Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Examining the Israel Lobby

The Israel Lobby, Dutch documentary

GO TO: http://occident.blogspot.com/

Monday, April 28, 2008

Atheist Soldier Claims Harassment in Military

Associated Press (April 28, 2008)

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (April 26) -- Like hundreds of young men joining the Army in recent years, Jeremy Hall professes a desire to serve his country while it fights terrorism. But the short and soft-spoken specialist is at the center of a legal controversy. He has filed a lawsuit alleging he's been harassed and his constitutional rights have been violated because he doesn't believe in God. The suit names Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"I'm not in it for cash," Hall said. "I want no one else to go what I went through." Known as "the atheist guy," Hall has been called immoral, a devil worshipper and — just as severe to some soldiers — gay, none of which, he says, is true. Hall even drove fellow soldiers to church in Iraq and paused while they prayed before meals. "I see a name and rank and United States flag on their shoulder. That's what I believe everyone else should see," he said.

Hall, 23, was raised in a Protestant family in North Carolina and dropped out of school before earning his GED. It wasn't until after he joined the Army that he began questioning religion, eventually deciding he couldn't follow any faith. But he feared how that would look to other soldiers." I was ashamed to say that I was an atheist," Hall said. It eventually came out in Iraq in 2007, when he was in a firefight. Hall was a gunner on a Humvee, which took several bullets in its protective shield. Afterward, his commander asked whether he believed in God, Hall said. "I said, 'No, but I believe in Plexiglas,'" Hall said. "I've never believed I was going to a happy place. You get one life. When I die, I'm worm food."

The issue came to a head when, according to Hall, a superior officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, threatened to bring charges against him for trying to hold a meeting of atheists in Iraq. Welborn has denied Hall's allegations. Hall said he had had enough but feared he wouldn't get support from Welborn's superiors. He turned to Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Weinstein is the foundation's president and a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate. He had previously sued the Air Force for acts he said illegally imposed Christianity on students at the academy, though that case was dismissed. He calls Hall a hero. "The average American doesn't have enough intestinal fortitude to tell someone to shut up if they are talking in a movie theater," Weinstein said. "You know how hard it is to take on your chain of command? This isn't the shift manager at KFC."

Hall was in Qatar when the lawsuit was filed on Sept. 18 in federal court in Kansas City, Kan. Other soldiers learned of it and he feared for his own safety. Once, Hall said, a group of soldiers followed him, harassing him, but no one did anything to make it stop. The Army told him it couldn't protect him and sent him back to Fort Riley. He resumed duties with a military police battalion. He believes his promotion to sergeant has been blocked because of his lawsuit, but he is a team leader responsible for two junior enlisted soldiers.

No one with Fort Riley, the Army or Defense Department would comment about Hall or the lawsuit. Each issued statements saying that discrimination will not be tolerated regardless of race, religion or gender. "The Department respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs," said Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense. All three organizations said existing systems help soldiers "address and resolve any perceived unfair treatment."

Lt. Col. David Shurtleff, a Fort Riley chaplain, declined to discuss Hall's case but said chaplains accommodate all faiths as best they can. In most cases, religious issues can be worked out without jeopardizing military operations. "When you're in Afghanistan and an IED blows up a Humvee, they aren't asking about a wounded soldier's faith," Shurtleff said. Hall said he enjoys being a team leader but has been told that having faith would make him a better leader. "I will take care of my soldiers. Nowhere does it say I have to pray with my soldiers, but I do have to make sure my soldiers' religious needs are met," he said. "Religion brings comfort to a lot of people," he said. "Personally, I don't want it or need it. But I'm not going to get down on anybody else for it."

Hall leaves the Army in April 2009. He would like to find work with the National Park Service or Environmental Protection Agency, anything outdoors. "I hope this doesn't define me," Hall said of his lawsuit. "It's just about time somebody said something."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Qasida al-Burda: Muslim Spirituality in a Nutshell

A beautiful recording with music and photographs from around of the Muslim world of the famous praise poem to the Prophet Muhammad, Qasida al-Burda, written by the eminent Sufi Salih Sharaf al-Din 'Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Busiri of Egypt (1212-1296.) This montage represents, I think, the heart of Muslim spirituality and reverence with regard to the founder of their religion, the Prophet Muhammad. If you watch one video which I post, this should be it. If possible, enlarge to view the subtitles.

Go to: http://occident.blogspot.com to view the video and listen to the poem.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Welcome, My Son, Welcome to The (Clinton) Machine: Hillary Wins PA; Elton John Dedicates Song

I'm reminded of this song as I read about Hillary Clinton's slime-produced primary victory in Pennsylvania due to the threatened masculinity of WASPy rednecks and women living vicariously through another person. For those who want to be offended, lighten up, this is meant as a joke (sort of.) Amusingly, Elton John supports Billary.

