Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

Egyptian beats pregnant wife to death for not voting for Morsi (& Putin prays in Jerusalem)

June 26, 2012

* Vladimir Putin prays at Jerusalem’s Western Wall at 2 am this morning

* Jewish anti-Semites arrested for spraying the graffiti at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum that “thanked” Hitler for the “wonderful Holocaust”

***

(You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please first press “Like” on that page.)

 

Vladimir Putin and Shimon Peres at a ceremony yesterday in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya inaugurating a monument commemorating the Red Army's triumph over Nazi Germany

 

CONTENTS

1. Egyptian beats pregnant wife to death for not voting for Morsi
2. Man killed and young girls badly wounded by Hamas gunmen celebrating Morsi’s victory
3. Will Egypt’s military prove a “moderating factor”?
4. “Elections are meaningless if the only choices are corrupt authoritarians and Islamists”
5. Vladimir Putin’s 2 am visit to the Western Wall today
6. Men from breakaway Ultra-Orthodox sect arrested for Hitler Holocaust graffiti
7. More on Alice Walker
8. Rebecca Walker: “How my mother’s fanatical views tore us apart” (Daily Mail)


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

EGYPTIAN BEATS PREGNANT WIFE TO DEATH FOR NOT VOTING FOR MORSI

The following news item is from Al Arabiya, one of the leading Arabic news services. I have made minor amendments to the text below from its website, to slightly improve the English:

Egyptian beats pregnant wife to death for not voting for Morsi
June 24, 2012
By Yasmin Helal
Al Arabiya

english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/06/24/222413.html

An Egyptian plumber in Alexandria beat his pregnant wife to death after learning that she had not voted for Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian daily al-Wafd reported on Sunday.

According to police reports, the initial argument between the couple, who were not named, escalated into violence, despite the wife’s pleas. Battered and bruised, she was reported to have died at the hospital from the injuries she sustained.

Egyptian news bulletins have been dominated by news of domestic fights after the election run-off came down to the two most feared and most controversial candidates, Morsi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

 

MAN KILLED AND YOUNG GIRLS BADLY WOUNDED BY HAMAS GUNMEN CELEBRATING MORSI’S VICTORY

A 25-year old Palestinian man was accidentally shot dead and two young girls were seriously wounded by Hamas gunmen celebrating Mohammed Morsi’s victory with live ammunition on the streets of Gaza City.

Morsi, a 62-year-old U.S.-trained engineer, was declared president by Egypt’s powerful electoral commission on Sunday, a week after polls closed in a tight contest with Ahmed Shafiq, a former regime insider, who is close to Egypt’s military establishment.

Morsi is an Islamist leader from the long-suppressed Muslim Brotherhood. His victory may mark a dramatic turning point for the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Many in Egypt and abroad, who fear Islamist leadership will lead to a state governed by Islamic law, dismiss the characterization by some Western journalists of the Muslim Brotherhood as having “conservative” and “reform” wings, arguing that the entire organization is deeply ideological. They also point out that Morsi himself was the author of the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-women, anti-Coptic “Draft Platform” a few years ago, which envisaged an Iranian-style system, in which clerics would have a veto over “un-Islamic” laws.

Morsi also previously founded the “Committee to Fight the Zionist Project”.

 

WILL EGYPT’S MILITARY PROVE A “MODERATING FACTOR”?

There is hope among some in Egypt and the West that the military will prove to be a “moderating factor” in the way that Turkey’s military used to be in the pre-Erdogan years in Turkey.

However, Middle East expert Robert Satloff says “It would be a grave error to fixate on the obstacles the army has put in the way of the Islamists without appreciating the latter’s remarkable ability to fill any political vacuum they are permitted to fill – first, by stepping into Tahrir Square to inherit a revolution waged by secularists, second, by trouncing all comers in winning three-quarters of the seats in parliamentary elections, and third, by taking the presidency. At every point in the past seventeen months, when Egypt’s Islamists have faced a political challenge, they have triumphed.

“While confirmation of Morsi’s victory may spare Egypt a potentially violent faceoff between Islamists and the military, the shockwaves will be felt across the Middle East. This ranges from the wilderness of Sinai, where more-violent Islamists will push the Ikhwani leader toward confrontation with Israel; to the suburbs of Aleppo and Damascus, where the Morsi example will be a fillip to Islamists fighting Alawite rule; to the capitals of numerous Arab states, especially the monarchies, where survivalist leaders mortified by the prospect that Islamist revolutions could trump their claims of religious legitimacy will double-down on their velvet-glove/iron-fist strategies to fend off the fervor for change.”

 

“ELECTIONS ARE MEANINGLESS IF THE ONLY CHOICES ARE CORRUPT AUTHORITARIANS AND ISLAMISTS”

Commentator Jonathan Tobin notes on the Contentions website:

“As the Bush administration learned when it attempted to foster Palestinian democracy, elections are meaningless if the only choices are corrupt authoritarians and Islamists. That is just as true today in Egypt when it comes to the military and the Muslim Brotherhood as it was for the Palestinians when their options were Fatah and Hamas. When those opposed to democracy win elections, the result is not democracy.

“While the attempt to market the Brotherhood as moderates is meeting with some resistance in the West, it will be just as important for the Obama administration not to get tricked into viewing Morsi as a free agent who can be peeled away from his party, as today’s New York Times dispatch from Cairo hinted. Morsi’s resignation from the group yesterday is meaningless. Any American wooing of this ideologue will only give his party undeserved credibility and make it even harder for either the military or the small groups of genuine Egyptian liberals to resist the Brotherhood’s first attempts to remake the nation in their own image.

“It bears repeating that there are no good choices available to the United States in Egypt. President Obama has been woefully remiss in attempting to promote democracy, a policy that he seems to associate with the George W. Bush administration and therefore something to be avoided. There are not enough genuine liberals in Egypt, meaning the only real options are the military and the Brotherhood. America should choose neither.”

 

VLADIMIR PUTIN’S 2 AM VISIT TO THE WESTERN WALL TODAY

Russian President Vladimir Putin, this morning at 2 am, visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall, accompanied by Western Wall and Holy Places Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich and Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar. The Russian President approached the stones, offered a short prayer and recited Psalms from a Russian-Hebrew prayer book. He said that he came in the night in order that he might have some privacy.

Afterwards, he toured the Western Wall tunnels, and said that his visit enhanced his understanding of the site and its links to the Jewish People.

Later this morning, Putin met with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah and Bethlehem after spending yesterday in Israel. Little was revealed about the substance of private talks between Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday, but the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons program was high on the agenda.

Putin is traveling with an entourage of over 300 people, including government officials, advisers and journalists.

The Palestinians view the Putin visit as particularly important, given the fact that the U.S. has been largely absent from policy-making in the Middle East recently. However, referring to renewed Palestinian attempts to gain statehood unilaterally at the UN without first agreeing borders and other issues with Israel, a member of Putin’s staff told the Israeli media that Putin had advised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “not to take unilateral steps.”

 

MEN FROM BREAKAWAY ULTRA-ORTHODOX SECT ARRESTED FOR HITLER HOLOCAUST GRAFFITI

Three ultra-Orthodox Jewish men were arrested this morning on suspicion of spraying the graffiti at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum last week that shocked many people around the world, in which Hitler was “thanked” for the Holocaust.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the three men were from Jerusalem, Ashdod and Bnei Brak, aged 18, 26 and 37.

The graffiti, which was spray painted in large letters in Hebrew, read: “Thank you Hitler for your wonderful Holocaust that you arranged for us, it’s only because of you that we got a state at the UN.”

Several ultra-Orthodox breakaway sects do not believe a Jewish state should exist without the appearance of the Messiah. The best-known of these groups is the Hamas- and Ahmadinejad-supporting group Neturei Karta. Rosenfeld said all three suspects were from that group.

Their anti-Zionism is so vehement that, just like the anti-Zionism of some extreme left-wing Jews, their campaigns frequently spill over into outright anti-Semitism.

Another piece of graffiti left by the group that day praised German poet Günter Grass, who was making news at the time for a highly controversial poem which was criticized by many as anti-Semitic.

 

MORE ON ALICE WALKER

I received an unusually large amount of correspondence about my dispatch last week which led with an item on Alice Walker, and many journalists on this email list subsequently wrote about the matter.

The Commentator asked me to adapt the dispatch into an article, which can be read here.

Among several news outlets that quote me on this is The Los Angeles Times.

Several people also sent me the article below, by Alice Walker’s daughter Rebecca. Rebecca, whose father (Alice Walker’s ex husband) is Jewish, has had a very public estrangement with her mother, mainly over feminism. But they also feel out over her mother’s attitudes to Jews.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]


REBECCA WALKER: HOW MY MOTHER’S FANATICAL VIEWS TORE US APART

How my mother’s fanatical views tore us apart
By Rebecca Walker
Daily Mail (London)
May 23, 2008

www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1021293/How-mothers-fanatical-feminist-views-tore-apart-daughter-The-Color-Purple-author.html

She’s revered as a trail-blazing feminist and author Alice Walker touched the lives of a generation of women. A champion of women’s rights, she has always argued that motherhood is a form of servitude. But one woman didn’t buy in to Alice’s beliefs - her daughter, Rebecca, 38.

Here the writer describes what it was like to grow up as the daughter of a cultural icon, and why she feels so blessed to be the sort of woman 64-year-old Alice despises - a mother.

The other day I was vacuuming when my son came bounding into the room. ‘Mummy, Mummy, let me help,’ he cried. His little hands were grabbing me around the knees and his huge brown eyes were looking up at me. I was overwhelmed by a huge surge of happiness.

Maternal rift: Rebecca Walker, whose mother was the feminist author of The Color Purple - who thought motherhood a form of servitude, is now proud to be a mother herself

I love the way his head nestles in the crook of my neck. I love the way his face falls into a mask of eager concentration when I help him learn the alphabet. But most of all, I simply love hearing his little voice calling: ‘Mummy, Mummy.’

It reminds me of just how blessed I am. The truth is that I very nearly missed out on becoming a mother - thanks to being brought up by a rabid feminist who thought motherhood was about the worst thing that could happen to a woman.

You see, my mum taught me that children enslave women. I grew up believing that children are millstones around your neck, and the idea that motherhood can make you blissfully happy is a complete fairytale.

In fact, having a child has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Far from ‘enslaving’ me, three-and-a-half-year-old Tenzin has opened my world. My only regret is that I discovered the joys of motherhood so late - I have been trying for a second child for two years, but so far with no luck.

I was raised to believe that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. But I strongly feel children need two parents and the thought of raising Tenzin without my partner, Glen, 52, would be terrifying.

As the child of divorced parents, I know only too well the painful consequences of being brought up in those circumstances. Feminism has much to answer for denigrating men and encouraging women to seek independence whatever the cost to their families.

My mother’s feminist principles coloured every aspect of my life. As a little girl, I wasn’t even allowed to play with dolls or stuffed toys in case they brought out a maternal instinct. It was drummed into me that being a mother, raising children and running a home were a form of slavery. Having a career, travelling the world and being independent were what really mattered according to her.

I love my mother very much, but I haven’t seen her or spoken to her since I became pregnant. She has never seen my son - her only grandchild. My crime? Daring to question her ideology.
Well, so be it. My mother may be revered by women around the world - goodness knows, many even have shrines to her. But I honestly believe it’s time to puncture the myth and to reveal what life was really like to grow up as a child of the feminist revolution.

My parents met and fell in love in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. Dad [Mel Leventhal], was the brilliant lawyer son of a Jewish family who had fled the Holocaust. Mum was the impoverished eighth child of sharecroppers from Georgia. When they married in 1967, inter-racial weddings were still illegal in some states.

My early childhood was very happy although my parents were terribly busy, encouraging me to grow up fast. I was only one when I was sent off to nursery school. I’m told they even made me walk down the street to the school.

When I was eight, my parents divorced. From then on I was shuttled between two worlds - my father’s very conservative, traditional, wealthy, white suburban community in New York, and my mother’s avant garde multi-racial community in California. I spent two years with each parent - a bizarre way of doing things.

Ironically, my mother regards herself as a hugely maternal woman. Believing that women are suppressed, she has campaigned for their rights around the world and set up organisations to aid women abandoned in Africa - offering herself up as a mother figure.

But, while she has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities - after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.

My mother would always do what she wanted - for example taking off to Greece for two months in the summer, leaving me with relatives when I was a teenager. Is that independent, or just plain selfish?

I was 16 when I found a now-famous poem she wrote comparing me to various calamities that struck and impeded the lives of other women writers. Virginia Woolf was mentally ill and the Brontes died prematurely. My mother had me - a ‘delightful distraction’, but a calamity nevertheless. I found that a huge shock and very upsetting.

According to the strident feminist ideology of the Seventies, women were sisters first, and my mother chose to see me as a sister rather than a daughter. From the age of 13, I spent days at a time alone while my mother retreated to her writing studio - some 100 miles away. I was left with money to buy my own meals and lived on a diet of fast food.

SISTERS TOGETHER

A neighbour, not much older than me, was deputised to look after me. I never complained. I saw it as my job to protect my mother and never distract her from her writing. It never crossed my mind to say that I needed some time and attention from her.

When I was beaten up at school - accused of being a snob because I had lighter skin than my black classmates - I always told my mother that everything was fine, that I had won the fight. I didn’t want to worry her.

But the truth was I was very lonely and, with my mother’s knowledge, started having sex at 13. I guess it was a relief for my mother as it meant I was less demanding. And she felt that being sexually active was empowering for me because it meant I was in control of my body.

Now I simply cannot understand how she could have been so permissive. I barely want my son to leave the house on a play-date, let alone start sleeping around while barely out of junior school.

A good mother is attentive, sets boundaries and makes the world safe for her child. But my mother did none of those things.

Although I was on the Pill - something I had arranged at 13, visiting the doctor with my best friend - I fell pregnant at 14. I organised an abortion myself. Now I shudder at the memory. I was only a little girl. I don’t remember my mother being shocked or upset. She tried to be supportive, accompanying me with her boyfriend.

Although I believe that an abortion was the right decision for me then, the aftermath haunted me for decades. It ate away at my self-confidence and, until I had Tenzin, I was terrified that I’d never be able to have a baby because of what I had done to the child I had destroyed. For feminists to say that abortion carries no consequences is simply wrong.

As a child, I was terribly confused, because while I was being fed a strong feminist message, I actually yearned for a traditional mother. My father’s second wife, Judy, was a loving, maternal homemaker with five children she doted on.

There was always food in the fridge and she did all the things my mother didn’t, such as attending their school events, taking endless photos and telling her children at every opportunity how wonderful they were.

My mother was the polar opposite. She never came to a single school event, she didn’t buy me any clothes, she didn’t even help me buy my first bra - a friend was paid to go shopping with me. If I needed help with homework I asked my boyfriend’s mother.

Moving between the two homes was terrible. At my father’s home I felt much more taken care of. But, if I told my mother that I’d had a good time with Judy, she’d look bereft - making me feel I was choosing this white, privileged woman above her. I was made to feel that I had to choose one set of ideals above the other.

When I hit my 20s and first felt a longing to be a mother, I was totally confused. I could feel my biological clock ticking, but I felt if I listened to it, I would be betraying my mother and all she had taught me.

I tried to push it to the back of my mind, but over the next ten years the longing became more intense, and when I met Glen, a teacher, at a seminar five years ago, I knew I had found the man I wanted to have a baby with. Gentle, kind and hugely supportive, he is, as I knew he would be, the most wonderful father.

Although I knew what my mother felt about babies, I still hoped that when I told her I was pregnant, she would be excited for me.

‘MUM, I’M PREGNANT’

Instead, when I called her one morning in the spring of 2004, while I was at one of her homes housesitting, and told her my news and that I’d never been happier, she went very quiet. All she could say was that she was shocked. Then she asked if I could check on her garden. I put the phone down and sobbed - she had deliberately withheld her approval with the intention of hurting me. What loving mother would do that?

