Archive for the ‘Portugal’ Category

Mideast proximity peace talks to start up again

May 1, 2010 Leave a comment


By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Here we go again. Maybe.

The stage is set for the beginning of indirect talks between Israel and the abbreviated Palestine National Authority (West Bank without Gaza). The Arab League has provided its endorsement. Palestinian leaders carried that decision on the basis of “assurances” received from the Americans. They are warning that the  building of one new apartment for Jews in East Jerusalem or the destruction of one Arab’s apartment can derail the process. The Arab League is insisting on its authority to monitor the talks, and to judge their progress before agreeing to a shift from indirect to direct talks.

Like other things we are hearing about these negotiations, the appropriate posture is, “Who knows?”

Israelis are participating in the doublespeak. The Prime Minister asserts there has been no concession with respect to building in Jerusalem, but the working people who actually do the planning and issue the permits indicate that things haven’t been moving. The Prime Minister may have given assurances to Americans that he will cool things, but the Interior Minister (SHAS) has ordered his underlings to do their work.

It’s way too early to celebrate a breakthrough, or to decide that essential Israeli or Palestinian interests will be preserved, bargained away, or compromised for the sake of peace.

The big picture includes these ingredients:

Palestinians at the top of their heap in the West Bank appear to be the most pragmatic and least inclined to violence that we have ever seen. Below them, however, are religious extremists and nationalist ideologues inclined to upset any hint of sacrificing their wildest dreams. Those people control Gaza, are well represented in the West Bank population, and can make trouble via their allies in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.

The American President is more concerned than any of his predecessors. He continues to push despite the problems that he recognizes. He, and people claiming to speak for him, mention even greater involvement if the parties do not show signs of progress according to an American timetable.

As we saw in the health reform he wrung from Congress, President Obama gives higher priority to reaching an achievement than to the quality of its details. Israeli pessimists may be reading the headlines and hoping that reports of an old romance will turn into something real and embarrassing, that Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, or Irish finance, problems in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia, or oil in the Gulf of Mexico will cause the White House to invest less energy in Israel-Palestine. Yet the President’s energy seems as expansive as his rhetoric. It is best to assume his continued involvement.
The Israeli government may be the most conservative with respect to issues of Palestine since the 1980s, and perhaps before then. Its composition features a Prime Minister who seems genetically right wing, major partners from the assertive segment of right wing Russian immigrants and religious parties holding the sensitive positions of Foreign Minister and Interior Minister, along with a Defense Minister from the right side of the Labor Party. Their power reflects the virtual disappearance of the Israeli left, which itself comes from frustration with Palestinian violence and rejectionism.

The violence that began in 2000, and that which came out of Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal, as well as the bluster of Hizbollah and the madness of Iran may cause Israel to dig in its heels against whatever may be the readiness of Palestinian moderates and the passions of the American White House.

Against this, however, we should remember that it was Menachem Begin, an iconic father of the Israeli right, who agreed to the complete withdrawal from the Sinai for the sake of agreement with Egypt.

It ain’t over until it’s over.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Roseville has its La Playa Trail marker again

April 29, 2010 3 comments

San Diego City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer is surrounded by Cabrillo Elementary School students of 1934 and 2010 as he unveils La Playa Trails plaque in Roseville. Photo: Matt Awbrey

 By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO—The intersection which Jewish settler Louis Rose called 1st and Main Streets back in 1869  as of Thursday, April 29, bears a plaque  recognizing it as the place where the community of Roseville began.  Today Roseville is a section of Point Loma, a neighborhood in the City of San Diego.

The plaque at what is today the renamed northeast corner of Rosecrans Street and Avenida de Portugal by the Union Bank building was unveiled by San Diego City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, whose 2nd Councilmanic District includes the 30-block-long, 8-block-wide Roseville community.  He was accompanied by five octogenarian alumni of Cabrillo Elementary School who, back in their student days in 1934, participated in a similar ceremony. They included Edwinna Goddard, Bernice Hollerbach, Mary Correia Martin, Angie Vierra Mauricio and Rita Bellatori. County Supervisor Greg Cox participated in the speech making.

