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Mitchell: Mideast talks ‘serious and substantive’

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (Press Release) — U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell met with journalists on Wednesday, September 15, in Jerusalem, and provided the following information:

MITCHELL: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I apologize for the delay, but it’s the result of the fact that a serious and substantive discussion is well underway. The trilateral discussion this evening lasted for about two hours. Present were Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, Secretary Clinton, and myself. We’re grateful to the prime minister and to the Government of Israel for hosting the meeting.

Prior to the trilateral, Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu met bilaterally. She will have a separate bilateral meeting with President Abbas tomorrow in Ramallah. Earlier today, the Secretary also met with Israeli President Peres, Foreign Minister Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak, and Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad. Her discussions were productive and focused on ways to support the complementary political and institution-building tracks that are both necessary to achieve a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. Read more…

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Why I just disinherited my alma mater

August 27, 2010 2 comments

By Bruce Kesler

Bruce Kesler

ENCINITAS, California–I just updated my will and trust and, with heavy heart, cut out what was a significant bequest to my alma mater, Brooklyn College.

What caused the disinheritance is that all incoming freshmen and transfer students are given a copy of a book to read, and no other, to create their “common experience.” This same book is one of the readings in their required English course. The author is a radical pro-Palestinian professor there.

When I attended in the 1960s, Brooklyn College – then rated one of the tops in the country — was, like most campuses, quite liberal. But, there was no official policy to inculcate students with a political viewpoint. Now there is.  That is unacceptable.

The book is How Does It Feel To Be A Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America It is interviews with seven Arab-Americans in their 20s about their experiences and difficulties in the US. There’s appreciation of freedoms in the US, and deep resentment at feeling or being discriminated against post-9/11.

The seven are not a representative sample. Six are Moslem and one Christian. According to the Arab American Institute, 63% of Arab-Americans are Christian, 24% Muslim. The author chose those interviewed and those included in the book. 

The title of the book is drawn from communist WEB DuBois’ same question in 1903 in his treatise The Souls of Black Folk. The current book consciously draws a parallel, ridiculous on its face, between the horrible and pervasive discrimination and injustices that Blacks were subjected to a century ago and Arab-Americans today.

The author asserts “The core issue [of Middle East turbulence] remains the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” that the post-1967 history of the entire area is essentially that of “imperialism American-style,” and that the US government “limits the speech of Arab Americans in order to cement United States policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Again, preposterous.

The author is Moustafa Bayoumi. He is called an “Exalted Islamic Grievance Peddler” with the following summary of his background:

“The second featured speaker at WCU’s forum was Moustafa Bayoumi, an associate professor of English at Brooklyn College and co-editor of The Edward Said Reader. Bayoumi contends that in the aftermath of 9/11, armed INS officials, U.S. Marshals, and FBI agents routinely roused Muslims from their beds ‘in the middle of the night’—indiscriminately arresting, shackling, and investigating them for possible terrorist connections.”

In September 2002, a year after 9/11, Bayoumi lamented that “an upswing in hate crimes [against American Muslims] has already begun.” As proof, he cited statistics, which would be thoroughly discredited, put forth by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He then pointed to CAIR’s claim that “57 percent of American Muslims report that they have experienced bias or discrimination since Sept. 11,” and that “48 percent of [Muslim] respondents believe their lives have changed for the worse since the attacks.” “This is hardly surprising,” Bayoumi reasoned. “For the past year, Muslims have endured a daily barrage of demagoguery, distortions and outright lies about their faith. Never well understood in this country, Islam is now routinely caricatured.”

In March 2006, Bayoumi took up this theme again, asserting that “Muslim-bashing has become socially acceptable in the United States.” In 2008 he wrote: “It’s been seven years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and many young American Muslims are convinced that much of American society views them with growing hostility. They’re right.”

The theme of Muslim victimhood is by no means restricted solely to Bayoumi’s view of the United States. Indeed, he depicts Palestinian suicide bombings as little more than desperate reactions to “a brutal [Israeli] military occupation that has been strangling the Palestinian people for decades.”

Most recently, Bayoumi edited a book, Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How It Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestinian Conflict, defending it and calling it Israel’s Selma, Alabama, the focal point for US civil rights struggles in the 1960s.

Online I found two professors who protested to the college president. One, retired from Brooklyn College, said:  This is wholly inappropriate.  It smacks of indoctrination. It will intimidate incoming students who have a different point of view (or have formed no point of view), sending the message that only one side will be approved on this College campus. It can certainly intimidate untenured faculty as well.”

Another, currently on the faculty, said: While our community of learning is committed to freedom of speech and expression, does that require that we must expose new students to the anti-American and anti-Israeli preachings of this professor? At the least, do not our students deserve a balanced presentation?

