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June 29, 2016 / 23 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

Incoming Defense Minister Rattles Israeli Political Establishment

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

by Michael Bachner

The news that MK Avigdor Liberman, chairman of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteynu party, will be Israel’s next defense minister has rocked the political establishment on the right and left.

Liberman, a tough-talking former ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has sought the Defense Ministry portfolio for years – and appears set to receive it after a deal struck with Netanyahu on Wednesday.

Liberman’s rise followed a tumultuous day of negotiations and backroom deals in which both Liberman and MK Isaac Herzog, chairman of the historically left-wing Labor party, vied for the job of defense minister and the chance to enter Netanyahu’s government.

“I regret the prime minister’s decision. I did not imagine that he would make such a paradoxical and dangerous move,” said MK Benny Begin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio on Thursday morning. “The prime minister has been very proud of what he called ‘a reasonable, balanced and responsible’ defense policy, while Liberman’s statements give an opposite impression.”

Netanyahu received harsh criticism from opposition parties as well, including Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, who blasted Netanyahu for “bartering the most sensitive and important positions as if nothing mattered” in a Facebook post on Thursday.

Liberman was an ally of Netanyahu – the two ran together in a united party during the 2013 election after which Liberman became foreign minister – until they had a public falling out two years ago. The Yisrael Beiteynu party remained in the opposition after last year’s election, and as recently as March Liberman castigated Netanyahu as a “liar, cheat, and con man.”

Liberman has been a frequent advocate for a harsher military response toward Palestinian Authority terrorism, notably against the Hamas terror group that runs Gaza.

“The elimination of Hamas is the primary mission of the Israeli government and as defense minister I will carry it out,” Liberman said before last year’s elections. “We will not reach agreements and understandings with them. The only agreement that can be reached with Hamas is when they are buried in the ground,” he said, adding that such an Israeli policy cannot be implemented when the government is comprised of “a coalition of nerds.”

Meanwhile, reports have emerged that Tony Blair, the Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East and a former British prime minister, colluded with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to push Herzog into the government – a move reportedly designed to facilitate a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority. According to the report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Blair even met with Herzog’s political partner, MK Tzipi Livni, in her Tel Aviv home this week, despite the fact that she is sitting shiva – the Jewish mourning ritual – for her brother.

Liberman is set to replace current Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a senior Likud member who has recently clashed with Netanyahu over a series of issues related to the IDF’s independence from the political establishment.

Ya’alon, apparently alluding to the news of his ouster, said on Thursday that Israel is facing a crisis of leadership. “There is a loss of our moral compass on basic issues,” Ya’alon said. “If I had to give a golden tip, it would be to navigate with a compass rather than a weather vane. Navigation with a compass is tried and true, and it’s also a question of leadership.”

TPS / Tazpit News Agency

BREAKING: Egypt Air Officials Confirm Missing Plane Crashed in Mediterranean

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

Egyptian aviation officials have confirmed that Flight MS804 en route from Paris to Cairo crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday, ten miles after entering Egyptian air space.

Greek airport sources said the crash site is off the Greek island of Karpathos. A terror attack is the most likely cause of the crash, aviation experts told international media. Search and rescue personnel are out in force, looking for the plane.

French President Francois Hollande also confirmed the news in a separate news conference. But he stressed there was “no hypothesis” as to why the plane, an Airbus A320, crashed.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also told reporters at Cairo airport it is still too early to speculate on what caused the crash. “We cannot rule anything out,” he told journalists,” and could not say whether a technical issue or terror attack was the cause.

The flight departed from Paris late Wednesday night en route to Cairo, but disappeared from the radar over the Mediterranean Sea just 10 minutes away from Egyptian air space.

Greek government officials were investigating an earlier report by the captain of a merchant ship who said he saw “a flame in the sky” over the area where the aircraft disappeared. He reported seeing the “flame” about 130 nautical miles south of the Greek island of Carpatos, according to the British Daily Star.

The twin-engine jet was registered with the Egyptian tail number SU-GCC. The last contact with the pilot was about 10 minutes before the aircraft disappeared from the radar. Ehab Mohy el-Deen, head of the Egyptian air navigation authority, said, “They did not radio for help or lose altitude. They just vanished.”

Greek air traffic controllers spoke to the pilot over the island of Kea in what is believed to have been the last broadcast from the aircraft. “The pilot did not mention any problems,” Kostas Litzerakis, head of Greek civil aviation told Reuters.

