Archives for November 5, 2011

U.S.-Israeli military ties ‘broader, deeper and more intense than ever before’

Haaretz reports: Israel and the U.S. will embark on the “largest” and “most significant” joint exercise in the allies’ history, said Andrew Shapiro, U.S. assistant secretary for political-military affairs, on Saturday.

Speaking to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Shapiro said the exercise will involve more than 5,000 U.S. and Israeli forces, and will simulate Israel’s ballistic missile defense.

“Joint exercises allow us to learn from Israel’s experience in urban warfare and counterterrorism,” said Shapiro.

“Israeli technology is proving critical to improving our Homeland Security and protecting our troops,” he added, explaining that Israeli armor plating technology and the specially designed “Israeli bandage”, being used on American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, are proven successes.

In addition, he said, Israel will soon gain access to an expedited Congressional Notification process, which will allow for faster trade of smaller, routine sales and purchases of arms between the allies. Countries already subject to expedited Congressional Notification processes are NATO members, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Shapiro emphasized the Obama Administration’s support for Israel, despite comments by a senior U.S. official on Friday, who expressed concern that Israel would not warn the U.S. before taking military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“Our security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper and more intense than ever before,” said Shapiro, adding that Israel’s military edge was a “top priority” for himself, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The U.S. has a $3 billion per year commitment to Israel, which Shapiro said the Obama Administration would continue to honor over the next ten years, “even in challenging budgetary times”.

Speaking of the economic impact of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, Shapira said it was important to note that U.S. security assistance to Israel helps support American jobs, since the “vast majority of security assistance” is spent on American-made goods and services. “We don’t provide assistance out of charity. We provide assistance because it benefits our security,” he said.

“We support Israel because it is in our national interests to do so,” said Shapiro, echoing the recent report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, entitled, “Israel: A Strategic Asset for the United States”, which argues that Israel is a strategic asset to the U.S. “If Israel were weaker, its enemies would be bolder. This would make broader conflict more likely, which would be catastrophic to American interests in the region. It is the very strength of Israel’s military which deters potential aggressors and helps foster peace and stability.”


Occupy Oakland closes the port


Goodbye, Wells Fargo; hello, credit union

Josh Harkinson writes: Looking back on my 10 years with Wells Fargo, I’ll always remember the time that a banker gave my 18-month-old son a stuffed horse. After my son gleefully embraced it—”Horsie!”—I was told that taking it home would require signing up for a second checking account that I didn’t need. Not to worry, the friendly banker explained: He’d cancel the new account a few weeks later. I thanked him and went home feeling glad to know the guy.

The following month, my wife and I suddenly ran out of money, which seemed impossible given that I’d recently deposited a check. Wells Fargo’s hefty overdraft fees kicked in. I was freaking out, thinking somebody had gone on a shopping spree with our debit card number—until I realized that the check had somehow ended up in the still-active horsie account.

Enter Bank Transfer Day, the Occupy-associated campaign to get people to move their money from large banks into small community credit unions. According to their main trade association, credit unions have signed up 650,000 new customers since the concept was announced on September 29—double their normal rate. But if credit unions really are so much better than big banks, why haven’t even more people switched over? Did the activists know something I didn’t—or were credit unions just peddling their own version of the free horsie?

“This is probably the worst bank on the planet,” a Yelp reviewer writes about the credit union near my apartment, which averages a mediocre three stars. But after reading more, I got a sense that not all credit unions are the same. The San Francisco Fire Credit Union, which supports firefighters but is open to all San Franciscans, averages a perfect five Yelp stars. One Yelper gushes, “I am in love.”


Bill Black: Jobs now, stop the foreclosures, jail the banksters


In Pakistan, drones kill the innocent

Clive Stafford Smith writes: Last Friday, I took part in an unusual meeting in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

The meeting had been organized so that Pashtun tribal elders who lived along the Pakistani-Afghan frontier could meet with Westerners for the first time to offer their perspectives on the shadowy drone war being waged by the Central Intelligence Agency in their region. Twenty men came to air their views; some brought their young sons along to experience this rare interaction with Americans. In all, 60 villagers made the journey.

