* At least eight Israelis murdered and many injured today in a series of well-planned terrorist attacks organized from Gaza, reportedly with Egyptian complicity. Many other Israeli lives saved by the alertness and bravery of an Israeli bus driver.
* Terror continues this evening: Two critically wounded by fresh gunfire within the last hour, over 8 hours after terror attacks on southern Israel began. Within the last few minutes, the Iron Dome defense system intercepts a rocket fired from Gaza at the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
* I would like to applaud my friend David Horovitz, the recently retired editor of the Jerusalem Post, for hanging up the phone in a discussion on BBC World Service radio after repeated justifications by invited BBC guests of the unprovoked murder, today, of Israeli civilians.
* Tom Gross: Gunning down working class Israeli civilians traveling by bus on their way to their vacation is as much murder as gunning down Norwegian teenagers.
* Israeli media report two children among the dead today, and many more injured.
* Amazing: The EU calls it a “terror” attack.
* Michael Rubin: If the unholy alliance between the Egyptian military and Muslim Brotherhood leads Egyptian security elements to turn a blind eye toward terrorists infiltrating the Sinai peninsula, it could both lead to great insecurity in the region and reinforce the feeling of many Israelis that the land for peace formula which provided the basis for all peace talks since Camp David brings not peace, but greater vulnerability to terrorism.
1. Finally, Obama calls on Assad to step down
2. MEMRI receives $200,000 grant from US State Department
3. Obama’s too late on Assad
4. Islamist terrorist group that killed Sadat resurgent in Egypt
5. Indonesia bans labor to Saudi Arabia after beheading of grandmother
[Note by Tom Gross]
FINALLY, OBAMA CALLS ON ASSAD TO STEP DOWN
As predicted in the dispatch last week, President Obama for the first time today called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, months after Assad began slaughtering his own citizens on an hourly basis.
Obama accused the Syrian government of perpetrating a “sustained onslaught” against its people. A few minutes later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the president in calling for Assad to “get out of the way.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel today also issued a statement calling for Assad to step down.
“Better late than never,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tweeted in response to the announcements by Obama and other Western politicians today.
In fact, Obama’s statement is too little, too late, as Jonathan Tobin points out in the piece below. Over 2,000 pro-democracy protestors have been murdered while Obama dithered, while more than 12,000 have been arrested and thousands more Syrians have fled the country.
Here is today’s full statement by President Obama: www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/08/18/president-obama-future-syria-must-be-determined-its-people-president-bashar-al-assad
I attach four articles below. (I am quoted in the first article.) The third article, about the resurgence of Islamic militancy in Egypt, may provide background context to the terror attacks on Israel today.
-- Tom Gross
MEMRI RECEIVES $200,000 GRANT FROM US STATE DEPARTMENT
MEMRI receives $200,000 grant from US State Department
By Benjamin Weinthal
The Jerusalem Post
August 16, 2011
The US State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has announced a $200,000 grant to the Middle East Media Research Institute.
According to a statement issued by the office of Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, the funds will be used “to conduct a project that documents anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and Holocaust glorification in the Middle East.
“This grant will enable MEMRI to expand its efforts to monitor the media, translate materials into ten languages, analyze trends in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and glorification, and increase distribution of materials through its website and other outlets.”
Rosenthal, who was named President Obama’s anti-Semitism czar in 2009, is responsible for combating and monitoring US-based and global anti-Semitism.
Her office’s work falls under the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the US State Department.
The decision to award MEMRI the grant received widespread praise from European and American Middle East experts. The British-born political commentator Tom Gross told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that “this is not just financially important for MEMRI but it is of enormous symbolic significance in determining what kind of Middle East the rest of the world is hoping for in the wake of the Arab spring.”
“Anti-Semitism is not just an issue for Jews. Its absence is a litmus test for the well-being of a society, and on that count many Arab societies fail miserably,” said Gross.
“The Americans are to be applauded, but it would be even more important if European governments followed suit, given how much funding from Europe to the Middle East over the years, particularly to the Palestinians, has found its way to media outlets and educational organizations that have spread virulent anti-Semitism and incitement to kill Jews,” added Gross, who has written extensively about modern anti-Semitism for the international media.
Noah Pollak, executive director of the Washington-based Emergency Committee for Israel, told the Post on Monday, “It is welcome news that the State Department is choosing to confront, rather than smooth over, anti-Semitism in the Arab world. Hopefully State will soon turn its attention to a similar form of anti-Semitism that is just as prevalent as Holocaust denial: the denial of Jewish history in Israel.
“This form of denial not only attacks Jews and Judaism, but stands in the way of peace by claiming that the ancient Jewish State is a fabrication concocted to justify the modern Jewish State.”