Both the 1934 ceremony and this one 76 years later included the dedication of a time capsule to teach future generations.  The problem was that following widening of Rosecrans Street decades ago, the location of the time capsule became a mystery.  So to make up for it, members of the La Playa Trail Association decided to include in the current time capsule materials of relevance then and now. 

For example, there was a copy of a press release and photo from the 1934 dedication and an invitation to the 2010 event.   There were books about the Kumeyaay Indians who have lived in San Diego since before the times of recorded history, about Point Loma’s history since Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo waded ashore in 1542 and claimed the area for Spain, and various articles, photographs and historical pamphlets about Point Loma’s rich history.

“History is rich along La Playa Trail,” commented Patti Adams, past chair of La Playa Trails Association, emceeing the event.   Markers including the one dedicated on Thursday are engraved with the image of a carreta—a Spanish ox cart—and an Indian, the latter acknowledging that “the Kumeyaay people, who lived here long before anyone else sailed into the bay, used it as their path to the beach,” according to Adams.  This one also bore the legend:  “La Playa Trail–An ancient Kumeyaay path that became the oldest commercial trail in the Western United States… La Playa Trail Assn. 2010.”

As author of Louis Rose: San Diego’s First Jewish Settler and Entrepreneur, I had the opportunity to tell the assemblage that Rose had grown up in Neuhaus-an-der-Oste, a river near Germany’s Elbe River, on which there was a continuous volume of commercial shipping.  When Rose immigrated to the United States, he settled first in New Orleans, along the banks of the Mississippi River, another important commercial river. 

When he arrived in San Diego in 1850, he wondered why the city was located below  Presidio Hill instead of the banks of San Diego Bay.   The answer was that Spaniards had chosen Presidio Hill because it could be defended, was near the freshwater San Diego River, and had two Kumeyaay settlements nearby with residents who could potentially be converted to Christianity.  When   Mexico became independent of Spain, the soldiers who lived in the Presidio moved down the hill to the area that we today call Old Town and that’s where San Diego sprung up.

Rose and his wagon train friend James Robinson assembled land along the bay, Robinson dying before they could complete their plans to build the town. When at last Rose laid it out four years following the end of the Civil War, another town – Horton’s Addition—was being built along another portion of the bay. Alonzo Horton proved himself to be the more astute and energetic developer.  Today his area is downtown, and Rose’s area is one of the nicest residential and boating neighborhoods of San Diego.

With the five participants of the 1934 ceremony leading –and schoolchildren from three current classrooms at Cabrillo Elementary School following—the three stanzas of the Cabrillo School Song then were sung:

“My name is Juan Cabrillo/and I sail the seven seas/ My ship is strong and beautiful’/ I sail whenever I please/ Of all the shores that I did see/ on San Diego Bay/ Point Loma points the way,” it begins somewhat historically.

“Hail to Cabrillo!/ The school we love the best./ Rah! Rah Cabrillo—the finest in the west/ Oh, we work so hard and play so hard/ To win the games for all/ The other schools do very well/ But we’re the best of all.

“We work so hard and play so hard/ To win the games for all/ The other schools do very well/ But we’re the best of all!”

County Supervisor Cox, indicating the five members from the 1934 ceremony, said that their presence “tells me what Point Loma is all about: family, history, and continuity… I am very proud to be here as part of this historic event today…”

Noting that the new monument will have a time capsule, he predicted unlike its predecessor, “this one looks pretty substantial: I don’t think anyone will lose the time capsule in this monument.”

City Councilmember Faulconer revealed that in 1934, Point Lomas charged 10 cents per person to attend the ceremony dedicating the old marker, so as to pay for it.  “I’m glad to see that today it is already paid,” he said.