Go to http://occident.blogspot.com to view the music video.

And now for the requisite disclaimer, I prefer Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), partly because it pisses off WASPs, Islamaphobes, and bigots.

Spying for Zion: Retired Jewish American Army Engineer Passed Secret Documents on U.S. Military Technology to Israeli Official

(April 23, 2008)
Former head of the Mossad espionage agency MK Danny Yatom on Wednesday said the arrest Tuesday of a former United States Army mechanical engineer on charges that he spied for Israel over 20 years ago had touched a nerve with Washington."I think what primarily bothers the Americans is the feeling that Israel didn't tell them the whole truth two decades ago, in 1985, when the Pollard affair exploded," Yatom told Army Radio.
Ben-Ami Kadish, 84, was to be charged with slipping classified documents about nuclear weapons, fighter jets and air defense missiles to an Israeli Consulate employee who also received information from convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, authorities said.Kadish acknowledged his spying in FBI interviews, and said he acted out of a belief that he was helping Israel, court papers said.
Yatom added: "The Americans asked if there are additional people that Israel ran or are running in the United States. The answer, to the best of my knowledge, was always no," Yatom said. "If what has been reported is true, and it appears it is true, and Ben-Ami Kadish kept in touch with what the Americans described as his old handler in Israel, I can call it unnecessary stupidity," the Labor MK said.
A U.S. citizen, Kadish was scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Manhattan Tuesday, where he was facing four counts of conspiracy, including allegations that he conspired to disclose U.S. national defense documents to Israel, and that he acted as an agent of the Israeli government. According to the criminal complaint, the activities occurred from 1979 through 1985 while the Connecticut-born Kadish worked at the U.S. Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center in Dover, New Jersey.
Yuval Steinitz, another official with inside knowledge of Israel's intelligence services, did not deny a second spy had operated in the U.S. in parallel with Pollard - but insisted such espionage ceased long ago. "The Americans know... that since Pollard was exposed in 1985, Israel doesn't recruit agents or receive classified material (in) the United States," said Steinitz, a former chairman of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.Pensioner Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, a former Mossad official who recruited Pollard to spy for Israel, said he was not aware of the Kadish case. "I have no idea," he said. "This is the first time I've heard about it. I'll go listen to the news." When asked whether he recognized Kadish's name, Eitan repeated, "I have no idea."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said: "We know nothing about it. We heard it from the media." The Prime Minister's Bureau said Israel was not familiar with the details of the case, and was examining the issue. Israeli officials fear that the case might strain Israel-U.S. relations.
Kadish was accused of taking home classified documents several times and letting the Israeli government worker photograph them in Kadish's basement. The documents included information about nuclear weapons, a modified F-15 fighter jet, and the U.S. Patriot missile air defense system, the complaint said. According to the complaint, the Israeli government worker often provided Kadish with lists of wanted classified national defense documents.
Prosecutors also allege Kadish conspired to hinder a communication with a law enforcement officer, and making a materially false statement to a law enforcement officer. Those charges stem from a conversation in which Kadish was allegedly told by the Israeli contact to lie to U.S. law enforcement agents and tell them that he didn't remember many of the relevant details. A day later, Kadish lied to FBI agents about his communications with the Israeli worker, the complaint said.
According to U.S. law enforcement officials and various documents, Kadish got in touch with his Israeli contact after Israel agreed in 2004 to secretly acknowledge to American officials that Pollard was not an isolated case, thereby confirming longtime American suspicions that Pollard was not the only American spy working for Israel. Kadish admitted spying for Israel between 1979 and 1985, and then asked his Israeli contact what to do. The complaint said Kadish did not appear to receive any money in exchange for his suspected spying, just small gifts and restaurant meals. The complaint noted that Pollard was charged in November 1985 with espionage-related offense after he provided classified information to the same Israeli worker, among other people.
Comment: Some Israelis see the arrest of Kadish as a ploy to delay the release of the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard who they want freed as an "Israeli patriot." Past Israeli governments, including that of hard right politician Binyamin Netanyahu, have attempted to pressure the U.S. government into releasing the convicted spy. They have thus far been rebuffed.

