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August 28, 2016 / 24 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘presidency’

Netanyahu’s Struggle for the Presidency

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Behind closed doors, President Shimon Peres is whispering (loudly) that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants to be a dictator over Israel.

That’s because the prime minister is attempting to end the president’s authorization to assign the top political party the task of assembling a governing coalition after each election.

Netanyahu also wants to postpone the presidential elections for up to six months, according to a report broadcast last week on Voice of Israel government radio. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein would take over the reins from Peres in July if the prime minister succeeds.

But according to a report last week in the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv, Netanyahu’s real goal is to abolish the presidency altogether.

Peres said in conversations with confidantes that Netanyahu’s initiative is “an attempt to establish a dictatorship here,” The Jerusalem Post reported. He claimed the prime minister would not “be satisfied until there is an absolute ruler [in the prime minister’s office].”

The president, who retires next month when he turns 90 years old, has always been far more active politically and diplomatically than is generally accepted. In that he is similar to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, also elderly, who has traveled to numerous nations around the world and freely spoken his mind, regardless of the impact his actions might have on U.S. relations or foreign policy in those regions – including here in the Middle East.

In the State of Israel, the position of president is one that is supposed to be primarily ceremonial, rather than actively political, and brings with it little actual authority. This has proved to be a major frustration for Shimon Peres, who has likewise felt the need to express his opinions regardless of whether they contradict those of his own government. Both men have created awkward situations for their governments and at times have even sabotaged their governments’ efforts as a result.

However, not every president is a Shimon Peres and new presidential elections are coming up fast. Netanyahu still has to drum up support for any move either to postpone elections or to eliminate a president’s ability to assign coalition-building — or for that matter abolish the post — and that’s not easy.

Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, 74, has a great deal of support for his candidacy in the upcoming election, and not only from Bayit Yehudi Housing Minister, MK Uri Ariel. Although Rivlin appears to be a genial man, he is not likely to allow himself to be sidelined so quickly, nor are his colleagues likely to be willing to sit silently by and let it happen.

His biggest rival, Binyamin Ben-Eleizer, 78, is another strong contender unlikely to allow Netanyahu to give away his right to assign coalition formation. The Iraqi-born former IDF general is close with the Sephardic population and maintains excellent relations with Arab leaders.

Silvan Shalom, 55, and a former finance and former minister, also has considered running for president but now may drop the idea. His candidacy would likely not succeed due to allegations of sexual offenses against former employees. At least one involved formal charges, but the case was dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. Each of the others did not materialize for various other reasons, according to a statement by the Justice Ministry last week.

There are also reports that former Soviet refusenik Natan Scharansky, 66 and currently director of the Jewish Agency for Israel, has been approached by various people asking him to toss his hat into the ring. Hugely popular, Scharansky has not yet discussed the matter in public.

Hana Levi Julian

Evidence that Morsi Actually Lost the Egyptian Presidency

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Just days after his apparent victory, Cynthia Farahat and I expressed our skepticism about the validity of these election returns:

SCAF exploits the Muslim Brotherhood and other proxies as its civilian fronts, a role they are happy to play, by permitting Islamists to garner an outsized percentage of the parliamentary vote, then to win the presidency. During the suspicious week-long delay before the presidential votes were announced, SCAF met with the Muslim Brotherhood’s real leader, Khairat El-Shater, and reached a deal whereby Morsi became president but SCAF still governs.

Earlier, we had doubted two earlier rounds of elections (see “Egypt’s Sham Election” and “Don’t Ignore Electoral Fraud in Egypt.”)

Though few analysts have embraced this version, there have been hints of it:

(1) On July 31, 2013, Josh Goodman and James Parks wrote in “Morsi Was Neither Democratically Nor Duly Elected” that

hailing Morsi as the democratically elected representative of the Egyptian people appears to be based on a rather loose understanding of “democracy.” The Brotherhood has been accused of bribing and intimidating voters and rigging ballots during the 2012 elections. The election suffered from abysmally poor voter turnout (43.4% of registered voters), which is especially troubling given the ostensibly historic nature of the race. Out of 23 million voters in the first round of elections, 12 million did not vote for either of the two candidates ultimately placed in the run-off vote. Capping this all off was a blatant power grab from the military, which changed the constitution mid-election to limit the power of the newly elected President.

(2) On Aug. 3, 2013, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi gave an interview in which he both denied having rigged Morsi’s election and (more interestingly) asserted that he could have done so had he wanted to.

Q: So you were giving the president advice on Ethiopia and the Sinai, for example, and he was ignoring you?

A: We were very keen and predetermined on his success. If we wanted to oppose or not allow them to come to rule Egypt, we would have done things with the elections, as elections used to be rigged in the past.