The meeting was organized as a traditional jirga. In Pashtun culture, a jirga acts as both a parliament and a courtroom: it is the time-honored way in which Pashtuns have tried to establish rules and settle differences amicably with those who they feel have wronged them.

On the night before the meeting, we had a dinner, to break the ice. During the meal, I met a boy named Tariq Aziz. He was 16. As we ate, the stern, bearded faces all around me slowly melted into smiles. Tariq smiled much sooner; he was too young to boast much facial hair, and too young to have learned to hate.

The next day, the jirga lasted several hours. I had a translator, but the gist of each man’s speech was clear. American drones would circle their homes all day before unleashing Hellfire missiles, often in the dark hours between midnight and dawn. Death lurked everywhere around them.

When it was my turn to speak, I mentioned the official American position: that these were precision strikes and no innocent civilian had been killed in 15 months. My comment was met with snorts of derision.

I told the elders that the only way to convince the American people of their suffering was to accumulate physical proof that civilians had been killed. Three of the men, at considerable personal risk, had collected the detritus of half a dozen missiles; they had taken 100 pictures of the carnage.

In one instance, they matched missile fragments with a photograph of a dead child, killed in August 2010 during the C.I.A.’s period of supposed infallibility. This made their grievances much more tangible.

Collecting evidence is a dangerous business. The drones are not the only enemy. The Pakistani military has sealed the area off from journalists, so the truth is hard to come by. One man investigating drone strikes that killed civilians was captured by the Taliban and held for 63 days on suspicion of spying for the United States.

At the end of the day, Tariq stepped forward. He volunteered to gather proof if it would help to protect his family from future harm. We told him to think about it some more before moving forward; if he carried a camera he might attract the hostility of the extremists.

But the militants never had the chance to harm him. On Monday, he was killed by a C.I.A. drone strike, along with his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed Khan. The two of them had been dispatched, with Tariq driving, to pick up their aunt and bring her home to the village of Norak, when their short lives were ended by a Hellfire missile.

My mistake had been to see the drone war in Waziristan in terms of abstract legal theory — as a blatantly illegal invasion of Pakistan’s sovereignty, akin to President Richard M. Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia in 1970.

But now, the issue has suddenly become very real and personal. Tariq was a good kid, and courageous. My warm hand recently touched his in friendship; yet, within three days, his would be cold in death, the rigor mortis inflicted by my government.

And Tariq’s extended family, so recently hoping to be our allies for peace, has now been ripped apart by an American missile — most likely making any effort we make at reconciliation futile.


Iran says U.S. plot suspect is anti-Tehran militant

Reuters reports: Iran has complained to the United Nations about a U.S. accusation it tried to assassinate a Saudi diplomat, saying one of the alleged plotters Washington calls an Iranian military official is really a member of an anti-Tehran rebel group.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Saturday the plot was part of a multi-pronged U.S. strategy to smear Tehran, a process he said would continue next week when the U.N. nuclear agency publishes a report western diplomats say will contain new evidence about Iran’s nuclear program.

The complaint to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon turned the U.S. accusation that Tehran supports terrorism back onto Washington, Salehi said.

“This letter contains our complaint about the plots of the United States, reliable information that we have of the U.S. involvement in those plots,” he said in a news conference broadcast live on the English language channel Press TV.

On its website, Press TV reported the letter said a suspect who U.S. prosecutors have identified as an Iranian military official is actually a member of the exiled Iranian rebel group Mujahideen Khalq Organization (MKO).


Being spat at remains part of life for Christians in Jerusalem

Haaretz reports: Ultra-Orthodox young men curse and spit at Christian clergymen in the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City as a matter of routine. In most cases the clergymen ignore the attacks, but sometimes they strike back. Last week the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court quashed the indictment against an Armenian priesthood student who had punched the man who spat at him.

