In wake of Russia’s planned Syria withdrawal, Putin and Netanyahu to hold security meeting


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet soon in Moscow to discuss regional security and trade.

At a joint news conference Wednesday with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin before their meeting in Moscow, Putin announced his plans for the Netanyahu meeting, the Times of Israel reported.

Israeli officials confirmed that a sit-down between the two leaders will happen soon, but did not offer specific dates.

Citing Russian media, the Times of Israel reported Putin saying the two countries “have a large number of questions to discuss linked with the development of bilateral trade and economic relations and questions of the region’s security.”

On Monday, Putin made the surprise announcement that he plans to pull most of his forces out of Syria, which has been entangled in a civil war for five years. The next day, en route to Russia for a two-day trip, Rivlin told the Israeli media that “there is a need for coordination” with Russia on the Syria situation to ensure that Russia’s withdrawal does not result in strengthening Hezbollah and its backer Iran, both sworn enemies of Israel.

“Everyone understands that Islamic State is a danger to the entire world, but the Shiite fundamentalist Islam of Iran is for us no less a threat,” Rivlin said before the trip, according to The Jerusalem Post.

An unidentified senior Israeli official told the Post on Tuesday, “This is not a zero-sum game. Russia has interests similar to ours. They also do not want to see a strong Iran that will spread terror on Russia’s southern border. The Russians also understand that it will not be good if Hezbollah remains and becomes established in Syria.”

In his joint news conference with Rivlin, Putin said, “The ties between our countries are based on friendship and mutual understanding,” noting that Israel has a significant population of Russian emigres and tourism between the two countries is on the rise.

Rivlin said the Jews would always remember Russia’s key role in World War II, noting that “many Holocaust survivors all over the world remember being liberated by the Red Army.”

White House says it does not support ‘territories’ component of anti-BDS legislation


The Obama administration said it does not support the portion of a new trade law that requires actions against entities that boycott goods manufactured in the West Bank.

“As with any bipartisan compromise legislation, there are provisions in this bill that we do not support, including a provision that contravenes longstanding U.S. policy towards Israel and the occupied territories, including with regard to Israeli settlement activity,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.

The United States does not recognize the West Bank as belonging to Israel.

The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, aimed at removing unfair barriers to competitive U.S. trade, is otherwise acceptable in its current form, the White House said, and the president will sign it. Versions of the bill were passed last year by both chambers, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a reconciled version in December and on Thursday the Senate passed it as well.

The bill, in a lengthy section on promoting U.S. Israel trade, requires non-cooperation with entities that participate in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and reporting on such entities. The section includes within its definition of an Israel boycott actions that would target businesses in “Israeli-controlled territories.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a statement praised the bipartisan slate of lawmakers who advanced the anti-BDS provision, although the statement did not specify inclusion of the problematic “Israeli-controlled territories” language.

“The provision puts the U.S. firmly on record opposing BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and supporting enhanced commercial ties between the United States and Israel,” it said. “It further establishes new requirements for administration reporting on an array of global BDS activities, including the participation of foreign companies in political boycotts of Israel. The provision also provides important legal protections for American companies operating in Israel.”

Dovish pro-Israel groups, including J Street and Americans for Peace Now, had advocated for the removal of he “Israeli-controlled territories” language.

The European Union, over strenuous Israeli objections, last year adopted a policy requiring the labeling of goods manufactured in Israeli settlements, a practice that would facilitate the targeting of settlement businesses. The Obama administration last summer said it would not object to the policy.

U.S. policy since the 1990s has also required distinct labeling of products manufactured in the West Bank; however, unlike the E.U. regulations, the rule applies not only to settlements, but to goods manufactured throughout the territory, including by Palestinians. Additionally, the George W. Bush administration on at least two occasions issued orders overriding the requirement, allowing goods manufactured in the West Bank to be labeled as made in Israel.

Separately, a bipartisan slate of lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation that would make it easier for state legislatures choosing to target BDS, authorizing the divestment of state monies from entities engaged in BDS.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V. in the Senate and Reps. Robert Dold, R-Ill, and Juan Vargas D-Calif., in the House, follows the passage recently of a bill in Illinois targeting BDS. “This bipartisan bill would authorize state and local governments in the United States to follow Illinois’s lead and divest from companies engaged in boycotts and other forms of economic warfare against Israel,” Kirk said in a statement.

The Illinois law specifies protections for companies operating in territories controlled by Israel, as do a number of other proposed bills circulating in legislatures throughout the country. A number of proposed state-level anti-BDS bills do not specify the territories.

Separately, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Thursday introduced legislation that would shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington until the Palestinian Authority has been proven to end incitement against Israelis, stops paying subsidies to the families of terrorists who are in jail or who have been killed, ends its bid to obtain statehood recognition in international forums outside the framework of negotiations with Israel and pulls out of the International Criminal Court, which is investigating war crimes charges against Israeli officials. Cruz is among the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination.

The PLO has maintained an office in Washington since 1994, following the launch of the Oslo peace process.

Skip college — embrace Judaism and learn a trade


The conventional profile of American Jews is that they tend to be highly educated and work in professions like medicine, finance, law and the academy.

Jews, of course, “value education,” as the trope about the “People of the Book” goes. And American Jews, since they started arriving in the United States, have pushed for their kids to get the best education as a means of guaranteeing a successful life.

It isn’t a Jewish value to be a doctor, lawyer or neuroscientist, however. Professional achievement isn’t the measure of Jewish success. And the higher education prescribed by Jewish tradition is not of the variant offered at American colleges. In fact, what Judaism has to say on matters of education and profession are quite different than the current American Jewish norm.

Given the realities of the job market — 12.2 percent unemployment for young workers and slowing economic growth — Judaism’s 2,700-year-old position may be extraordinarily relevant for young Jews today.

The most famous rabbinic declaration on education can be found in the Talmud (Kiddushin 29a). The passage enjoins Jewish parents to teach their children Torah and a trade, along with getting first-born sons circumcised, finding them a spouse and teaching them to swim.

Of course, this is not all our sages had to say on the matter of parenting: There are discussions about corporal punishment (if you have to do it at all use only a shoelace) and the importance of modeling good behavior (because other forms of advice are likely to be rejected). But this accounting of what parents owe their children is the backbone of Jewish wisdom on parental responsibility.

Lifelong Torah study — and not, say, the pursuit of an M.D. or a J.D. — represents the higher education to which all Jews are meant to commit. But why is a trade so important? The rabbinic commentaries emphasize the idea that a trade, like swimming, builds independence and self-sufficiency.

Later in that same Talmudic passage, there is a warning to parents who fail to provide their children with such tools: “Anyone who does not teach his son a skill or profession may be regarded as if he is teaching him to rob.” This is an amazing degree of seriousness — the rabbis are essentially saying that without independence there is ruin.

Centuries later, in 1912, the Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky took up the same cause, beating the drum for commerce and the trades, in large part because he believed the desire among young Russian Jews to move into the professions was contrary to Jewish tradition.

“For generations doing business was the pillar of Jewish life – why abandon it now?” says the main speaker in an article by Jabotinsky called “A Conversation.” “Back to the shop counter! Back to the stores, the banks, the stock exchange – not only to buying and selling, but to industry, to manufacture, to everything ‘practical.’”

In 2015, is such a message really relevant? After all, we hear a lot about how college has become indispensable. President Obama argues that everyone must have access to college, and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have competing proposals for making public universities tuition-free.

Yet, a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report offers a surprising retort. The government says that currently there are 6 million more people with bachelor’s degrees than jobs available for them. So college today clearly isn’t the inexorable path to a good job that it once was.

Even those with jobs don’t have the type of employment that a college education once practically guaranteed. The Economic Policy Institute reports that among college graduates, the underemployment rate is 16.8 percent. (Underemployment means the “highly skilled…working in low paying [and low-skilled] jobs… and part-time workers that would prefer to be full-time.”)

Difficulty finding a job isn’t the only reason to consider skipping college in favor of the trades: The vast majority of graduates are leaving school with huge loans and no clear path to repaying the debt. As reported by USA Today earlier this year, there are “40 million people across the United States who have monumental student debt” for a total outstanding debt burden of $1.2 trillion. CNN reports that between 2008 and 2014 — the recession years — student loans increased by 84 percent, “and are the only type of consumer debt not decreasing,” according to a study from Experian over the same time period.

These are staggering numbers and the impact is not merely in the area of employment. College debt and a challenging environment in which to get hired have led to a whole generation of young Americans who are delaying adulthood. Couples are renting instead of buying their first house, getting married older and many women are delaying having children until they have established themselves in the workforce, which is taking a decade or longer.

Of course, training to be a welder, a carpenter, electrician, plumber, HVAC specialist or franchise owner is not everyone’s professional fantasy. But here’s something to consider: It takes two fewer years to complete a trade school degree than it does an undergraduate college degree. So while the college student is racking up debt, the trade school grad would be earning on average $71,440 in the same amount of time, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

We are not quite at the point where Jewish mothers across the land will proudly introduce their kid as “my son, the plumber!” But going to college, incurring massive debt and spending years toiling to pay back your loans isn’t necessarily the perfect trajectory – or a Jewish value – either.

(Abby W. Schachter is a Pittsburgh-based writer whose first book, “No Child Left Alone: Getting the Government out of Parenting,” will be published next year. Follow her on Twitter @abbyschachter and on Facebook.)

Youkilis traded from Red Sox to White Sox


Kevin Youkilis is changing his Sox: The three-time All-Star was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox.

Youkilis, who is Jewish, was sent to the American League Central Division club on Sunday for utilityman Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart, who was pitching in the minor leagues. The White Sox also received cash in the deal.

A three-time Gold Glove winner who can play first base or third, Youkilis had a .287 career batting average with 133 home runs and 563 runs batted in during his 8 1/2 seasons with the Red Sox. He was a member of the club’s 2004 and 2007 championship teams.

Youkilis has been hampered by injuries in the past three seasons, and the emergence of third baseman Will Middlebrooks made him expendable in Boston, where he was a fan favorite. He received a long standing ovation at Fenway Park after leaving Sunday’s game against Atlanta for a pinch runner after tripling in the seventh inning.

“He pushes me every day, and I want to go out and play hard every day just like he does,” longtime teammate Dustin Pedroia, a former A.L. Most Valuable Player, told ESPN.

Manager Bobby Valentine and Youkilis have had some public disagreements in Valentine’s first season with the team.

Iran shrugs off latest U.S. sanctions, trade suffers


Iran castigated its U.S. adversary on Tuesday over new financial measures to disrupt Iranian commerce, and a default on payment for rice purchases highlighted the encroachment of sanctions on the staples of everyday life.

Lawmakers in Tehran vowed to ban crude exports to European countries even before an EU oil embargo takes effect.

The U.S. sanctions, targeting Iran’s central bank and giving U.S. banks new powers to freeze Iranian government assets, were the latest in a tightening web of international measures aimed at forcing the Islamic Republic to scrap sensitive nuclear work.

“It is an antagonistic move, psychological warfare which has no impact… There is nothing new, it has been going on for over 30 years,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, referring to three decades of U.S.-Iranian hostility.

Rice exporters said Iranian buyers had defaulted on payment for 200,000 tonnes of rice from their top supplier India in another sign that Western financial sanctions are disrupting trade, even in one of Iran’s food staples.

While a plunging rial has made forward purchases costlier, the sanctions are hampering Iranian traders who have used Dubai-based middlemen to keep paying Indian rice suppliers.

Grain ships are docked outside Iranian ports, traders are not booking fresh cargoes and exports of staples to Iran such as maize are falling due to problems collecting payment from buyers. Maize is used widely to feed livestock and shortages, when they work their way through, could force farmers into stress slaughter.

Graphic by Reuters

Tension with the West rose last month when the United States and the European Union targeted Iranian oil exports in their efforts to halt Tehran’s suspected quest for an atomic bomb.

Mehmanparast said the pressure would not deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear program it says has only peaceful purposes. “Our history has shown that sanctions, which are totally illogical, have accelerated our nation’s progress,” he added.

REPRISAL SANCTIONS

Stung by U.S. President Barack Obama’s latest financial jab, Iranian MPs promised to speed passage of a bill to oblige the government to ban oil exports to some EU states well before the 25-nation bloc phases in its own embargo in July.

“The draft bill has been almost finalized. It will oblige the government to immediately cut oil exports to the EU. The bill also will ban import of any goods from the EU,” lawmaker Parviz Sarvari told Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.

Washington and its allies have been cranking up pressure on Iran to cut off the government’s access to capital and oil revenues with the goal of pushing Tehran back into negotiations to resolve the nuclear stand-off through diplomacy.

Mehmanparast said Iran would soon write to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton about resuming talks with big powers, although he added that its nuclear rights were “not negotiable.”

The last talks in January 2010 failed because of Iran’s refusal to halt its sensitive uranium enrichment work, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council and six world powers.

Washington and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve Iran’s nuclear row.

Iran has warned of a “painful” answer, saying it would hit Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf as well as block the vital Gulf oil shipping route through the Strait of Hormuz.

The measures authorized by Obama on Sunday are likely to slow Iran’s trade with Asia by making payments more difficult, traders said on Tuesday, although the more determined can still find a route through Middle Eastern intermediaries.

U.S. sanctions now encompass all Iran’s financial institutions and oblige financial bodies doing business in the United States to block and freeze transactions with a suspected link to Iran. Previous sanctions had only required American banks to reject those transactions.

TRADE HEADACHES

Asian importers of Iranian crude, fuel oil and iron ore will find the measures snarl payment, already often routed via Middle East middlemen. Iran will have to take more payment in illiquid currencies, raising costs and piling pressure on its rial.

On January 26, Iran announced an 8 percent devaluation of the rial and said it would enforce a single exchange rate, aiming to stamp out a black market where the dollar’s value has soared due to fears over new sanctions imposed by the West.

“Iranian cargoes I can get, that’s not a problem. But how to pay is a problem,” said an iron ore trader in New Delhi.

Vijay Setia, president of the All India Rice Exporters’ Association, said the Iranian default had prompted him to ask the Indian government to step in. “It is a serious issue and we do not rule out further payment defaults by Iran,” he said.

Setia said India should not send any more rice to Iran on credit, adding suppliers such as those in Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan had already stopped doing so.

Iranian fuel oil shipments through Singapore are slowing as sanction worries deter traders, while some Iranian iron ore exporters are accelerating loadings to China for fear of even more difficulty procuring ships and payment later this month.

Iran’s economy is already so weakened that its oil exports are more valuable than its imports of food and consumer goods, making it difficult to offset its exports by paying for imports.

Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby in Beijing and Ratnajyoti Dutta and Mayank Bhardwaj in New Delhi; Writing by Alistair Lyon; editing by Janet McBride

EU lawmakers back open markets for Palestinian goods


The EU moved closer to a trade deal with the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday after unanimous backing from European lawmakers to fully open markets to farm and fish products from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The 27-0 vote by the European Parliament’s international trade committee paves the way for full parliamentary approval for a deal later this year, signalling EU support for the Palestinian Authority as it prepares to bid next month for statehood recognition at the United Nations.

While small—trade between the EU and the West Bank and Gaza was worth 60 million euros in 2009, of which just 10 percent constituted Palestinian exports to the EU—the move nonetheless represents an opportunity for exports to boost an economy weakened by chronic conflict with Israel.

“This deal is enormously important. It gives more power to the Palestinians to trade directly with the EU. And it’s a signal of good will from the international community that comes at an important time,” said Maria Eleni Koppa, a Greek socialist lawmaker who led the committee’s discussion on the issue.

The West Bank and Gaza mostly export vegetables, fruits and cut flowers to the European Union, while the territories import EU machinery, chemicals and transport equipment.

The new deal will give Palestinian exporters unlimited duty-free access to European markets for farm goods and products as well as fresh and processed fish.

“For us this is one of the agreements that will help us build the economy of an independent sovereign state,” Majed Bamya, a Palestinian diplomat in Brussels, told Reuters.

The full European Parliament is due to vote on the trade agreement in late September.

Once approved, the deal needs final backing from EU member states and ratification by the Palestinian Authority. It is expected to enter into force before the end of 2011.

GREATER OPPORTUNITIES FOR PALESTINIAN EXPORTERS.

Europe imposed strict labelling laws on goods arriving from the occupied territories in 2005. But complex laws and the fact that trade is conducted largely through Israeli channels has created lingering concerns that Israeli farm operators may be benefiting from deals designed to aid Palestinians.

“We have been campaigning, especially in European countries, that they should not import from Israel products that are produced in (Jewish) settlements … and if they want to import anything from settlements then it has to be labeled separately (as settlement produce),” Ghassan Khatib, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, told Reuters.

Palestinians say that controls by Israel, which took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, restricts their access to export markets, denying them economic opportunity. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Palestinians have argued that better access to export markets is vital to allowing the Palestinian economy to grow, in turn allowing the Palestinian Authority to ease its dependence on aid from donors including the European Union.

Europe’s deal with the Palestinian Authority also forms part of ongoing EU moves to open up trade and investment with the Mediterranean rim along North Africa and the Middle East. (Additional reporting by Thomas Perry in Ramallah; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton) ($1 = 0.693 Euros)

Bringing Shalit home


One of the most ironic obstacles to peace in the Middle East is what I call the Jewish disease of “ifonlyitis.” This is the school of thought that says “if only” Israel would do this, or “if only” Israel would do that, then we finally might resolve the conflict. I suffer from the syndrome myself, and for that I blame my mother. She convinced me from a very young age that “if only” I put my mind to something, there’s nothing I can’t do. 

Well, Mother, it turns out there’s plenty I can’t do, and one of those things is make my enemies like me.

I was thinking of this last week when I read about the plan to increase pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to obtain the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since June 2006. According to reports, the plan in the Shalit camp now is to “take the gloves off” against Netanyahu. That might include politicizing the cause and having more disruptive demonstrations throughout the country.

In an editorial in Haaretz, Nehemia Strassler wrote that the Shalit family has to “wage a personal war against the prime minister” and be “much more militant.” They must “organize mass protests and bring the country to a standstill. They must not give Netanyahu one moment of quiet.”

Evidently, because Bibi has failed to convince Hamas to return Shalit in exchange for the release of almost 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, he’s now the bad guy and must be punished. If you ever needed more proof of the Jewish instinct to blame ourselves for everything, this is it.

This is a sure sign of the “ifonlyitis” disease: The belief that everything is on our shoulders. It’s all about us. We can achieve anything. If only we would release a few hundred more terrorists with Jewish blood on their hands, we might finally free Gilad Shalit.

If only we did this, or if only we did that.

There is a wonderful psychological benefit to this disease. It gives us the illusion that we are in control; that we can affect our situation, no matter how bad it might seem. It empowers us. And when we’re in a hostile and unpredictable environment, we desperately need to feel we are in control of our destiny.

But we pay a heavy price for this illusion of control. First, it leads to tremendous tension and mutual animosity among Jews. Because we assume we are the ones who are always responsible for any situation, we end up constantly beating each other up.

Second, we get so busy beating each other up that we lose sight of the real obstacles to peace. To the Haaretz writer who is calling for a “war” against Netanyahu because Shalit is still not free, I want to scream: “Why on earth are you declaring war against Bibi? In case you forgot, he’s not the one who kidnapped Shalit and is holding him hostage!”

What Jews need, it seems to me, is less hatred of one another and more hatred of evil. Any group that will target a guided missile at a children’s school bus is evil. Any group that will codify the murder of Jews and destruction of Israel in its charter is evil. Those, my friends, are real obstacles to peace.

If we didn’t have this obsession with blaming ourselves for everything, we might focus more of our energies against the real bad guys — and maybe even come up with some imaginative ways of getting what we want.

For example, instead of pressuring the Israeli government over Gilad Shalit, why not transfer some of that pressure to the Palestinians?

A Syrian Jew who sat next to me at the first Seder this year had this idea: Take the names of the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners whom Israel has already offered to release and promote those throughout the Palestinian territories. Drop millions of leaflets with their names and pictures. Promote them on the Internet and social networks. Buy ads in Palestinian newspapers. Film some prisoners pleading for their freedom and run the clips on Al Jazeera.

In other words, put the real pressure on Hamas, not on Bibi. Humiliate Hamas for refusing to obtain the release of its own Palestinian brothers. Have them answer to the hundreds of Palestinian families who would love nothing more than to see their own Gilad Shalits returned home. Expose Hamas for turning its back on its own people.

Think that wouldn’t be more effective than starting a “personal war” against the Israeli prime minister?

It’s ridiculous to keep beating Bibi up over Gilad Shalit. His offer to release hundreds of prisoners is already risky — going beyond it would be reckless and irresponsible. He’s done his part. Now we must do ours.

Just like the global movement to free Natan Sharansky focused on pressuring the Soviet Union, the global movement to free Gilad Shalit must focus on pressuring the Palestinians. Ideally, we ought to find someone with international credibility who could spearhead this effort — someone highly motivated to do something special for Israel and the Jewish people.

In fact, I have a name in mind: Richard Goldstone.

Now “if only” I can convince him to go after the bad guys.

David Suissa is a branding consultant and the founder of OLAM magazine. For speaking engagements and other inquiries, he can be reached at {encode=”suissa@olam.org” title=”suissa@olam.org”} or davidsuissa.com.

Israel, South America start trade agreement


A pioneering free-trade agreement between Israel and a bloc of South American countries began operating.

Israel is the first country outside South America to sign such agreement with Mercosur, a regional bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and produces over $3 trillion in Gross Domestic Product. With the agreement, which came into effect Sunday, bilateral trade is expected to increase threefold in the next five years.

The final approval for the agreement was announced by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on March 15 during his visit to Israel.

“We hope to advance economic and business ties between Israel and Brazil as trade has increased significantly between our two countries in the past few years,” Lula said in Jerusalem.

Brazil is Israel’s largest trade partner in Latin America and, with the approval of the agreement, trade is expected to increase by billions of dollars, especially in the sectors of agriculture, education, science, medicine, and space, and will reinforce mutual investments by both countries.

Video headlines from Israel: 2008-07-11 — Did Olmert double-bill? Shalit talks continue


Video headlines from Israel: 2008-07-11—Did Olmert double-bill? Shalit talks continue