Another retired professor living in Brooklyn, protested and received back from a Dean:

Each year professors in the English Department and I select a common reading for our entering students. We choose memoirs (a genre familiar to students) set in New York City, often reflecting an immigrant experience, and written by authors who are available to visit campus. Students in freshman composition respond to the common reading by writing about their own experiences, many of them published in Telling Our Stories; Sharing our Lives’. This year we selected How Does It Feel to be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America by one of our own faculty members, Professor Moustafa Bayoumi, because it is a well-written collection of stories by and about young Arab Brooklynites whose experiences may be familiar to our students, their neighbors, or the students with whom they will study and work at Brooklyn College. We appreciate your concerns. Rest assured that Brooklyn College values tolerance, diversity, and respect for differing points of view in all that we do.”

The professor tells us what happened next: 

“S I wrote to her again, and again, and then again once more, suggesting that she provide some balance to Bayoumi’s book, that she provide additional authors and additional speakers. I even suggested another author, Paul Berman, also resident in Brooklyn, also writing on Arab themes, also willing (I would assume) to speak to her students. And what did Dean Wilson reply to these repeated suggestions of mine ? You guessed it, she did not deign to reply at all.

Another professor’s unpublished letter (which I verified with him; I’ve verified the others also) to the college president said: “Anyone who has taught at a university during the past quarter-century and more knows that the slogan of ‘diversity’ generally alludes to its opposite (i.e., imposed uniformity of thought camouflaged by diversity of physical appearance) and also foretells mischief.”

I will always appreciate the excellent liberal arts education I received at Brooklyn College, and the critical thinking that has caused me to disinherit it.

A Board member tells me the 55,000-member Scholars for Peace in the Middle East is now considering its next move.

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Kesler, a freelance writer based in Encinitas, also published this article on the Maggie’s Farm website.

Violence flares in Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (WJC)–Muslim protestors set ablaze half a dozen vehicles in the eastern part of Jerusalem on Thursday and threw stones and firebombs at Israeli police after Jewish settlers approached a mosque, local residents and police said. There were no reported injuries in the incident in the Silwan neighborhood, where tensions have flared between Palestinians and a small group of settlers who have moved there in the past two decades.

Local residents said settlers tried to reach a spring, which religious Jews view as a biblical site, by crossing through a mosque courtyard. Israeli police said Palestinians then took to the streets in violent demonstrations, throwing rocks and firebombs at police and vehicles, burning six cars.

“At three a.m., four settlers arrived and asked to open the gate so they could take a shortcut to a spring,” Mahmoud Karin, a resident of the neighborhood, told the ‘Haaretz’ newspaper. “One of the [Muslim] worshippers saw them and yelled to them to find out what they were doing and they fled,” he was quoted as saying. The settlers involved in the incident denied the Palestinian allegations, saying that “the story with the gate is completely unfamiliar to us.”
 
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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

There’s a pro-Israel ‘BIG RIG’ coming down the highway of public opinion

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid

LOS ANGELES — Anti-Israel activists are now putting all their energy into their Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign (BDS). Their goal is to portray Israel and Israelis as pariahs that should be excluded from all international spheres—diplomatic, political, economic, social, and cultural.
 
Jews have been victims of such policies before.  In the millennia of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East, they have been singled out, demonized, and excluded, as they were, for example, in 13th century England and 1930’s Europe. The Jewish State, too, has experienced such policies since its founding when Arab nations implemented strict exclusion and boycotts against Israel, most of which are still in place. The current global BDS campaign began in 2001 and grew after 2005, when Israel effectively defeated the terrorist campaign known as the Second Intifada. Today, hard core anti-Israel activists around the world are feverishly lobbying artists, universities, churches, retailers, unions, municipalities, and other institutions to adopt BDS.
 
Any public figures, retailers, institutions or organizations that adopt or defer to BDS policies should themselves be boycotted.

They should be boycotted because they advocate destructive rather than constructive, measures. BDS is anti-coexistence, undermines peace efforts, and does nothing to help Palestinians begin state building, improve their lives, or move toward reconciliation.
 
They should be boycotted because BDS policies are fundamentally anti-Semitic even though some of the movement’s advocates are Jews. The campaign uses the propaganda techniques and imagery of classical anti-Semitism now applied not to individual Jews, but to the world’s largest Jewish community and its only Jewish State. Boycott activists strip away all context for Israel’s actions, such as ongoing terrorism and the virulent ideology that propels it, in order to depict Israel as motivated by sheer malice in what are often simply modern blood libels. They obsessively put a microscope on Israel to detect its flaws, and expect it to live up to standards they do not expect of any other nation.  They never call for BDS against nations that do systematically commit war crimes and human rights abuses, such as Ahmadinejad’s Iran, Bashir’s Sudan, Lebanon’s apartheid practices against Palestinians, or Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus and violent repression of its Kurdish minority.
 
