Many Iran hawks in Washington claim the mantle of human rights advocacy in their push for ever harsher measures against the Islamic Republic, up to and sometimes including the use of military force against Iran's nuclear facilities. But there's a disconnect: While D.C.'s Iran hawks never relent in their push for more sanctions, human rights activists working inside and outside Iran feel that sanctions are impinging on their work. That's the backdrop for the push by the Obama administration to get Congress to hold off on more sanctions. But Members of Congress, especially from the Republican right, appear poised to press on in their quest to further cripple the Iranian economy.
“Adding more sanctions at this stage in the negotiations, when there is a lot of hope about the fate of nuclear talks with Iran, is tantamount to sabotage,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the head of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, in a statement released by the group today. “The idea of adding more sanctions at this crucial point in the negotiations disappoints millions of Iranians who are hopeful these talks will lead to a compromise and help lift the sanctions, and sounds like a drumbeat leading to war.”
Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, speaks during the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly September 24, 2013 at U.N. headquarters in New York. (Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images)
The release singled out a statement by Sen. Mark Kirk, one of Congress's most avid Iran hawks, to reporters: “How do you define an Iranian moderate? An Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.” The line refers to Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani. While Iran's elections are deeply flawed—only regime-approved candidates can run—it's worth noting that Rouhani was not Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's choice for president. "The 18 million Iranians who defied the odds and voted for change in this year's presidential elections might take issue with Senator Kirk's insulting characterization," noted Jamal Abdi, of the National Iranian American Council, a U.S.-based group that opposes new sanctions, in a press release.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who has made two public speeches over the past two days, was recently the object of some poorly-received mockery. Last week, the Lebanese sketch comedy show “Basmat Watan” took to the airwaves with an episode featuring an impersonation of the black-turbaned cleric. The public reaction—demonstrations in Baalbek, tire burnings in Sin el-Fil, a blocked highway in Tripoli—might have scared more faint-hearted artists into a retraction or an apology, but the show's director, Charbel Khalil, has thus far been defiant.
It's not particularly rare for blasphemy, heresy, impiety, or simple disrespect to spark violence in some corners of the world: witness the way Muslim communities were roiled by the 2006 Jyllands-Posten cartoon controversy. But there's more to public touchiness over last week's sketch than just pious indignation. Hassan Nasrallah is a political figure as much as he is a religious one, and his influence is attested in the way that his constituents have so aggressively risen to his defense.
The head of Lebanon's militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah greets the audience after speaking during a massive Shiite Muslim commemoration in southern Beirut on November 14, 2013. (AFP / Getty Images)
One of the many reasons Lebanese admirers of Hezbollah's Secretary-General offer for their support is the claim that Nasrallah is, unlike the region's other outsized personalities, a man of his word. I have heard him compared in this respect to Benjamin Netanyahu and Saad Hariri, to Ariel Sharon and Bashar Assad and Michel Aoun, all in the same breath. Nasrallah's supporters view him as the rare political figure who keeps his promises—a view bolstered by Hezbollah's 2006 rout of the IDF. Israeli military planners, it seems, have since also learned not to doubt the powerful cleric's guarantee.
What do a Reform Jew, a Muslim and a Buddhist have in common, when living in Italy? To put it bluntly: they don't exist—not officially, at least.
Italy has 1.5 millions of Muslim residents, making Islam de facto the second-biggest religion in this predominantly Catholic country. There are Reform Jewish congregations in most big cities (Rome and Florence have one each, Milan has two) and Buddhism has had an organized presence in Italy since the mid 1980s.
The Vatican flag (L) floats alongside an Italian (C) and a European Union (R) flag atop the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome as the Pope meets the Italian President on November 14, 2013. (AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo Pinto)
But officially these three groups have no status. And they are in good company: among communities that are currently awaiting for recognition from the Italian authorities there are also Hindus, a number of Christian Evangelical churches, and Christian Orthodox who are not directly affiliated with the Patriarch of Constantinople.