Another of six markers along La Playa Trail had been dedicated in 2006, but whereas this one is on a sidewalk, the one in the Midway Section of town (near the Sports Arena) was along a center strip on a busy highway.  “We were dodging cars,” Faulconer recalled. This monument, a safe distance from the road, likely will attract “Point Lomans and City of San Diego residents alike who care about their history.”

Adams said that one of the next projects expected to be completed  will be historic murals on the side of Gus’s Subs and Pizza at 1166 Rosecrans Street near Byron Street. 

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World

Why would U.S. want Afghan pilots trained in Lebanon or Syria?

April 23, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C — The U.S. Department of the Army put out a request for information on “Afghanistan National Army Air Corps English and Pilot Training.”

The Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training & Instrumentation (PEO STRI) is conducting market research by seeking sources with innovative business solutions to (1) train and certify up to 67 Afghani student pilots to an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) English level 4 in the English language; and (2) provide basic rotary wing or fixed wing Commercial Pilot Training to the European Joint Aviation Authority (JAA) standards.

It is desired that the English language and basic pilot training take place within South West Asia. PEO STRI requests information on sources available to perform training in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, U.A.E, Uzbekistan, Yemen or other locations in Southwest Asia with the capability to provide requested training.

How is it possible that Syria, a charter and current member of the U.S. State Department list of terrorism-supporting countries, is considered an acceptable place to train Afghan pilots? Or Lebanon, which has Hezbollah as a member of the governing cabinet in Beirut? Hezbollah is a charter and current member of the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations, and until September 11, 2001, had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group. Didn’t Kyrgyzstan just have a coup inspired/financed by Russia? Wouldn’t training pro-Western Afghan pilots in Pakistan send those people from the frying pan into the fire? Isn’t Yemen home to some of the most virulently anti-American, anti-Western al Qaeda operatives and preachers, including Anwar al-Awlakiwho was talking to U.S. Army Major Nidal Hassan before he killed 13 Americans at Ft. Hood?
Aside from the fact that some of the countries listed are not in South West Asia, as the request for information requires, not one is remotely democratic. OK, we’ll give Jordan a few points and some to Iraq, but that’s it. 
What would possess the United States Army to expose Afghani pilots, who are supposed to secure a functional and consensual state in Afghanistan, to countries where the governments are almost uniformly totalitarian, functionally repressive, less than hospitable to reform or dissent, and have women in positions of legal inferiority? Saudi Arabia is the financier of a particularly repressive, homophobic, misogynistic and anti-Semitic form of Islam exported around the world.
We did not expect to see Israel on the list, although Israel certainly is capable of training pilots to the European Joint Aviation Authority standards, and a few months in Israel would impart some Western governmental, judicial and social norms, including religious and political tolerance.
But if not Israel, why not Britain or Italy or France or Spain or Portugal? Why not Denmark or Colombia or Mali or Uruguay? Why not India or Indonesia or Taiwan or Japan?
The list is clearly weighted toward the part of the world to which President Obama wishes to show American comity. Unfortunately, it is also a part of the world in which neither American policies nor American values are particularly welcome items on the agenda. The list and the thinking behind it are political mistakes that should be corrected. Certainly, they should be corrected before we give the Afghanis the idea that the norms of Syria and Lebanon are ones we want them to adopt.


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

San Diego’s historic places: Old Mission Dam

April 18, 2010 1 comment

Old Mission Dam

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO–Old Mission Dam, a.k.a. Padre Dam, is celebrated as both a California Historic Landmark and as a National Historic Landmark for being one of the first irrigation projects on the West Coast of the United States, having been built between 1813 and 1816 by Franciscan padres and Kumeyaay laborers.

However, what some people think of as an “early” project can also be thought of as a “late” project–a monument to the procrastination of the Spaniards who laid claim to California 271 years of the dam began.

It was 1542–only 50 years after Columbus’ voyage of discovery to America–that the Portuguese-born Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo laid claim to San Diego Bay and environs for Spain. And then what great Spanish accomplishments in California did history record? None, nada.

