November 17, 2018

U.S. calls on Hezbollah to pull fighters out of Syria

The U.S. State Department called on Lebanon's Hezbollah militia on Wednesday to withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately, saying their involvement on the side of President Bashar al-Assad signaled a dangerous broadening of the war.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the declaration last weekend by the leader of the Lebanese guerrilla movement, Hasran Nasrallah. He confirmed his combatants were in Syria and vowed they would stay in the war “to the end of the road.”

“This is an unacceptable and extremely dangerous escalation. We demand that Hezbollah withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately,” Psaki said at a daily news briefing.

Violence from the Syrian conflict, which began as a peaceful protest movement but descended into civil war, has increasingly spilled over into Lebanon, particularly in the northern city of Tripoli.

[Related: France says 3,000-4,000 Hezbollah are fighting in Syria]

Hezbollah's participation in a battle at the town of Qusair on the Syrian-Lebanese border risks dragging Lebanon into a conflict that has increasingly become overshadowed by Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian violence.

Nasrallah said Saturday that Syria and Lebanon were facing a threat from radical Sunni Islamists, which he argued was a plot devised by the United States and its allies to serve Israel's interests in the region. Hezbollah is a Shi'ite Muslim group.

Psaki also condemned the killing of three Lebanese soldiers at an army checkpoint in the eastern Bekaa Valley on Tuesday. The gunmen fled toward the Syrian border, but it was not clear who carried out the attack.

“We remain deeply concerned about reports of multiple cross-border security incidents in recent days,” she said.

Asked what the United States would do if Hezbollah did not withdraw, Psaki said Washington was pursuing diplomatic solutions but was also “continuing to increase and escalate our aid and support for the (Syrian) opposition.”

She said Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, Beth Jones, would travel to Geneva in the coming week to meet Russian and U.N. diplomats and work on bringing together an international conference on Syria.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly shied from U.S. involvement in the conflict, which has claimed 80,000 lives, although he has kept all options on the table.

Reporting By Susan Cornwell; Editing by Sandra Maler

U.S. official talking ‘blood diamonds’ with Israel

A top U.S. official is traveling to Israel to discuss trade with a focus on conflict diamonds.

Jose Fernandez, the assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, arrived in Israel on Monday for a two-day visit, the State Department said in a statement.

“During this visit, Assistant Secretary Fernandez will meet with government officials and business community representatives to discuss U.S.-Israel bilateral and regional economic issues and conflict diamonds, respectively,” the statement said.

Israel, a major diamond-cutting center, has been a leader in the Kimberley Process, the grouping that seeks to cut off the trade in “blood diamonds” — diamonds mined and stolen by rebels and pariah governments to fund wars.

Samira Ibrahim acknowledges ‘anti-Zionist’ tweet

After claiming her Twitter account was hacked, an Egyptian human rights activist appeared to acknowledge at least some of the anti-Jewish tweets that led the Obama administration to delay honoring her with an award.

“I refused to apologize to the Zionist lobby in America on the previous statements hostile to Zionism under pressure from the American government, so the prize was withdrawn,” Samira Ibrahim said in a tweet posted late Thursday.

Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, had said earlier Thursday that Ibrahim was on her way back to Egypt and would not participate in a State Department ceremony Friday that will honor nine other recipients of the International Women of Courage Award.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and First Lady Michelle Obama will preside at the ceremony.

Ibrahim had claimed her Twitter account was hacked and that she did not write the tweets in question. The State Department said it was conducting “forensics” to determine if that was the case.

A July 18 tweet on Ibrahim's feed and first reported this week by the Weekly Standard notes the suicide bombing in Burgas that day that killed five Israeli tourists and a bus driver: “An explosion on a truck transporting Israelis at the airport of Burgas, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea,” it says. “Oh Wowwww this eases off the day today very nice very nice news.”

In August, an Ibrahim tweet disseminated Hitler's notorious quote claiming that “no crime, no act against morality” lacks the hands of the Jews in it.

Another August tweet describes the Saudi royals as “dirtier than the Jews.” When an interlocutor, apparently known to Ibrahim, chides her for attacking a religion and advises her to use “Zionists” or “Israelis” instead, a response from Ibrahim's feed accepts the reprimand, with an endearment.

Ibrahim tweeted on Wednesday, the same day the Standard story appeared, that her Twitter account had been hacked multiple times and that any expressions of racism and hatred were not hers. She did not explain why she never removed the inflammatory tweets. Another tweet published Wednesday decries attacks on Egyptian Copts, likening them to anti-Semitism.

Ibrahim's State Department biography says she was one of seven women during the initial 2011 Tahrir Square protests police subjected to forced “virginity tests.”

“Born in Sohag, Upper Egypt, she was arrested while in high school for writing a paper that criticized Arab leaders’ insincere support of the Palestinian cause,” the biography says.

Nuland noted Ibrahim's courage in reporting Thursday's decision to delay the honor.

“We initially selected Ms. Ibrahim because of the incredible bravery and courage she displayed at the time of the Tahrir Square protests,” she said. “As you may recall, she was detained, she was subject to real police violence. Not only did she speak out about that, but she also became a real leader in her country in trying to address gender-based violence and other human rights abuses.”

State-honored activist claims tweets attacking Jews, Israelis were not hers

An Egyptian human rights activist set to be honored by the Obama administration says tweets on her Twitter feed attacking Jews and celebrating a a deadly attack on Israelis were the result of hacking.

Samira Ibrahim is one of ten women who on Friday will receive the International Woman of Courage Award at a State Department ceremony led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Michelle Obama, the first lady.

A July 18 tweet on her feed and first reported this week by the conservative Weekly Standard notes the suicide bombing in Burgas that day that killed five Israeli tourists and a bus driver.

“An explosion on a truck transporting Israelis at the airport of Burgas, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea,” it says. “Oh Wowwww this eases off the day today very nice very nice news.”

In August, an Ibrahim tweet disseminated Hitler's notorious quote claiming that “no crime, no act against morality” lacks the hands of the Jews in it.

Another August tweet describes the Saudi royals as “dirtier than the Jews.” When an interlocutor, apparently known to Ibrahim, chides her for attacking a religion and advises her to use “Zionists” or “Israelis” instead, a response from Ibrahim's feed accepts the reprimand, with an endearment.

Ibrahim's most recent tweet on her Twitter feed, dated March 6, the same day as the Standard story, claims her Twitter account has been hacked multiple times and that any expressions of racism and hatred are not hers.

She does not explain why she never removed the offending tweets.

Another March 6 tweet decries attacks on Egyptian Copts, likening them to anti-Semitism.

Ibrahim's State Department biography says she was one of seven women during the initial 2011 Tahrir Square protests police subject to forced “virginity tests.”

“Born in Sohag, Upper Egypt, she was arrested while in high school for writing a paper that criticized Arab leaders’ insincere support of the Palestinian cause,” the biography says.

U.S. knew of Yom Kippur War’s possibility early on, uncovered memo shows

The U.S. government had information five months before the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War that a conflict was imminent, a recently uncovered State Department memo shows.

An article published Tuesday on the National Security Archive Internet site cited a secret U.S. State Department document that the archive says was uncovered recently and declassified. The website is an independent, nongovernmental research institute and library at The George Washington University.

The document — a memo from the U.S. State Department‘s Bureau of Intelligence and Research — warned then-acting Secretary of State Kenneth Rush of the upcoming war and said there was a “better than even bet” that a war would take place “by autumn.”

