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Petraeus: proposed Sept. 11 Koran-burning would endanger U.S. troops

September 7, 2010 Leave a comment

KABUL (WJC)–General David Petraeus, the US commander in Afghanistan, has warned that soldiers’ lives will be endangered if a Florida evangelical church goes ahead with a planned burning of the Koran – Islam’s holy book – on Saturday, the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Petraeus said the planned torching of the Koran would be a propaganda coup for the Taliban in Afghanistan and stoke anti-US sentiment across the Muslim world.  Petraeus leads a 150,000-strong NATO force against an extremist Taliban-led insurgency. 

Afghanistan is an Islamic country, and actions seen by Afghans as against their religion or even allegations that Western troops have insulted the Koran have led to deadly violence in the past. In January, seven tribesmen were killed by gunfire from security forces trying to disperse angry crowds during a demonstration sparked by allegations that US troops had torched the Muslim holy book.

The Dove World Outreach Center at Gainesville, Florida, announced it would burn copies of the Koran on this weekend’s ninth anniversary of the September 2001 attacks in protest at what it calls “the evil of Islam”. Petraeus condemned the plan, telling the ‘Wall Street Journal’: “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort. It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.”

The planned protest by the 50-member Florida congregation, whose Facebook page bears the motto ‘Islam Is Of The Devil’, has already triggered outrage in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

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Commentary: The ambiguous Mr. Obama

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM– More than any other national leader, Barack Obama has a global constituency. The world does not vote in American elections, but his capacity to fulfill his obligations depends on the cooperation of other national leaders, and the opinions of publics that have at least a minimum of influence on them.
Balancing those far flung publics is not easy. The task may have something to do with the 20 percent of Americans who are think that their president is a Muslim, and his forth and back postures with respect to the controversial idea to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
The tensions built into the world context of his presidency also help us to understand his repeated efforts to divorce the concepts of Islam and terror, while he is leading the greatest crusade against Islam since the 13th century.

Politicians lie. Of course. They have to. How else to juggle the multiple obligations they are expected to serve. They say one thing and do something else. The higher the office, the more likely the dissembling. And Obama’s is the highest.

His loyal supporters may already be furious at me. He did not begin the war against Iraq. He has proudly announced the withdrawal of combat troops, but commentators are not confident that he is leaving behind anything close to a victory, or a  regime that can keep things stable. He has adopted and expanded American military efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Barack Obama makes Richard the Lionheart look like a boy who got into a schoolyard brawl.

Guantanomo is still holding jihadists, despite the president’s campaign pledge to close it down. This may not be his desire, but who can be sure about the desires of a politician who has to serve so many interests, and is beholden to Congress, the courts, advisors who may convince him to abandon some commitments, and–in this case–the governments of other countries not enthusiastic about taking some of those prisoners off his hands?

Obama has had a mixed record on Israel, but mixed records are the nature of political leadership.

After his Cairo speech and demanding a freeze of building for Jews in neighborhoods of Jerusalem, only 4 percent of the Israeli Jewish population felt he was supportive. Since then, however, he has backed off from his sweeping demands against the country’s capital city, and his invitation to Israeli-Palestinian talks is close to the Israeli desire of no preconditions.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes what has been seen for some time in Israeli media, that American military aid remains at a high level, with Israeli access to some of the most advanced weaponry, and joint exercises that may surpass what previous administrations have offered. One passage in the WSJ reinforces the image of a crusade against Islamic extremists.

“The intensified partnership is part of the Obama administration’s broader policy of boosting military support for American allies in the Mideast amid heightened tensions with Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas . . .”

Judging presidents is a task best left to historians and others with a broad perspective, some years after an incumbent has left office. Archives, memoirs, and contemplation can take the place of partisan passions. Even distance leaves open a number of difficult issues. How much credit should be given to any president for the nature of a national economy that responds to international and non-governmental stimuli, as well as to what the president does on top of what former presidents did? A dispassionate assessment of what came out of Congress and the White House under the heading of health reform might conclude that it is a mess not likely to deal with the self-serving efforts of insurance companies and HMOs, but only a child would think that a president can dictate legislation in such a context, or even maintain control over the details in a bill that grows from 1,000 to more than 2,000 pages.

