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Roll call on Gaza flotilla portrays the values of international community

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Israel was victimized twice this week, first by terrorists hiding yet again among the civilian population (one Turkish-sponsored jihadi boat traveling with five more-or-less civilian boats) and second by a world all too ready to blame Israel for the violence engendered by those who sought a bloody death for themselves and any Jews they could take along. By the end of the week, things began to look more normal-those who are already against remained against; those who try to split the difference split it (consider the “abstain” list below); and a few stood honorably above the rest.   

1) Italy, Netherlands and the United States voted against resolution A/HRC/14/L.1, “Grave Attacks by Israeli Forces against the Humanitarian Boat Convoy” in the UN “Human Rights” Council. It is of note that the major Italian newspapers supported Israel editorially as well. In the United States, public opinion ran strongly in Israel’s favor, as usual. 
 
After a nasty and public denunciation of Israel by President Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Kouchner, France abstained, probably reminded that in 1985 French commandos sunk a Greenpeace ship in what was called Opération Satanique. (You know what a threat those satanic environmentalists pose to Paris.) France was joined by Belgium, Burkina Faso, Hungary, Japan, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Ukraine and UK.
 
Voting in favor of the commission whose conclusion is in its title were Angola, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritius, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, and Uruguay. 
 
Surprised?
 
2) President Obama: He almost got it right in a TV interview, but missed the essential point. “You’ve got a situation in which Israel has legitimate security concerns when they’ve got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel-Gaza border. I’ve been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people’s bedrooms. Israel has a legitimate concern there.  On the other hand, you’ve got a blockage up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future.”
 
The President doesn’t know, or didn’t say, that Hamas is responsible both for the attacks on Israel and for the misery of the Palestinians in Gaza. Instead, he wanted to “work with all parties concerned-the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis, the Egyptians and others-and I think Turkey can have a positive voice in this whole process once we’ve worked through this tragedy. And bring everybody together…”
 
Aside from the fact that Turkey is fully complicit in the incident and thus should forfeit any seat at any future table, the Palestinian Authority has not represented Gaza Palestinians since Hamas evicted it in a bloody putsch in 2007. Instead of hoping to “bring everybody together…” the President should be working to evict Hamas from Gaza, for the sake of the Palestinians as much as anyone else.
 
3) The Czech Republic: Small countries that know what it means to disappear when others find them inconvenient stick together and we are grateful that they do. The President of the Czech Senate, Dr. Přemysl Sobotka, told Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, “As a doctor, I certainly regret any loss of life, but there is no doubt that this was a planned provocation designed to drag Israel into a trap… Many in the European community feel as I do, but they are afraid to speak out publicly… I support the position that views Hamas as a terrorist organization… It is too bad that European countries present an unbalanced position on this matter. Unfortunately, the positions of the international community are not always to my taste, particularly in Europe.”
 
We are reminded that 18 months ago, the Czech foreign minister issued this statement: “I consider it unacceptable that villages in which civilians live have been shelled. Therefore, Israel has an inalienable right to defend itself against such attacks. The shelling from the Hamas side makes it impossible to consider this organization as a partner for negotiations and to lead any political dialogue with it.”
 
And finally…
 
4) Mesheberach: During the Jewish Sabbath service, there is a prayer is for those who are ill or injured.   The “Mesheberach” includes the name of the person for whom the prayer is offered and, in an unusual practice, the name of the person’s mother rather than his or her father. Whether in the synagogue or not, we hope readers will remember the six soldiers injured while protecting the people of Israel:

Dean Ben (son of) Svetlana
Roee Ben (son of) Shulamit
Daniel Lazar Ben (son of) Tina Leah
Yotam Ben (son of) Dorit
Ido Ben (son of) Ilana
Boris Ben (son of) Eelaina

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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.

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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.

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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

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.”
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1263147943073&agename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

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.https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/rawdata_2172.text

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.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

The Jews Down Under

November 15, 2009 Leave a comment

garry fabian-SMALLSIZEA Roundup of Australian Jewish News

By Garry Fabian

ECAJ calls for compassion on asylum seekers

SYDNEY- While reconciling Australia’s obligations under international refugee laws with the need for proper screening might prove a difficult balancing act for the
federal Government, the Jewish community has called for asylum seekers to be processed “expeditiously” and “in a spirit of compassion.”

A statement on asylum seekers from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) last week also called on the Rudd Government to “to work
constructively with other governments and appropriate non-government organisations to ameliorate the plight of refugees around the world and in Australia”.