Now comes a testimonial from an un-named Egyptian official via the Israeli politician Yossi Beilin in “Morsi didn’t win the elections” that

Ahmed Shafiq, the former air force commander and former president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, actually won the race by a narrow margin. But the army generals—wanting to ensure that law and order would be upheld following the elections—feared that if Morsi was defeated, the Muslim Brotherhood would refuse to recognize the results and would end up conducting themselves just as they are now.

The official results, 51.73 percent for Morsi and 48.27% for Shafiq, were almost the exact reversal of what actually happened at the polls. After the results were published, we barely heard any calls for protest or opposition among the secular-liberals, while on the religious side—loyal either to the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafi parties—voters were happy with their achievement.

Beilin goes on to explain that military officers expected the inexperienced Morsi to respect the army but he did not. Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi came under pressure from fellow generals some months ago but Sisi gave Morsi a chance to make amends.

Daniel Pipes

Explaining Obama’s Fixation with Israel

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Why does Barack Obama focus so much on Israel and its struggle with the Arabs?

It’s not just that he’s spending days in Israel this week, but his disproportionate four-year search to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. His first full day as president in 2009 saw him appointing George Mitchell as special envoy for the Middle East and also telephoning the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. The White House press secretary justified this surprising emphasis by saying that Obama used his first day in office “to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term.” A few days later, Obama granted his first formal interview as president to Al-Arabiya television channel.

Nor did he subsequently let up. In June 2009, Obama announced that “The moment is now for us to act” to ease tensions between Israel and its neighbors and declared “I want to have a sense of movement and progress. … I’m confident that if we stick with it, having started early, that we can make some serious progress this year.” In May 2011 he announced impatience with regard to Arab-Israeli diplomacy: “we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace.” The new secretary of state, John Kerry, repeated these sentiments in his Jan. 2013 confirmation hearing: “We need to try to find a way forward.”

Why this fixation on the Arab-Israeli conflict, which ranks only 49th in fatalities since World War II? Because of a strange belief on the Left, rarely stated overtly, that this issue is key not just to the Middle East but to world problems.

For an unusually frank statement of this viewpoint, note the spontaneous, awkward comments of James L. Jones, then Obama’s national security adviser, in Oct. 2009. Addressing J Street, he mentioned “pursuing peace between Israel and her neighbors” and continued:

Of all the problems the administration faces globally, that if there was one problem that I would recommend to the president that if he could do anything he wanted to solve one problem, this would be it. Finding a solution to this problem has ripples that echo, that would run globally and affect many other problems that we face elsewhere in the globe. The reverse is not true. This is the epicenter, and this is where we should focus our efforts. And I am delighted that this administration is doing so with such enthusiasm and commitment.

Although delivered a year before the Arab uprising, this statement is worth parsing because it provides an important insight into the White House worldview.

Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict would “affect many other problems that we face elsewhere in the globe.” Jones implies that the conflict’s continuation exacerbates those problems. In one sense, his point is trite: of course, ending any conflict improves the overall atmosphere. But it staggers the imagination to think that the White House awaits resolution on Jerusalem and Palestine refugees to handle Kurdish restlessness, Islamist assaults, Syrian civil insurrection, Iranian nuclear ambitions, Egyptian economic travails, and Yemeni anarchy.

The reverse is not true.” Why would solving other problems not ameliorate the Arab-Israeli conflict? No proof backs up this blithe, illogical drivel. Defeating Islamism, obviously, would indeed help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, as would deflecting the Iranian bomb.

This is the epicenter.” In 2009, the Islamist surge had already riven the Middle East into Iranian- and Saudi-led cold war blocs: Israel and the Palestinians were not then or now the regional center. Arguably, Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia is.

This is where we should focus our efforts.” Here we get to the nub: Jones wants a focus on housing in Jerusalem and electricity grids in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria -ed.] rather than on stopping the Iranian nuclear program, assuring oil and gas supplies, dealing with the pattern of dictatorships vs. Islamist insurgencies, or dealing with the increasingly rogue government of Turkey.

At least Jones did not make the outlandish and borderline antisemitic claim that Israel is responsible for all problems in the Middle East; but his milder version of this canard is no less bone-headed. His analysis, sadly, neatly fits the anti-Zionist mentality that increasingly pervades the left wing of the Democratic party.

Daniel Pipes

Religion and The Presidency

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

With Presidents Day coming up next Monday, it seemed like the ideal time to chat with Paul Kengor, associate professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Professor Kengor has devoted years to studying, writing and lecturing about the spiritual roots of the American republic and the influence of religion on the presidency. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (HarperCollins, 2006) and also God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life and God and George W. Bush: A Spiritual Life.

The Jewish Press: Why does the U.S. differ from other Western countries when it comes to the professed piety of its leaders?