The US State Department noted that “through translations and research, MEMRI aims to inform and educate journalists, government leaders, academia, and the general public about trends in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in the Middle East and South Asia, thus generating awareness and response to these issues. MEMRI is a non-governmental organization based in Washington, DC, whose research is translated into ten languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew.”
Writing on his blog on the website of the Council of Foreign Relations, where he is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Elliott Abrams said: “Hats off to the Department and especially to the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal.
I must acknowledge a special interest here: I sit on MEMRI’s board, and am a member of the US Holocaust Memorial Council.”
Abrams, a former senior director for democracy and human rights, senior director for the Near East, and deputy national security adviser handling Middle East affairs in the George W.
Bush administration, added “it is noteworthy that the grant, by referring to Holocaust denial, clarifies that this is a form of anti-Semitism. These topics are extremely sensitive, dealing as they do with Muslim anti-Semitism, and this helps explain why the US Government has sometimes shied away from confronting the phenomenon.
For this reason as well, the new grant announced by Ms. Rosenthal deserves notice and commendation.”
According to MEMRI’s website, the organization was launched “in February 1998 to inform the debate over US policy in the Middle East” and “is an independent, nonpartisan” NGO with a staff of “over 80 employees worldwide.”
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
Obama’s too late on Assad
By Jonathan Tobin
August 18, 2011
After several months of dithering President Obama has finally issued a call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down. But coming as it does only after Assad seems to have successfully suppressed Syrian protesters in a bloody crackdown, Obama’s statement is clearly too little and too late. Hundreds of Syrians have been slaughtered in the streets while the United States refused to take action or even speak roughly of Assad until recently.
Had the United States come out quickly and forcefully called for Assad’s resignation it might have had some impact on the situation. Certainly, it might have encouraged protesters and soldiers and security personnel who would be asked to kill their fellow countrymen. And it might have led to more pressure from the rest of the Arab world that could have also offset Iran’s all-out push to save their ally. But Obama’s characteristic indecision contributed to Assad’s belief that he was safe from foreign pressure and encouraged him to unleash his armed forces on critics in a manner that wasn’t tried when dictators fell earlier this year in Tunisia and Egypt. No matter what Obama or Secretary of State Clinton said today, the administration’s decision to give Assad a pass earlier this year materially contributed to his bloodstained victory in the streets of Syria.
Though Obama has sought to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world repeatedly throughout his presidency, his inaction on Syria shows he clueless he still is. For too long this administration bought into the myth that Assad’s minority Alawite regime could be pried away from the embrace of its powerful Iranian ally. The intention all along was to bribe the Syrians into joining the Arab moderates. Israel would pay the bribe in the form of the Golan Heights that would be surrendered to Assad’s regime as part of a general peace deal.
But was Assad was never the “moderate” that Obama and Clinton believed him to be. Syria never had any interest in peace with Israel or giving up its alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. Peace with Israel would undermine the dictatorship’s raison d’être and the friendship of a potentially nuclear Iran and its terrorist auxiliaries always struck Assad as more valuable than even that of the United States.
Yet despite the clear signs that Assad was in trouble, both Obama and Clinton clung to their illusions about him being a key to the peace process with which they are obsessed and ignored more sensible advice about taking a tough stance on Syria. In the end, they were forced by the spectacle of Assad’s horrible revenge on his critics (the very same thing that Obama said had motivated him to intervene in Libya) to say what they should have said long ago when it might have made a difference.
Rather than enhance the chances of peace or win friends in the Arab world what Obama and Clinton have done is to help keep in place one of the men who are the prime obstacles to Middle East peace and sent Syrian protesters the message that you can’t count on the United States.
ISLAMIST TERRORIST GROUP THAT KILLED SADAT RESURGENT IN EGYPT
Islamist militant group resurgent in Egypt
Report by CNN
August 15, 2011
El Arish, Egypt (CNN) -- The town of el Arish in Egypt sits on the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean, its fine beaches lined by palm-trees. Developers have built luxury resorts close to this town of about 100,000 people.
But in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, el Arish is becoming known for something far different from tourism. A well-armed jihadist group is making its presence felt on the dusty streets here, intimidating opponents and demanding Egypt becomes an Islamist state.
On a scorching hot day late in July, several dozen people were demonstrating outside the al Nasr mosque in el Arish after Friday prayers. They were Salafists - conservative Islamists who want Egypt governed according to Islamic law. But not conservative enough for members of the Takfir-wal Higra - a group sympathetic to al Qaeda’s goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate.
Mohamed Mahmoud, who was among the protestors, recalls what happened that day. “The Takfiris stormed in by the hundreds mounted on pickup trucks and motorcycles waving black flags, a symbol of Jihad,” he told CNN from a safe house not far from el Arish.