They should be boycotted because of their hypocrisy.  Where was the outrage of the boycotters, who claim to be champions of social justice and human rights, when the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign targeted innocent Jewish men, women, and children, and Hamas fired thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israeli communities, murdering toddlers and turning daily life into a lethal game of Russian roulette?  Where were they when Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust even as he called for genocide against Jews?  Where is their protest against the Judeophobic incitement that dominates the Middle East?  Their callous indifference and implicit support of murdering Jews is both morally perverse and anti-Semitic.
 
Above all, they should be boycotted because they endorse the agendas of the dictatorial regimes and radical Islamist groups who share their hatred of the Jewish State and who are also enemies of human rights, social justice values, tolerance, and modernity. These states and groups like Hamas oppress women, persecute religious and other minorities, and oppress their own citizens. Those who adopt BDS should be exposed and pay the price for supporting and enabling the intransigent enemies of humanitarian and liberal values.
 
Boycotting those who comply with BDS means that any university that does not unequivocally denounce campus divestment campaigns should not receive another nickel from donors who care about fairness, the survival of Israel, and modern liberal values.  Recording artists who refuse to perform in Israel should be labeled as extremists for the regressive, anti-Semitic values they endorse. Fair-minded people should stop buying their records and attending their concerts.  Consumers should boycott any retailers who refuse to stock Israeli products, and support the new StandWithUs campaign, “BIG” and “RIG,” acronyms for “Buy Israeli Goods” and “Request Israeli Goods.”
 
It is time to expose the distorted values that drive the BDS movement, and its alliance with the most repressive and dangerous forces in the world today.  It is time to unequivocally say no to this BDS movement and to all who would consider complying with it.

Roz Rothstein is CEO of StandWithUs.  Roberta Seid, PhD is Education Director, StandWithUs.  This article also appeared in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

The Jews Down Under~Roundup of Australian Jewish News

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Garry Fabian

Compiled by Garry Fabian

Christians, Jews meet on boycott

SYDNEY,   20 August – Australian Jewish and Christian leaders have met in Sydney to heal the wounds caused by a call last month for Australians to boycott Israeli goods made in occupied Palestinian territories.

The National Council of Churches in Australia  called for Australians to consider the boycott at the request of Middle Eastern churches, but the Jewish community was outraged.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ)  president Robert Goot wrote to the council that the resolution was a “most unpleasant surprise… we feel that we have been badly let down by people we have long thought of as our friends”.

Last week senior members from both councils – including heads of the Australian Catholic and Anglican Churches, Archbishops Phillip Wilson of Adelaide and Phillip Aspinal of Brisbane – met to restore good relations. Yesterday both council released a joint statement saying there had been
a “serious exchange of views” which helped Christian leaders better understand Jewish concerns and Jewish leaders better understand why
the resolution had been adopted.

But the resolution- which called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to all acts of terrorism, and suggested churches
consider a boycott of Israeli goods from the occupied territories – remain in place.

Representatives of both groups will meet again to work on a “more comprehensive” statement for the Christian council to consider at its next meeting in November.

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The race for the Jewish vote

MELBOURNE, 20 August – As the election race enters itS last days, all political parties try to offer something for everybody. The Opposition Liberal Party’s go-to man this election campaign took time out of his busy schedule on Monday to drop by Adass Israel School.

Goldstein MP Andrew Robb, the shadow minister for finance and the party’s campaign spokesperson, visited the school to officially confirm the Coalition would also commit $15 million to securing Jewish schools.

He was joined by the local Liberal candidate Kevin Ekendahl, the Liberal incumbent in Higgins  Kelly O’Dwyer and Kooyong Liberal hopeful Josh Frydenberg.

Earlier in the campaign, the ALP announced it would add $15 million to the Secure Schools Program, which it introduced in 2007 to protect
vulnerable schools from serious security threats.

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Jewish Group calls for partial boycott

MELBOURNE, 19 August – The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) has defended its new policy to support partial boycotts of Israel,
posting on its website that it has become “the first community-affiliated Jewish organisation” to call for divestment from Israel.

But its support of limited boycotts and its emphasis on communal affiliation to underscore its position have triggered a strong reaction from the Jewish community.

An August 13, the AJDS website stated while not supporting full boycotts, it “envisages boycotting specific Israeli academics openly supportive of the occupation” and other sanctions, but would consider each case on its merits.

AJDS executive member Tom Wolkenberg said the shift follows a 12-month review, which culminated in a special meeting of the organisation on August 8 where the new policy was adopted.

Asked if embracing a partial boycott was the first step, he said: “I don’t think it can at all be seen as the thin edge of the wedge.

“It’s looking purely at the occupation and how a very limited BDS [Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions] policy could in some way be a lever to change the situation with the occupation.”

Wolkenberg also defended the AJDS decision to invite Australian-Palestinian activist Samah Sabawi to the special meeting, saying, “It was
more to try and be provocative and let all issues, everything, be on the table”.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) president John Searle said the AJDS “has placed itself clearly outside the prevailing views of
Victoria’s Jewish community” and called on the group to reverse its stance.

