Archive | May 23rd, 2011

Why Syria’s Christians Should Not Support the Assad Regime

NOVANEWS

Elie Elhadj*

At the Dormition of Our Lady Greek Catholic cathedral in Old Damascus, Father Elias Debii raises his hands to heaven and prays for divine protection for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Bishop Philoxenos Mattias, a spokesman for the Syriac Orthodox Church said: “We are with the government and against these movements that oppose it”.

Those among Syria’s Christian clerics and civic leaders who publicly support the Asad regime are short sighted. They are courting long-term disaster for themselves and their congregations. Why? Because, the Asad regime will not remain in power forever; it is immoral to support non-representative unjust rule; the Asad clan’s exploitation of Sunni Islam has emboldened Islamism and thwarted the development of secularism in Syria; and because scaremongering for blackmail legitimacy will not work forever. The following explains each reason.

The Asad regime will not remain in power forever

Since the March 8, 1963 military coup d’état against the democratically elected parliament and government of President Nazim al-Qudsi, an unelected minority of the Alawite Asad clan has been ruling Syria with an iron fist; notwithstanding, those seven uncontested referendums for the two Asad presidents.

In addition to impoverishing Syria; despite billion of dollars in oil revenues, the regime has committed horrific atrocities—extra-judicial killings of hundreds of Muslim Brothers detainees in the Palmyra prison in 1980, mass murder in 1982 of between 3,000 citizens, according to the regime’s apologists, and 38,000 in the city of Hama, let alone the torture of residents at the slightest suspicion and the disappearance of opponents. The killing of more than 1,000 demonstrators during the seven weeks since the March 26, 2011 popular uprising adds to the regime’s grim catalogue of human rights violations.

Such a system of governance is unsustainable. It cannot last forever. When the day of reckoning will come, the support that certain priests and civic leaders had given to the regime will place all Christians in danger.

It cannot be predicted when the Asad regime might fall. However, should the demonstrations become larger and spread to downtown Damascus and Aleppo, the demonstrators could overwhelm the security forces; rendering a Hama or a Palmyra type atrocity impossible. If the demonstrations get bigger, more Sunni clerics would join the uprising. Ultimately, even the Sunni palace ulama could turn against their benefactor president.

There is no love lost between Sunnis and Alawites on a religious level. Accommodation between the Asad regime and Sunni palace ulama is a matter of convenience. Orthodox Sunnis regard Alawites as heretics. Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), condemned the Alawites as being more dangerous than the Christians, and encouraged Muslims to conduct jihad against them. Likewise, Alawites despise Sunnis. To Alawites, the howls of jackals that can be heard at night are the souls of Sunni Muslims calling their misguided co-religionists to prayer.

If parts of the army, which is a conscripted institution, would refuse killing demonstrators or if the army would stand up to the republican guards and the intelligence brigades, then the regime might very well collapse.

It is immoral to support non-representative unjust rule

That leading priests of certain Syrian churches publicly support the Asad dictatorship does not reflect well on the sense of justice, morality, or benevolence of the priests. It is not very Christian for priests to abandon their duty to stand up to oppression, corruption, and injustice.

There might be an argument in favour of tolerating an illegitimate dictatorship if the dictator were benevolent. But, Mr. Asad’s dictatorship is neither legitimate nor benevolent.

For some priests and civic leaders to publicly embrace short-term convenience and abandon long-term security and defense of justice and human rights can be very expensive for the Christian community as a whole. Syria’s Sunni majority will forever remember Christians’ support of Mr. Asad’s misrule. A thousand years later, the memories of Christian and Alawite support of the Crusades are still vivid in the collective consciousness of Sunnis.

The Asad clan’s exploitation of Sunni Islam emboldened Islamism and impeded the development of secularism in Syria

Islamism has been gaining strength over the recent decades, thanks to the Asad clan’s strategy of exploiting Sunni Islam to prolong their hold on power.

That the regime and its apologists and propagandists describe Mr. Asad’s rule as ”secular” is an exaggeration, if not false. The Asad regime is neither secular nor sincere in its promotion of the Sunni creed. Since their seizure of absolute power more than four decades ago, the Asad government did not secularize Syria in the slightest. Syria of 2011 is no less Islamic than Syria of 1963.

Exploiting Sunni Islam, together with the excesses of the ruling elite, corruption, abuse of human rights, poverty, and unemployment have been driving increasing numbers of young men and women to extremism. The longer this situation continues, the more fertile the ground will become for Islamism to grow.

Here is how the Asad dynasty has been impeding the development of secularism in Syria and exploiting Sunni Islam.

Article 3.1 of the Syria constitution makes Islam the necessary religion of the president. Christians are barred from the country’s highest political office. Article 3.2 makes Islam as “a main source” of legislation.