The crisis of the Syrian civil war long ago reached beyond those engaged in battle to become one of the most pressing issues confronting anyone in the region and, ultimately, the global community. With 2.2 million refugees now beyond Syria’s borders, and 6.5 million internally displaced persons within them, well more than a third of Syria’s population has fled the violence that consumes their country. The collapse of the nation’s health care system has led to an outbreak of polio, and no matter where the the flood of humanity turns, they arrive hungry, largely bereft of belongings, and often badly wounded.
The struggles faced by each family, each individual, are of course unique, and often dependent on the direction in which they ran: on Tuesday, reports emerged that Greek border authorities have maltreated refugees and illegally forced many to sail for Turkey; in northern Iraq, 200,000 Syrians are facing what experts predict will be an unusually harsh winter; last spring The Atlantic reported that Syrian girls in Lebanon are becoming child brides, in the hopes of finding security in marriage.
MAJDAL ANJAR, LEBANON - NOVEMBER 12: A displaced Syrian child walks through a makeshift camp for Syrian refugees only miles from the border with Syria in the Bekaa Valley on November 12, 2013 in Majdal Anjar, Lebanon. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
Far and away the greatest number of refugees have arrived in Jordan. As of mid-October, the Hashemite Kingdom had reportedly absorbed some 550,000 Syrians; that number is expected to rise as high as a million by year’s end. The Zaatari Refugee Camp alone is home to some 120,000―roughly the same population as Hartford, Connecticut or Santa Clara, California. Bear in mind that Jordan’s own population numbers only 6.3 million.
The drive for Israeli-Palestinian peace overlooks the most vital component―the people themselves. That is why Egyptian-Belgian author Khaled Diab, currently living with his family in Jerusalem, is writing a book about these most intimate of enemies and could-be friends.
Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become overshadowed by the tumultuous upheavals gripping the Middle East, the U.S. Secretary of State has created something of a stir with his stated determination to revive the defunct and dysfunctional peace process.
Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty Image
John Kerry even warned Israel that it faces the prospect of a third intifada if it fails to forge a durable peace with the Palestinians. Presumably to avoid such an outcome, Washington reportedly plans to push through its own peace deal in January if an agreement is not reached before then.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was outflanked from the right on Tuesday, purportedly surprised by an announcement of 24,000—yeah, you read that right—new settlement housing units in the West Bank.
Immediately following the first report of the unprecedented settlement expansion, Netanyahu announced he would block construction in E-1, one of the West’s least favorite proposed settlement plans. Some eight hours later, he publicly reprimanded his housing minister, denied having advance knowledge of the plans and said they would be “reconsidered”—but not canceled.
A picture shows a partial view of the Jewish settlement of Har Homa on the outskirts of mostly Arab east Jerusalem. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)
The initial announcement drew immediate criticism and, coming as it did on the heels of one of Washington’s harshest condemnations of Israeli settlement building in recent memory, increased the risk of what appeared to be a quickly deepening crisis brewing between Israel and the United States.
A new documentary about Israel/Palestine tells a familiar though compelling tale. The Village Under the Forest relates the journey of a woman who discovers portions of her ethno-national narrative that have been obscured from her in her community’s zeal to appear righteous. Director and producer Mark J. Kaplan’s film focuses on Heidi Grunebaum, a South African Jewish scholar and author who discovers the fate of the Palestinian village of Lubya. Located near Tiberias, Lubya was evacuated during the 1948 war, its residents expelled and the structures reduced to bits of rubble. The remains are still visible, if you’re looking, within a Jewish National Fund (JNF)-planted park called The South Africa Forest funded by coins collected in famed JNF blue boxes by South Africa’s Jewish community, including Grunebaum herself.
Told through interviews with the village’s surviving residents as well as two critical historians (Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe) and an Israeli social activist (Eitan Bronstein of the Israeli NGO Zochrot), the film lands on the moral and political conclusion that the Palestinian refugees must be allowed to return to Israel.
Aside from the heavy-handed score (featuring music by outspoken anti-Zionist activist Gilad Atzmon) and sometimes melodramatic writing and narration by Grunebaum herself, the film moves along in a captivating way. Viewers of the film will, no doubt, have varied reactions, reactions that tend to parallel one’s view of the Israel/Palestine morass.