Kengor: The United States is simply a more religious country, and has been from the outset, always with a strong sense of the place of Providence in the founding and continuation of the American republic, and of this special experiment in representative democracy. The great sociologist Peter Berger once said that the two most religious nations in the world are India and the United States, which may well be true.

Today, Western Europe has undergone a stunning secularization by which it has cast aside its Christian roots. It is a rather fascinating development, actually. Consider that the continent that is the home of both the Vatican and the Reformation, of Catholicism and Protestantism, of Aquinas and Calvin, of G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, of Rome and Wittenberg, is abandoning its Christian identity, and it does so voluntarily, eagerly, under no threat from vandals at the gate.

When Nietzsche a century ago surveyed his surroundings and proclaimed that “God is dead,” he might have in retrospect judged himself only slightly premature.

By the way, Michael Medved, the radio talk show host and Orthodox Jew, makes the interesting point that a de-Christianized Western Europe could be a very bad Europe for Jews; that’s another argument, but obviously a very significant point.

The difference seems to go all the way back to the American and French revolutions.

Yes. When you compare the American Revolution to the French Revolution, the contrast is extraordinary. The historian Paul Johnson wrote that the American Revolution was a “religious event,” whereas the French Revolution was an “anti-religious event,” which is absolutely true. And it was that difference, notes Johnson, that defined the two revolutions from start to finish, and which explains the horrific violence, chaos, and bloodshed of the French Revolution.

John Adams was certainly cognizant of the contrast. He had written to Thomas Jefferson about his concerns over the French Revolution, warning Jefferson that there was no reason to get excited about a revolution of 30 million atheists.

You can go even earlier than the American Revolution. Take John Winthrop aboard the Arabella in 1630, standing on the deck, off the Massachusetts coast. Winthrop said of this new land that it “shall be as a city upon a hill.” He said, “The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and cause him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.” That became a favorite phrase of Ronald Reagan’s, of course.

Reagan loved these images. He called the image of George Washington praying in the snow of Valley Forge “the most sublime image in American history.”

You can draw a straight line from Winthrop to Washington to Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. This piety is embedded in the very fabric of this nation.

Not a few historians claim that the Founding Fathers, as well as many early American presidents, were not Christians but deists – they believed in a Creator but did not subscribe to any specific religious dogma.

First, let me underscore that few to none were deists, even Jefferson, I would say. The faith of the founders has been badly butchered by modern historians. The vast majority of them were Christians. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 34 were Anglicans, 13 were Congregationalists, 6 were Presbyterians, one was a Baptist, one was a Quaker, and one was Catholic.

That said, there are some founders where it is difficult to say definitively that they were absolutely Christians, and thus were indeed, generally speaking, theists. Some say that this applies to George Washington, which it may.

Has there been a president who was publicly indifferent or hostile to religious expression?

I can’t think of a single such president. The concern now is that there is a secular culture in America that is hostile to religious expression by our presidents, at least in the case of a conservative Republican president like George W. Bush. And it really is a double standard. Liberals never complain about religious expression by their own, whether a Jimmy Carter or a Reverend Jesse Jackson or, as we shall soon see, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I will predict right now: Expect Hillary to run for president as the most religious Democrat since Jimmy Carter, and expect the liberal press to not only not protest but to swoon and to suddenly “get religion.” She will be able to say things like Dick Gephardt said in Iowa in December 2004, “Jesus was a Democrat, I think,” or like Jesse Jackson said at the 2004 Democratic national convention, “Jesus was a liberal and Herod was a conservative,” and get away with it.
Expect Hillary, like her husband before her, to campaign like crazy in churches, and to be able to do so with complete impunity from the press, in a way that George W. Bush would never be permitted to do.

You write, in God and Ronald Reagan, of seeing, when you went over Ronald Reagan’s presidential papers, many examples of “Reagan’s intense religious thinking.” Can you elaborate?

It was everywhere. Countless letters, and in the margins of numerous speeches. I’ll give just one example: When a friend or associate died, Reagan often fired off a letter to the widow in which he offered words of comfort about “God’s plan,” and how it is not “up to us to decide the where and how of things.” We can only trust, Reagan would say, that God knows best and works everything according to His plan and for His greater good.

You also write, “In order to understand Reagan’s lifelong enmity toward communism, it is crucial to review the role of atheism in Soviet philosophy.”

What we did not realize in the 1980’s was that Reagan considered the Soviet Union an Evil Empire not merely because it robbed people of the most basic civil liberties, and because it killed upwards of 30-60 million people, but also because the founders of the Soviet state pursued what Mikhail Gorbachev rightly called a brutal “war on religion: against people of all faiths – Christians, Jews, Muslims.” Karl Marx had dubbed religion the “opiate of the masses.” That phrase stuck. It would become a sage slogan in the Communist Party.