Johannes Martarsian was walking in the Old City in May 2008 when an young ultra-Orthodox Jew spat at him. Maratersian punched the spitter in the face, making him bleed, and was charged for assault. But Judge Dov Pollock, who unexpectedly annulled the indictment, wrote in his verdict that “putting the defendant on trial for a single blow at a man who spat at his face, after suffering the degradation of being spat on for years while walking around in his church robes is a fundamental contravention of the principles of justice and decency.”

“Needless to say, spitting toward the defendant when he was wearing the robe is a criminal offense,” the judge said.

In 2009, the Jerusalem Post reported: News stories about young Jewish bigots in the Old City spitting on Christian clergy – who make conspicuous targets in their long dark robes and crucifix symbols around their necks – surface in the media every few years or so. It’s natural, then, to conclude that such incidents are rare, but in fact they are habitual. Anti-Christian Orthodox Jews, overwhelmingly boys and young men, have been spitting with regularity on priests and nuns in the Old City for about 20 years, and the problem is only getting worse.

“My impression is that Christian clergymen are being spat at in the Old City virtually every day. This has been constantly increasing over the last decade,” said Daniel Rossing. An observant, kippa-wearing Jew, Rossing heads the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations and was liaison to Israel’s Christian communities for the Ministry of Religious Affairs in the ’70s and ’80s.

For Christian clergy in the Old City, being spat at by Jewish fanatics “is a part of life,” said the American Jewish Committee’s Rabbi David Rosen, Israel’s most prominent Jewish interfaith activist.

“I hate to say it, but we’ve grown accustomed to this. Jewish religious fanatics spitting at Christian priests and nuns has become a tradition,” said Roman Catholic Father Massimo Pazzini, sitting inside the Church of the Flagellation on the Via Dolorosa.

These are the very opposite of isolated incidents. Father Athanasius of the Christian Information Center called them a “phenomenon.” George Hintlian, the unofficial spokesman for the local Armenian community and former secretary of the Armenian Patriarchate, said it was “like a campaign.”

Christians in Israel are a small, weak community known for “turning the other cheek,” so these Jewish xenophobes feel free to spit on them; they don’t spit on Muslims in the Old City because they’re afraid to, the clerics noted.

In 2004, Eric J Greenberg, wrote in The Forward: It has been Jerusalem’s dirty little secret for decades: Orthodox yeshiva students and other Jewish residents vandalizing churches and spitting on Christian clergyman as they walk along the narrow, ancient stone streets of the Old City.

Now, however, following a highly publicized fracas last week between a yeshiva student and the archbishop of Jerusalem’s Armenian Church, the issue is generating unprecedented media attention in Israel. The fight started after a yeshiva student at the respected Har Hamor yeshiva spat on Archbishop Nourhan Manougian during a Christian holy procession in the Old City.

In the wake of the incident, a top Armenian Church official told the Forward that his church is calling on the Israeli government and on rabbis around the world to help put a stop to the offensive, decades-long abuse.

“These ultra-Orthodox Jews are the ones causing this scandal, those that live here in our neighborhood and the ones that come visit the Western Wall,” said the church official, Aris Shirvanian, in a phone interview Monday. He spoke from the patriarchate’s world headquarters in the Armenian Quarter, one of the famed four quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem.

“We would like to see the authorities… become more strict with the offenders,” said Shirvanian, director of ecumenical and foreign relations of the Armenian Patriarchate. “We would also ask rabbis to get involved in educating this one sector of the Jewish society.”

Har Hamor is one of the leading institutions of religious Zionism, Israel’s equivalent of Modern Orthodoxy. Most sources interviewed for this article suggested that the abusive practices were more common in the ultra-Orthodox or Haredi community, which is characterized by greater insularity… But sources told the Forward that the practice has recently been picked up by other segments of the Orthodox world, including visiting American yeshiva students.

