti-Semitism based on events such as a gunman's attack on two Jewish facilities in Kansas and the distribution of pamphlets in eastern Ukraine that demanded the registration of Jews.

“None of the tragedies that we see today may rise to the full horror of the Holocaust,” he said. However, he said “they demand our attention that we not turn away.”

“We have to act even where there is sometimes ambiguity. Even when the path is not always clearly lit. We have to try. That includes confronting the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the world,” he said.

Obama said Americans must speak out against any rhetoric that threatens the existence of Israel “and to sustain America's unshakeable commitment to Israel's security.”

The Shoah Foundation's annual gala featured Bruce Springsteen performing “Promised Land” and “Dancin' in the Dark,” and a comedy routine from Conan O'Brien.

At Obama's table were Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and “Schindler's List” star Liam Neeson.

Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Paul Tait

From Nairobi to Pakistan religicide rears its ugly head


The carnage at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, the homicide bombers massacre of worshipers at an historic church in Peshawar, deposed Muslim Brotherhood loyalists torch scores of Coptic churches in Egypt, a series of vicious attacks against Nigerian Christians and churches…

Nigeria’s Boko Haram, (recently described by US State Department merely as a group with grievances about Nigerian governance) through its murderous targeting of innocent Christians, served as a cruel prequel to the Kenyan and Pakistan attacks. All wars are hell, but we are now witnessing not only a quest for conquest but a campaign to destroy anyone whose path to G-d deviates from the pure theology of hate.

Last month, Boko Haram terrorists disguised as Nigerian soldiers set up roadblocks between the cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu. Motorists were stopped and asked their names. If Muslims, they were allowed to pass only after reciting a line from the Koran. On that day, 143 motorists were identified as Christians. They were dragged out and killed–their bodies dumped along the side of the road. Two days later, more Christians were murdered at a different location.

We know of no evidence directly linking the attacks in these countries.  But Kenya's chief of general staff, Julius Karangi was correct in describing Al-Shabaab terrorists as “a multinational collection from all over the world… We have also have an idea that this is not a local event.” Coordinated or not, these terrorists all selected their victims according to religion.  In Pakistan it was simple enough—attack the embattled Christian minority at the historic All-Saints Church. The Nairobi murdererstook the time to identify Muslims and let them exit the mall.

On November 2nd, 1943 Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, spoke at Berlin’s Luftwaffe Hall. Having met both Hitler and Himmler, he knew of what he spoke when he declared, “The Germans know how to get rid of the Jews.”

Little did anyone know that some of the Nazi techniques would be used 70 years later by al-Husseini’s heirs, jihadists who like the Nazis brazenly select who shall live, and who shall die.

Georges Clemenceau, one of the chief architects of Versailles said, “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.”  The world has been slow to understand that for some Islamists, victory is defined not merely by conquering territory, but by destroying people—especially people of (another) faith. The Nazis called it extermination. We call it Religicide- but whatever the label, we must act to thwart this horrific trend.

To have any hope, the counterattack must be led by Muslims. After the latest outrages, an important condemnation was expressed by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “Those who have committed this heinous act have gone beyond basic principles of humanity…There is no cause that can justify the killing and maiming of young children, the elderly and the most innocent in society. This perverted mindset that sheds blood without regards to any humanity must be confronted and challenged by all of us,” its statement declared.

An important message – especially in light of the silence of religious leaders around the globe who failed to quickly and unequivocally expressed their outrage. It was diminished only by its depiction of these heinous crimes as “senseless violence.” Alas, the violence of the jihadists is anything but senseless, or simply uncontrolled barbarism.  It makes all too much sense to the demagogues who teach it to their followers. The platform of global jihadists includes religicide and genocide of anyone who prays and thinks differently than they.