According to the article, the bureau believed that the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat would begin a war to spur diplomatic intervention by major world powers and help his country regain the Sinai Peninsula, which it lost in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The author of the memo, a former desk officer for Egypt for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Roger Merrick, went on to suggest that if th

Israeli-Palestinian textbook study sparks controversy

A U.S. State Department-funded study on Israeli and Palestinian textbooks released in Jerusalem has set-off a wave of insults, charges and counter-charges. Israel’s Ministry of Education called the detailed report “biased and unprofessional” while the International Society for Political Psychology called the Israeli government’s description “highly distressing.”

It was yet another example of how anything concerning Israelis and Palestinians sets tempers flaring. The three-year study, written by a joint team comprised of an Israeli and Palestinian researcher and Dr. Bruce Wexler of Yale University, found that textbooks on both sides present one-sided narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but rarely resort to demonization of the other side. The report was issued by the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land.

The researchers analyzed 74 Israeli and 94 Palestinian textbooks in-depth, covering grades 1through 12 in subjects such as literature, geography, and civics. It did not include physical sciences such as biology and chemistry, or religious subjects such as Quran or Bible.

 

“There was very little dehumanization on both sides,” Dr. Daniel Bar Tal, the report’s author, told The Media Line. “But we do find that both ignored the existence and the legitimacy of the other. It is a minimal requirement that Palestinians should recognize the existence of the state of Israel and Israelis should recognize and acknowledge the legitimacy of the Palestinians.”

When it comes to Israeli textbooks, the study separates those used by the state secular system (the majority) from those used by the ultra-Orthodox (an estimated 25 percent of the Jewish students in Israel). The textbooks of the state secular system are more critical of Israel, mentioning incidents such as Deir Yassin, in which Jewish paramilitary fighters attacked a village near Jerusalem in 1948, killing more than 100 villagers.

Israeli books also had some positive descriptions of Palestinians.

“The positive references we found appeared mainly on an interpersonal level,” Bar Tal said. “We find stories about a friendship between an Israeli and an Arab or an Arab who would help an Israeli Jew. But we did not find any positive description on a collective level.

Palestinian author Prof. Sami Adwan said Palestinians only began writing their own textbooks in 2000. Until then, they used Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks which had far more negative stereotypes of Israelis than the current books. Yet, he says, there is still more to be done.

“Both sides should integrate part of the narrative of the other in their own textbooks,” Adwan told The Media Line. “They should talk about the other side’s culture, society, religion and history.”

The researchers also looked at hundreds of maps, almost all of which simply ignored the existence of the other side.

The Israeli Ministry of Education declined to help the researchers and leveled some serious charges against both the researchers and their methods.

“The report is biased and unprofessional,” Michal Zadoki, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, said in a statement. “The conclusion of this ‘research’ was known before it was carried out, and it certainly does not reflect reality…The Ministry of Education chose not to cooperate with those elements who are interested in maliciously slandering the Israeli education system and the state of Israel. The results of the ‘research’ show that the decision not to cooperate was correct.”

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs was even more harsh, saying that the study “omits important examples of incitement and delegitimization found in official Palestinian Authority textbooks,” although they do not offer specific examples.

Not included in the report, the Ministry says, are formal and informal educational frameworks, summer camps, and television programs with negative messages.

“The ultimate goal is to eliminate the Jewish state and reclaim the historic Land of Palestine,” it charges as well as “Jews/Zionists/Israelis possess demonic characteristics.”

Dr. Nir Boms, a board member of Impact-SE, The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, told The Media Line that while the report is commended it ignores the most critical issue – denying the other, particularly on the Palestinian side. The report suggests statistical analysis on a broad view of quotes in a computer system but it fails to focus on some of the more problematic references that encourage violence and glorify martyrdom and terrorists. Boms said there are no direct calls for violence with the exception of the Waqf [Muslim Trust] literature which was not included in the study, which is used in a small number of schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to train future clerics.

The response from the Palestinian Authority was far more positive. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed the results.

“From the onset, we took all measures to extend the highest degree of cooperation with the researchers, especially from the Ministry of Education. This cooperation stemmed from our firm conviction of the significance of the issue and the need to discuss it on objective and professional bases, rather than pre-conceived notions and stereotypes,” he said.

Mohammad Abu Zaid, Deputy Minister of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, told The Media Line that a committee will be set up to review the study and write up a response.

Ziad stated that as of three months ago, the Ministry began the process of changing their textbooks, but added, “I have to take into account the building of the state — the identity becomes essential. I don’t think we can continue peace curricula while Israelis are arresting people, and demolishing homes. Peace requires a peaceful environment.”

Ziad said, “The PLO recognizes Israel but feels Israel needs to respect the Palestinians’ existence. The situation is getting worse.”

The report’s American author, Dr. Bruce Wexler, Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist at Yale, rejected the Israeli Ministry of Education’s criticism.

“They seek to discredit me and my colleagues,” Wexler told The Media Line. “The idea that the results were pre-determined is just total nonsense. The Minister of Education on the Israeli side seems uninterested in the facts of what’s in the textbooks, and unencumbered by facts when he makes his statements about the project.”

During a news conference, Wexler went further, saying that he was born in 1947 and grew up parallel to the state of Israel, which was founded in 1948. “I did not do anything to attack the state of Israel,” Wexler insisted.

Both Bar Tal and Adwan hope that the study can help contribute to peace education.

“We hope it is a step towards creating a generation that recognizes the humanity and legitimacy of each other on this land,” Adwan told The Media Line. “If we both start looking at what we teach our children, we will see a better future here.”

Clinton warns Russia, Iran of Syria conflict spreading

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iran and Russia on Thursday to rethink their support for Syria, saying the most dire scenarios of the conflict spilling beyond its borders could come to pass.

Clinton told reporters there are signs Iran is sending more people and increasingly sophisticated weaponry to support Syrian President Bashar Assad in his 22-month battle against rebels seeking to end his family's four-decades of authoritarian rule.

Speaking on the eve of her State Department departure, Clinton also said Russia continues aid to the Syrian government, including financially, and she appeared skeptical that Moscow was easing in its opposition to Assad's departure.

Clinton declined comment on reports Israel had bombed Syria on Wednesday but she voiced fears that the conflict, in which more than 60,000 people are believed to have died, may worsen internally and spread.

“I personally have been warning for quite some time of the dangers associated with an increasingly lethal civil war and a potential proxy war,” Clinton told a small group of reporters a day before she is to be replaced by Senator John Kerry.

“Therefore, I think it's incumbent on those nations that have refused to be constructive players to reconsider their positions because the worst kind of predictions of what could happen internally and spilling over the borders of Syria are certainly within the realm of the possible now,” she added.

Diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources said Israeli jets bombed a convoy near the Lebanese border on Wednesday, apparently hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah. Syria denied the reports, saying the target was a military research center northwest of Damascus and 8 miles from the border.

Syria warned of a possible “surprise” response to Israel over the reported attack while Hezbollah, an Iranian ally that also supports Assad, said Israel was trying to thwart Arab military power and vowed to stand by its ally.

PRAISE FOR ALKHATIB

Clinton said that the United States was worried that Iran had recently increased its support for Assad.

“It appears that they may be increasing that involvement and that is a matter of great concern to us,” she said.

“I think the numbers (of people) have increased,” she added. “There is a lot of concern that they are increasing the quality of the weapons, because Assad is using up his weaponry. So it's numbers and it's materiel.”

She made similar comments about Russia.

“We have reason to believe that the Russians continue to supply financial and military assistance in the form of equipment,” she said. “They are doing it in the recent past.”

Russia has been Assad's most important ally throughout the 22-month-old Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful street protests and evolved into an armed uprising against his rule.

Moscow has blocked three Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing him out or pressuring him to end the bloodshed. But Russia has also distanced itself from Assad by saying it is not trying to prop him up and will not offer him asylum.