Seventh century Shari’a laws and courts are in force in personal status, family, and inheritance affairs (Christians follow their own archaic religious courts). Shari’a law is the antithesis of the liberal laws of the modern age. It denies women legal rights compared with Muslim men. It impinges on women’s human rights. Shari’a law reduces the status of women to that of chattel—a Muslim man can marry four wives, divorce any one of them without giving reason (with limited child custody rights, housing, or alimony), a Muslim woman is prohibited from marrying a non-Muslim man while the Muslim man is allowed to marry non-Muslim women, a woman cannot pass her nationality on to her foreign husband and children while the man can, “honour killing” of a woman by a male relative results in a light sentence for murder, and two women equal one man in legal testimony, witness, and inheritance. Such maltreatment of one half of Syria’s society is in spite of the regime’s energetic attempts to project an image of secularism, modernity, and equality between the genders.

The Islamic curriculum in Syria’s elementary, middle, and high schools teaches Muslim Sunni Islam regardless of the Islamic sect to which they belong. The textbooks are discriminatory, divisive, and intolerant of non-Muslims.

More mosques, bigger congregations, and more veiled women than ever before have become the order of the day in Syrian cities. To flaunt his Islamic credentials, President Bashar Asad even ordered a special rain prayer throughout Syria’s mosques performed on December 10, 2010 in order for God to send rain.

Following the March 2011 violent demonstrations, Mr. Asad acted to gain support from the Sunni palace ulama and mollify the Sunni street. The popular Sunni cleric Muhammad Saiid al-Bouti praised Mr. Asad’s response to many of the requests submitted by a number of Sunni clerics. In his weekly religious program on April 5, 2011 on Syrian government television, Sheikh al-Bouti applauded Mr. Asad’s permission to allow niqab-wearing (black face cover) female teachers; transferred in July 2010 to desk duties, to return to classrooms. Sheikh al-Bouti had attributed the drought in December 2010 to the transfer from classrooms of the niqab-wearing female teachers. Sheikh al-Bouti also praised Mr. Asad for the formation of the Sham Institute for Advanced Shari’a Studies and Research, and for the establishment of an Islamic satellite television station dedicated to proclaiming the message of true Islam. Also, the first and only casino, which had enraged orthodox clerics when it opened on New Year’s Eve, was closed as well.

Why exploit Islam and fight secularism?

To rule Sunni dominated Syria, it would be helpful to the Asad clan to uphold the influence of Sunni Islam instead of wading in the muddy waters of Shari’a reform and secularization, even if that meant throwing the Baath Party’s constitution away.

Islam is helpful to Muslim rulers. Not only in Syria, other Arab regimes (except Lebanon and Tunisia) exploit Islam to stay in power. Islam demands obedience of Muslims to the Muslim ruler.

The Quran, the Prophetic Sunna, and opinions of famous jurists enjoin Muslims to obey the Muslim ruler blindly. In 4:59, the Quran orders: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.” Answering how a Muslim should react to a ruler who does not follow the true guidance, the Prophet reportedly said, according to Sahih Muslim: “He who obeys me obeys God; he who disobeys me, disobeys God. He who obeys the ruler, obeys me; he who disobeys the ruler, disobeys me.” Abi Da’ud (d. 888) and Ibn Maja (d. 886) quote the Prophet as imploring Muslims to hear and obey the ruler, even if he were an Ethiopian slave. Al-Bukhari (d. 870) quotes similar traditions. The palace ulama invoke one thousand year old opinions of famous jurists such as Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), Ibn Jama’a (1241-1333), and Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328). These men taught that the Muslim ruler must be obeyed blindly because even an unjust ruler is better than societal unrest.

Syria’s palace ulama threaten the Muslim faithful with eternal damnation if they fail to obey Mr. Asad (waliy al-amr). In the hands of the Asad clan, Islam has become a psychological weapon supplementing a brutal security machine.

Scaremongering for Blackmail legitimacy will not work forever

That certain priests and civic leaders subscribe to unsubstantiated scaremongering regarding future Islamist/salafi persecution of Christians is unwise. Those in the Christian community who warn of the slaughter awaiting Christians if the Asad regime collapses fall for the regime’s Machiavellian practice of blackmail legitimacy. Neither historical precedence nor credible evidence today supports such scare tactics. Blackmail legitimacy, like the crying-wolf syndrome, does not work forever.

Islamists/salafis who might harbor violent intentions against Christians are a tiny minority of Syria’s 23-million population. There are no accurate statistics or opinion polls to suggest otherwise. Syria’s Islamists/salafis are not representative of Syria’s Sunnis. The great majority of Syria’s Sunnis, around 75% of the population, are moderate Muslims who have lived rather harmoniously with their fellow Christians for centuries.

