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March 27, 2015 / 7 Nisan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘president’

Elie Wiesel and Kagame of Rwanda Discuss Genocide & Syria

Monday, September 30th, 2013

There were several important news making items that emerged from our historic discussion on genocide that our organization, This World: The Jewish Values Network, together with NYU Hillel, staged on Sunday night, 29 September, at Cooper Union’s Great Hall in New York City – the venue that brought Abraham Lincoln to national prominence in 1860 – before 1000 people. The event – introduced by philanthropists Sheldon Adelson and Michael Steinhardt and which I moderated – was historic because it brought together the two biggest names in global genocide remembrance: Prof. Elie Wiesel, the living embodiment of the martyred six million of the holocaust, and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, the only man alive who can claim to have stopped a genocide when his RPF forces conquered Rwanda in 1994 and ended the slaughter that had taken the lives of nearly one million Tutsis.

As to the discussion of whether President Franklin Roosevelt did enough to stop the murder of Europe’s Jews, Elie Wiesel came down firmly on the side of those who say he failed at this great moral responsibility. He deserves credit for defeating Hitler, Wiesel said, but as a someone who confronted a genocide and did not limit it, he deserves to be severely criticized.

I then turned the question to Kagame, adjusted to the Rwandan genocide. Did he harbor anger toward the United States, a moral and righteous superpower who blew it completely in Rwanda, doing next to nothing to stop the genocide and, arguably, even obstructing the efforts of other nations to assist. No, the President said. We’re way past that. It’s not about anger but our conclusion that we alone can protect ourselves and can never rely on a fickle world for our defense. Rwandans can rely on Rwandans for their defense.

I pointed out to the president that Israel came to the same conclusion about its defense in general, and is now pondering whether it will apply that principle by striking Iran alone, now that President Obama has decided to engage the Iranian president even as he continues to enrich Uranium and fund Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists.

I asked Elie Wiesel about Syria. Given the Bible’s commandment ‘not to stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,’ did the United States have a moral obligation to punish Assad for gassing children, even if he surrenders his chemical arsenal? Wiesel was unequivocal. Both the American political, and Jewish communal leadership had failed on Syria. Chemical gas was a trigger point for genocide and mass murder. The fact that Assad had paid no price for gassing children was a tremendous moral failure that had to be corrected, and the Jewish community should have been at the forefront of saying so.

President Kagame echoed that sentiment. Those who use either chemical, or even conventional weapons to slaughter innocent people must be held accountable or nothing will check further aggression and murder. Here were the world’s two leading voices on genocide were being jointly critical of the American government’s decision to commute the military attack on Assad to simply destroying his arsenal. Even if he did so he still had to pay a personal price for mass murder.

My close friend Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo had already announced, at a press conference we convened in October of last year, that Rwanda would be opening an embassy in Israel. I turned to the President and said to him that countries like Rwanda can understand Israel’s security situation in ways that few others could. The similarities between the two countries is striking. They are of similar size. They have terrorist enemies on their borders. Israel has Iran-funded Hezbollah and Hamas and Rwanda the FDLR in Eastern Congo. Both are regularly criticized unfairly by the UN. Both have had frictions with France which has at times assumed a curiously negative posture toward both countries. And, of course, both have experienced genocides of staggering proportions.

In light of the unique relationship between the two countries, I asked the President would it not be proper for Rwanda to open its embassy not in Tel Aviv but in Jerusalem, becoming one of the first nations to affirm the holy city as Israel’s eternal and undivided capitol? The President was surprised by the question but answered graciously. Rwanda and Israel indeed share similar histories and security challenges. He was very happy that they were increasing their bilateral relations with Rwanda opening an embassy in Israel. It was an important step in an evolving relationship and opening an Embassy in Jerusalem would be too great a leap for now. He and I both smiled at his response, with the President knowing I had put him on the spot and with me knowing that he had artfully dodged my question.