Clinton appeared skeptical Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's comment this week that Assad's chances of staying in power were growing “smaller and smaller” might herald a fundamental shift in Russia's stance.

“On the Russians, Medvedev included, we have heard rhetoric before over the last now nearly two years that we thought provided an opening … unfortunately, all of that rhetoric has failed to translate into changes in Russian policy,” she said.

Clinton praised the head of Syria's main opposition coalition, Mouaz Alkhatib, for saying this week that he was ready to hold talks with Assad representatives outside Syria if authorities released tens of thousands of detainees.

“I thought he was not only courageous but smart in saying that if certain conditions are met we will begin discussing a political transition because you have to you know make it clear that there will be something other than hardened fighters when this conflict finally ends,” Clinton said. “Otherwise, it might not ever end in the foreseeable future.”

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Lisa Shumaker

Hillary Clinton leaves New York hospital, then returns

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton briefly left New York-Presbyterian hospital on Wednesday, only to return about 15 minutes later, the New York Daily News reported.

The State Department declined to comment on where Clinton may have gone or the status of her hospital stay. She was admitted for treatment of a blood clot in a vein behind her right ear.

Reporters witnessed Clinton leaving the hospital with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, and an aide. They drove away with a security detail and a man wearing a white coat and a stethoscope.

She returned to the hospital about 15 minutes later, the Daily News reported. She had not been seen in public since Dec. 7.

A hospital spokeswoman directed all questions about Clinton, 65, to the State Department, which had no immediate comment.

Clinton's health has drawn intense media scrutiny given that she is widely considered a strong candidate for the Democratic nomination for president should she decide to run in 2016.

Clinton long ago announced her intention to step down as secretary of state. President Barack Obama, whose second term starts later this month, has nominated U.S. Senator John Kerry to replace her.

Earlier on Wednesday, a State Department spokeswoman said Clinton had been talking with her staff by telephone and receiving memos.

Clinton also spoke to two foreign officials – the U.N. envoy on Syria and the prime minister of Qatar – on Saturday, the day before the State Department disclosed the blood clot and her stay at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

“She's been quite active on the phone with staff and taking paper, et cetera,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the department's daily briefing.

The State Department announced on Sunday that Clinton was in a New York hospital for treatment of a blood clot that stemmed from a concussion she suffered in mid-December.

The concussion was itself the result of an earlier illness, described by the State Department as a stomach virus she had picked up during a trip to Europe that led to dehydration and a fainting spell after she returned to the United States.

In a statement released by the State Department on Monday, Clinton's doctors said they were confident she would make a full recovery and that she would be released from the hospital once the correct dosage of blood thinners had been determined.

Hillary Clinton discharged from N.Y. hospital, State Department says

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was discharged from hospital on Wednesday after being treated for a blood clot in a vein behind her right ear, and her doctors expect her to make a full recovery, a State Department spokesman said.

“Her medical team advised her that she is making good progress on all fronts, and they are confident she will make a full recovery,” said Philippe Reines in a statement.

“She's eager to get back to the office, and we will keep you updated on her schedule as it becomes clearer in the coming days,” he said.

Related: Hillary Clinton returns to hospital 15 minutes after leaving, the New York Daily News reports.

Clinton suffers clot behind right ear, full recovery expected

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suffered a blood clot in a vein between her brain and skull behind her right ear but is expected to make a full recovery, her doctors said on Monday in a statement released by the State Department.

Clinton did not suffer a stroke or neurological damage as a result of the clot, the doctors said, adding that “she is in good spirits, engaging with her doctors, her family and her staff.”

The U.S. secretary of state, who has not been seen in public since Dec. 7, was revealed on Sunday evening to be in a New York hospital under treatment for a blood clot that stemmed from a concussion she suffered in mid-December.

The concussion was itself the result of an earlier illness, described by the State Department as a stomach virus she had picked up during a trip to Europe and that led to her becoming dehydrated and fainting after she returned to the United States.

“In the course of a routine follow-up MRI on Sunday, the scan revealed that a right transverse sinus venous thrombosis had formed. This is a clot in the vein that is situated in the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear,” Clinton's doctors, Drs. Lisa Bardack and Gigi El-Bayoumi said in the statement released by the State Department.

“To help dissolve this clot, her medical team began treating the Secretary with blood thinners. She will be released once the medication dose has been established,” the doctors said. “In all other aspects of her recovery, the Secretary is making excellent progress and we are confident she will make a full recovery.”

Clinton has kept up a punishing schedule as the top U.S. diplomat, flying more than 950,000 miles to visit 112 countries and spending more than a quarter of her tenure – 401 days – on the road, according to the State Department.

Her health setbacks have forced her to cancel an overseas trip and postpone testimony to Congress regarding a report on the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. Her two deputies testified instead.

Clinton has said she intends to appear before Congress to discuss the attack – in which four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, died – but it is unclear when she will be back at work.

The doctors gave no estimate of when she may go home from the hospital.

On Sunday, a State Department spokesman said Clinton was “being treated with anti-coagulants and is at New York-Presbyterian Hospital so that they can monitor the medication over the next 48 hours.”

U.S. response to a cry for help during World War II

A prosecutor by training and a historical novelist by avocation, Gregory J. Wallance has written books of historical fiction and historical nonfiction. In “America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department and the Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy” (Greenleaf Book Group Press: 2012), a highly readable, brief account of the dramatic interplay between the Department of State and the Department of the Treasury during the Holocaust over the fate of the Jews of Europe, Wallance tells quite a story and masterfully documents the well-deserved indictment of the World War II-era U.S. State Department.

The evidence he musters is well known to scholars, yet he brings fresh eyes to this material and introduces a factor that others have raised merely in passing — the issue of class and of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) establishment, which was then at the peak of its power. The WASP supremacy would soon change, however, as the sons and daughters of American ethnic groups came of age during the middle decades of the 20th century, and with the election of John F. Kennedy, who always remembered that he was an Irish Catholic, a scorned outsider to the WASP establishment. Beginning with the JFK presidency, we witnessed a broadening of the American establishment with the entry of Catholic and Jews and, somewhat later, African-Americans and women, and now Asians and Latinos.

Wallance takes us inside the corridors of the State Department, then housed in what is now the Old Executive Office Building, across from the White House. He captures the tragic tension between Sumner Welles, the undersecretary of state with deep personal ties to the president, the man in the State Department most sympathetic to Jews, and his boss, Cordell Hull, a former senator and politician with deep Southern roots — married to a woman of Jewish ancestry — who, frankly, was not up to the task of being a wartime secretary of state. At the peak of the German annihilation of the Jews, a sexual and racial scandal destroyed Welles’ career. On a presidential train, he is reported to have solicited sex from an African-American porter. Hull did not get mad at his insubordinate subordinate, he got even. 

Wallance also takes us a floor above to the high level of the American State Department bureaucracy, where men — and they were then virtually all men — of similar background, class and education were quite certain that they — perhaps even they alone — knew what was in the best interest of the nation, without interference from outside agitators and special interests, such as Jews, who were concerned about the fate of their brethren and not just about the pursuit of war. He also takes us back to the prep school of Groton, where they were taught the values of national service and also of WASP supremacy, even before getting their Ivy League education.

He details the failure of the State Department to turn over  Gerhard Riegner’s telegram to Rabbi Stephen Wise, informing the head of the World Jewish Congress of the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem “because of the fantastic nature of the allegations and the impossibility of our being of any assistance if such actions — the murder of the Jews — were taken,” as if it were better not to know than to know and be unable to be of assistance.

Historian Walter Laqueur had it right: With regard to rescue, the pessimists won. They said that nothing could be done, and nothing was done. The optimists, those who believed in rescue, were never given a chance. They may have failed, but to not attempt rescue was to ensure failure.

