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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

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Conference of Presidents seeks meeting with Cuba’s UN Ambassador on Alan Gross imprisonment

July 15, 2010 1 comment

 NEW YORK (Press Release)– The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has requested a meeting with the Cuban Ambassador to the UN Pedro Nunez Mosquera to discuss the plight of Alan P. Gross, who has been held in a Cuban jail since December 3, 2009. The Conference also addressed this issue in a letter to President Barack Obama.

“It is outrageous that Mr. Gross, who was clearly not engaged in espionage or inappropriate activities would be imprisoned for more than seven months with no charge. He was in Cuba as a US Agency for International Development subcontractor working on a U.S. government program to help the local Jewish community stay in contact with each other and with similar groups abroad. We have been approaching intermediaries to urge Mr. Gross’ immediate release. We hope Ambassador Nunez Mosquera will meet with us and convey our concerns about Mr. Gross’ improper imprisonment and his failing health to the Cuban government,” said Conference of Presidents Chairman Alan Solow and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly called upon Cuba to release Gross, stating that his continued detention is harming U.S.-Cuba relations. Solow and Hoenlein voiced appreciation for the work of the Administration and the State Department to secure Mr. Gross’ release and expressed hope that Cuba will recognize that “Mr. Gross is not a man who is motivated by politics, nor by any agenda other than providing humanitarian support to people in need.”

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Preceding provided by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Hillary Clinton urges American Jews to campaign for release of US aid worker from Cuban jail

July 14, 2010 Leave a comment

(WJC)–US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has urged Jewish groups to join the campaign for the release of Alan P. Gross, an American government contractor who has been detained in Cuba for several months without charges. Clinton told representatives of the American Jewish community that they should add their voices to calls for the Cuban government to release Gross, a contractor for the US Agency for International Development who was reportedly helping members of Cuba’s small Jewish community use the internet to stay in contact with each other.

“Alan was providing information and technology that would assist this community to be better connected,” Clinton said at a State Department reception in honor of Hannah Rosenthal, the Obama administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. Gross’ wife, Judy, attended the event. “Our government works every single day through every channel for his release and safe return home,” Clinton said. “But I am really making an appeal to the active Jewish community here in our country to join this cause … because this family deserves to be reunited and each and every one of us should do everything we can to make it clear to the Cuban government that Alan Gross needs to come home.”

Gross, 60, was working in Cuba for a firm contracted by USAID when he was arrested as a suspected spy in Havana in December 2009. He has been held without charge in the capital’s high-security Villa Marista prison since. Washington says Gross has committed no crime and has repeatedly appealed for his release on humanitarian grounds. In May, the head of Cuba’s High Court said prosecutors had yet to open a legal case against him. Formal charges cannot be filed in Cuba without a judicial accusation and the opening of a case, so it appears unlikely charges against Gross are imminent.

Clinton’s appeal to the US Jewish community followed the release on Tuesday of seven jailed Cuban dissidents who were sent to Spain, the first of 52 political prisoners to be freed under an agreement worked out between Cuban authorities and the Catholic Church.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

Clinton seeks Jewish community help in freeing Alan Gross from Cuba

July 13, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following is the transcript of remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a reception for Hannah Rosenthal, the special envoy to combat worldwide anti-Semitism. 

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t think I need to say a word. (Laughter.) It is such a great pleasure for me to welcome all of you here to the eighth floor of the State Department, to the Ben Franklin Room, for this wonderful occasion to really honor our special envoy, a friend, a longtime public servant, a prominent activist, someone who has everywhere she’s gone and everything she’s done not only been extremely effective but have left people smiling and happier than before she arrived. And that’s not always easy, but that is one of Hannah’s great gifts.

I want to welcome each and every one of you, and I particularly thank the members of Congress who are here. I thank you, Eliot Engel and Jan Schakowsky and there may be others here as well, but I am so grateful for your stalwart support on this mission to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. I welcome, of course, Hanna’s daughters Shira and Francie, and her entire family. I know how much you have meant to her over the years as well.