For 60 years, California was not visited again by Europeans. The Kumeyaay may have remembered as nothing more than a bad dream the arrival of Cabrillo’s small fleet in San Diego, his planting of the Spanish standard on a strip of land today known as Ballast Point, the naming of the port as “San Miguel,” and Cabrillo sailing away soon afterwards

Then in 1602, another explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino, pulled into the port. As the latitude recorded on his instruments was slightly different than that which had been reported in Cabrillo’s log, Vizcaino decided he had found a different port than “San Miguel.” So he named the place “San Diego.” And then what were the accomplishments that Spaniards brought to this land? Nothing, nada.

For another 167 years, the rhythms of Kumeyaay life followed familiar courses, with generation after generation following the San Diego River to migrate from their summer homes in the mountains to their winter homes along the coastline, and then retracing their steps along the river’s banks.

It was not until 1769–only seven years before colonists on the other side of the North American continent issued their Declaration of Independence from the mother country of England–that the Spaniards, whose empire was far vaster than their resources, bestirred themselves to create a permanent settlement in California. 

In large measure they had been prompted by the threats posed by the British and Russians who were exploring the Northwest Pacific Coast. If Spain did nothing to reinforce its claim to California, it was possible that one of these other European powers might take it away from them.

Thus Father Junipero Serra and the soldier Gaspar de Portola were dispatched on an expedition of colonization from Mexico (then known as New Spain) up to California.

They went by foot, while other elements of the expedition came by ship, anchoring approximately in the area of San Diego Bay today called Spanish Landing. They all marched to a promontory today known as Presidio Hill, where Father celebrated mass and founded a town on July 16, 1769. The Presidio seemed an ideal place to begin:

it was high enough to command a defensive view of the surrounding area; it was close to the fresh waters of the San Diego River, and there were two coastal Indian villages nearby with plenty of souls to whom Christianity could be taught.

After five years, the Spaniards decided to separate the soldiers of the Presidio from the Padres and the Kumeyaay Indians. This was done by moving the mission upriver to its present location.

In 1797, the Spaniards built Fort Guijarros (cobblestones) in the Ballast Point area as a defensive measure against possible invasion from the sea.

Those three facilities–the presidio, the mission and Fort Guijarros– essentially were the sum of Spanish settlement in San Diego. The mission was responsible for producing the food for these tiny outposts. San Diego being semi-arid, with droughts common, the Spaniards needed a reliable source of irrigation to assure that their crops and livestock received all the water they needed.

A plaque at Mission Trails Regional Park identifying the Mission Dam and Flume as a California Historic Landmark advises that “after many attempts dating back to 1774 to provide a reliable source of water for crops and livestock for Mission San Diego de Alcala a dam and flume system was finished between 1813 and 1816 by Indian laborers and Franciscan missionaries to divert waters of the San Diego River for a distance of 6 milies. The aquedeuct system continued in existence until 1831 when constant flooding caused the dam and flume to fall into disrepair. They were not repaired due to the secularization of the missions.”

Another marker reports that Old Mission Dam was “part of the first permanent irrigation project by Padres and Indians in California.” That wasn’t the original wording of the marker placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution. That described the dam as having been built by “white men” and Indians–language that Larry Stirling–a 20th century San Diego city councilmember, Republican state legislator and Superior Court judge–protested as racist. As a result the stone marker was redone.

The dam across the San Diego River is 224 feet long, 14 feet high, and measuring at some points 12 feet thick. It is an agglomeration of stones, cement made with lime from nearby deposits, and adobe tiles. Today, water flows through the open area once controlled by a wooden floodgate.

River waters trapped behind the dam were diverted to the west to the wheel of a grist mill and a settling pond, where some of the sediment would be left behind.

Then it entered a tile flume which by gravity flow took it on a journey of some five miles to the fields of the mission. Waters not used for irrigation continued on to the mission itself where they could be utilized for drinking and washing.