The controversy comes as the Israeli government and Diaspora Jewish organizations have been attempting to focus international attention on what they describe as a surge in antisemitism across the globe. Beyond potentially undermining these efforts, the reports of anti-Christian harassment could weaken Israel’s claim to be an effective guardian of Christian and Muslim rights in Jerusalem.

“Protection of everything sacred to other religions is one of the justifications for Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem, whose legitimacy will be undermined if this spitting becomes prevalent,” said a former Israeli chief rabbi, Israel Meir Lau. Lau condemned the harassment, and warned that such incidents could fuel antisemitism outside of Israel.

Besides the Armenian rite, clergy of other Christian churches have been targeted, Shirvanian said. “This is not happening only to Armenian clergy, but also to the Catholics, Syrians, Romanians and Greek Orthodox.”

Following the incident involving Manougian, numerous Israeli government officials and Jewish religious and organizational leaders have stepped forward to condemn the acts.

Interior Minister Avraham Poraz called the yeshiva students’ behavior “intolerable,” and asked Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra to “take all the necessary steps to prevent these incidents in the future.”

At the end of 2009, Beth Din Tzedek, the tribunal justice of the Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, issued the following statement:

Recently, repeated complaints have been made by gentiles regarding recurring harassment and insults directed at them by irresponsible youths in various places in the city, especially in the vicinity of Shivtei Yisrael Street and adjacent to the grave of Shimon the Just.

Besides desecrating the Holy Name, which in itself represents a very grave sin, provoking gentiles, according to our sages — blessed be their holy and righteous memory — is forbidden and is liable to bring tragic consequences upon our own community, may God have mercy.

We hereby call upon anyone who has the power to end these shameful incidents through persuasion, to take action as soon as possible to remove these hazard, so that our community may live in peace.

The tribunal in issuing this appeal apparently did not see itself as possessing the power to reign in its own community. Neither did it see fit to offer an apology to Jerusalem’s Christians. It’s primary concern was what kind of backlash the behavior of its own youth might eventually provoke.

The robed Christian clergy are not the only gentiles who have been subjected to spitting attacks. A year ago, Anne Barker, Middle East correspondent for Australia’s ABC News, described the humiliation and degradation she experienced when a mob of angry Orthodox men spat on her while she was reporting on street protests in Jerusalem.

I was aware that earlier protests had erupted into violence on previous weekends — Orthodox Jews throwing rocks at police, or setting rubbish bins alight, even throwing dirty nappies or rotting rubbish at anyone they perceive to be desecrating the Shabbat.

But I never expected their anger would be directed at me.

I was mindful I would need to dress conservatively and keep out of harm’s way. But I made my mistake when I parked the car and started walking towards the protest, not fully sure which street was which.

By the time I realised I’d come up the wrong street it was too late.

I suddenly found myself in the thick of the protest – in the midst of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in their long coats and sable-fur hats.

They might be supremely religious, but their behaviour — to me — was far from charitable or benevolent.

As the protest became noisier and the crowd began yelling, I took my recorder and microphone out of my bag to record the sound.

Suddenly the crowd turned on me, screaming in my face. Dozens of angry men began spitting on me.

I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting — on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms.

It was like rain, coming at me from all directions — hitting my recorder, my bag, my shoes, even my glasses.

Big gobs of spit landed on me like heavy raindrops. I could even smell it as it fell on my face.

Somewhere behind me — I didn’t see him — a man on a stairway either kicked me in the head or knocked something heavy against me.

I wasn’t even sure why the mob was angry with me. Was it because I was a journalist? Or a woman? Because I wasn’t Jewish in an Orthodox area? Was I not dressed conservatively enough?

In fact, I was later told, it was because using a tape-recorder is itself a desecration of the Shabbat even though I’m not Jewish and don’t observe the Sabbath.

It was lucky that I don’t speak Yiddish. At least I was spared the knowledge of whatever filth they were screaming at me.