I turned to Professor Wiesel and told him that the full page ads he took out in America’s major publications in March, 2010, mildly rebuking President Obama, with whom he is close, for his pressure on Israel to cease building in parts of Jerusalem were widely credited with reversing the Administration’s policy. Would he be consider taking out similar ads questioning the President’s decision to open diplomatic relations at the highest level of the Iranian leadership without first demanding that Iran cease funding Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists, or enriching Uranium? Wiesel said that Iran’s holocaust denial was dangerous and delusional, and that opening diplomatic relations with the Iranians before they had formally renounced their genocidal aspirations against the Jewish state was unacceptable. He would consider the ads.

At last, I asked Professor Wiesel about a subject he and I had discussed many times. Why was it inappropriate to hate those who have committed genocide? Should we not despise the SS who murdered his family, or Hutu genocidaires who hacked children to death with machetes? Wiesel was adamant. Once you start hating, the emotion is internalized and you cannot control its spread and growth. It’s not long before it is directed even at those whom it is inappropriate to hate.

I have been close to Wiesel for 25 years. He is my hero and teacher. But on this one point, I remain unsure, and continue to despise those monsters who would murder a child because of his nationality, religion, or race. Never again must mean just that, Never again.

Rouhani Says Ice Beginning to Break with the West, Bibi Not Impressed

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that the ice was already “beginning to break” between his country and the West. This despite the fact that there has been no meeting, no hand-shake, not even a polite nod in passing between himself and President Barack Obama in the UN halls in New York City.

White House officials confirmed on Tuesday that no meeting would take place, indicating that meeting would be “too complicated” for the Iranian when he goes back home.

Rouhani addressed the UN General Assembly for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, and then sounded conciliatory in a CNN interview. He said there had been “some talks” to arrange a meeting to give himself and Obama an opportunity to “talk with each other” but there was not sufficient time to coordinate such a meeting.

There you go, it wasn’t obedience to the ayatollah back home, it was just bad timing.

Asked whether he has been “authorized” by the Iranian supreme leader to improve ties with the West, Rouhani said he has the authority to do what he wants, according to national interests.

The supreme leader, he said, is not opposed to negotiations if they are necessary for the national interests of Iran.

“But speaking of the ice-breaking you mentioned, it’s already beginning to break because the environment is changing. And that has come about as a result of the will of the people of Iran to create a new era of the relations between Iran and the rest of the world,” Rouhani told CNN.

While the centrifuges keep on churning and while Iran is putting together warheads. A brave, new era, indeed.

When the CNN host asked him to deliver a message directly to the U.S. public, Rouhani said in English, “I would like to say to American people: I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to Americans.”



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed President Obama’s call for Iran’s recent “conciliatory words” to be “matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.”

A JTA report suggested that Netanyahu’s insistence on dismantling any Iranian nuclear capacity as a condition for stopping the boycott against it could signal a major difference with the Obama administration as the U.S. engagement with Iran advances.

What the Syria Crisis Tells Us about the Israel Lobby

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Barely minutes after the news broke earlier this month that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was planning a major effort on Capitol Hill to garner support for the Obama administration’s plan for a limited military operation against the Syrian regime, the conspiracy theorists were having a field day.

As always, it’s instructive to note how the notion that American foreign policy is a prisoner of organizations like AIPAC, the main pro-Israel lobbying group in America, is an idée fixe on both the far left and the extreme right. Juan Cole, a left-wing academic with a strong online following, grabbed the opportunity to argue that AIPAC, in advocating for what he described as “attacking Syria,” is out of touch with the opinions of most American Jews, who are not evil neoconservatives but solid progressives. The anti-Zionist Jewish blogger M.J. Rosenberg ranted about how “AIPAC and its cutouts are the only lobbying forces supporting the administration’s plans for war.”

Not to be outdone, Rod Dreher of The American Conservative, a magazine founded by Pat Buchanan, wrote that in supporting military action, AIPAC was endangering the lives of Syrian Christians, whom he believes are better off under the Assad regime.