By 1816, the dam was completed, but its status as a Spanish accomplishment would be short-lived. In 1821, revolution ended Spanish rule in Mexico, to which California belonged. News traveled slowly from Mexico City back then and it wasn’t until 1822 that San Diegans learned they were no longer subjects of Spain but citizens of Mexico. Soldiers who were required to live at the Presidio and at Fort Guijarros
were given their liberty to settle the land. What today is known as Old Town San Diego sprang up below the Presidio.

Angry over the vast lands controlled by the Catholic Church, the new government of Mexico stripped the church of many of its properties, including those of San Diego Mission. This secularization led to people moving away from the mission, to the diminution of its work force, and eventually to the physical deterioration of both the mission and the dam. A brief 15 years after the dam was completed, a flood put
it out of commission, leaving as a testament to the Spaniards’ 280-year history in California the lesson of “too little, too late.”

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  If there is a San Diego County historic place you would like him to write about, pelase contact him at  The preceding article appeared previously on

What peace process?

February 10, 2010 1 comment

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Israel has been unlucky in its neighbors. Prior to the onset of mass migration to Palestine, some of the early activists considered solving the European problem of the Jews in Argentina or East Africa. Then they discovered the sentiments of Jews with stronger religious feelings than their own, and decided that only the Land of Israel could motivate large numbers to move.

It is not possible to rethink history. Israel has been a success, despite the screams of European and American barbarians when its officials come on invitation to speak at their universities. From poverty, mass migration of refugees, hunger and chronic threat of violence it has become an impressive military and economic force. Despite outlays on security three or more times those of other democracies proportional to the economy, the country’s per capita resources rank it 23rd in the world, higher than Spain, New Zealand, Greece, Portugal, and Saudi Arabia.

Unfortunately, the latest news from the West Bank (i.e., the better half of Palestine) indicates once again that the neighbors are far from the brightest spot.

Yesterday a man who had been appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas to expose corruption made a public report of what he called partial findings. It included documented cases of money being siphoned off by senior officials, including at least one member of the president’s family, from aid received from the United States and European donor countries. Estimates are that some 10 percent of $10 billion in aid has ended in personal bank accounts. The man charged with exposing corruption also produced a video clip of the President’s senior adviser in flagrante delicto with a woman said to be his secretary. An earlier release of that video led to the firing of the corruption investigator. Now he is threatening to release a full report if President Abbas did not move against corruption.

President Abbas did move in response to the report. His aides charged that the publicity was the work of Israelis intent on scuttling the peace process. They ordered the arrest of the official appointed to expose corruption, at least partly for the crime of selling land to Jews.

The man in question lives in East Jerusalem, where Palestinian police have no authority. But he is pessimistic enough to have purchased a cemetery plot.

So far the Israeli reaction to the revelations of corruption is closer to a ho hum than oy gevalt.

There has been more official comment about the killing of an Israeli in the West Bank by an officer of Palestinian security forces. Israeli officials in West Bank communities and a Knesset member from a right wing nationalist party blame the killing on gestures toward the Palestinians like removing roadblocks. According to them, there is no future in a peace process when Palestinians given arms and sworn to uphold law and order become terrorists. They accuse Netanyahu of sacrificing the lives of Jews for the illusion of a peace process. In this case, however, the victim was an Arab sergeant in the IDF, who was stabbed to death while sitting in a military vehicle.

Ongoing is violence in the Arab neighborhood of Shoafat, across a main road on the northern edge of our neighborhood French Hill. Some 45,000 people live in what had been a refugee camp, now within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem but almost entirely outside the reach of Israeli police, tax collectors, and other authorities. Shoafat has been left to its own devices, provided services by the United Nations organization, UNRWA. Now for better or worse, the present city administration, along with the national police, seems intent on collecting property tax, value added tax, enforcing court orders, and arresting troublemakers. For more than two days Shoafat has been a scene of stone throwing, arrests, and injuries. Palestine National officials are charging aggression, and saying that Israeli actions are yet another element that will doom the prospects of peace.