“The fact that the AJDS has sought to legitimate its views by describing itself as a community-affiliated Jewish organisation, claiming credibility by associating itself with the JCCV, is reproachable.

“While the AJDS is an affiliate of the JCCV, this is a tribute to the latter’s inclusive nature rather than an acceptance of the AJDS’ views.”

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry also voiced its concern, with executive director Peter Wertheim slamming the AJDS position as “naïve” and comparing it to “the global assault on Israel’s legitimacy”.
Zionist Federation of Australia president Philip Chester described the BDS campaign as “nothing more than a deliberate and concerted campaign to delegitimise” Israel.

“This decision by the AJDS is completely at odds with the position of every responsible organisation in our community and deserves the most severe condemnation.”
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Extremists move against Dreyfus

MELBOURNE, 20 August – Voters in the Melbourne seat of Isaacs are being urged not to vote for ALP candidate Mark Dreyfus ( who is Jewish) due to his support for Israel.

An advertisement, endorsed by the Australian Muslim Palestine Committee, appeared last week in The Dandenong Leader, saying “When voting put Dreyfus last. No more support for Israel.”

Meanwhile, Australian Muslim Palestine Committee president Asem Judeh wrote this month in Muslim newspaper The Crescent Times, “It is well known that the Israeli state has sponsored murderous and terrorist acts, and that it has systematically deprived Palestinians of their land and basic rights.

“One reason the Israeli lobby is so organised and aggressive is because it has to ensure that Israel is above criticism.”

Judeh then continued, “The Zionist influence is growing. There are two Zionist Jews [sic] Labor MPs, Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus. After this election, another Australian Jew will become Liberal MP.

“Those MPs are the organised lobby representatives. Their job is to silence any MPs who dare to criticise Israel in the Parliament. They use parliamentary committees to defend Zionism and attack those who dare to criticise Israel.”

Dreyfus, who is Jewish and represents a very multicultural community that includes many Muslim families, condemned the campaign.

“These ads taken out against me are misleading and an affront to how parliamentary democracy is practised in this country,” the QC said. “I am confident that the local community recognises this hate campaign for what it is, and will reject a campaign that prejudges me for my
religious faith, not on my record of working for my local community.

“No Australian, politician or otherwise, should be prejudged or vilified for their religious belief.”

Dreyfus added that he has worked hard with the Muslim community and appreciated the support he had received in return.

“The response from local Muslim community leaders has been heartfelt and touching,” he said.

“A group of local Muslim community leaders came to my office last week to condemn this campaign and assure me that this campaign does not reflect the views of the local Muslim community.”

Muslim politician Adem Somyurek, a member in Victoria’s Upper House, also threw his support behind Dreyfus, drawing parallels between the
campaign and anti-Muslim comments made by disendorsed Liberal candidate for Chifley, David Barker.

“This advertisement . does two things: first, it seeks to question the candidate’s loyalty to Australia; and second, it publicly identifies the
candidate as a member of a minority faith and in doing so has as its objective electoral backlash by bigots, in this case anti-Semites in the community,” he said.

O’Connor pledges more funds to protect Jewish schools

SYDNEY. 19 August – Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O’Connor re-affirmed that Labor would put another $15 million into the Secure Schools Program when he visited The Emanuel School last Thursday.

O’Connor, who was joined by Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and Arts and Kingsford Smith MP Peter Garrett, had earlier
made the same pledge in Melbourne.

Also at the announcement was Wentworth Labor candidate Steven Lewis.

This week, the Coalition, led by shadow education minister Christopher Pyne and shadow attorney-general Senator George Brandis, also
pledged its support for the additional $15 million commitment.

The program, which provides schools with fences, closed circuit TV and other infrastructure, is designed to protect students and teachers from
terrorist threats. It was first introduced by the Rudd Government in 2007.

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The Age’s ‘anti-Israel bias’ condemned by Jewish leaders

MELBOURNE, 20 August==Jewish Community Council of Victoria President John Searle and Zionist Council of Victoria President Dr Danny Lamm have again strongly criticised Melbourne broadsheet The Age for its ongoing anti-Israel bias over a number of years.

The leaders of Victoria’s peak Jewish bodies jointly observed that during the tenure of Andrew Jaspan and particularly that of his successor
Paul Ramadge, The Age had increasingly engaged in a war of words against Israel.  Apart from steering its readership to a more anti-Israel
position, Searle and Lamm consider that The Age’s strident line had also had the hopefully unintended by-product of legitimising antisemitism in this country.