Such concern for the plight of Christian minorities in the Middle East is touching, but also a tad disingenuous, as The American Conservative has never shown much sympathy for the fate of those Christian communities, from Nigeria to Pakistan, who suffer from Islamist atrocities. When you bring Israel into the equation, however, the magazine suddenly finds its voice.

The combined message here is clear: Syria is Iraq Redux, another “endless war” America is being pushed into by a shadowy Jewish cabal.

Critics of these conspiracy theories have rightly pointed out the anti-Semitic pedigree on display here. The idea that Jews are powerful enough to manipulate their governments from behind the scenes is a staple of modern anti-Semitism. Still, let’s for a moment take the Israel Lobby thesis on its own merits. Is the charge that the “Lobby” is the real authority when it comes to U.S. foreign policy empirically verifiable?

The answer to that question is a resounding no. In fact, what the latest developments on Syria demonstrate is that rather than the “Lobby” running the administration, it is the administration that runs the “Lobby.”

AIPAC, along with mainstream Jewish advocacy organizations, had been largely silent on the atrocities taking place in Syria. In that sense, they were no different from the other influential groups and individuals who were either undecided on the issue of a limited military operation or firmly opposed to it. It’s no secret that Obama always faced a rough ride in Congress, especially as some of his traditional supporters, like the MoveOn.org PAC, actively opposed any intervention in Syria.

Similarly, the Jewish left is uncomfortable with the prospect of taking on the Assad regime; J Street, a group that once ludicrously claimed to be Obama’s “blocking back” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict issue, has deserted the president over Syria.

Rather than pushing for war, then, AIPAC and similar groups were drafted in at the last minute to boost support for a president who was looking dangerously isolated. The irony of an administration that includes Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary who famously bemoaned AIPAC’s influence, running to groups like AIPAC to secure backing shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Even so, away from the political point scoring, what this shows is that the influence of pro-Israel groups is something this administration values. Equally – and this is key – these groups will wield that influence when the administration requests that they do so.

Importantly, this is not the first time the administration has turned to the “Lobby” for support on Middle East-related matters. Part of the reason Secretary of State John Kerry was able to galvanize support and publicity for his efforts to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was that he turned to American Jews, whose principal organizations dutifully trumpeted his message. The fact that Kerry’s diplomacy has yielded few results isn’t really his fault, nor is it the fault of American Jews. The stasis on the Israeli-Palestinian front is the consequence, as it always has been, of rejectionism among the Palestinians, whose leaders remain distinctly queasy about doing anything that might smack of accepting Israel’s legitimacy.

Any worry about all of this on the part of American Jewish organizations should relate not to accusations of outsize influence but to association with failure. So far Israel has little to show for its decision, under pressure from the Americans, to release Palestinian terrorists ahead of the talks; meanwhile, the Syrian intervention proposal is mired in confusion because of widespread concern that an American-led operation will be too little, too late.

If the Obama administration can be confident of anything, it is that its American Jewish partners will never go so far as to openly criticize the president. Far from being the war-crazed cabal depicted in the imaginations of conspiracy theorists, the “Israel Lobby” is in reality an oasis of calm reliability for a president who may just be on the cusp of his biggest foreign policy failure.

The Morning After… If Obama Bombs Syria

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

The proposed threat of an American attack on Syria brings up more questions than solutions.

Since I’m in the year of mourning for my mother, I content myself with watching just the news on television, mostly BBC, Europe and Bloomberg. So, I’ve been hearing a lot about the United States President Barack Hussein Obama and his attempts to get the support of Congress and foreign countries for his proposed attack.

There are some very serious problems with his plan.

– One, he wants to replace Bashar al-Assad with the opposition, which isn’t in favor of American plans. And they certainly aren’t western and freedom-loving. You can best describe the opposing sides as “the devil and the deep blue sea.”

– Obama is trying to convince the Americans that this attack won’t require any American soldier to land in dangerous Syrian territory. If that’s the case, how does he expect to destroy all of the nerve gas?