Not to worry. The tragedy of an Arab Israeli family and commotion in Shoafat will not derail the peace process. That is more likely to result from Palestinian intransigence,  Palestinian fear of retribution from extremists if they compromise any of their iconic goals, or Israeli fatigue at the emptiness of the ritual . . .

Or all of the above.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

OECD mischaracterizes Israel’s economy

January 23, 2010 1 comment

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Israel is usually in the headlines about war, terror, great power efforts to make peace, or some other bloody or politically charged issue. This note is not about any of that exciting stuff, but deals with the way others and Israelis often view themselves. That may have something to do with having the world’s most popular publication assign us the label of Chosen People living in what the same book calls God’s Promised Land. Extremism is the language in dealing with Israel. Adversaries or our own domestic critics think it is the worst, and some friends consider it only a small measure removed from Paradise.

Recently some ranking officials of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development visited Israel to wrap up the country’s application for membership. The OECD is a prestigious organization, arguably of the world’s best countries, growing out of the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Israel is expected to join within the coming months, and that will add another mark of distinction to a place thought by many to be a pariah.

What has marked the visit of OECD dignataries is their statements that Israel would be the poorest member, as well as most marked by inequality between its well-to-do and poor. The allegations have been repeated by left of center Israeli politicians, including the distinguished economist and former university president, Avishay Braverman, who is serving as a minister in the government with responsibility for minorities. Braverman appeared on a discussion program to assert that he would work to assure the entry of Israel to the OECD, and would press his colleagues in the government to allocate more resources to the underprivileged Arab sector. Joining him on the program was a prominent Arab Member of Knesset. Mohammed Barake discounted Braverman’s promises, and demanded that the OECD suspend Israel’s membership application on account of its discrimination against Arabs.

Even a minister from the right-of-center Likud signed on to the claims that Israel would be the poorest and least equal of the OECD members. Or maybe this minister was seeking to get something for his education portfolio in the discussion about membership. Gideon Sa’ar said that the OECD report was a reflection of the reality of Israel’s society. 

“Investment in human capital and higher education is the future of Israel . . .We are going to make every effort to improve teacher skills and qualifications and ease the entry and participation in education for the Arab and haredi sector.”

Sounds good, insofar as it comes from reputable people, but it ain’t so.

Israel would be neither the poorest nor the least egalitarian of the OECD members. Data from the World Bank indicate that on a common measure–Gross Domestic Product per capita–Israel scores wealthier than existing OECD members Portugal, the Czech Republic, South Korea, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Mexico. On a common measure of income equality (Gini coefficient), it scores more egalitarian than OECD members Turkey, United States, and Mexico, and the Gini coefficients for Portugal and Japan are only fractionally in the direction of greater income equality than Israel’s.

The distinguished people who comment inaccurately on Israel’s poverty and inequality make more sense when they speak about other traits of the country. They emphasize that the ultra-Orthodox and Arab minorities are poorer than the average. That is true, but both owe some of their poverty to themselves and the politicians who represent them. The ultra-Orthodox volunteer for poverty. The men avoid work for prolonged study of religious texts. Their families live on the incomes of wives as teachers or in other low-paid occupations, and the payment of poverty-level stipends to mature yeshiva students and child allowances for their large families. These payments–and the continued abstention of ultra-Orthodox men from the workforce–reflect the importance of ultra-Orthodox parties for government coalitions.

Arab family incomes are actually closer to those of the Jewish majority than are comparable figures for minorities and majorities in the United States. That is not a great compliment for Israeli egalitarianism, insofar as the United States is a prominent outlier among wealthy countries, noted for its lack of equality. Statistics from the Central Intelligence Agency rank the United States close to the Philippines, Uganda, Jamaica, Uruguay, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Iran and Nigeria, and far from Western European democracies on the conventional measure of income equality.