To cite merely one casual reference, Natan Sharansky, who was jailed from 1977-1986, recalls a conversation with one of his interrogators, who said flatly: “According to Marx, religion is the opiate of the masses. We won’t permit anyone to poison our children.” That phrase became gospel truth to countless communists. According to Marx himself, “Communism begins where atheism begins.”

Vladimir Lenin, the godfather of the Bolshevik state, said far worse. “There can be nothing more abominable than religion,” he wrote in a letter to Maxim Gorky in January 1913. Alexander Yakovlev recently found a new Lenin letter, dated December 25, 1919, in which he issued an order: “To put up with ‘Nikola’ [the religious holiday commemorating the relics of St. Nikolai] would be stupid – the entire Cheka must be on the alert to see to it that those who do not show up for work because of ‘Nikola’ are shot.”

Reagan knew about this war on religion, this institutionalized atheism. And he knew the Kremlin wanted to spread communism worldwide. For Reagan, this wasn’t just a bad empire, it was an evil empire. And, as Reagan said in the Evil Empire speech, he as a Christian was required to “oppose sin and evil” with all of his might.

Reagan was appalled at the Soviet persecution of all believers, and especially Jews. He constantly pressured Gorbachev to allow for free emigration of Soviet Jews. This annoyed Gorbachev, because Reagan pushed it so hard and so constantly.

Reagan wrote in his memoirs, “No conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.” Was there a religious motivation or a geo-strategic one behind that sentiment?

Both. He had tremendous respect for Israel. I could go into the political and strategic reasons, but those are probably clear to readers of this publication. What I found in my research on Reagan’s early religious life was that he learned religious and ethnic tolerance at a very young age, from both his devout Protestant mother and (apparently) apathetic Catholic father.

He never forgot when his father refused to register at a hotel upon realizing that Jews were denied lodging there. Jack Reagan told the clerk that he would be sleeping outside in his car, which he did.

He also learned tolerance of Jews at his church, the First Christian Church on S. Hennepin Avenue in Dixon, Illinois. I learned from church records that on November 11, 1928, the congregation hosted a Russian Jew who spoke on the modern history of Jews and their relations with other people and nations.

You write, in God and George W. Bush, that Bush “practices a non-judgmental brand of Christianity that prompts him simultaneously to concede that ‘men and women can be good without faith,’ and to assert that all believers need not be Christians.”

There has never been a more ecumenical president.

In his first year in office, Bush observed eight separate Jewish holy days, including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Chanukah. In December 2001, he lit a Chanukah menorah at the White House Residence as a symbol that the White House is “the people’s house” and that it belongs to people of all faiths. It was the first time in history that had been done.

This supposedly rigid fundamentalist Protestant has likewise embraced Catholics. For his most cherished domestic project, his Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, he appointed James Towey, a one-time attorney for Mother Teresa.

He’s also gone out of his way to foster good relations with Muslims, to the dismay of not a few Evangelicals.

No president has spoken as glowingly as Bush has about Islam, which he calls a “religion of peace.” In fact, his claim that the Koran “teaches tolerance” is an assertion that truly rigid fundamentalists find laughable. Pat Robertson has referred to Mohammed as “an absolutely wild-eyed fanatic” and “a robber and a brigand.” He said of the Muslim holy book: “You read the Koran. It says wage war against your enemies. Kill them if you possibly can.”

Bush has said just the opposite, claiming that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. In fact, he reached out to Muslims before September 11, 2001. To my knowledge, George W. Bush was the first president ever to mention mosques in his first inaugural address – which, of course, was before September 11, 2001. In his Republican convention address in August 2000, he mentioned mosques, as he did in a March 1999 speech to a Baptist church in Houston.

He explains his ecumenism this way: “We’re all God’s children [and] we need to treat each other in a decent and civilized way.” It is precisely because he is a Christian, says Bush, that he must love all peoples of all faiths.

This is yet another side of Bush that his critics do not understand, and, frankly, probably don’t want to understand.

As you point out, Bush has been extraordinarily welcoming of Jews and Jewish events in the White House. Why, then, in your opinion, is he so unpopular with the American Jewish community?

I can’t answer that. You can probably provide a better explanation than I could. I believe that generally the American Jewish community divides with Bush not over religion but over politics and ideology. If Israel were the only issue, I would think they’d be thrilled with the fact that Bush has permanently removed Saddam Hussein, a man who once had a plaque on his desk which read: “Three Whom God Should Have Never Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies.”
It looks like Saddam, thanks to Bush, will never be able to follow through on his pledge to scorch half of Israel with chemical gas.

Jason Maoz

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