In contradiction to the claims made by the Israeli officials in the Ha'aretz article, Israeli government spying on the U.S. does not seem to have stopped with Pollard. In 2004 the U.S. government was investigating an Israeli spy ring in the Pentagon:
Reading some of the reader comments on the Ha'aretz web site one will be struck by the predictable allegations of "anti-Semitism" against the United States and the U.S. government in bringing these charges against Kadish. Many of these same readers claim that Kadish's duty as a Jew to Israel outweighs his loyalty to his country of citizenship, the U.S. Some readers say, "well, all countries spy on us," which may very well be true. If so, I guess the relationship between the U.S. and Israel ain't so "special" after all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

'The Other' Through Language: Palestinians, Israelis, & Language Learning

Tim Johnson
BBC News, Jerusalem (April 21, 2008)

Bernard Spolsky has a wonderful roof terrace. Squeezing past the potted lemon trees and up the small cobbled dome that covers the ceiling below, your gaze can sweep from the Dome of the Rock to the grand Hurva Synagogue. Prof. Spolsky has lived in the Old City for almost 30 years. For him, the pleasure lies not just in the sights, but the sounds. He is a linguist. When he and a colleague started to document the languages used by residents of the Old City, they began by using letter-coding. The alphabet, though, was not enough. "We suddenly realised we were running out of letters," Prof Spolsky recalls. "We had to use a double-letter system. here were 40-50 languages being spoken."

The Old City may be a tiny space of one sq km but it has long exerted a tremendous pull on religious communities across the world. In his book, The Languages of Jerusalem, Prof Spolsky quotes James Finn, the British Consul in Jerusalem in 1853: "Jerusalem [has] an unequalled field for languages. Venice and Constantinople might produce as great a diversity of tongues… but certainly not the depth of tone and historical value attached to those in Jerusalem." Nearly 150 years later, Prof Spolsky sees more and more cities around the world becoming multilingual. But for him, the Old City of Jerusalem remains the template.

The question is how far those people within Jerusalem, and more broadly within Israel and the Occupied Territories, want to speak each other's languages. In the past, there has been a clear incentive: money. Sometime between 1820 and 1824, Rabbi Israel ben Samuel from Shklov (in present-day Belarus) wrote, in a letter from Jerusalem: "As for us Ashkenazim, the Biblical saying, 'he hath made me dwell in dark places', was fulfilled. For we do not know the language, and we are all broken paupers." (From Spolsky and Cooper, The Languages of Jerusalem.)
That language was Arabic.

In the teeth of opposition from some rabbis, the British Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore pushed hard, in the middle of the 19th Century, for the Jews of Jerusalem to learn Arabic and European languages. That opposition continues, in some quarters, today.
Arabic is one of Israel's two official languages. But it was only this week that the education ministry was forced to backtrack on a decision not to include Arabic in the required secondary school curriculum. It had been a failed attempt to create a curriculum that would have appealed to the ultra-Orthodox.

And there is the anecdotal evidence. Israelis will tell you that increasingly fewer children and university students are learning Arabic, and of those who are, fewer are taking it seriously.
Prof. Spolsky recalls one of his doctoral students going, as he was wont, to a left-wing "Peace Now" demonstration. The student began chatting, in fluent Arabic, to another demonstrator. The student's friends were aghast, and pulled to him one side. "Don't do that," they hissed at him. "People will think you're Shabak (from the intelligence service)." The reason? The wide assumption is that young people would only have that standard of Arabic if they were working for the military or the security services.

There is a similar picture among Palestinians. Yasser al-Khateeb runs a centre for academic and vocational training in Hebron. A dwindling number of his students are choosing to learn Hebrew. The reason echoes from that letter of the 1820s. There had been a great incentive to study Hebrew when there was a much bigger chance of securing a job the other side of the Green Line, inside Israel. But after the eruption of the second Intifada, at the start of the decade, the Israeli government erected the separation barrier and checkpoints, which have heavily curtailed movement into Israel. "These days," says Mr. Khateeb, "people prefer to learn English rather than Arabic. In any case, they find English easier."

Mr. Khateeb and Prof Spolsky agree that it is a shame that fewer people are learning the language of the other side. But, tellingly, they also readily concede the limits of that ambition.
"Let's think of Northern Ireland," Prof. Spolsky told me. "They spoke English on both sides. That didn't make them friendly. Language follows rather than leads. It's sad. I'm someone who encourages language-learning. But being able to speak someone's language doesn't make you like them."

Mr Khateeb puts it in similarly stark terms. "Even if I spoke Hebrew, and tried to communicate with Jews, the other side is solid," he said. "The other day, there was what, the 20th meeting between Abbas and Olmert? They talk and talk, and it's utterly useless."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

[A] Leading figure in Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, Jalal al-Din al-Saghier, said on Tuesday that dissolving the al-Mahdi army is Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s responsibility, asserting that top Shiite Cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has nothing to do with this militia as al-Sadr did not consult the SIIC when he established it.

“Al-Sistani has a clear opinion in this regard; the law is the only authority in the country,” al-Saghier told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI). “The top Shiite cleric had not been consulted in establishing al-Mahdi army, so it could not interfere in dissolving it,” he added. “Whosoever established the al-Mahdi army has to dissolve it,” he underlined. “Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr established this army and it is only him who has to dissolve it,” he explained. “Al-Sistani asked al-Mahdi army to give in weapons to the government,” the Shiite official said.