During the first 15 years of independence and until the advent of the Asad clan, Syria’s Christians enjoyed peace and shared whatever prosperity was available at that time with the Sunni majority. The suggestion that Syria’s Sunnis would kill Syria’s Christians is malicious misinformation to divide and rule. The regime’s media, apologists, and propagandists who circulate such stories are wicked. Those who believe such tales are naive. Syria’s Christian minority’s best interest could not be separate from the interest of the Sunni majority.

That the options to Syrians today are reduced to either accepting the current poor state of affairs or contend with an Islamist/salafi rule; even civil war, is blackmail used by the regime to perpetuate its monopoly on power and avoid genuine reform. That genuine reform is not an option does not bode well for the country. That President Asad insisted in his address to the parliament on March 30, 2011 that Syria’s protesters had been “duped” into damaging the nation on behalf of its enemies, and his infamous billionaire cousin, Rami Makhlouf, stated in an interview with The New York Times that, “Syria will fight protests till ‘the end’” spell danger to all Syrians. Like a pressure cooker, the longer a dictatorship stays in power the more violent the end will be.

Sunnis, like Christians, are threatened by Islamist/salafi ideology, violence, and seventh century way of life. While systematic long-term persecution of Christians by Sunnis will not happen in Syria, acts of revenge by extremist groups might occur during the chaotic days of a popular revolt against; not only Alawites and Christians, but also against non-Christian supporters of the Asad clan altogether.

To spare Syria a potential catastrophe, Mr. Asad should institute a comprehensive and genuine political reforms, in particular; multi-party parliament and contested presidential elections. Scaremongering priests can help. They must desist from misinformation and hypocrisy. They ought to become honest to the teaching of their churches. They should defend legitimacy, justice, and the rule of law.

Wise men and women; Alawites, Christians, and Sunnis must council the president and his immediate family that genuine reform; not cosmetic retouches, not the use of the tank, is the only way forward.

Hafiz Asad and his son, Bashar, have saddled the Alawite community plus the regime’s supporting groups with a terrible burden, a potential disaster. The Asad family must understand that four decades of misrule are kifaya.

Bashar Asad has a rare opportunity today to become the leader who saved Syria from a frightening future. Would he? Or, indeed, can he?

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Report: Russia warned Zio-Nazi regime before expelling attaché

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The Russian foreign ministry warned Israel three times before finally deciding to expel Military Attaché Colonel Vadim Leiderman, a Moscow paper reported Monday.

‘IDF attaché sought info on Russia-Arab arms trade’  / AFP

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) says Colonel Vadim Leiderman, expelled from country on suspicion of industrial espionage, tried to obtain details on Russia’s military, technological ties with Arab countries

The ministry accused Leiderman of violating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in its warnings, before expelling him last week on espionage charges, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.

The Israeli attaché made contact with Russian security agencies without first coordinating his moves with the Russian foreign ministry and the defense ministry’s foreign affairs department, the report adds, thus violating diplomatic law.

Russia’s first warning came in November of 2009, according to the report. A second letter was sent in April of 2010 and a third in December of the same year. In response, Israel’s embassy in Moscow reassured the foreign ministry that all of Leiderman’s future steps would “observe the Vienna Convention’s orders”.

Leiderman has been accused by Russia’s spy agencies of attempting to obtain information on Russia’s arms deals with Arab countries. He returned to Israel last week and was interrogated extensively by both the Defense Ministry and the Shin Bet. A lie-detector test cleared him of the espionage charges, Israel announced.

But the Russian foreign ministry continues to claim that Leiderman was caught red-handed and arrested on May 12, while seated with a Russian officer at a Moscow coffee shop. He was declared persona non-grata on May 14, and ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.

Despite the recent tensions surrounding Leiderman’s expulsion, however, Israel and Russia are scheduled to sign an emergency cooperation agreement next week. Homeland Security Minister Matan Vilnai and his Russian counterpart will sign the accord at the Knesset, the army says.

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EU imposes sanctions on Assad

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Reuters

 

The European Union imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and other senior officials on Monday, raising pressure on his government to end weeks of violence against protesters.

EU foreign ministers agreed at a meeting in Brussels to expand restrictions against Syria by adding Assad and around a dozen other senior members of the government to a list of those banned from travelling to the EU and subject to asset freezes.

“Technically, the legal act has been accepted,” one EU diplomat said, adding EU foreign ministers would still discuss the move at the meeting on Monday.

“If someone represses his own people like that, responds to peaceful demonstrations with force, this can’t be left unanswered by the European Union,” he said.

Syrian security forces killed six people in the city of Homs on Saturday during a funeral for those killed in the latest crackdown on protesters demonstrating against Assad’s rule, witnesses said.

Human rights groups estimate that more than 700 civilians have been killed by security forces as they attempt to suppress nearly two months of popular protests that have spread from southern Syria to towns across the country.

Syrian authorities have blamed most of the violence on armed groups backed by Islamists and foreign powers, who they say have killed more than 120 members of the security forces.