Wallance depicts the famous confrontation between the State Department and the Treasury Department over the issuing of a license to transfer foreign currency, and thus ransoming the Jews. It was this confrontation, and the State Department’s effort to thwart the rescue, that led young Treasury Department officials to draft their “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government to the Murder of the Jews.” Among the accusations in the report, it said the State Department had: “used Governmental machinery to prevent the rescue of these Jews; … taken steps designed to prevent these [rescue] programs [of private organizations] from being put into effect; … surreptitiously attempted to stop obtaining of information concerning the murder of the Jewish population of Europe” and “tried to cover up their guilt by: a) concealment and misrepresentation; b) the giving of false and misleading explanations for their failures to act and their attempts to prevent action; and c) the issuance of false and misleading statements concerning the ‘action’ which they have taken to date.”

Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. condensed this report, softened its title and took it to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1944. The result was the War Refugee Board — with Morgenthau as chairman — which finally had the power to do something about rescue.

Throughout the book, Wallance does not let the reader lose sight of what these “great” men of history did not consider, namely that the decisions they made and the policies they pursued impacted real people, desperate people — men, women and children. Ruth Glassberg, then a young child, is his narrator, and her story is riveting.

With his skill as a writer evident, his sense of the scenery and the dialogue, Wallance takes us into the corridors of power. We meet Gerhard Riegner, then a young official of the World Jewish Congress operating in neutral Switzerland who first learns of the “Final Solution” of death camps and of Zyklon B. We are introduced to his informant, who has high contacts in the German government as a major industrialist and travels to Switzerland first to reveal the plans to attack the Soviet Union and then a second time to speak of the murder of the Jews. He is a source of absolutely significant and “incredible” information. It took 40 years for Eduard Schulte’s name to be known, as Riegner had promised him anonymity. We are taken to Poland’s embassy in the United States, when Jan Karski, the great Polish courier, told of the demands of the Jews he met in the Warsaw ghetto to Felix Frankfurter and Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski in preparation for his meeting with FDR.

We feel that we are literally in the room as Randolph Paul, general counsel of the Treasury Department, along with John Pehle and Josiah DuBois Jr., confront Secretary Morgenthau with their findings and their insistence on action. Wallance’s narrative is not imagined, but based on the diary of one of the participants. Thirty years ago, I examined DuBois’ most personal papers and attempted to describe the scene in Morgenthau’s office and also the moment when Donald Hiss showed DuBois the missing link in the evidentiary trail that sealed his case against the State Department. My hat is off to Wallance for the sheer pleasure of reading his depiction.

He is less prone to blame Jewish institutional politics and the divisions among Jewish leadership than David Wyman, and places responsibility directly in the hands of an establishment that failed the test in the Jewish people’s greatest hour of need. Wallance is quick to emphasize the distinct and controlling way in which Roosevelt controlled his cabinet and played off the interpersonal rivalries. Not all blame comes from FDR’s desk, and Wallance credits the war effort.

Wallance’s judgment is balanced. He allows his case to build brick by brick, story by story, document by document. He is careful to stress that the State Department of today shares little in common with its World War II predecessor, both in class and in background — a point that is easily forgotten by many, as the State Department and the Department of Defense and the White House now may hold in their hands the fate of the rebuilt Jewish community in Israel.

One may read more scholarly accounts of this period, but it is unlikely one will read a more vivid account that is both responsible and detailed without being too dense or drowning the guts of the story in myriad facts. Imagine a prosecutor presenting his case and a novelist writing his story. Consider Wallance’s mastery of detail and ability to present such detail in a compelling manner. The reader will not be disappointed.

Leaving State Department’s anti-Semitism post, Hannah Rosenthal reflects on accomplishments

Anti-Semitism overseas is being noted with increasing frequency by U.S. State Department human rights reports, and Hannah Rosenthal says that’s a good thing.

Rosenthal, the State Department’s second anti-Semitism monitor, says increased reporting reflects burgeoning awareness of the problem among U.S. diplomats.

“The not-so-sexy part of what I’ve done has been what I’ve done inside the building,” she said Oct. 5 in a phone interview from the State Department. It was her last day on the job before she assumes a new position — president and CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

Rosenthal and her staff of six within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor cleared bureaucratic hurdles, she said, to establish a required 90-minute course on anti-Semitism at the Foreign Service Institute, the training school for diplomats, as well as a 341-word definition of anti-Semitism.

“Our reporting has improved many times over — 300 percent in the three years I've been here,” said Rosenthal, 61, who took up her State Department post in November 2009. “That doesn't mean anti-Semitism was increasing in all those countries.”

Rosenthal, who attracted headlines for high-profile encounters overseas with foreign officials, says the intradepartmental achievements were no small matter.

“That definition? It had to be cleared by a gazillion people,” she said. “But we were able to get a comprehensive definition that included not only traditional forms — blood libel, stereotypes — but newer forms like Holocaust denial and Holocaust relativism, and we were able to get included in there where legitimate criticism of Israel crosses into anti-Semitism.”

Much of the definition straddles the delicate balance between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Jewish bias.

It incorporates the three D's first outlined by Natan Sharansky, the one-time prisoner of the Soviet gulag who now chairs the Jewish Agency for Israel, as the marks of Israel criticism that crosses over into anti-Jewish bias: demonizing, double standards and delegitimizing. The definition, which does not credit Sharansky, adds an italicized caveat: “However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

Rosenthal describes the definition as a breakthrough.

“We have now a definition we can train people on, and we've been very aggressive in training foreign service officers,” she said.

The result: Whereas anti-Semitism received passing mentions in previous reports or was addressed separately, in recent years it has received extensive attention. In the most recent report on Ukraine, for instance, anti-Semitism earned its own chapter heading and 550 words among 15,000.

Jewish community professionals say the definition, training course and attention paid in the reports translate into a stakehold for the community in a department that historically has suffered from a reputation of inattentiveness to anti-Jewish bias.

“We've always tried to ensure that those foreign service officers who have the human rights portfolio were well briefed and had connections to our local communities,” said Mark Levin, who directs NCSJ, the community body that deals with Jewish communities in the former communist world. “What Hannah was trying to do and was beginning to succeed at was to make this a formal part of State Department protocol. She’s institutionalized the fight against global anti-Semitism.”

Jewish officials also struck a note of pride in how one of their own — Rosenthal in the 1990s and the early 2000s directed the Jewish Council for Public Affairs — was speaking for the U.S. government.

“She brings candor and authenticity to the job,” said Daniel Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International. “Coming from the community had made her an effective advocate.”

If Rosenthal’s intradepartmental achievements involved delicate bureaucratic dances, her job overseas was characterized by making clear that anti-Semitism was a U.S. government priority — a job that required a degree of showmanship.

In some instances that meant taking her complaints directly to offenders. In April she met with Ilmar Reepalu, the mayor of Malmo in Sweden, who would not back down from his calls on the city’s Jews to reject Zionism as a strategy for repelling violent attacks on the community. So Rosenthal took her case to the country’s minister of integration, who issued a rare rebuke of a fellow public official.

“Not only were we able to get people to publicly criticize him, there have been regular kipah walks,” she said, referring to recent events in which the city’s Jews and others have defiantly donned the head coverings on outings.

In 2011, Rosenthal confronted Saudi officials about anti-Semitism in their schoolbooks and asked Jordanian officials to introduce Holocaust studies into the curriculum.

The actions threw the weight of the U.S. government behind what for years have been efforts by Jewish groups to have governments confront anti-Semitism, Mariaschin said.

“The position has profile,” Mariaschin said. “In particular, B’nai B’rith was pleased when she visited Latin America.”

