Thousands of items belonging to Auschwitz victims newly uncovered


The Auschwitz Museum says it has rescued from storage 16,000 personal items belonging to Jews killed at the Nazi death camp.

Museum officials said Tuesday that Poland’s former Communist government stored the items — including empty medicine bottles, shoes, jewelry and watches — and then neglected them, Agence France Press reported.

“In most cases, these are the last personal belongings of the Jews led to death in the gas chambers upon selection at the ramp,” the museum said in a statement.

The items were first discovered in 1967 in the ruins of the camp’s crematorium and gas chamber, then stored — and almost forgotten — in cardboard boxes in a building at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

The museum, which  had 1.72 million visitors last year, recently searched for and found the boxes.

“I can only try to imagine why the lost objects were deposited in these boxes just after digging up. … Presumably, they were supposed to be analyzed and studied,” the museum’s director, Piotr Cywinski, said in the statement.

But “a few months later, there was a political turnabout in 1968 and the communist authority took a clearly anti-Semitic course,” he added.

“Perhaps that is why they did not hurry with the implementation and closure of this project. The times then were difficult for topics related to the Holocaust.”

In a separate development last month, the museum found a gold ring hidden in a false bottom of one of the cups on display in the main exhibition.

One million European Jews and more than 100,000 others died at Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945.

Judaism as world wisdom


Sandra is in my office because her marriage is falling apart. She is not a member of any synagogue, and doesn’t consider herself religious. But she read some of my insights online and decided that a Jewish perspective might help her figure out her next move. 

Jason is 16 and wrestles with what his life is supposed to mean. He heard me speak, and could use help discovering a meaning for his existence. 

Yusuf writes on my public Facebook page that he’s a Muslim from Saudi Arabia. He doesn’t know any Jews, and I’m his rabbi. Kathy, a Catholic from Maine, writes that she feels the same.

We stand on the precipice of the third great transformation of Jewish life in modern times. It shouldn’t be news to any of us that Judaism has exhibited a dual tendency of retaining the value it inherited from the past and, at the same time, transforming that inheritance to advance the needs of each new age. That trend has accelerated. Judaism is emerging from tribal expression into a stream of world wisdom. 

The bulk of American Jews descend from the great immigration of 1880-1920, when Ashkenazi Jews left the Pale of Settlement for the East Coast of the United States. Most American Jews to this day are related to Ashkenazi Jews from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the shtetls of Eastern and Central Europe. They fled to the United States, it should be noted, to get away from two repressive dangers: The first (and the one we love to talk about) are the Cossacks and anti-Semitism. But the second oppressive reality they fled was Orthodox rabbinic Judaism. Make no mistake, the learned and the pious stayed in Europe, and they and their descendants were murdered. 

We are the children and grandchildren of the plucky ignoramuses who wouldn’t take no for an answer. They didn’t bother asking their rabbis’ permission to move to New York, they just packed and left. Onboard, they flung their tefillin and their wigs into the turgid Atlantic. They were not only leaving Russian oppression, they were also escaping rabbinic oppression. No surprise that when they came to North America, the prerequisite was to create a safe, comfortable haven where they could be comfortable as they were: fighting the anti-Semitism of the surrounding culture and creating spaces where they didn’t have to feel excessively Jewish. Ironically, the only way they could avoid a sense of being “too Jewish” was to retreat to places where there were only other Ashkenazi Jews. They created the legendary lodges in the Catskills, where you could talk with your hands, eat pickled herring or pickled salmon (which is something!). The food was kosher and mostly mediocre, but you could order as much of it as you wanted. These havens hired Jewish artists and comedians who shared the immigrants’ humor and sensibilities. 

Those new American Jews needed a haven because the larger culture slammed shut the doors of opportunity. Our immigrant forebears were restricted to certain neighborhoods and specific jobs. They were criticized for talking too loud, with their hands, in Yiddish. They felt like outsiders and so they created institutions in which they would not have to deal with being different. No surprise that they created synagogues where a congregant didn’t have to be too Jewish and wouldn’t get hassled for the patina of Jewish they maintained. These Americanized synagogues successfully met the needs of that first generation. What is extraordinary is that these Jews erected institutions throughout the country. They built synagogues, they established rabbinical schools, and created institutions of Jewish learning and culture that enabled them to successfully navigate the larger culture while feeling at home in this adopted country. 

Their institutions successfully met their needs, but those needs are no longer our own. 

The second great transformation of American-Jewish life took place around and after World War II when millions of our people were butchered back in the very countries we had fled a generation or two earlier. The pressing issue was no longer how do we conform to the ways of this country or even how to gain a foothold, but how to combat the virulent midcentury anti-Semitism? How to create a space for ourselves as Jews where we can be participants in the robust and raucous life of American democracy? To meet these new needs, the institutions that were created and modified in this generation were no longer places to retreat so we didn’t have to be consciously Jewish, this post-War generation created powerful anti-defamation leagues. They expanded congresses and committees. Now was a time to mediate Jewish power in democratic contexts: They scrambled to generate effective ways to support the Zionist effort creating a Jewish democracy in the Middle East, and they created agencies that would engage in the political system and the cultural life of America. This is the period in which the Jews took advantage of the openings in American life, attending their colleges and universities, composing the music sung in their musicals. We became their entertainers, their artists, their doctors and their experts. That age reaped unprecedented success for the postwar generation of Jews. 

Nobody today comments on the disproportionate number of Jews in the Supreme Court or in Congress. It is commonplace to hear Yiddish in the entertainment industry, the finance industry, business and academia. That presence is a tribute to the success of the second transformation of American-Jewish life, the time in which we intensified our Jewishness and insisted that we had the right to apply the lesson of the civil rights and women’s liberation movement: that we could be ourselves not only in private (which is what the first generation established), but also adamantly in public. In ways large and small, we put big Jewish institutions out there for the whole world to see. That was the second wave. 

Today’s challenge with the first and second wave is that they succeeded. They accomplished what they set out to do. American Jews by and large feel comfortable in private and safe in public. And we feel safe exerting pressure on the political system as a whole. This past summer witnessed the American-Jewish community engage in a brutal internal debate on the Iran nuclear deal, a contentious issue of international concern, with Jewish institutions publically exerting enormous political pressure on the United States Senate and with a popularly elected president (who most Jews support) willing to go head to head on an issue that many in the community felt was vital to its own well-being. Whether you agree with that move or not, what’s noteworthy is there were no earthshaking repercussions: Jews were still invited to two Chanukah parties in a kashered White House. Both Democrats and the Republicans still compete to represent Jewish voters and invite Jewish engagement in the upcoming elections. 

Jews are a public facet of American-Jewish life. 

The first two generations’ waves have succeeded, but we paid an unanticipated price for that success. That price is that we can no longer use fear to inspire Jewish living anymore. We can’t use guilt, ethnic solidarity or insecurity as a reason to be Jewish anymore. These claims are what motivated Jewish life in this country for a century: terror and anti-Semitism, the specter of being rejected, isolated and marginalized; these just don’t sell anymore. We Jews live in the same neighborhoods, graduate from the same schools, attend the same universities, enter the same professions, and offer our counsel at every level of business, in academia, in science and in government. 

So, what’s left? What are the needs of today? 

It turns out that Judaism is one of the great traditions of world wisdom. We have nurtured a way of life that has caressed and strengthened a resilient people throughout our wanderings. Whatever the political conditions in each age, Jews could retreat to Torah learning, to the practice of mitzvot (literally commandments, but much more: embodied practices of holiness and responsiveness), to warm and engaging community. In that embrace, they could emerge renewed. 

We have wandered through persecutions and exaltation, into places that were happy to host us and other places that could barely abide our presences. In and out of all of those locations, we carried Torah with us because it made our lives better. Torah – the living and the learning — molded us to be more resilient and stronger.

The time for fear has ended. No one will be scared into being Jewish anymore, and they shouldn’t. Yes, resurgent anti-Semitism afflicts Europe, roiling some of our college campuses, and criticism of Israel’s policies often masks a murderous hatred of Israelis and Jews. These phenomena are real and must be contained. But we are no longer trapped in passive terror. 

Much of the world is open to our insights. Because it turns out the Book of Deuteronomy is right. The Torah tells us, “this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who, when they shall hear all these statutes, shall say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6), that we are to live our lives in such a way that the nations of the world will look at our practice and say, “What a wise people! What a great God!” Rashi’s interpretation removes any possible misunderstanding: This verse speaks about wisdom. Rav Saadia observes that it is specifically about justice and truth. The standard for Jewish authenticity is wisdom, justice and truth, such that a well-meaning gentile will notice and be inspired.

What would it look like to elevate that criterion for this third tide of American-Jewish life? This hunger for wisdom is not limited to North America. Those same dynamics now affect Jewish life in Europe, Israel, Latin America, Canada, Australia and everywhere there are Jews. Indeed, we are blessed to live in an age in which millions of non-Jews are willing to glean Jewish wisdom if it will help them live better lives. An example: Hospitals now routinely consult with experts in Jewish bioethics (along with other spiritual/ethical counselors) to practice a humane form of medicine. Several years ago, Harvard convened a conference on the environmental challenge that included authorities in Jewish traditions of land and living with the earth. Sharing traditions like letting the land rest every seven years or the Sabbath as a day of harmony with creation offer assistance to a humanity lacking in tools for better living. We will win Jewish (and universal) allegiance if Judaism is robust, if Judaism augments human life, if people can thrive better because of the wisdom Judaism brings to our lives and our communities. Rabbi Harold Schulweis offered an early example of this approach when he established pro bono legal, psychological and para-rabbinic counseling at Valley Beth Shalom as a way of conveying Jewish wisdom and care for any who sought it. The offer of wisdom drew in people.

So that’s the task. That’s what’s going to bring in today’s people. This network of emergent communities, the more established Jewish institutions, the camps that we run, the youth groups that we offer, the adult education, the introduction programs — all of them are a constant effort to give back to the Jewish people and humanity what is already theirs: this ancient and time-tested path for being human. But that old/new goal changes our rhetoric. This passage in Deuteronomy invites us to admit that the standard by which we judge whether someone is a good Jew is no longer how punctilious they are in particular rituals or prohibitions. The question we must train ourselves to ask is: If someone who isn’t already engaged in Jewish practice were to look at your life or community, would they say, “Wow! I love how Judaism augments their values, the way they treat each other, the way they include the outcast, the way they pursue lives of justice and compassion. I want to be more like them, because the Judaism that keeps them strong and keeps them focused and keeps their eye on the goal makes them kinder and sweeter and wiser and more generous and more resilient. And I need some of that, too”?

What if we placed the criteria for a good Jew not in the hands of a small cabal of rabbis and agencies who assess Jewish status by how well one practices a particular ritual, how learned and literate they are in ancient texts, how pure their bloodlines, how vocal their nationalism? Those characteristics can indeed matter, but they are important for what they cultivate, not as an end in themselves. They ought to deliver a mensch (think, for example, of Ruth Messinger of American Jewish World Service, Elie Wiesel, Betty Friedan, Jerry Seinfeld, Ruth Bader Ginsburg), which should be apparent even for someone who doesn’t read Hebrew or Aramaic or is able to supervise a kosher establishment. 

This kind of decency ought to be visible in the way we conduct our lives with ourselves, with our loved ones, with each other and how we engage the world. That’s what our Torah passage insists: that a gentile will look at our lives and recognize that whatever is inspiring us is wise and good and would benefit anyone. But let’s add another group into that mix. Maybe when we say “the nations” we ought to include that large sector of our own people who are themselves wrestling with Jewish illiteracy and ambivalence. How about all those Jews who don’t know how to practice mitzvot? When they look at our religiosity, are they inspired? Or do they recoil before what appears to them as lunacy and cruelty? 