But I did want to echo what Hannah said about one member in particular who is not here, her father, the late Rabbi Frank Rosenthal. And Frank Rosenthal is here in spirit and very proud of what Hannah is doing.

I also wanted to acknowledge Judy Gross and her family. Is Judy here? Did Judy make it? Judy? Judy? Judy, thank you. Judy’s husband, Alan Gross, has been held in a Cuban jail for the last seven months without being charged with any crime – because he did not commit any crime. He was in Cuba as a humanitarian and development worker and, in fact, was assisting the small Jewish community in Havana that feels very cut off from the world, and Alan was providing information and technology that would assist this community to be better connected. Our government works every single day through every channel for his release and safe return home. But I am really making an appeal to the active Jewish community here in our country to join this cause, and I hope you will have a chance to meet Judy and her sister Gwen and offer them your support, because this family deserves to be reunited and each and every one of us should do everything we can to make it clear to the Cuban Government that Alan Gross needs to come home.

Now, I have known Hannah for more than 20 years and we have worked over those 20 years on issues that are near and dear to both of us. And I can say from firsthand experience, even as well as she talks – and you just heard that – she does more than talk the talk. This is a woman who walks the walk. She is as good as her word. Whether she’s working on behalf of women’s rights or health care or promoting respect and tolerance for all people, she is truly a force for positive change and progress and is a wonderful partner.

Now, I should add that we have many things in common, Hannah and I, but this summer we are MOTBs – Mother of the Brides – together. (Laughter.) And I wish Shira the very best and congratulations and best wishes to all of you. If you can survive being an MOTB, being the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism seems like a relief. (Laughter.)

But when we think about how Hannah ended up doing this really important service, not only for the American Government and not even just for the American Jewish community, but really for the world, to make this mission important in places that may never have thought about it or who, frankly, don’t want to think about it. And there is a direct line from Hanna’s father, because Rabbi Rosenthal was one of tens of thousands of German Jews arrested, imprisoned at Buchenwald for almost a year –the only member of his family to survive – coming to the United States, as so many Holocaust survivors and victims did, to seek a new life for himself, and then to build that life for his daughter and his granddaughters.

So for Hannah, working to end anti-Semitism is not an item on her resume or a good project. This is personal. It is literally in the DNA of this woman and it is grounded in the reality of the Holocaust. It is built on persistent faith, passed on from her father, and it is rooted in the conviction that the world can be a better place, that we all are to be repairers of the breach and we never get the job done, but it is incumbent upon each of us to do our part.

Now, in the nearly seven months that Hannah has been our special envoy, she has traveled the world devising new strategies and engaging governments and people to confront anti-Semitism and to promote tolerance and non-discrimination. In fact, a few weeks ago, she was in Kazakhstan with Farah Pandith, our Special Envoy to Muslim Communities. Together they launched the Acceptance, Respect and Tolerance Initiative to promote inter-faith and inter-ethnic understanding. And then Hannah and I, just about 10 days ago, were at the Community of Democracies Forum in Krakow and we also did tour the Schindler Factory Museum, which I highly recommend to you. Now, she will soon be heading back to Poland with a group of American imams under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Center for Interreligious Understanding.

Now, this level of dedication is not new. She has worked for years to build bridges between faiths and to bring people of different experiences together to take a stand against hatred and intolerance. The battle against hate never ends. It must go on. And as Hannah very eloquently pointed out, the forms of anti-Semitism continue to evolve. So you think you’ve got one in a box, and another, unfortunately, appears.

And in today’s world, there are too many places where we see fear of the other promoting gender-based violence, ethnic cleansing, religious extremism. And it requires us to be vigilant and proactive and to always be addressing the disturbing indications that anti-Semitism is on rise again.