Mariaschin noted Rosenthal’s attention to Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez has forged ties with Iran, attacked Israel and insinuated the existence of Jewish conspiracies.

The work of Rosenthal and her predecessor from 2006 to 2009, Gregg Rickman, who was the first to hold the congressionally mandated post, has cleared the way for more effective Jewish advocacy work, said Abraham Focman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“From our perspective, the fact that the U.S. government takes it seriously makes it easier for us for us to use our advocacy,” Foxman said.

If her confrontations with government official overseas have drawn Jewish community plaudits, the other leg of Rosenthal’s overseas outreach — promoting reconciliation between Muslims and Jews — has received more mixed reviews.

Rosenthal helped organize and accompanied a trip in 2010 by eight American imams and Muslim leaders to the Dachau and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. That drew complaints from Foxman, who said the involvement of the State Department in an intercommunal matter was inappropriate.

Foxman and Rosenthal settled their differences, and he now lavishes praise on her for establishing the course on anti-Semitism for diplomats, although he continues to be critical of her participation in the imams' tour.

“It's not the job of this office to engage in kumbaya,” he said. “Its job is advocacy about anti-Semitism. Having Muslims speaking out about anti-Semitism, that's our job.”

Rickman slammed her twice — the first time even before she had formally assumed the job, when Rosenthal had chided Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, for snubbing a 2009 conference by J Street, the liberal pro-Israel group.

More substantively, Rickman — who now works for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and would not comment for this article — criticized her joint outreach program with Farah Pandith, the U.S. emissary to Muslim communities. In joint appearances, Rosenthal would decry Islamaphobia and Pandith would condemn anti-Semitism.

“Rosenthal seems to continue her stray from her main job fighting anti-Semitism,” Rickman wrote on The Cutting Edge website in July 2010. “Her consistent attention to Islamaphobia suggests a real sympathy for those very people who lead the way in attacking Jews in Europe.”

Rosenthal was baffled by the criticism, saying that Rickman had not reached out to her before airing it.

“Someone named Hannah Rosenthal combating anti-Semitism does not headlines make,” she said. “So whenever I stood up to criticize Islamaphobia, I had someone with me to criticize anti-Semitism. I so resent people who want to get into dueling victimhoods. Where does it get us?”

Filling in for Rosenthal until the president names a replacement will be Michael Kozak, a senior career diplomat.

Rosenthal is looking forward to returning to Wisconsin, her home state, and being close to family and the Jewish community.

“I feel that so much was accomplished but there's so much work to do,” she said. “Unfortunately there will always be a need for the job.”

Obama administration reaffirms levels of defense aid to Egypt

The Obama administration reaffirmed its commitment to current levels of funding for Egypt's military while announcing new civil assistance programs.

“The U.S. Government’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, which has amounted to $1.3 billion annually, underpins strong U.S.-Egyptian security relations and works to develop the Egyptian military as a professional and disciplined defense force,” said a Sept. 24 fact sheet issued by the State Department. “FMF helps Egyptian forces contribute to regional security, promote adherence to international norms of human rights, support military modernization, and improve their interoperability with the U.S. military.”

The recommitment to defense funding comes at the end of a sheet outlining additional initiatives in the hundreds of millions of dollars that would spur the growth of small and medium businesses, democracy development and protection of human rights, and economic recovery.

Congressional Republicans have urged the Obama administration to consider cutting assistance to Egypt in the wake of spurts of anti-American sentiment, seen as stoked in part by the country's new Muslim Brotherhood-led government.

The Obama administration has suggested that preserving the peace treaty with Israel is a condition for continuing assistance to the country.

Clinton: U.S. will push to help Palestinians with financial crisis

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Palestinian and Jordanian that Washington is 'looking at every means possible' to alleviate the Palestinian financial crisis.

According to a  senior State Department official, Clinton made the comments Wednesday in New York during a one-hour working lunch with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who were there for the U.N. General Assembly.

The Obama administration currently has an assistance package on Capitol Hill that includes a $200 million direct budget request for the PA. The World Bank said last week that action was needed “urgently” to prevent a “deepening financial crisis” in Palestinian areas.

Earlier in the week, the semiannual meeting of the Ad Hoc Liason Committee, which coordinates aid for the Palestinians, convened to discuss the PA's financial dilemma. The group is chaired by Norway and co-chaired by the United States and the European Union.

Also Wednesday, Clinton urged Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu to have officials from his country meet with Israel to “sit down and work through the difficult issues that they have together” in light of the “enormous number of strategic interests and challenges” they share.

In a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Miqati and the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, Clinton said there is “more than a risk” in Southern Lebanon that Hezbollah is “using its areas as a platform for destabilizing Syria and also creating real challenges in other parts of the world as well.”

In addition, Clinton met with League of Arab States Secretary General Nabil Elaraby and signed a memorandum of understanding outlining a framework for future dialogue and technical cooperation between the United States and the organization.

Elaraby told Clinton that the resolution of most of the problems in the Middle East “depend on what the United States will do to resolve them.” He specifically noted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian crisis need Washington’s “active participation.”

Clinton urges Egypt, Israel to talk about Sinai

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Egypt’s foreign minister to keep lines of communication open with Israel amid tensions over an Egyptian push against militants in the neighboring Sinai desert, the State Department said on Thursday.

Clinton spoke with Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr on Wednesday and stressed the importance of acting transparently as Cairo deploys aircraft and tanks in Sinai, for the first time since a 1973 war with Israel, to pursue Islamist militants blamed for killing 16 border guards in an August 5 attack.

“This call was in keeping with a series of contacts we’ve had in recent days with both Egyptians and Israelis encouraging both sides to keep the lines of communication open,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Israeli officials have expressed concern over the Egyptian deployment, saying the vehicles’ entry into the Sinai was not coordinated and was in violation of a 1979 peace treaty.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has not lodged a formal protest, preferring to try and resolve the issue in quiet contacts including U.S. mediation to avoid worsening ties with Cairo, already strained since Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular revolt last year.

Nuland said the Sinai security situation should be addressed “in a way that first and foremost strengthens Egypt’s security but also has a positive impact on the security of neighbors and the region as a whole.”

Nuland declined to say whether the United States believed Egypt had been insufficiently transparent or failed to keep Israel informed.

“Our view is that effective mechanisms do exist and that they just need to continue to be used,” she said.

The U.S.-brokered 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel sets strict limits on military deployment in the Sinai, which is designated as a demilitarized buffer zone.

But Israeli media have speculated that coordination with Egypt may suffer after a shakeup this month of Egypt’s military, including Islamist President Mohammed Mursi’s dismissals of officials Israel had long been in contact with.

Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Vicki Allen

U.S. urges non-aligned nations to press Iran on nukes

The Obama administration is urging countries attending the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran next week to press Iran to comply with demands to make its nuclear program more transparent.

The United States, along with Israel and a number of Jewish groups, has said it favors a boycott of the triennial summit, being held this year in Iran, because of the Islamic Republic’s failure to cooperate with the international community and make transparent what Western powers suspect is a nuclear weapons program.

Absent such a boycott, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, participants should urge Iran to comply with demands that would increase and expand the U.N. nuclear inspector regimen and reduce uranium enrichment.

“We would hope and expect that those who choose to go will take the opportunity of any meetings that they have with Iran’s leaders to press them to come back into compliance, to use the opportunity of the P5+1 talks to come clean about their nuclear program, and take up all of the other concerns that the international community has about Iran’s behavior,” she said.

P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—Russia, China, the United States, Britain, and France—as well as Germany, the major powers that have been negotiating with Iran.

Israeli leaders have indicated that they see such negotiations as now exhausted, and are urging Western leaders to take more drastic steps, including warning Iran of specific military consequences to its non-compliance.