If our passion for Judaism makes us appear insane, smug and judgmental, well, the Torah has already weighed in on whether that counts as good Judaism. Rashi is already agreed with Deuteronomy’s judgment whether it does or not. 

I want to be clear here: I am not arguing against rigorous learning or scrupulous practice. But if the practice does not lead to a broadness of heart, it is no service to God. If it doesn’t lead to a deeper capacity to feel the pain of your fellow human being, to take on their suffering as your own, if it doesn’t allow you to rejoice when something good happens to the one sitting next to you, then what is it for?

Our challenge as Jews hoping to mentor this next wave is to help midwife the transition from Judaism as an ethnic enclave into Judaism as a world tradition of wisdom. We have what to teach: that God sides with the outcast seeking liberation and that all must be included (Passover seder), that we are more than our résumés (Shabbat), that the land owns us rather than the other way round (ger toshav), and that all people deserve respect and dignity (tzelem Elohim). We have what to share with the world: our values, our stories, our traditions and guidelines, our love of a place, our ways of sanctifying time and family, our hunger for justice. 

Ours may be the greatest secret that humanity has yet to discover because it has been hiding in plain view. And it is our job to bring it out there into the world. There are bright lights already pushing back the shadows, groups like CLAL, the Hartman Institute, American Jewish University’s Whizin programs, Rabbi Benny Lau’s innovative 929.org, Ron Wolfson’s relational Judaism and countless others.

To do that, you have to know the sources. How else can we transmit the wisdom that people are starving for if we don’t ourselves become fluent in it? 

How can we become their teachers if we don’t teach them the language of our classics, if we do not teach them the rhythms of Hebrew and its multiple layers conveying meaning over meaning if we don’t ourselves become practitioners?  

How can we show people what a life of spiritual discipline can be if we don’t root ourselves in that Tree of Life, the Torah and its forest of sacred commentaries (midrash, Talmud, codes, philosophy, kabbalah, hasidut, etc), and grow in mitzvot as well? 

But if we do these things simply as a way to judge others more harshly, if we perform these mitzvot thinking they are the criteria for Jewish judgmentalism, then we betray our own heritage. We turn our back on God, and in this age, no one is putting up with it anymore because they can live a perfectly fine life without it.

So the only reason left for engaging in Torah, the only reason left for our pursuit of mitzvot, is because it brings joy, because it augments depth, and because it heightens wisdom, resilience and community in an age that is scared and desperately lonely and exhausted by the pain of making it through another day. We are, I believe, the heirs of one of humanity’s most beautiful creations, one of God’s greatest gifts. Our heritage is truly something shimmering and on a hill, but it is our job to take it off the hill. It is our job to become so welcoming with it and so good at providing access to it, that we can share it with those who have not yet accessed it. And by those I mean three categories of people: 

I mean Jews who have been swimming in the sea of Torah for a long time and have lost their way. Lost their way because they thought that being punctilious was the end in itself, the goal rather than a means to an end. We can help them through our living to see Torah as a path for a greater life. 

I mean a path for those Jews who have been so wounded by the way Judaism was presented to them, inflicted on them, that all they had when they turned to Torah was pain and rage. We can help to show them there’s another way, a truer way in which Torah becomes the balm of its own healing, and Torah becomes the solution to the problems that its defenders took upon themselves to inflict.

And I mean a new group in this day and age: those legions of human beings (and they number in the thousands if not millions), people who are open to wisdom wherever they find it, people who are willing in the same day to practice Hindu yoga, Zen meditation, listen to a talk of the Dalai Lama and read a tweet from Pope Francis. Yes, they are willing to look at the Facebook page of a rabbi or sage if it can offer something to help them live a better life (check out facebook.com/rabbiartson, facebook.com/rabbiwolpe or facebook.com/accidentaltalmudist for three great examples). 

In an age when people are finally willing to embrace the wisdom of Judaism, don’t we owe it to them to make it available, to be able to first of all wrap ourselves in it like a cloak, and then to be able to share the warmth with those who cross our paths? Don’t we owe it to them to seek them out and help them with Torah’s wisdom whether they are Jewish or not? This isn’t about changing the label; it is about giving access to a tradition that has inspired and transformed human life across the ages. The digital revolution opens access through blogs, online magazines and newspapers, podcasts and videos. Any teacher can enrich our lives anywhere.

What we are sitting on is too precious for us to try to own or monopolize. This is no time for business as usual, no time for simply doing Jewish without opening it to the world. The resilience of Judaism comes from having been repackaged from a time when we were assaulted, and at the same time, allowing us to renew ourselves for each new age. Now is the time for us to be renewed, to allow this time, this day, this age to forge new contact to the Torah of healing, the Torah of humanity, the Torah of wisdom and compassion, and to allow ourselves to be made over in its image so that we ourselves will be forces for healing in turn.


Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (bradartson.com) holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is vice president of American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

Report paving way for Iran sanctions relief likely Saturday


An IAEA report verifying that Iran has kept its promises under last year's nuclear deal with world powers and triggering sanctions relief for Tehran is likely to be issued on Saturday, a diplomatic source said on Friday.

The report, if issued, would mark the consummation of the July 14, 2015 nuclear agreement. Under the deal, Iran agreed to shrink its atomic program in exchange for the lifting of some EU, U.S. and U.N sanctions, which would allow billions of dollars of investment to flow into the country.

In a sign its implementation may be at hand, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will meet in Vienna on Saturday, the U.S. State Department said.

“All parties have continued making steady progress towards Implementation Day of the JCPOA, which will ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner, referring to the formal title of the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iranian and other officials had previously said they expected the report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, to come out on Friday.

“Almost all details are ironed out,” said another diplomatic source, based in the Austrian capital.

The IAEA is in charge of verifying that Iran has carried out all of the nuclear-related steps required in the deal it struck with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. It must release a report once it has done so.

The IAEA declined comment on the timing of the report.

Iranian officials have said Zarif and Mogherini would issue a statement on Saturday or Sunday on the “Implementation Day” of the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions.

Since July, Iran has drastically reduced the number of centrifuges installed at its enrichment sites, shipped tonnes of low-enriched uranium materials to Russia and dismantled the core of its Arak nuclear reactor.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said there could be a meeting in relation to Iran on Saturday in Vienna, where the July 14 deal was reached, but did not elaborate.

“There may be some sort of a meeting tomorrow in Vienna, after which, if everything goes well, we will issue a statement from the Secretary-General,” he told reporters.

In another sign implementation may be near, U.S. President Barack Obama delegated authority to Kerry to take steps to ease some sanctions.

However, a U.S. official said this was “one of many preparatory steps” Washington had to take to ease sanctions once the IAEA verifies Iran has met its nuclear obligations.

Surviving crew member of Russian jet says no warning from Turkey


The surviving crew member of a Russian warplane shot down by Turkey said on Wednesday the plane received no warnings from the Turkish Air Force and did not fly over Turkish air space, Russian news agencies reported.

Turkey shot down the Russian plane near the Syrian border on Tuesday, saying it had violated its air space, in one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a NATO member country and Russia for half a century.

Navigator Konstantin Murakhtin was rescued by Russian and Syrian special forces after ejecting from the plane but the pilot was shot dead by rebels as he parachuted to the ground.

“There were no warnings, either by radio or visually. There was no contact whatsoever,” TASS quoted Murakhtin as saying at a hospital in the Syrian province of Latakia, where Russia has an airbase.

“If they wanted to warn us, they could have shown themselves by taking a parallel course. There was nothing. And the missile hit the tail of our aircraft suddenly, we did not see it in time to do an anti-missile maneuver.”

Ankara has said the plane was repeatedly warned to change course after encroaching on Turkish air space but Moscow has denied that its warplane flew over Turkish territory.

Murakhtin also said his jet did not leave Syrian airspace.

“I could see perfectly on the map and on the ground where the border was and where we were. There was no danger of entering Turkey,” he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Tit-for-tat gestures would replace Middle East talks


If Middle East peace talks collapse this month, lawfare rather than warfare looks likely to fill the void, with the Palestinians set to confront Israel on the diplomatic stage rather than in any popular uprising.

The Israelis will seek to retaliate in such a way as to avoid an international fire storm, analysts and diplomats say, still leaving open the vague possibility of a negotiated end to their seemingly perennial conflict at a later stage in history.

After eight months of largely fruitless discussion aimed at achieving peace, the Israelis and Palestinians are at stalemate, prompting an increasingly glum U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to call for a “reality check”.

The two sides have until the end of April to step back from the brink, with their row focused on how to proceed and not on the core issues which have stymied previous peace efforts, such as the status of Jerusalem or the fate of Palestinian refugees.

But if the deadlock becomes a full blown failure, Palestinian leaders have already made clear they will seek to further their bid for nationhood via unilateral moves to join various international bodies and United Nations agencies.

President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 conventions last week, with around 50 others being primed, including a possible application to join the International Criminal Court.

“Us going to the United Nations is a paradigm shift from our side, (a sign) that the bilateral talks might not be the only answer for ending occupation,” said Mohammed Shtayyeh, a senior member of Abbas's Fatah movement.

On Monday, Shtayyeh said moves to join U.N. bodies would be carried out in “phases”, suggesting the Palestinians would look to increase pressure on Israel and Washington in stages rather than in a single blitz.

COUNTER SUIT

Kerry said last month that if Abbas applied to join U.N. agencies, “he's automatically in them tomorrow”. He added that if the Palestinians went down this path, they could “make life miserable for Israel”.

The biggest threat for Israel comes in the shape of the ICC, with the Palestinians confident they could prosecute Israel there for alleged war crimes tied to the occupation of lands seized in 1967, including East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

However, the legal fight might not be a one-way street.

Israel's Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the nationalist Jewish Home party, has threatened counter suits tied to rocket fire out of Gaza – a Palestinian territory which is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, but which receives financing from the Abbas administration in the West Bank.

“If (Abbas) intends to sue Israel, he needs to know that a personal suit on war crimes that are committed daily by him and his treasury awaits him,” Bennett told Army Radio on Sunday.

Another minister, who declined to be named because of the sensitive timing, said that if the talks failed, the government should annex some West Bank settlements, which are home to 350,000 Israelis and are deemed illegal by most countries.

Rapid settlement building on land Palestinians want for a future state has dogged successive talks and any unilateral Israeli annexation would send shockwaves around the world.

The minister said such a move would only concern settlement blocs near the 1967 lines, adding that the land grab would be needed to prevent a single, Jewish-Arab state slowly emerging from the rubble of decades of conflict and failed talks.

“The most important thing for me is I do not want to live in a bi-national country … Since there is no way to absorb four million Palestinians, we need to separate from them.”

BUILDING PRESSURE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his government is readying retaliatory moves should the Palestinians walk away from the talks, but has not given precise details.

“He has a wide range of options. Administrative, economic, you name it. None of these measures might be very dramatic by themselves, but the combination could be painful,” said Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“I think he will try to resist annexations, but if the Palestinians declare open season on Israel in all forums, and go to the ICC, then he will face increasing Israeli pressure to do so,” he told Reuters.

While opinion polls show more than 60 percent of Israelis support the “two state solution”, some senior figures openly back the creation of a bi-national state, or a confederation.

“Sooner or later we will have a single state,” said Moshe Arens, a former foreign and defence minister, who also served as Israeli ambassador to Washington. “This really depends on the majority of Palestinians wanting to be a part of Israel.”

An opinion poll last December by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey said 56 percent of Palestinians no longer believed a Palestinian state could be created, with 32 percent supporting a single state where Arabs and Jews had equality.

UPRISING

The last time a concerted peace push fell apart, in 2000, violence soon spiraled out of control, coalescing into the second Palestinian Intifada. The uprising lasted more than four years, killing more than 4,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis and wrecking the economy in Palestinian self-ruled areas.

Kerry warned last year that failure this time around could lead to another outbreak of bloodletting.