President Obama and I are determined to curb anti-Semitism and to work to prevent the isolation of Israel internationally. So we are sending Hannah all over the world. (Laughter.) She’s available for bar and bat mitzvahs. (Laughter.) But seriously, she is pressing our case everywhere where two or more gather, it seems. And she needs your help. I look around. I see many friends here. I see people who have been active in Jewish organizations and civic organizations who understand the importance of this mission. I need your help, Hannah needs your help, because we constantly are looking for good new ideas to support, organizations that deserve the American Government’s backing. And we will continue to speak out against anti-Semitism, as we’ve done in the Human Rights Report and elsewhere, because we don’t want this to be a special effort, we want it to be integrated and rooted in everything we do so that it is part of the woof and warp of the work of the United States State Department and the United States Government.

I have been very struck by how much fear there is in the world today and Hannah rightly pointed to that: economic fear that often causes people to say and do things that are not in keeping with our values; fear that the modern world is going to disrupt the kind of family culture and experience that people have traditionally held onto. So we know we have a big challenge ahead of us, but I was thrilled when Hannah agreed to take this position because she is someone who is indefatigable. If you have hints on jet lag, share them with her – (laughter) – because she is on the move all the time. But she’s bringing a lot of creativity as well as commitment to this effort, and I could not be more grateful. So I’m hoping you will have a chance to see her, visit with her, encourage her, come up with ideas and suggestions for her, and know that we are constantly looking to do better at what we do every day. I see my friend Ben Cardin back there. I acknowledged members of the – anybody else before I – oh, Shelley Berkley.

PARTICIPANT: Jerry Nadler.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Jerry. Where’s Jerry?

PARTICIPANT: Right here.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Jerry, my New York friend. He and I walked a lot of miles together. Who else? Thank you for coming, congressmen. Thank you very much. Thank you all. But we need your help. This is not just to salute and thank Hannah for taking on this important task, but to stand with her, stand behind her, provide some guidance about what we can do and how we can do it better.

So let me end where I started, by thanking you all for being here and for thanking – and thanking Hannah for taking on this awesome responsibility at a time in our history and the world’s history when her voice is desperately needed. So join yours with her. Don’t forget Alan Gross. Please meet the Grosses because they need your help too. And let’s go out and recommit ourselves to ending anti-Semitism and bringing people into a better world together. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

If you would, Hannah’s going to go down and stand here. Please come by and say hello to her. And she probably knows every one of you, plus your husband, your wife, your brother, your sister. But in the event she doesn’t, come and introduce yourself as well.

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Preceding provided by U.S. State Department

Venezuela’s Chávez and Syria’s Assad lash out against Israel

June 29, 2010 1 comment

(WJC)–The presidents of Venezuela and Syria, Hugo Chávez and Bashar al-Assad, have accused Israel of terrorism. “Terrorism for us in the Middle East is one word which has a single synonym; that is Israel particularly,” a joint statement said. Assad met with Chávez in Caracas to discuss economic cooperation and developments in the Middle East.

Both leaders said they were not interested in war in the Middle East, but when diplomacy failed “resistance is the alternative solution and our duty is to support it.”

Chávez singled out Damascus for taking a leadership role in the region, saying Assad was to be commended for his ability to stand up to Western allies. “Imperialism is desperate,” the Venezuelan president said. “It is now threatening the use of force as it has been doing for years.” Chávez called Israel’s government “genocidal” and also condemned the last round of UN sanctions against Iran. Assad said all nations, including Iran, had a “right to develop nuclear energy.”

US Congressman Eliot Engel, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, swiftly condemned Chávez’ remarks: “Setting aside the falsehoods of his latest diatribe and the presence of the Syrian strongman, Bashar Assad, standing next to him, it’s not difficult to understand why President Chavez would try to distract from his problems at home.”

“If my country had the one of the highest murder rates in the world, the highest inflation rate in Latin America, and an economy which is expected to shrink by more than 6 percent  this year, I, too, would be talking about anything but what’s going on at home. I guess that’s why Mr. Chávez is attacking the Israelis and why Foreign Policy Magazine just ranked him the 17th worst dictator in the world. And, I guess that’s why he’s hanging around Bashar Assad,” Engel said in a statement.