State Dept., ADL slam attacks on Palestinians

The U.S. State Department and the Anti-Defamation League condemned a firebomb attack on Palestinians believed to have been carried out by settlers.

“We note that the Government of Israel has also condemned this heinous attack and pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the State Department said in its statement Friday. “We look to Israeli law enforcement officials to do so expeditiously. We urge all parties to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of violence.”

Six Palestinians were injured when a taxi caught fire in a suspected firebombing near a West Bank Jewish settlement on Thursday.

Israeli police believe the fire was the result of a settler throwing a firebomb at the vehicle and said a second firebomb was located near the site of the attack, which took place near the Bat Ayin settlement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior security officials have condemned the attack and pledged to apprehend the perpetrators.

The ADL statement condemned the fire bomb attack as well as a mob assault on Palestinians in downtown western Jerusalem on Friday morning that left one seriously injured.

“If the attacks were carried out by Israeli Jewish youth, this violence cannot be seen as isolated incidents,” the ADL said in a statement. “Israeli leadership – political, religious, cultural – must come together to make clear that these manifestations of hate are unacceptable and will not be tolerated, and that country-wide social and educational initiatives must be considered.”

Hiding Israel

There are two ways to look at the Obama administration’s decision to exclude Israel from its global anti-terrorism initiative. If you recall, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Istanbul last month to convene the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the group of invitees included 29 countries and the European Union—but not Israel.

On the surface, this makes no sense: It’d be like having a global conference on social networking and not inviting Facebook. Seriously, is there any country in the world that has more experience fighting terrorism than Israel?

But if you listen to the U.S. State Department, this was all for Israel’s good.

In a calm and reasoned piece in Atlantic magazine, Zvika Krieger, senior vice president of The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and a Shalhevet alumni, writes: “The State Department found itself in a bind: Israel, one of the world’s foremost experts in fighting terrorism and a key U.S. ally on that front, would seem to be a natural candidate for participating in the forum. But organizers feared that Israel’s participation in the formative stages might have undermined the whole endeavor.”

He quotes a State Department official as saying: “The goal was to establish an apolitical and technical forum that included both our traditional [counterterrorism] partners and newer ones, a forum that could focus on practical issues of common concern rather than politics. We were concerned that if the central issue from the outset was whether or not Israel should be a member, that it would be difficult to pivot away from the politicized discussions happening at the U.N. and elsewhere.”

According to Krieger, the Obama administration “reasoned that the progress made by the organization would ultimately better serve Israel’s interests (not to mention those of the United States) than would the symbolic benefits of including it in a group that likely wouldn’t accomplish anything. They also concluded that once the organization was up and running, and its agenda was established, they could find ways to include Israel that would not be disruptive.”

In other words, the United States pretty much said to Israel and to its supporters: “Please don’t be offended if we consider Israel’s involvement in this forum disruptive. We have to deal with reality. Trust us: it’s better if you don’t make a big deal about this.”

It seems to be working. Krieger reports that according to his State Department source, “it is no coincidence that pro-Israel groups such as the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee have been largely silent in public on the topic.”

But not everyone is keeping quiet. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, wrote to me in an e-mail: “We did protest Israel’s exclusion from that conference. We met administration officials on it as well and spoke to numerous members of Congress.”

The Zionist Organization of America also released a statement strongly critical of the decision, while, as Krieger noted, U.S. Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Mark Kirk, both staunch defenders of Israel on Capitol Hill, wrote a letter to Clinton expressing their disappointment with Israel’s exclusion.

But I have not met anyone who is as upset about the decision as Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance.

“This is an absolute outrage, on so many levels,” he told me. “Just look at the precedent we are setting. Now, any country has permission to exclude Israel from any global forum in the future. All they have to say is: If America can do it, then we can do it.”

Hier and his staff have been on a relentless campaign to “get answers” from the Obama administration. He shared with me his letter of protest to Secretary of State Clinton and a response from a State Department official. “We can’t get a straight answer,” he told me.

Maybe the answer is simply this: The Obama administration is just not willing to stick its neck out as a matter of principle, and say to the world: “Our trusted ally Israel has enormous expertise in fighting terrorism. It’s important that countries put their personal sentiments aside and welcome Israel’s involvement, which will be critical to the success of this global initiative.”

Krieger himself, while expressing support for the U.S. decision, admits that Israel’s exclusion “could send the wrong message and have a ripple effect, with Israeli officials expressing concern that it could give an unintended U.S. imprimatur to the marginalization and de-legitimization that Israel is encountering elsewhere in the international community.”

So, when I read Edgar Bronfman in Haaretz telling us this week that President Barack Obama should be judged by his “real actions” for Israel, not by his words or his “swagger,” my immediate reaction is: “Please, Mr. President, show me some real action for Israel. Put your swagger where your mouth is.”

Israel doesn’t deserve to be treated like an ugly date that helps you with your homework but you wouldn’t dare ask to the prom. The movement to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state is itself a form of terror. A few words of swagger and support from the most powerful man in the world, not to mention a justified invitation to a prestigious global forum, are not just words—they are real, meaningful action.

Instead of hiding Israel, America should stand proudly next to her. That’s a better way to show friendship and fight terror.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

State Dept. report describes ‘rising tide’ of anti-Semitism

The U.S. State Department’s report on religious freedom described a “global increase” in anti-Semitism and said the “rising tide of anti-Semitism” was among the key trends of last year.

The executive summary of the report for 2011, released Monday, also detailed the “impact of political and demographic transitions on religious minorities” and “the effects of conflict on religious freedom.”

The increased anti-Semitism was “manifested in Holocaust denial, glorification, and relativism; conflating opposition to certain policies of Israel with blatant anti-Semitism; growing nationalistic movements that target ‘the other’; and traditional forms of anti-Semitism, such as conspiracy theories, acts of desecration and assault, ‘blood libel,’ and cartoons demonizing Jews,” the summary said.

It was not clear from the report how its authors assessed an “increase” in anti-Semitism. There was no overall quantification of the phenomenon, and individual country reports, while listing instances of official and societal anti-Semitism, did not compare rates to previous years’ reports.

The emphasis on anti-Semitism reflects a policy initiated by Hannah Rosenthal, the current special envoy on anti-Semitism. Rosenthal has pressed for the incorporation of anti-Semitism monitoring into the department’s overall human rights reports, arguing that it increases awareness of the issue among U.S. diplomats.

The George W. Bush administration, which expanded monitoring of anti-Semitism by creating the post of an envoy to combat anti-Semitism, kept its reports on the issue separate.

Countries singled out for special notice on anti-Semitism included:

* Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez described Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “genocide” and called Zionism racism, and an Op-Ed in a government-owned newspaper that described Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik as a “sabbath goy.”

* Ukraine, where there were several instances of vandalism targeting Jewish buildings and cemeteries, as well as incitement by ultranationalist figures.

* Hungary, where the rise of an anti-Semitic political party was noted.

* Egypt, where anti-Semitic cartoons and articles persisted in government-run and opposition media after the revolution in early 2011 that ousted the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

* Iran, where the report said that “the government’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, along with a perception among radical Muslims that all Jewish citizens of the country supported Zionism and the state of Israel, continued to create a hostile atmosphere for Jews.” The report also said that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “continued to question regularly the existence and the scope of the Holocaust and publicly called for the destruction of Israel, which created a more hostile environment for the Jewish community.”

* The Palestinian areas, where the report noted an instance of a Hamas imam in the Gaza Strip calling for the death of Jews, as well as a documentary on Palestinian Authority TV that characterized Jewish rites as “sin and filth.”

The country report on Israel said that “government policy contributed to the generally free practice of religion, although government discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued.” It noted that Christian missionaries were turned away at the airport in some instances and also noted the Interior Ministry’s refusal to recognize some U.S. converts to Judaism as Jews.