Muqtada al-Sadr warned he could resort to canceling the freeze on his al-Mahdi army if the situation required that in order to “implement our goals and beliefs.”Mahdi Army is the military arm of the Sadrist bloc, or Iraqis loyal to Sadr. In August 2007, Sadr announced a unilateral freeze on all military operations by his army, including those against U.S. and allied forces, for six months "for restructuring purposes."Last month Sadrist officials in Baghdad and Karbala said Sadr extended the freeze on the militia's activities for six months.
Comment: Although it's unlikely that al-Sistani would get involved in the current standoff between al-Sadr and the Maliki government and its Supreme Council/Badr Corps backers, if he does ultimately side with one side over the other his credibility as an honest and balanced broker would be severely damaged and his neutrality (and safety) would be called into question. In the heady days of 2003 following the collapse of the Iraqi Ba'th, al-Sadr's often fervent followers reportedly threatened the lives of al-Sistani and other senior Shi'i religious leaders, particularly non-Iraqis (like all but one of the country's resident grand ayatullahs). These leaders were only saved when tribesmen loyal to them forced al-Sadr's followers to back down.
Al-Sadr is a fervent nationalist, albeit with a Shi'i bent, unlike his main rivals in the Supreme Council who maintain close ties with Iran and the United States. It's hypocritical of the SIIC to talk about a national "law" when its own paramilitary, the Badr Corps, continues to be armed and independent of the central government. In addition, Badr Corps paramilitaries dominate the Interior Ministry and have probably been key perpetrators in the random murders of Sunni Arabs throughout mixed regions in Iraq. They were also probably at the forefront of the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad, which was once a heavily mixed city of Sunni and Shi'i Arabs, Kurds, Turcoman, and Arab Christians and a small Arab Jewish community. Today the city is an estimated 75% Shi'i Arab as Sunnis and Christians have come under increasing pressure, often violent, to leave once mixed neighborhoods. The Shi'i Arab parties have largely been triumphalist following their rise to power and bear a great deal of responsibility, together with foreign and Iraqi Sunni militants, for destroying Iraq.

Friday, April 18, 2008

New Alternative Jewish-American Political Lobby Formed to Counter AIPAC, Evangelical Zionists

Source: Al Jazeera English

A group of prominent US Jewish activists has launched a lobbying group and new political action committee in a bid to promote a new Arab-Israeli peace deal, organisers say. The J Street lobbying group and its action committee, JStreetPAC, has an advisory council of more than 100 government officials, academics and activists, it says. The organisation was formed to counter conservative groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and evangelical Christian organisations whose pro-Israel stances have dominated US foreign policy, the group said.
"For too long the loudest voices heard in the US, when it comes to Israel, are those of the far right," Jeremy Ben Ami, executive director of the organisation and an advisor to former US president Bill Clinton, told Al Jazeera. "They have promoted policies that support military solutions to political problems and refuse to open political dialogue. We believe a very substantial movement of Americans who would support a new political direction and they need a political voice," he added.

The group said it intended to endorse and raise funds for several congressional and senatorial candidates ahead of this year's elections in November, saying it would support candidates with strong "pro-Israel, pro-peace" positions.
However it had not yet decided whether to endorse a candidate for the US elections, Ben Ami said. Ben Ami also criticised groups who portrayed organisations voicing a more critical line of Israel as anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic. "It's absolutely ridiculous; the question is whether or not what your advocating is really in the best interests of Israel," he told Al Jazeera. "We're a pro-Israel organisation started by and represented by those who care about Israel and want it to survive, to be strong and safe."

The US's pro-Israel lobby is made up of dozens of pro-Israel political action committees that draw a large part of their support from the US Jewish community and provide funding to presidential candidates. Christian Zionists, who are among the most vociferous supporters of Israel in the US, also play a major role.
Analysts say the new organisation will face tough competition from groups such as AIPAC, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington DC which works mainly in US Congress. The group accounts for about one-quarter of all foreign policy lobbying on Capitol Hill, the Centre for Responsive Politics, which monitors finance in US politics, says. It describes its recent policy successes as including the US decision to brand Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation, securing US aid to Israel and freezing US aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority in 2006.

Its support is courted by politicians and presidential candidates, however many analysts and peace activists argue its power means that proper debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is skewed in favour of Israel.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Iraq: Sunni Arab 'Awakening Councils' Form Political Party

Iraq Awakening Councils form party
By Hussein Dalli
Al-Jazeera English (April 14, 2008)
The Awakening Council fighters have been accused of weakening "legitimate resistance" [EPA]US-funded Awakening Council groups in Iraq have announced the formation of a political party, aimed at ensuring a strong Sunni presence in the Baghdad area ahead of crucial local elections.