Specifically, what will wildly differ in the hearts and minds of viewers of this film are at least four sets of questions: First, was Israel born in sin? Or were the actions of the Haganah and IDF in 1947-48 necessary and therefore just? Second, were the JNF Jewish-only land-leasing policies just in their origins? And is there still a need for these Jewish-only land policies, or should the JNF be dismantled? Third, what is the best solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, given the needs and identities of each side? And finally, is Israel an apartheid state, and if so, does the entire Jewish State apparatus—in all its institutional forms—need to be deconstructed and rebuilt, as South Africa was?
"The setting aside of these public funds suggests the government is serious (about settlement expansion), and suggests it's only pretending to negotiate while it pursues its settlement construction."
—Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer on Israel's announcement to build a whopping 20,000 new settler homes.
- Israel agrees to recognize EU ban on funding institutions in settlements - Participation in European R&D program could bring hundreds of millions of euros into the coffers of Israeli research institutes and high-tech companies. (Haaretz+)
- Israel plans more house demolitions in Shufat camp - Israeli intelligence agents on Tuesday escorted representatives from the Jerusalem municipality on a tour of Shufat refugee camp and took photos. (Maan)
- Violent Hebron outpost expands at 'phenomenal' rate - Operation Dove on Monday said that activists from the grassroots (Israel-Palestinian) Taayush movement entered an area near the Havot Maon outpost this week to document illegal expansion and demand that Israeli authorities intervene. (Maan)
- "The interim accords (Oslo Accords) make it difficult to keep law enforcement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip" - General Eitan Dangut, Coordinator for activities in Judea and Samaria, told the State Control Committee that for the first time a body will be chosen to be responsible for law enforcement. MK Cohen: the Minister of Defense is responsible for putting a stop to lawlessness. (NRG Hebrew)
- Pollard's Mossad handler: I was promised he would be freed - Rafi Eitan tells Army Radio he incriminated Jonathan Pollard because the U.S. told Israel that Pollard would serve no more than 10 years in prison. Eitan asks for forgiveness from Pollard. Thousands of Israeli students call for Pollard's release. (Israel Hayom)
- Soldier's remarks give insight into Israel's cyber intelligence practices - Cyber expert admits in video that he culled intelligence using virtual methods, despite Israeli ambiguity on matter. (Haaretz+)
For the full News from Israel.
Israeli and Palestinian adults fighting in a conflict that has been going on for decades and spewing hate speech is bad enough. But whenever children become the targets, society is really in a sorry state of affairs.
Reaching a new low, that’s sadly not that new, Israeli settlers vandalized a Palestinian kindergarten in Hebron last week with vile hate speech, as Mairav Zonstein reported in +972.
The settlers spray-painted “Death to Arabs” in Hebrew on the schoolyard wall, just another recent example of an attack directed at Palestinian children and schools in the West Bank.
Palestinian students are accompanied by an Israeli army vehicle (unseen) as they walk the three kilometre distance to school between the villages of Khirbet Tuba to Al-Tiwana, near Yatta, south of the West Bank city of Hebron, to protect them from attacks by settlers. (Hazem Bader / AFP / Getty Images)
J Street held its annual Chicago fundraiser last Friday, and the room was fairly packed, in no small part by politicians: Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Senator Tammy Baldwin; U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Danny K. Davis, Bill Foster and Robin Kelly; 10 Illinois state legislators; a handful of local Chicago politicians, not least Mayor Rahm Emanuel; and friend of the president, David Axelrod. Oh, and the consul general of Israel was there too.
Durbin, Emanuel, Axelrod, and Consul General Roey Gilad were all among those who addressed the crowd of about 350, and though the latter made a point of saying that he “respectfully disagrees” with J Street’s position on Iran, the luncheon was largely a love-fest. “Your wish for a two nation-state solution is our wish,” Gilad said in his prepared remarks (making a point of stressing the word “nation,” though J Street’s mission simply refers to “two states”).