“The militants were heavily armed with machine guns, hand grenades and rocked-propelled grenades,” he said.
“They attacked two police stations and scared the residents under the name of Jihad. We only call for Jihad if someone attacks our Islamic country or people,” added Mahmoud.
The head of security in North Sinai, General Saleh al Masry, told CNN that Takfir-wal-Higra had become active during the revolution that led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak.
“The terrorists were joined by members of Palestinian factions and they are currently being questioned by military intelligence. We arrested 12 assailants including three Palestinians,” General al Masry said.
“I guarantee there is no al Qaeda presence in Sinai but the Takfiris are in the thousands,” he added.
“They are definitely organized but we have not identified their Emir or leaders yet. There is a possibility he may have been released among those granted amnesty during the revolution,” Al Masry added.
But at least some of them appear to identify with al Qaeda.
One flyer distributed to residents of el Arish calling for an Islamic state was labeled: “A statement from al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula.”
It described Islam as the only religion of truth and goes on to criticize the Camp David agreement which led to the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
“I was handed this paper by one of the men who covered their faces with scarves during the protest,” Ahmed Amr told CNN.
Seven people were killed in clashes that Friday - including civilians, police and army officers and one Palestinian.
Dozens of injured people were taken to El-Arish hospital - as were two of the dead, including a Palestinian who appears to have been among the Takfiri.
The manager of the hospital morgue, Iraqi Mohamed, told CNN that three men with their faces covered stormed into the morgue and retrieved the body of the dead Palestinian.
“They had a Palestinian accent so I did not resist them,” he said.
For neighboring Israel, the lack of state authority in Sinai is becoming a source of anxiety. The gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel that runs through Sinai has been sabotaged several times this year.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a Knesset committee recently that Egypt was having difficulty exercising its sovereignty over Sinai.
“We saw this in the two gas pipe explosions that occurred there,” Netanyahu said. “What’s happening in Sinai is that global terrorist organizations are meddling there and their presence is increasing because of the connection between Sinai and Gaza.”
Gaza is run by radical Palestinian faction Hamas and in the last year or so has seen the emergence of several hardline Salafist groups that associate themselves with al Qaeda.
Palestinians have arrived in El-Arish in growing numbers since the Egyptian government opened the frontier crossing with Gaza some 40 kilometers away.
Many of them arrive legally - looking for a better life away from the poverty and tension in Gaza. But a few appear to be linked with Takfir-wal Higra.
Bedouin smugglers who control the majority of underground tunnels into Gaza were not happy to learn that Palestinians were among the attackers.
Mohamed Younis, one of the tunnel operators, told CNN: “I charge 50 dollars to smuggle them in for trade purposes in coordination with Hamas on the other side. After the attack we have banned any Palestinians from coming through. We are trying to bring peace to the area and don’t need trouble.”
Takfir-wal Higra was founded by Shukri Mustafa in the 1970s as a splinter group of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its austere philosophy included isolation from society and rejection of the Egyptian state. In many ways it was in line with the views of the current al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, who was then a radical Islamist trying to overthrow the Egyptian state
To discover more about Takfir-wal Higra I was taken by Bedouin smugglers to an area called Wadi Amr, just two kilometers from the Israeli border. I agreed to be blindfolded for the drive, which took an hour across the northern Sinai desert.
I was escorted to a tent where two heavily bearded Sheikhs identifying themselves as Abu Abdulla and Abu Mohamed sat on the floor surrounded by armed men.
“This is the first time we speak to a journalist because we want our correct message to reach the masses through foreign media, not our state-run agencies,” said Abu Abdulla.
Abu Mohamed, pouring himself some camel milk, continued.
“We don’t kill innocent women and children and we only carry arms to defend ourselves. The Egyptian government has tortured us and killed members of our tribes in cold blood for years. Thanks to the revolution we are now free and the truth must prevail through the true Islam.”
Abu Abulla praised al Qaeda’s role in Afghanistan.
“Al Qaeda’s Al Zawahiri, and bin Laden’s higra or flight to fight in Afghanistan is totally acceptable Jihad for the sovereignty of a Muslim country attacked by the infidels.”
But he said the group had been vilified by the Salafists.
“The Salafis outright hate us because we do not relate to their methods. They will tell you we drink alcohol, shave our heads and beards to infiltrate Westerners and kill infidels, but this is not right,” he said.
“We follow the beliefs of Prophet Muhamed as a movement that will only bear arms to support the next Caliphate of Islam,” Abu Abdulla said.
Whatever their intentions and beliefs, the Takfiris’ new-found organization and audacity in Sinai adds another dimension to Egypt’s many troubles.