After his visit to Venezuela, Assad met with Cuban leader Raul Castro and later traveled to Brazil, where he met with President Lula da Silva. Assad also plans a visit to Argentina. Both Cuba and Syria are on a list of nations the US considers state sponsors of terrorism.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

Clinton says U.S.-Cuba relations hindered by imprisonment of Alan Gross

June 17, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday called upon Cuba to release USAID contractor Alan Gross from captivity.

Here is her statement:

“I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet today with family members of development worker and USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, and to express my concern over his continued incarceration in Cuba.

“More than six months have passed since Mr. Gross was arrested in Cuba. He is a husband, a father, and a dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in dozens of countries. We are deeply concerned about his welfare and poor health, and we have used every available channel to push for his release.

“As I told the family today, we will continue to do so. A delegation from the United States will meet tomorrow with Cuban officials to discuss our Migration Accords, consistent with the Obama Administration’s commitment to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States, and we will underscore that the continued detention of Alan Gross is harming U.S.-Cuba relations.

“The United States would view favorably the release of Alan Gross so that he can return to his family. ”

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For background on Alan Gross, we refer you to this article by Bonnie Goldstein in Politics Daily.

U.S. bungles relationships with Turkey and Honduras

June 8, 2010 1 comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Turkey and Honduras, in different ways, highlight the lack of effective leadership the United States currently is able to exercise in the world. 
 
Turkey: Turkish government support for the IHH ship in the Gaza flotilla is now well understood and the anti-Semitic ravings of both official Turks and the Turkish media have made Turkey’s intention to split from Israel clear. 
 
But it is a mistake to think this is only about Israel. Support for the flotilla was only the latest in a series of Turkish decisions designed to distance itself from the United States and move toward closer political relations with countries adversarial to us. Immediately after the bloody 2007 Hamas coup against Fatah in Gaza, the United States and the European Union reiterated that Hamas was a terrorist organization to be shunned. Instead, Turkey’s prime minister invited Hamas leadership to Ankara. The Hamas-Turkey relationship has grown as the Turkey-Palestinian Authority relationship, the relationship supported by the United States and the EU, has declined. Rapprochement with Russia, Syria and Iran, and the Iran-Brazil-Turkey enriched uranium deal are more of the same.
 
After his meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters, “Citizens of member states were attacked by a country that is not a member of NATO. I think you can make some conclusions out of this statement.” The implication was that Turkey would ask NATO for some satisfaction-or some slap at Israel.
 
Thank you for the reminder, Mr. Minister.
 
Turkey, as a member of NATO, is privy to intelligence information having to do with terrorism and with Iran. If Turkey finds its best friends to be Iran, Hamas, Syria and Brazil (look for Venezuela in the future) the security of that information (and Western technology in weapons in Turkey’s arsenal) is suspect.  The United States should seriously consider suspending military cooperation with Turkey as a prelude to removing it from the organization.
 
Honduras: The United States tried to have it both ways. The Obama Administration quickly jumped in with Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua to denounce what it called a “coup” in Honduras. The United States voted with its new best friends to oust Honduras from the Organization of American States (OAS), and cut off various forms of diplomatic and economic aid to the small Central American country. After the Congressional Research Service (CRS) concluded that the Honduran Congress, Supreme Court and military had acted in accordance with the Honduran Constitution, the Obama Administration brokered a deal that permitted the previously scheduled election with previously nominated candidates to go forward.  When the new president was sworn in, the United States recognized the new government and withdrew its sanctions. 
 
All’s well that ends well, right? Not exactly.
 
At the OAS meeting in Peru this week, the United States tried to have Honduras reinstated. Guess who said no; Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil and Nicaragua refused to even to put the issue on the table. Hugo, Lula, Fidel and Danny were perfectly happy to let the Obama Administration join them in ganging up on a (former) American ally. But they still think they’re leading. 
 
Maybe they are.

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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.