Vice President Joe Biden giving the keynote address at the J Street 2013 conference (JStreet)
Perhaps more tellingly, however, Durbin told Open Zion that “the stated purpose of this organization is the foreign policy of the United States of America.”
"Appointing Lieberman as foreign minister is like planting an explosive device in the peace process."
--Chairwoman MK Zahava Gal-On before the swearing-in ceremony Monday.
- Israel implicated in shooting death of Palestinian bystander - A report released by Israeli human rights group B'tselem on Monday casts "grave suspicion" that a Palestinian killed in Qabatiya on Oct. 31 was shot dead with live ammunition fired by Israeli forces, despite their denials. (Maan)
- Palestinian woman pulls knife on soldiers in West Bank - A Palestinian woman approached an IDF outpost in the Tapuach Junction in the West Bank, and pulled a knife on one of the soldiers. Soldiers subdued the woman and took her into custody for questioning. (Ynet)
- In rare operation, Palestinian police arrest criminals in Israeli-controlled areas near Jerusalem - In unprecedented operation, Palestinian Authority forces arrest dozens of criminals in neighborhoods around Jerusalem. Since the separation barrier was built in the early 2000s, the Israel Police has stopped operating in these areas. (Haaretz+)
- Clashes in Jerusalem as Israeli forces shut down Arafat event - Israeli forces and intelligence officers stormed a sports club in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem and dispersed Palestinians who were commemorating the ninth anniversary of late president Yasser Arafat's death. (Maan)
- Thousands mark Arafat's death across the West Bank - Thousands of people took to the streets across the West Bank on Monday to mark the 9th anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death. (Maan)
- Israeli forces fire tear gas into 2 schools in Beit Ummar - Israeli forces fired tear gas canisters into a school and a kindergarten north of Hebron Monday after protestors nearby threw rocks at an Israeli patrol in the area while marking the death of Yasser Arafat nine years ago. (Maan)
- Israel detains 2 children at Nablus checkpoint - Yaqout Mohammad Jawhar, 13, and Alaa Mustafa Hanini, 12, were detained during clashes at the checkpoint in Nablus Monday. (Maan)
- Massive 'Question of Palestine' mural unveiled in Nablus - 25 Palestinian artists had been working on giant mural measuring about 1,000 square meters for over a month. It was unveiled in Nablus Monday. (Maan)
For the full News from Israel.
Between Lord Byron’s ecstatic Orientalism, with its colorful harems and whirling dervishes, and the more recent Western views of the Middle East, with their mostly blinkered focus on images of conflict or rapturous oil wealth, the Arab world as seen and decoded by Arab eyes still seems amazingly absent from the Occidental gallery, especially the American one. The upcoming Fotofest photography biennial, which will take place in early 2014 in Houston, will offer Americans a serious opportunity to become familiar with this important and well-established body of work by contemporary Arab photographers.
This edition of Fotofest, its fifteenth, is titled View From Inside: Contemporary Arab Video, Photography and Mixed Media Art. It brings together the largest and broadest exhibition of contemporary Arab photographic art yet seen in the United States. Founded in 1983 by the dynamic husband-wife team Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin, Fotofest has developed into one of America’s most valuable cultural exchanges. Many consider it to be the most important photo biennial.
Khaled Hafez (Egypt): The A77A Project: on Presidents & Superheroes (still from video), 2009
If the latest research on the American Jewish community has shown us anything, it’s that very often the people in positions of power, the leaders with the soapboxes and editorial positions, do not profess views that represent an overwhelming number of the individuals they claim to represent. And so, it was with great disappointment that I learned Open Zion would be closing shop and Peter Beinart would be moving on to new journalistic opportunities.
It seems strange to feel attached to a site that has existed for only a year and a half, and yet I know that I’m not alone in feeling a nervous sense of loss.