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said it was important to maintain pressure to ensure “fundamental change” in Syria.

He said imposing sanctions on Assad and his entourage was “a clear signal that we will not condone his policy of violence and repression”.

“He has to make the choice now,” he said. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said extending sanctions to Assad was the right thing to do.

“The repression in Syria continues and it is important to see the right to peaceful process and the release of political prisoners and taking the path of reform, not repression,” he said.

The United States extended sanctions to Assad and six senior officials on Wednesday in an escalation of pressure on his government to halt its bloody crackdown on protesters.

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Nazi settlers dump sewage in Palestinian town

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Saed Bannoura

 

Sewage and wastewater from the Israeli settlement of Ariel, the largest settlement in the West Bank, has polluted the Palestinian village of Bruqin, which sits adjacent to the settlement.

Ariel is constructed on hilltops and its wastewater is frequently directed away from the settlement onto the land of nearby Palestinian villages. This is a common occurrence in a number of Israeli settlements, which are constructed on illegally-seized Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Currently, Israeli settlements and military encampments control 70% of the West Bank’s water, leaving the Palestinian population with little water to drink, and downstream of Israeli settlers’ wastewater runoffs.

Palestinians have also accused a number of Israeli settlements of purposely directing wastewater and raw sewage onto their farmland and homes, in an attempt to contaminate the property and render it uninhabitable, thus forcing the Palestinian residents to leave.

In the current incident, the sewage was directed from Ariel settlement directly toward the land of Bruqin village, and has contaminated farmland and groundwater in an area of several kilometers around the village.

All Israeli settlements are considered illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, which prohibits the transfer of civilian populations onto land seized by military force. Currently around 500,000 Israeli civilians and military personnel live on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that was seized by Israeli military force during the 1967 war.

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Obama ‘Clarifies’: 1967 Borders Didn’t Really Mean 1967 Borders

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antiwar.com

Speaking today at the AIPAC annual conference, President Barack Obama addressed the controversial suggestion he made that the peace process between Israel and a prospective Palestinian state start with the pre-1967 borders, before Israel occupied Palestine.

The only thing more furious than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the backpedalling done by Obama at the speech, where he was quick to insist simultaneously that the reference to 1967 wasn’t new and that he wasn’t really serious about it.

Rather Obama insisted that the “1967 lines” would need to be revised to account for what he referred to in the speech as “demographics changes” but what most people in the world refer to as the construction of settlements in the occupied territories. The expansion of settlements ever deeper into Palestine has been the chief reason the Palestinian Authority left the peace talks in September.

Obama’s speech was aimed primarily at placating the anger his unseemly call for peace caused among AIPAC and its affiliates, and wedged into a tight speech with pledges of more military aid to Israel and promises to move against Iran, he appears to have been successful in his task. Through the speech he was loudly cheered by attendees.

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Obama’s AIPAC Speech Placates Netanyahu

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antiwar.com

Just days ago he was angrily condemning the US president for mentioning the 1967 borders, but in the wake of a high profile AIPAC speech by President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahudeclared himself “pleased” by the comments.

The comments were, by and large, a dramatic backpedal from the previous speech, declaring his undying support for Israel and promising that his mention of the 1967 borders didn’t really mean a literal end to the occupation of the lands Israel conquered in 1967.

Netanyahu wasn’t the only one condemning Obama in the wake of his previous comments, as a number of US politicians sought to establish themselves ahead of the 2012 elections by condemning Obama’s “betrayal” of Israel, which is to say his suggestion that maybe the occupation should be reversed at least partially through negotiation.

Netanyahu insisted that the comments today by Obama were “befitting” and that he was satisfied that the “clarification” was sincere. The peace talks, as always, are an afterthought and will remain frozen.

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The Lobby Takes the Offensive

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by Justin Raimondo,

Antiwar.com

 

When the President of the United States reiterated longstanding American policy in the Middle East – that the borders of Israel and a Palestinian state must be based on the 1967 borders, give or take a few land swaps here and there – was he really “not surprised,” as he claimed in his speech to AIPAC a few days later, by the ensuing uproar? That’s what he says, but the reality is harder to discern: after all, this was the premise behind George W. Bush’s – and, before him, Bill Clinton’s – public statements on the issue, and the President had every reason to believe this time would be no different.

Yet it was indeed different, because – as I pointed out here – Israel is different, all these years later. And so is the United States. President Obama was caught flat-footed because he and his advisors failed to consider the full import of these changes.

In Israel, a right-wing government has as its relatively “moderate” element Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud-led government is backed in a coalition government by a number of extreme right-wingers who make the hawkish Likudniks look reasonable. Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is a thuggish radical whose racist anti-Arab diatribes have even Israel’s hard-line partisans in the US desperate to keep him in the background. Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, is a neo-fascist outfit which advocates the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and the creation of  a “Greater Israel.” According to them, there are no Palestinians – only Jordanians who have infiltrated Israel.