Worse was to follow. My mother took umbrage at an interview in which I’d mentioned that my parents didn’t protect or look out for me. She sent me an e-mail, threatening to undermine my reputation as a writer. I couldn’t believe she could be so hurtful - particularly when I was pregnant.

Devastated, I asked her to apologise and acknowledge how much she’d hurt me over the years with neglect, withholding affection and resenting me for things I had no control over - the fact that I am mixed-race, that I have a wealthy, white, professional father and that I was born at all.

But she wouldn’t back down. Instead, she wrote me a letter saying that our relationship had been inconsequential for years and that she was no longer interested in being my mother. She even signed the letter with her first name, rather than ‘Mom’.

That was a month before Tenzin’s birth in December 2004, and I have had no contact with my mother since. She didn’t even get in touch when he was rushed into the special care baby unit after he was born suffering breathing difficulties.

And I have since heard that my mother has cut me out of her will in favour of one of my cousins. I feel terribly sad - my mother is missing such a great opportunity to be close to her family. But I’m also relieved. Unlike most mothers, mine has never taken any pride in my achievements. She has always had a strange competitiveness that led her to undermine me at almost every turn.

When I got into Yale - a huge achievement - she asked why on earth I wanted to be educated at such a male bastion. Whenever I published anything, she wanted to write her version - trying to eclipse mine. When I wrote my memoir, “Black, White And Jewish,” my mother insisted on publishing her version. She finds it impossible to step out of the limelight, which is extremely ironic in light of her view that all women are sisters and should support one another.

It’s been almost four years since I have had any contact with my mother, but it’s for the best - not only for my self-protection but for my son’s well-being. I’ve done all I can to be a loyal, loving daughter, but I can no longer have this poisonous relationship destroy my life.

I know many women are shocked by my views. They expect the daughter of Alice Walker to deliver a very different message. Yes, feminism has undoubtedly given women opportunities. It’s helped open the doors for us at schools, universities and in the workplace. But what about the problems it’s caused for my contemporaries?

WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

The ease with which people can get divorced these days doesn’t take into account the toll on children. That’s all part of the unfinished business of feminism.

Then there is the issue of not having children. Even now, I meet women in their 30s who are ambivalent about having a family. They say things like: ‘I’d like a child. If it happens, it happens.’ I tell them: ‘Go home and get on with it because your window of opportunity is very small.’ As I know only too well.

Then I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a PhD or becoming a partner in a law firm, and they missed out on having a family. Thanks to the feminist movement, they discounted their biological clocks. They’ve missed the opportunity and they’re bereft.

Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.

But far from taking responsibility for any of this, the leaders of the women’s movement close ranks against anyone who dares to question them - as I have learned to my cost. I don’t want to hurt my mother, but I cannot stay silent. I believe feminism is an experiment, and all experiments need to be assessed on their results. Then, when you see huge mistakes have been paid, you need to make alterations.

I hope that my mother and I will be reconciled one day. Tenzin deserves to have a grandmother. But I am just so relieved that my viewpoint is no longer so utterly coloured by my mother’s.

I am my own woman and I have discovered what really matters - a happy family.


Alice Walker refuses to allow her book to appear in Hebrew (& notes on Euro 2012)

June 19, 2012

* Tom Gross: For a writer to boycott an entire language is virtually unprecedented

* Despite anti-Semitism of some fans and players, European soccer body UEFA refuses calls to boycott Israel, announces Israel will host 2013 European under-21 competition

* Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt, on a visit to Israel yesterday: Google’s development centers in Israel are among the most efficient in the world. “We love Israel,” he said

* Another tech giant, Facebook, yesterday buys Israeli startup Face.com for an estimated $100 million

* MasterCard reveals Tel Aviv is now the fifth most visited city in Middle East and Africa

* Israeli tops world’s most beautiful woman list

***

This dispatch contains a number of “human interest” stories, including several about soccer.

(You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.)

 

Update (June 21)

The Commentator asked me to adapt this dispatch into an article.

Among several news outlets that quote me on this is The Los Angeles Times.

 

Bar Refaeli

 

CONTENTS

1. Alice Walker refuses to allow her book to appear in Hebrew
2. MasterCard ranks Tel Aviv as fifth most visited city in Middle East and Africa
3. Abby Joseph Cohen: Israel is a “high tech superpower”
4. Google chairman Eric Schmidt: Israel is a “high tech miracle”
5. Facebook to buy Israeli startup Face.com for an estimated $100 million
6. European soccer body refuses call to shun Israel, announces Israel will host 2013 competition
7. Netanyahu injured playing soccer at joint Jewish-Arab youth match
8. Argentinean soccer club loses points over anti-Semitic chants
9. “On sidelines of Euro 2012, anti-Semitism is alive and kicking”
10. Israeli tops world’s most beautiful woman list


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

ALICE WALKER REFUSES TO ALLOW HER BOOK TO APPEAR IN HEBREW

American writer Alice Walker has refused permission for her prize-winning book The Color Purple to be newly translated into Hebrew, citing what she incorrectly called Israel’s “apartheid state.”

In a letter sent last week to Yediot Books in Tel Aviv (which is owned by Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper), Walker said she would not allow the publication of the book in Hebrew. The letter was yesterday placed on the website of the (Western-staffed and funded) “Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel”.

In 1985, The Color Purple, which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, was turned into a feature film directed by famed Jewish film director Steven Spielberg. The film was nominated for 11 Oscars.

For a writer to boycott an entire language is virtually unprecedented.

In recent years, Walker traveled to Gaza where she was warmly welcomed by the zealots of Hamas and reportedly had nothing to say about their subjugation of Gazans in general, and of Palestinian women in particular, nor about their mistreatment of minorities.

Last year, Walker told Foreign Policy magazine that Israel was “a terrorist organization,” as I noted in this dispatch.

(There was a previous version of The Color Purple translated into Hebrew in the 1980s.)

 

MASTERCARD SAYS TEL AVIV NOW FIFTH MOST VISITED CITY IN MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

As tourism to Israel reaches record levels, the annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, which charts visitor traffic and tourist spending in 132 cities around the world, has said that Tel Aviv now ranks as the fifth most visited city in the Middle East and Africa.

It is believed that an estimated 2.5 million tourists will visit Tel Aviv this year, spending approximately $3.5 billion dollars there.

All the authorities in Israel need to do now to further increase tourism is allow far more affordable hotels to be built, to construct a proper railway line between the center of Tel Aviv and the center of Jerusalem (unlike the slow, round-about line that exists at present) and to allow public transport to operate fully on Saturdays throughout Israel.

For the second year in a row, London was named the world’s top destination city by the MasterCard index.

 

ABBY JOSEPH COHEN: ISRAEL IS A “HIGH TECH SUPERPOWER”

Abby Joseph Cohen, the highly-regarded senior strategist at Goldman Sachs, said that Israel and the U.S. top the global high tech table.

“We’re used to seeing China and India as future technological superpowers but that’s a mistake,” she said last week.

“Those two countries don’t have high tech in the Israeli and U.S. sense. China and India manufacture products requiring relatively simple technology, and a cheap workforce, and not products with high added value. Within the context of advanced technology, the U.S. and Israel are top of the table and that’s an excellent reason for optimism.”

Also high on the list, she said, were Switzerland and Germany.

 

GOOGLE CHAIRMAN ERIC SCHMIDT: ISRAEL IS A “HIGH TECH MIRACLE”

The chairman of Google Eric Schmidt said yesterday that Google’s development centers in Israel are among the company’s most efficient in the world.

Speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv, Schmidt said that the quality of Israel’s engineers was extremely high, in part due to the country’s world-class universities and the training acquired during Israeli army service. He also praised Israel’s salespeople as among the best in the world, saying they continue to contribute to the company’s profits.

“We love Israel,” Schmidt said, drawing applause from the crowd.

Concerning the Arab Spring, Schmidt said that “the dictators of the Arab world were censoring everything except for the Internet; they were too old and didn’t know about it.” He added that it was not the technological and social media companies that initiated the Arab Spring, but the ordinary people who used technology “to revolt against the dictators.”

“If the government shuts down the Internet, it’s a sign that the government is scared,” he said.

“People should not be afraid of technology,” Schmidt remarked. “The future is just starting.”

 

FACEBOOK TO BUY ISRAELI STARTUP FACE.COM FOR AN ESTIMATED $100 MILLION

Another technology giant, Facebook, announced yesterday that it was buying Face.com, the Israeli company that provides facial-recognition technology, for an estimated $100 million.

Face.com, a tiny 11-person Israeli company founded three years ago, already provides facial-recognition technology to Facebook to help users identify and tag photos.

The deal is expected to strengthen one of Facebook’s most popular features -- the sharing and posting of photos.

Facebook said that Face.com’s 11 Israeli employees will now work for it.

 

EUROPEAN SOCCER BODY REFUSES CALL TO SHUN ISRAEL, ANNOUNCES ISRAEL WILL HOST 2013 COMPETITION

Whereas the likes of writer Alice Walker and actress Emma Thompson don’t think Israelis should be allowed to read books or perform plays in Hebrew, the European football (soccer) association UEFA is refusing calls for Israel to be boycotted. Instead it announced yesterday that Israel will host the 2013 under-21 football championships.

The Associated Press reports that UEFA President Michel Platini wrote to Israel Football Association President Avi Luzon on Monday to confirm that Israel will stage the 2013 tournament from June 15-28 despite “a certain amount of pressure being put on us.”

“UEFA is an apolitical organization and your association earned the right to host this competition through a fair, democratic vote,” Platini wrote. “I am sure that it will be a beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together.”

To the dismay of many, a number of high-profile former footballers backed calls to disallow Israel to host the competition. These included former Manchester United and France star Eric Cantona and former West Ham and Seville striker Frederic Kanoute.

Platini said he thought those advocating a boycott of Israel were “ill advised”.

***

Among previous articles of mine on football, please see: Soccer Killing Fields

In it, I point out that unlike UEFA, the world soccer body FIFA has a history of condemning Israel while turning a blind eye to the abuse of soccer players around the world, including the torture of the Iraqi national team by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, and the use of terrorist activities or mass executions at soccer stadiums in Afghanistan, Chile, Russia and Gaza.

 

NETANYAHU INJURED PLAYING SOCCER AT JOINT JEWISH-ARAB YOUTH MATCH

In other soccer news, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leg was put in a cast after sustaining a soccer injury last week. Netanyahu has been hobbling around after tearing a tendon while he participated in a soccer match played by Jewish and Arab children. Several minutes into the game, he slipped on the grass. He continued to play, but later the injury worsened and he was taken to hospital where the diagnosis was made and a cast applied.

 

ARGENTINE SOCCER CLUB LOSES POINTS OVER ANTI-SEMITIC CHANTS

In an unprecedented decision, the Argentine Football Association Disciplinary Court has deducted points from an Argentine soccer club after mass anti-Semitic chanting by its fans. The chants during the match included “With the Jews we make soap”.

The chants were made by the Chacarita Juniors soccer club during a game against Atlanta, a soccer club that has historical Jewish connections.

“Chaca is coming along the road, killing the Jews to make soap,” Chacarita’s fans repeatedly sang during an official match at the Premier B League, on March 11.

In 2000 Chacarita fans greeted the Atlanta team with Nazi flags, and threw soap on the field while singing the same song.

 

“ON SIDELINES OF EURO 2012, ANTI-SEMITISM IS ALIVE AND KICKING”

Poland and Ukraine – co-hosts of the ongoing Euro 2012 soccer tournament (the second most watched event in the world after the World Cup) – have been much criticized in Western media for the racist and anti-Semitic chanting of some fans in those countries, and for the beating up of people of color. In truth, Western countries also have fans that engage in racist and anti-Semitic abuse. For example, Chelsea fans in Britain have sung songs like “I never felt more like gassing the Jews, when Chelsea win and Tottenham lose”. Tottenham is a club with supposedly Jewish connections.

However, whereas the authorities in Western countries have denounced such anti-Semitism and expelled fans who encouraged it, in Poland and Ukraine they have not.

Here, for example, is a Reuters photo of a huge Nazi flag flown by fans of the main soccer club in Lviv in western Ukraine, which was chosen as one of the host cities of Euro 2012:

www.scotsman.com/scotland-on-sunday/sport/football/euro-2012-poland-and-ukraine-a-hotbed-of-hate-1-2335939

The mayor of Lviv has failed to denounce this. Instead in recent days he has attacked the Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center after it asked visiting fans not to frequent two anti-Semitic “theme” restaurants in central Lviv (a city formerly known as Lvov, Lwow, and Lemberg).

More here (including a reference to me in the first article below):

“On sidelines of Euro 2012, anti-Semitism is alive and kicking”
www.timesofisrael.com/on-sidelines-of-euro-2012-anti-semitism-is-alive-and-kicking/

www.thejc.com/news/world-news/68649/dress-orthodox-jew-restaurant-euro-2012-city-lviv-ukraine

On June 30, the Lviv municipality is set to award a prize named in honor of the wartime Fascist leader Stefan Bandera to individuals who “helped develop Ukrainian statehood.” The Bandera prize is “part of a whitewashing campaign” in Ukraine to cover up history said local researcher Irena Cantorovich.

Bandera’s followers are accused of helping the Nazis eradicate the city’s large Jewish population (it had the third largest Jewish population in Poland in 1939) and then murdering about 30,000 Polish civilians after the war and ethnically cleansing the remaining population of what was historically primarily a Polish and Jewish city.

If you scroll down in this article by a former NPR correspondent you will see a horrific video of a recent march through central Lviv by supporters of Bandera:

www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120329/ukraine-svoboda-nationalist-party-nazi-echoes-hitler-pt-2?page=0,0

***

Among previous related dispatches, please see:

* Ukrainian presidential advisor orders work stopped on Golden Rose hotel project
* And here.

* Into the light (but only for a few)

 

ISRAELI TOPS WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN LIST

Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli is the most beautiful woman in the world, according to Maxim magazine’s annual list of the world’s most sexy and prettiest females.

Maxim readers chose the Israeli over last year’s winner Brit Rosie Huntington Whiteley.

Refaeli, from Hod Hasharon, also works as an actress.

(Please see:

* Relatives outraged over film about Hamas chief – but not because he is portrayed as a terrorist
* Mossad role for Bar Refaeli

Mila Kunis


Another Jewish actress Mila Kunis (above) is third on this year’s Maxim’s most beautiful women in the world list.

Kunis recently opened up about being Jewish, and the anti-Semitism that caused her to leave Ukraine, after being chosen as the world’s most sexy woman by readers of The Sun, one of the two best-selling newspapers in Europe:

www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/4298796/Mila-Kunis-reveals-her-secret-past-as-a-Jew-living-in-Ukraine-from-where-she-fled-to-escape-hatred.html

[All notes above by Tom Gross]


King Abdullah, 89: The dangers of Saudi succession (& Leaker-in-Chief)

June 18, 2012

Not his finest moment: President Obama bowing before the Saudi dictator-king

 

* “Much like the Soviet Union in its final years, the Saudis are likely to pass the crown from one old man to another”

* Unemployment is 40% among 20- to 24-year-old Saudis, 40% of Saudis live on less than $1,000 a month, and 90% of all workers in its private sector are foreigners. Senior Al Saud rulers have an average age exceeding 80 while 60% of the country’s population is below 20 years of age

* “What are they thinking? That in the age of Wikileaks the White House itself should be one big Wikileak?”

* Mossad agents claim Obama not being frank about Stuxnet

 

CONTENTS

1. The death of another crown prince
2. Iran is much more dangerous than North Korea
3. It’s a good thing our enemies can’t read. Wait, they can!
4. Ha’aretz: Mossad agents claim Obama not being frank about Stuxnet
5. The Arab “spring” Sunni Egypt vs. Shiite Iran
6. The West ignores the plight of millions of Iranian Kurds
7. “Saudi succession and the illusion of stability” (By Karen Elliott House, Wall St Journal, June 18, 2012)
8. “No Iranian Nukes” (By Jamie Fly and William Kristol, Weekly Standard, June 25, 2012)
9. “Who benefits from the avalanche of leaks?” (By Peggy Noonan, Wall St Journal, June 16, 2012)
10. “After seeing Arab Spring as an opportunity, Iran meets a largely closed door in Egypt” (Associated Press, June 14, 2012)
11. “Dissident leader says plight of Iranian Kurds little known in the West” (By Adnan Hussein, rudaw.net, June 15, 2012)


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach five articles, on Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, the Kurds and White House leaks.