Rescue services from the Egyptian armed forces reported receiving a signal at 04:26 am local time (0226 GMT) from the aircraft that turned out to be an automated signal, according to a statement by Egypt Air. The flight had been due to land at 03:15 am local time.

A Russian MetroJet flight from Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg crashed in the Sinai Peninsula last October due to a mid-air explosion.  The crash was due to a bomb planted by the Da’esh (ISIS) terrorist organization, which claimed responsibility for the attack. All 224 people on board were killed in the disaster.

Hana Levi Julian

Netanyahu, Herzog Welcome Egyptian Leader’s Overture for Peace

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

By Michael Zeff/TPS

Jerusalem (TPS) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi offered to act as a mediator in the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict on Tuesday, an overture that immediately drew favorable responses from both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog.

“If we can all join forces in order to solve the Palestinian issue by creating hope for Palestinians and assuring security for Israelis, we will be able to write a new chapter that may prove to be more important than the peace accords between Israel and Egypt,” al-Sisi said on Tuesday during an inauguration ceremony for a new power plant in the Egyptian city of Asyut.

“I welcome Egyptian President El-Sisi’s remarks and his willingness to make every effort to advance a future of peace and security between us and the Palestinians,” responded Netanyahu in an official statement.

“Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region. I appreciate President El-Sisi’s work and also draw encouragement from his leadership on this important issue,” Netanyahu added.

In his spontaneous remarks, President al-Sisi proposed to act both as a mediator between rival factions within “Palestinian” society and as mediator between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the road to possible future peace talks.

Furthermore, the Egyptian president implied that resolving the conflict with the “Palestinians” will also incur a warmer relationship between his own country and Israel.

“If we are able to solve the issue of our Palestinian brothers it will achieve warmer peace [with Israel]. This is a genuine opportunity,” al-Sisi said.

Netanyahu wasn’t alone in expressing support of al-Sisi’s speech, leader of the Opposition and Zionist Union party Chairman Isaac Herzog posted his own response shortly after al-Sisi’s speech was made public in Israel.

“I congratulate the Egyptian President’s announcement. It’s a dramatic message, reflecting the historical process wherein the moderate Arab world expects a brave, strong, and sober hand extended from Israel,” Herzog posted on his Facebook page.

“It is our duty to seriously consider this, or else we’ll find ourselves doing so after the next parade of funerals,” Herzog warned.

The Egyptian offer comes on the same day as a postponement was announced for a planned French international peace conference later this month due to a scheduling conflict for US Secretary of State John Kerry. Israel had forcefully rejected the French conference, arguing that only direct talks between Israel and the Arabs could advance peace and suggesting that the forum was biased against Israel.

TPS / Tazpit News Agency

PM Netanyahu Reveals Threat That Moved Egypt to Rescue Staff at Israeli Embassy in Cairo

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed Tuesday that only the threat of Israel sending its own commandos to rescue its embassy staff in Cairo moved then-President Mohammed Morsi to send Egyptian forces to save them.

Speaking at a Foreign Ministry ceremony to commemorate Israeli diplomats killed abroad in the line of duty, Netanyahu recalled the night when a mob of Egyptians rampaged unchecked through Israel’s embassy offices.

The six remaining security guards at the time were holed up in a safe room behind a sturdy metal door, on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu that night in September 2011. “Yoni, the State of Israel will get you out of there,” the prime minister told the head of security on the phone at the time.

But Israel never publicly revealed its own intervention in the matter, instead giving the credit – and the subsequent kudos on television – to U.S. President Barack Obama.

On Tuesday, the facade came to an end and for the first time, Netanyahu revealed that it was through the threat of sending Israeli commandos the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Egyptian president was persuaded to send in his own crack troops to resolve the problem.

“A mob came to slaughter our people, and we used all the tools at our disposal that night, including the threat of rescue operation by the IDF, which finally tipped the balance and led the Egyptian forces — then under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, together with careful coordination from here — that ultimately led to the successful conclusion of this event,” Netanyahu told Foreign Ministry staff.

He acknowledged that the service is no picnic for its staff, noting that 16 foreign service officers have been killed abroad since 1948.

“Our representatives are there to deflect political and propaganda attacks, and precisely because of this they are liable to turn into targets for physical attacks,” he said.

Netanyahu is currently serving both as prime minister and as foreign minister in Israel. He also served as foreign minister from 2002 to 2003 under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and from 2012 to 2013. He served as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations between 1984 and 1988, and as deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC from 1982 to 1984.