In America, the power of the Israel lobby is much greater than at any time in the past, and certainly since the 1967 war. We are faced, here in this country, with the extraordinary spectacle of a US President confronting a foreign leader with a list of reasonable requests – negotiation in good faith, the abandonment of encroaching “settlements,” an end to the arbitrary humiliations endured by a people under occupation – and the leaders of the opposition are taking the side of the foreign leader. This from a party that revels in its alleged super-“patriotism”! Romney, Huckabee, and the whole Fox network team went into overdrive, following the President’s Mideast speech, flaying him for “betraying” Israel. Fox News even ran a story warning that “Jewish donors” would not back the President’s reelection campaign on account of his supposedly “new” stance.

Yet, as I am not the first to point out, there was nothing new in what the President said about the 1967 borders. That didn’t matter to Obama’s critics, however: so quick were they to pick up the latest party line from Tel Aviv that they didn’t even bother to acknowledge this, but were only concerned with echoing every jot and tittle of the Israeli position. Not since the heyday of the old Communist Party USA, when the Daily Worker was adept at not only defending but anticipating the line handed down by the Kremlin, have we seen such a phenomenon: the kowtowing before a foreign leader by American politicians.

The idea that our leaders are intent on pursuing America’s vital national interests abroad – that the formulation of our foreign policy has to do with determining what those interests are and how best to achieve them – is a myth. As is the case with domestic policy, foreign policy is a political question: that is, it’s all about the internal pressures and interests competing for primacy in the policymaking process. Nothing underscores the dynamics of this decision-making procedure quite so starkly and dramatically as the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

The US military has been particularly insistent that the question of Palestine be resolved before we can achieve our goals in the Middle East, and secure the defense of American interests more generally. That our unconditional support for Israel has cost us dearly, in terms of our prestige and “pull” in the Arab world, is undeniable. That we are fighting terrorists who use this issue to demonize the US, and provoke attacks on our interests and our citizens throughout the world, is likewise readily apparent.

Yet rather than give up this failed policy, which has led to nothing but trouble, our leaders in both political parties – including the President – have taken every opportunity to pledge themselves to an “ironclad” – as Obama put it – commitment to the survival of Israel as a Jewish state implanted in an Arab sea. And that, furthermore, this commitment is not contingent on Israeli behavior: our support is unconditional and permanent, no matter if Avigdor Lieberman comes to power and deports every Palestinian to the far side of the Jordan river.

In his “make up” speech to AIPAC, Obama once again reiterated this commitment and boasted about all the money we’re shoveling over there so Bibi can build “settlements” and keep the Palestinians in subjection. US “aid” built the wall that separates the Israeli green belt from the great prison-house of the occupied territories, and which makes permanent a land grab on a vast scale. Without that aid, both military and economic, Israel would sink like a stone beneath the demographic waves.

In short, we have the Israelis in a complete state of military and economic dependency – and yet they are calling the tune, and not Washington. What’s up with that?

What’s up is the Israelis have a singularly powerful lobby in the US, which wields such political clout that no politician can afford to cross them. We are living in a country where the chief executive must constantly look over his shoulder and worry that Congress will support the position of a foreign leader over the President of the United States. As Pat Buchanan so memorably – and correctly – put it, Congress is “Israeli-occupied territory.” And we aren’t just talking about Republican members pandering to their “born again” Christian fundamentalist constituency, but also Democrats in thrall to a wealthy and well-organized urban constituency which puts Israel first, last, and always.

In Israel, too – where, after forty years of constant warfare, voters are not interested in compromise – domestic politics dictates foreign policy. The Israeli electorate is so far to the right, these days, that a neo-fascist party and a Jewish version of Hitler have made huge gains of the sort that were once unthinkable. In its religious fervor, and millennialist hysteria, the Israeli zeitgeist has abandoned its Western and European antecedents, and become almost indistinguishable from its Arab neighbors: fundamentalism is as much a problem in Israel as it is in, say, Egypt, or Jordan. Israel, in short, has returned to its Asian-Oriental roots, and is very far from the idealistic experiment its European founders envisioned at the beginning.

The fundamentalist leaders of today’s Israel are no more interested in peace than the leadership of al-Qaeda, or Hamas. The President may cite the demographic time bomb going off at present in the occupied territories, which he says makes the current situation “unsustainable,” but Israel’s fundies have an answer to that: deportation, ethnic cleansing, and a “Greater Israel” that extends its territory to include “Samaria” (the West Bank) and lands supposedly granted to Israel in the Bible. A debate about this is precluded by the fundamentalist mindset: we’re talking about religion, here, and not anything amenable to rational discussion or negotiation. The ruling Likud party was founded on this fundamentalist premise, and a “Greater Israel” is what the party of Netanyahu represents: it is foolish to think he will abandon this goal because of American pressure.