However Ghassan Khatib, an academic at Birzeit university in the West Bank and a former government minister, said polls for his Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre showed support for armed struggle stood at under 30 percent – its lowest level since polling on the issue started 17 years ago.

By contrast, in 2001, some 85 percent of Palestinians supported military operations against Israel.

As with the Israeli public, most Palestinians had little hope invested in the Kerry talks, meaning there will be no sense of wrecked expectations in the event of rupture.

“The current leadership is not at all interested in resuming violence. What happened last time around was a big lesson for everyone,” said Khatib.

Some Jerusalem diplomats have questioned whether an ageing Abbas might simply decide to shut down his cash-strapped Palestinian Authority in case of failure, forcing the Israelis to take over the costly running of Palestinian towns and cities.

Such a dramatic decision could not be made alone by Abbas. He would need the endorsement of an army of officials whose livelihood depends on the Western-backed PA, meaning they all have a strong, vested interest in seeing it limp on.

“We had three years without negotiations before this last attempt and I think we will simply go back to a similar situation. Life will continue more or less as it was,” said Khatib, a veteran observer of Palestinian affairs.

Nazi-looted trove contains lost works by Matisse, Dix


Previously unknown paintings by Henri Matisse and Otto Dix are among a vast trove of Nazi-looted art found in a Munich apartment that includes works by some of Europe's most celebrated artists, German experts said on Tuesday.

Customs investigators seized the 1,400 art works, dating from the 16th century to the modern period and by artists such as Canaletto, Courbet, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, last year, an official said.

They had remained silent until now not because of any “improper intentions”, they added, but because they had chanced upon the art during a tax evasion probe, which compels secrecy.

While experts consider the works to be of huge artistic value, the task of returning them to their rightful owners could take many years and poses a huge legal and moral problem for German authorities.

The haul, found in the flat of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of a war-time art dealer, is one of the most significant discoveries of works seized by the Nazi regime. It could be worth more than 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion), according to a German magazine, although officials declined to comment.

Gurlitt, who occasionally sold paintings to support himself, has since vanished.

The paintings, which were found in generally good condition, are being stored in an undisclosed location and no list will be published – something that has been criticised by those seeking to recover lost art. The decision may be intended to deter false claims that would distract expert investigations.

“When you stand in front of works that were long considered lost, missing or destroyed, and you see them again, in a relatively good condition – a little bit dirty but not damaged – it's an incredible feeling of happiness,” said Meike Hoffmann, an art expert from Berlin's Free University who has been assessing the find.

Hoffmann said that among the previously unknown paintings was a self-portrait by Dix, in impeccable condition, and probably painted around 1919.

A similarly unknown Matisse painting, of a seated female figure that he had painted several times, probably dated from the mid 1920s and was confiscated in 1942. There was also a work by Marc Chagall not previously known.

Slides of the works were shown during a news conference, including the Matisse and a group of horses by German expressionist Franz Marc.

SYSTEMATIC PLUNDER

The Nazis systematically plundered hundreds of thousands of art works from museums and individuals across Europe. Thousands of works are still missing.

Investigators made the spectacular find after Gurlitt, believed to be in his seventies, aroused their suspicions as he travelled by train between Zurich and Munich, with a large sum of cash, according to German media.

Jewish groups have urged that the origins of the art works be researched as quickly as possible, so that, if looted or extorted, they can be returned to their original owners.

For some families missing art constitutes the last personal effects of relatives murdered during the Holocaust.

“Had this discovery been made public at the time it was made, families looking for their lost art would have been able to potentially identify works within this collection,” said Julius Berman, Chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

“Publicizing the existence of Nazi-looted art is essential to the process of finding heirs,” he added.

The group cited an agreement struck in Washington in 1998, where 44 governments endorsed a set of principles for dealing with Nazi-looted art, including that every effort should be made to publicise it.

Besides paintings the haul included a large number of drawings and pastels on paper.

“We were able to confiscate 121 framed art works and 1,285 non-framed works, including some famous masterpieces,” Nemetz said. “We had concrete clues that we were dealing with so-called 'degenerate art', or so-called looted art.”

NAZIS' DEALER

Cornelius's father Hildebrand Gurlitt was, from 1920, a specialist collector of the modern art of the early 20th century that the Nazis branded as un-German or “degenerate” and removed from show in state museums, or displayed simply to be mocked.

Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels recruited Gurlitt to sell the “degenerate art” abroad to try to earn cash for the state. Gurlitt bought some for himself and also independently bought art from desperate Jewish dealers forced to sell.

Investigators said the collection comprises works which are clearly from the Nazi regime's state-owned collection of “degenerate art”. Others, which may have had several owners or may have been extorted from owners fearing Nazi persecution, will need extensive research.

Jonathan Petropoulos, a history professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, and author of “The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany”, said: “Hildebrand Gurlitt became a dealer for Hitler and went to the Nazi art-looting headquarters in Paris where he presumably got a lot of works.”

Gurlitt, who fled to the West after the war, claimed he had lost all his art and papers in the bombing of Dresden. “Obviously that was a lie,” Petropoulos added.

Germany has faced criticism that the restitution process is too complicated and lacks sufficient funding.

Restitution groups and lawyers have often criticised state and museum authorities for not doing enough to research works' origins themselves and instead leaving the onus on relatives.

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.

Ban on non-medical circumcision introduced in Sweden


A bill introduced in the Swedish parliament would ban the non-medical circumcision of males younger than 18.

Two lawmakers from the rightist Sweden Democrats party, noting that female genital mutilation is illegal in Sweden, submitted the bill to the Riksdag on Tuesday.

Bjorn Soder and Per Ramhorn wrote in the measure that “boys should have the same right to avoid both complications of reduced sensitivity in the genitals, painful erections, increased risk of kidney damage and psychological distress by permanent removal, and the tremendous violation of privacy that circumcision actually means.”

The bill proposes to scrap legislation from 2001 that says circumcision of newborns is permissible if it is performed by a “licensed professional.”

Jewish ritual circumcisers, or mohelim, in Sweden receive their licenses from the country’s health board, but a nurse or doctor must still be present when they perform the procedure.

The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party was established in 1988 but only made it into parliament following unprecedented gains in the 2010 elections, when it garnered 5.7 percent of the votes, or 20 seats out of 349 in Sweden’s parliament. The opposition party is the sixth largest faction in the Riksdag.

Ritual circumcision of underage boys increasingly has come under attack in Scandinavia, both by left-wing secularists as well as right-wingers who fear the influence of immigration from Muslim countries.

The opposition followed a ruling last year by a German court in Cologne that ritual circumcision amounted to a criminal act. The ruling was overturned but triggered temporary bans in Austria and Switzerland.

Sweden has about 20,000 Jews and 500,000 Muslims, according to a U.S. State Department report from 2011.

Pope, in Syria peace appeal, calls for end to spiral of death


A somber-looking Pope Francis made an impassioned appeal before 100,000 people on Saturday to avert a widening of Syria's conflict, urging world leaders to pull humanity out of a “spiral of sorrow and death.”

Francis, who two days ago branded a military solution in Syria “a futile pursuit”, led the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world.

“Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!” Francis said at the midpoint of a five-hour prayer service. Police and the Vatican estimated a crowd of about 100,000 in St Peter's Square.

The United States and France are considering military action against Damascus to punish President Bashar Assad for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria's civil war that killed hundreds of people. Assad's government denies responsibility.

A number of people held up Syrian flags and placards reading “Hands off Syria,” and “Obama, you don't have a dream, you have a nightmare”. But they were not allowed into St Peter's Square, in keeping with the pope's intention for a religious service.

The service was punctuated by music, prayer, the reciting of the rosary and long periods of silence in which the participants were asked to meditate on the need for peace to vanquish the destruction of war.

“We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death!” said Francis, who wore his simple white cassock instead of ceremonial robes to the service.

“At this point I ask myself: Is it possible to change direction? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?”

He then asked “each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it!”

When he announced the prayer vigil last Sunday, Francis asked Catholics around the world to pray and fast and invited members of other religious to take part in any way they saw fit in the hope that a wider war could be averted.

“That's very scary, very scary,” said Lennie Tallud, a clinical lab scientist visiting St Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Asked whether she thought prayers would make a difference, she said: “Definitely, for sure. No doubt. I think it would – 100 percent.”

Services were held by Christians around the world, including in Jerusalem, Assisi and Milan in Italy, in Boston and Baghdad.

 

MUSLIMS PRAY WITH POPE

Yaha Pallavicini, a leader of Italy's Muslim community, attended the prayer service with other Muslims.

“Praying for the intention of peace is something that can only help fraternity and, God willing, avoid more war,” he told Reuters. “As Muslims who want peace we have to work so that the values of faith and dialogue prevail over the destruction of peoples.”

In his address, the pope, who for most of the service sat silently behind an altar on the steps of the largest church in Christendom, stressed the power of prayer to change the world.

“This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace!” he said.

“Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation,” he said.

His words struck a personal chord with Marina Verkotenh, a pilgrim from Russia. “I think it's very important for all the people to unite here at this square and to bring together all our forces to unite and to pray, and also to bring attention to all the people who decide this question, these important questions about war and peace,” she said.

At least one senior U.S. clergyman publicly expressed reservations about President Barack Obama's campaign for military action against Syria.

“As Congress debates a resolution authorising military force in Syria, I urge you instead to support U.S. leadership for peace. Only dialogue can save lives and bring about peace in Syria,” Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said in a message sent to U.S. senators from Florida and to his representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Additional reporting by Noreen O'Donnell in New York, editing by Mark Heinrich)

Torah hidden in Polish monastery is returned


A Torah scroll that has been hidden in a Tuchow monastery since 1942 was returned to the synagogue in Dabrowa Tarnowska in southern Poland.

The Torah was returned earlier this month but reported for the first time on Aug. 24.

It had been brought to the monastery in Tuchow, approximately 60 miles from Krakow, by an anonymous person who asked the Redemptorist priests to hold the scrolls until the synagogue in Dabrowa again became a place of prayer, according to Father Kazimierz Piotrowski of the Redemptorist monastery in Warsaw.

“After the war for many years the synagogue was systematically devastated. The Torah was thus kept in a monastery in Tuchow,” Piotrowski told the Catholic News Agency.

The synagogue in Dabrowa Tarnowska was built in the second half of the 19th century; during World War II the Germans turned it into a workshop. Over the past few years the building was renovated and is now the House of Cultures in Poland.

Following the building’s dedication, the Redemptorists decided to donate the Torah scroll there. In 2010, the mayor of Dabrowa Tarnowska gave the scroll to conservationists, and today it can be seen in the prayer hall of the former synagogue.

‘The Act of Killing’ shows underbelly of Indonesian reality


There is a scene near the beginning of the documentary “The Act of Killing” in which Anwar Congo, a self-professed mass murderer, dances the cha-cha on the rooftop patio where he once beat people to a pulp before strangling them with chicken wire. 

It’s a moment that’s hard to watch at home. To imagine having stood there in person while he danced is nearly unfathomable. But, for Joshua Oppenheimer, it was merely one day in five years of filming the disturbing and brilliant documentary about the Indonesian killings of 1965-66. “I began this journey over a decade ago, when my collaborator Christine Cynn and I went to make a film [‘The Globalisation Tapes’] about people struggling to organize a union in a place where unions had been illegal,” Oppenheimer, 38, said in a recent phone call during his press tour. “It was my first time in Indonesia. I didn’t know Indonesian yet. … They were afraid to organize a union because there had been a strong plantation union until 1965.”

That’s when Indonesia experienced an anti-communist purge following a failed coup that took the lives of between 500,000 and 2 million people. 

Over a period of a little more than a year, communists, leftists, intellectuals and ethnic Chinese-Indonesians were rounded up by paramilitary death squads directed by the Indonesian army. They were beaten, tortured and, more often than not, killed.