Update: Defusing a potential international crisis, the Prime Minister’s office has issued a clarification stating that Israel’s intention at the time was to run a “coordinated” operation with the Egyptian army, and not to take unilateral action. The Prime Minister thanked the Egyptian army for handling the matter responsibly leading to a resolution to the problem.

Hana Levi Julian

Israel, Egypt Fight US Plan to Trim Troops in Sinai Multinational Force

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Israel and Egypt have united to protest a decision by the United States to reduce its contingent in the Sinai Peninsula multinational force by a third. It’s unclear whether opposition by the two allies will move anyone in the White House, however.

Washington officials are worrying about what they feel is the increasing likelihood that American service members could be targeted by Da’esh (ISIS) terrorists while participating in the MFO. The concerns come in the wake of recent losses elsewhere in the Middle East, and two recent incidents of Da’esh cyber attacks on American soil, including one targeting military personnel.

The role of the force is to monitor enforcement of the security agreement in the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, and to ensure no heavy weaponry enters the Sinai Peninsula in violation of the agreement. The origins of the MFO (ed. – multinational force) lie in Annex I to the 1979 Treaty of Peace between Egypt and Israel, in which the parties undertook to request the United Nations to provide a force and observers to supervise the implementation of the Treaty. When it did not prove possible to obtain Security Council approval for the stationing of a UN peacekeeping force in the Sinai, the parties negotiated a Protocol in 1981 establishing the MFO “as an alternative” to the envisioned UN force.

The directly interested parties in the multinational force — that is, Israel and Egypt — fund most of the costs of its operation. Australia and the United States provide funding for Force Protection purposes.

Since the election of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt and Israel have worked together to battle the massive presence of terrorist bases in Sinai that grew during the one-year reign of Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi. The multinational force has rarely been targeted by these groups, who are working to overthrow the el-Sisi government rather than waste their resources elsewhere.

But Washington has lost two American soldiers in the battle with Da’esh since March alone, including a SEAL who was shot and killed in northern Iraq near Mosul this week.

With the Democratic party facing an uphill battle to retain the White House in the upcoming presidential elections this November, President Barack Obama appears to be taking few chances on angering the American public with unpopular military losses.

At present some 700 American soldiers from special combat and logistical units serve in the northern Sinai, comprising a little less than half of the total multinational force.

The U.S. is pressuring Egypt and Israel to agree to the one-third reduction of its force, at the minimum; a move that would be seen in Egypt as a statement of no-confidence in the el-Sisi regime.

After discussions with Israel, Egypt has expressed willingness to move some of the peacekeeper forces to the center and southern sections of the region. Technical monitoring equipment would be used to replace the missing forces in the northern Sinai. It’s not clear how effective such a strategy would be, however.

Then again, it’s also not clear how effective the presence of the MFO has actually been as a deterrent against terrorist activity either. It is more likely that Israeli-Egyptian opposition to the move is aimed at the damaging political statement it makes in Egyptian society, and the not-so-subtle encouraging message it sends to radical Islamist terrorist in the Sinai Peninsula.

But then, Washington doesn’t use words like “radical Islamist terrorists” … so they don’t really exist, do they?

Hana Levi Julian

IDF Confirms Hamas ‘Partnering’ With ISIS in Sinai

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

IDF officials warned this week that between 600 to 1,000 Da’esh (ISIS) operatives in the Sinai Peninsula are now “partnering” with Gaza’s ruling Hamas terrorist organization.

In a graphic posted to the military service English-language blog online, the IDF confirmed Hamas support for Da’esh is wide-ranging.

Hamas transfers money for the terrorist organization, trains and teaches its fighters, assists with communications and also provides medical care when necessary.

Those services are provided via the cross-border smuggler tunnels that snake below the surface under the Gaza-Egyptian border.

Hamas was created by the outlawed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization, which is bent on overthrowing the Cairo regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Former Muslim Brotherhood-backed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was ousted after only a year in power; more than one million Egyptians rose up to protest against his rule, which followed the chaos of the Arab Spring.

Hana Levi Julian

Egypt is Colorful and Full of Love; Meetings of Conciliation between Muslim and Jew, in Egypt: Part II

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Dr Omer Salem of Yale and AlAzhar Universities envisions a borderless world open to movement and communication between all peoples. A traditionalist Sunni Muslim, he studied Hebrew Bible at Yale and had his PhD dissertation supervised by Al-Azhar University Professors in Cairo. His thesis – acceptance of the People of the Book in Islam, a theme that is pulling in the opposite direction of the less embracing schools of thought in Islam today, schools which have been propped up of late more by politics than religious doctrine.