Four hundred years ago, Rabbi Judah Loewe of Prague, known as the Maharal, puzzled over the biblical narrative of Cain and Abel, the earliest fratricide. As the curtain comes down, the good brother, Abel lies dead; his guilty brother Cain cops a suspended sentence. This sends a confusing message. Would it not have been better for good to triumph over evil, or at least for the murderer to have been brought to stricter justice? In answer, Maharal points to Abel’s name in the original Hebrew – hevel, which means vacuousness and emptiness.  Abel may have acted more properly than his brother, but his commitment to good was weak and flimsy, not firm and determined. Abel loses to Cain because good does not always win out over evil. Strong, resolute evil will beat outweak, irresolute good. It is a lesson that 21st century humankind would do well to ponder and internalize. 

If we don’t want to go the way of Abel, we better be prepared to take on Cain.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director of Interfaith Relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

This past month in the Muslim world


Some news items from the Islamic world in the past month:

Nigeria:

June 18 (CNN): “A militant Islamist group [Boko Haram, which means “Western culture is forbidden”] claimed responsibility Monday for bombings the day before that the Nigerian Red Cross said left 50 people dead at three Christian churches in Nigeria.

“A suicide bomber drove at high speed through a barricade at the EWCA Goodnews Wusasa Zaria church. … Within minutes, another explosion occurred at the Christ the King Catholic Church in Zaria. … At least 10 people died and more than 50 were injured in that attack. … Later, at least 10 people died in a bombing at a church in the city of Kaduna. …

“The bombings are the latest in a string of violence directed at Nigerian churches.”


Pakistan:

July 4 (BBC): “A Pakistani mob has taken a man accused of blasphemy from a police station and burnt him to death.

“Witnesses said hundreds of people looked on as he screamed for help. Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law imposes the death penalty for insulting Islam. … The man was reportedly beaten and dragged to the spot where he is said to have desecrated the Koran. The mob then poured petrol on him and set him on fire, according to witnesses.”


Mali:

Much of Mali’s history is targeted for destruction by Islamists.

The Sunni Islamist movement, Ansar Dine, which means “Defenders of the Faith,” destroyed the graves of ancient Sufi saints, unearthed the saints’ bodies and threw them into a garbage heap. Ansar Dine did this for the same reason that the Taliban, when they ruled Afghanistan, used anti-aircraft and tank fire to destroy some of mankind’s greatest sculptures, the 1,700-year-old sandstone statues of Buddha. They believe that Islam demands the destruction of anything Muslims deem non-monotheistic.

July 1 (BBC): “Islamist rebels occupying the ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali have vowed to smash every mausoleum, in the face of international protests.”


Egypt:

In his first public speech after being elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi vowed that he would press the United States to release Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “blind sheik” who is serving a life sentence for planning the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The bombing — intended to bring down the building and kill thousands of Americans — killed six Americans and injured more than a thousand.

Morsi is often referred to as a “moderate Islamist.”


Afghanistan:

Kabul, July 4 (Reuters): “A 30-year-old woman and two of her children were beheaded overnight in Afghanistan’s east, police said, in what appeared to be the latest in a rapidly growing trend of so-called honor killings.”

Kabul, July 7 (Reuters): “A man Afghan officials say is a member of the Taliban shot dead a woman accused of adultery in front of a crowd near Kabul. … The austere Islamist group dictates law even near the Afghan capital. In the three-minute video, a turban-clad man approaches a woman kneeling in the dirt and shoots her five times at close range with an automatic rifle, to cheers of jubilation from the 150 or so men watching. … ‘Allah warns us not to get close to adultery because it’s the wrong way,’ another man says as the shooter gets closer to the woman. ‘It is the order of Allah that she be executed.’ ”

This was a typical month.


Why do I note all this?

Certainly not to indict all Muslims. It goes without saying that many millions of Muslims are moral and decent people, and that the great majority of Muslim-Americans are just like other Americans. But among the American media and intellectual elites there is a denial of the evil that permeates the Islamist world. (“Islamist” refers to those Muslims — unfortunately, more than a few — who seek to have Sharia govern societies.) In August 2010, listeners to NPR and viewers of PBS, for example, were told that Islamist violence is no greater than Christian violence.

PBS host Tavis Smiley interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the ex-Muslim Somali writer and activist for human rights and for women’s rights in Islamic countries. After mentioning American-Muslim terrorist Maj. Nidal Hasan, who murdered 13 soldiers and injured another 30 at Fort Hood, Texas, and Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to murder hundreds in New York’s Times Square, this dialogue ensued:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Somehow, the idea got into their [Hasan’s and Shahzad’s] minds that to kill other people is a great thing to do and that they would be rewarded in the hereafter.