“There is no particular reporting or opinion piece that has prompted our criticism at this time.  Frankly, our community has simply just had
enough of The Age’s lack of balance”, Searle noted. “Despite our best efforts to present Israel’s case, there have been too many instances
of anti-Israel statements to count, ranging from the blatant such as Michael Backman’s ugly smear job in 2009 to the more subtle and insidious”, Searle continued. “An example of the latter includes a recent article reprinted from The UK’s The Daily Telegraph which stated “Netanyahu will come under fierce pressure from Obama to extend a
10-month freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank”. The Age’s version made the following insertions “illegal Jewish settlements in the
occupied West Bank” (The Age, 070710). Such changes make a world of difference.”

“We make this statement with regret”, Lamm continued.  “However we have spoken to Mr Ramadge on a number of occasions, both privately and in public forums.  While he is adept at making the right noises about The Age’s impartiality, his follow through leaves a great deal to be
desired.  We believe that The Age’s record speaks for itself.  Quite simply The Age is not a friend of our community.”

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Australia faces hung Parliament

CANBERRA, August 23 – The Australian Federal elections produced an outcome, or more accurately non-outcome, with both The Australian Labor Party, the current government, or the Liberal/National Party Opposition gaining an outright majority of seats. While some seats are
still in the balance, due to postal and absentee votes still to be counted, the balance of power is still in the hands of four independents and one seat won by The Greens.

What will be the impact on the Jewish Community?.

While on the domestic scene it will not change very much, one of the worrying developments is that in the Senate (The Upper House) The Greens will have the balanced of power. The Greens, while until now have not been in a position to influence Government decisions,
This is now changed with them holding the balance of power and having a strong impact on Government policy, irrespective if when the dust settles, Labour or the Conservatives will form Government.

The issue on the mind of the Jewish community is that The Greens have taken an anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian stand for a number of years in
the past, and now that they in a real position to influence Government policy, how will this play out in the future?  It presents a scenario that
has serious implications, both Labor and Conservatives having been very supportive of Israel over a long period.

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Jewish Battlegrounds decided at Election

CANBERRA, August 23 – While the next government is yet to be decided, a number of Jewish MPs were successful on polling day.

Despite a strong swing to The Greens in Melbourne  Ports, home to around 20,000 Jewish voters, Labor’s Michael Danby held on for the fifth time.

In Wentworth, with a similar number of Jewish voters, Liberal Malcolm Turnbull was given a resounding endorsement to continue as the local member.

In the leafy inner-eastern Melbourne seat of Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg made history by becoming the first Jewish Liberal MP in Canberra.
Declaring his win before an audience of hundreds of friends and party faithful, Frydenberg said he was proud to have been elected as only the
seventh ever member of the 110 year-old seat.

“We have won Kooyong and we can win  government tonight,” he said, after thanking his family and campaign team for their support.

Labor incumbent Mark Dreyfus increased his support in the Melbourne southern bayside seat of Isaacs.

“Regardless of the final decision tonight, the people of Melbourne Ports can be assured we will stand up for them in Canberra,” Danby said.

“We have our own opinions here, we stand for a more cosmopolitan and pluralist Australia,” he said, referring to the strong national swing that saw Labor lose many seats.

“I don’t care what bogans and rednecks think elsewhere we stand up for it here and our opinions count as much as their’s.”

His Liberal opponent Kevin Ekendahl saw his party’s primary vote reduced in the seat.

Ekendahl had one message for Danby: “stop being complacent”

“Get out into the electorate. Start working hard,” Ekendahl said.

In the Sydney seat with the most Jewish voters, Wentworth, Liberal Malcolm Turnbull increased his majority by a whopping 11.5 per cent.

His opponent Jewish lawyer Steven Lewis said despite the defeat he had enjoyed the campaign.

“It was a great campaign. We fell short today but we had great enjoyment in what we did, we threw everything into it,” he said.

“Everyone said it was going to be a big ask, but we did the best we could given the facilities that we had.”

Lewis declined to say whether he would consider running again in the future.

“We’ll take it one day at a time,” he said. “It’s a bit too early to speculate on that right now, we’re still waiting for the [rest of the] results to come in here today.”

But he was full of thanks with those who had assisted with his campaign.

“I’ve been working with a great group of people, volunteers who have come in to help us, day in and day out. I’m surrounded by some fantastic people in the party and we’re just grateful that we did the best job we could.”

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Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

Palestinian and Israeli visitors ponder business together

August 22, 2010 1 comment

Emad Nuseibeh and Amir Gur-Lavie (Photo: Bonnie Stewart)

By Donald H. Harrison 

Donald H. Harrison

LA MESA, California – Emad Ahmed Fuad Nuseibeh, a major Palestinian grower of vegetables and herbs, and Amir Gur-Lavie, an owner of Zeta, a large distributor of Israeli olive oil, cheerfully agreed to pose together following a dinner at Vine Ripe Market here. Nuseibeh and Gur-Lavie smiled warmly like old friends, whereas, in fact, they had only met a few days before. 

The market and restaurant is part of a chain co-founded by Ali Baba Abdallah, a Palestinian refugee who had lived in Jordan and Lebanon before immigrating in 1982 to the United States, where he built a successful career as a grower and marketer.  