Obama stirs passions. Soon after his inauguration, there were reports that he was the most threatened president since the Secret Service began its protection after the assassination of William McKinley. More recent news is that the tempo has declined to what has been the norm. 

The President’s 2008 campaign stimulated great emotion, but a careful study of his nomination indicates that it had something to do with the formulas used by state Democratic parties to divide the delegates between him and HIllary Clinton (Mattan Sharkansky, “The Impact of the Electoral System on Delegate Allocations in the 2008 American Primaries,” Representation, 46/2, July 2010). Obama’s victory in November was more clear cut, but we can argue if that was on account of Obama, McCain, or Palin.

Currently the tea leaves do not look promising for his party’s success in the mid-term Congressional elections, and I have not seen any rosy predictions for his success in 2012. That, too, is part of the job. George Washington might have still been a national hero when he left office, but that is not the image of presidents that I have been observing since FDR.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Please explain where your true sympathies are, Mr. President

August 20, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Ben Kamin

Rabbi Ben Kamin

SAN DIEGO — Muslims themselves should not take too much solace in President Obama’s recent avowal of support for the Cordoba House and mosque project at the cusp of ground zero.  Spoken in the midst of a Ramadan gathering at the White House, the president‘s jaw driven outward in a now trademark signal of thrust conviction, his eyes staring upward rather than at the audience he is actually addressing,  he nonetheless began to disavow his guttural outburst almost immediately.

I didn’t actually say I was in favor of that mosque, what I meant was even though I do feel Muslim Americans should build a mosque wherever they e pluribus unum, I probably was thinking more generally though I may or may not have had the ground zero mosque, er, community center in my mind.  Or maybe not.

Jews should mark the occasion with a great deal of interest and concern.  We heard from the president’s soul when he was so uncharacteristically “incautious” at the White House.  We heard from his political advisers when he cynically back-pedaled on his revelatory burst so expediently. 

In Holland, for so long wrongfully considered a benevolent place via its exported Anne Frank / anti-fascist mythology, Muslims account now for 10% of the population and the bulk of its harrowing wave of anti-Semitic harassment, hate-mongering, and personal violence.   A lot of extremist Muslims, including those building a nuclear weapon in Iran, will see the ground zero mosque as nothing less than Koranic affirmation of their unhinged war against Judeao-Christian civilization.

We see stark evidence of radical Islamic brutality via the systematic mutilation of women’s faces, breasts, and reproductive organs—not to mention stoning to death.  Blackberry units, You Tube, and rock music are shut down, from northern Africa to Saudi Arabia.  Our efforts to save Afghanistan from its Taliban essence (Mr. Obama’s benighted and/or naïve strategy at the expense of American lives) are doomed, even as we share goals with the country’s thoroughly corrupt and ungrateful presidential-despot.

No, President Obama is not a Muslim, and these charges about his background are ignorant and devilish.  That whole discussion is steeped in bigotry and contempt.  But if he is deeply sympathetic to a highly questionable and hurtful project that insults American sensibilities and memories, that gives the radical Muslims who want us all vaporized or veiled a stunning triumph at the expense of our 9/11 grief, let him just say so.

Who are you, Mr. President?  We want to know more than whom you are not.

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Rabbi Kamin is a freelance writer based in San Diego

Commentary:Ground Zero mosque controversy confronts political correctness

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The issue of the New York City mosque near ground zero has awakened discussion of that big gorilla in the American living room. Despite all the platitudes slung back and forth about religious freedom and the separation of church and state, and the assertion that the problem of terror is not Islam, the gorilla will not go away.