Abu Azzam al-Tamimi, leader of the most influential Awakening Council near the capital, announced the formation of the Iraqi Karama (Dignity) Front on Monday, saying that the party "would fill the political gap in the country". Analysts say his statement reflects rising competition between different groups to lead the country's Sunni Muslim community.
The newly created Iraqi Karama Front includes most of the prominent leaders from the councils in Amiriya, Ghazaliya, Khadra, Taji, Abu Ghreib, in addition to a number of former army officers and prominent tribal figures, al-Tamimi said. The political party will seek peaceful means, shun violence and reject any sectarian identity that may strip it of its political content, he said.
"Resistance groups"
The party is reported to have close ties with the Islamic Party of Tariq Hashimi, the Iraqi vice-president, who has been pushing for a bigger Sunni representation in future governorate elections. But other Sunni groups, especially the influential Muslim Scholars Association (MSA), have accused the members of the councils' militias of being used to weaken "legitimate resistance against the American occupation".

The groups have drawn recruits from major armed "resistance groups", including the Islamic Army and the Iraqi Hamas, who were mainly angered by al-Qaeda's killings of civilians, especially in al-Anbar province and Baghdad areas. They have also gained support by offering financial compensation, attracting many of the unemployed. No date has yet been set for Iraq's local elections.
Comment: Hopefully this new political party will counter balance the triumphalist Shi'i Arab parties like the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

Special Knesset Session Debates the Sale of Prohibited Food During Passover Week

Itzik: Passover Bread Ban is for Knesset, Not courts, to Decide
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz (April 14, 2008)

Knesset Speaker Dahlia Itzik, addressing a special session of the house on Monday, declared that the issue of selling bread and other religiously prohibited foods during the Passover week is for the Knesset and not the courts to decide. The special session, which interrupted the Knesset recess, was called to debate a recent court ruling which appeared to give a green light to sales of chametz (foods forbidden on Passover). Jewish law forbids consumption of leavened bread and a range of other foods beginning on Passover, which begins this year on April 19.
The Jerusalem Court ruling on the issue of chametz does not correlate to or match the original intentions of the law, Itzik told the house. "The issue at hand belongs to the Knesset and not to the courts," she said. "It is this Knesset that must decide." The session was called on the initiative of religious MK Shmuel Halpert (United Torah Judaism), who said that eating chametz was a sin punishable by death or excommunication.
Jerusalem Municipal Court Judge Tamar Bar Asher-Zaban ruled recently that Israeli law permitted selling hametz in groceries, restaurants and pizzerias during the Passover holiday. The judge said the businesses included in her ruling were not considered "public" places by law, and therefore the selling of hametz in those places does not fall under the "matzot" law which prohibits the public selling of hametz.
Immediately after the ruling was made public, the religious and haredi factions put forward a bill intended to neutralize the ruling. The Knesset met Sunday to discuss the proposal, but the attempt to change the ruling failed. Ultra-Orthodox cabinet minister Yitzhak Cohen presented his bill to the cabinet for sponsorship, but the cabinet declained to discuss his proposal for administrative reasons. According to Interior Minister Meir Shitrit of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party, "You cannot impose a lifestyle by means of legislation."
Trade Minister Eli Yishai, head of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party, stressed that the religious and haredi parties will insist the law be changed. During the meeting Yishai added that the bill his party would prepare would be decisive and will not leave room for further interpretation. Yishai said the people of Israel find the selling of chametz on Pesach "repellent" and that the public will surely ignore the "bizarre" court decision. "Shas, the messenger of Israel, means to change the new Chametz laws. We will struggle to pass our bill quickly, even if it means going against the government," he said.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Israeli Settlers Rage at Facebook

Facebook face-off: Settlers win right to list country as Israel
Reuters (March 18, 2008)

Complaints by Israeli settlers angry at Facebook for listing them as residents of "Palestine" has prompted the popular social networking Web site to allow users to list their location as Israel. Facebook users living in Maaleh Adumim, Ariel and other large West Bank settlements protested when the site automatically listed their hometowns as being in "Palestine," and a group of settlers had accused the California-based company of having a political agenda.

"I was surprised and disappointed to find that my hometown of Ariel is listed in Facebook as being part of a country called 'Palestine,'" wrote Ari Zimmerman on Facebook. Brandee Barker, Facebook's director of communications, said users living in major settlement blocs, as well as Hebron, can now choose between being listed as residents of Israel or Palestine.

Comment: The poor settlers can't handle the truth....They are religious fanatics living in the Palestinian Territories on land confiscated by the Israeli government against international legal codes.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Israel's Olympic Cmte. Head: Olympics More Important than Tibet

The Secretary General of Israel's Olympic Committee, Efraim Singer, slammed international attempts to boycott Beijing Olympic Games Tuesday and joined the demand recently made by other countries urging not to "mix politics with sports." Torch relays in London, Paris, and San Francisco attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators. Many want to focus world attention on China's human rights record, its actions in Tibet and its close relationship with Sudan.In a telephone interview with the Argentinean Jewish organization AJN (Agencia Judía de Noticias) from Beijing, Singer said that the demonstrations staged by human rights organizations and pro-Tibetan activists, "shows that there are people who want to take advantage of the mediatic impact of the Games".

"I think there are other forums for one to express oneself, such as the UN, for instance," Singer stated. "The Olympic Games are the most important event worldwide, beyond sports. It is true that there are many mistakes and worrying issues, but not holding the Games would also be worrying," Singer told AJN.

The Israeli representative mentioned the American boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, and the Soviet boycott four years later in the 1984 Games held in Los Angeles, saying that those were not "positive" actions either. On Thursday, President Jacques Rogge of the International Olympic Committee said the controversial Olympic torch relay will go on, but organizers will reconsider holding such international relays for future Olympic Games.

Comment: Yes, of course, sports are more important than human rights, political rights, and the right to life.....What a c***.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Israeli Minister Threatens Palestinians with a 'Bigger Shoah' (Holocaust) in Gaza

Israeli Minister Warns of Palestinian 'Holocaust'
Guardian (February 29, 2008)

An Israeli minister today warned of increasingly bitter conflict in the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinians could bring on themselves what he called a "holocaust"
"The more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves," Matan Vilnai, Israel's deputy defence minister, told army radio. Shoah is the Hebrew word normally reserved to refer to the Jewish Holocaust. It is rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi extermination of Jews during the second world war, and many Israelis are loath to countenance its use to describe other events.
The minister's statement came after two days of tit-for-tat missile raids between Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli army. At least 32 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed since the surge in violence on Wednesday. [Read More....]
Note: Not suprisingly, this story was not carried by U.S. news outlets. Some British, Arab, and other international news outlets did carry the story.
The Israeli government today said that it would not issue a visa to Richard Falk, an American Jewish emeritus professor at Princeton and an expert in international law, who is scheduled to be seated on the United Nations Human Rights Council next month. The Israeli government was angered by a June 2007 article of Falk's written for The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research in which he compares the Israeli government's policies of "collective atrocity" toward Palestinians to similar collective atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. Interestingly, the Israeli government has remained mum on the threat to unleash a "bigger shoah" on Palestinians in Gaza.....Surprised?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Iraq PM Throws in Hat with SIIC, Threatens to Prohibit Sadr Movement from Participating in Autumn Elections

News reports today suggest that my (and other's) earlier suspicions that the recent Iraqi government operations in the southern port city of Basra against the Sadr Movement were correct. These operations are designed to strengthen the hand of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's [above with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] chief political ally, 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim who heads the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). It seems that al-Maliki and al-Hakim hope to weaken the movement of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, which includes a powerful if loosely-organized paramilitary, the Mahdi Army, and an equally powerful political wing which holds some 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament.

Today al-Maliki said that the Sadr Movement would not be permitted to participate in autumn elections unless he disbands the Mahdi Army. Unsuprisingly, al-Maliki was mum on the Badr Corps (or Brigades), the Iranian-trained paramilitary of the SIIC. Predictably, the U.S. military is reportedly preparing to allege Iranian involvement on the side of al-Sadr in Basra, despite the implausibility of this claim since Iran's closest ally in Iraq is al-Hakim [RIGHT] and the SIIC. The SIIC, formerly the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was indeed founded in Iran (by Arab Iraqi exiles) in November 1982 with the heavy support of Ayatullah Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni. The SIIC is reportedly increasingly weak in southern Iraq whereas the Sadr Movement's power and popularity is growing. Informal data strongly suggests that in a fair election, the Sadr Movement would wipe the floor with the SIIC and al-Maliki's Hizb al-Da'wa party (Party of Islamic Call).

Iraqi Leader Warns Sadr Movement
BBC News (April 7, 2008)
Iraq's prime minister has threatened to exclude the supporters of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr from politics. Nouri Maliki told CNN that the cleric's movement would not be allowed to take part in elections unless it disbanded its militia, the Mehdi Army.
The prime minister and major Iraqi parties had already called for militias to be dissolved as the government waged a security campaign against the groups. But it was the first time that Mr Maliki had singled out the Mehdi Army. Aides to Moqtada Sadr on Monday said he would disband the militia if senior Shia religious leaders ordered him to do so. They said a delegation would be sent to discuss the issue with the top Shia cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and a grand ayatollah based in Iran.

In his interview, Mr Maliki said: "A decision was taken... that they no longer have a right to participate in the political process or take part in the upcoming elections unless they end the Mehdi Army. "Solving the problem comes in no other way than dissolving the Mehdi Army."
We have opened the door for confrontation, a real confrontation with these gangs Nouri Maliki, Iraqi prime minister The provincial elections are scheduled for later this year.
Mr. Maliki took power with the help of Moqtada Sadr, but broke with the cleric last year.
The BBC's Adam Brookes in Baghdad says the confrontation between the two men is growing.
Two weeks ago the prime minister sent thousands of troops into the city of Basra to try to force the Mehdi Army into submission.

The militia withdrew from the streets, but the operation was inconclusive. Mr. Maliki said the government would continue the crackdown. "We have opened the door for confrontation, a real confrontation with these gangs, and we will not stop until we are in full control of these areas," he said.
An MP for the Sadr bloc, Liqaa Aal Yassin, told the BBC Arabic service that two delegations would be sent - to Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf and Grand Ayatollah Kazem al-Husseini al-Haeri in Iran - to discuss the possible disbanding of the Mehdi Army. Ms. Yassin said the government was also sending a delegation to Moqtada Sadr to discuss Mr. Maliki's demand.
Mr Maliki's comments came after heavy fighting between US and Iraqi forces and the Mehdi Army at the weekend.
At least 22 people were killed and more than 50 others injured in clashes in the capital's eastern district of Sadr City, a stronghold of the militia. Five US soldiers were killed, including three who died during rocket and mortar attacks in Baghdad. Two of those died in attacks on the heavily-fortified Green Zone. Moqtada Sadr [LEFT at podium...the poster above shows his martyred uncle, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, and father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr] has called for a mass demonstration on Wednesday against the US military presence.
[So much for McCain's "surge" success, i.e. bulls**t]

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Orthodox Furor in Court Case over Leavened Bread during Passover

Israeli Tempers Rise over Bread
By Jon Brain BBC News, Jerusalem
Could a government fall because of a row over a loaf of bread? At a time when the outside world is looking on hopefully as Israel and the Palestinians attempt to achieve a lasting Middle East peace settlement, some Israelis have other concerns on their mind. A court in Jerusalem has caused outrage among the country's orthodox Jewish community by making a controversial ruling on the sale of leavened bread. It has overturned the convictions of restaurants and cafes which were fined last year for selling the bread during Passover, one of the most important weeks in the Jewish calendar.

The law bans the public display of leavened bread (ie bread made from dough which has been allowed to rise) during Passover. "The court's ruling points a gun to the head of the Jewish people Yitzhak Cohen Minister of Religious Services.

However, Judge Tamar Bar Asher-Zaban has now ruled that restaurants are not ''public places'' and therefore not subject to this particular law. Israel's ultra-orthodox Shas party - part of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's ruling coalition - is so incensed that it has even been muttering threats about triggering a political crisis by walking out of the government unless Israel's parliament, the Knesset, appeals against the Judge's decision.

"The court's ruling points a gun to the head of the Jewish people," said Yitzhak Cohen, the Shas member who is the administration's minister of religious services. Shahar Levay, the owner of Restobar, one of the businesses which have been reprieved, not surprisingly takes a very different view. He told the BBC he was dismayed by the original decision to prosecute him. "It's a bad thing for everyone," he said. "In a way it's a clash of civilisations... a cultural battle between Orthodox and secular. The religious Jews aren't prepared to accept that some people live their lives in a way that's different from them."

But the Orthodox community argues that if Jewish laws cannot be applied in the nation which was created for the Jews, then the nation itself is undermined. They're objecting because, in their view, the judge has intervened in religious law and they feel that should be their territory

The professor of sociology at Bar-Ilan University, Menachem Friedman, says tensions between religious and secular Jews have existed since the state of Israel was established 60 years ago.
He believes what has particularly angered the Orthodox leaders over the bread issue is their perception that Judge Asher-Zaban has strayed into an area she has no right to have entered.
"For them this is very symbolic," he says. "They're objecting because, in their view, the judge has intervened in religious law and they feel that should be their territory."

However, Professor Friedman thinks the Shas Party will stay in the government to fight this battle rather than giving up any influence by leaving. The issue is not likely to disappear from the political agenda just yet. This year's Passover begins on 19 April.

Note: The trials and tribulations of a "secular" state which defines itself in part through a religious identity and grants a lot of power to those who are religious....

Thursday, April 03, 2008

French Islamicist Gilles Kepel on the Evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood(s)

Note: I was a bit surprised when I heard that the well-known French Islamicist Gilles Kepel had associated himself with the Hudson Institute, an American right-wing looney think tank, particularly given his criticism of American foreign policy in his last book, The War for Muslim Minds. Here is his first article for Hudson in which Kepel analyzes the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood movement from Egypt into the wider Arab Middle East in an environment which increasingly dominated by Salafi thought among Sunnis. I've never agreed with everything Kepel argues and his approach, like that of fellow French Islamacist Olivier Roy, is a bit old fashioned in the fact that he seems incapable of looking at Muslim communities as communities apart from their religious affiliation.