There was never a reckoning for the leaders of these death squads. Many went on to earn fame and fortune for their roles in the massacre, often ending up in government posts. 

It is this aftermath, this bizarre world of glorified genocide that caught Oppenheimer’s interest. 

The director began by reaching out to neighbors of the plantation workers who’d once been participants in the purge and were now living next door to the people whose parents they’d once helped kill.

“I would go and meet these neighbors who I heard were [death squad] perpetrators. … I’d approach their houses, cautiously. … They’d invite me into their house, offer me tea … and immediately they’d open up about the killings, because the killings had been the biggest thing they’d ever done and the basis for any career they’d had afterward.”

The world Oppenheimer reveals in his documentary is a surreal one in which mass murderers appear on talk shows and brag about their exploits; a world where the vice president of a country appears at the rally of a paramilitary group and praises them for being gangsters. To Americans, it might seem like something out of a parallel dimension.

At the heart of much of it is Congo.

“Anwar was the 41st perpetrator I’d filmed,” Oppenheimer said. “I think I lingered on Anwar because his pain was close to the surface.”

Anwar Congo cuts a fascinating figure on screen. He’s at once repulsive and yet oddly likable in some ways — charismatic, sweet to his grandchildren. 

American films play a strange role in the documentary. Congo and his friends were film buffs, and they suggest to Oppenheimer that it might be a good idea for them to act out the killings they carried out by imitating some of their favorite American film genres. 

They put together a series of grotesque vignettes for Oppenheimer’s cameras, depicting atrocities with a surprising and disturbing flair. A gangster film, a horror film, a war film — each iteration a violent homage to the glory days of old. Congo, in particular, seems tickled by the idea of re-enacting his killings in the style of his favorite films, though toward the end of the movie, even he begins to see the horror in the re-enactments.

“It’s not so surprising that the re-enactments ultimately become the prisms through which he recognizes the horror of what he’s done,” Oppenheimer said of Congo. “Even if he’s never capable of recognizing it consciously and in words, I think by the end of the film, his body is literally choking on it.”

That’s not to say American film made Congo into a killer. While Congo describes leaving an Elvis Presley movie and walking across the street to torture communists, happily, Oppenheimer pointed out that “Elvis Presley musicals aren’t violent, they’re just stupid.”

Oppenheimer believes that Congo’s outward behavior — even the cha-cha — hid inner turmoil.  

“The justification of killing is not necessarily a sign of pride, but it can be a sign of the opposite, that they know what they’ve done is wrong and that they’re desperately trying to get away from it,” he said. “I think he was profoundly haunted by what happened on the roof. Indeed, he says before he dances the cha-cha that he’s a good dancer because he was going out drinking, taking drugs and dancing to forget what he’d done.”

The Indonesian killings particularly hit home for Oppenheimer because his father’s family narrowly escaped from Frankfurt, Germany, before the Holocaust. When he visited Germany for the first time in 1995, a cousin drove Oppenheimer around Frankfurt and began pointing out the former locations of Gestapo offices. 

“They were Kentucky Fried Chickens, banks, restaurants, handbag shops … and I remember thinking to myself, everywhere that these things happened should be left empty, as monuments to what’s happened, not so much to punish the Germans, but so we as human beings would be forced to live with, and forever remember, the consequences of our actions.”

In “The Act of Killing,” these empty spaces are all filled with mixed emotions. The patio where Congo used to do his killings now sits above a women’s handbag store. The theater where Congo and his friends used to watch American films before their torture sessions is now eerily shuttered but still standing.

Oppenheimer said he remains worried about the indifference of Americans to our own role in the rise of men like Congo. Popular brands like Nike and Adidas have been cited by Oxfam International, an anti-poverty group, for using Indonesian sweatshop labor in the past. And Indonesia is by no means unique.

“Every article of clothing touching my body is haunted by the suffering of the people who made it for me. I’m wearing a $6 T-shirt from H&M that had a tag on it that said, “Made in Bangladesh,” which I cut off and threw away, wondering whether the person who made my T-shirt is now buried in rubble,” Oppenheimer said. 

The danger, he said, is thinking that we are somehow above the Indonesians that appear in the film, that this is a world we could never tolerate or understand. 

“Everything we buy comes from places like the Indonesia of ‘The Act of Killing.’ … We depend on Anwar and his friends for our everyday living. ‘The Act of Killing’ is not a distant reality, but rather the underbelly of our own reality.”

“The Act of Killing” is playing at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles.

EU adds Hezbollah’s military wing to terrorism list


The European Union agreed on Monday to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist, a move driven by concerns over the Lebanese militant group's involvement in a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria and the Syrian war.

The powerful Lebanese Shi'ite movement, an ally of Iran, has attracted concern in Europe and around the world in recent months for its role in sending thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, an intervention that has turned the tide of Syria's two-year-old civil war.

Britain and the Netherlands have long pressed their EU peers to impose sanctions on the Shi'ite Muslim group, citing evidence it was behind an attack in the coastal Bulgarian city of Burgas a year ago that killed five Israelis and their driver.

Until now, many EU capitals had resisted lobbying from Washington and Israel to blacklist the group, warning such a move could fuel instability in Lebanon and in the Middle East.

Hezbollah functions both as a political party that is part of the Lebanese government and as a militia with thousands of guerrillas under arms.

Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said the decision was “hasty” and could lead to further sanctions against the movement that would complicate Lebanese politics.

“This will hinder Lebanese political life in the future, especially considering our sensitivities in Lebanon,” he told Reuters. “We need to tighten bonds among Lebanese parties, rather than create additional problems.”

The blacklisting opens the way for EU governments to freeze any assets Hezbollah's military wing may have in Europe.

“There's no question of accepting terrorist organizations in Europe,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in a statement that the EU had taken an important step by “dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah, freezing its assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act”.

In the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry said Syria was an important factor behind the EU vote.

“A growing number of governments are recognizing Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilizing terrorist organization that it is,” he said.

QUESTIONING EFFECTIVENESS

By limiting the listing to the armed wing, the EU was trying to avoid damaging its relations with Lebanon's government, but the split may complicate its ability to enforce the decision in practical terms.

Hezbollah does not formally divide itself into armed and political wings, and Amal Saad Ghorayeb, who wrote a book on the group, said identifying who the ban would apply to will be difficult.

“It is a political, more than a judicial decision. It can't have any real, meaningful judicial implications,” she said, adding it appeared to be a “a PR move” to hurt Hezbollah's international standing, more connected with events in Syria than with the case in Bulgaria.

Israel's deputy foreign minister Zeev Elkin welcomed the step, but said the entire group should have been targeted.

“We (Israel) worked hard, along with a number of countries in Europe, in order to bring the necessary materials and prove there was a basis for a legal decision,” he told Israel Radio.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to allay concerns about the practical impact of the decision, saying it would allow for better cooperation among European law enforcement officials in countering Hezbollah activities.

Hezbollah parliamentary member al-Walid Soukariah said the decision puts Europe “in confrontation with this segment of people in our region”.

“This step won't affect Hezbollah or the resistance. The resistance is present on Lebanese territory and not in Europe. It is not a terrorist group to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe, which is forbidden by religion.”

TRICKY RELATIONS

The Iran-backed movement, set up with the aim of fighting Israel after its invasion of Lebanon three decades ago, has dominated politics in Beirut in recent years.

In debating the blacklisting, many EU governments expressed concerns over maintaining Europe's relations with Lebanon. To soothe such worries, the ministers agreed to make a statement pledging to continue dialogue with all political groups.

“We also agreed that the delivery of legitimate financial transfers to Lebanon and delivery of assistance from the European Union and its member states will not be affected,” the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Already on the EU blacklist are groups such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, and Turkey's Kurdish militant group PKK.

Their assets in Europe are frozen and they have no access to cash there, meaning they cannot raise money for their activities. Sanctions on Hezbollah go into effect this week.

Hezbollah denies any involvement in last July's attack in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian interior minister said last week Sofia had no doubt the group was behind it.

In support of its bid to impose sanctions, Britain has also cited a four-year jail sentence handed down by a Cypriot court in March to a Hezbollah member accused of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

The decision also comes at a time of strained relations between the EU and Israel after Brussels pushed ahead with plans to bar EU financial aid to Israeli organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.

EU foreign ministers held a video conference with Kerry who announced on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had tentatively agreed to resume peace talks after three years.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Oliver Holmes, Stephen Kalin and Reuters Television in Beirut; Editing by Will Waterman

Egyptian fighting squeezes the Gaza Strip


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Ahmed Abu Hamda, a journalist and producer in the Gaza Strip, had some work to do in the morning. But as happens frequently in Gaza, there was an electricity blackout because the area’s sole power plant is running low on fuel.

And like most Palestinian families, Abu Hamda has a generator. But now he has no fuel for his generator either.

“I just couldn’t do my work,” he told The Media Line. “Electricity is off now between 9 and 12 hours every day.”

There is also a growing shortage of gasoline in Gaza where most of the 120 gas stations have closed. When some fuel does arrive, the Hamas government divides it into three parts – first for the hospitals; then for the power plant; and only then for the gas stations.

“Some people wait many hours in line to get gasoline and then it runs out before they can get some,” Abu Hamda says. “In addition, there is no cement at all in Gaza and the construction sector has completely shut down.”

There is also a shortage of cooking gas. Much of what there is comes into Gaza through a network of hundreds of smuggling tunnels that run underground between Gaza and Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. The underground passage ways are used bring in all kinds of consumer goods, but also for weapons and drugs.

Since Hamas forcibly wrestled control of the Gaza Strip from its rival Palestinian faction Fatah in 2007, an economy has developed from the tunnel trade, with taxes being imposed on the goods that smuggled in to the benefit of the Hamas-controlled fiscal infrastructure.  Egyptian gas, cement, and cooking fuel are much cheaper than the same product made in Israel and legally imported.

But for the past three weeks, the Egyptian army has closed the tunnels, fearing gunmen could come from Gaza into Sinai.

“I have one cylinder attached to the stove and it’s almost empty,” Abu Hamda said. “I only have one backup, and when it runs out I won’t be able to replace it.”

The timing is especially bad, he says, as the holy month of Ramadan starts tomorrow. Muslims fast each day from dawn to dusk and at night enjoy elaborate celebratory meals called “iftar.”

The Rafah crossing point between Egypt and Gaza, which is used only for people, not goods, has also been closed for five days because of the unrest surrounding the overthrow Mohamed Morsi. Thousands of Palestinians are stranded in Egypt and have no way to return home to Gaza. Those seeking to travel the reverse route are also stuck.

“After years of blockade the situation in Gaza was already dire and unsustainable. The closure of Rafah can only make things worse,” Chris Gunness, the spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, told The Media Line. “But to be clear, Rafah is not a commercial trans-shipment point. It is mainly for people. So the closure of Rafah creates a lot of fear and frustration among people in Gaza, as it is one of the few ways they can leave and go abroad. That is one of many reasons why we call on all parties to end the blockade of Gaza which is a collective punishment and illegal under international law.”

The manager of the Rafah terminal told The Media Line that it would be open on Wednesday for Gaza residents still in Egypt to be able to return home and for those needing medical treatment to be able to leave.

Israel says it is doing everything it can to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said Israel has allowed 310 truckloads of goods to pass through the Kerem Shalom crossing point as well as 190 tons of gas.

Israel has frequently closed Kerem Shalom in response to rockets fired into its territory from Gaza. In addition, Palestinians say the Israeli gas is more than double the price of the gas that used to enter through the tunnels. They also say that even before the Morsi-related unrest in Egypt there was a growing shortage of fuel and cooking gas.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) says it is “deeply concerned for the deterioration of humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, especially in light of the closure of the Rafah International Closing Point, which has been the sole outlet for the movement of the population of the Gaza Strip to the outside world.”