I know many of you are very busy so I have prepared extracts first, for those who don’t have time to read the articles in full

Among the authors of these articles, William Kristol, Peggy Noonan, Jamie Fly and Yossi Melman are subscribers to this email list.

 

EXTRACTS

THE DEATH OF ANOTHER CROWN PRINCE

Karen Elliott House writes:

The death and burial this weekend of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef, the second Saudi crown prince to die in less than a year, demonstrates the inherent instability of the absolute monarchy still being ruled by the geriatric sons of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah, who has outlived both of his presumed successors, is himself 89 and in failing health. So the looming question is will the ruling Al Saud family pass the crown to yet another geriatric brother of the king? Or will he seize this occasion to jump to a new generation of royals who might be presumed to have more vitality and vision to revitalize the moribund kingdom on which the world depends for so much of its oil? …

Given the royal family’s reverence for age, however, almost surely the next crown prince with be Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, 76, a full brother of the two late crown princes. While change sweeps much of the rest of the Middle East, the Saudi monarchy continues to cling to the status quo.

In the near term, the change from one elderly brother to another will not affect U.S. Saudi relations. For better or worse, the U.S. is wedded to the Al Saud family, not to a particular prince. But we should not confuse stagnation with stability. The fact that the royals continue to rule when autocratic regimes have been swept aside in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and perhaps soon in Syria, doesn’t mean this U.S. ally is stable.

The kingdom faces multiple problems: Unemployment is 40% among 20- to 24-year-olds, 40% of Saudis live on less than $1,000 a month, the kingdom’s one-dimensional economy earns nearly 80% of its revenues from oil, and 90% of all workers in its private sector are foreigners. Moreover, the senior Al Saud rulers have an average age exceeding 80 while 60% of the country’s population is below 20 years of age…

The problem is that a growing number of Saudis are no longer content to obey authority. Saudi Arabia boasts 10 million Internet users, up from only 500,000 a decade ago, and it is second only to much-larger Egypt in Facebook users. Young Saudis know what is happening in the rest of the world and are frustrated at what they see as the lack of freedom and opportunity in their own country….

 

IRAN IS MUCH MORE DANGEROUS THAN NORTH KOREA

Jamie Fly and William Kristol write:

Two years ago, we wrote that we were entering with respect to Iran what Winston Churchill called in 1936 a “period of consequences,” in which “the era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close.”

And so it finally is. The Obama administration has remained committed to procrastination and half-measures, to soothing and baffling expedients. But even friends of the administration now acknowledge the obvious: After all the diplomatic efforts and attempts at various forms of economic pressure, Iran is closer than ever to a nuclear weapons capability, with a new enrichment facility, thousands more centrifuges spinning, and enough enriched uranium to produce five nuclear weapons…

This record of Iranian murder and mayhem is the reality of our failed Iran policy – a policy, to be fair, that began under the Bush administration. President Obama sometimes seems committed to ending the era of procrastination. He said in March that U.S. policy “is not going to be one of containment. .  .  . My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.” Since that tough talk, however, he and his top advisers have temporized…

But Iran’s nuclear progress marches on. Facts are stubborn things, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. No one seriously believes the talks set to resume shortly in Moscow will stop Iranian nuclear progress. Indeed, the talks look increasingly like the farcical diplomatic process pursued by the Bush and Obama administrations with respect to Iran’s friend, North Korea, a “process” that has resulted in a growing nuclear stockpile in that country and a series of unanswered North Korean provocations. But Iran is much more dangerous than North Korea…

The real and credible threat of force is probably the last hope of persuading the Iranian regime to back down. So: Isn’t it time for the president to ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran’s nuclear program?

Instead of running away from it, administration officials could be putting the military option front and center and ensuring it is seen as viable. And if the administration flinches, Congress could consider passing such an authorization anyway. … The Obama administration may be committed to leading from behind, but Congress can choose to lead from the front.

 

IT’S A GOOD THING OUR ENEMIES CAN’T READ. WAIT, THEY CAN!

Peggy Noonan writes:

What is happening with all these breaches of our national security? Why are intelligence professionals talking so much – divulging secret and sensitive information for all the world to see, and for our adversaries to contemplate?

In the past few months we have read that the U.S. penetrated al Qaeda in Yemen and foiled a terror plot; that the Stuxnet cyberworm, which caused chaos in the Iranian nuclear program, was a joint Israeli-American operation; and that President Obama personally approves every name on an expanding “kill list” of those targeted and removed from life by unmanned drones. According to the New York Times, Mr. Obama pores over “suspects’ biographies” in “what one official calls ‘the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.”

From New York Times correspondent David Sanger’s new book, we learn that … the Pentagon has built a replica of Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant. The National Security Agency “routinely taps the ISI’s cell phones” – that’s the Pakistani intelligence agency. A “secret” U.S. program helps Pakistan protect its nuclear facilities; it involves fences and electronic padlocks…

It’s a good thing our enemies can’t read. Wait, they can! They can download all this onto their iPads at a café in Islamabad.

It’s all out there now. Sanger’s sources are, apparently, high administration officials… What are they thinking? That in the age of Wikileaks the White House itself should be one big Wikileak? …

All of this constitutes part of what California Sen. Dianne Feinstein calls an “avalanche of leaks.” After she read the Stuxnet story in the Times, she was quoted as saying “my heart stopped” as she considered possible repercussions…

There is something childish in it: Knowing secrets is cool, and telling them is cooler. But we are talking to the world. Should it know how, when and with whose assistance we gather intelligence? Should it know our methods? Will this make us safer?

Liberally quoted in the Sanger book is the White House national security adviser, Thomas Donilon. When I was a child, there was a doll called Chatty Cathy. You pulled a string in her back, and she babbled inanely. Tom Donilon appears to be the Chatty Cathy of the American intelligence community…

After the killing of bin Laden, members of the administration, in a spirit of triumphalism, began giving briefings and interviews in which they said too much. One of the adults in the administration, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reportedly went to Mr. Donilon’s office. “I have a new strategic communications approach to recommend,” he said. What? asked Mr. Donilon.

“Shut the [blank] up,” Mr. Gates said.

 

HA’ARETZ: MOSSAD AGENTS CLAIM OBAMA NOT BEING FRANK ABOUT STUXNET

On the same topic as Peggy Noonan’s article above, Yossi Melman, the respected (and very well sourced) intelligence correspondent for Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper writes:

“Israeli intelligence officials actually told me a different version. They said that it was Israeli intelligence that began, a few years earlier, a cyberspace campaign to damage and slow down Iran’s nuclear intentions. And only later they managed to convince the USA to consider a joint operation – which, at the time, was unheard of. Even friendly nations are hesitant to share their technological and intelligence resources against a common enemy...

“Yet my Israeli sources understand the sensitivity and the timing of the issue and are not going to be dragged into a battle over taking credit. ‘We know that it is the presidential election season,’ one Israeli added, ‘and don’t want to spoil the party for President Obama and his officials, who shared in a twisted and manipulated way some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of the success of cyberwar.’”

 

THE ARAB “SPRING” SUNNI EGYPT VS. SHIITE IRAN

The Associated Press reports:

Iran once saw the Arab Spring uprisings as a prime opportunity, hoping it would open the door for it to spread its influence in countries whose autocratic leaders long shunned Tehran’s ruling clerics. But it is finding the new order no more welcoming. Egypt is a prime example.

Egypt has sporadically looked more friendly toward Iran since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago, and the rise of the Islamists here fueled the expectations of Tehran’s clerical regime that it could make inroads.

Instead, it has been met with the deep mistrust felt by many in mainly Sunni Muslim Egypt toward non-Arab, Shiite-dominated Iran…

Mohammed el-Sagheer, a lawmaker from the hard-line Gamaa Islamiya said “Spreading Shiism in Egypt is not an issue of sectarian conflict, it is a question of national security.”

Iran has also invited families of nearly 900 protesters killed during last year’s uprising to honor them in Tehran, but most relatives declined the offer, with only a group of 27 agreeing to make the trip. They flew to Iran last week.

In a wider context, the new order in the Arab world is not going Tehran’s way and it could even erode its influence and leave it more isolated.

“Arab Spring revolts have been a disaster for Iran,” said Michael W. Hanna, a Middle East expert from New York’s Century Foundation. “It wants to ride those revolts as an extension of its own revolution back in 1979, but it is not happening.” …

 

THE WEST IGNORES THE PLIGHT OF MILLIONS OF IRANIAN KURDS

Adnan Hussein writes:

Abdullah Muhtadi says the plight of Iranian Kurds has not received the attention it deserves from Western powers.

“It doesn’t have the voice that it should and has not been able to communicate its demands to the outside world,” says Muhtadi. “As part of our efforts, we try to get that voice heard by the U.S. administration, Congress and public opinion.”

He added that the U.S. does not have a “Kurdish policy” and deals with Kurds only as part of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

“In each of these countries, Kurds have become a factor for the U.S. to pay attention to and deal with and sometimes even support. But in general, they don’t have a Kurdish policy in the Middle East,” says Muhtadi.

The Komala leader says that, during his visit to the U.S., he asked the American government to launch a Kurdish language television channel. The U.S. has launched a Persian language channel, called Persian News Network, which is part of Voice of America.

Muhtadi says because Kurds make up only about 12 percent of the population of Iran, they “cannot change Iran alone.”


FULL ARTICLES

SAUDI SUCCESSION AND THE ILLUSION OF STABILITY

Saudi Succession and the Illusion of Stability
Much like the Soviet Union in its final years, the Saudis are likely to pass the crown from one old man to another.
By Karen Elliott House
The Wall Street Journal
June 18, 2012

The death and burial this weekend of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef, the second Saudi crown prince to die in less than a year, demonstrates the inherent instability of the absolute monarchy still being ruled by the geriatric sons of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah, who has outlived both of his presumed successors, is himself 89 and in failing health. So the looming question is will the ruling Al Saud family pass the crown to yet another geriatric brother of the king? Or will he seize this occasion to jump to a new generation of royals who might be presumed to have more vitality and vision to revitalize the moribund kingdom on which the world depends for so much of its oil? A formula to select a new crown prince exists in which some three dozen sons and grandsons of the founder would vote secretly to choose the new crown prince. This commission has a majority of grandsons who could vote for one of their generation.

Given the royal family’s reverence for age, however, almost surely the next crown prince with be Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, 76, a full brother of the two late crown princes. While change sweeps much of the rest of the Middle East, the Saudi monarchy continues to cling to the status quo.

In the near term, the change from one elderly brother to another will not affect U.S. Saudi relations. For better or worse, the U.S. is wedded to the Al Saud family, not to a particular prince. But we should not confuse stagnation with stability. The fact that the royals continue to rule when autocratic regimes have been swept aside in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and perhaps soon in Syria, doesn’t mean this U.S. ally is stable.

The kingdom faces multiple problems: Unemployment is 40% among 20- to 24-year-olds, 40% of Saudis live on less than $1,000 a month, the kingdom’s one-dimensional economy earns nearly 80% of its revenues from oil, and 90% of all workers in its private sector are foreigners. Moreover, the senior Al Saud rulers have an average age exceeding 80 while 60% of the country’s population is below 20 years of age.

Beyond all this, the tension level in Saudi society is rising precipitously as the royals vacillate between seeking to satisfy modernizers’ demands for more change and seeking to placate conservatives for whom the only acceptable change is a return to the religious purity of the Prophet Muhammad, which many feel the royal family has abandoned. Saudi Islam increasingly is divided within itself, as is the royal family.

Prince Salman, the kingdom’s defense minister since last November (after nearly half a century as governor of Riyadh), is more energetic and less rigid than the late Prince Nayef, but unlikely to initiate significant reforms. Nayef’s death will please those Saudis who want at least a continuation of King Abdullah’s modest reforms, including trying to curb religious control over education and providing Saudi women scholarships to study abroad, albeit accompanied by a male relative. These Saudis feared Nayef as king would roll back even such small gains to curry favor with the fundamentalist religious establishment.

But Prince Salman is no democrat. In an interview with me in his Riyadh office two years ago, he took pains to explain why democracy couldn’t work in Saudi Arabia. “If Saudi Arabia adopts democracy every tribe will be a party,” he said, adding that the country would be chaotic. Instead, he said, the Kingdom has shura, or consultation. “Government asks a collection of people to consult and when there is no consensus, the leader decides,” he said candidly summing up Al Saud autocracy.

The problem is that a growing number of Saudis are no longer content to obey authority. Saudi Arabia boasts 10 million Internet users, up from only 500,000 a decade ago, and it is second only to much-larger Egypt in Facebook users. Young Saudis know what is happening in the rest of the world and are frustrated at what they see as the lack of freedom and opportunity in their own country. This frustration is producing growing signs of sedition despite government deterrence by punishing those who step out of line.

Recently, a young Saudi woman confronted by the country’s religious police in a Riyadh mall for wearing nail polish told them her nails were not their business. She filmed her confrontation with authorities and posted it on YouTube. Last month, Manal al-Sharif, jailed a year ago for driving her car and posting a video of that forbidden act on YouTube, doubled down on her defiance by going to Oslo to speak at a freedom forum even though her employer warned she would be fired. A young Saudi male dared to film and post on YouTube the grueling poverty in Riyadh, concluding by interviewing a local imam who said young girls in the neighborhood are being sold into prostitution. The film went viral with some 800,000 Saudis viewing it before its youthful maker was arrested.

Clearly, a growing number of frustrated Saudis no longer either respect or fear their leaders. Saudis are not demanding democracy; only transparent, efficient, honest government. They want a leader who can make the sclerotic system function better. Yet, much like the Soviet Union in its final years when power passed from one old man to another – Brezhnev to Andropov to Chernenko—in quick succession, the Saudi royal family continues to pass the crown from one aged son of the founder to the next.

Recall, the Soviet Union was widely assumed to be stable. In the end, it proved brittle. Saudi succession looks very much like a movie we’ve seen before.

(Ms. House, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, is a Pulitzer Prize winner for Mideast coverage. She is author of “On Saudi Arabia,” to be published in September by Knopf.)

 

IRAN IS MUCH MORE DANGEROUS THAN NORTH KOREA

No Iranian Nukes
By Jamie Fly and William Kristol
The Weekly Standard
Issue of June 25, 2012

Two years ago, we wrote in these pages that we were entering with respect to Iran what Winston Churchill called in 1936 a “period of consequences,” in which “the era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close.”

And so it finally is. The Obama administration has remained committed to procrastination and half-measures, to soothing and baffling expedients. But even friends of the administration now acknowledge the obvious: After all the diplomatic efforts and attempts at various forms of economic pressure, Iran is closer than ever to a nuclear weapons capability, with a new enrichment facility, thousands more centrifuges spinning, and enough enriched uranium to produce five nuclear weapons.

The last year has also witnessed a foiled Iranian plot to assassinate U.S. diplomats and their families in Azerbaijan, attempts to kill Israeli diplomats in the Republic of Georgia, Thailand, and India, and a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador (and American bystanders) at a Washington, D.C., restaurant. As we have shamefully dithered for more than a year, Iran has sent weapons, troops, and money to support its brutal ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria. All of this is, of course, in addition to years of Iranian complicity in the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This record of Iranian murder and mayhem is the reality of our failed Iran policy – a policy, to be fair, that began under the Bush administration. President Obama sometimes seems committed to ending the era of procrastination. He said in March that U.S. policy “is not going to be one of containment. .  .  . My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.” Since that tough talk, however, he and his top advisers have temporized – claiming that Iran is increasingly isolated and on the ropes, insisting that there is time for negotiations and sanctions to work because Iranian leaders have not yet made the decision to weaponize, arguing that “loose talk of war” only serves to strengthen Iran’s hand, and his administration hints that covert activities against Iran can effectively substitute for real action.

But Iran’s nuclear progress marches on. That fact trumps all the administration’s hopes and wishes and theories. Facts are stubborn things, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. No one seriously believes the talks set to resume shortly in Moscow will stop Iranian nuclear progress. Indeed, the talks look increasingly like the farcical diplomatic process pursued by the Bush and Obama administrations with respect to Iran’s friend, North Korea, a “process” that has resulted in a growing nuclear stockpile in that country and a series of unanswered North Korean provocations.

But Iran is much more dangerous than North Korea. And while it may serve President Obama’s short-term political interests to avoid taking action against Tehran this year, it doesn’t serve the nation’s.

President Obama says a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. The real and credible threat of force is probably the last hope of persuading the Iranian regime to back down. So: Isn’t it time for the president to ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran’s nuclear program?

Instead of running away from it, administration officials could be putting the military option front and center and ensuring it is seen as viable. And if the administration flinches, Congress could consider passing such an authorization anyway. While any commander in chief has the constitutional authority to take urgent action to protect Americans and their interests, such legislation would give weight to the president’s commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It would strengthen the president’s hand. It would show Tehran that America’s policy of preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon is a credible one. Bipartisan support for such an authorization would remove the issue as much as possible from the turmoil of election year politics. And the authorization could also make clear that the United States would come to Israel’s aid in the event that it decides it needs to take action.

We don’t expect the Obama administration to request an Authorization for Use of Military Force. But Congress can act without such a request. By doing so, it would serve the nation’s interest, and, indeed, the administration’s, if the administration means what it says.

At the end of his “period of consequences” remarks in the House of Commons in November 1936, Churchill said:

“Two things, I confess, have staggered me, after a long Parliamentary experience, in these Debates. The first has been the dangers that have so swiftly come upon us in a few years, and have been transforming our position and the whole outlook of the world. Secondly, I have been staggered by the failure of the House of Commons to react effectively against those dangers. That, I am bound to say, I never expected. I never would have believed that we should have been allowed to go on getting into this plight, month by month and year by year, and that even the Government’s own confessions of error would have produced no concentration of Parliamentary opinion and force capable of lifting our efforts to the level of emergency.”

Surely it is time for a concentration of congressional opinion and force capable of lifting our efforts to the level of emergency. The Obama administration may be committed to leading from behind, but Congress can choose to lead from the front.

 

WHO BENEFITS FROM THE ‘AVALANCHE OF LEAKS’?

Who Benefits From the ‘Avalanche of Leaks’?
They seem designed to glorify President Obama and help his re-election campaign.
By Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
June 16, 2012

What is happening with all these breaches of our national security? Why are intelligence professionals talking so much – divulging secret and sensitive information for all the world to see, and for our adversaries to contemplate?

In the past few months we have read that the U.S. penetrated al Qaeda in Yemen and foiled a terror plot; that the Stuxnet cyberworm, which caused chaos in the Iranian nuclear program, was a joint Israeli-American operation; and that President Obama personally approves every name on an expanding “kill list” of those targeted and removed from life by unmanned drones. According to the New York Times, Mr. Obama pores over “suspects’ biographies” in “what one official calls ‘the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.”

From David Sanger’s new book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” we learn that Stuxnet was “the most sophisticated, complex cyberattack the United States had ever launched.” Its secret name was “Olympic Games.” America and Israel developed the “malicious software” together, the U.S. at Fort Meade, Md., where it keeps “computer warriors,” Israel at a military intelligence agency it “barely acknowledges exists.”

The Pentagon has built a replica of Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant. The National Security Agency “routinely taps the ISI’s cell phones” – that’s the Pakistani intelligence agency. A “secret” U.S. program helps Pakistan protect its nuclear facilities; it involves fences and electronic padlocks. Still, insurgents bent on creating a dirty bomb, if they have a friend inside, can slip out “a few grams of nuclear material at a time” and outwit security systems targeted at major theft. In any case, there’s a stockpile of highly enriched uranium sitting “near an aging research reactor in Pakistan.” It could be used for several dirty bombs.

It’s a good thing our enemies can’t read. Wait, they can! They can download all this onto their iPads at a café in Islamabad.

It’s all out there now. Mr. Sanger’s sources are, apparently, high administration officials, whose diarrhetic volubility marks a real breakthrough in the history of indiscretion.

What are they thinking? That in the age of Wikileaks the White House itself should be one big Wikileak?

More from the Sanger book: During the search for Osama bin Laden, American intelligence experts had a brilliant idea. Bin Laden liked to make videotapes to rouse his troops and threaten the West. Why not flood part of Pakistan with new digital cameras, each with a “unique signature” that would allow its signals to be tracked? The signal could function as a beacon for a drone. Agents got the new cameras into the distribution chain of Peshawar shops. The plan didn’t catch Osama, because he wasn’t in that area. But “traceable digital cameras are still relied on by the CIA . . . and remain highly classified.”

Well, they were.

There was a Pakistani doctor named Shakil Afridi who was sympathetic to America. He became involved in a scheme to try and get the DNA of Osama’s family. He “and a team of nurses” were hired by the U.S. to administer hepatitis B vaccinations throughout Abbottabad. The vaccinations were real. Dr. Afridi got inside Osama’s compound but never got to vaccinate any bin Ladens.

In the days after bin Laden was killed, the doctor was picked up by Pakistani agents and accused of cooperating with the Americans. He was likely tortured. He’s in prison now, convicted of conspiring against the state.

No word yet on the nurses, but stand by.

Mr. Sanger writes that President Obama “will go down in history as the man who dramatically expanded” the use of drones. They are cheaper than boots on the ground, more efficient. But some of those who operate the unmanned bombers are getting upset. They track victims for days. They watch them play with their children. “It freaks you out,” a former drone operator told Mr. Sanger. “You feel less like a pilot than a sniper.”

During the Arab Spring, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was insistent that Mr. Obama needed to stick with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, even, Mr. Sanger reports, “if he started shooting protestors in the streets.”

King Abdullah must be glad he called. Maybe he’ll call less in the future.

All of this constitutes part of what California Sen. Dianne Feinstein calls an “avalanche of leaks.” After she read the Stuxnet story in the Times, she was quoted as saying “my heart stopped” as she considered possible repercussions.

Why is this happening? In part because at our highest level in politics, government and journalism, Americans continue to act as if we are talking only to ourselves. There is something narcissistic in this: Only our dialogue counts, no one else is listening, and what can they do about it if they are? There is something childish in it: Knowing secrets is cool, and telling them is cooler. But we are talking to the world. Should it know how, when and with whose assistance we gather intelligence? Should it know our methods? Will this make us safer?

Liberally quoted in the Sanger book is the White House national security adviser, Thomas Donilon. When I was a child, there was a doll called Chatty Cathy. You pulled a string in her back, and she babbled inanely. Tom Donilon appears to be the Chatty Cathy of the American intelligence community.

It is good Congress has become involved. They wonder if the leaks have been directed, encouraged or authorized, and by whom. One way to get at that is the classic legal question: Who benefits?

That is not a mystery. In all these stories, it is the president and his campaign that benefit. The common theme in the leaks is how strong and steely Mr. Obama is. He’s tough but fair, bold yet judicious, surprisingly willing to do what needs to be done. He hears everyone out, asks piercing questions, doesn’t flinch.

He is Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.

And he is up for re-election and fighting the constant perception that he’s weak, a one-man apology tour whose foreign policy is unclear, unsure, and lacking in strategic depth.

There’s something in the leaks that is a hallmark of the Obama White House. They always misunderstand the country they seek to spin, and they always think less of it than it deserves. Why do the president’s appointees think the picture of him with a kill list in his hand makes him look good? He sits and personally decides who to kill? Americans don’t think of their presidents like that. And they don’t want to.

National security doesn’t exist to help presidents win elections. It’s not a plaything or a tool to advance one’s prospects.

After the killing of bin Laden, members of the administration, in a spirit of triumphalism, began giving briefings and interviews in which they said too much. One of the adults in the administration, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reportedly went to Mr. Donilon’s office. “I have a new strategic communications approach to recommend,” he said. What? asked Mr. Donilon.

“Shut the [blank] up,” Mr. Gates said.

Still excellent advice, and at this point more urgently needed.

 

AFTER SEEING ARAB SPRING AS AN OPPORTUNITY, IRAN MEETS A LARGELY CLOSED DOOR IN EGYPT

After seeing Arab Spring as an opportunity, Iran meets a largely closed door in Egypt
The Associated Press
June 14, 2012

CAIRO – Iran once saw the Arab Spring uprisings as a prime opportunity, hoping it would open the door for it to spread its influence in countries whose autocratic leaders long shunned Tehran’s ruling clerics. But it is finding the new order no more welcoming. Egypt is a prime example.

Egypt has sporadically looked more friendly toward Iran since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago, and the rise of the Islamists here fueled the expectations of Tehran’s clerical regime that it could make inroads.

Instead, it has been met with the deep mistrust felt by many in mainly Sunni Muslim Egypt toward non-Arab, Shiite-dominated Iran – as well as Cairo’s reluctance to sacrifice good relations with Iran’s rivals, the United States and the oil-rich Arab nations of the Gulf.

In a sign of the mistrust, Egyptian security and religious authorities have raised an alarm in recent weeks that Iran was trying to promote Shiism in the country.
That brought warnings from the Sunni Islamists that Iran had hoped would be friendly to their religious-based leadership.

“Iran must realize that if it wants good relations with an Egypt that will soon regain its strength, it must bear in mind that Egypt holds high the banner of the Sunni faith,” said Mohammed el-Sagheer, a lawmaker from the hard-line Gamaa Islamiya.

“Spreading Shiism in Egypt is not an issue of sectarian conflict, it is a question of national security.”

Iran has also invited families of nearly 900 protesters killed during last year’s uprising to honor them in Tehran, but most relatives declined the offer, with only a group of 27 agreeing to make the trip. They flew to Iran last week.

In a wider context, the new order in the Arab world is not going Tehran’s way and it could even erode its influence and leave it more isolated.

“Arab Spring revolts have been a disaster for Iran,” said Michael W. Hanna, a Middle East expert from New York’s Century Foundation. “It wants to ride those revolts as an extension of its own revolution back in 1979, but it is not happening.”

Instead, Iran has been losing its allure as an alternative model to authoritarian Arab regimes that fell victim to popular uprisings like Mubarak’s, Moammar Gadhafi’s in Libya or Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Ominously for Iran, it faces the possibility of the fall of its top Arab ally, the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, and its replacement by Sunni rule.

The Assad dynasty – which belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism – has maintained close ties with Tehran for more than 30 years. But it is now struggling to contain an uprising dominated by Syria’s Sunni majority.

The fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who succeeded his father in 2000, would almost certainly weaken Hezbollah, Tehran’s chief ally in Lebanon and a sworn enemy of Israel.

Iran has already seen one friend distance itself over the Syria turmoil. The leadership of the Palestinian militant Hamas group left its Damascus headquarters and relocated to Qatar which, together with Saudi Arabia, is calling for the arming of Syrian rebels.

For the past decade, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been the cornerstones of the anti-Iran faction in the Middle East, trying to roll back its rising fortunes, which peaked with the ascent to power by Iraq’s Shiites in 2003 and Hezbollah’s 2006 war against Israel, a fight that elevated the Shiite group and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to heroic status in the mostly Sunni Arab world.

Relations between Cairo and Tehran were tense throughout the 29-year rule of Mubarak, whose regime accused Iran of supporting homegrown militant Islamist groups and involvement in a 1995 assassination attempt against the ousted leader.

More recently, the two regional powerhouses quarreled publicly over Iran’s alleged meddling in Iraq and over its support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

Moreover, Egypt traditionally sees itself as the guardian of Islam’s dominant Sunni branch and as a protector of Arab culture against foreign influence, including that of Persian Iran.

Relations, however, appeared to be heading for a major breakthrough following Mubarak’s ouster on Feb. 11, 2011, with Cairo approving an Iranian request for two naval ships to transit the Suez Canal on their way to Syria. The two vessels sailed through the canal in late February 2011, the first ones to do so since the Islamic Revolution.

In the following month, Egypt’s then-Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi declared Iran was no longer an “enemy state,” a comment the Iranians seized on to express their wish to see closer relations with Egypt.

The signs of a rapprochement worried the United States and Saudi Arabia, allied nations whose largesse and goodwill have for decades been at the heart of Egypt’s foreign policy goals.

Iranian public statements did not ease their concerns.

“A new Middle East is emerging based on Islam ... based on religious democracy,” a hardline cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, said last year during a Friday prayer sermon.

Many Iranian clerics and top officials described Arab Spring uprisings as an indication that “an Islamic Middle East is taking shape” and that Egypt’s own revolt was a replay of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled a pro-Western monarch and brought Islamists to power, much like what has happened in Egypt.

But even as Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood and others have gained a stronger political role in Egypt with their domination of parliament, they have proven little more sympathetic to Iran. And Egypt’s military rulers – all veterans of the Mubarak era and close friends of the U.S. military establishment – show little sign of changing their traditional wariness of Tehran.

Last month, Egyptian security forces raided the Cairo offices of Iran’s Arabic-language state television channel, Al-Alam, seizing equipment and closing it down. Police said the station did not have a license. A Cairo-based Iranian diplomat was detained and expelled in May last year on suspicion that he tried to set up spy rings in Egypt and the Gulf countries.

That was followed by a flurry of media reports that Shiite places of worship known as Husseinyahs were springing up across the country.

The leader of Al-Azhar, the world’s foremost seat of Sunni learning, responded sharply.

Grand Imam Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb said that while Al-Azhar is not an enemy of any Muslim nation, “it declares its categorical and decisive rejection of all attempts to build places of worship that are not simply called mosques that will incite sectarianism.”

Al-Tayeb summoned Iran’s top diplomat in Cairo to complain about the Husseinyahs in an intensely publicized meeting. Photographs of a grim-faced al-Tayeb made front pages the next day along with reports that the diplomat gave him assurances that his country had nothing to do with the construction of the Husseinyahs.

Security officials said authorities were investigating a plan to spread “Iranian Shiism” by 350 Shiite activists who have been able to convert thousands of Sunnis to their faith. They said two Husseiniyahs were already operational, one in the Nile Delta town of Tanta and the other in the October 6 district west of Cairo.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Sunni-Shiite divide explains in part Egypt’s resistance. But there are key strategic issues as well.

With a struggling economy, Egypt is in dire need of financial help from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations whose relations with Tehran are fraught with tensions over its disputed nuclear program, its perceived support for the majority Shiites in Sunni-ruled Bahrain and occupation of three Gulf islands claimed by the United Arab Emirates.

Egypt is also the recipient of some $1.5 billion in annual U.S. military and economic aid and is dependent on Washington’s support to secure loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Egypt and Iran “are competitors and rivals in the region,” said Middle East expert Samer S. Shehata of Georgetown University. “The natural state of affairs is not for Iran and Egypt to be allies. Egypt’s strategic interests are different from Iran’s.”

 

DISSIDENT LEADER SAYS PLIGHT OF IRANIAN KURDS LITTLE KNOWN IN THE WEST

Dissident leader says plight of Iranian Kurds little known in the West
By Adnan Hussein
rudaw.net
June 15, 2012

SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region –A few hundred meters from Zrgwez village in Sulaimani province, a young woman wearing a man’s outfit opens the door to the headquarters of Komala, a leftist Iranian Kurdish organization where we met Abdullah Muhtadi, secretary general of Komala, or the Revolutionary Society of Iranian Kurdistan’s Toilers.

Komala has fought the Iranian regime for decades, demanding Kurdish rights.

Muhtadi recently embarked on a trip to several Western capitals, including Washington, Stockholm and Amsterdam. It was his first trip in six years.

“We set up a representation office in the United States. We wanted to have active representation there to get in touch with other parties, be they Americans or other Kurdish or Iranian opposition groups,” Muhtadi told Rudaw.

Muhtadi says the plight of Iranian Kurds has not received the attention it deserves from Western powers.

“It doesn’t have the voice that it should and has not been able to communicate its demands to the outside world,” says Muhtadi. “As part of our efforts, we try to get that voice heard by the U.S. administration, Congress and public opinion.”

He added that the U.S. does not have a “Kurdish policy” and deals with Kurds only as part of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

“In each of these countries, Kurds have become a factor for the U.S. to pay attention to and deal with and sometimes even support. But in general, they don’t have a Kurdish policy in the Middle East,” says Muhtadi.

Komala is considered one of the major Iranian Kurdish organizations, along with the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI).

The head of Komala says Kurdish groups have “strong relations” with the Iranian opposition. Several armed Iranian Kurdish opposition groups are based in Iraqi Kurdistan. But with the exception of the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), other parties have not had any recent significant military clashes with Iranian troops.

Muhtadi says his party does not receive any assistance from the U.S. “I am not aware if they are giving assistance to other Kurdish parties,” he added.

The Komala leader says that, during his visit to the U.S., he asked the American government to launch a Kurdish language television channel. The U.S. has launched a Persian language channel, called Persian News Network, which is part of Voice of America. Muhtadi says other Kurdish parties need to join the effort to persuade the U.S. government to launch a Kurdish channel.

Muhtadi also urges Iranian Kurdish opposition parties to form a united front, especially now that the region is at a crucial historical juncture.

If Kurdish parties are not ready to form a broad front, he says, they should at least try to “agree on a platform that includes a number of points for now and the future.”

Explaining why Komala and most other major Kurdish parties boycotted the recent parliamentary elections in Iran, Muhtadi says there is no room for democratic participation in Iran.

However, he acknowledges that personal rivalries drew a considerable number of people to the polls, especially in provincial areas.

Muhtadi says his party would like to be allowed to legally work and run in Iranian elections as the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP) has been allowed to do in Turkey.

“This is not possible in Iran,” he says. “We’d like it if Iran would allow that. If that possibility existed, we’d have certainly seized it.”

Muhtadi believes despite all the violence it has used, Turkey is closer to democracy and more open to these sorts of things than Iran.

After disputed presidential elections in 2009 saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad resume office, many Iranians took to the streets protesting alleged fraud and vote rigging. But the Kurdish areas of Iran remained mostly calm and did not join the so-called Green Movement.

Muhtadi says the Green Movement’s platform was “not very clear and did not include anything that would please Kurds.”

Moreover, he believes, Kurds were afraid of the government’s excessive use of force. There was no consensus among Kurdish parties as to whether take part in the protests or not. Muhtadi argues that if Kurds had participated in the protest movement, they would have “benefited greatly.”

“It was a sensitive time and the world media was watching Iran. Kurdish participation in the protests would have shown that the Iranian movement was not only the Green Movement, and that the Kurdish movement was part of it.”

He says because Kurds make up only about 12 percent of the population of Iran, they “cannot change Iran alone.”


Bibi gets the “Vanity Fair” treatment (& “cheerful” Sara turns to “Bild”)

June 15, 2012

* Vanity Fair: Netanyahu is so cowered by his wife that he hides “in the bathroom, calling the childhood friends of his whom she has excommunicated.”

* Bild: Sara Netanyahu “appears compassionate, cheerful, spirited. Her handshake is firm. Her eyes sparkle.”


Benjamin Netanyahu, as depicted by Vanity Fair


A TALE OF TWO BIBIS

[Note by Tom Gross]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rarely gives interviews to the international print media, having become fed up with the way so many journalists in the past have severely distorted his thoughts and character.

So the extensive interview Netanyahu gave to the well-regarded American magazine Vanity Fair for an in-depth profile published in Vanity Fair’s forthcoming July issue, has sparked a fair amount of interest in Israel and abroad.

That profile is attached below. It is an interesting read, and includes plenty of gossip and other tidbits. But personally I think Vanity Fair has missed an opportunity to really get to grips with Netanyahu’s character and beliefs and is unfair to him in various ways. It also downplays or ignores several of his achievements, such as bringing relative political stability to Israel and helping Israel’s economy weather the kind of turmoil other western economies have experienced in recent years.

“HER HANDSHAKE IS FIRM. HER EYES SPARKLE”

Netanyahu’s wife Sara also clearly thought that Vanity Fair’s piece was unfair to her (it portrays her as a manipulative Lady Macbeth style character), because last week she quickly granted an interview to the popular German newspaper Bild, which portrayed her in a sympathetic light. It was the first time in 12 years that Sara had agreed to be interviewed by an international publication. (Bild is one of the few publications in Europe that consistently gives Israel a fair hearing.)

In the Bild profile of Sara Netanyahu, they write “During several days in her company, we found a woman who is merciful and intelligent, who dedicates herself to supporting her husband.

“She is an expert child psychologist, the holder of a master’s degree from the prestigious Hebrew University, a woman who works at the Jerusalem municipality, mother to two sons (Yair, 20, and Avner, 17), dedicated to her career, to her family, and to her nation.”

Bild also says: “She appears compassionate, cheerful, spirited. Her blonde hair frames her face, she wears a hint of lip gloss, accompanied by high heels, her handshake is firm. Her eyes sparkle.”

(The Israeli media, which by and large detests Sara Netanyahu, has all this week ridiculed Bild’s profile of her.)

Vanity Fair suggests Netanyahu is so cowered by his wife that he hides “in the bathroom, calling the childhood friends of his whom she has excommunicated.”

EREKAT “HE’S OLDER, AND A LITTLE FATTER, BUT POLITICALLY UNCHANGED”

In the interview with Vanity Fair, conducted in Jerusalem, Benjamin Netanyahu says that the “relationship with President Barack Obama is friendlier than it has been portrayed” and that they are “two people who appreciate the savviness and strength of the other.”

On the other hand, he downplays the reported friendship with the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “I remember him for sure, but I don’t think we had any particular connections. I knew him and he knew me, I suppose,” he says regarding the period they both worked at the Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s in Boston.

Netanyahu adds that he is annoyed by media reports that his defense minister Ehud Barak “spins me on his little finger.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat tells Vanity Fair he doesn’t believe Netanyahu’s political stance has changed in the past quarter of century: “Yes, he is different. He’s older, and a little fatter. Politically speaking, I haven’t seen any change.”

But Netanyahu is adamant that he is not the one to blame for the current stalemate in the peace process with the Palestinians and says he is willing to negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas at anytime, anywhere.

Vanity Fair refers to “Two Bibis” (a peace-making one and an intransigent one). Netanyahu replies:

“There were five other prime ministers since [the 1993] Oslo [peace accords]. They did not make peace. Forget about the ‘two Bibis.’ I think about the single Olmert, the single Barak, and the single Rabin. Why couldn’t they make peace?”

The Vanity Fair profile is attached below and is worth reading in full when you have time.

-- Tom Gross

 

Among past recent dispatches on Netanyahu:

* Netanyahu’s “political masterstroke” (& Gaza restaurant allows female waitress)

* Netanyahu & Romney: a “decades-long friendship” (& Portuguese, Irish writers change their minds on Israel)

 

The recent cover of Time magazine

 

Sara Netanyahu interviewed by the German paper, Bild


VANITY FAIR: THE NETANYAHU PARADOX

The Netanyahu Paradox

A nuclear Iran threatens. The Palestinian conflict smolders. Meanwhile, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has largely vanquished his domestic foes – the Israeli media, the political opposition – in a battle backed by two U.S. billionaires and reportedly fueled by his wife, Sara. Interviewing the 62-year-old leader, David Margolick explores why “Bibi” is in control of his country, but not of its destiny.

By David Margolick
Vanity Fair
July 2012 edition

www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/07/benjamin-netanyahu-on-israel-mitt-romney

At one point or another for an entire week last November, most of the Israeli establishment showed up at the Bauhaus home in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem: members of the Cabinet and Knesset, security officials, rabbis, businessmen, journalists, supplicants of all stripes, “everyone who didn’t want to get in any trouble,” as one participant put it. They stood solemnly around the small stone courtyard with a tent on top, officially mourning, but also studying who else was there, who was whispering to whom. Ehud Barak, the defense minister and, by many accounts, the most vigorous proponent of an Israeli strike against Iran, was there. So was Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, who then held the key to the current government’s survival. Even an Arab member of the Knesset, Ahmad Tibi, came by later on. The guest registry also included Sheldon Adelson, the ubiquitous gambling magnate, and Ronald Lauder, an heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune – a pair of American billionaires who, improbably, have also become major Israeli media moguls.

The occasion was the shivah, or memorial observance, for a man named Shmuel Ben-Artzi, who had just died at the age of 97. Luminaries like this wouldn’t normally show up to honor a beloved but relatively obscure Israeli poet and educator like Ben-Artzi; few of the guests had even met him. They were there more for his son-in-law: Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. They had come to the prime minister’s official residence less out of friendship and respect – for Netanyahu is something of a loner, someone who antagonizes even his allies – than for reasons of realpolitik: even back then, before the shakeup that has left him with one of the largest majorities in Israeli history, Netanyahu was all-powerful. Attention had to be paid.

But, as is often the case in Israeli politics, it was even more complicated than that: many of the guests had come primarily for Sara Netanyahu, Ben-Artzi’s daughter and Bibi’s wife. Here, too, it was not so much out of love or respect, but fear. Even Bibi couldn’t stray very far, though he had other pressing business – like a memorial service commemorating the 1995 assassination of the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. So, there he was, at his wife’s insistence, sticking around for the whole week, periodically reading her late father’s poetry aloud to the mourners in a way that elicited pity even from his detractors. “I have no choice,” lamented one tycoon about his reasons for coming. “She’s running the show here in Israel. She can make or break anyone.”

It is the paradox of Israel that in Benjamin Netanyahu, 62 years old, now entering his seventh year in office, the country has both its strongest and its weakest leader in memory – and, as things now look, will have both sides of him for many years to come.

As of early May, when his coalition suddenly and surprisingly swallowed up the largest opposition party, Kadima, Netanyahu now controls 94 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. An Iranian atom bomb may be some time off, but as Yossi Verter writing in Israel’s liberal daily, Haaretz, put it, an atom bomb has fallen on Israeli politics. Until elections in the fall of 2013, Netanyahu can now do pretty much what he wants. The question is just what that is, and whether even he knows, for he’s proven better at holding power than wielding it.

THE PRISONER

Sometime this year, the Jewish population in Israel will hit a macabre magic number: six million, as many as the Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust. And now, in contrast to Hitler’s day, they’re all concentrated in one small place, sitting ducks for an Iranian bomb. Other Israeli leaders have long warned about the danger, but Netanyahu has made the issue his own, and forced a reluctant world to reckon with it. And as self-serving and hysterical and diversionary and even counter-productive as some consider his warnings to have been, he may finally be right: cry wolf long enough, and a wolf may actually be at your door.

The Iranian threat has made Bibi even more politically formidable: a supreme leader in Tehran has helped create a semi-supreme leader in Jerusalem. Not that it has rescued him from his insatiable critics. “For some Israelis, Israel is confronting two main problems: one is Iran and the second is Bibi Netanyahu – and not necessarily in that order,” Gonen Ginat, of Israel Hayom, the free daily newspaper many believe Adelson essentially created for Netanyahu, told me. The paper’s very existence reflects Netanyahu’s conviction that, at their core, many problems, both his and Israel’s, are really matters of hasbara: Hebrew for public relations.

When we spoke in late spring, Netanyahu painted himself as a kind of prisoner, his life reduced to the narrow orbit between home and office. He’d projected similar Weltschmerz two years ago at the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York. “When you get to be at my advanced age, you don’t come back to spend time in office,” he’d said. “It’s not that pleasant anyway. You come back to do something.” That was code for peace with the Palestinians; on that, he declared, he planned “to confound the critics and the skeptics.”

Those critics and skeptics remain completely unconfounded. But far from feeling put-upon, Netanyahu clearly revels in the job he has spent two decades coveting, obtaining, squandering, regaining, consolidating. He has few outside interests. For all his country’s successes in high tech, he doesn’t much use a computer, or surf the Web, or text; in his spare time he reads McKinsey reports and books on Jewish history or biographies – say, of Napoleon and Churchill. Netanyahu’s job is his life – he’d surely be lost without it.

Tending, at least until recent weeks, simultaneously to his fragile conservative coalition and demands from Washington, Netanyahu tacks left and right, freezing West Bank settlements for a time, then approving them, talking peace with the Palestinians but doing little to advance it. Mindful of his truncated first term in the late 1990s, he has become compulsively cautious: despite all his bellicose rhetoric, for instance, there have been no military adventures on this watch. An Israeli strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities gone awry may pose the single greatest peril to his political future, which may be the biggest guarantee – more than American opposition to any move or the effectiveness of sanctions – that it won’t happen. If there’s one thing Netanyahu has mastered, it is the fine art of holding on – of moving forward by standing still.

Arguably, his sole accomplishment this time around has been to trade 1,027 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel for the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas for five years in Gaza. He built his career decrying negotiations with terrorists, and to both the hawks and settlers who back him and the centrists and leftists who don’t, the move last October underscored how easily Netanyahu can be pressured. (It’s a source of despair and disgust to the former, and of encouragement to the latter.) But Netanyahu manages never to alienate his right-wing base nor completely turn off at least some on the left who, in a Nixon-in-China kind of way, still see him as the sole surviving shot at a peace deal. And, besides, the Shalit swap enjoyed overwhelming popular support. And Sara wanted it.

As the populace – disillusioned with grandiose peace plans, exhausted by the Palestinians, increasingly controlled by Orthodox Jews and émigrés from the former Soviet Union and Arab countries who share his politics and resentment of Israel’s liberal elites – has moved right, Netanyahu has been able to stay in one place: his country has come to him. The economy hums along, and, for the time being at least, buses aren’t being blown up. Still, leaving nothing to chance, Netanyahu has further solidified his position by using allies like Adelson and Lauder to reshape an unremittingly hostile Israeli media. These days, Netanyahu and Israel are peculiarly in sync. Few Israelis love him, but they’ve gotten used to him, or, as Israel’s foremost political commentator, Nahum Barnea, of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, puts it, “His ass fits the chair.” For a majority of Israelis, Netanyahu is good enough, and surely better than anyone else.

For a couple of days in May, it looked as if Netanyahu would move up elections to this September. That was before the breathtaking late-night deal to accept Kadima and its 28 members into the coalition. Kadima’s head, a former army chief and defense minister named Shaul Mofaz, had recently called Netanyahu a liar and vowed not to join with him. But with his party facing annihilation at the polls, it sold itself cheap. Netanyahu is a big man – his doctor worries a bit about his weight – but as he and Mofaz stood at adjacent lecterns to announce the agreement, one sensed that the difference in their stature was more than purely physical.

Mofaz has counseled caution on Iran, but by fortifying the government’s military credentials – he is the third former army chief in Bibi’s Cabinet – he could actually ease any decision to bomb its nuclear facilities. And by giving the government a more secular, centrist cast, the move lets Netanyahu tackle festering domestic issues like illegal settlements, drafting Orthodox Jews into national service, and reforming Israeli electoral laws.

If all goes as expected, Netanyahu will seek, and win, another four years in October 2013. Should he complete that term, only Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, will have served longer. “Putinyahu,” a columnist for Haaretz recently called him. But invincibility cuts both ways: with settlers and other right-wingers at his side, Netanyahu has always had an excuse to do nothing with the Palestinians. The handicapping is that he still won’t, his new partners notwithstanding. But his days as a cipher may be numbered. Having shown – yet again – his paramount political skills, he may now have to reveal who he really is.

A TALE OF TWO BIBIS

‘Psychobabble,” he calls it. Surely no Israeli prime minister has been placed on the couch as much as Netanyahu. People talk about the enduring influence of his father, Benzion, who died in late April at the age of 102, and his implacable, uncompromising, anti-Arab strain of right-wing Zionism, which led him for a time to take his family into American exile and gave Bibi one of his most formidable political gifts: his mellifluous Americanized English. Then there’s the ever present shadow of Netanyahu’s older brother, Yonathon – the only Israeli soldier killed in the 1976 rescue of Jewish hostages at Entebbe. It was the courageous, sensitive, tormented Yoni, whose handsome face every Israeli schoolchild comes to know, who paved Bibi’s political path. “Benjamin Netanyahu will be a bright star in the sky of Israeli politics as long as Yoni Netanyahu is dead,” the Israeli journalist Amnon Abramovich predicted after Bibi took over the right-wing Likud Party in 1993.

The pop psychoanalysis continues with the schizophrenic Bibi. Many analyses split him in two, then pit those halves against each other.

First, there’s Bibi the statesman, the Israeli Churchill, seeking immortality, versus Bibi the politician, seeking survival. Then there’s the American Bibi versus the Israeli Bibi. The American Bibi is articulate, confident, charismatic. He spoke before a rapturous joint session of Congress last year; had he read from the Tel Aviv telephone book, Senator Joseph Lieberman said afterward, he’d still have gotten all those standing ovations. (In fact, there seemed to be no sitting ovations.) He also appeared at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, this past March, where the adulation was something Soviet émigrés in Israel would have recognized – reminiscent of the Politburo, or Pavlov: 13,000 people, all conveniently out of harm’s way, cheering as one for war against Iran. The American Bibi appeals not only to American Jews; in fact, evangelical Christians like him even more, and certainly far more uncritically. Visiting Jerusalem in March, Pastor James Hagee, of Christians United for Israel, compared him to Moses, King David, and, not entirely facetiously, even to the Messiah.

The Israeli Bibi, by contrast, can be accident-prone, panicky, deceptive, disloyal, and, as his own father – who found frequent fault with him – noted, indecisive. He governs by improvisation, picks people poorly, goes through them fast. And he’s suggestible: an inordinate number of people say he tends to agree with the last person he has met. Sometimes that’s Sheldon Adelson; critics charge that Netanyahu has subcontracted aspects of his foreign policy to the American billionaire, who implacably opposes a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Or it’s Ehud Barak, who, seeking to relive his past military glories and redeem his disastrous political career, is, critics charge, exploiting his unique hold on Netanyahu – Bibi served in an elite army unit under him – to maneuver him into war. “Barak symbolizes Yoni for him – the adored, legendary commander, the older brother,” said Isaac Herzog, a former minister in several governments and head of the Labor Party’s faction in the Knesset. (Notably, Barak was one of the people privy to the top-secret coalition talks.)

Then there’s the last person Bibi sees every night: Sara. Seconds into any conversation about Netanyahu, the subject of Sara, whom he married in 1991, invariably comes up. It’s amazing how many otherwise sane Israelis see her Lady Macbeth–like hand in every corner of her husband’s life and work – whom he hires, what he does and doesn’t do, whom he can and cannot see. One hears constantly that Sara “has something” on her husband, stemming from her decision to stick by him after the highly publicized affair to which he admitted early in their marriage when his political career hung in the balance. One also hears of a supposed contract between the two of them, said to have been drafted by a former attorney general of Israel, squirreled away in some safe. Or of Bibi cowering in the bathroom, calling the childhood friends of his whom she has excommunicated.

Friend and foe alike have stories about Sara – about a tantrum or feud or some abuse of the household help – or some illustration of her vanity, like the time when, dissatisfied with the picture of her that Yediot Aharonot was about to run, she had her husband call the paper’s famously private owner, Noni Mozes, from Washington, demanding it be changed. People offer medical or psychological diagnoses, and speculate, without any apparent knowledge, about the medications she might be on. Her every misstep or peccadillo is covered minutely in the Israeli press (at least that portion Adelson doesn’t own), particularly her repeated run-ins with the help, several of which have led to lawsuits. Since ordering employees to call her “Ha Giveret” (“The Lady”) – an act of colossal hubris in a country rooted in unpretentious egalitarianism – it’s what she’s routinely and derisively called.

Numerous former staffers say her imbroglios periodically bring governance to a halt, forcing her husband to leave key meetings to tend to trivial matters or simply to calm her down. No one seriously contends that she will determine what happens with Iran. But many think she denies Netanyahu the serenity a man in his position needs. “She is a clear and present danger to the national security of the state of Israel,” one of Netanyahu’s prime critics, Ben Caspit, of the Israeli tabloid Maariv, told me. Just how, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman is said to have asked, can a man control a government when he can’t control his wife? (Already hobbled by a pending corruption investigation, Lieberman, who heads the party of former Soviet immigrants, is considered a big loser in the recent political machinations. So too are Yair Lapid, a former anchorman who’d recently launched his own party, and Shelly Yachimovich, whose Labor Party stood to regain some seats – and at least some of its historic influence – in a new vote.)

PRESS GANG

For all his political pre-eminence, Netanyahu, still convinced Israeli liberal elites consider him a “usurper,” remains highly suspicious, even paranoid. “In every criticism, Bibi sees an attempt to bring him down,” Uzi Arad, his former national-security adviser and one of many people with whom he has had a falling-out, told Yediot Aharonot in March. So he’s insular: his principal lawyer – David Shimron, who handles the numerous lawsuits Bibi and Sara have brought against their household employees and the press – is his cousin; a cousin-in-law, Yitzhak Molcho, is his most important diplomat, marginalizing both Lieberman (at least as foreign minister) and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren; Netanyahu’s long-time chief of staff, Natan Eshel, forced to resign earlier this year in a sexual-harassment scandal, never really went away and handled the recent negotiations with Kadima. Shimon Shiffer of Yediot Aharonot says that Netanyahu once told him that he has no friends, something Netanyahu denies saying. One often hears – and not just from Netanyahu’s detractors – “Bibi has two types of friends: those he has betrayed, and those he will betray.”

Netanyahu was recently quoted by Steve Linde of The Jerusalem Post as saying that Israel’s most formidable foes were The New York Times and Haaretz, the newspaper of Israel’s intelligentsia. (He denies saying or believing this, and Linde subsequently published a clarification.) But Netanyahu has feuded with the Times and, one former aide tells me, considers Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a frequent critic, to be a mouthpiece of the Obama administration. That battle pales, though, next to Netanyahu’s wars with the Israeli press, which pilloried him during his first term. Like many Israelis on the left, it never forgave Netanyahu for Rabin’s assassination, which it believed his inflammatory language helped foment.

Netanyahu has expended vastly more energy – and enjoyed far greater success – reshaping the Israeli media than seeking peace with the Palestinians. As one observer puts it, he is less Israel’s prime minister than its editor in chief. “Netanyahu’s main lesson from his first term in office was ‘If you can’t beat them, control them,’ ” says Lior Averbach, of Globes, the Israeli business magazine. By appointment, intimidation, and infiltration, his tentacles have reached into every corner of Israel’s tiny, fragile journalistic eco-system. In the process, Adelson has displaced Lauder as Netanyahu’s most munificent backer and closest American protégé. In fact, Lauder, whose friendship with Netanyahu goes back decades – to encourage Random House to give Netanyahu a hefty book advance, he reportedly offered to buy up every unsold copy – has seen his efforts to help Bibi end in tears.

The process began in 2003, when Lauder purchased a stake in Channel 10, a fledgling Israeli cable station. No one thought he relished the role of Israeli press baron: it was, rather, his way of helping Bibi claw his way out of political exile by building a beachhead in Israeli journalism. Since then, Lauder has pumped $80 million into the venture.

More than any other news outlet in Israel – where state ownership, cronyism, and scarce resources have long inhibited traditional investigative journalism – Channel 10 evolved into something scrappy and independent. On a couple of occasions, for instance, the station’s principal investigative reporter, Raviv Drucker, reported how, between his terms as prime minister, Netanyahu, a man with an unbecoming penchant for letting others pick up his tabs, traveled widely and extravagantly on the dollars – or pounds, or euros – of private donors. Sara Netanyahu lived well, too: on one trip, she is said to have brought dirty laundry along with her, the better to have it cleaned at the hotel on the other end. (The Netanyahus have denied both of these things in a libel lawsuit brought against Channel 10 and others.) Before the story – quickly dubbed “Bibi Tours” – aired last year, Netanyahu and his surrogates leaned on station officials to kill it. One large shareholder, Yossi Maiman, is said to have told a colleague later that when Netanyahu called him to squelch it Sara seized the phone and screamed so loudly – “Why do you lie? This is the man who will save Israel from another Holocaust!” – that Maiman put the call on speakerphone, then summoned his wife to listen. (Asked recently, Maiman says it never happened.)

Netanyahu also called Lauder, who, under Israeli law, was powerless to intervene. (Lauder recently denied ever having been asked.) After the program aired, the Netanyahus cut him off; to a number of people, including members of his staff, Lauder’s long friendship with Bibi, he complained, was over. He nonetheless attended the shivahs both for Sara’s father and Bibi’s (flying over immediately in his private jet). He still describes Netanyahu as his “steadfast friend.” “It’s O.K.” is how Netanyahu characterizes their relationship now. “We’ve had warmer periods and cooler periods. I respect him, and he respects me.”

Lauder’s problems as an Israeli media mogul, though, were not yet over: Channel 10 next tackled Sheldon Adelson. The gambling mogul, who is highly litigious, tried killing the story about himself beforehand, also without success. After it was broadcast, he said two of its assertions were false: that he owed $400,000 to a Las Vegas contractor (who said so on-camera), and that he had been given “extra considerations” when obtaining his Nevada gambling license. Unless he received an apology, Adelson warned, he’d sue, and in the United States, where a costly defense would bankrupt the cash-strapped station. Lauder’s aides related that he even threatened Lauder directly. (Adelson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

One might have anticipated a donnybrook: No. 8 on Forbes’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans versus No. 103. Instead, Lauder, the station’s only funder, requested that it broadcast an apology provided by Adelson himself – which it promptly did. Three key figures at Channel 10 resigned directly afterward. “There was absolutely nothing wrong with the story and no reason – apart from a purely economic one – to apologize,” says Avner Hofstein, the reporter who worked on the piece. Channel 10 remains deeply in debt; only the Netanyahu government, it seems, can save it. Few think it will try, notwithstanding Lauder’s hefty investment in it. At the station, people believe it’s Sara, still stinging over that dirty laundry, who really wants it dead. (A charge an adviser to the P.M. calls “ridiculous.”)

Adelson, who reportedly first met Netanyahu in the 1990s, speaks no Hebrew and does not live in Israel, though his wife is Israeli. But, most likely with Netanyahu’s coaching, he came to believe that Israel’s three main newspapers did not represent the diverse Israeli public, and resolved to give Israelis what he called – borrowing Fox News’s slogan – a more “fair and balanced” alternative. At first he tried to buy Maariv. His pitch wasn’t subtle; he accused the paper’s owner, Ofer Nimrodi, of being a bad Zionist. (Nimrodi, his parents, and his two sons have all served in either Israeli intelligence or the Israeli Defense Forces.) Not surprisingly, a deal never happened. So, in 2007, Adelson launched a new paper, Israel Hayom (“Israel Today”). Instantly, understandably, it was dubbed “Bibiton”: “Bibi’s Newspaper” in Hebrew. Israeli journalists compare it half-facetiously to Pravda or Tishreen, the house organ of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Because its biases are so blatant, the conservative columnist Kalman Libeskind, of Maariv, recently wrote, he’d never thought it worth criticizing. But its “complete symbiosis” with Netanyahu and his interests, he complained, sometimes “really makes you want to puke.”

From its debut, Adelson’s paper – the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars he has dumped into it dwarfs the comparative pittance he invested in Newt Gingrich’s failed presidential bid – enjoyed two advantages: it’s free (even with home delivery) and ubiquitous, handed out everywhere. By leaching away readers and advertisers, it posed a mortal threat to Yediot Aharonot and Maariv. Maariv has already fallen into new, more Bibi-friendly hands. And after a period of all-out war with Netanyahu – in which, for instance, it plastered details of a maid’s lawsuit against the First Couple over several pages – Yediot Aharonot has recently toned things down. Many see that as evidence of a hudna, or truce, between Netanyahu and the paper, though who has conceded what isn’t clear.

“Almost the whole Israeli media is dependent upon Bibi,” says a former editor of Maariv, Amnon Dankner, “and while I won’t say they’re not criticizing him, the music has changed – to quieter, less vociferous tones.” But to Netanyahu, whom people credit with clearing Israel’s economy of its socialist cobwebs while he was Ariel Sharon’s finance minister, the Israeli media are finally being aerated. “I suppose that if it doesn’t lambaste me, if it’s not tendentious and hostile, it’s obviously tremendously biased,” he says of Israel Hayom. Adelson has no power over his decisions, Netanyahu says; the two disagree all the time. “My level of intervention in the press, trying to control stories, is zero,” he says. “Subzero.”

LETTING OFF STEAM

I see Netanyahu late on a Friday afternoon in the spring. Arranging it all, escorting me in, is his most trusted aide, Ron Dermer, a personable man of 41. Dermer typifies many in Netanyahu’s entourage. He is originally American; both his father and brother were mayors of Miami Beach. And he is religious. Though Netanyahu remains secular, most of his key aides wear kippot, or skullcaps. Some say Netanyahu prefers their more conservative temperament, others that Sara likes having them around him: religious people, she feels, are less prone to tempt him into any more shenanigans. Still more think it’s a gesture to his religious supporters, until recently a crucial component in his coalition.

“I would not want him to be my daughter’s fiancé; basic human compassion is not on his agenda,” says Yossi Elituv, editor of the influential Orthodox weekly magazine Mishpacha. But alone among Israel’s leading politicians, Elituv goes on, Netanyahu respects Jewish history and tradition. “He doesn’t think Israel is just like Sweden only we happen to speak Hebrew, or that our history started only 60 years ago,” he says.

Netanyahu sits alone in the courtyard where the shivah for his father-in-law took place four months earlier. As illusory as it is – a group of young men with automatic weapons slung over their suit coats loiter just outside the stone fence – the scene seems serene, a refuge from the almost constant turbulence of Netanyahu’s life. Here, surrounded by miniature fruit trees and pots brimming with bright-pink flowers, he goes over the Bible every Shabbat with the younger of his two sons, winner of a national Bible competition. (Netanyahu also has a daughter from his first marriage, and is now a grandfather.) He meets here with Barak and Lieberman as well; pursuant to an edict from Sara, it’s the only place they can all smoke their cigars.

Netanyahu, characteristically, is dressed formally, at least by informal Israeli standards: blue blazer, white shirt open at the collar, woolen pants, black penny loafers. For all the talk of war, there is no sense of menace. The only siren to be heard is one proclaiming that sundown is half an hour away. Interviewing Netanyahu for this magazine 16 years ago, I found him wary and confrontational. Now he is calm and affable, almost jolly; so softly does he speak that twice I have to pull closer to him just to hear. Perhaps it’s the contentment that comes from invincibility and vindication. “I’ve been right more than I’ve been wrong,” he says.

Many people agree that Netanyahu has become less headstrong, more modest and empathetic, since his first term in office. He is a better listener, or at least seems to be. That he’s “considerably less polarizing,” he says, also stems from a calmer political climate: “A lot of the things that steamed up Israeli society, the steam has gone out.” Take the peace process: most Israelis now realize, even if the world doesn’t, that blame for the impasse lies elsewhere. “Some believed that I was the impediment to peace, but there were five other prime ministers since Oslo,” he says. “They did not make peace. Forget about the ‘two Bibis.’ I think about the single [Ehud] Olmert, the single Barak, the single Rabin. Why couldn’t they make peace?”

The tumult in the Arab world only highlights the perils. “People said I was a dinosaur because I asked some questions about the Arab Spring,” he says. “This is really going to be a shocker, but the region is a god-awful mess.” Then there’s Iran. For Netanyahu, it is not a new concern; a former chief of staff, Naftali Bennett, recalls Netanyahu grilling Bernard Lewis, the great scholar of Islam, about Iran and its leaders in a private dining room at the Knesset for an hour and a half six years ago. “He was incisive – he kept asking questions. He listened as never before,” recalls Bennett. “This was a man on a mission, to prevent a second Holocaust.” No one, Netanyahu tells me, “would be happier to see [the situation in Iran] resolved by sanctions or peaceful means.” He declines to speculate why so many prominent security officials – former heads of Mossad and Israeli Defense Forces among them – think he’s exaggerated the threat. But one charge clearly infuriates him: that Barak, a hugely unpopular figure in Israel whom Netanyahu has rescued from political oblivion, is driving him. “Oh, totally!” he scoffs. “He spins me on his little finger.”

Netanyahu is once reported to have said – he now denies it – that he “speaks English with a heavy Republican accent.” “Israel’s current prime minister is not just a friend, he’s an old friend,” Mitt Romney, with whom Netanyahu worked at the Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s, told AIPAC in March. (Romney, Netanyahu suggests, may have overstated the tie. “I remember him for sure, but I don’t think we had any particular connections,” he tells me. “I knew him and he knew me, I suppose.”)

Netanyahu’s encounters with President Obama have been marked by slights, misunderstandings, mutual suspicion, and downright distaste. One Obama aide says they keep hearing Netanyahu has evolved but have yet to see any signs of it. At home, Netanyahu scores points with his every slight of Obama, to whom the Israelis have never warmed. But Netanyahu insists his relationship with Obama is friendlier than it has been portrayed. They are, he tells me, “two people who appreciate the savviness and strength of the other.”

Netanyahu calls his reputation for coldness “a good joke.” It’s just one of many canards about him, he says, like that he’s cynical and opportunistic. “I’m not naturally manipulative,” he says. “I’m not a natural politician. I’m not consumed with political machinations.” He does have friends, he says, but they’re “unseen,” such as the members of his army unit – many of them left-wing kibbutzniks who don’t even vote for him – who last October helped him mark his birthday. “I’m not a glad-hander, I’m not a backslapper, but I’m not [this] icy presence,” he tells me. “My voters don’t relate that way to me. They relate very warmly to me. It’s not that there are ‘two Bibis.’ There are those who relate to me, who believe in me, and those who don’t, and there are more of the former or I wouldn’t be where I am.” Still, he knows the usual knocks well enough to anticipate them, and to keep returning to them with barely concealed irritation. “As you know, I’m humorless, friendless, controlled by my father’s hidden strings,” he volunteers. “And I’m twirling on Barak’s fingers.”

On one subject, Netanyahu is especially vehement, and voluble: his wife. “It’s a great injustice,” he says of her treatment in the Israeli press. Those who see her hand in everything are wrong, he says. People are shocked to meet her, and to discover she’s completely different from how she is depicted. Sara, he says, had made him more open with people, and, far from wreaking havoc around him, has given him the serenity he needs. (The benefits of having so supportive a spouse is something he says he shares with Obama; the two have even compared notes on it.) Quite the opposite of pulling him to the right, Sara’s views, he says, are “strongly, adamantly centrist.” The Israeli press attacks her, he suggests, only because it can’t lay a glove on him.

HIS FATHER’S SON

Tel Aviv’s cafés are crowded. Real-estate values – including those of the luxury condominiums rising near the Kirya, Israel’s Pentagon, surely ground zero for any prospective Iranian attack – are holding steady. A couple of weeks in Israel reveal that, while concerned about Iran, Israelis aren’t preoccupied with it. In the meantime, the real determinants of Netanyahu’s legacy, the Palestinians, remain. Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority, tells me that Netanyahu’s legacy has already been sealed, and it’s in fact even greater than Churchill’s: by setting terms that no Palestinian could accept – a point with which Netanyahu’s father agreed – he had destroyed the two-state solution. Had Netanyahu evolved since he first met him, nearly 25 years ago? “Yes, he is different,” Erekat replies. “He’s older, and a little fatter. Politically speaking, I haven’t seen any change.”

Amos Oz, the well-known Israeli novelist, recently wrote that most of Israel would happily line up behind Netanyahu and Barak if they withdrew from the West Bank but that they never will: they fear it would earn them what is in Hebrew the most insulting label of all: freyer, or sucker. Netanyahu professes not to care. His job, he suggests, is essentially defensive: safeguarding Israel’s future, avoiding “major pitfalls.” Shaul Mofaz has landed the thankless Palestinian portfolio, though Netanyahu will clearly call all shots. Can he, like Menachem Begin, Rabin, and Sharon before him, take bold and counter-intuitive steps for peace, or is he – as many believe, sometimes with surprising sympathy, as if he is indeed a prisoner of his own limitations – a kind of machine, quite beyond epiphanies? Suddenly a new but long-anticipated factor has entered the equation: the death of his beloved abba, or father.

In late April, as Netanyahu met with aides to discuss moving up the elections, he was hit by particularly pointed criticism from several sources, including the recently retired head of Israel’s state security service, Yuval Diskin, and former prime minister Ehud Olmert, each expressing doubts about his policies on Iran and the Palestinians. But when Benzion Netanyahu died in Jerusalem, early on the morning of April 30, the bricks suddenly stopped flying, at least until another shivah, this one at Benzion’s home, was complete. Within 12 hours of his death – Jerusalem traditionally buries its dead within a day – Netanyahu, his family, and much of the Israeli establishment had gathered in a special section of Har Hamenuchot cemetery reserved for the parents of fallen soldiers. Only a few feet away, outside that portion of the graveyard, Shmuel Ben-Artzi already lay.

Finally, the issue that has hung over Netanyahu seemingly forever – that “psychobabble” about whether his father’s death would liberate him from his demons and prejudices – will be answered. Standing at a lectern aligned to face the battery of television and still cameras behind the guests, pausing occasionally to compose himself, Netanyahu spoke of love, a word people had rarely, if ever, heard him utter before. He talked, too, of clairvoyance – specifically, his historian father’s ability not just to decipher the past but to discern the future, particularly the next catastrophe awaiting the Jews. In so doing, he seemed not to be distancing himself from his father, but to be re-dedicating himself to him.

“You always said that a critical skill for a living body – and a nation is a living body – is the ability to identify danger in time,” he declared. “You taught me, Abba, to look reality right in the eyes.”

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH WRITER DAVID MARGOLICK ABOUT HIS PROFILE OF BENJAMIN NETANYAHU

David Margolick on Benjamin Netanyahu’s Wife, Sara, and His Two-Faced Political Personality
By Jack Deligter
Vanity Fair Online
June 13 2012

Having met Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu in 1996 during his first term as Israeli prime minister, Vanity Fair contributing editor David Margolick revisits the country’s very own Teflon Ben in the July issue’s “The Netanyahu Paradox.” Reflecting on the interview and the current state of politics in Israel, Margolick elaborates on why this tale of two Bibis really needs telling.

Vanity Fair: It’s been 16 years since your first article on Netanyahu. How has he evolved?

David Margolick: He’s more confident and mature and less hot-headed. I don’t think he’s evolved much ideologically, but he clearly picks his fights more carefully and has a much surer sense for how to survive and prosper politically. That said, some of the old resentments and insecurities still lurk beneath the softer surface.

Vanity Fair: This was not your first sit-down with an Israeli prime minister – how do Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu compare as interviewees?

Sharon was much more mellow. We sat in his kitchen and he munched on cashews throughout the interview. Even some sirens going off in the background – it turned out there was a terrorist attack while we spoke – didn’t shake him. He was also much less wary of me. We spoke alone: no one else listened in. Sharon had tougher skin and seemed more at peace with himself than Netanyahu.

Vanity Fair: Is Sara Netanyahu’s reputation as the prime minister’s Lady Macbeth deserved?

There’s no doubt that she’s a very divisive figure. It’s not only Netanyahu’s enemies who say so: so, too, do people who are very close to him. At the same time, the charges of her influence over her husband are necessarily speculative. No one except Netanyahu himself, and maybe not even he, can really know what her influence is.

Vanity Fair: How would you describe Barack Obama and Netanyahu’s relationship?

Each feels that the other has tried to undermine him; each would be delighted if the other disappeared. At the same time, I suspect that simply as politicians, each admires what the other has accomplished and recognizes how formidable a figure the other is. That’s what Netanyahu told me, and I believe him.

Vanity Fair: Benjamin Netanyahu is often criticized for his two-faced political personality. To what extent is this true?

There’s no doubt that as a matter of public perception in the United States and Israel, there are absolutely two Bibis: that Netanyahu’s image and stature in the two places is very different. At no time and in no place in Israel would he get the adulatory reception he receives annually at the [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] conference in Washington. I think Israelis marvel and chuckle [at] – and, in many instances, take pleasure and pride in – the way he is viewed in the United States. It’s fair to see a struggle between the Netanyahu seeking his place in history and the one intent only on surviving. To the degree that some people consider the latter priority to rank so much higher in his mind, it may be that the image of “two Bibis” that so rankles Netanyahu actually gives him too much credit.

Vanity Fair: If Netanyahu wins and completes his next term as prime minister, only David Ben-Gurion will have served longer. How do you explain his success?

More than any other politician, he speaks to the emerging majority in Israel of groups that have been historically marginalized there: the Russians, the religious, the Sephardim, or Jews of Middle Eastern rather than European origin. The founding generation, which supplied leaders for decades, has passed.

Vanity Fair: In the piece, Saeb Erakat – the chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority – accuses Netanyahu of destroying the two-state solution. How much truth is there to that statement?

The more time passes, the harder the two-state solution will be. It’s now three years harder than it was three years ago. That said, it’s hard to see an alternative.

Vanity Fair: Netanyahu now enjoys one of the largest majorities in Israeli history. Should his job security be reason for hope or dismay in Israel?

Really, it can be both. Dismay, if it means four more years of stalemate. Hope, in that Netanyahu is probably the only politician who can deliver something really dramatic with the Palestinians, and now he has more of what he needs – time and political maneuverability – to do so. The question is whether he has the will, and whether the Palestinians have the desire and capacity to reciprocate.


Jewish star sings Persian classics in Tel Aviv and her fans in Iran can’t get enough

June 10, 2012

Carmen at Masada. Please scroll down the page to see video clips from the performance

 

This dispatch contains a number of items relating to music and film. You can comment on it here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.

 

CONTENTS

1. A breathtaking Carmen at Masada
2. Video clips of Carmen performed yesterday at Masada
3. Israeli Jewish singer becomes a superstar hit in Iran
4. Clips of Rita
5. YouTube asked to remove Egyptian singer’s hate song…
6. … While Egypt funds anti-Israeli Tunisian film
7. Egypt shuts down production of film that “promotes” Israel ties
8. Leading Turkish pianist to be put on trial for re-tweeting a message deemed insulting to Islam
9. “Iran and Israel can agree on this: Rita totally rocks” (Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2012)


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

A BREATHTAKING CARMEN AT MASADA

Israel, already known for its outstanding classical music orchestras, is increasingly entering the wider international musical arena.

Madonna, the world’s most popular music star, chose Israel to launch her world tour last week.

And also last week, international DJ sensation, AVICII, came to perform in Israel as part of the XL Nightlife Festival in Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile I was fortunate enough to attend the spectacular premiere of Bizet’s Carmen, performed in the desert heat at Masada on the Dead Sea late on Thursday evening, to the magical backdrop of the desert and thousands of stars above.

The performance was magnificent and the sheer size of the 3,500 square meter set breathtaking. It took 2,500 people six months to create the set, which included specially built mountains and hillsides and a railway track. Because the opera is located in an archeologically-important preservation zone, the local council requires that the entire opera village must be completely disassembled each year.

This is one of the largest opera productions in the world. Forty-five thousand people bought tickets for the 7,500 seat amphitheater for the six performances. About 3,500 people traveled to Israel from abroad especially for the occasion, according to the Tel Aviv-based Israel Opera which staged the performance.

After a sandstorm on Tuesday during rehearsals, Anna Malavasi, an Italian mezzo soprano, said she wanted to rest and was replaced in the role of Carmen alternatively by Spanish mezzo soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera (who previously played Carmen in New York, London, Berlin, and Los Angeles), and rising Israeli mezzo soprano star Naama Goldman. Because of the strenuous nature of the four-hour performances in the desert heat, there are two casts for the main roles so the singers can rest on alternate nights. Anna Malavesi sang the lead role again last night (Saturday).

Daniel Oren conducted. Last June, Aida was staged at the foot of Masada, and next year, the company will perform Puccini’s Turandot there.

As part of a community outreach program, the Israeli Opera broadcast the premiere of Carmen for free on large open-air screens at three different locations in Israel: at Gan Hashlosha in the north; the amphitheater on the Netanya promenade in the center of the country; and in the plaza of the Beersheba Museum in the south.

Every summer, the Israeli Opera also stages an open-air free opera performance at the Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv, attracting thousands of people. This year will feature Rigoletto.

 

VIDEO CLIPS OF CARMEN PERFORMED YESTERDAY AT MASADA






 

ISRAELI JEWISH SINGER BECOMES A SUPERSTAR HIT IN IRAN

The popularity of the Israeli Jewish singer Rita in mainly Muslim Iran is coming to the notice of the international media. Last week, The Wall Street Journal, America’s best-selling newspaper, ran a front page story on the phenomenon.

The paper noted:

“Music-loving Iranians craving nostalgic Persian songs of a bygone era, or the upbeat dance music that is banned in their Islamic state, have new darling: Rita, the Israeli singing sensation.

“Rita Jahanforuz, 50 years old, is Israel’s most famous female singer – and suddenly she’s big in Iran. Iranian-born and fluent in Persian, Rita, as she is universally known, moved to Israel as a child and has lived there ever since. Her latest album, ‘All My Joys,’ revives old-time Persian hits, giving them an upbeat Mediterranean flavor that caters to the Israeli ear.

“The album went gold in Israel in just three weeks, despite being sung entirely in Persian. It also propelled Rita onto the music scene in Iran, where she was all but unknown outside of Iran’s small Jewish population.

“Now, from nightclubs in Tel Aviv to secret underground parties in Tehran, Israelis and Iranians alike go wild when the DJ plays her hit ‘Beegharar,’ or ‘Restless’.”

Rita began her singing career as part of an Israeli army band in the 1980s.

The full article from The Wall Street Journal is at the end of this dispatch.

 

CLIPS OF RITA

Here are three clips of Rita’s music for those interested.

Mehake


Shaneh


Shah Doomad (Live from Tel Aviv, April 2012)


 

YOUTUBE ASKED TO REMOVE EGYPTIAN SINGER’S HATE SONG

Various Jewish groups have asked YouTube to take down a song by Egyptian singer Amr El Masry calling for the destruction of the Jewish State.

El Masry’s misnamed song “I love Israel,” calls for Israel and Israelis to “disappear from the universe.”

One verse says: “May [Israel] dangle from the noose. May I get to see it burning, Amen. I will pour petrol on it.”

The song is popular on YouTube.

 

EGYPT SHUTS DOWN PRODUCTION OF FILM THAT “PROMOTES” ISRAEL TIES

Egypt’s leading Al-Ahram newspaper reports that Egypt’s censor has ordered the production of an Egyptian film to be stopped because it is said to promote the normalization of relations with Israel.

The film, called “A Loaf of Bread,” was written and directed by Mohamed Kenawy, who denied the accusation, saying the film was designed to promote peace and cooperation among different peoples.

The story revolves around an Egyptian, a Palestinian and an Israeli, and it deals with life in the Arab world in general, he said. The movie had been in production for two months before filming was halted.

 

WHILE EGYPT FUNDS ANTI-ISRAELI TUNISIAN FILM

At the same time, the government-funded Egyptian National Broadcasting Authority has decided to help fund a film by a Tunisian director that calls for attacks on Israelis.

That film, “Kingdom of the Ants,” is directed by Shawqi al-Majri and cost $1.5 million. It is due to have its premiere in 10 Arab countries simultaneously in September.

The film was shot in Tunisia and Syria. Why the Obama administration continues to pour money into the bank accounts of the Egyptian government without trying to put restrictions on how the authorities spend its money is a question that many in America and beyond are asking.

 

LEADING TURKISH PIANIST TO BE PUT ON TRIAL FOR RE-TWEETING A MESSAGE DEEMED INSULTING TO ISLAM

A court in Istanbul has charged the internationally-known Turkish classical and jazz pianist and composer Fazil Say with “insulting Islamic values”. Turkey’s Erdogan government is becoming increasing Islamist and authoritarian. This is the latest in a series of legal actions by the government against Turkish artists and intellectuals for statements deemed to be contrary to Islam.

Fazil Say has performed with major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra.

Say’s “offence” was to re-tweet, via his Twitter account, a poem by an 11th-century Persian poet deemed insulting to Islam. Say was one of 165 people who shared the Twitter post.

The official Anatolian News Agency said his trial is scheduled to start in October. He will face up to 18 months in jail if convicted.

“I just thought it was a funny allegory and retweeted the message,” Say said. “It is unbelievable that it was made into a court case. It is saddening not only when judged on its own merit but also for Turkey’s image.”

***

I attach one article below.

-- Tom Gross


IRAN AND ISRAEL CAN AGREE ON THIS: RITA JAHANFORUZ TOTALLY ROCKS

Iran and Israel can agree on this: Rita Jahanforuz totally rocks
By Farnaz Fassihi in Beirut and Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv
The Wall Street Journal
June 4, 2012

Music-loving Iranians craving nostalgic Persian songs of a bygone era, or the upbeat dance music that is banned in their Islamic state, have new darling: Rita, the Israeli singing sensation.

Rita Jahanforuz, 50 years old, is Israel’s most famous female singer – and suddenly she’s big in Iran. Iranian-born and fluent in Persian, Rita, as she is universally known, moved to Israel as a child and has lived there ever since. Her latest album, “All My Joys,” revives old-time Persian hits, giving them an upbeat Mediterranean flavor that caters to the Israeli ear.

The album went gold in Israel in just three weeks, despite being sung entirely in Persian. It also propelled Rita onto the music scene in Iran, where she was all but unknown outside of Iran’s small Jewish population.

Now, from nightclubs in Tel Aviv to secret underground parties in Tehran, Israelis and Iranians alike go wild when the DJ plays her hit “Beegharar,” or “Restless.”

Rita’s fans within Iran, where the government heavily filters the Internet, use tricky software to furtively download her songs online. Bootleg CD sellers in the back alley of Tehran’s old bazaar wrap her albums in unmarked packages and hush any inquiries when asked if they sell her music.

“Shhh…don’t mention Israel. Just say music by ‘Rita Khanum,’ “ which means “Ms. Rita,” said a young man named Reza selling bootleg music CDs and DVDs of Hollywood movies.

The governments of Iran and Israel are each other’s sworn enemies, and within Iran it is considered a taboo to publicly endorse anything that has to do with Israel. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said Israel should be wiped off the map. Israel has said it would consider pre-emptively bombing Iran to prevent it from building a nuclear weapon.

Rita, however, with her striking beauty and bubbly demeanor, has emerged as an unexpected bond between ordinary Iranians and Israelis – part cultural ambassador, part antiwar spokeswoman. A picture of Rita with the banner, “Iranians we will never bomb your country,” is posted on her Facebook page.

“These days, people only know the language of war and violence and hatred,” said Rita, referring to Israelis’ view of the Persian language, during a recent interview in Tel Aviv. After she started receiving emails from Iranian fans, she realized music can “puncture the wall’’ of tension.

Rita’s family immigrated to Israel in 1970. She grew up in a suburb near Tel Aviv listening to her mother sing melodies from their homeland as she cooked in the kitchen.

Her singing career kicked off when Rita joined a band in the Israeli army in the 1980s. She rose to stardom quickly, singing solo and mostly in Hebrew or English, packing concert halls and performing for Israeli officials and foreign delegates.

A year ago, she decided to revisit what she tells audiences is the “soundtrack of my childhood” by adapting Persian classics that most Iranians know by heart. Her 2011 single “Shaneh” is based on a traditional song that Iranian grandmothers are known to whisper to their grandchildren as they comb their hair. An homage to a lover, it includes lines such as, “Oh, love, don’t comb your hair because my heart rests in its waves.” Rita reworked the song, staying true to the lyrics but giving it a more modern sound, somewhere between pop and Jewish gypsy music.

Iranian fans responded overwhelmingly, bombarding her with emails and messages online. “Rita, I want one of these concerts in Iran. You have an amazing voice and you are another pride for Iran,” wrote an Iranian fan on one of her videos on YouTube.

In September, when Rita visited Radio Ran, a Persian-language Internet radio station based in a Tel Aviv suburb, the studio was flooded with calls from Iranians around the world.

In an Israeli television interview, speaking of her Iranian fans, she joked that if she ever traveled to Iran, she would like to sing a duet with Mr. Ahmadinejad, “Maybe I can soften him with my feminine charm,” she said.

Iran’s government has taken notice. Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps, wrote last July that Rita is Israel’s “latest plot in a soft war” to gain access to the hearts and minds of Iranians.

Iranian hard-line websites and blogs expressed particular displeasure at Rita for sending a message to Iranians this past March for the Norouz New Year, via a video posted on the Persian website of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Norouz messages are considered highly political and usually a tactic used by politicians like President Barack Obama and Iran’s opposition leaders.

“I hope that we all live alongside each other by dancing and singing because this is what will last,” Rita said in her Norouz message.

In May, Rita performed a sold-out concert in the city of Ashkelon, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, singing mostly Persian songs. Fans crowded the stage and danced the aisles.

After the show, concert goers said they were swept away. “Listen, I’m not Persian,” said Meir Kanto, a 72-year-old farmer. “But the culture is so colorful and so beautiful, from my perspective, let them conquer us. It wouldn’t hurt.”

In Tehran, guests at a recent engagement party jumped to their feet shimmying their hips and shoulders when Rita’s voice echoed from the speakers, mixing the rhythms of an old and uniquely southern Iranian song to techno dance beats. Even middle-age couples joined in.

“She is singing from her heart. So what if she is from Israel?” said Manijeh, a 43-year-old relative of the bride who asked that her surname not be published. “We love her.”

Burgers, fries and marijuana (& Knesset members join the fun)

June 09, 2012

* Israel’s new ambassador to Norway is a Druze and his deputy is a Christian Arab
* Israeli scientists invent “cannabis without the high”
* Knesset members and religious Jewish participants join one of world’s biggest gay pride parades

* In contrast, in the Palestinian Authority a Palestinian homosexual was forced to stand in sewage up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces; police stripped him naked and forced him to sit on a bottle of Coca Cola

***

This dispatch contains a number of “human interest” stories, mainly concerning Israel.

(You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.)

 

Above: The 2012 Tel Aviv Gay pride march attracted a record number of gay and non-gay participants

 

CONTENTS

1. Mystery UFO that had the Middle East on edge was in fact a Russian ballistic missile
2. Israeli hamburger restaurant busted for serving a side order of marijuana
3. Israeli scientists invent “cannabis without the high”
4. Jerusalem’s “Korean quarter”
5. Meanwhile in Tel Aviv…
6. Knesset members join pride parade
7. More Israeli Arab and Druze diplomats


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

MYSTERY UFO THAT HAD THE MIDDLE EAST ON EDGE WAS IN FACT A RUSSIAN BALLISTIC MISSILE

The glowing light seen over the skies of the Middle East on Thursday evening – which many Arab newspapers and some Israeli websites reported was a UFO – in fact resulted from a failed intercontinental ballistic missile test by the Russian military.

On Thursday and Friday, according to news reports, thousands of Arabs (and hundreds of Israelis) called police hotlines in various countries to report seeing an unidentified flying object in the skies above.

But yesterday the Russian news agency Novosti quoted the Defense Ministry in Moscow saying that a missile was test-fired from the Astrakhan region in central Russia, and the trail of light could be seen across Armenia, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and other countries in the region.

Israeli Astronomical Association Chairman Dr. Yigal Pat-El told the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot that “It most likely spun out of control and its remnants and the fuel was what people saw. It reached a height of 200-300 kilometers and that’s why it was seen from so many locations.”

Similar reports of alleged UFO sightings were made in 2009 by people in Norway, following a failed Russian missile test in the area.

 

ISRAELI HAMBURGER RESTAURANT BUSTED FOR SERVING A SIDE ORDER OF MARIJUANA

Police raided the “Burgers fast food restaurant” in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya last week after diners tipped off Israel’s drug enforcement unit that the restaurant was serving a little something extra with their hamburgers.

Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported that when customers wanted more than the standard lunch, they ordered the “100-shekel burger” and received a side order of marijuana or hashish in a sealed plastic bag concealed in their French fries.

If a customer wanted a larger quantity of hash, he or she could order the 200- or 300-shekel burger, according to the police indictment.

Although the restaurant is situated down the street from police headquarters, officers said that the sale of drugs had gone on for many months before they found out about it.

The owner and three employees have been indicted for dealing in drugs, and the restaurant ordered closed for a three month period, according to Israeli press reports.

 

ISRAELI SCIENTISTS INVENT “CANNABIS WITHOUT THE HIGH”

Agence France Presse, citing Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, reports that Israeli scientists have cultivated a cannabis plant that doesn’t get people stoned, in a development that may help those who need to smoke marijuana for medical purposes.

The new cannabis looks, smells and tastes the same, but does not induce the feelings of a “high” normally associated with smoking marijuana that are brought on by the substance THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.

“It has the same scent, shape and taste as the original plant, but the numbing sensation that users are accustomed to has disappeared,” said Tzahi Klein, head of development at Tikkun Olam, the firm that developed the plant.

According to Ma’ariv, Tikkun Olam sought to neutralise the effect of the THC and to increase the effect of another substance called CBD, or cannabidiol, which has been shown to help diabetics and to ease various psychiatric disorders.

Ma’ariv reported that “not only does it leave users stone-cold sober, it also doesn’t induce the munchies, the hunger pangs that the drug’s smokers generally suffer.”

According to figures published this year by the Sheba Medical Centre and the Israel Cancer Association, medical marijuana has been approved for use by about 6,000 Israelis suffering from various illnesses.

 

JERUSALEM’S KOREAN QUARTER

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports as follows:

“It’s become a mainstay of Saturday nights on the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall in Jerusalem. Between the crowds of Israeli revelers and American teens at the frozen-yogurt shops, a group of Koreans singing hymns vies for attention.

“It’s one of the most public signs of Israel’s small but growing community of South Koreans, many of whom come to the Holy Land because they are Christians. Not far from Ben Yehuda, there is a Korean restaurant on nearby Shamai Street and five small Korean churches.

“‘Israel reflects the truth of the Tanach,’ Yung Doo, a Korean man in his late 30s who moved to Israel two years ago with his family to pursue a graduate degree in Bible studies, said, using the Hebrew word for Bible. ‘This is the land of David and Saul.’”

“While official estimates are hard to come by, South Korea’s ambassador to Israel, Ilsoo Kim, estimates that there are about 800 Koreans in about 300 families living in Israel. The number, he said, has been growing in recent years. They mainly reside around the French Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhoods in the Jerusalem area.”

***

Among other recent dispatches concerning South Korea, please see:

* How China is quietly building links with Israel (& Bolstering Israel-South Korean ties)

 

MEANWHILE IN TEL AVIV…

An estimated 100,000 people marched in a gay pride extravaganza in Tel Aviv on Friday. They included thousands of heterosexuals (including myself) who joined their gay friends to join in the fun.

The city’s mayor’s office said it was by far the largest pride parade ever, and included a sharp increase in the number of foreign tourists who had come to Israel for the event.

Various other city-sponsored gay events have been continuing all week in Tel Aviv. A French tourist, Eric Christiansen, told Yediot Ahronot that the parades were “a wonderful sight and I hope it will be broadcast all over the world to show how much freedom and pluralism Israel has to offer.”

Tel Aviv has become both a Mediterranean and international destination of choice for gay tourists. (Once gays set a fashion agenda, others often follow some years later.)

The contrast with neighboring Arab countries could not be greater. It’s the only place in the Middle East where gays are free to walk hand-in-hand and kiss in public.

Several Arab states have laws applying the death penalty to homosexuals. Iran hangs gays from cranes in public squares. Saudi Arabia has beheaded them. And in the Palestinian Authority a few years ago, The New Republic reported that in Tulkarem a Palestinian homosexual was forced to stand in sewage up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces, and then he was thrown into a cell infested with insects and lice. During the interrogation, police stripped him naked and forced him to sit on a bottle of Coca Cola.

 

KNESSET MEMBERS JOIN PRIDE PARADE

In contrast, in Tel Aviv on Friday, religious Jewish participants also took part in the events -- some of the marchers wore yarmulkes and carried the rainbow flag with a Star of David affixed to the center, and there was also a specific organized vehicle with religious Jews, sponsored by Google Israel. There were also “Gay Likud” supporters’ banners. In general, it was a very joyous event with people on balconies all the way through the parade route joining in the celebration, including families and young children waving.

Knesset members from several parties of both right and left, including openly Gay parliamentarian MK Nitzan Horowitz, joined in the festivities.

It is difficult to think of another country where such a high proportion of heterosexual politicians join a gay pride parade in solidarity with gay rights.

Tel Aviv and Toronto are the only two cities in the world where the authorities budget for Gay Pride week and help officially sponsors events, according to news reports. Even some crosswalks are painted in rainbow stripes for the occasion by Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv, known for its relaxed, party atmosphere, was recently voted the world’s best gay travel destination by the world’s leading gay website, and is also increasingly coming to the attention of a wider traveling public. Lonely Planet guide books named Tel Aviv as one of the world’s “top ten overall cities in 2011.” And Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper recently named Tel Aviv “one of the world’s most creative cities,” the others being London, Sydney, Stockholm and Shanghai.

***

Among other recent dispatches dealing with gay matters:

* Tel Aviv voted world’s best gay city

* Omar Sharif Jr. comes out -- twice: “I’m gay and I’m Jewish”

* Brave Iranians publically display gay flags

* Leading Iranian ayatollah says gays are “worse than dogs and pigs”

* Portuguese gay activist: Why I no longer hate Israel

 

MORE ISRAELI ARAB AND DRUZE DIPLOMATS

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week appointed Druze professor Naim Araidi as Israel’s next ambassador to Norway and Christian-Arab George Deek as his deputy.

Araidi, 62, is a professor of Hebrew Literature. He wrote his doctorate on the poetry of Uri Zvi Grinberg, teaches at Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities, serves as the dean at the Arab Academic College for Education, and is a member of the Sapir Prize board. In 2008, he won the Israeli Prime Minister’s Award for Hebrew Literature.

Araidi was originally going to serve as ambassador in New Zealand, but has now been assigned to Norway.

Deek, who has been appointed as his deputy, is an Israeli-Arab diplomat born in Jaffa, who has recently ended a posting as Israeli deputy ambassador in Nigeria. Revital Ben-Naim, an Israeli Jew, will work under them as Israel’s consul in Norway.

Maybe this will put a stop to the endless round of fictitious stories about “apartheid Israel” in the Norwegian media. Norway has long been one of the most anti-Israel countries in Europe. (Some commentators, such as Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is a subscriber to this email list and was disinvited from speaking in Norway recently, have noted that a fair amount of anti-Semitism has entered Norwegian discourse about Israel too.)

Among past dispatches on Norway, please see:

* Norway: Olmert as “Nazi commander in Schindler’s list”

* Norway – Moves to arrest Ariel Sharon for “war crimes”

* Norway school bans Star of David

Ambassador-designate Araidi told Yediot Ahronot: “It will be a great honor for me to represent Israel and show Norwegians that there is co-existence in Israel that can only exist in a true democracy.”

Several Arabs and Druze are working at various Israeli embassies. Among Druze ambassadors for Israel are Walid Mansour, who was posted to Vietnam and Reda Mansour who served in Ecuador.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]