In this spirit, Salem invited Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Nagen, Fullbright Scholar Dr. Jospeh Ringel, and myself to meet his colleagues in Egypt. Impossible! My smart aleck retort was, “sure I will catch the next train.” But within two weeks we were on Egyptian soil and in earnest dialogue with some of the best minds of Cairo today. Here is a small glimpse of what we dream will be many more encounters.

Al Azhar University was founded by the Fatimids in the tenth century CE and is the oldest university in the world still functioning. Today it is considered the center of Islamic and Arabic scholarship. The university administers about 4000 teaching institutes and a system of schools with about two million students nation-wide.

Enter the campus, humanity’s stunning variety greets you in the beauty of all its rainbow colors – Indonesians, Africans, black, white, some in western dress, some in traditional garb. This richness accompanied us to professor Awad’s office – an enormous room which over the next two and a half hours would host our marathon discussion, with students and faculty entering and exiting, some participating, some just listening. The atmosphere was respectful and congenial throughout, albeit the discussion veering into some very sensitive subjects.

Before our arrival, we debated an essential question – how can the Muslim ummah – nation – accept Jews? Assuming that the hurdles were largely theological, we discussed the approach that Jews can take to Muhammad; a Navi, prophet, has vastly different connotations in Jewish thought than in Islamic thought. Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik’s essay, “Confrontation” presents an illustration of how essential terms cannot be imported and exported across cultures, indeed, meaning is lost in translation. In Judaism, a Navi can be false and even wicked, as in the case of Bilaam (Book of Numbers). So when Muslims ask Jews, “Do you think Muhammad was a prophet?” the connotations differ vastly. What we can say is that prophecy for the nation of Israel ended with the prophet Malachi, but that does not mean that prophecy stopped for all nations. In the spirit of the Rambam, who dwelled in Egypt as physician and Rabbi, we can appreciate that Muhammad spread monotheism globally, and that he could indeed be a prophet for the other nations of the world.

We would see however that the theological hurdle is in fact not the greatest stumbling block to reconciliation.

“Welcome, welcome!” Dr Awad beckoned, along with staff and students flanking him. The men were removing their shoes, should I? Do women remove their shoes as well? They do, but I can remain shod if I choose. Both equality of women and free choice are basic premises in Islam, the professor would make quite clear. But that is not my emphasis just yet, I have something more important for you to hear.

Professor Awad’s thesis was on the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. He emphasized that dialogue is a primary tenet of Islam. “The Qur’an commands us as Muslims to engage in dialogue to reach truth.” He stated.

“The differences between people are G-d given.” And he quoted, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. .” Qur’an 49:13. (Arabic: لتعارفوا) Lita’arafu – to know each other. You can respect Islam and the prophet and the Qur’an, without necessarily following the sharia of Islam, and that is your right.”

He added, “There is no coercion in religion,” Qur’an 2:256

“Muslims are commanded to study the teachings of the prophet Moses. For you, learning about Muhammad is merely optional. That is an expression of tolerance inherent in Islam. The Qur’an has provided solutions for so many problems in the world, and it commanded Jews to judge according to their own Torah. This is evidence that the Qur’an is a very neutral, objective book. Jews have a right to study the Qur’an without anyone judging whether they believe in it or not. You are indeed welcome to read it with your good intention.”

Jewish Press contributor, Rebecca Abrahamson in front of Al Azhar University

Jewish Press contributor, Rebecca Abrahamson in front of Al Azhar University

I introduced myself as a Haredi woman, and added that I had traveled with the agreement of my husband and the blessing of my Rabbi. There I had braved it all the way to Egypt, overcoming personal and societal hurdles. I made that statement in order to express a living traditional value and to pave the way for more fundamentalist Muslim and Jewish women to join in social activism. When fundamentalist women act, they move large areas, they bring whole families and societies with them. And we know that we are not docile followers. I love the story from an African-American fundamentalist church in the southern United States, a woman stood up and challenged her preacher, “that’s not written in my Bible!” Fundamentalist women are in dynamic dialogue with their family and leaders. When we act, we actually move large areas of ground.

But I liked the professor’s response:

He looked at me a little sharply, “Women and men are equal. The only difference is she has a right to be provided for.” Then he ticked off her rights on his fingers, “she has freedom of work, dignity, employment, she may divorce, and she does not need her husband’s permission to travel.” I smiled inside.

Then the professor touched upon difficult subjects, and though his tone remained respectful, his passion and concern was evident. Something was irking him, it was clear.