There is also increasing food insecurity in Gaza, meaning a growing number of Palestinians struggle to feed their families. Close to one million Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on aid from UNRWA, which provides basic necessities such as flour, sugar, and cooking oil.

“High food prices and low wages mean that 1.6 million Palestinians don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Ertharin Cousin, the Executive Director of the World Food Program said on a recent visit to the West Bank. “Yet food security IS security. Food security is a vital component for sustained peace across the region.”

That statistic refers to both the West Bank and Gaza.

Many Palestinians in Gaza have family ties to Egypt, and are closely watching events there. At the same time, they worry that their situation in Gaza will continue to deteriorate.

Muslim, Christian leaders back Egypt transition


Egypt's leading Muslim and Christian clerics backed an army-sponsored roadmap on Wednesday which suspended the constitution and called for early presidential and parliamentary elections.

Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Cairo's ancient seat of Muslim learning, and Pope Tawadros, the head of the Coptic Church, both made brief statements following an announcement by the head of the armed forces that deposed the elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Tawadros said the plan offered a political vision and would ensure security for all Egyptians, about 10 percent of whom are Christian.

Reporting by Yasmine Saleh; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

U.S. declines to criticize Egypt’s military as it ousts Morsi


The United States declined on Wednesday to criticize Egypt's military, even as it was ousting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from power.

Minutes before Egypt's army commander announced that Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president, had been deposed and the constitution suspended, the U.S. State Department criticized Morsi, but gave no public signal it was opposed to the army's action.

Asked whether the Egyptian army had the legitimacy to remove Morsi from power, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We're not taking sides in this.”

The muted U.S. response – at least thus far – to the dramatic events in Cairo suggested that Washington may be willing to accept the military's move as a way of ending a political crisis that has paralyzed Egypt, a long-time U.S. ally.

Still, the distant attitude toward Morsi, who has come under U.S. criticism in recent days, could open up President Barack Obama to complaints he has not supported democracy in the Arab world.

There was no immediate reaction from the White House or the State Department to the military's announcement that it was installing a technocratic government to eventually be followed by new elections.

But the fact that the Egyptian military announced plans for elections and a constitutional review, and that those plans were immediately backed by the country's leading Muslim and Christian clerics, could help the transition roadmap earn Washington's backing.

Earlier, Psaki had made clear that U.S. officials were disappointed in Morsi's speech on Tuesday night. In that speech Morsi said he would defend the legitimacy of his elected office with his life.

Morsi must “do more to be truly responsive” to concerns of Egyptian people” after huge rallies over the weekend, she said. “We are calling on him to take more steps.”

Specifically, Psaki said Morsi should call for an end to violence, including violence against women. He should also take steps to engage with the opposition and the military and work through the crisis in a political fashion, she added.

The military move also presents Obama with a dilemma over continuing U.S. aid to Egypt. Underlying the importance for Washington of keeping ties to Egypt's military, Secretary of State John Kerry in May quietly approved $1.3 billion in military assistance, even though the country did not meet democracy standards set by the U.S. Congress for it to receive the aid.

U.S. law requires most American aid to be cut off “to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d'etat or decree.”

But the law gives the State Department discretion to decide whether a coup has taken place, according to Republican and Democratic congressional aides.

Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis; Writing by Warren Strobel; Editing by Alistair Bell and Vicki Allen

Defiant Erdogan denounces riots in Turkish cities


Anti-government protesters responsible for Turkey's worst riots in years are “arm-in-arm with terrorism,” Prime Minister Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, in a defiant response to four days of unrest in dozens of cities across the country.

Hundreds of police and protesters have been injured since Friday, when a demonstration to halt construction in a park in an Istanbul square grew into mass protests against a heavy-handed police crackdown and what opponents call Erdogan's authoritarian policies.

The demonstrations showed no sign of abating on Monday with protesters returning to Taksim Square. Barricades of rubble hindered traffic alongside the Bosphorus waterway and blocked entry into the area. Leftist groups hung out red and black flags and banners calling on Erdogan to resign and declaring: “Whatever happens, there is no going back.”

In Ankara, police charged mostly teenage demonstrators and scattered them using teargas and water cannon. Protesters had erected a barricade in the Kizilay government quarter and lit a fire in the road as a helicopter circled overhead.

Erdogan has dismissed the protests as the work of secular enemies never reconciled to the election success of his AK party, which has roots in Islamist parties banned in the past but which also embraces centre-right and nationalist elements. The party has won three straight elections and overseen an economic boom, increasing Turkey's influence in the region.

“This is a protest organised by extremist elements,” Erdogan said before departing on a trip to North Africa. “We will not give away anything to those who live arm-in-arm with terrorism.”

On arrival in Rabat, flanked by Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, Erdogan blamed parties that had lost elections for the violence, which he predicted would be short-lived: “In a few days the situation will return to normal.”

Turkey's leftist Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK), which represents 240,000 members, said it would begin a two-day “warning strike” on Tuesday to protest at the police crackdown on what had begun as peaceful protests.

The unrest delivered a blow to Turkish financial markets that have thrived under Erdogan. Shares fell more than 10 percent and the lira dropped to 16-month lows on Monday.

The United States called for restraint in a rebuke to its NATO ally. “We are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in Washington.

WIND OF CHANGE

Since taking office in 2002, Erdogan has curtailed the power of the army, which ousted four governments in the second half of the 20th century and which hanged and jailed many, including a prime minister.

Hundreds of officers, as well as journalists and intellectuals have been jailed over an alleged coup plot against Erdogan. The wind of change has swept also through the judiciary. Where Erdogan was jailed in the late 1990s for promoting Islamism by reciting a poem, a musician was recently jailed for blasphemy after mocking religion in a tweet.

Erdogan said the protesters had no support in the population as a whole and dismissed any comparison with the 'Arab Spring' that swept nearby Arab states, toppling rulers long ensconced in power with the help of repressive security services.

His own tenure in office, with its economic and political reforms, was itself the “Turkish Spring”, he suggested.

He gave no indication he was preparing any concessions to protesters who accuse him of fostering a hidden Islamist agenda in a country with a secularist constitution.

Some object to new restrictions on alcohol sales and other steps seen as religiously motivated. Others complain of the costs of Erdogan's support of rebels in neighbouring Syria's civil war. Still others bear economic grievances, viewing the disputed development project in Taksim Square as emblematic of wild greed among those who have benefited from Turkey's boom.

SAFE FOR NOW

Walls around Taksim were plastered with posters of a policeman spraying tear gas at a young woman in a red summer dress, her hair swept upwards by the draught of the spraygun.

“The more they spray, the bigger we get,” read the caption.

Western governments have promoted Erdogan's administration as a democratic Islamist model that could be copied elsewhere in the Middle East after the fall of authoritarian leaders. They have expressed concerns about human rights standards discreetly, but last weekend's events prompted the United States and the European Union to openly criticise police action.

Erdogan appeared to reject accusations of heavy handedness, saying authorities were “behaving in a very restrained way”.

With strong support, especially in the conservative religious heartland of Anatolia, Erdogan remains Turkey's most popular politician and seems safe for now.

He said plans would go ahead to re-make Taksim Square, long a rallying point for demonstrations, including construction of a new mosque and the rebuilding of a replica Ottoman-era barracks.

The protests have involved a broad spectrum in dozens of cities, from students to professionals, trade unionists, Kurdish activists and hardline secularists who see Erdogan seeking to overthrow the secularist state set up by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

Additional reported by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Rabat; Writing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Giles Elgood

Is there a shortcut to redemption


Pesach – the Hebrew name for Passover– comes from the Hebrew root PSH which means to skip over, to pass over. It appears first in the context of the ten plagues, in which God skipped over the homes of the Israelites while the rest of Egypt suffered.

On a deeper, more fundamental level, the Passover festival is based on this idea of passing or skipping over the regular order of things. The Jews did not leave Egypt as part of an evolutionary process. Their departure was a leap, a shortcut. While the exodus was a move from slavery to freedom – a practical, political situation – it was also a transition from oppression to redemption. From beginning to end, the Passover redemption is a leap over an orderly, consistent historical course into a new, different and better state, and into a much higher level of existence.

The Israelites were not just enslaved. In Egypt they had become slaves in their mindset, their world-view and their sense of personal self-worth. While the sons of Jacob and their families surely had a spiritual and religious legacy, it was not well defined and had no specific rites, that legacy was practically non-existent. Possibly, the Israelites in Egypt did retain some elements of their past, but they surely became more and more assimilated into Egyptian culture and its atmosphere. The forms of their religious worship were likely not very different from those of the Egyptians – although they were probably not permitted to practice the Egyptian religion as equals.

The exodus from Egypt, then, called for a very profound change in the entire psyche and social makeup of the Jewish people.  The act of releasing a slave – one who was born into bondage and with an entire life spent obeying orders – calls for a thoroughgoing personality change. Those who came out of Egypt were immersed in the lowest levels of Egyptian culture. They had to detach themselves completely from their old life and acquire a new set of concepts. Being free was a foreign notion that required a much, much higher degree of abstraction and the acquisition of a whole new universe of ideas.

All the slips and failures of the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert are therefore totally understandable. Yet despite all these personal, social and cultural impediments, this broken and naked nation successfully became a new national entity and began taking a new path. The prophet Ezekiel, in his poetic style, compares the Jewish nation that is redeemed from Egypt to a poor girl, saying (Ezekiel 16:6-7): “And … I passed by thee, and saw thee wallowing in thy blood, I said unto thee: In thy blood, live; yea, I said unto thee: In thy blood, live … yet you were naked and bare.” Thus, over and above all the miracles – in the sky, on earth and in the water – of the Exodus, the greatest miracle of all is that Jewish people did indeed come out of Egypt and became a nation. The entire Exodus then represents a quick leap into redemption, passing over the life of slavery that had lasted for hundreds of years.

There is a great lesson here for every individual in every generation: everyone can “pass over,” make a leap. Not only slow, painful and indecisive changes are possible; we all also have an inborn ability to make quantum jumps. People can, even by the power of their own decision, make transitions that are not gradual but almost revolutionary. The “passing over” of Passover teaches us that such a jump is possible and inspires us to do so.

Passover represents the promise that we will indeed be able to leap over the multitude of small and big obstacles in our path and reach a better, more perfect state of things, both physically and spiritually.


Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, world-renowned scholar, teacher, mystic and social critic, has written over 60 books and hundreds of articles on the Talmud, Kabbalah and Chasidut. His works have been translated into English, Russian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Italian, Chinese and Japanese. The rabbi’s life-long mission is to make the Talmud accessible to all by bringing the study of Jewish texts to communities around the world. Thel Fourth Annual Global Day of Jewish Learning will be on November 17, 2013.

Locust swarm crosses from Egypt into Israel


A swarm of locusts that descended on Egypt has begun to cross into southern Israel.

A small swarm of the destructive cousin to the grasshopper was discovered Monday in the Ramat Hanegev region near the border with Egypt. They are expected to be exterminated Monday night or early Tuesday morning, Ynet reported.

A black cloud of more than 30 million locusts swarmed over parts of Egypt including Cairo and Giza beginning on Saturday, causing millions of dollars worth of damage, according to Egyptian Agricultural Minister Salah Abad Almoman.

A hotline was set up in Israel for farmers to call if they see signs of locust infestation.

The locust attack comes some three weeks before the start of Passover, which recalls a destructive plague of locusts, one of the 10 plagues that the Bible says was sent by God in order to free the Jewish slaves.

Report: 30% rise in anti-Semitic complaints in Belgium


Belgium saw a 30-percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic complaints filed in 2012, according to a government agency.

Edouard Delruelle, president of the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism, a Belgian government agency, said his organization documented 88 complaints of anti-Semitism in 2012, compared to 62 the previous year and 57 the year before that.