Sprinkled with genuflections to the Israel lobby, such as his references to Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program, and numerous pledges to continue and strengthen the costly symbiosis that has poisoned our relations with much of the rest of the world, Obama’s AIPAC speech was an exemplar of such craven appeasement that the sight of it must make genuine patriots cringe.

Why does the most powerful man on earth have to take Tel Aviv’s demands into account? Why is he not free to act and speak as he wills?

The reason, in short, is the pro-Israel movement in the United States, a well-organized and inordinately wealthy political machine that operates as the Israeli government’s agent in America. Here is a lobby – in effect, a fifth column in league with a foreign government – so powerful that it has become the decisive factor in determining US policy in a region of the world vital to US national interests. It has succeeded in subordinating those interests to Israeli objectives, and it has done so by creating a political apparatus in the US that politicians defy at their peril. Apologists for the Israel lobby constantly maintain that they have done nothing wrong, that their activities are carried out in full public view and in accordance with the principles of American democracy – and in this they are absolutely correct.

This is democracy in action – a well-organized and very well-funded minority, fanatically devoted to the interests of a country other than their own, has seized control of the policymaking apparatus of the US government. There is nothing inherently un-democratic about this. To the contrary: in a democracy, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and by this standard the very well-greased gears of the Israeli state – slathered, as they are, with gobs of US taxpayer dollars – stand as a monument to that operating principle.

As for the views of the American people in their majority – well, in our democracy, these views don’t get a hearing. They don’t because most Americans couldn’t care less about Israel, and, furthermore: they don’t approve of “foreign aid” – especially at a time when we’re borrowing from the Chinese just to keep the government running. They are sick and tired of hearing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which seems as insoluble as unraveling the Gordian Knot.

Yet, this healthy indifference to the quarrels of belligerent foreigners is irrelevant, politically, because it hardly matches the passion of Israel’s partisans, who pursue Tel Aviv’s cause with single-minded ferocity.

In both speeches, the President went out of his way to denounce efforts in the United Nations to “isolate” Israel, i.e. support the declaration of an independent  Palestinian state, and efforts in the occupied territories to unify the West Bank and Hamas-held Gaza. Support for Israel, he said, is encoded in our “values.” As Jennifer Laslo Mizrahi, president of The Israel Project, put it in response to the President’s performance before AIPAC: “Israel is as much a part of American values and traditions as are hot dogs, apple pie and freedom.”

This is utter nonsense, of course: support for Israel is no more a part of American tradition than is support for, say, the cause of Basque independence. Up until relatively recently, support for the Zionist project was evident among only a small minority of American Jews, never mind among the majority of Americans, and US Presidents, starting with Eisenhower and continuing on up to Bush Senior, were evenhanded in their treatment of both Israel and the Arabs, (and even, in the case of Bush I, a bit cool to Tel Aviv’s ceaseless demands).

Ronald Reagan, whose cold warrior credentials placed him firmly in Israel’s camp, disdained Tel Aviv’s advice and withdrew US forces from Lebanon, much to the anger and dismay of the neocons, who denounce him for it to this day. It was only with the advent of George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House that the “special relationship” became as “ironclad” as it is today. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Israeli propaganda machine made good use of the “Israel’s cause is our cause” argument, which gained new resonance beyond the Lobby’s traditional constituency.

Now that a war-weary nation is coming to its senses, however, and the shock of 9/11 has had time to wear off, the advantage enjoyed by the Israel Firsters has been dissipated over time. There is space, in the national discourse, for a view that puts American over Israeli interests, and seeks to undo the harm caused by years of kneejerk support for an oppressive and unjust occupation.

It is true that US intervention in the Middle East, and particularly in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, has only exacerbated the stand-off, and ill-served our national interests. Yet it is not enough to say that we simply shouldn’t intervene: we are, in reality, already intervening by subsidizing and arming the Israeli Sparta. The helicopter gunships that cut down Palestinian children whose only weapons are rocks and epithets have “made in USA” stamped all over them. Just as the tear-gas canisters hurled at Egyptian protesters by Mubarak’s goons had the same imprint of origin.

To say, simply, that the US should not intervene, that Washington should not be “dictating” to Tel Aviv, is to drop the entire context and reality of US policy. Unconditional American support for Israel in the form of a continuous stream of money and the most advanced weaponry has created the situation our President rightly calls “unsustainable,” and there is no walking away from our responsibility for the status quo.

I don’t blame those who take this “no intervention” line for trying to dispose of the Israeli-Palestinian question in this way. Telling the truth about the US-Israeli relationship, and pointing out its essentialy dysfunctional nature, has always been more trouble for a politician than it’s worth.