Peter Beinart (right) at an event for his book, "The Crisis of Zionism," held on May 12, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona (Flickr / Zocalo in Phoenix)
Part of what leaves people feeling unnerved is that there just is no other institutionalized forum for this kind of daily online discussion and debate. And especially at this time, right smack in the middle of fragile peace negotiations, losing that type of space provides a stark reminder of what kind of void it was originally created to fill. And how not even the finest Jewish publications out there, like The Forward and JTA really make it their mission to provide that kind of frankly uncomfortable discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We can click between Mondoweiss, Al Jazeera, Commentary Magazine, +972 Magazine, The Jerusalem Post and all the others to try to piece together what perhaps is the spectrum of the debate, but there’s no real space where they all converge. And unfortunately, it’s these media bubbles that so often replicate, reinforce and reproduce our fractious politics. Open Zion was not just an interesting news source, but an experiment to break down the dichotomy between the progressive and conservative media.
Quote of the day:
"I want to contribute to the State in a way that would have made Yitzhak and Leah Rabin proud of me."
--Yitzhak Rabin, 18, a Jordanian immigrant, wants to serve in the IDF.
- Cabinet OKs demolishing Bedouin village, replacing with Jewish town - Unauthorized village Umm al-Hiran makes cabinet agenda even though its future is in the court's hands. Jewish community to be named Hiran. [Israel Hayom reports on the new Jewish town, but avoids mentioning the need to destroy a Bedouin village - OH. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Abbas: Adamant on intention to find true cause of Arafat's death - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinian Authority is adamant in its intention to unearth the truth behind Yasser Arafat's death. (Ynet and Maan)
- Lieberman gets green light to return as FM - Cabinet approves reinstatement of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister; swearing in ceremony set for Monday. (Agencies, Ynet)
- Yitzhak Rabin wants to be recruited to IDF - He was born 18 years ago in Jordan to parents, who decided to name him after the murdered prime minister. Since then, little Rabin and his family moved to Israel when he was a baby, he began conversion process to Judaism and now wants to serve in the army, if he would only finally receive an Israeli ID card. (Yedioth, p. 14)
- Concern in Jordan: "Jewish extremists operating at Al-Aqsa (Temple Mount)" - In an article in "Al-Dustour" newspaper, the Jordanian minister in charge of holy places warned: "Discussion over division of Al-Aqsa is playing with fire." (NRG Hebrew)
- Lebanon: Israel spying on our phones - Complaint to UN to cite electronic espionage stations along border that can access any telecom network. (Haaretz+)
- Riots in Lebanon after Nasrallah lampooned on prime-time - For first time since 2006, satirical Lebanese show pokes fun at Hezbollah chief Nasrallah, causing riots in group's strongholds. In show, Nasrallah asked if group has erred in Syria, in response: 'We joined fighting too late'. (Ynet)
- Iranian deputy minister of industries 'shot dead' in Tehran - State news agency IRNA reports Deputy Industries Minister Safdar Rahmatabadi shot by unidentified assailant. Last month, the Telegraph reported that Iran's commander of the Cyber Warfare Headquarters was found dead in a forest outside Tehran. (Agencies,Haaretz)
Over the High Holy Day season I had a rare rabbinic opportunity to be a “Jew in the pew”—not leading, speaking or organizing. This meant I could pray in different communities, be among different people, and of course hear different sermons. This year, I noted a distinct theme guiding the thoughts of rabbis: vulnerability.
Many of the sermons I heard highlighted the teachings of TED-Talk sensation Dr. Brene Brown. She teaches that our authentic selves are inherently vulnerable, that when we close ourselves off, we stifle innovation and suffer emotionally. And so the message from many of my colleagues this season was that we must embrace vulnerability to become our authentic selves.
Rabbi Efraim Katz leads a community Passover Seder at Beth Israel synagogue on March 25, 2013 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
So here’s a little secret about any High Holy Day sermon worth its salt: as much as they may speak to you personally, the rabbis are also speaking to themselves. And what they were expressing this year was their concern that they do not feel able to serve their communities in an open and honest way; they are afraid to be vulnerable.
A deal on Iran’s nuclear program and U.N. sanctions regime has been reached. But the U.S., Iran and Israel seem to be interpreting the same agreement quite differently.