– And if he doesn’t totally destroy the nerve gas, what’s the point?

It’s pretty obvious that if the opposition gets into power and has nerve gas, they’d use it, too. I consider it terribly naïve to think that there are such differences between the Syrian sides. Remember what has been going on in Egypt. The world, especially Barack Hussein Obama, enthusiastically celebrated and praised the change of regime and “democratic elections” in which Mohammed Morsi was elected president. He didn’t last very long, because the Egyptian public is volatile. They aren’t the same culture and nature as Americans or even Europeans.

The more I listen to the news, the less I want an attack on Syria. It will only destroy the fragile peace that now exists in the Middle East, and if this area becomes a true war zone, no place, not Europe, America, Africa or Asia will be safe. Is that the legacy Barack Obama wants to leave on this earth, be known as the man who started World War Three?

Visit Shiloh Musings.

Ex Powell Aide: US Can Attack without UN Mandate

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The 15-nation UN security council is not, traditionally, a place where decision are made based on morality and ethics. The august body has been split on the civil war in Syria since ir began, in 2011, with Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s ally and chief arms dealer, and China, eager for the Syrian oil, vetoing three resolutions condemning Assad and urging punitive measures to make him stop.

It is virtually certain that the same UN council will reject a call for moving troops against Assad’s army, even if the Syrian president is caught splashing anti-American graffiti with a spray can of sarin on the walls of Damascus.

“The experts in Syria have the mandate to determine if chemical weapons were used, and if so, which ones, but not who unleashed this attack” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that point for reporters in Moscow on Monday.

But the U.S. has intervened in at least one conflict in the recent past without security council support—when President Clinton threw the Airforce into the Kosovo War in 1999, some suggesting in order to divert attention from his troubles with a pesky special prosecutor.

U.S. and European officials have been referring to the Kosovo bombing campaign, which pressured Serb President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his troops from Kosovo. The beleaguered Clinton ignored the security council to avoid letting the Russians cast a veto, and got his backing from NATO, or, in other words, from himself.

It’s been done, and it can be done again, is the message in Washington this week.

Richard Haas

Richard Haas

Richard Haas, president of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations who served in the GW Bush administration, rejected the Russian argument that a Western attack on Syria would require UN approval, Reuters reported.

“The UN Security Council is not the sole or unique custodian about what is legal and what is legitimate, and, as many have pointed out, it was bypassed at the time of Kosovo,” Haas told reporters in a conference call, possibly while loading bullets into his personal firearm.

“To say only the UN Security Council can make something legitimate seems to me to be a position that cannot be supported because it would allow in this case a country like Russia to be the arbiter of international law and, more broadly, international relations,” said Haas, who probably recalls the time, in 2003, when he was a close advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell under President GW Bush, and his boss offered a shamefully deceitful presentation to the security council regarding the grounds for launching another war.

Will President Barack Obama want to associate himself with the unilateral strategies of both his predecessors? Barack the multilateralist, champion of the Arab Spring – resorting to hiring the services of an adviser straight out of the GW war room? Incidentally, Haas has had second thoughts on the invasion of Iraq, and in an interview with the Huff Post he said it was a wrong war and a war of choice.

Nevertheless, it looks like you can take the foreign policy expert out of the GW White House, but you can’t extract the GW White House out of expert:

Legitimacy for a strike on Syria, Haas said, could come from a “coalition of the willing” (when have we heard that one before?) of individual countries supporting retaliation against Assad, to demonstrate that the use of weapons of mass destruction (wait, that one is familiar, too!) will not be tolerated.

A furious Russia could launch the general assembly in an attempt to humiliate the U.S. and force it to abandon its attack on Syria, should Obama opt to strike.

Israel could only benefit from an American attack: for one thing, it is sure to wipe out the Syrian WMD reserves (which, unlike Saddam’s Iraq, the Syrians do possess, and then some); and then, once the U.S. is mired in international condemnations – it might go easy on the Netanyahu government when it issues a permit—as comedian Jacky mason put it so aptly—to add a toilet to some settlement.