The two men were among a group of Palestinians and Israeli Jews brought together through the combined efforts of the Peres Peace Center in Jaffa, Arab businessman Sam Husseini of Jerusalem, and the Hansen Institute for World Peace at San Diego State University.   They and others met to discuss and to refine an idea that the Peres and Hansen groups have been developing over several years now: creating a blended olive oil made from Israeli and Palestinian olives to be sold as a “peace product” in U.S. stores. 

Ali-Baba Abdallah (Photo: Bonnie Stewart)

 If the project comes to fruition, the new brand may have a ready customer in Abdallah, whose store specializes in foods from the Middle East, both Arab and Jewish.  Abdallah explained that in San Diego there are many immigrant communities who hunger for foods from home, and he makes it his business to satisfy their tastes.  The chance for Arabs and Jews to peacefully mingle together as customers in his store is a side benefit paralleling the joint goals of the Peres Peace Center, the Hansen Institute and Husseini’s Lion Heart business development company, a new partner in the peace consortium. 

As Abdallah had tray after tray of Middle Eastern appetizers, salads and entrees brought to the long table in a patio area alongside his market on Fletcher Parkway, the meeting was one for socializing amid the familiar tastes and aromas of the guests’ Middle Eastern homes.   

The Palestinian and Israeli business people on that day had toured such markets as Ralphs, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Henry’s and now Vine Ripe, to gain an insight into California food consumer tastes.  The tour followed days of lectures and panels at San Diego State University on trends in the American food industry, as well as a visit to the Temecula Olive Oil groves in Aguanga, California.  The group also had some recreational outings together, including the San Diego Zoo, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, La Jolla and on the following day would visit the Star of India at the Embarcadero. 

When the meal was done, Nuseibeh and Gur-Lavie both agreed to share their impressions with this reporter. 

Like the other Palestinians at the meeting, Nuseibeh lives in East Jerusalem, now claimed by Israel  but which could possibly  become the capital of a new Palestinian state, depending on how direct peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials —scheduled to begin next month—settle the volatile question.  Nuseibeh also owns a large farm near Jericho, where he grows various desert produce, and another where he produces herbs sold directly to the U.S. market. 

The San Diego trip “was a great experience for me,” said Nuseibeh.  “We have met great people who in fact are our neighbors but we didn’t know them until we reached here in the States.   I hope that, after knowing them, how they are thinking and what kind of businesses they have, that we can do some business together, in order to cut, or break the obstacles that have prevented us from working together.” 

Asked about creating special olive oils, that might blend Israeli and Palestinian varieties, and maybe even some of Nuseibeh’s herbs, Nuseibeh responded: 

“I think it is a good idea to start a business together, but there are a lot of obstacles, a lot of problems,” that must be resolved first, he said. “We have to do things here in the States, a lot of work, a lot of research, and I don’t think at this moment that we as Israeli and Palestinian business people can  come up with the money.  I hope we can find a source for finance, and I think that with these ideas that we have—to work with good-willed people—we will be able to succeed.” 

The Nuseibeh Agricultural Co. for Marketing and Production (NAMP) has for over a half century exported oranges to the United Kingdom, as well as a variety of citrus and bananas to Jordan and to the Gulf countries.  When exports to Jordan slowed down, Nuseibeh developed herb products, which he sold to the Israeli market.  Initially, sales to the U.S. market went through Israel, but now NAMP is shipping about $1 million annually in herbs directly to the United States. 

The joint meeting in San Diego with Israeli agriculturalists was not limited to olives, Nuseibeh said.  

“We are thinking of ways to combine the Israeli produce and the Palestinian produce,” and to devise “new ideas in order to work together for their benefit and our benefit,” he said.  “At the end, it is business.  So we are trying hard to find new things, new ideas.  It may not be in olives, or vegetables, or herbs; maybe it is a new idea that could succeed.” 

Indicating other Palestinians and Israelis seated at the table,  Nuseibeh added:  “Everyone has their own experience. Some of us have experience in marketing or in finding finance; others have experience in growing and having good, high quality produce, and so the thing is we have to find something that can work in order to succeed in this.” 

Whatever products are eventually developed, Nuseibeh said the meetings are a harbinger of what real peace between Israelis and Palestinians might mean.  “We need it for both of us, the Israelis and the Palestinians,” he declared.  It is a need, it is a must.  And when we are doing this, maybe it is a small step, but everyone profits, the Israelis and the Palestinians.  You are going toward the same light at the end of the tunnel.  Maybe what we are doing is a small step, but at the end, Palestinians and Israelis are people who want to reach that same light and to get to the end of this mess we have.  It might help, this thing we are doing. We are not going against anyone.  The peace process is going on; maybe it (the San Diego meeting) is a mile out of the million, but it is a mile.” 