It called on the Government “to implement in good faith and with humanity, Australia’s important legal and moral obligations” on refugees.

The ECAJ statement drew on the recent history of world Jewry in highlighting that “especially prior to, but also during and immediately after World War II, many thousands of Jewish refugees attempting to flee persecution in Europe were
denied entry into other countries or [were] forced to engage ‘smugglers’ to try to escape to freedom”.

The ECAJ stated that the International Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951, to which Australia is a signatory, “came into existence in belated recognition by the international community of the great wrong that had been done by civilised nations in refusing to grant asylum to Jewish refugees fleeing from Europe prior to and during World War II.”

More broadly, ECAJ president Robert Goot called on Australians to discuss asylum seekers in a considered and respectful manner and avoid resorting to “pejorative generalisations”, which he said are unhelpful and can be misleading and unfair.

Wide selection at Jewish Film Festival

MELBOURNE and SYDNEY– The Festival of Jewish Cinema’s 2009 program kicks off on a decidedly light note with the quirky fish-out-of-water tale, A Matter of Size.

From co-directors Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor, the film follows four overweight friends and their quest to find their place in the world.

Resigned to an endless regime of diets and fitness groups, the friends stumble upon the one place that accepts them for who they are — the world of Israeli sumo wrestling.

The festival opens in Sydney on November 11 at Bondi Junction and in Melbourne on November 12 at ACMI Cinemas, Federation Square and the Classic Cinema, Elsternwick.

A Touch Away is one of Israel’s best-kept secrets. A riveting drama series produced for the small screen, the series follows two families in a religious suburb of Tel Aviv. One is ultra Orthodox and the other is a newly arrived secular Russian family.

The powerful, confronting eight-part series broke ratings records in Israel and will be screened in two parts as an encore presentation.

Acne is an offbeat coming-of-age tale about a bar mitzvah-age boy who is beginning to awaken sexually. Set in Montevideo, Uruguay, Rafa has
lost his virginity, but has never kissed a girl.

His efforts to do so are thwarted by bad skin, an interfering Jewish community and his parents’ messy divorce. A charming outsider tale, Acne‘s
sexually charged plot will likely divide audiences, but it’s a romp not to be missed.

One of the picks of the festival is Adam Resurrected, starring stalwart Jeff Goldblum and based on the novel of the same name.

Goldblum plays Adam Stein, a former Berlin magician, who used his talents to survive the horrors of the Holocaust.

Forbidden love in the Orthodox community is examined in the contoversial feature Eyes Wide Open. The film focuses on the gay realtionship between a father of four and his younger shop assistant, and is sure to divide audiences.

French film Hello Goodbye stars two of the country’s iconic figures: Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant. A middle-upper-class French couple
uproots and makes aliyah in the hope of re-discovering their Jewish identity.

The mid-life sea change swings into action after their son’s decision to marry out in this romantic comedy.

Other films to look out for include From My Father, a love story about the relationship between a Palestinian and an Israeli; Cycles, which looks at four different generations of a French Jewish family; and Slovakian Holocaust drama Broken Promise.

Being Jewish in France is a documentary about Jewish lie in the European country from the Dreyfus Affair to the rise of anti-Semitism in modern France.

Other documentaries in the program include Inside Hana’s Suitcase, about a group of present-day Japanese students that unravel the mystery of a
young Auschwitz inmate; Killing Kasztner, which looks at the controversial figure Israel Kasztnerwho saved nearly 2000 Hungarian Jews
during the Holocaust; and Operation Moses, which tlls the story of the emergency evacuation of Ehiopian Jews to Israel during the 1970s and ’80s.

Australian filmmakers are also well represented inthe documentary section of the festival. Leave the Stone’s Throw is a documentary by journalist
Julie Szego, who details her struggle to accept the legacy of the Holocaust in her family, while Israeli documentaries A History of Israeli Cinema, Z32 and the Tunisia/France co-production The Wedding Song are also featured.

In the 20th anniversary retrospective section is From Hell to Hell, a film about the events leading up to the Kielce Pogrom in Poland in 1946,
German political thriller The Giraffe Mechugge) — from the producers of Run Lola Run, Khroustaliov and My Car — about Stalin’s
infamous Doctor’s Plot to get rid of Jewish doctors,Dutch film Left Luggage about a secular Jewish girl in Antwerp who takes a job with an Orthodox
family and the brilliant Phyllis and Harold, a film about the family of artist Cindy Kleine, are also in the retrospective.