Israel’s Arabs might gain a larger share of the country’s opportunities if the parties that most of them vote for learned the political game of going along to get along. Instead of trading their 11 votes in the Knesset for their constituents’ benefits, the Arab parties continue to stand united in opposition to whoever is in the government. Severe criticism rather than cooperation is the name of their game. For someone who sees the trading of political support for benefits as the key of civilization, the Arabs who vote for those parties get what they deserve.

Some of you have ridiculed my claim that Israel is a normal country. You are partly right. Thanks to those who would sanctify or demonize it, Israel is different from other countries. But if you look at reputable statistics, most extreme claims pro or con prove to be false. The most prominent indicators that show it to be abnormal are that 80 percent of the population is Jewish, and that it allocates two or three times the proportion of its resources to defense compared to other western democracies. The defense indicator reflects the chronic aggression threatened by Israel’s neighbors, which makes them far less normal than Israel itself.

And if any of you object to my designation of Israel as a western democracy, go read something else.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

Two Guantanamo detainees transferred to Algeria

January 23, 2010 1 comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–Two Algerian detainees, Hasan Zemiri and Adil Hadi al Jazairi Bin Hamlili, have been transferred from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the custody and control of the Government of Algeria.

As directed by the President’s Jan. 22, 2009 Executive Order, the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of these cases. As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including the potential threat posed by each individual and the receiving country’s demonstrated capabilities to mitigate potential threats posed by the individuals in their home country, each detainee was approved for transfer.

The transfers were approved by unanimous consent among all the agencies involved in the review — including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the Departments of Defense, State, Justice and Homeland Security.

In accordance with Congressionally-mandated reporting requirements, the Administration informed Congress of its intent to transfer these detainees at least 15 days before their transfer. These transfers were carried out under an arrangement between the United States and the Government of Algeria. The United States coordinated with the Government of Algeria to ensure the transfers took place under appropriate security measures.

Since 2002, more than 570 detainees have departed Guantanamo Bay for other destinations, including Albania, Algeria, Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belgium, Bermuda, Chad, Denmark, Egypt, France, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Palau, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Spain, Sweden, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom and Yemen.

Eight detainees were transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Algeria under the previous Administration. As of Friday, 196 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay.

Preceding provided by U.S. Justice Department

Napolitano, Europeans discuss airline safety upgrades

January 23, 2010 1 comment

TOLEDO, Spain (Press Release)—Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday traveled to Toledo, Spain, at the invitation of her Spanish colleague, Interior Minister Alfredo Rubalcaba, to meet with her European counterparts regarding ways to bolster international aviation security measures and standards.

“The attempted terrorist attack on Dec. 25 threatened the lives of individuals from 17 foreign countries, including more than 100 citizens of European nations,” said Secretary Napolitano. “The international dimensions of this incident—and the international threat posed by radical extremism—require an international response to strengthen global aviation security measures.”

In Toledo, Secretary Napolitano stressed the need for collaborative international action to prevent terrorists from boarding commercial aircraft during meetings with ministers from more than 30 countries—the first in a series of global meetings intended to bring about broad consensus on enhancing international aviation security standards and procedures.

Secretary Napolitano also emphasized the Obama administration’s commitment to strengthening information sharing about terrorists and other dangerous people with international partners. In 2009, DHS, the Department of Justice, and the Department of State worked together to forge agreements to prevent and combat crime with Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. These agreements allow for the exchange of biometric and biographic data to bolster counterterrorism and law enforcement efforts while ensuring privacy protections.

 Secretary Napolitano later traveled to Geneva to meet with members of the International Air Transport Association—which represents approximately 230 airlines and more than 90 percent of the world’s air traffic—as part of the Department’s efforts to work with the airline industry to ensure all flights to the U.S. meet both international and U.S. Transportation Security Administration security standards now and in the future. She will met with officials from the International Civil Aviation Organization in Geneva on these issues.

Earlier this month, Secretary Napolitano dispatched Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary for Policy David Heyman and other senior Department officials to meet with government leaders and major international airport executives in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and South America to review airport security procedures and work on ways to collectively bolster our tactics for defeating terrorists.

Preceding provided by Department of Homeland Security