INDONESIA BANS LABOR TO SAUDI ARABIA AFTER BEHEADING OF GRANDMOTHER
Indonesia bans labor to Saudi Arabia after beheading of grandmother
By Irfan Al-Alawi
August 15, 2011
After Saudi Arabia beheaded a 54-year old Indonesian grandmother in June for stabbing her Saudi employer to death, Indonesia declared a moratorium on the migration of its nationals for domestic employment in the desert kingdom, effective August 1. Although the two countries were to adopt a bilateral agreement for protection of Indonesian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia this year, no such document has been signed.
Ruyati Binti Satubi, a household worker from West Java, was executed for murder after she confessed slaying the man who had contracted her. The Indonesian migrant, who has three children, said she killed her employer because she was denied permission to return to her native land.
Media in Indonesia and elsewhere indicated that Ruyati Binti Satubi had been subjected to other forms of abuse while working in the Saudi home, located in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. Neither the Indonesian authorities nor her family was informed of the death sentence until after it was carried out, an action for which the Saudi regime apologized to Jakarta. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wrote in protest to Saudi King Abdullah after the execution, and the Indonesian authorities followed up with the moratorium on exporting laborers, enforced visibly at airports and through contracting agencies.
The beheading of Ruyati Binti Satubi was only the most recent in a series of shocking cases involving Indonesian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. In April, Saudi authorities overturned a three-year prison sentence against a 53-year old Saudi woman in Medina, for “torture” in the beating and burning of her 23-year old maid, Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa.
That incident, like the execution of Ruyati Binti Satubi, caused widespread protest in Indonesia, as well as increased reluctance to undergo the risks of working in Saudi Arabia, which Indonesian workers described as “horror stories.” Indonesian media report that the flow of migrant workers to the kingdom had already decreased by 30 percent in the first quarter of this year. With imposition of the August labour embargo, Indonesia was expected to lose $350 million worth of income.
Some 20 Indonesians, mainly women, are said to face capital punishment in Saudi Arabia.
Indonesian officials say that 370,000 of their citizens went to work in Saudi Arabia in 2010. Of these, more than 90 percent are employed in the so-called “informal sector,” that is, paid in cash, without record-keeping or government oversight. British media state, however, that 1.5 million Indonesians are working in Saudi Arabia. Complaints of physical abuse and murder of Indonesian domestic servants by Saudis have produced hundreds of cases, but like other emigrant labourers in Saudi Arabia, Indonesians have no rights.
Indonesia had imposed new regulations on the employment of emigrants to Saudi Arabia, under which the Saudi employee would be required to earn at least $2,800 per month, and the number of family members and layout of the residence would be registered.
Because of the rigid oversight of relations between family and non-family members as dictated by Wahhabism, the Saudi state form of Islam, the kingdom has one of the highest proportions of immigrant laborers in the world; they currently account for 5.5 million out of 26 million people, or 20 percent. Foreign observers describe the Saudi demand for foreign housemaids, drivers, and similar employees as inexhaustible. Saudi subjects are discouraged from such work.
Millions of Pakistanis, Indonesians, Filipinos, South Koreans, and Sri Lankans receive low wages, when not subjected to outright slavery and extreme abuse, while toiling for Saudi masters. Domestic and other low-skill workers live apart from the Anglo-American, other European, and similar foreign technicians who serve the petrochemical and other advanced industries, and who reside in segregated, protected communities that seek to reproduce the conditions in their advanced countries of origin.
While no religion other than Islam is permitted public observance in Saudi Arabia, foreign petrochemical and defence professionals are allowed to hold Christian and other services within their homes. But Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus from the Philippines, South Korea, and Sri Lanka are prohibited from practicing their faiths; and even Pakistani and Indonesian Muslims who work in Saudi Arabia face religious discrimination. For example, preaching in South and Southeast Asian languages in mosques and similar activities are forbidden, as are Sufi observances, popular in Pakistan and Indonesia alike. No other Muslim state imposes such restrictions. Nevertheless, many Muslims are lured to work in the kingdom because of its religious prestige.
With 86 percent of its population of 245 million counted as Muslims, Indonesia has the largest Islamic population of any country in the world. Indonesian domestic workers earn about $200 per month in Saudi Arabia, a wage superior to those an Indonesian migrant villager with a primary-school education would be paid in the east Asian industrialized nations, such as Japan or Taiwan.
At the beginning of August, the official Saudi Arab News announced that two Indonesian women sentenced to beheading would be reprieved and repatriated. Identified only by their first names, Emi was convicted of killing her employer’s child, and Nesi of using “black magic” against her employer. Executions for alleged “witchcraft” are common in the kingdom, which has experienced recurrent panic over “sorcery.”