Those who raise these questions are smeared by the Israel lobby, and targeted for destruction: any politician or public official who questions the conventional Washington wisdom on these matters is pilloried in the press and excoriated by the Israeli Firsters. The sheer noise level of this smear campaign is very often enough to destroy a politician, a publication, or a reputation. Antiwar.com has been a major target of the Lobby ever since we started speaking out on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, i.e. from the get-go. We haven’t hesitated to criticize Israel, and my column in particular has taken the Israelis and their American supporters to task on numerous occasions. For that, I was purged from the Huffington Post as an invited blogger, and attacked by the neocons (and the ADL) as “anti-semitic.” Apparently the nearly all-Jewish leadership of the libertarian movement is not enough to placate these would-be Grand Inquisitors, who define “anti-Semitism” as opposition to the policies of whatever government is in power in Tel Aviv.

By this measure, most American Jews – who balk at the hardline policies of Netanyahu and his allies – are also “anti-Semites.” Go figure.

The great problem with any Empire, such as our own, is that it becomes the instrument of its own satellites. Our satraps hold us hostage, and exact tribute in the form of “foreign aid” – even as the folks back home go broke. While Social Security benefits are the target of congressional budget-cutters, aid to Israel is sacrosanct.

There’s something very wrong with this picture.

 

Posted in CampaignsComments Off on The Lobby Takes the Offensive

Obama to AIPAC: 1967 borders reflect long-standing U.S. policy

NOVANEWS

 

Haaretz

 

U.S. President Barack Obama said Sunday before the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby that two states for two people based on 1967 borders has been a long-standing U.S. policy for Mideast negotiations.

After a contentious couple of days, Obama said his endorsement of the Israel’s 1967 boundaries as the basis for a Palestinian state reflected the urgent need for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

Moreover, Obama used the AIPAC address to clarify his statement in his Mideast speech on Thursday, emphasizing the U.S. believes in negotiations based on 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps. He clarified that he did not mean the borders that existed on June 4, 1967.

Obama said his call for a future Palestine based on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps was a public expression of what has long been acknowledged privately.

Obama said he brought this out in the open because delay will undermine Israel’s security and prospects for peace. He repeated his remarks from Thursday on Israeli-Palestinian borders and security verbatim.

The U.S. president also warned that Israel will face growing isolation without a credible Middle East peace process and said that we cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace.

Obama reassured the crowd of Israel supporters that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is ‘ironclad’ and that the U.S. demands that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist.

The U.S. president also urged Hamas to release abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Obama reemphasized the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and said his administration “will continue to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge.”

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Zionist economy grows 4.7% in Q1

NOVANEWS

 

Rise in GDP lower than 7.6% growth in last quarter of 2010, but matches Bank of Israel’s forecast

ynet

Israeli economy continues to grow: The gross domestic products (GDP) rose by an annual rate of 4.7% in the first quarter of 2011, following a 7.6% increase in the last quarter of 2010 and a 4.8% rise in the third quarter, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported Monday.

The growth figures presented by the CBS are very close to the Bank of Israel’s annual growth forecast, presented a month and a half ago. In the Bank of Israel 2010 report, Governor Stanley Fischer raised the 2011 growth forecast from 3.9% to 4.6%.

One important parameter, however, saw a drop in economic activity – the government’s spending on salaries and citizens’ services.

According to the data, the spending on public consumption – which includes the citizens’ consumption funded or subsidized by the State and the government’s collective consumption (budget, civil servants’ salaries, etc) – was down 5.7% in the first quarter.

This figure shows that in spite of the economic growth, the activity of the National Insurance Institute and non-profit organizations dropped in the first quarter, as did the value of services created by local authorities and government ministries, following a 6.6% rise in the second half of 2010.

The CBS stressed that its figures are based on initial assessments of the national accounts and that “these findings must be examined with caution” due to the relatively high irregularity in economical statistics series in Israel.

According to the data, investment in fixed assets (homes, construction, equipment and vehicles) jumped in the first quarter of 2011 by 23.7% according to an annual calculation, and by 5.5% according to a quarterly calculation, following a 19.7% annual rise in the previous quarter.

The growing investment in fixed assets mainly reflects a sharp rise in investments in machinery, equipment and vehicles – 9.9% according to a quarterly calculation (45.7% according to an annual calculation), which followed a 15.7% rise in the previous quarter (79% according to an annual calculation).

In most parameters, the economic activity was similar to the activity recorded in the third quarter of 2010 and slightly lower than the one recorded last quarter. In several categories, the economic activity increased in the first quarter of 2011.

The spending on private consumption rose by 6.8% in the first quarter, according to an annual calculation, following a 6.6% increase in the previous quarter and a 1.2% drop in the third quarter of 2010.

The level of investment in housing projects rose by 12% in the first quarter, according to an annual calculation. Investment in other construction projects rose by 12.9%.