Discovering a Stumbling Block

He wondered at the verse in the Torah that declares Canaan as cursed – where is the justice in that? All have free will, how can anyone be cursed from birth? “Certainly you are accountable for what you do.” (Qur’an 16:93) He wondered why Jews do not proselytize to other nations, is that an uncaring approach? And, with equal passion, Dr Awad questioned how the revelation at Sinai could have been in Hebrew – the Jews had just exited Egypt? This final question was expressed with as much concern as the previous two, though I felt that whatever language was spoken at the time of the Revelation at Sinai was surely less important that wondering if Judaism is discriminatory.

Rabbi Nagen responded – “you have raised the most important questions. My whole life I am searching for answers to these questions. We know that holy books sometimes have verses that seem troubling. For me, the verse that is most important is that all of humanity has one father and is in the image of God. Anything that seems to contradict this puzzles me and we struggle with it. We know that with both Torah, Gospel and Qur’an, people can quote verses to do great good or not good. Our task is to find a way to teach good from the Torah and Qur’an. The question is – what is the rule and what is the exception? What is the context? I read the Qur’an and I know that every sura begins with All-h is Rachman. If I find a verse that seems violent, I know this must be talking about a particular context and it’s not the rule. I have hundreds of students; I interpret the Torah and Talmud. I organized a prayer rally to protest the alleged arson attack in Kfar Dumas. I am part of a group of a thousand Rabbis, we put out a thirty page pamphlet that was read in synagogues that week.”

The professor could not be placated, there was something nagging at him. And then it came out:

“We as Muslims are not asked to judge others; however we cannot accept oppression by one people over another people or making mockery of one over the other.”

So that was it. Agree or disagree, this was the professor’s central concern, and it was echoed in our meetings with Dr Aly El-Samman, former advisor to Anwar Sadat, and with Professor Wagee AlShamy of Dar Oloom College in AlFayoum, a city south of Cairo.

Indeed, Dr Wagee Al-Shamy asked us to proclaim this message – “tell your people: the state of the Palestinian Arabs is of great concern to us. That is the real stumbling block to normalization. Please ease their plight; that will pave the road to better relations between our peoples.”

Agree or disagree, that was the message we heard throughout our trip. So it is not scripture or theology that divides. Negative light is shed upon Judaism when Israel is seen as oppressing its Arab residents. Looking for the cause of the injustice, our scriptures are held up as possibly blameworthy.

But is this not how we feel when presented with injustices wrought by other cultures? Do we not point to the source of an ‘Other’s’ impropriety as based in their basic tenets? As much as what I am saying may sting, and we can certainly feel the call to defend Israel’s need for self defense, or the real meaning of holy writ, we need to consider – if this is what prominent Egyptian Muslims are saying, and even asking us to proclaim this, it does mean that the situation is a lot more hopeful than if stumbling blocks to normalization were scripture and theology.

So what are we to do? Embark on a grand-scale hasbara (explanation) campaign? There are better places we can put our energy; injustices are best addressed, in my husband Ben Abrahamson’s words – by establishing joint Jewish-Islamic religious courts. They existed in Yemen, and they can exist now. This gives both Muslim and Jew a feeling of a common language. Once injustices are addressed in a framework that both sides revere, the view changes. The diamond tossed up to the light reflects various hues, constantly changing as it turns before the sun, yet the diamond remains the same. We do not have to change our very being; we just need to address concerns where all parties are heard in the language they revere the most.

“Show me the fatwa.”

Ben was once speaking to a sheikh who was criticizing Israel. Ben said simply, “show me the fatwa.” Instead of relying on media reporting, Ben challenged the sheikh to find an Islamic court which has investigated an allegation of injustice and issued a fatwa – ruling. Knowing of none, they both relaxed and fruitful discussion followed.

The best hasbara campaign to defend Israel and Judaism will never really be enough; there is not the trust and common language needed for such efforts. The gap can be bridged not via hasbara, which is likely to fall upon deaf ears, but via joint courts. Joint Jewish-Islamic courts will succeed in striving for justice, trust building, and an expanded narrative that finally will include all residents of the Holy Land. It will be a huge relief to us all.

We had been welcomed by the professors at AlAzhar in warmth and parted with love and hopes of future dialogue. Yes, things can get rocky in discussion, but if you believe that the Other is coming from an honest place, then only the late hour and weariness born from a marathon conversation brings it to a close.

And we will work for more such encounters. We must.

(Left) Rabbi Yaakov Nagen with Dr Joseph Ringel,

(Left) Rabbi Yaakov Nagen with Dr Joseph
Ringel,

Rebecca Abrahamson

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