“A minority of Jews in the country observes the Orthodox tradition, and the majority of Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over fundamental aspects of their personal lives,” the report said.

It noted the practice on some public buses of segregating men from women.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry had yet to formulate a response to the report, an official at the Israeli Embassy in Washington said Tuesday.

Recording instances of societal discrimination, the report listed organized efforts to persuade Jewish businesses not to hire Arabs, as well as attacks by extremist settlers on mosques.

It also noted extremist Muslim riots, including several instances in which rioters at the mosques overlooking the Western Wall stoned Jewish worshipers.

State Dept. reviewing how member of terror group visited White House

The U.S. State Department is reviewing how it granted a visa to an Egyptian lawmaker who met with top Obama administration officials and is known to be a member of a terrorist group.

Hani Nour el-Din, during a visit here last week by lawmakers elected since the Egyptian revolution, met with deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough and deputy secretary of state William Burns.

The story was first broken by the Daily Beast/Newsweek.

El-Din also is a member of Gamaa Islamiya, now a registered party, but during the regime of Hosni Mubarak was an armed Islamist group that clashed with authorities.

CNN on Saturday quoted Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, as saying how El-Din was given the visa is under review.

El-Din told the Daily Beast that he was not a terrorist and he was targeted for political reasons.

Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheik” serving a life sentence in the United States for his role in plotting the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and for other conspiracies, is Gamaa Islamiya’s spiritual leader.

El-Din, according to the Daily Beast, asked McDonough to transfer Rahman to Egypt to serve out his sentence there. McDonough declined.

State slams new West Bank housing approval

The Obama administration “does not accept the legitimacy” of announced plans for up to 851 new housing units for West Bank settlements.

“We’re very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations, including the 2003 Roadmap,” Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman, said Wednesday. “Our position on settlements remains unchanged. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. And we want to see these parties – both parties, rather—refrain from these kinds of actions and to get back into negotiations.”

The announcement Wednesday by Israel’s housing and construction ministry came in the wake of the defeat of a bill in Knesset that would have retroactively legalized illegal West Bank outposts.

Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias said Wednesday evening that in addition to the 300 housing units promised to Beit El in exchange for relocating five apartment buildings housing 30 families, he would approve 551 more in Ariel, Maale Adumim, Adam, Efrat and Kiryat Arba.

Earlier during a news conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, addressing West Bank settlers directly, “There is no government that supports, or will support, settlement more than my government. I also say that there is no government that has withstood such heavy pressures, which could have hurt settlement, and it must be understood that ours is a very complex diplomatic, national and legal environment. And in this complex reality, one must navigate wisely, sagaciously and responsibly. Thus the members of the Government and myself have acted up until now and thus we will continue to act. We will continue to strengthen settlement and we will continue to strengthen democracy in the State of Israel.”

State to decide on Mujahedin-e Khalq terror delisting in 4 months

The State Department plans to comply with a court’s order to decide the status of a group that opposes the Iranian regime and that it lists as terrorist.

In an unsigned statement issued June 1, the spokesman’s office said that it “intends to comply” with a ruling earlier that day by the D.C. Circuit’s Court of Appeals ordering the State Department to decide within four months whether Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, should be removed from its designated terrorist group list.

The court, which had first issued an order in 2010 demanding a decision within 180 days, expressed its frustration with the delay.

“We have been given no sufficient reason why the Secretary, in the last 600 days, has not been able to make a decision which the Congress gave her only 180 days to make,” it said, and ruled that if the department failed to decide within four months, the group would automatically be delisted.

A number of pro-Israel figures in recent years have joined the effort to delist the MEK, saying that it has reformed since its days under the shah when it targeted Americans.

They note also that the MEK base in Iraq has disarmed, per U.S. requests, and say delisting is vital now as the pro-Iranian Iraqi regime consolidates power and the thousands of residents of the MEK camp in Iraq are left defenseless, because removing the group from the terrorist list facilitates travel for its members.

Iraqi forces killed 34 camp residents in a raid last year.

The MEK is reportedly assisting Israel in exposing and sabotaging Iranian nuclear facilities.

Opponents of delisting say it serves no useful purpose, saying that MEK’s alignment with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war has led to it being universally reviled, even among opponents of the theocracy.

They say that delisting would only needlessly provoke Iran during a period of sensitive negotiations over making its nuclear program more transparent.

MEK welcomed the judge’s decision. “The judgment once again demonstrated that maintaining the terrorist designation on the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is absolutely illegitimate and unlawful, and is guided by ulterior political motives,” it said in a statement.

Egyptians cancel meetings with U.S. lawmakers after aid warnings

An Egyptian military delegation abruptly cancelled its meetings with U.S. lawmakers to return to Cairo on Monday after warnings from both Congress and the White House that Egypt’s crackdown on non-governmental groups could threaten its $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid.

A spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy confirmed that the delegation had cancelled its meetings this week with U.S. lawmakers, but gave no reason.

Last week, the Egyptian army delegation met State Department officials who outlined both the U.S. position on the pro-democracy non-governmental groups and the new conditions that Congress recently imposed on American military assistance.

Nineteen Americans are among 40 foreign and Egyptian activists whose cases have been referred to criminal court by Egypt’s army-backed government. A number of the U.S. citizens involved have sought refuge in the American Embassy.

The resulting dispute has strained ties between Cairo and Washington, which backed the overthrow last year of Egypt’s longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, upon whom it relied for decades to uphold a peace treaty with Israel vital to U.S. strategy in the Middle East.

The Egyptian delegation had been scheduled to see Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, the Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, among others in Congress this week.

Senate aides said they did not know why the meetings were cancelled.

The U.S. senator who wrote the conditions placed on U.S. military aid to Egypt this year warned that “things will be a lot worse” for Egypt when Congress makes aid decisions for 2013 if Cairo does not demonstrate a commitment to democracy.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign aid subcommittee, suggested that he would not favor continuing U.S. military aid to Egypt, even with conditions, if it continued its crackdown on local and U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups.

“I’m not going to … say, keep on funding this, funding money that reflects the assumption that they are committed to democracy, if they are not,” Leahy told Reuters at the Senate.

“If they think I took a strong stand this year – if things don’t improve, next year will be a lot worse,” he said.

The White House said earlier on Monday that the Egyptian crackdown on pro-democracy non-governmental groups could threaten the country’s $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid.

“These actions could have consequences for our relationship and for our assistance programs,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

LEAHY’S CONDITIONS

Under the conditions written into the fiscal 2012 spending bill that Congress passed in December, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must certify that Egypt’s military-led authorities are meeting benchmarked steps toward democratic reform before the $1.3 billion in military aid—the usual amount Washington has provided in recent years—is released in fiscal 2012.

The conditions say that Clinton must certify that Egypt is “holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law.”

Leahy said he had to “really fight the administration” of President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat, to get those conditions placed on the aid for fiscal 2012, which began last October and ends September 1.

“Now everybody is glad it was done that way because it gives us, to the extent we have any leverage, that’s where the leverage is,” Leahy told Reuters.

At the White House, Carney said the administration continued to communicate to the Egyptian government its “grave concerns” about the crackdown on pro-democracy groups.

The individuals involved “have done nothing wrong. Their only assignment is to support Egypt in its transition to democracy.”

Egyptian authorities say the NGOs broke the law by accepting foreign funds without government approval.

Several U.S. citizens and others involved have been barred from leaving Egypt. They include Sam LaHood, the country director of the International Republican Institute and the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“Many of these groups have worked in Egypt for several years, and so their activities are not new. Moreover, they also served as observers for the recent parliamentary elections at the request of the government of Egypt,” Carney said.