“The Jewish community is right to be concerned,” Delruelle told Belgian daily La Derniere Heure in a Feb. 21 article. “The figures show that anti-Semitism persists in Belgium.”

He said that, while 88 incidents may seem negligible, “These figures are merely indicative, the tip of the iceberg, because many victims do not complain.”

The figures for 2012 include 11 cases of vandalism,15 verbal assaults on the street, 13 holocaust denials and 28 insults made online. Other attacks included intimidation and harassment.

Delruelle said that the figures correspond to the 58 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in France documented in a report by the SPCJ, the French-Jewish security unit,  released this week.

That report said 614 anti-Semitic attacks were documented in France in 2012 compared to 389 in 2011.

France has a Jewish population of approximately half a million compared to Belgium's estimated 40,000 Jews.

Bulgaria expels visiting Hamas lawmakers


Bulgaria reportedly expelled a group of Hamas lawmakers who were visiting from the Gaza Strip.

Bulgarian officials removed the three officials from their hotel room on Feb. 15.

The lawmakers blamed their expulsion on Israel.

“We entered the country with an official visa, so we should have left willingly rather than being expelled,” Hamas leader Salah al-Bardawil told a news conference on Saturday, according to the Maan Palestinian news service. “The delegates represent the Palestinian people, not Hamas, though they are affiliated to Hamas.”

Bulgaria's National Security Service said they expelled the Hamas delegates because “we obtained information that their presence was creating a serious threat to national security,” the security service said in a statement.

Israeli lawmakers press for answers on dead Australian ‘Prisoner X’


Knesset members pressed Israel's justice minister for answers on “Prisoner X,” who was identified in an Australian TV report as an Australian-born Israeli who worked for the Mossad and died in an Israeli prison.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Tuesday that the man referred to in Israel as Prisoner X was jailed in early 2010 and apparently committed suicide two years ago in the high-security Ayalon Prison near Tel Aviv. The report identified him as Ben Zygier, who was known in Israel as Ben Alon. Israel has not confirmed the identification.

A gag order that is still in effect on Israeli media was issued in the incident in late June 2010, according to the network's investigative news program “Foreign Correspondent,” which said the order barred any mention of Prisoner X or of the gag order itself. In December 2010, the Hebrew-language Ynet newsite reported on the existence of the prisoner in a short article that was later removed.

Following the broadcast Tuesday, Israeli news editors were called to the Prime Minister's Office for an emergency meeting of the Israeli Editors Committee, an informal forum comprised of the editors and owners of major Israeli media outlets that dates back to David Ben-Gurion. Shortly after the meeting, news items reporting on the Australian report — a bid to avoid the gag order — were removed from Israeli news sites, according to Haaretz.

“Today we hear that in a country that presumes to be a democracy, journalists are cooperating with the government without the knowledge of the High Court, and that anonymous prisoners are committing suicide and no one knows who they are,” Meretz party chairwoman Zahava Gal-On asked Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman during a Tuesday Knesset session. “How does that comply with democracy and the rule of the law?”

United Arab List-Ta'al lawmaker Ahmad Tibi asked Ne'eman, “Do you have any information, sir, pertaining to this incident? Can you confirm the fact that an Australian citizen has committed suicide in prison under a false identity?”  

“I cannot answer these questions,” Ne'eman responded, “because the matter does not fall under the authority of the justice minister. But there is no doubt that if true, the matter must be looked into.”

“Foreign Correspondent” reported that Zygier was 34 at the time of his death and had moved to Israel about 10 years earlier. He was married to an Israeli woman and had two small children.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s website, Zygier was found hanged in a cell with state-of-the-art surveillance systems that are installed to prevent suicide. Guards reportedly tried unsuccessfully to revive him. His body was retrieved and flown to Melbourne, where he was buried.

The network said it “understands that he was recruited by the spy agency Mossad.”

Zygier's family declined to speak to the news program, which reported that friends and acquaintances approached by “Foreign Correspondent” also refused to comment.

Foreigners still caught in Sahara hostage crisis


More than 20 foreigners were still either being held hostage or missing inside a gas plant on Friday after Algerian forces stormed the desert complex to free hundreds of captives taken by Islamist militants.

More than a day after the Algerian army launched an assault to seize the remote desert compound, much was still unclear about the number and fate of the victims, leaving countries with citizens in harm's way struggling to find hard information.

Reports on the number of hostages killed ranged from 12 to 30, with anywhere from dozens to scores of foreigners still unaccounted for.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, eight of whose countrymen were missing, said fighters still controlled the gas treatment plant itself, while Algerian forces now held the nearby residential compound that housed hundred of workers.

Leaders of Britain, Japan and other countries expressed frustration that the assault had been ordered without consultation. Many countries were also withholding information about their citizens to avoid helping the captors.

Night fell quietly on the village of In Amenas, the nearest settlement, some 50 km (30 miles) from the vast and remote desert plant. A military helicopter could be seen in the sky.

An Algerian security source said 30 hostages, including at least seven Westerners, had been killed during Thursday's assault, along with at least 18 of their captors. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian, with the nationalities of the rest of the dead still unclear, he said.

Algeria's state news agency APS put the total number of dead hostages at 12, including both foreigners and locals.

Norway's Stoltenberg said some of those killed in vehicles blasted by the army could not be identified. “We must be prepared for bad news this weekend but we still have hope.”

Northern Irish engineer Stephen McFaul, who survived, said he saw four trucks full of hostages blown up by Algerian troops.

The attack has plunged international capitals into crisis mode and is a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.

“We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told his parliament.

A local Algerian source said 100 of 132 foreign hostages had been freed from the facility. However, other estimates of the number of unaccounted-for foreigners were higher. Earlier the same source said 60 were still missing. Some may be held hostage; others may still be hiding in the sprawling compound.

Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among the seven foreigners confirmed dead in the army's storming, the Algerian security source told Reuters. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.

Those still unaccounted for on Friday included 10 from Japan and eight Norwegians, according to their employers, and a number of Britons which Cameron put at “significantly” less than 30

France said it had no information on two Frenchmen who may have been at the site and Washington has said a number of Americans were among the hostages, without giving details. The local source said a U.S. aircraft landed nearby on Friday.

The attackers had initially claimed to be holding 41 Western hostages. Some Westerners were able to evade capture by hiding.

They lived among hundreds of Algerian employees on the compound. The state news agency said the army had rescued 650 hostages in total, 573 of whom were Algerians.

“(The army) is still trying to achieve a 'peaceful outcome' before neutralising the terrorist group that is holed up in the (facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still being held,” it said, quoting a security source.

MULTINATIONAL INSURGENCY

Algerian commanders said they moved in on Thursday about 30 hours after the siege began, because the gunmen had demanded to be allowed to take their captives abroad.

A French hostage employed by a French catering company said he had hidden in his room for 40 hours under the bed, relying on Algerian employees to smuggle him food with a password.

“I put boards up pretty much all round,” Alexandre Berceaux told Europe 1 radio. “I didn't know how long I was going to stay there … I was afraid. I could see myself already ending up in a pine box.”

The captors said their attack was a response to a French military offensive in neighbouring Mali. However, some U.S. and European officials say the elaborate raid probably required too much planning to have been organised from scratch in the single week since France first launched its strikes.

Paris says the incident proves that its decision to fight Islamists in neighbouring Mali was necessary.

Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a pre-occupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.

The most powerful Islamist groups in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in a civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of Al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.

Al Qaeda-linked fighters, many with roots in Algeria and Libya, took control of northern Mali last year, prompting the French intervention in that poor African former colony.

The Algerian security source said only two of 11 militants whose bodies were found on Thursday were Algerian, including the squad's leader. The others comprised three Egyptians, two Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a Frenchman, he said.

The plant was heavily fortified, with security, controlled access and an army camp with hundreds of armed personnel between the accommodation and processing plant, Andy Coward Honeywell, who worked there in 2009, told the BBC.

The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the value of outwardly tough security measures.

Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site. The attackers benefitted from bases and staging grounds across the nearby border in Libya's desert, Algerian officials said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those respsonsible would be hunted down: “Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere…. Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide.”

WARNING OF MORE ATTACKS

The kidnappers threatened more attacks and warned Algerians to stay away from foreign companies' installations, according to Mauritania's news agency ANI, which maintained contact with the group during the siege.

Hundreds of workers from international oil companies were evacuated from Algeria on Thursday and many more will follow, said BP, which jointly ran the gas plant with Norway's Statoil and the Algerian state oil firm.

The overall commander of the kidnappers, Algerian officials said, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed veteran of Afghanistan in the 1980s and Algeria's bloody civil war of the 1990s. He appears not to have been present.

Algerian security specialist Anis Rahmani, author of several books on terrorism and editor of Ennahar daily, told Reuters about 70 militants were involved from two groups, Belmokhtar's “Those who sign in blood”, who travelled from Libya, and the lesser known “Movement of the Islamic Youth in the South”.

Britain's Cameron, who warned people to prepare for bad news and who cancelled a major policy speech on Friday to deal with the situation, said he would have liked Algeria to have consulted before the raid. Japan made similar complaints.

U.S. officials had no clear information on the fate of Americans. Washington, like its European allies, has endorsed France's military intervention in Mali.

Lack of deal with Iran on nuclear talks alarms Russia


Russia expressed alarm on Friday that no date or venue had been agreed for a new round of talks between global powers and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.

Iran, which denies Western accusations it is seeking to develop a capability to make nuclear weapons, said last week it had agreed to resume talks in January with six powers.

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday there was no final agreement on when or where a meeting would take place.

“This alarms us, because the pause has dragged on,” the Interfax news agency quoted Ryabkov, who is the Russian negotiator, as saying.

“As a nation and a member of the 'group of six' we are working actively to find a solution.”

The European Union, which represents the powers, said last week that it had proposed a date to Iran but Western diplomatic sources said on Friday that Iran had yet to respond.

One source suggested that the date the EU proposed was next Tuesday but said that was now unlikely.

“It is our understanding that Iran has not responded to the Jan. 15 date,” the diplomatic source said.

The six powers – the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany – were therefore not planning for that, he source said.

Global powers, particularly in the West, want to rein in Iran's uranium enrichment work. Tehran says it is refining uranium for peaceful ends only but enrichment yields material that can be used to make nuclear bombs if processed further.

There was no breakthrough in three rounds of talks last year, the most recent in Moscow in June, and Israel has stepped up talk of pre-emptive attacks on Iranian nuclear sites, lending urgency to diplomacy.

Ryabkov said he hoped the talks will take place this month.

“When we parted in June after the Moscow round, we agreed that the process should continue without substantial breaks,” Interfax quoted him as saying.

SUSPECT SITE

Western diplomats and analysts say it is unclear why Iran has not agreed a date for new talks. Some suggest Tehran may want to wait until after its next meeting with the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, next Wednesday.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in Tokyo on Friday he was not optimistic about the talks or getting access to a military base Western powers suspect has been used for atom bomb-related work.

“The outlook is not bright,” Amano said.

He was referring to negotiations to be held in Tehran on the framework accord the Vienna-based IAEA hopes will enable it to quickly resume its stalled investigation into suspected atom bomb research.

His remarks contrasted with a more upbeat assessment given by the IAEA after a meeting with Iranian officials last month.

“Talks with Iran don't proceed in a linear way,” Amano said. in Japanese comments translated into English. “It's one step forward, two or three steps back…So we can't say we have an optimistic outlook” for the Jan. 16 meeting.

Russia, which built Iran's first nuclear power plant, has supported four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program but opposes further measures and has sharply criticised Western sanctions.

Russia has adamantly warned against attacking Iran and, while it says Tehran must cooperate and dispel concerns about its nuclear program, officials including Ryabkov have suggested Western fears it seeks nuclear weapons are overblown.