Pilger continues diatribe on Israel

SYDNEY– Peace Prize winner John Pilger launched a scathing attack on the
media’s coverage of Israel during a lecture at the Sydney Opera House on Thursday night.

Speaking before a capacity audience in the concert hall, Pilger, a journalist, author and filmmaker, criticised the Australian media for its “modern propaganda”, particularly when it came to coverage of the Gaza war.

“In no other democratic country is the discussion of the brutal occupation of Palestine as limited as it is in Australia,” he said to applause. “Are we aware of the sheer scale of the crime against humanity in Gaza? Twenty nine members of one
family – babies, grannies – are gunned down, blown up, buried alive, their home bulldozed.”

He urged the audience to read the Goldstone Commission Report, stressing the point that it was written by “Jewish judge” Richard Goldstone.

“Those who speak from the article of freedom are working hard to bury the United Nations report. For only one nation, Israel, has the right to exist in the Middle East, only one nation has the right to attack others, only one nation has the
impunity to run a racist apartheid regime with the approval of the western world, and with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia fawning over its leaders.”

Pilger also criticised United States President Barack Obama for “stepping up [George W Bush’s] wars and starting his own war in Pakistan”.

“Like Bush, [Obama] is threatening Iran, a country Hillary Clinton said she was ‘prepared to annihilate’. Iran’s crime is its independence . Iran is the only resource-rich Muslim country beyond American control. It doesn’t occupy anyone
else’s land and it hasn’t attacked any country, unlike Israel, which is nuclear-armed and dominates and provides for the Middle East on America’s behalf.”

The Sydney Peace Prize is the only international peace prize awarded in Australia.

The citation for the Sydney Peace Prize refers to significant contributions to “peace with justice”, awarded to an organisation or individual “who has made significant contributions to global peace”.

Past recipients of the prize have included Professor Muhammad Yanus, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

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American professor to bring Talmudic guidance down under

MELBOURNE–What guidance does the Talmud have for ethical decisions on space travel or human cloning? Plenty, according to Professor Laurie Zoloth.

Prof Zoloth is professor of religion and Jewish studies at Chicago’s Northwestern University and is also the director of the university’s Centre for Bioethics, Science and Society.

She will be in Australia next week to take part in Hadassah Australia’s stem-cell awareness week of activities, together with her colleagues in science, Professor Alan Trounson and Professor Ben Reubinoff.

A secular ethicist, Prof Zoloth served for two-and-a-half terms as the sole philosopher on NASA’s National Advisory Council, one of the highest positions a civilian can hold.

Today she chairs the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Bioethics Advisory Board, and serves on NASA’s planetary protection advisory committee and the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

Like a lawyer, Prof Zoloth draws precedents from classical texts, including Jewish ones.

“It is one of many traditions that I use. If there’s a really good argument that emerges from the Orthodox or halachic texts, I bring it in,” she said.

Indeed, much of talmudic teaching is highly resonant with the aspirations of science. “The rabbinical position is that much is permitted in order to learn,” she explained.

Prof Zoloth is renowned by her peers for her rigorous intellect.

“She is very demanding and articulate,” said Prof Trounson, the Australian scientist who since 2008 has been president of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), and a guest speaker at Hadassah Australia’s dinner next week.

“If you say something that requires a better philosophical or scientific underpinning, she’ll challenge you,” he said. “I don’t always agree with her, but it’s always intellectually satisfying,” Prof Trounson added.

Prof Zoloth’s visit is timely, with a review of Australia’s human embryos and cloning legislation imminent.

Her visit also coincides with a major shift in the scientific and ethical landscape of stem-cell research.

Since 2007, researchers have learnt how to avoid the use of embryos altogether in the making of embryonic stem cells. Skin cells can be turned directly into embryonic stem cells – cells that could provide a patient with a limitless supply
of matched tissue to treat diabetes, blindness, bone-marrow disease, skin diseases and neurodegenerative disease.

According to Prof Trounson, CIRM is now funding translational studies in these areas ­ meaning in the next four years stem cells will be making their way out of the lab and into the clinic.

Another guest speaker at the dinner, Hadassah University Hospital’s Prof Reubinoff, is one of the pioneers of that journey.

Working together with neurologist Tamir Ben Hur at Jerusalem’s Hadassah, Prof Reubinoff ­ who worked with Prof Trounson at Monash University ­ is using embryonic stem cells to treat macular degeneration and multiple sclerosis.

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