Americans who write to me are strongly disinclined to see the reality, but they are already in the forefront of the battle in behalf of western civilization. It may not be mentionable in polite society, but a religious survey will not turn up many Christians or Jews among the enemy fighters killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, or still kept prisoner in Guantanamo.

The Soviet Union spent great amounts of blood and treasure dealing with Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan, just over the border of its own Muslim republics. It encountered not the cooperation of the United States, but the active opposition of American arms and money. The result may have advanced the end of the Cold War and entered the books as an American victory, but what was left behind turned against the United States. The Russians are still hurting in the Caucasus and elsewhere. Like others, they are disinclined to say that the problem is Islam, per se.. The New York Times reports the latest chapter in this story.

Dissembling may be necessary when dealing with an issue as explosive as religion. Christians and Jews can become feisty when public figures attack values held dear like homosexuality, abortion, Christmas trees, Easter eggs, Chanukah, or ritual slaughter, but they are nothing like sword waving and suicide belt wearing Muslims.

Scholars can find hateful doctrines in all the monotheistic religions, but those of Judaism and Christianity are historic relics. There are rogue rabbis who write about the conditions when it is proper to overlook the suffering of goyim, and priests who insist that the Jews really were the killers of Christ, but they are far from typical. Aggressive elements of Islam may not be statistically dominant among the faithful, but they are loud, arguably ascendant, and in control of fighters, governments, and armies in enough places to be more than a nuisance.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, prominent among the promoters of Cordoba House, has compiled a thick file of endorsements and doubts. Ambiguous comments about Hamas and American responsibility for violent Islamic anti-Americanism leave some wondering about his moderation, and the kinds of lessons that will be taught in the mosque and classrooms that he wants to build.

Dealing with Islam, or any other aggressive religious group is not simple in a society that prides itself on openness, tolerance, and moderation.

Israel suffers the disadvantage of being in the midst of a Muslim region, and having attracted the enmity of jihadists and their friends. It also has the advantage of long experience, and a willingness to invest heavily in intelligence gathering and defense. Critics speak out in embarrassment and anger about what their government does, but supporters are more numerous than doubters.

Israeli authorities know what is said in the mosques after Friday prayers. They pressure clerics who go over the line of what is acceptable. The police assemble in their thousands when the word is that something might happen. They announce that young men will not be allowed to enter the Old City, and put an observation blimp overhead. One of the most excitable clerics has been questioned about his incitement, arrested, tried, banished from Jerusalem, and imprisoned. An even more excitable cleric, based in Gaza, was sent to his Paradise by the IDF.

It is easier for Americans and Western Europeans to deal with rogue religious movements far from home, while telling their citizens that the issue is not Islam. There may be no better way of dealing with this problem while denying that it exists.

Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and the stork also serve noble purposes.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Israel’s idealism often overwhelms its governmental delivery system

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Israel is too small and too poor for the demands that it lays upon itself, and are imposed by the world.

My favorite newspaper photo of the day shows a file room at a court house. It came with a story about a plaintiff’s case of medical malpractice that failed on account of a lost file. We see in the picture what we  know about government offices, hospitals and other public facilities. There is too much to do in order to assure proper treatment. 
 
Just last evening on our walk around French Hill we encountered a problem that might have justified a call to the police, but where the prospect of quick service versus the severity of the problem deterred us from making the call.

We passed by a group of Arabs dressed as if they had come from a family feast to celebrate the end of a daily Ramadan fast. Suddenly a boy of about 14 jumped, yelled, smacked his hand against a parked car, and swaggered off as if he had rendered appropriate damage to a Jew’s property.

Call the cops and point out the vandal? Last time we called the police was a more serious event of an Arab assaulting a young woman. At that time our first call to the emergency number broke off in the midst of our report. When we did make contact, it took 10 minutes for the first patrol car to arrive. This in a neighborhood bordering an Arab community with a high incidence of minor and not so minor incidents.