Gur-Lavie is the owner of Zeta in the Galilean town of Mitzpe Hila – known throughout Israel as the hometown of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held in captivity for several years by the Hamas government in Gaza.  Besides owning the company which produces three million bottles a year of olive oil, Gur-Lavie serves on a committee with Shalit’s parents trying to keep the issue of ending Shalit’s captivity before the world. 

About the San Diego meetings, Gur-Lavie said: “I don’t know what will be the result, but the main goal we have already reached.  It was wonderful. We (Palestinians and Israelis) had the possibility to sit together and to think together, and anyhow we have new friends, and we hope also to have new products for the grocery market.  We need to find the way to do it.  I am sure that we will find the way to do something—perhaps small, perhaps big—but actually the biggest thing, we already have done. 

Bentzi Elisha, who is the chief executive officer of Zeta, added.  “Sometimes we have to come to the States to find that we can be together and talk about everything, and laugh about the same things – really, because we became friends.” 

The Hansen Institute has been quietly bringing Arabs and Israelis together—even in the absence of diplomatic relations between their countries – since the time following the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.  

Bonnie Stewart, the executive director, has witnessed a process many times in which the Arabs and Israelis first regarded each other with suspicion and had to air out some of their political differences before getting down to business discussions. 

Not so this meeting, commented Gur-Lavie.  “We had heard this would happen… but we didn’t feel that, even at the airport.  We started with friendship.   Look, we also talk very openly about the problems. We know we can’t avoid the problems but we think that with friendship we are able to talk about it … We know that is from business that maybe we will be able to make the peace sooner. If we wait for the conflict to be solved, and then talk about business, maybe it will take 100 years.” 

While creating a peace product is a relatively new idea, Gur-Lavie said that his company has been bottling both Israeli and Palestinian olive oils for years.  Noting that his company recently won four Gold Medals in an international olive oil competition, he expressed confidence that something “unique and of a very high quality” eventually can be created and marketed. 

Both Gur-Lavie and Nuseibeh had praise for San Diego State and the Hansen Institute specifically, and for San Diego generally. 

Said the Israeli of San Diego: “It is a very nice and pleasant place to be.  I have been in many places in America, but such a nice hospitality!  All the Americans we are with from the Hansen Institute and the University are doing an excellent job.  They believe that it is important to help us bring the peace, and I really just want to say thank you.” 

Nuseibeh concurred, saying: “People in the Middle East know Americans in two or three things, in their bullets, in their bombs that say ‘made in the U.S.A.,’  and in their vetoes in the U.N.  They don’t know the people, but this time and my last visit to the U.S., I met a lot of people and I found something else.  I found people  who want to help, people…who need to know how they can make the people in front of them as happy as they are…. If someone here is convinced by a cause, he will devote his life, money, fortune and time to the cause.  And it doesn’t matter how much effort it will take.   There are many people in the Middle East who do not know the Americans well; they should see the people, the American people.” 

Besides Nuseibeh and Sam Husseini, other members of the Palestinian delegation included Abdel Muti Qutob, whose businesses include agriculture produce in the Auja region near Jericho, as well as real estate development elsewhere; and Rami Assali, financial and administrative manager for Search for Common Ground, a non-governmental agency in Jerusalem.

Israelis in addition to Gur-Lavi and Elisha included Ofer Ensher, managing director of Hefer Systems & Controls, which is a large company in the fields of water and waste water processes; and the following staff members of the Peres Center for Peace: Roi Dai, the finance director; Oren Blonder, director,  and Moran Diment, manager, in the agriculture, water and environment department. 

Numerous Americans interacted with the two delegations.  Among those who participated in seminars with them were  Stewart, the director of the Hansen Institute; Sanford Ehrlich, Qualcomm Executive Director of Entrepreneurship at SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center (EMC);  Alex DeNoble, chair of the Management department of SDSU’s College of Business Administration;  Bernard Schroeder, director of EMC programs; Evan Schlessinger, president of the Springboard Company, which helps bring new products and innovations to market,  and Marvin Spira, president of Marketing Consultants, International, which specializes in the marketing of food products. 

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.

Direct peace talks will share Israeli dinner conversations with those about IDF, extremist rabbis and errant academics

August 21, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–While the big news of the day is the impending start of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, to open with a blessing by Barack Obama, the news that has held Israel in its grip for two weeks is a document purported to influence the selection of the next commander of the IDF.

The document became public when trumpeted on one of the commercial television channels with a taste for yellow journalism. While I have not been able to locate the text of the document, there has been no end of commentary about it. Moralists condemn the appearance of a plot claiming to be the work of a professional public relations firm, laying out plans to influence the public, governmental officials, and key military officers in order to affect the selection of the next commander. 
The document may be a parody of the maneuvering that typically surrounds those occasions every four or five years when it is necessary to appoint the next commander of the IDF or the head of the national police. The obvious candidates, and individuals who feel themselves close to them and perhaps hoping for an eventual boost to their own careers, line up potential supporters in order to influence the government ministers with responsibility for nominating their chosen candidate to the entire government for the formal selection.