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Is Rape ‘Legal’ in the West?

NOVANEWS


by Yamin Zakaria

I know the title will cause offence to some, but perhaps it’s time that they learn to swallow their own medicine of ‘free’ speech, that is frequently used to insult Islam and Muslims; and in the spirit of free speech, I am going to elaborate on the title, rather than throw crass insults at an entire group of people. Thus, based on the example of some or even many, I won’t be tempted to class all white males as rapists or serial killers and make the tenuous link to their religious or racial identity. Those who are committed to free speech would be expected to persevere and remain, whereas the bigots and the nasty foulmouthed Islamophobes have probably already exited the room. Anyway, without further ado, let us proceed.

Everyone knows the bifurcation of, the Muslim terrorists versus the West; just the choice of words implies the latter is the ‘innocent victim’ fighting terrorism. Similarly another division exists, the Muslims as oppressors of women, and the West as the flag bearer of women’s rights. Remember, this women issue was one of the pretexts for the Afghan invasion. However, ironically, the US armed forces are filled with rapists, as their statistics and conduct shows. Who in their right mind would even trust the sick soldiers of Abu-Ghraib to guard their daughters and mothers for a few hours? When you see the behavior and the mindset of these soldiers in the numerous YouTube videos, it makes you cringe with disgust!

Therefore, consider, how many rapists have been found in Al-Qaeda or in any major Islamic movement, against the numerous rapists that fills the US armed forces? Yet, paradoxically the former stands accused of being oppressors of women, and the latter as liberators. The thought is amusing, because no matter how much you verbally demonise or promote, a group or an individual, the deeds will speak louder and expose the paradox. Who remembers the ‘fanatical’ Osama Bin Laden of the media, whose speeches and interviews shows a very calm and a rational person?

One would expect rape to be almost non-existent in societies that claims to be the leaders in upholding and promoting women’s rights, but the reality shows otherwise. There is a huge gap between the political rhetoric of women rights and the actual values that determines the actions of rapists. Noble values like women’s rights mean nothing to hot blooded males who are in a situation to commit the offence. Thus, rape is pervasive in all spheres of society, from the date-rape of teenagers to the brutal serial rapists stalking the streets at night. Even men in position of power and influence, stand accused. The Italian Prime Minister is going through the trial for having sex with an underage Muslim girl, committing statutory rape. Now, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of International Monetary Fund (IMF) is up for trial on charges of rape and numerous sexual assaults.

Given the statistics, can we use Jack Straw’s line of argument and pose the question: is there is a problem with white European men, who prey on women, see them as easy meat? No, because rapists come in various colours; the common factor is the mindset and values that drives them.

In terms of contributing factor, people fiercely debate the provocative dress worn by women. Of course, no matter how she dresses that does not mean she deserves to be raped, but the rapists do not see it that way. Similarly if I leave valuables in my car that does not mean my car should be broken into, however, the thief would not be persuaded by such arguments. Indeed, the empirical evidence shows, women in modest clothing like Hijab or Niqab, rarely gets targeted for rape. By bowing to feminist pressure, the society at large continues to ignore the role of women in agitating the male instincts; remember only in an ideal world, one could be act freely without facing any repercussion.

With so many rapists and potential rapists (past surveys have revealed many men would carry out the act if the opportunity prevailed), there is never going to be a shortage of support to ban clothing like the Niqab and the Hijab. Wasn’t it the men in France who led the campaign to ban the Niqab? I am pretty sure Mr Dominic Strauss-Kahn is a supporter of the ban.
After the furore caused by Ken Clarke’s remark about “serious rape” (implying some rapes not so serious), politicians of all persuasion coming forward to profess that they view rape as a serious crime, yet, they are almost oblivious to the light punishment prescribed for such crimes.

If rape is a serious crime, it should carry a serious level of punishment as a minimum. On the contrary, the minimum level of punishment prescribed is five years, with early plea that gets reduced to half or a third, and the offender is likely to serve half of that, just over a year. Such light punishment implies there is tacit permit to tolerate such things; it seems rape is treated more like minor offence, almost legal. What happened to being the flag bearer of women’s rights?

In contrast, under Sharia laws, rape is classed as one of the worst crimes, Hiraba (waging war against society), and accordingly serious punishment is prescribed, a slow execution that can involve an agonizing death. Going back to Jack Straw, the answer for those Muslim rapists is to apply the Sharia Laws on them, and see how fast they vanish. You will then have to work hard to convert the rest of society to see the merit in ‘Muslamic’ (Shariah) law! Remember, proper legal enforcement is only one side of the equation, modification of our (men and women) behaviour, is the other side of the equation.

by Yamin Zakaria
London, UK

Posted in PoliticsComments Off on Is Rape ‘Legal’ in the West?

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