So last night we continued on our walk, frustrated at the system and angry at ourselves for choosing the easy over what might have been the appropriate decision.

Another case: the Supreme Court has ordered the government to reconsider the appointment of a woman to the commission investigating the seizure of the Turkish flotilla.

What to do? The law requires that such bodies include a woman, but the Court made its decision after the commission had already heard what are likely to be the most important witnesses from the government and the military.

The entire investigation is a farce. So what that nine fighters (terrorists, if you will) were killed in a military operation? How many operations of American and NATO forces have caused as many casualties in the area from Iraq eastward without provoking the United Nations and pressuring the soldiers’ home country to conduct a public investigation?

Another case: Ha’aretz is exposing that several thousand illegals from Africa have been held in detention longer than the period of time allowed by law before their cases are settled. Many of these individuals have no documents and come from countries without functioning governments. But a judge may look at the law, and order that individuals held too long be let out on the street. The individuals waiting for such a determination look something like those files pictured above: too many to deal with according to requirements.

Who’s responsible? Both Israelis and the world. Seekers of justice work to impose whatever regulations they pick up from elsewhere in order to make things better here. The people making the demands are  Israelis and Jews feeling that Israel must be at least as good as other countries.

Then there is the world, always on edge in search of a new accusation that can be made against Israel.

Remember those 400 children of illegal immigrants ordered deported. There are daily articles describing citizen and overseas activists–from Eilie Wiesel downward–concerned that Israel might despoil itself by expelling children who should not be here.

None of these are bad ideas, but Israel does not have the population or resources of all those countries serving as models of public policy. And the resources that it does have are allocated more than elsewhere to defense. Staying alive comes at the cost of an ideal public administration or an environment as clean as that of Germany.
Overall, the country does not do badly with what it has. Its health and welfare, the incidence of violent crime, and the safety of its prisons look better than in the United States, but that is an easy standard of comparison. There is no other country where all of the universities are on the Chinese list of the 500 best in the world.

Thinking about making it better, I return to those moments last evening when I considered calling the cops against that teenager from Isaweea. Most likely the police had more serious things to do. One of my neighbors has a dented car, and an Arab is feeling good that he did something to the Jews. I am angry at myself, but would have been even angrier if the call to the police did not go through, if the patrol car came too late, or was met by women screaming about a racist Jew who had summoned the police for no reason about a well behaved boy.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Commentary: Welcome action by Congress reexamining aid to Lebanese Armed Forces

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday,  in the wake of the killing of an IDF officer inside Israel by Lebanese Armed Forces personnel, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) announced that Congress would block the disbursement of $100 million in U.S. military aid to Lebanon.  Lowey chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee that authorizes such funds.  Similarly, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) applied a hold with concerns about “reported Hezbollah influence on the Lebanese Armed Forces.”
 
According to The Jerusalem Post, “Berman entered his hold the day before the deadly incident, which he said only confirmed his reservations. His office also wants more information on Hezbollah’s role in the LAF, how diligently U.S. weapons are kept track of and how well the LAF cooperates with UNIFIL. ‘Until we know more about this incident and the nature of Hezbollah influence on the LAF – and can assure that the LAF is a responsible actor – I cannot in good conscience allow the United States to continue sending weapons to Lebanon,’ Berman said.”
 
The hold may, in the end, only be temporary. But credit where it is due.
 
For more than a year, JINSA has worried about the influence of Hezbollah on the Lebanese government, where it holds a “blocking third” in the Cabinet. While the U.S. government and UNIFIL have insisted that a bigger and more competent LAF would be expected to “secure the borders of Lebanon” and enforce UNSCR 1701 – which calls for all of the militias in the south to be disarmed – we have never believed that Lebanese soldiers could be induced to kill other Lebanese in the interest of keeping the Israeli residents of the North safe. 
 