The Brotherhood in the Salafist Universe

February 4, 2008

Nineteen-seventy-one was a watershed year in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist movement at large. The Egyptian ruler Gamal Abdel Nasser had died the year before, and his successor, Anwar Sadat, adopted an altogether more conciliatory approach toward the Muslim Brotherhood. This effectively brought the era of the Nasserist repression of the Islamist movement in the 1950s and ’60sto a formal close. Although the Brotherhood had been almost entirely destroyed during Nasser’s reign, the era produced several important outcomes that helped to shape the Brotherhood’s rebound and the future development of the Islamist movement as a whole.

First of all, Nasser’s brutal policies helped to elevate those Brotherhood leaders whom Nasser had imprisoned and hanged to the status of Muslim martyrs. These Brothers became widely revered as the first martyrs of the post-colonial Muslim world,and after 1971, this helped to improve the Brotherhood movement’s political prospects as a whole. Said Qutb, who is still often referred to as “the martyr Sayid Qutb,” is especially significant in this regard. His martyrdom automatically con- ferred upon him enormous respect, and this in turn helped the Brotherhood tremendously in their efforts to reach out to ordinary Muslims and to build political legitimacy.

Nasser’s [BELOW] authoritarian policies also helped to de-legitimize the secular Arab regimes that had been formed after the end of the colonial period. The fact that many of the Brothers were sent to prison or concentration camps and then executed came to be seen widelyas a metaphor: Arab society was imprisoned by secular Arab rulers, who were betraying all the popular ideals of post-colonial independence.
Qutb, for example, was incarcerated in Nasser’s prisons until 1965 and then, after a brief reprieve, jailed yet again and hanged in 1966. This sort of betrayal of a Muslim martyr lent new credibility to the Brotherhood’s claimsthat secular Arab regimes did not deserve popular support.

Another important outcome of the Nasserite era was that it sent many Egyptian Brothers into exile. The Egyptians fled to a number of countries—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others on the Arabian Peninsula; Pakistan and Afghanistan in Southwest Asia; and countries in North Africa and Europe. This Brotherhood Diaspora facilitated not only the spread of the movement’s ideology, but also the establishment of its very strong international networks. In addition to dawaormissionary networks, the Brothers built financial, educational and university networks as well. In this way, theera ofNasserite repression actually fostered the growth of the Brotherhood’s “world web.”

And yet, despite these improvements in the Brotherhood’s overall political prospects after Nasser, the Brotherhood also had new challengers to contend with after 1971—including Islamists themselves. From its founding in the late 1920s to the early days of Nasser’s regime, the Muslim Brotherhood was thesingle most prominent Islamist organization. With virtually no organized competition or alternatives, the Brotherhood was seen as the quintessential point of reference among Islamist sympathizers. But as the Brotherhood was being crushed in Egypt, itcame under increasing criticism from within its own ranks and from Islamists outside, and was held accountable for its failures. Why had the Brotherhood been unable to resist Nasser’s oppression when they were such a strong mass movement in the early 1950s? What kind of mistakes had they made? Wasn’t it time for the Islamist movement to find and adopt a new course in order to overcome its shortcomings?

These questions created deep disputes and, ultimately, a schism within the Brotherhood movement itself that came increasingly to the fore after 1971. On the one hand were those who supported the more radical ideas of Said Qutb, and on the other, those who supported the more traditional, politically-oriented views of Hasan Hudaybi, the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide in the 1960s. That ideological schism, combined with the general autonomy that the Brotherhood’s international branches gained after its central leadership in Egypt was crushed by Nasser, created even more rifts within the Islamist movement, and led to the formation of a diverse new range of organizations.

Today, the Brotherhood itself can no longer be considered the single, unified entity that it once had been before Nasser’s repression. The divergent roles of the Brotherhood’s branches in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and a number of other countries attest to this fact. Several Islamic political movements—the AKP in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party in Morocco, the Algerian Hamas movement, among others—are ideologically and politically indebted to the Brotherhood, though they don’t necessarily claim the lineage and can not be considered “true green” Brothers. Similarly, the jihadist wing of the Salafist movement, which is today led by al-Qaeda, is clearly an ideological offspring of the Brotherhood, though they have emphatically repudiated their connections totheir parent body. To understand this diversification within the Brotherhood and the Islamic movement as a whole, it is important to understand the new political realities and dynamics that emerged in post-Nasserist Arab societies after 1971.To read the rest of the article, go to: