Tag: Syrian Crackdown





The Canadian Institute for Jewish Research cordially invites you to its

23rd Anniversary Gala

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Congregation Shaar Hashomayim
450 Avenue Kensington, Westmount, Quebec, Canada


Former Israeli Defense Minister and Ambassador to the U.S.


Also Featuring

Prof. Barry Rubin

Outstanding internationally-renowned Middle East analyst


Tax receipts will be issued for the maximum allowable amount


For additional information. or to register for the 23rd Anniversary Gala,
please call Yvonne at 514-486-5544 or contact us by e-mail at yvonne@isranet.org



The festival with multiple names
Baruch Cohen

In loving memory of Malca z’l


The biblical names for the festival are:

Hag Shavuot” [Feast of Weeks]—(Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10);
Yom Habikurim” [The Day of the First Fruits]—(Numbers 28:26);
Hag Hakazir” [The Harvest Feast]—(Exodus 23:16);
Hag Zeman Matan Torantenu” [The Time of Giving of Our Torah]—(Deuteronomy 29:13-14)

It is common custom to adorn the synagogue with flowers on the Feast of Weeks symbolizing that the Lily of the Valley denotes Israel itself, as is confirmed by the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs.

It is also customary to read the Book of Ruth. Among the reasons given are: that the events recorded in the Book  took place at the harvest time (Ruth 2:23), and that Ruth was an ancestor of King David (Ruth 4:17), who, according to tradition, died on Shavuot. Furthermore, Ruth’s “Conversion” to Judaism is an appropriate reading for the festival of Zeman Matan Torantenu, as Ruth’s commitment to Judaism is symbolic of Israel’s loyalty to the Torah!

The Time of Giving of Our Torah, is a celebration of the Jewish people’s receipt of the Ten Commandments—a key moment in our history—both on account of the Torah’s fundamental and far-reaching importance, and of the awe-inspiring manner in which the Commandments were given (revealed) to the Hebrew people, the nation of Israel, and then passed on to the entire world.

The festival of Shavuot teaches us an important spiritual lesson: that release from bondage and the winning of political independence do not, in and of themselves, ensure that one will be free, unless this process is accompanied by spiritual discipline and culminates in adherence to the Eternal duties of Am Israel and to the State of Israel.

(Baruch Cohen is Research Chairman of theCanadian Institute for Jewish Research.)


Reuven Hammer
Jerusalem Magazine, June 3, 2011


We all know Shavuot as Zman Matan Torateinu—the time of the giving of our Torah—yet there is no mention of that in the Torah itself. Rather, the Torah refers to it simply as the 50th day after bringing the first sheaf of the new harvest: “Then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:16), and “On that same day you shall hold a celebration” (Lev. 23:21). Numbers 28:26 calls it “the day of the first fruits, your Feast of Weeks.”

Strangely enough, no connection is made to the events at Mount Sinai. In the Torah itself, then, there is no day commemorating what could be seen as the culmination of the purpose of the Exodus, the great covenant-ceremony at Sinai. This is even stranger when we consider that the date of Sinai, as recorded in the Torah itself, corresponds with Shavuot. It remained for rabbinic Judaism to connect Shavuot with the giving of the Torah.

It is of course impossible to know why the Torah did not command us to celebrate the events at Sinai. If I may speculate, perhaps the event itself was considered so mysterious and so unique that any attempt to commemorate it or to imitate it would only be seen as diminishing it. The Exodus can be understood and can even be reenacted at Pessah. Dwelling in succot can also be replicated. How does one replicate the revelation of God at Mount Sinai, the making of the covenant through which Israel became God’s people and the Lord became Israel’s God?

And yet, at a later time, the Sages must have felt the lack of such a day and the need to celebrate the uniqueness and the divinity of the Torah when others were making similar claims for their sacred scripture. Within the circle of the Pharisees, Shavuot became associated with the events at Sinai. There is, of course, no way to duplicate those events, but by reading the section of the Torah in which they are described, we celebrate them. The later custom of reading a ketuba (marriage certificate) between God and Israel also emphasizes the purpose of the event: the making of a covenant—a kind of marriage—between God and Israel, the terms of which are stated in the Torah.

The significance of the events at Sinai is both in the content and in the covenant. According to the accounts in the Torah itself, the content of the revelation was the Ten Pronouncements and some basic laws recounted in the Torah portion of Mishpatim. Other laws were given subsequently during the years of wandering. Modern biblical studies extend that period and see the Torah as a compilation of interpretations of Moses’s original teachings by different schools that was completed at the time of Ezra, when it was accepted as the law of Israel (Nehemiah 8:1-6). We are justified in calling it “the Torah”—i.e., teaching—“of Moses” since it is based on his instruction to the people of Israel.

For a religious person, this is seen as being inspired by God. As Abraham J. Heschel wrote, “how these words were written down is not the fundamental problem… The act of revelation is a mystery, while the record of revelation is a literary fact, phrased in the language of man.”

The covenant at Sinai is the second covenant made by God and our ancestors. The first was the covenant of Abraham, stated in the very first words God said to him: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you” (Genesis 12:2). Later, he is told that the covenant includes granting the Land of Canaan to his descendants (Gen. 15:18-21). But nothing is demanded of Abraham, or later of Isaac or Jacob. They are granted God’s gifts and blessings because of their loyalty to God. It is not until the time of Moses, at Sinai, that the second covenant is made—not simply a gift, but a conditional agreement between two parties: “If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples” (Exodus 19:5).

Shavuot for us, as descendants of the Sages, is the time to affirm our belief in the Torah as the inspired teaching of Moses, and to reaffirm our adherence to it as the terms of the covenant between the people of Israel and God. It was the Exodus that made us a free people. It was Sinai that made us a holy nation.

(Mr. Hammer is a former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly,
and founding director of the Schechter Rabbinical School.)


David Brooks

NY Times, June 2, 2011


By now you have probably heard about Hamza Ali al-Khateeb. He was the 13-year-old Syrian boy who tagged along at an antigovernment protest in the town of Saida on April 29. He was arrested that day, and the police returned his mutilated body to his family a month later. While in custody, he had apparently been burned, beaten, lacerated and given electroshocks. His jaw and kneecaps were shattered. He was shot in both arms. When his father saw the state of Hamza’s body, he passed out.

The family bravely put video evidence of the torture on the Internet, and Hamza’s martyrdom has rallied the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist regime. But, of course, his torture didn’t come out of nowhere. The regime’s defining act of brutality was the Hama massacre in 1982 when then-President Hafez al-Assad had more than 10,000 Syrians murdered. The U.S. government has designated Syria a state sponsor of terror for 30 consecutive years. The State Department’s Human Rights Report has described the regime’s habitual torture techniques, including pulling out fingernails, burning genitals, hyperextending the spine, bending the body around the frame of a wheel while whipping the victim and so on.

Over the past several weeks, Bashar al-Assad’s regime has killed more than 1,000 protesters and jailed at least 10,000 more, according to Syrian human rights groups. Human Rights Watch has described crimes against humanity in the town of Dara’a, where boys have been mutilated and men massacred.

All governments do bad things, and Middle East dictatorships do more than most. But the Syrian government is one of the world’s genuinely depraved regimes. Yet for all these years, Israel has been asked to negotiate with this regime, compromise with this regime and trust that this regime will someday occupy the heights over it in peace.

For 30 years, the Middle East peace process has been predicated on moral obtuseness, an unwillingness to face the true nature of certain governments. World leaders have tried sweet-talking Syria, calling Bashar al-Assad a friend (Nancy Pelosi) or a reformer (Hillary Clinton). In 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy invited Assad to be the guest of honor at France’s Bastille Day ceremonies—a ruthless jailer celebrating the storming of a jail.

For 30 years, diplomats and technocrats have flown to Damascus in the hopes of “flipping” Syria—turning it into a pro-Western, civilized power. It would be interesting to know what they were thinking. Perhaps some of them were so besotted with their messianic abilities that they thought they had the power to turn a depraved regime into a normal regime. Perhaps some of them were so wedded to the materialistic mind-set that they thought a regime’s essential nature could be altered with a magical mix of incentives and disincentives.

Perhaps some of them were simply morally blind. They were such pedantic technocrats, so consumed by the legalisms of the peace process, that they no longer possessed the capacity to recognize the moral nature of the regime they were dealing with, or to understand the implications of its nature.

In any case, their efforts were doomed. In fact, the current peace process is doomed because of the inability to make a categorical distinction. There are some countries in the region that are not nice, but they are normal—Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia. But there are other governments that are fundamentally depraved. Either as a matter of thuggishness (Syria) or ideology (Hamas), they reject the full humanity of other human beings. They believe it is proper and right to kill innocents. They can never be part of a successful negotiation because they undermine the universal principles of morality.

It doesn’t matter how great a law professor or diplomat you are. It doesn’t matter how masterly you sequence the negotiations or what magical lines you draw on a map. There won’t be peace so long as depraved regimes are part of the picture. That’s why it’s crazy to get worked into a lather about who said what about the 1967 border. As long as Hamas and the Assad regime are in place, the peace process is going nowhere, just as it’s gone nowhere for lo these many years.

That’s why it’s necessary, especially at this moment in history, to focus on the nature of regimes, not only the boundaries between them. To have a peaceful Middle East, it was necessary to get rid of Saddam’s depraved regime in Iraq. It will be necessary to try to get rid of Qaddafi’s depraved regime in Libya. It’s necessary, as everybody but the Obama administration publicly acknowledges, to see Assad toppled.  It will be necessary to marginalize Hamas. It was necessary to abandon the engagement strategy that Barack Obama campaigned on and embrace the cautious regime-change strategy that is his current doctrine.

The machinations of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are immaterial. The Arab reform process is the peace process.


“News in Review” Round-Up

Weekly Quotes


I wanted to begin and say that I met with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe in Jerusalem.… We very much appreciate our French friends and…we will study the proposal and discuss it with our American friends as well.… We would also like to emphasize and reiterate: Negotiations will not be conducted with a Palestinian government, half of which is Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks to destroy Israel. I made it clear to Foreign Minister Juppe that Hamas must adopt the Quartet principles. I think that our position is very clear. It is certainly acceptable to the US.…”—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a weekly Cabinet meeting, announcing to the public France’s recent proposal to Israel to sponsor a peace summit to jump-start negotiations with the Palestinians, and affirming Israel’s willingness to consider the offer as long as the Hamas terrorist organization is excluded from the talks. (Independent Media Review & Analysis, June 5.)


Israel believes that if we go to the United Nations we will work to isolate it and delegitimize it. This is not at all possible because we do not want to isolate Israel or to delegitimize it. On the contrary, we want to co-exist with it.”—Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, claiming that seeking a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at the UN this September is not meant to circumvent negotiations with the Jewish state, which he looks forward to residing side-by-side with as long as “not one Jew lives on Palestinian soil.” (Jerusalem Post, May 25.)


The Arab armies seemingly entered Palestine [in 1948] to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, imposed upon them a political and ideological blockade and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live in Eastern Europe, as if we were condemned to change places with them. The Arab States succeeded in scattering the Palestinian people and in destroying their unity.”—Palestinian Authority president Abu Mazen (Mahhmoud Abbas), in a March 1976 article published in the Beirut magazine Falastin el-Thawra, unequivocally stating that Israel was not responsible for the displacement of Palestinians during its defensive War of Independence, but rather Arab armies failed to protect the Palestinian people, as well as forcibly expelled many of them. Abbas recently distorted this truthful historical account in a NY Times op-ed, claiming that “In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation [for partition] and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.” (FrontPage, June 2 & NY Times, May 16.)


Mister President, members of the Court, I am here because of what I have said.… I have spoken, I speak and I shall continue to speak.… It is my strong conviction that Islam is a threat to Western values, to freedom of speech, to the equality of men and women…of believers and unbelievers.… Islam is opposed to freedom. Renowned scholars of Islam from all parts of the world agree on this.… [They] agree with my statements, they show that I speak the truth. That truth is on trial today.… I am risking my life in defence of freedom in the Netherlands. Of all our achievements freedom is the most precious and the most vulnerable. Many have given their lives for freedom.… I pay the price every day. Day and night I have to be protected against people who want to kill me.… I am being compared with the Hutu murderers in Rwanda and with Mladic.… I have been called a new Hitler. I wonder whether those who call me such names will also be sued, and if not, whether the Court will also order prosecution. Probably not.… Mister President, members of the Court, you must now decide whether freedom still has a home in the Netherlands. Franz Kafka said: ‘one sees the sun slowly set, yet one is surprised when it suddenly becomes dark.…’ Do not let the lights go out in the Netherlands. Acquit me.… I defend the character, the identity, the culture and the freedom of the Netherlands. That is the truth.… “—Excerpts from Party for Freedompolitical leader Geert Wilders’ closing remarks at his trial in the Netherlands, where he is facing five counts of inciting hatred and discrimination for criticizing Islam. The verdict will be announced June 23rd. (American Thinker, June 1.)


Wow. How can anybody continue to [support U.S.] President Barack Obama's policies and endless attempts to make Muslims and Arabs love America in light of this new Pew poll.… Are you favorable toward Obama, [the poll asked its respondents]? Jordan, 13 percent; down 12 points since [Obama] took office.… Turkey; 10 percent; down 4 points.… Pakistan; 11 percent, down 5 points.… Egypt; 20 percent, down 7 points.… In other words, everything Obama has done: the Cairo speech, super-sensitivity toward Islam, support for Arab revolts, distancing the United States from Israel—has had no effect, indeed, a negative effect.”—Excerpts from Barry Rubin’s article, entitled The People Have Voted and Barack Obama Is NOT The Next “Muslim Idol”, describing the complete failure of U.S. president Barack Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world, despite making it his foreign policy centerpiece. Not surprisingly, the lone group whose approval rating of Obama has risen since his taking office is the Palestinians: 18 percent, up 3 points. (Rubin Reports, June 2.)


As long as [the] Zionist regime exists, if only on a small piece of land in Palestine, the region will not see tranquility. So all the people of the region should [work] towards the disappearance of American domination in the region and the disappearance of the Zionist regime.”—Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to a crowd gathered at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on the eve of the 22nd anniversary of the revolutionary leader’s death. Iran’s current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei also marked the anniversary by saying that Iran backs “the undivided country of Palestine which belongs to the Palestinians. Palestine will return to the arms of Islam, without any doubt.” (Ynet News, June 4.)


Holocaust survivors are aghast that the museum at Sobibor, the site of John Demjanjuk's [Ivan the Terrible] crimes, has closed because of insufficient funding by Polish state authorities. The demands of history and our obligation to the education of future generations must be respected so that this solemn place remains open. Whatever the price of memory, the cost of forgetfulness is so much greater.”—Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, criticizing the Polish government for its failure to fulfill its financial obligations to the Sobibor death camp museum, resulting in the museum’s shutting down. Approximately 250,000 people, the vast majority Jews, were killed at Sobibor during the Holocaust. 20,000 people a year visit Sobibor, a number expected to decline due to the museum’s closing. (JTA, June2.)

Short Takes

PMO: NO BREAKTHROUGH IN SCHALIT TALKS DESPITE REPORTS—(Jerusalem) The Office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (PMO) has denied Egyptian reports that a deal for captive soldier Gilad Schalit’s release is imminent. “Negotiations on Gilad Schalit are continuous and intensive, but there is no breakthrough in the matter,” the Prime Minister’s Office stated. The PMO was responding to former Egyptian ambassador to Israel Muhammad Bassiouni’s assertion in Egyptian paper Al Mesryoon that an agreement to release captive Schalit “could be reached within hours.” (Jerusalem Post, June 2.)


REPUBLICANS INTRODUCE ‘UNREALISTIC’ 1967 LINES RESOLUTION—(Washington) Republicans in the U.S. House of Representative have introduced a bill reaffirming Bush administration principles on an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. The non-binding resolution, initiated by Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), and so far sponsored by another 36 Republican Representatives, reaffirms congressional resolutions passed in 2004 to support President Bush’s letter to Israel’s government saying that it was “unrealistic” that Israel return to 1967 lines. Dold’s initiative comes in the wake of disagreements between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over President Obama’s policy of basing negotiations on the 1967 lines. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is contemplating a similar Senate resolution. (JTA, June 1.)


U.S. JEWS SEE ISRAEL AS SERIOUS IN PEACE BID, POLL FINDS—(Washington) According to a new poll sponsored by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, American Jews strongly believe in Israel’s commitment to peace, and largely think the Palestinian leadership and are opposed to it. Eighty-four percent of respondents in the recently released survey said the Israeli government is committed to a lasting peace, compared to just 20 percent who said the same about the Palestinian Authority; more than half believe the Palestinian people are totally opposed to peace with Israel. The poll also found that more than 75 percent of Jews consider the Palestinians’ “culture of hatred” and promotion of anti-Israel sentiment as the biggest obstacle to peace in the region. Seventy-eight percent said it was essential for the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and 62 percent did not believe that Israelis would be free from Palestinian terror attacks even if a Palestinian state were created in the West Bank and Gaza. (JTA, June 1.)


FATAH WILL NEVER RECOGNIZE ISRAEL—(Jerusalem) According to Azzam al-Ahmed, a member of the Fatah Central Committee who is closely associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah has never recognized Israel’s right to exist and will never do so. In an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al- Youm, Ahmed stated that “Fatah has not recognized Israel. I challenge anyone who says that the case is otherwise.… Neither Fatah nor Hamas is required to recognize Israel.” Ahmed added that he was happy to see Egyptians rioting outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo in the aftermath of the departure of the regime of Hosni Mubarak. (Jerusalem Post, June 1.)


REPORT: ABBAS KNOWS UN WON'T RECOGNIZE STATE—(Jerusalem)According to an unnamed senior Palestinian official, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has concluded that a statehood push at the United Nations will not advance the Palestinians’ cause. Due to a prospective lack of support in the Security Council, Ramallah has conceded that the most that could be wrest from the General Assembly would be a non-binding affirmation of previous resolutions saying the Palestinians have the right to a state. The Fatah official nonetheless confirmed that the PLO intends to go ahead with its plan to approach the UN, in order to save face among the Palestinian people. (Independent Media Review & Analysis, June 4.)


OBAMA TO CONGRESS: U.S. TA EMBASSY WON'T MOVE TO J'LEM—(Jerusalem) U.S. President Barack Obama has invoked U.S. national security interests to notify Congress he will not move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush also submitted similar notifications to Congress during their terms, an action required under a 1995 law that authorized the embassy’s relocation but left the decision to presidents. Under the law, such declarations must be made every six months. Obama’s announcement, however, did not contain a commitment to moving the embassy at some point in the future, unlike Clinton and Bush who both made this assertion. (Jerusalem Post, June 4.)


SHEIKH YASSIN’S HOUSE DECLARED HERITAGE SITE—(Jerusalem) The Hamas government is opening the home of its former spiritual leader and founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to visitors. According to a senior Hamas official, the decision will allow individuals to learn more about Yassin’s “Jihadist career” as well as his terrorist activities against Israel. Abu Bilal Yassin, the person tasked with maintaining the site, said the home embodies “the history of the Palestinian people’s resistance [and will allow] visitors to learn about the Jihadist life of the Sheikh.” (Ynet News, May 29.)


BRITISH PM REMOVES HIS NAME FROM LIST OF JNF PATRONS—(Jerusalem) British Prime Minister David Cameron has removed his name from a list of patrons of the UK branch of the Jewish National Fund, and pro-Palestinian activists are taking taken credit for the move. Cameron’s decision to drop his link with the charity was explained by his office as simply having to do with “time constraints;” however, Downing Street declined to comment on the fact that the pro-Palestinian group Stop the JNF Campaign actively lobbied for Cameron to sever ties with the charity. Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Sarah Colborne said in a statement that Cameron’s decision “reflects the fact that it is now impossible for any serious [British] party leader to lend their public support to racism.” (Haaretz, May 29.)


A FIFTH OF IRISH WOULD BAR ISRAELIS FROM BECOMING CITIZENS—(Dublin) According to new research into ethnic and religious attitudes in Ireland, more than one in five Irish people would bar Israelis from becoming naturalized Irish citizens. The study, Pluralism and Diversity in Ireland, found that 22.2% of Irish people would exclude Israelis from Irish citizenship, while 11.5% would deny it to all Jews. Israelis as a group had one of the lowest favorable ratings among Irish people, ranking 44th out of 51 categories. Israelis were also considered less acceptable as kin, with only 47.9% of Irish people prepared to admit an Israeli into their family. The Republic of Ireland’s Jewish population is less than 2,000 out of a total of 4.5 million. (JTA, May 27.)


US ANTI-CIRCUMCISION COMIC IS 'GROTESQUE,' ADL SAYS—(Jerusalem) A graphic comic book distributed by the U.S. group MGMbill.org, in an effort to drum up support for San Francisco’s anti-circumcision measure, has been harshly condemned by the American Defense League. “Foreskin Man [the name of the comic book series], with its grotesque anti-Semitic imagery and themes, reaches a new low and is disrespectful and deeply offensive,” said Nancy J. Appel, ADL Associate Regional Director, in a statement. On the comic book’s website, www.foreskinman.com, Monster Moyel, who is drawn with a large, defined nose and sinister eyes, bears the following description: “Nothing excites Monster Moyel more than cutting into the penile flesh of an eight-day-old infant boy.” Matthew Hess, president of MGMbill.org, the group lobbying for the passage of the San Francisco Male Genital Mutilation Bill, authored both installments of Foreskin Man. He insists that his motives are humanistic rather than anti-Semitic. “Brit milah is child abuse in a religious context,” said Hess in a statement. “We need laws to protect male children from this painful and scarring blood ritual, and our Foreskin Man comic book was created to get that point across.” The San Francisco initiative to criminalize infant circumcision will be voted on in November.(Jerusalem Post, June 4.)


NASRALLAH, HAMAS PRAISE 'NAKSA' BORDER MARCHES—(Jerusalem) Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas have both praised the Syrian protesters who attempted to breach the border with Israel on “Naksa Day.” Speaking at a conference called “Imam Khameini the Intellectual [Ayatollah of Iran],” Nasrallah said that demonstrators in the “occupied Syrian Golan formed a clear picture of the aims of the [Syrian] nation.” Hamas also praised demonstrators on the Israel-Syria border protesting on the anniversary of the 44th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, and called on the marchers to continue their efforts. Last Sunday, hundreds of Syrians attempted to break through the border with Israel, with the Syrian health ministry reporting approximately 20 dead as a result of the illegal incursion. (Jerusalem Post, June 6.)


MARCHING FOR ISRAEL—(Washington) An estimated 30,000 people have gathered in New York City to show their support for the State of Israel, taking part in the 48th traditional march for the Jewish State. The march was opened by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was accompanied by Israel’s Minister of Information and Diaspora Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s US Ambassador Michael Oren, and Israel’s Consul General in New York Ido Aharoni. Minister Edelstein said that seeing tens of thousands of Americans marching in support of Israel was moving and important at this time, with the Jewish State facing increasing de-legitimization attempts. Some 160 delegations of Jewish communities, synagogue representatives and community groups took part in the march. (Ynet News, June 6.)


POLL: 77% OF ISRAELIS OPPOSE GOING BACK TO PRE-'67 LINES—(Jerusalem) According to a recent Dahaf Institute poll, seventy-seven percent of Israelis oppose returning to pre-1967 lines even if it would lead to a peace agreement and declarations by Arab states of an end to their conflict with Israel. The poll also found that large majorities of Israelis, 85% and 75% respectively, recognize the importance of maintaining a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty within the framework of any final peace deal, and oppose transferring the Temple Mount to Palestinian control even if the Western Wall were to remain in Israeli hands. Regarding the Jordan Valley, 84% believe Israel must maintain control of the strategic border with Jordan even in the framework of a final peace agreement; 82% consider security concerns more important than a peace deal. (Jerusalem Post, June 7.)





Lee Smith
Weekly Standard, May 9, 2011


Now more than a month and a half after peaceful demonstrations kicked off in the small city of Deraa, the Syrian uprising gives the Obama administration another shot at getting history right. The first time was June 2009, when the people of Iran took to the streets to protest the fixed presidential elections that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office. But in time the protests expanded to critique every aspect of Iran’s closed society: from the lack of freedom of speech to Iran’s abysmal women’s rights to support of foreign terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. The Green Movement was a rebuke to the essential nature of Tehran’s obscurantist government. The Iranian people sought nothing less than freedom.

And the Obama administration blinked.…

What we know today is that the political aspirations of the Iranian people frustrated the administration’s plans to reach out to their rulers. According to an administration official quoted last week in the same New Yorker article that described the president’s strategy as “leading from behind,” “We were still trying to engage the Iranian government and we did not want to do anything that made us side with the protesters.”

President Obama came to office with high hopes for engaging Syria, too. He’d promised as much on the campaign trail. If George W. Bush had isolated the Assad regime after its suspected involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, an Obama White House would bring the Syrians in from the cold and show them that it was in their own best interest to change their behavior.

The problem is that, after several decades of U.S. envoys and policymakers making the pilgrimage to Damascus with the same evangelical purpose, the Assads (first the father Hafez and now the son Bashar) know how the game is played. The Americans want concrete results—like abandoning support for Hezbollah and Hamas, splitting from Iran, closing down the jihadist pipeline into Iraq—that would cost the Syrians too much. So instead the Assads promise much, give nothing, and profit handsomely from the prestige that comes to them merely from sitting at the same table as the Americans.

It is perhaps strange that a country whose most notable export is terrorism should figure so prominently in the calculations of Washington policymakers. But for the Obama White House, Syria was central. The president intended to show his bona fides to the Arab and Muslim masses by advancing the Arab-Israeli peace process, thereby dampening anti-American sentiment. As the Palestinian track faltered, Obama needed the Syrian track even more—not least because the Syrians could crash the entire peace process at any time with one spectacular act of violence against Israelis or Arabs or both. Moreover, the administration believed, progress on the peace process was a way to sideline the Iranians.

In other words, the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy and regional security strategy both depended on flipping Assad. The White House is essentially protecting a man who sent tanks to fire on his own people because Syria is the cornerstone of its Middle East policy.

Events have overrun the administration’s understanding of the Middle East. As it turns out, Arabs are more concerned with the governance of their own polities than with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is why they have risen around the region to reject their autocratic leaders. It is why Syrians have braved the regime’s sniper fire and tanks to protest, “silmiyyeh, silmiyyeh,” as one of the uprising’s mottoes has it: Peaceful, peaceful.

This is Obama’s second chance to get the Middle East right, by speaking out loudly and clearly against Iran’s chief ally. Unfortunately, according to administration officials, the White House doesn’t believe it has much leverage with the Syrians. Such resignation is the natural consequence of not recognizing how the United States is truly perceived in the world: as a leader, albeit an imperfect one, and a symbol of moral clarity. If the president wants to win the respect and admiration of Arab and Muslim peoples, the opportunity has presented itself, again.…

As one Lebanese friend says, “Syria never had anything more to offer Washington than blood—the blood of Lebanese, Palestinians, Israelis, Iraqis, and Americans. Now that the regime is letting its own blood, the blood of Syrians, will the leader of the free world finally stop negotiating in blood?” A nation that has reckoned honestly with its own failings throughout its history has not only the prerogative but the duty to lead with the truth. The danger of leading from behind is that history will pass you by.


Bret Stephens

Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2011


It’s coming on close to four decades since the U.S. foreign policy establishment got into the business of making excuses for the Assad regime in Syria. Maybe it’s time to stop.

The excuses come in many forms. Hillary Clinton, citing the testimony of congressional leaders who have met with Bashar Assad, calls the Syrian president a “reformer.” In the National Interest, former CIA official Paul Pillar writes that “there is underestimation of how much worthwhile business could be conducted with the incumbent [Assad] regime, however distasteful it may be.” On PBS’s NewsHour, Flynt Leverett of the New America Foundation says that Mr. Assad “can probably marshal at least 50% of the society…[who are] looking to him primarily to demonstrate that he can hold this together and keep [Syria] from turning into post-Saddam Iraq or civil war in Lebanon.”

Those are just some of the recent commentaries, offered even as the regime slaughters scores of peaceful protesters in its streets. They arrive on top of years worth of true belief that Damascus wants a peace deal with Jerusalem (if only the stiff-necks would take one); or that it is a stabilizing force in the region (or could be if its “legitimate needs” are met); or that it has been a valuable ally in the war on terror (ill-used by the Bush administration); or that, bad as the regime is, whatever comes after it would probably be worse.

Today this fellow-traveling seems a bit distasteful. But the important point is that it has always been absurd. Hafez Assad turned down multiple offers from several Israeli prime ministers to return the Golan Heights. Bashar Assad once told a Lebanese newspaper that “It is inconceivable that Israel will become a legitimate state, even if the peace process is implemented.” Syria brutalized Lebanon throughout a 29-year military occupation, climaxing—but not yet concluding—with the assassination in 2005 of Rafik Hariri and 21 others. The regime nearly provoked a war with Turkey in the late 1990s by harboring the leader of the PKK, the Kurdish terrorist group. It continues to harbor the leadership of Hamas and other Palestinian “resistance” groups. It serves as the principal arms conduit to Hezbollah. It funneled al Qaeda terrorists to Iraq. It pursued an illicit nuclear program courtesy of North Korea. It is Iran’s closest ally in the region and probably in the world.

The list goes on. And as the regime behaves toward its neighbors, so too does it against its own people. A “Damascus Spring” early in Bashar Assad’s tenure quickly turned into a Mao-style Let 100 Flowers Bloom exercise of unmasking the regime’s domestic opponents. Mr. Assad was “re-elected” in 2007 with 97.6% of the vote. Freedom House notes that “Syrians access the internet only through state-run servers, which block more than 160 sites associated with the opposition.” Again, the list goes on.

All this raises the question of why the Obama administration won’t call for Mr. Assad to step aside. After all, it did so with long-standing U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak when Egyptians took to the streets, on the theory that America should stand with the people in their demand for change—even when we are not yet sure what change will bring. And it did so again with long-standing enemy Moammar Gadhafi on the theory that the international community has a “responsibility to protect” when civilians are being shot in the streets. Both conditions are now operative in Syria.

Last month I asked Robert Gates whether the U.S. would support regime change in Damascus. “I’m not going to go that far,” he answered, adding that “maybe the Syrians can take a lesson out of what happened in Egypt, where the army stood aside and let the people demonstrate.” The problem is that the Syrian army hasn’t stepped aside, and won’t, because its key units—the intelligence ministry, the Republican Guards—are in the hands of Mr. Assad’s immediate relatives.…

What, then, should the administration do? As Middle East analyst Firas Maksad notes, it would not be asking much of President Obama to recall his recently installed ambassador to Damascus as a signal of U.S. displeasure. Nor would it hurt to refer Syria’s case to the Human Rights Council, or to designate regime money-man Rami Makhlouf, another Assad relative and easily the most detested man in Syria, for Treasury Department sanctions. At a minimum, such moves would put the U.S. symbolically on the side of the protesters and improve our leverage with them should they come to power.

Yesterday I asked Henry Kissinger where the U.S. interest in Syria lies. “We don’t owe [Mr. Assad] an exit with dignity, to say the least,” he told me. “We are for a Syria that is a responsible member of the international community and that will be treated with respect and cooperation if it works for peace and if it does not support terrorist organizations in neighboring countries.”

The Assad regime has proved over 41 years that it cannot meet that standard. It’s time to help replace it with one that can.


Barry Rubin
Rubin Reports, April 30, 2011


The Obama administration no longer considers Syria a potential peace partner for Israel because of its repression against its own people. This is according to media background interviews with government officials.

But wait a minute! What do we know about that regime now that we didn’t know—I should say, should have known—a month or six months or six years ago? Syria has been a repressive, radical dictatorship at least since 1963 and arguably a few years earlier.

We know the same thing about Hizballah and the other rulers of Lebanon; Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip; and—to a much lesser extent but it’s still basically true—the Palestinian Authority.

So what has been the Western idea up until now? Namely for Israel to make a peace with these “partners” involving major risks and concessions. For example, Israel is supposed to give the Golan Heights to this regime in Syria in exchange for its promise of peace.

If you’ve never seen the Golan Heights in person you can’t imagine its unique strategic significance. Israel’s territory is perfectly flat and stretches to the nearby Mediterranean. The Golan Heights rise almost vertically above it and looks over this land like a balcony. Those up on the Heights can bombard downward to their heart’s content with artillery, rockets, missiles, and mortars. Once Israel gives up the Heights there are no natural defenses between there and the sea. And by the same token it would be very hard—and costly in casualties—for Israel to recapture the Golan.

It is almost impossible for any piece of territory to have a greater military advantage.

Giving this territory to the Assad regime is the kind of silly idea that passes as somewhere between brilliance and conventional wisdom in every Western government and mass media outlet. Of course, if the Syrian government were the kind of regime that would agree to eternal peace and keep that agreement then such a deal would make sense. But it isn’t.

If one could have a real knowledge in advance that its successor would also keep a peace treaty—as long as the sky is blue and the rivers flow—it could be justified. But that’s not true either, as the situation in Egypt is showing, as the situation in the Gaza Strip has shown. How many examples do you need?

And if one could know that the Western countries would keep their promised guarantees and then come riding like the cavalry to smite the evildoer who broke agreements with Israel than those guarantees would be credible. But, once again, that’s not true, as the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip with Hamas, and the truce ending the 2006 war with Hizballah, and the 1993 agreement with what became the Palestinian Authority show. How many examples do you need?

According to the current way of thinking then, only after the concessions have been made, the risks undertaken, and the piece of paper signed do we find out that these weren’t partners for peace. But then it would be too late.

Isn’t it better to learn such things beforehand? In fact, isn’t it better to learn that reality right now this minute?

(Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center,
and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
Mr. Rubin will be a guest speaker at the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research’s
upcoming Gala, scheduled for June 15, 2011.)


Martin Peretz
New Republic, May 11, 2011


…The present upheavals [in the Arab world] in their cumulative impact are deadening. Not only to the victims of the regimes but to their observers, commentators, rapporteurs.

Actually, many of these observers, perhaps most, are infatuated with the Arabs. But infatuation is really a variant on infantilization. The torment now spreading in the Arab world, however, is an evidential repudiation of this view, a cardinal attribute of which is that whatever difficulties obtained in the vast space from the Maghreb to the outskirts of Baghdad are attributable to Israel, in particular, and maybe even to the Jews, in general. This was very convenient in that it matched with the traditional bigotries of Western diplomatic elites. Yet it had a contemporary ring to it—from Barack Obama’s pastor to the increasingly monolithic editorial view of the liberal press.

One of the reasons that this is so is that this is a field where knowledge is certainly arcane, if not deliberately suppressed. Given the phantasmagoric nature of Arab governmental documents, would you trust material from official archives? In addition to all of this is the haste and fashion of news itself. The “experts” simply do not know much about the topics on which they have to anddo pretend expertise. Many who report and interpret for us know exactly zero about their quickly changing subjects. For most, a one-page memo or a quick update will do. Syria is a case in point. I would bet that some of the authoritative press people don’t know the difference between Hama, a town the population of which Bashir Assad’s father, Hafez, bombed to smithereens and killed some 10,000 to 40,000 (a difference that maybe should make a difference) Sunnis in the process, and Hamas, the governing terrorist organization in Gaza that is itself Sunni but is willing to make alliances with anybody—that is, Turks, the Shia of Iran, and the secularized Alawites in Damascus—as long as they are antagonists, loathing antagonists, of Israel. In this sentence alone lay a thousand facts and factoids. And don’t forget that between Turkey and Syria lies a land dispute with a long past and passions aplenty to match it.…

Actually, it is Syria where outside ignorance and inattention have reaped for the regime enormous latitude over the years. And enormous latitude now when it has over just about a month murdered a thousand people, maybe more. Not exactly its own people, by the way, but that is how things are in the body counts of tyrannies. How many wounded have been picked off by snipers (here acting as random rather than precise killers) nobody really knows. But the scandal of this all is the fact that the presidency of Barack Obama has been more or less allied with the dictatorship since it came to power, a part of the liberal idealist’s opening to the Arabs whoever they were. Or, to be precise, the ignominy of it all was that it was a courtship by the paradigmatic democracy of the paradigmatic oppressor which would respond to every overture with insult and scorn.…

Of course, the Obama-Clinton diplomacy—oops, I almost typed “Carter” for “Clinton”—with Syria was initially an aspect of the president’s patently foolish diplomacy with Iran about which people nodded sagely but knew deep inside it was twaddle. But long after Obama understood—reluctantly, I am certain—that there weren’t deals to be had with Tehran (neither with Ahmadinejad nor with Khamenei) the president pursued his Damascus gamesmanship with a stubbornness that was born of his sense that he was always right. At least in foreign policy, about which he knows even less than about technical economic issues, his tenacity has been the cause of an almost seamless set of international failures. Alas, very few in the United States notice because we are fixated on our domestic exertions. Now, it may not be that Obama actually desires American authority and grip in the world to slip away, although I suspect that he might see this as a triumph for what old enthusiasts of this disposition call international morality and international law. Still, the decline of America is the sure consequence of his actions.

I have just read two articles about Syria. One, “Hundreds Reported Arrested as Syria’s Crackdown Widens,” is in The New York Times, datelined Beirut. One knows that it is based on sources in Damascus and other Syrian cities. But names can’t be used and, even in Lebanon, informants are better off nameless lest Assad’s long-armed secret police reach over the feeble frontier to silence him, like he silenced Rafik Hariri, the zillionaire Sunni prime minister of the neighboring cedar republic in 2005. “The scale and ferocity of the crackdown” is actually hair-raising, what with young children being arrested with their elders. There were dead…but no one can make a true estimate.…

“Living Dead: Why is Syria Going Up in Flames?” is the second article, really an interpretative essay on Syria where a new writer for TNR, Theo Padnos, lived for several years. We think we know a dictatorship by how it behaves in exigent threat. But Padnos actually conveys the essence of how “normal” life prepares people slowly, almost casually, for dread. You can even sing along with the fashionable young of Damascus in the jolly days. But you’ll end up being cannily knowing about the erratic and also almost completely static rhythm of the police state. How well the tyranny plays off these two impulses determine its destiny. Maybe Assad will win this call. But maybe he won’t.

Still, the Obama administration has been wishing him well for at least two years. Or, rather, it should be said that Obama administration initiatives involving Syria—had they been successful which, of course, they were not—would have propped up the dictatorship by exaggerating its intrinsic sway, its own freedom of movement and the justice of its grievance against Israel. It is as if we have suddenly decided that a regime that tries to capture another country and loses territory in the process has the right to have it repatriated as if nothing had ever happened. Try, try, and try again, so to speak.

This is especially the case in the Levant where the diplomacy of boundaries going back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire—whose power had been wielded at a time from Vienna to Central Asia—was so scrawly and shifting that no one could know from one day to the next where this scepter held sway and that one did not. A propos these vagaries, in the diplomatic talks between France and England following the signing of the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 up to 1923 the biblical phrase “from Dan to Beer-Sheva” was the template of any map. But, of course, the words were more evocative than determinate, metaphoric than concrete. And so the cartographic war, from then and now, continues. What are Syria’s real claims to the Golan Heights? There were Syrian Arabs in the Golan prior to 1967. But no one actually thought of himself as ethnically or nationally Syrian. Instead, they replicated the diversity of hate, the permanent schismatics of difference. Moreover, the resident Alawite contingent—surprise! surprise!—is quite loyal to Israel. And there are Druze whose affinities are hard to judge since they are neither Arab nor Jew. In any case, what is Syria? It is certainly not a coherent or cohesive nation, what with its constant incitement of sectarian strife. And then there is the hydrostrategics of its geography, a permanent temptation for anyone governing from Damascus.

Spotted around Israel are failed states. I doubt that the states to the north, Lebanon and Syria, can be mended. Their essence was always difference. But certainly not as democracies where the rights of diverse groups are honored.… In Syria, 10 percent of the population governs. The majoritarian rest, the Sunnis and their Muslim Brotherhood vanguard, have been cowering since 1982.… Pity the Alawites when the Sunnis will strike for revenge. On the other hand, how much can you pity the Alawites who have been plundering and imprisoning and also murdering for four decades?

What had Obama in his head when he tried to jumpstart Israeli negotiations with Syria? Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, what else? The answer is simple and transparent: Israel’s retreat from territories it had captured while they were being used by enemies trying to vitiate Israel itself. But this is the president’s steady trope. Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and ancient Jerusalem and East Jerusalem and, yes, the Golan Heights, too, without a shred of evidence that it would be protected, could be protected from attack by armed soldiers, armed aircraft and armed terrorists, by a deadly admixture of regular troops with guerrillas somehow coddled by human rights organizations which define the latter virtually as civilians. Do you believe that the Arabs truly want peace? Does President Obama? Well, I don’t.…

Why am I not a believer? Because the only unifying strand in the disparate state systems of the Arabs is their struggle against the Jews, the Zionists, the Israelis. Nothing else motivates them so doggedly. The Christians also are targets of the various Muslim governments under which they live, and their numbers are falling in every country of the region—except Israel.…

The future plight of the Christians in the region has been foreshadowed in Egypt where yet another slaughter of innocents took place on May 8 after a string of fiery incidents. “We are in a jungle,” cried a Coptic bishop. Eleven men and women, both Christian and Muslim, were left for dead, with about 250 wounded, of which some 50 were shot. Two churches were incinerated. It was an assault by Salafists who make the Muslim Brothers appear moderate.

We are now being sermonized, mostly by journalistic oracles, to believe that these last months are a Prague Spring for Muslims. They have an agenda and it is to convince Israel not to be a killjoy but to join the party and ease the path to peace. I happen to believe that Arabs need to learn to live with each other before Israel opens itself to its neighbors’ villainy now being practiced on their own.

(Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.)