Both the IDF and the national police are led by a collection of Alpha Males with the talent and the elbows to get where they have gotten, and who aspire to go further.

Parody: a work created to mock or make fun by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation. 
Commentators have not been able to agree whether the figure prominently mentioned in the document is the person meant to be selected, or if the campaign is really meant to tarnish his reputation and render him unfit for selection. 
If the document it is a parody or a serious attempt at strategy, it has stepped on sensitive toes. The IDF is as close to the principal icon of civic religion as can be found in this hotbed of cynicism. The lieutenant colonel who has been identified as the likely source of the document is currently on vacation overseas. If and when he returns home, he can expect to be brought to the police station from the airport for questioning. 
Two other hiccups in the national culture have also occupied us.
One is a rabbi’s publication of a treatise that is said to identify the conditions when it is permissible according to religious law to kill a non-Jew. The police have summoned the rabbi for an investigation under the heading of incitement to racism, while a number of prominent rabbis have supported his refusal to appear. The debates are a bit murky to outsiders. Most of the rabbis who have spoken up distance themselves from the book in question. Some say that they regret its publication. However, they stand along with the author for his right to express his view of religious law, which he reaches according to conventional rabbinical exegesis. They are willing to let him play in his corner of the rabbinical garden, while letting the rest of us know that he is an outlier and should not be taken seriously. 
The problem is that Yigal Amir learned a bit of religious law and tradition in the yeshiva of Bar Ilan University, and extrapolated his understanding to a justification for killing Yitzhak Rabin. 
Two centuries before Christ, ancient rabbis had already neutralized “eye for an eye,”  death penalties, and other draconian provisions that can be found in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus preached what they ruled, and the early Christians who wrote the New Testament gave him credit for what they called new doctrines that they used to contrast with, and demonize Judaism.
The Talmud documents the rabbinic modifications and cancellations of what appears in Torah, but there are some who have not accepted the message.. There is enough that is dangerous in the attic of Judaism to be wary of fanaticism. The rabbi who published the book justifying the killing of non-Jews under certain circumstances presents the impression of a scholarly impotent, but the words he has written may stimulate those inclined to madness.
The other hiccup in these dog days of August appears elsewhere on the ideological spectrum, A movement from  the right has taken aim at university departments of sociology (at Tel Aviv University) and political science (at Ben Gurion University) for being under the control of anti-Israeli leftists. They have demanded that university administrators fire the ideologues, and threaten to urge donors to avoid contributing to any university that fails to purge the errant. In response, every university president interviewed on the subject has stood fast on academic freedom, emphasizing the professional criteria employed in selecting and promoting individuals through the academic ranks.
One suspects that this will blow over, along with the other issues. People will return from vacations in time for the start of school on September 1, and the country will go back to something approaching the Israeli normal.
No doubt that there are extremists in the universities as well as among the rabbis of Israel. However, a purge of either community led by outsiders is not in the cards. Just as leading rabbis have condemned their colleague while arguing for his right to write as he wishes, so university personnel know how to deal with individuals who go over the edge of good sense. There are islands of madness in Israeli universities, just as there are islands of madness exist in other academic centers. Religious and academic madness are among the prices paid for religious and academic freedom. Both allow the mad the freedom to demonstrate peculiarities to their colleagues and students. Occasionally there is damage, sometimes a tragedy like the assassination of Rabin, but more often there is a recognition of those who are extreme and their isolation by ridicule or silence.
The big news of impending negotiations between Israel and Palestine has produced yawns, shrugs, and doubts from a wide range of commentators. According to a prominent article in the New York Times:

The American invitation on Friday to the Israelis and Palestinians to start direct peace talks in two weeks in Washington was immediately accepted by both governments. But just below the surface there was an almost audible shrug. There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met.  
Just to mention a few of the knottiest of issues: Palestinian adherence to the pre-1967 armistice lines and the rights of refugees, along with their extremists who insist that those are illegitimate concessions, against Israelis who are not sure about what to do with 50,000 Jews scattered throughout the West Bank, intense distrust of Palestinians, and insistence that any Palestinian state be de-militarized and that Israel control the Jordan Valley.

It will take a miracle equivalent to the parting of the Red Sea or virgin birth to deal with these issues, even beyond the year that the Obama White House has alloted to the process. One should never say never in this land that has claimed great events in the past, but one can guess that a year and more from now commentators will be arguing as to who should be assigned the greater fault for the failure of the talks, or for making the Middle East even more dangerous than it was earlier. Already one can expect who will assign responsibility to the Palestinians, who to the Israelis, and who to the Americans.
On the other hand, the place that saw the reincarnation of Jesus, Mohammed’s ascent to heaven, and the rebirth of Israel may yet have something else to show the world. 
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.