Jordan gears up for parliamentary elections


Campaigning for Jordan's parliamentary elections kicked off this week with tribesmen, former army generals and businesspersons rushing to join the race.

Early surveys predict less than a 50 percent voter turn-out due to growing anger against government policies and the absence of major opposition parties, including the Islamist movement, on the list of candidates.

Cities and towns across the kingdom are awash with campaign material as parties appeal to the emotions and needs of citizens from all social backgrounds.

The national election committee on Tuesday announced final figures of registered candidates for the January 23 polls. It included 820 men and women and 60 joint tickets competing for the 150 seats.

Observers said candidates are doing whatever they could to attract voters. One of the joint tickets was named after former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is very popular in many parts of the kingdom and whose name is associated in Jordan with strict justice and an unwavering stance against corruption and injustice.

Despite the colourful images, candidates were seen as dull and repetitive in their appeals to voters. “It is a contest of rhetoric rather than content,” analyst Jehad al Mansi told The Media Line.

Placards and slogans randomly stuck on walls of public and private buildings, major roundabouts and crossroads, lampposts and traffic lights, plainly echoed issues raised during the 2010 elections, a year before the Arab spring that toppled several authoritarian regimes over corruption, poverty and lack of personal freedom. Some of the eye-catching slogans included: “Your vote is a responsibility,” “Be responsible,” “Cast your vote for the voice of justice,” “No good nation without good parliament” and “Make your voice heard in parliament.”[

Jordan was one of the countries swept with nationwide turmoil last year, inspired by protests in Tunisia and Egypt, but demands fell short of calling for King Abdullah's removal.  Instead, opposition parties called for reforms that included cutting the king's political power, including his ability to control parliament and formation of Jordanian governments.

“Let us not forget that most of those candidates come from the army, the business community or figures approved by their tribes and allied to the regime,” youth activist Abdullah Auran told The Media Line..

“Candidates are not competent, which means an inept parliament. The regime wants it that way otherwise the parliament will cause trouble,” he said.

Critics of the elections law said the legislation was tailored to favor candidates from small towns and tribal-based areas. They said the law tips the balance of power in favor of independent candidates and small towns inhabited by east bank Jordanians. This weakens political parties and major population centers, where Jordanians of Palestinian origin live and have significant voting power.

Political analyst Usama Rantisi said the majority of candidates have been less than impressive in their early campaigning.
“I have been following flamboyant slogans of candidates, including former MPs who were less than impressive and even marginal in the last parliament. They are the same people who did not question the government about any single issue,” he told The Media Line.

One slogan called to “Eradicate corruption and nepotism and end unemployment in districts of candidates.” Others urged: “Let us build a modern nation,” and “Together we overcome corruption.”

“I hope that candidates improve their campaigning and adopt realistic programs in all sectors under specific timetables,” Rantisi added.    .

Government critics said most candidates are either pro-regime figures or independents seeking popularity or representatives of lobby groups and business alliances seeking protection of their interests. 

Observers point out that some vocal anti-government figures were barred from running in the elections, while others declined to take part amid concern over vote-rigging.

Meanwhile, the Islamist movement vowed to continue street protests in the run-up to the elections. The elections will be held  without any candidates from  the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and the kingdom's main opposition group, as well as several leftist parties and youth groups.

The IAF plans to hold a protest of 100,000 people next month in a show of power and to pressure authorities to cancel the elections.

“It would be much better for authorities to call the elections off. This is a travesty,” IAF Secretary-General Hamzah Mansour told The Media Line. “The majority of the people do not approve of the elections and tension will only rise,”

But the government insists the wide number of candidates and registered voters are early indicators that the elections will proceed smoothly.

“The elections have attracted a large part of the Jordanians. It is up to the Islamist movement to participate or boycott, but they are the losers,” government spokesman Sameeh Maytah told told The Media Line, arguing that opposition groups can realize their ambitions of reform through the parliament, not via street protests

Holocaust, Jewish themes remain prominent among foreign Oscar offerings


The long-forecast “Holocaust fatigue” among filmmakers and their audiences has not yet arrived, judging by the entries for 2013 Oscar honors by producers and directors in numerous countries.

Each of a record 71 foreign — meaning non-English-speaking — countries has submitted its top film, ranging alphabetically from Afghanistan to Vietnam.

So broad a representation of the world’s tastemakers and opinion-shapers, though hardly scientific proof, tends to reflect the topics and themes likely to attract home audiences.

So, just as in Hollywood, there are lots of movies on love in all its permutations; high and low comedies; and spy, action and detective thrillers.

But also entered are five movies that deal directly with the Jewish fate during the Nazi era and its aftermath, one film with talmudic roots and one on the wartime clash between Russian and German armed forces.

Also of special interest to Jewish moviegoers are the Israeli entry, and, after an absence, a Palestinian film.

Probably the least-expected entry is “Lore,” submitted by Australia. While the Aussies speak in what might still be considered colonial dialect, that would hardly be considered a foreign language by the standards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

But “Lore” features an all-German acting and -speaking cast. The title character is a 14-year-old girl, the daughter of a high-ranking SS officer and his like-minded wife, who are arrested by Allied authorities in the closing days of World War II in Europe.

Lore is charged by her mother to take her four younger siblings, one still a baby, across rubble-strewn Germany, pass through the Russian-occupied zone and find the farm of her grandmother in American-ruled West Germany.

Along the way, Lore is befriended and protected by a young man, to whom the adolescent girl is physically and emotionally attracted. To her horror, the Nazi-suckled Lore discovers that her protector seems to be one of the despised and evil Jews she has been taught to hate all her life.

The only Australian part of the film is its director, Cate Shortland, and under the Academy rules, that entitles her country to enter “Lore” as its own.

Shortland, who with the Journal during a visit to Los Angeles, was asked why she would make a film on this particular topic and in a language she doesn’t speak.

“I have long been interested in totalitarianism and, especially, what it does to children,” she said, adding that it was challenging to view ultimate evil from the perspective of the perpetrators.

Her decision was reinforced by her marriage to a man whose German-Jewish parents arrived as refugees in Australia, and by her own conversion to Judaism four years ago.

Aside from “Lore,” the other four entries dealing with the Holocaust were made in Eastern European countries dominated in the postwar decades by communist regimes, which largely ignored the extermination of its Jewish populations during World War II.

One of the entries is from Macedonia and another from Serbia, two countries established by the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

“The Third Half,” by Macedonian director Darko Mitrevski, has some of the elements of a Hollywood product — poor boy falls in love with rich girl, and the underdog team beats the champion.

In this case, a scruffy, low-class workingman and part-time soccer player pursues the aristocratic daughter of a rich Jewish banker, and his laughable provincial team beats the league’s top team.

What sets “The Third Half” apart is the time — 1941 — and the locale of Macedonia, occupied by Nazi ally Bulgaria. The occupiers introduce all of Hitler’s racial agenda, including the graphically depicted humiliation and deportation of the Jews.

Bulgaria, which saved its own Jews but turned the Jews of occupied Macedonia over to the Germans, has bitterly protested the film as a perversion of history. According to Mitrevski, Bulgarian authorities have retaliated by blocking talks for Macedonia to join the European Union.

The director remains unfazed. “I am fascinated by the individual stories of Holocaust survivors,” he said. “There should be 11 million such movies of Jewish, Gypsy, homosexual and political survivors.”

In Serbia’s submission, “When Day Breaks,” an elderly music professor, who has always considered himself a Christian, discovers that he is the son of Jewish parents, who left him with a farmer’s family and later perished in the Holocaust.

As the stunned professor wanders through present-day Belgrade, he finds that few people remember the war years or that the city’s neglected fairground served as a concentration camp for the city’s Jews. With his musician friends, he set about to establish a memorial on the site.

Like the professor, “I cannot not remember,” said director Goran Paskaljevic in a phone interview. “If we forget the crimes committed during World War II, and later in Bosnia, that opens the door to new crimes.”

The Czech Republic’s entry, “In the Shadow,” starts as a film-noir detective story, but as it evolves, it leads to the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic show trials of the 1950s, staged by the communist regime in Prague.

The Holocaust targeted not only Jews, but also other “racially inferior” people, particularly the Romas (Gypsies). Hungary, an Axis partner during the war, relives this past in its Oscar entry, “Just the Wind.” The movie depicts the murder of five Romani families in an isolated village and the subsequent trial of the suspects.

“White Tiger” is an enigmatic Russian film that centers on some of the devastating tank battles between German and Soviet forces during World War II. The title character is a massive German tank, which appears suddenly to destroy its Russian opponents and just as suddenly disappears into the void.

Critics have interpreted the film’s underlying theme as pointing to war as a natural part of the human condition or as a representation of the German lust for power and domination, which will fade away for some time and then suddenly reappear.

The Latvian movie, “Gulf Stream Under the Iceberg,” goes back to the biblical and talmudic legend of Lilith, the reputed first wife of Adam, who in subsequent reincarnations controls men through her sexual attraction.

Israel’s contender, “Fill the Void,” wrestles with profound issues of faith within the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community of Tel Aviv. Director Rama Burshtein, a New York native who became fervently Orthodox after making aliyah, focuses the film on whether 18-year-old Shira will follow her mother’s wishes to marry the husband of her older sister, who died in childbirth.

Shira is caught between the strictures of her community — whose rituals and lifestyle are depicted in loving detail and not without humor — and personal choice.

In the Palestinian film, “When I Saw You,” Tarek is a precocious 11-year old, who flees his West Bank village after the Six-Day War and ends up with his mother at a refugee camp in Jordan.

Seeking freedom and adventure, Tarek leaves the camp and falls in with a group of militant anti-Israel fighters.

The motion picture academy will winnow down the 71 foreign entries to an initial shortlist of nine semifinalists and is scheduled to announce the results on Dec. 21. Subsequently, five finalists will be made public on Jan. 10. The Oscars will be presented on Feb. 24.

Among film critics, the favorites for the top prize are Austria’s “Amour” and France’s “The Intouchables,” which were both nominated for Golden Globe awards. However, Israel’s “Fill the Void” and Australia’s “Lore” also are considered likely contenders, and the selection committees for best foreign-language film are well known for their often-unexpected choices.

In the meantime, though, the academy has already announced its 15 nominees for best documentary choices. Included are “5 Broken Cameras” by directors Emad Burnat, a Palestinian, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli; and “The Gatekeepers” by Israel’s Dror Moreh. “The Gatekeepers” consists of lengthy and surprisingly frank interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, discussing the past and likely future of the tumultuous regional conflicts.

Clashes erupt in Egypt despite proposal to end crisis


Islamists fought protesters outside the Egyptian president's palace on Wednesday, while inside the building his deputy proposed a way to end a crisis over a draft constitution that has split the most populous Arab nation.

Stones and petrol bombs flew between opposition protesters and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi who had flocked to the palace in response to a call from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Two Islamists were hit in the legs by what their friends said were bullets fired during the clashes in streets around the compound in northern Cairo. One of them was bleeding heavily.

A leftist group said Islamists had cut off the ear of one of its members. Medical sources said 23 people had been wounded in clashes.

Riot police deployed between the two sides to try to stop the confrontations which flared after dark despite an attempt by Vice President Mahmoud Mekky to calm the political crisis.

He said amendments to disputed articles in the draft constitution could be agreed with the opposition. A written agreement could then be submitted to the next parliament, to be elected after a referendum on the constitution on December 15.

“There must be consensus,” he told a news conference, saying opposition demands had to be respected to reach a solution.

Facing the gravest crisis of his six-month-old tenure, Morsi has shown no sign of buckling, confident that Islamists can win the referendum and a parliamentary election to follow.

Many Egyptians yearn for an end to political upheaval that has scared off investors and tourists, damaging the economy.