It’s only too bad that 45-year old LTC (res.) Dov Harari of Netanya had to be killed before Congress stopped to consider the problem. Great follow-up for Congress would be to reconsider other American “train and equip” missions.  We wrote in May:  

“The current counterinsurgency model provides millions of dollars in American military aid to the PA, Lebanon and Yemen along with American trainers, and billions of dollars to Pakistan and Afghanistan with our troops on the ground or in the air. We are training locals to kill the people we want killed – Taliban, al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. But each group we call terrorists may have a place in the framework of those countries and entities, in which case shooting them will just make them angry.”

We said, then, of Lebanon: Lebanon wants quiet at home and to remain part of the “rejection front” against Israel. Hezbollah in the government and in collusion with the Lebanese Armed Forces provides that.
 
It is unreasonable for the United States to assume that our enemies are someone else’s enemies and that they will dispose of them because we want them to – it is unreasonable for Israel to assume the same.  One of the deepest beliefs that JINSA has is that the United States and Israel are allies in fact if not by treaty because – whether in the Cold War or the war against terrorists and the states that harbor and support them –  the same ideologies, same trends, same enemies threaten us both at some level.
 
Neither country should assume others share our concerns.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

Museum of Photographic Arts hosts Human Rights Watch Film Festival

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO (Press Release) —  For the first time in its 21 year history, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival is coming to San Diego. The 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival is the world’s foremost showcase for films with a distinctive human rights theme and creates a forum for courageous individuals on both sides of the lens to empower audiences with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a difference.

“The Human Rights Watch Film Festival reflects the condition of the world we live in, including the top news events around the world,” said John Biaggi, the festival director. “No one is immune to the rippling effects when human rights are violated, whether here in our country or far away. It affects us all.” 

“MoPA is proud to host the inaugural San Diego showing of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival,” said Deborah Klochko, executive director, MoPA. “It is essential to our mission to serve as a forum for educating through all forms of the photographic medium, which is exactly what the Human Rights Watch Film Festival is all about.”

Community partners of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival include the United Nations Association of San Diego, the San Diego World Affairs Council, the San Diego Latino Film Festival, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice and the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies University of San Diego.

Additional information on HRWFF as well as downloadable images can be found at its website.

All films are screened at the Museum of Photographic Arts, 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101.

Saturday, September 18, 11:00 am

Youth Producing Change portrays human rights crises from the perspectives of youth worldwide. Two of these young filmmakers will be present at the screening.

Saturday, September 18, 1:00 pm

Mountains & Clouds

Mountains and Clouds revisits a seminal moment in the push for immigration reform, with implications for the immigration battle currently brewing for the Obama administration and Congress.

Sunday, September 19, 6:00 pm

Pushing the Elephant (Rose & Nangabire)

Congolese Rose Mapendo was separated during the conflict from her daughter, Nangabire. Through the story of their reunion, we come to understand the excruciating decisions Rose made in order to survive and the complex difficulties Nangabire faces as a refugee in the US.

Thursday, September 23, 6:00 pm

Enemies of the People

Follow filmmaker Thet Sambath as he uncovers terrifying personal explanations for the Cambodian genocide by allowing the perpetrators to speak for themselves.

Friday, September 24, 6:00 pm

Camp Victory Afghanistan

Drawing from nearly 300 hours of vérité footage shot between 2005 and 2008, Camp Victory, Afghanistan skillfully explores the reality of building a functioning Afghan military.

Saturday, September 25, 1:00 pm

Iran: Voices of the Unheard

The untold story of Iranian secularists through three characters—each from a distinct social, economic and educational background but all sharing a need for a country free from political repression and theocracy.

Ticket Information: Single screening tickets for the 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival are $5 for MoPA Members, $8 for students and $10 for the general public. Single screening tickets may be bought at the door the night of the event. Festival passes are available for purchase and cover admission to all six festival films. Festival passes are $20 for MoPA Members and $55 for the general public. Festival passes may be purchased online.

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Preceding provided by the Museum of Photographic Arts