Reporting By Laura MacInnis, Alister Bull and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Bill Trott

State Department condemns vandalism of West Bank mosque

The United States condemned the vandalizing of a mosque in the northern West Bank.

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s most recent vandalizing of a mosque, as well as the burning of three cars, in the West Bank village of Dir Istiya. Hateful, dangerous, and provocative actions such as these are never justified,”  the State Department said in a statement released late Wednesday.

The words “price tag” and “Gal Arye Yosef” were spray-painted on the wall of the mosque in the village of Dir Istiya, near Ariel, in the early Wednesday morning attack. The graffiti refers to an illegal outpost that was razed the previous day.

The State Department statement noted that the Israeli government “pledged to capture those responsible for these reprehensible attacks and to bring the perpetrators to justice” and called on the local authorities to “work together with the community to reduce tension and to defend religious freedom.”

“We again call for calm on the part of all parties and urge them to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of violence. Violence only serves to impede the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on acceptance and respect,” the statement said.

An attempt to attack the mosque was carried out last September.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly condemned the attack and commanded the Israel Defense Forces and officials in the defense establishment to “act resolutely, purposefully and to use all the means at their disposal to capture the lawless rioters and bring them to justice,” according to a statement issued from the Ministry of Defense.

“Such acts prevent the IDF from carrying out its primary missions, including the basic protection of the region’s residents,” Barak said. “These activities are designed to damage the fragile relationship between Israelis and Palestinians in the Judea and Samaria region, as well as between Israel and its neighbors. The IDF, in cooperation with the police and security personnel, will act robustly against these criminal activities.”

Muslim Brotherhood offered assurances on treaty, State Dept. says

The Muslim Brotherhood assured the United States it would not break Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, according to the U.S. State Department.

A State Department spokesperson said Thursday that the Islamist political party had offered assurances it would not break Egypt’s 1979 accord with Israel, despite statements to the contrary by a party leader.

“We have had other assurances from the party with regard to their commitment not only to universal human rights, but to the international obligations that the government of Egypt has understaken,” Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s departure from power has raised concerns that political reform in the Arab world’s most populous country could lead to the emergence of a hostile regime that would depart from its historic peace accord with the Jewish state.

In an interview published Sunday, Rashad Bayoumi, the party’s deputy leader, said the group will not recognize Israel “under any circumstance.”

Asked about Bayoumi’s comment, Nuland said he was but one member of the Muslim Brotherhood and that the party would be judged by what it does.

State Dept. gives to $200,000 grants to MEMRI, Centropa

The U.S. State Department awarded $200,000 grants each to the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, and the Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation, known as Centropa.

The grants, from the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, were announced last week.

MEMRI, a Washington-based group that translates and researches anti-Semitic trends in the Middle East and South Asia, was awarded the grant to document and translate anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in the Middle East.

Centropa, a Vienna-based organization that uses technology and interactive social media to teach about the Holocaust in Hungary, Lithuania and Poland, was given the grant for Holocaust education programs.

U.S. State Dept. to study Saudi texts

The U.S. State Department is launching a study of Saudi textbooks to determine their reach and whether they promote intolerance.

The department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights will commission experts to examine textbooks for bigoted depictions of non-Muslims, including anti-Semitic tropes, Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s envoy to combat anti-Semitism, told JTA.

During a tour last month of Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Rosenthal met with groups promoting interfaith dialogue and, in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, with government education ministry officials.

She confronted Saudi officials with examples of anti-Semitic statements in the kingdom’s texts used as far afield in Saudi-funded schools in Pakistan and Argentina.

In one instance she cited, Jews are described as the spawn of “monkeys and pigs.” Saudi officials told Rosenthal that such texts are no longer in use, but that if her department could uncover instances of intolerance in books being used, they would be altered.

Rosenthal said such a study was in its planning stages and would assess which countries have schools using the textbooks, as well as whether the texts promote intolerance. She said the grantees that would carry out the study had yet to be selected.

A similar study examining Palestinian and Israeli textbooks already is under way by the bureau.

State Dept. funding study of Israeli, Palestinian incitement in textbooks

The U.S. State Department is funding a $500,000 study to examine incitement in Israeli and Palestinian textbooks.

The study is analyzing textbooks used by Israeli and Palestinian schoolchildren to see how they characterize the other side and topics like religion and history, the Forward reported. It was commissioned by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a Jerusalem-based organization of Islamic, Jewish and Christian religious leaders.

According to the newspaper, a team of six bilingual researchers—three Israeli Jews and three Palestinians—are examining the poems, narrative descriptions, maps, stories, photographs and illustrations in 141 Palestinian and 486 Israeli textbooks used from grades 1 to 12. The researchers log their findings into a computer system, with half of the books analyzed twice by both an Israeli and a Palestinian and the other half split evenly between both sides and analyzed once to counter possible bias.

The study’s designer, Yale University psychiatry professor Bruce Wexler, told the Forward that the study’s methodologies have never been used for textbook analysis.

“We borrowed techniques in other areas of research to create a more objective, quantitative analysis,” Wexler told the paper.

The State Department’s grant for the study comes from a $4 million fund appropriated by Congress for work pertaining to religious freedom.

The study’s final results are expected to come either at the end of 2011 or early next year, and the findings will be used to make educational reform recommendations to the Palestinian and Israeli governments, Wexler said.

State Department says Israel not preventing human trafficking

Israel is not in full compliance with the minimum international standards to prevent human trafficking, but is making efforts to bring itself up to par, the U.S. State Department said.

Israel’s rank in the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking released Monday remained unchanged, The State Department classified Israel as a “tier two” country, the second ranking out of a possible four categories. This is the fifth year in a row Israel has received a tier two ranking, after increasing its rank in 2007.

According to the report, men and women, mostly migrants, are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in Israel. Workers from Thailand, China, Nepal, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka and Romania legally and voluntarily come over for temporary work in construction, agriculture and as home health care providers. Some, the report said, “subsequently face conditions of forced labor, including through such practices as the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, inability to change or otherwise choose one’s employer, nonpayment of wages, threats, sexual assault and physical intimidation.”

The report also said many agencies that recruit laborers to come to Israel require them to pay between $4,000 and $20,000, putting them at risk for trafficking practices until the debt is paid off.

Citing Israel’s Interior Ministry, the report said 14,000 migrants crossed into the country through the Sinai in 2010, up from 5,000 the previous year. The report said Bedouin groups in the area kept many of the migrants captive in the Sinai and “an unknown number of them were forced into sexual servitude or labor to build homes and serve as domestic workers.”

Additionally, the report found that women from the former Soviet Union and China are forced into prostitution, but noted that the number has gone down since Israel passed an anti-trafficking bill in 2006.

The report recommended Israel “significantly increase prosecutions, convictions and punishment of labor trafficking offenders,” while noting it kept up its strong law enforcement progress against sex trafficking. The government also runs two shelters for male and female trafficking victims, although international organizations said both lacked a sufficient number of beds for the total number of victims in the country.

The report analyzed 184 countries and identified 23 nations as failing to comply with international standards, up from 13 in 2010.

State Dept. warns against sea travel to Gaza

The U.S. State Department “strongly urged” Americans not to travel to Gaza—a warning aimed at Americans joining a flotilla to break Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip.

“U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea,” said the statement issued Wednesday. “Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens.”

The reference is to the Gaza flotilla Israeli commandoes raided a year ago. Nine Turks, including one Turkish American, were killed in the melee.

At least 36 Americans are joining a flotilla set to sail June 25 from Athens.

“U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel,” the State Department’s travel warning said. “The Government of Israel has announced its intention to seek ten-year travel bans to Israel for anyone participating in an attempt to enter Gaza by sea.”