Tavis Smiley: But Christians do that every single day in this country.

Ali: Do they blow people up?

Smiley: Yes. Oh, Christians, every day, people walk into post offices, they walk into schools, that’s what Columbine is — I could do this all day long. … There are so many more examples, Ayaan, of Christians who do that than you could ever give me examples of Muslims who have done that inside this country, where you live and work.

Michel Martin of NPR, in discussing whether the Islamic mosque planned for near Ground Zero should be moved, compared the Muslim identity of the 9/11 terrorists to the “Christian identity” of American terrorist Timothy McVeigh: “Did anybody move a Christian church after Timothy McVeigh” bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995?

And ABC News “20/20” anchor Chris Cuomo tweeted this to his nearly 1 million followers: “To all my christian brothers and sisters, especially catholics — before u condemn muslims for violence, remember the crusades.”

Between the ongoing evil in many parts of the Islamic world and the Westerners who diminish that evil by arguing that Christians do the same thing, we are in trouble.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Yaroslavsky observes Nigeria’s democratic process


Zev Yaroslavsky’s latest nation-building assignment wasn’t easy.  Dispatched to Nigeria as part of an international corps of election observers, he checked on polling places during elections this month in a nation better known for ethnic violence and corruption than orderly changes in government.

I talked to the Los Angeles County supervisor on the phone last week as the United States was engaged in doubtful efforts to install some form of democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and is hoping for democratic regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria.

Yaroslavsky has served as an international election observer for the past several years, an assignment given him by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. He has learned something about trying to plant democratic institutions in unwilling nations. He previously served in Romania, Mexico and Ukraine.

From those experiences, he has a realistic view of the process of building democratic nations.

“A free and transparent election does not in itself mean you are living in a democracy,” he said. “The institutions that protect democracy, the rule of law, have a great trouble taking root when people are starving.

“It’s not enough to have a free and open election if the person you are electing is becoming part of a government that is corrupt and insensitive to the needs of the people. Once the election is over, the political and social institutions that protect [the results of] that vote are as critical as the election itself.”

That’s a major challenge in Nigeria. The nation is one of the world’s largest oil producers, but, a BBC analysis noted, “Few Nigerians, including those in oil-producing areas, have benefited from the oil wealth.” Nigeria is the United States’ fourth-largest source of imported oil, ranking below Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Yaroslavsky observed Nigeria’s national assembly elections April 9 and then returned to Los Angeles. Later in the month, President Goodluck Jonathan was elected to a full term in a contest marked by a sharp division between the Muslim north and the Christian south. Supporters of the loser, Muhammadu Buhari, who is popular in the north, rioted afterward. The Web site allAfrica.com reported 121 people were killed and hundreds injured in post-election violence.

When Yaroslavsky and others on the observer team met before scattering throughout the country, they were wary of the outcome. And Election Day, he wrote in his blog, “started ominously.”

“The night before, a terrorist bomb exploded in the city of Suleja, 12 miles from the nation’s capital, Abuja. At least 13 people were killed. There were several other incidents Friday night that were obviously designed to disrupt the election.” He added, “It didn’t work.”

But although “the prospects of a successful democratic election are very slim … what happened in this election, if you judge by what Nigeria has had over the last 12 years, was a dramatic improvement.”

As for himself, Yaroslavsky found the work exhausting. He wrote in his blog, “It took hours in the a.m. for people to check in, and then several more hours in the p.m. for voters to cast their ballots. All voting was outdoors, and it was hot and humid. I was wiped out, and I had an air-conditioned car to which to escape. I can’t imagine what women with babies on their backs were going through, standing for hours at a time. These waits created some episodic tension.”

In the end, Yaroslavsky felt the effort was more than worthwhile: “On the whole, the consensus of opinion of all the observation groups was that the will of the Nigerian people was represented in this election.”

While watching the voting in sweltering heat, he was impressed by the voters. The complicated Nigerian election procedures require them to sign up, and then wait to vote. He said they stood “for five hours outdoors … in 95 degree heat and 97 degree humidity. … Here were these women, many with babies on their backs, standing for hours at a time just to cast their vote, and many stayed for the count.”

Next up for Yaroslavsky is the decision on whether he will run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2013. Even though the election is far away, politicians, their fundraisers and campaign managers are already at work.

The others interested in the race are City Controller Wendy Greuel, Councilwoman Jan Perry, Council President Eric Garcetti, former mayoral aide and businessman Austin Beutner, developer Rick Caruso and state Sen. Alex Padilla. Yaroslavsky is best known from his years as a member of the city council and the board of supervisors. He’s also part of the Westside-West Valley Jewish community, which should help with votes and fundraising.

“I’m looking at it very seriously,” Yaroslavsky said. “I’ll make a decision by this summer. I am doing my due diligence, talking to my supporters. It’s an important election. The city is at a crossroads.“

If he runs, it sounds as if Yaroslavsky will run against the city hall insiders. Years ago, he was once one of them but most — if not all — of his old colleagues are gone.

“City hall is like summer camp,” he said. “You go to camp and leave reality. It’s become surreal and unreal.”

A mayoral election would be more peaceful than the one he observed in Nigeria. But, in a much more mild way, the challenge is the same — campaigning among many ethnic and economic groups, all of them convinced they are right.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for The Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Should Israel be a model for U.S. airport security?


As U.S. officials try to figure out how to improve airport security in the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt of a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit, many North Americans are looking to Israel as a model.

The New York Times opened a forum for readers to discuss the pros and cons of Israeli airport security. The Toronto Star interviewed an Israeli airport security expert who said the best way to nab a terrorist is to “look them in the eye.”

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, wrote a piece for The Huffington Post about the lessons U.S. airport security officials can learn from their counterparts in Israel.

“From the perspective of security, one is in a class by itself: Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport,” Harris wrote. “In the wake of the thwarted terrorist attempt on Northwest Flight 253, it’s time to revisit the Israeli model, as other countries ask what more can be done to prevent such near-catastrophes.”

El Al, Israel’s national airline, has been the target of more attacks and specific threats than any other airline in the world. After a number of shootings and hijackings by terrorists during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the government-owned company introduced a set of stringent security measures aimed at thwarting future terrorist attacks.

The enhanced security extended to Ben Gurion International Airport, which also had been the site of terrorist attacks. Security there is comprised of a number of rings, only some of which are visible.

Passenger profiling has been a major component of the security success. Security officials question passengers before sending their luggage and screen them based on their answers and backgrounds. Passengers considered a potential risk are taken aside for further questioning and thoroughly searched.

The Israeli approach has fueled the debate about whether it is necessary for U.S. airports to introduce new security checkpoints and sophisticated machinery, including full-body scanners. Whereas U.S. airport security relies primarily on technology, the Israeli system relies primarily on human intelligence and profiling.

Passenger profiling by Israeli airport security has been criticized heavily over the years. Many Arab passengers, including Arab Israelis, have complained of being forced to undergo excessive and demeaning security checks. Israeli civil rights groups and Israeli-Arab lawmakers have petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court asking that it ban ethnicity-based profiling as discriminatory.

The failed Northwest Airlines bombing attempt spurred U.S. officials to institute new rules mandating special searches for passengers from 14 nations, raising the ire of U.S. civil liberties groups.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and head of The Israel Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group, says profiling is not discriminatory. On the contrary, she says, in Israel it has benefited both Jews and Arabs.

Laszlo Mizrahi draws a parallel with the West Bank security fence, which she credits with drastically reducing terrorist attacks in Israel.

“The security fence has also been criticized but has saved lives on both sides, just like the airport measures have saved lives on both sides,” she told JTA. “There are plenty of Arab citizens that are also being protected by these security measures. They may be inconvenient but if they save lives, the end result is worth it.”

MORE:  ROB ESHMAN ON MAKING LAX SAFER, THE ISRAELI WAY. CLICK HERE.