Stay tuned…

Poll: Americans Not Eager to Attack Syria

Monday, August 26th, 2013

While some lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Corker, republican of Tennessee, senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are pressuring President Barack Obama to take military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad, Americans are not excited about the prospect of a new war.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Aug. 19-23 and released Sunday, about 60 percent of Americans said Obama shouldn’t intervene in Syria’s civil war, while only 9 percent favored action.

More Americans would support U.S. intervention if the use of chemical weapons were to be confirmed, with 25 percent in favor, 46 percent opposed. But an Aug. 13 Reuters/|Ipsos poll asked the same question and got responses of 30.2 percent in support of intervention to 41.6 opposed.

U.S. military assets in the region are being intensified, but no decisions were announced after an emergency White House meeting that included Vice President Joe Biden and top defense, intelligence and diplomatic officials.

Minister Steinitz: Intelligence Says Assad Army Used Chemical Weapons

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Minister of International Relations and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz told Kol Israel Thursday morning that Israel’s Intelligence service estimates that the Assad army indeed attacked its own civilians using chemical weapons, adding that it was not the first time the Syrian army has done this.

Steinitz said the worldwide condemnation of Assad’s war crimes have been mere lip service, since no concrete steps have so far been taken to stop Assad’s ongoing massacre of his countrymen.

The minister called the UN inspection just begun in Syria “a joke.”

“The UN isn’t inspecting yesterday’s events, but events that took place half a year ago. Moreover, the designation of the investigation, to find out whether or not chemical weapons were used—without investigating who used them—is outright ridiculous,” the minister said.

Last night, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did call for an investigation of Wednesday’s gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus, where as many as 1,300 people are said to have been killed. It is not clear, however, if his call is heeded by the Security Council.

Labor MK Benjamin Ben Eliezer, who is considered a leading candidate to become the next president of Israel, said that what goes on in Syria is nothing less than a holocaust and a genocide, and the world—which condemns Israel for every tiny misstep—is standing by without doing anything.

Ben Eliezer emphasized that the red line drawn by President Obama has long since been crossed, and that Israel must remain on alert to prevent any of the Syrian chemical weapons from falling into Hezbollah or al-Qaeda hands.

The Syrian government is denying any involvement in the attack, accusing the rebels of staging a propaganda ploy. And Assad’s traditional patron, Russia, is not flinching in its unabashed defense of its man.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Wednesday that a homemade rocket carrying unidentified chemical substances had been launched from an area controlled by the opposition, Reuters reported.

“All this cannot but suggest that once again we are dealing with a pre-planned provocation,” Lukashevich said. “This is supported by the fact that the criminal act was committed near Damascus at the very moment when a mission of UN experts had successfully started their work of investigating allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons there.”

Thirty-five member countries have called for the UN inspection team which has just arrived in Damascus to be allowed to investigate the newest attack.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said, “This represents, no matter what the consequences are, a serious escalation with grave humanitarian consequences and human consequences. We very much hope that we will be able to conduct the investigation. Dr. Sellstrom and his team are in place in Damascus. We hope that they will be given access to the area by the government.”

The UN Security Council met in an emergency session over the incident, with protesters demonstrating outside its headquarters. When it ended, Argentina’s UN ambassador, Maria Cristina Perceval, told reporters: “There is a strong concern among council members about the allegations and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened and the situation must be followed closely after a closed-door emergency meeting of the council.”

Which means the council is not explicitly calling the inspection team to investigate, it only welcomed Ban Ki-moon’s calls for one.

“The members of the Security Council also welcomed the determination of the Secretary-General to ensure a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation,” said Perceval, who is president of the council this month.

In other words, Russia said Nyet, and the new incident will remain outside the purview of the inspectors.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/minister-steinitz-intelligence-says-assad-army-used-chemical-weapons/2013/08/22/

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