The state of the world, that is. Events have been so overwhelming and deeply distressing that it is difficult to know what to deal with first. (And without question some issues will have to be tabled for another day.)
But what I would like to start with today is the visitation of two Congressmen — Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Brian Baird (D-WA) — to this part of the world. They visited Gaza the end of last week, and yesterday made their inimitable statement regarding Israel’s decision not to open crossings except for humanitarian supplies until Shalit is released.
Their position: Banning lentils and pasta from Gaza does not help the cause of peace.
“When have lentil bombs been going off lately?” asked Congressman Baird. “Is someone going to kill you with a piece of macaroni?”
Cute, huh? Is he simply foolish and lacking basic knowledge, or is he being exceedingly coy and disingenuous here?
Opined Ellison, “Israel’s policy is not designed for success or to win the release of Gilad Shalit.” He knows this?
It’s disturbing when US elected legislators are as clueless or off-base as these guys are. Disturbing, but not surprising.
Some time ago, Congressman Ellison (Congress’s only Muslim representative) was part of a Democratic Congressional mission to this area. When the group called a press conference, I attended. And so was present when a journalist asked Ellison what his take was on the (very old and very serious) Shi’ite-Sunni rift in the Muslim world — a rift that, for example, puts Egypt and Iran at odds.
Well, he intoned, everyone wants the same things: good education for their kids, decent housing, and pensions for their old age. And if we can see that they have these things, we won’t have to sweat the rest of it.
My jaw dropped, and I knew we were in a lot of trouble.
We should, therefore, never miss an opportunity to do education of such Congresspersons. Either we will truly be alerting them to information they were lacking and giving them a broader perspective, or we will be letting them know that their nonsense doesn’t play with us. Either way, a good thing.
In a word: I cannot speak for pasta and lentils in particular, but food — as part of the humanitarian supplies — goes into Gaza. The people are fed. This is not remotely the issue. Hamas wants the crossings opened for commercial reasons (to bring in furniture and machinery and whatever else) to promote their economic viability, and to bring in supplies that can be used for making weapons and building terrorist infrastructure. That includes fertilizer — ostensibly for farming but which becomes an ingredient in manufacturing explosives, and concrete — ostensibly for building homes and schools but which is used in making bunkers for weapons.
And so, keeping the crossings closed hurts Hamas and has a great deal to do with what is going on.
More to the point is why these two Congressmen didn’t vociferously and publicly criticize Hamas for holding Shalit and not even allowing the Red Cross to see him, as mandated by international law. Why is the focus on what Israel is doing “wrong” and not what Hamas could do to bring the entire issue to closure?
You might want to communicate with these two Congresspersons — or, more accurately, their offices. If so:
Congressman Keith Ellison Phone: 202-225-4755 Fax: 202-225-4886
His staffer for ME affairs is Walaya Jariyadham, and her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Congressman Brian Baird Phone: 202- 225-3536 Fax: 202-225-3478
His staffer for Middle East Affairs (offered here without comment) is Jamal Abdi, and his e-mail is email@example.com
Returning just briefly to the Durban 2 issue:
According to Roni Leshno Yaar, the Israel Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva (where the Durban meetings are being held), the draft document is problematic for not only Israel but for Western democracies in general. Besides dealing with Israel (the only nation criticized by name), it also deals with issues of free speech (which it would inhibit), discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and defamation of religion.
He does not see any opportunity for the American presence to improve the document. “In fact,” said Leshno Yaar, “I expect the text to get only worse on all issues that are important for Western democracy.”
Amos Herman, head of the Jewish Agency Task Force to Combat Anti-Semitism, says, “As far as we believe, Durban II is going to be the anti-Semitic event of 2009. It looks worse than we expected, even though it’s not clear what the end results will be…
“Operation Cast Lead [in Gaza] is going to take center stage at Durban II and we have to be ready for that.”
The Task Force members are doubtful that the US presence will change the conference’s direction, and some are dubious, as well, as to whether the US delegation will walk out, no matter what transpires.
Among the things anticipated in Geneva at the Durban 2 conference: use of Holocaust imagery with regard to Israel’s military actions in Gaza, the possibility of demonstrations, and an all-out “hate-fest” on the part of NGOs present. (It was the NGO Forum that was the most vociferously anti-Israel last time.)
Please! Raise your voice on this issue.
Contact info. is provided again at the bottom of this posting.
A tiny ray of light. According to The Jewish Chronicle of Britain, Britain and Italy are considering withdrawing from participation in Durban 2.
“Britain’s Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown said on Tuesday: ‘If we can’t go forward now, we will withdraw. I was at the first conference. I have never seen such a disgraceful event in quite a long international life.’
“Later, he said: ‘There are red lines that need to be made for us to participate…We are not going to stand idly by and allow this racist stuff to get through and be seen as acceptable. We are not going to have it.’
“…Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said: ‘We will not send an Italian delegation [if it is the same as Durban 2001], but we will try to harmonies our position with other countries who are the friends of Jews. But we will leave a decision until the last minute.'”
And there we have the rub, and the reason why the ray of light is so tiny: These nations are looking to the US to take the lead.
Relevant to the issue of the delegitimization of Israel, please see the piece by Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice of Canada and professor of law with considerable human rights expertise.
“Making the world ‘Judestaatrein’ [i.e., devoid of a Jewish state]”
“…The new anti-Jewishness overlaps with classical anti-Semitism but is distinguishable from it. It found early juridical, and even institutional, expression in the UN’s ‘Zionism is racism’ resolution – which the late US senator Daniel Moynihan said ‘gave the abomination of anti-Semitism the appearance of international legal sanction’ – but has gone dramatically beyond it. This new anti-Semitism almost needs a new vocabulary to define it; however, it can best be identified using a rights-based juridical perspective.
“In a word, classical or traditional anti-Semitism is the discrimination against, denial of or assault upon the rights of Jews to live as equal members of whatever host society they inhabit. The new anti-Semitism involves the discrimination against the right of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of nations – the denial of and assault upon the Jewish people’s right even to live – with Israel as the ‘collective Jew among the nations.'”
And on Iran (the greatest worry of all):
A report unveiled in Vienna last week by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency suggests that the 1,010 kg. of low-enriched uranium already produced by Iran is sufficient for building a bomb.
The low-enriched uranium would have to undergo additional enrichment before it could be used for a nuclear weapon. But a US Iranian analyst suggests that Iran my be “one step before the nuclear stage” and is operating a shadow nuclear program in tandem with its public program.
Additionally there has been a report from Teheran that the preliminary phase of operations for the first Iranian nuclear power plant — a 1,000 megawatt light-water reactor in the southern port city of Busehr — will begin this week.
Be that as it may, the Obama administration is said to be at least two months away from establishing policies on the issue of a nuclear Iran.
There is widespread speculation that Obama is waiting until after the Iranian presidential election, scheduled for June 12, in which former president Mohammad Khatami — who is considered somewhat more Western oriented — will be challenging Ahmadinejad.
But that would be a long time for the US to go without a firm and coherent Iranian policy. And if Khatami wins, that is still no guarantee that Iran won’t go nuclear or that it’s not the mullahs who will insist on this.
And so, there is also troublesome speculation that the Obama administration may be resigned to a nuclear Iran.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has just released a report indicating that new traces of uranium have been found at the site — presumed to be a nuclear reactor — where Israel bombed in September 2007.
The particles “are of a type not included in Syria’s declared inventory of nuclear material” and that “there is a low probability that the uranium was introduced by the use of missiles.”
According to the IAEA report, Syria must provide additional information and documentation about “the use and nature” of the building that was bombed. And Syria “needs to be transparent by providing access to other locations alleged to be related” to the site.
Meanwhile, recently Obama decided to appoint the first US ambassador to Syria since 2005, when Bush without drew the American ambassador after the assassination of Harari in Lebanon.
Obama’s choice, Frederic Hof, a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Middle East Policy Council, is said to be a close to George Mitchell.
Obama is also preparing to lift sanctions against Syria, in particular the Syrian Accountability Act. Syria has been listed as a State Sponsor of Terrorism since 1979.
The US has now agreed to sell Syria spare parts for two Boeing 747 jets.
It is the issue of security, more than any other, that seems to be driving Binyamin Netanyahu right now as he pushes to put together a broad-based coalition.
After meeting with Tzipi Livni again last night, she walked away echoing the same refrain: Her voters expect her to honor the principles she ran on — principles of a “two-state solution.” She said the differences between Kadima and Likud were just too great.
And yet Netanyahu is persisting, and says there can be a means of achieving conciliation for cooperation in a coalition. Livni has agreed to meet again.
Do I understand Netanyahu’s persistence? I most certainly do not. His partners-in-the-making to the right, most notably National Union, will not sit still for a coalition with Kadima that makes compromises on the issue of negotiating with the Palestinians.
The NU had sought assurances from Netanyahu that there would be no mention of a Palestinian state in the coalition guidelines, and, according to MK Aryeh Eldad, “he replied that we will be able to live with the coalition guidelines.” From the perspective of NU, Netanyahu has given his word on this.
The principles of Kadima and the nationalist parties are simply too far apart to reconcile. Even Likud and Kadima are far apart, as Likud ran on a platform of no dividing Jerusalem, and certainly Livni would hope to do so. A coalition that encompasses everything stands for nothing.
Will Netanyahu turn out to be a purely political animal devoid of all principles (which is how many see him), who tilted right and courted the right, for his purposes, and then will move left because it gives him more numbers in a coalition?
In a way, this is a time of reckoning for him. But in the end, it may be the persistence of Livni and her party, in refusing to join, that wins the day for the nation. Right now the majority of Kadima is said to agree with her.
It is the presence of the nationalist parties at the right flank of his coalition that would keep Netanyahu honest. Absent that, who knows.
As to needing a broad-based coalition for security reasons, it is possible to assemble one for a brief time. When there is serious action to be taken, or confronted, a temporary unity government can be formed so the world understands that there is no division where acting for Israel’s sake is concerned.
I do not minimize in the slightest the need to stand strong for Israel’s security — most especially with regard to Iran. It is here that Netanyahu has maximum credibility, as he has been raising the issue of confronting Iran for a long time.
Typo correction: Ron Prosper is the ambassador to the UK, not the UN. (Thanks Ora and Barbara.)
President Barack Obama:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ (for email contact form)
White House Comment line: 202-456-1111
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
Public Communication Division
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