Egypt's opposition coalition blamed Morsi for the violence around his palace and said it was ready for dialogue if the Islamist leader scrapped a decree he issued on November 22 that gave him wide powers and shielded his decisions from judicial review.

“We hold President Morsi and his government completely responsible for the violence happening in Egypt today,” opposition coordinator Mohamed ElBaradei told a news conference.

POLARIZATION

“We are ready for dialogue if the constitutional decree is cancelled … and the referendum on this constitution is postponed,” he said of the document written by an Islamist-led assembly that the opposition says ignores its concerns.

“Today what is happening in the Egyptian street, polarisation and division, is something that could and is actually drawing us to violence and could draw us to something worse,” the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog added.

Opposition leaders have previously urged Morsi to retract the November 22 decree, defer the referendum and agree to revise the constitution, but have not echoed calls from street protesters for his overthrow and the “downfall of the regime”.

Morsi has said his decree was needed to prevent courts still full of judges appointed by ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak from derailing a constitution vital for Egypt's political transition.

Rival groups skirmished outside the presidential palace earlier on Wednesday. Islamist supporters of Morsi tore down tents erected by leftist foes, who had begun a sit-in there.

“They hit us and destroyed our tents. Are you happy, Morsi? Aren't we Egyptians too?” asked protester Haitham Ahmed.

Mohamed Mohy, a pro-Morsi demonstrator who was filming the scene, said: “We are here to support our president and his decisions and save our country from traitors and agents.”

Mekky said street mobilization by both sides posed a “real danger” to Egypt. “If we do not put a stop to this phenomenon right away … where are we headed? We must calm down.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed into Egypt's political debate, saying dialogue was urgently needed on the new constitution, which should “respect the rights of all citizens”.

DIALOGUE

Clinton and Morsi worked together last month to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.

“It needs to be a two-way dialogue … among Egyptians themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of the constitution,” Clinton told a news conference in Brussels.

Washington is worried about rising Islamist power in Egypt, a staunch U.S. security partner under Mubarak, who preserved the U.S.-brokered peace treaty Cairo signed with Israel in 1979.

The Muslim Brotherhood had summoned supporters to an open-ended demonstration at the presidential palace, a day after about 10,000 opposition protesters had encircled it for what organizers dubbed a “last warning” to Morsi.

“The people want the downfall of the regime,” they chanted, roaring the signature slogan of last year's anti-Mubarak revolt.

The “last warning” may turn out to be one of the last gasps for a disparate opposition that has little chance of scuttling next week's vote on the draft constitution.

State institutions, with the partial exception of the judiciary, have mostly fallen in behind Morsi.

The army, the muscle behind all previous Egyptian presidents in the republic's six-decade history, has gone back to barracks, having apparently lost its appetite to intervene in politics.

In a bold move, Morsi sacked Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the Mubarak-era army commander and defense minister, in August and removed the sweeping powers that the military council, which took over after Mubarak fell, had grabbed two months earlier.

The liberals, leftists, Christians, ex-Mubarak followers and others opposed to Morsi have yet to generate a mass movement or a grassroots political base to challenge the Brotherhood.

Investors have seized on hopes that Egypt's turbulent transition, which has buffeted the economy for two years, may soon head for calmer waters, sending stocks 1.6 percent higher after a 3.5 percent rally on Tuesday.

Egypt has turned to the IMF for a $4.8 billion loan after the depletion of its foreign currency reserves. The government said on Wednesday the process was on track and its request would go to the IMF board as expected.

The board is due to review the facility on December 19.

Elijah Zarwan, a fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that if Egypt was to find a compromise solution to its crisis, it would not be through slogans and blows.

“It will be through quiet negotiation, not through duelling press conferences, street brawls, or civil strife.”

Additional reporting by Tom Perry, Tamim Elyan and Edmund Blair; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Andrew Roche

A year after signing power transfer deal, Yemenis divided over government’s performance


[SANA’A] Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al Zayani visited Yemen to mark the first anniversary of the deal that saw former President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquish power to his longtime deputy, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

On November 23 last year, after 10 months of deadly protests calling for his ouster, Saleh was forced to sign the agreement initiated by the Saudi-led Gulf monarchies and backed by the West.

Analysts say Ban's visit to Yemen, which made him the first UN chief to visit the country, was mainly intended to push for launching the second phase of the power transfer deal, which includes holding an inclusive national dialogue, reorganizing the divided army and security forces, and rewriting the constitution.

“The UN chief's visit at this critical time was designed to demonstrate the entire international community’s support for Hadi and his power-sharing government, and deliver a warning message to those who are trying to hinder the process of transition,” Abdusalem Mohammed, chairman of the Abaad Studies and Research Center think tank, told The Media Line.

“The visit, which came as violence was raging between Gaza and Israel, was also aimed to deter any militant group from attempting to exploit the situation and stir chaos,” he added. 

With the passage of one year since the ouster of the former president, many Yemenis are assessing the performance of Hadi and his power-sharing government.

“Actually, nothing has changed at all,” accountant Saleh Ali, 27, told The Media Line. “The same policies are applied. Only officials have been replaced and that essentially does not make any difference by itself.”

“We were better off before the revolution erupted. It only helped divisions to deepen, tensions to heighten and poverty to increase,” said Ali, who wore traditional Yemeni clothing including a Janbiya — a dagger with a short curved blade worn on a belt. Other passengers on the same bus disagreed sharply with Ali. One went so far as to call him one of Saleh's thugs.

College student Rami Khalid, 23, told The Media Line, “I feel like I was not alive before the overthrow of Saleh. Thank God he's gone. Things have looked up since he was ousted.”

However, Khalid, who was chewing leaves of Khat, a narcotic plant chewed daily by more than half of Yemen's population, admitted that living standards had dropped, but said this will be temporarily.

“Hadi and the national unity government managed to get things back on track after tensions were running high and the country was heading toward a civil war,” Ali Al-Sarari, political and media advisor for Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwah, told The Media Line. “They managed to restore relative security across the nation and drive out Al-Qa’ida militants from their strongholds. Any citizen can clearly notice the difference in the public services such as tap water and electricity.”

During the uprising against Saleh, public services significantly deteriorated.

Al-Sarari says he believes the government’s biggest accomplishment so far was achieved in the area of combating corruption. “The new government revoked the long-term contract with [marine terminal operator] DP World which had deliberately undermined the strategic Aden Port. It has also managed to negotiate with the French oil company Total a rise in the ‘unfair’ price that Yemen's liquefied gas is sold for,” he said.

“Hadi and his national unity government have so far been successful at their job at the helm of Yemen,” said Abdusalam Mohammed of the Abaad Studies and Research Center. “In the transitional stage, they are not required to boost development or improve the struggling economy, rather to prevent the country from descending into a full-blown civil war, which they did.”

Dr. Yahya Al-Thawr, chairman of Modern German Hospital in Sana’a, agreed with Mohammed and added, “So far, their performance has been satisfactory. But many people want to see improvements in the economy and development, and that's impossible because these sectors need time to progress.”

“Hadi is steering Yemen toward a successful, national dialogue and resolving long-standing problems,” Al-Sarari said.

While Al-Thawr and Mohammed shared his thinking, although they noted that the transitional process is very slow, political analyst Abdul-Bari Taher says that the indications do not show that Yemen is heading toward reconciliation.

“There are many challenges and obstacles facing the transitional process in the country. The situation is very complicated: Militant groups are currently amassing weapons, and the media war between the political factions is at its peak. Even the mosque's podiums have been used to spark tensions instead of easing them,” Taher told The Media Line.

“Actually, the situation looks as if Yemen is heading toward war — not dialogue and reconciliation. I'm afraid that neither President Hadi nor the prime minister will be able to do anything to stop the simmering tensions,” said Taher.

Mohammed, Taher, Al-Sarari and Al-Thawr all agree that in the coming months Hadi will have to take bold measures to end the divisions and disunity in the army. They say reorganizing the military is imperative for creating a conductive environment and laying the groundwork for the upcoming national dialogue conference.
 
Perhaps because of its strategic location – three million barrels of oil pass through the country daily – the international community showed considerable support for Yemen's stability and for President Hadi.

In a meeting in Riyadh on September 4, friends of Yemen pledged $ 6.4 billion in aid for Yemen's transitional period. At another meeting in New York on September 27, additional pledges totaled $1.5 billion, bringing the total to $7.9 billion.

In October, key Defense Ministry officials told local media outlets that Yemen is expecting an arms shipment from the U.S. as a grant for the poorest Arab state. The shipment includes four highly-advanced drones.

Hungarian Jewish body to sue lawmaker for ‘Nazi’ speech


A Hungarian Jewish organization said it will file a complaint against a lawmaker who proposed drawing up a list of “dangerous” Jews in government.

“There is no alternative to legal recourse now,” the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation said  Tuesday in a statement about the parliamentary address the previous day by Marton Gyongyosi of the ultranationalist Jobbik party.

During a Parliament session on Israel’s latest clash with Hamas, Gyongyosi said that Jews in the government posed a national risk and should be monitored. He also said a census should be held of all Hungarian Jews.

Rabbi Slomo Koves, a Chabad emissary and director of the Budapest-based Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, said his organization is initiating a “criminal procedure” against Gyongyosi's “open Nazism inside Parliament.” The statement did not specify the procedure.

Koves also called on Hungarian democratic parties to “take action” on Jobbik, a party that the Anti-Defamation League calls “openly anti-Semitic.”

Several lawmakers in Hungary wore yellow Stars of David on Tuesday as hundreds of protesters rallied to condemn Gyongyosi for his speech, according to The Associated Press.

Anti-Semitic camp calls for overthrow of Poland on republic’s Independence Day


Young Polish nationalists and anti-Semitic extreme rightists called for the overthrow of Poland at the republic's Independence Day march.

At Sunday's event, the groups established a new nationalist organization called the National Movement.

Many of the participants in the march waved green flags with Celtic crosses and phalanx. Green flags in prewar Poland were a symbol of anti-Semites.

The marchers earlier had laid flowers at the monument of Roman Dmowski, who along with Jozef Pilsudski contributed to regaining Poland's independence in 1918. Dmowski was known, however, for his anti-Semitism and considered the Jews to be one of the greatest enemies of Poland.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski also laid flowers at Dmowski's grave and held his own march on Sunday under the slogan “Together for Independence.”

Earlier in the day Komorowski presented the state medal to Anne Applebaum-Sikorski, an American Jewish writer and journalist and the wife of Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, for her dissemination of knowledge about the recent history of Central and Eastern Europe.

Kidnapping plot against Tunisian Jewish community reportedly foiled


A network plotting to kidnap and ransom members of a southern Tunisia town's Jewish community was broken up by the country's national guard, a Tunisian newspaper reported.

The network was started by a police officer who was formerly responsible for protecting the Jewish community, according to the report  in Al Hacad, a Tunisian weekly. The officer was reportedly recruiting young Tunisians to take part in a kidnapping operation that aimed to force Tunisian Jews to leave the country. He had a car registered in Libya as well as firearms stockpiled.

A Jewish resident of the southern Tunisian town of Zarzis told JTA that extra security measures had been taken up by the national guard in the Jewish neighborhood, where about 100 Jews live.

“I was wondering why we had a new army truck stationed about 40 meters from our synagogue for the past week, and then I read about this,” he said.

The police officer reportedly was known for being involved in an Islamic extremist group and was plotting to carry out a kidnapping operation on a Friday evening when local Jews spend Shabbat on the beach.

After the plot was foiled, all those behind it were arrested. The case has been referred to the Court of First Instance in Tunis.

While relations between Muslims and Jews in Zarzis have been relatively calm in recent years, there have been past incidents where the Jewish community was the target of violence.  In 1982 the synagogue in Zarzis was torched, and Torah scrolls were destroyed in the blaze. The arson attack was considered a response to the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon.