This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Long Time Coming

"This is a violent, criminal, and despicable act that undermines the foundation of democracy. The fact that it was an arson attack on an educational framework that advocates coexistence severely undermined the fabric of relations between Jews and Arabs."
"This is more severe because the perpetrators chose to harm the soft underbelly of society: the kindergarten, in which young children learn. I call on the Israel Police to act immediately and waste no time to bring the perpetrators of this vile act to justice."
Rabbi Shai Piron, Israeli Education Minister

"I just spoke with Rabbi Konstantyn of the Tel Aviv synagogue where the walls were sprayed with graffiti and books were burned. The rabbi spoke painfully about the crime in the synagogue which works to bring people together."
"Burning books -- religious books or otherwise -- is a violent and criminal vandalism whose perpetrators must be captured, prosecuted and punished severely."
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni 

"This morning a slew of politicians were condemning the arson of the bilingual school in Jerusalem, but tonight there was nearly no one to be found to condemn the burning of the synagogue. This is proof that we forgot that we are first and foremost a Jewish state and the importance of the Jewish State Law."
"I would expect all those who were quick to condemn the burning of the school in Jerusalem to also do so with the vandalism of the synagogue in Tel Aviv." 
Deputy Minister of Religious Services, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan 

Earlier, a Jewish-Arab kindergarten school that teaches one thousand pupils from across Jerusalem was set on fire by vandals intent on causing strife between Israeli Jews and Arabs. An act of sabotage of social values roundly denounced by all points of the political compass. On Sunday night it was revealed that a synagogue in Tel Aviv was vandalized with graffiti reading "In a place where the Jewish State Bill will be legislated, books will be burned".

Burned books were left next to the wall with the graffiti. This took place at the Tel Aviv International Synagogue of the Orthodox Zionist Tzohar Rabbis organization. To say that tensions are high in both communities of Israeli Jews and Arabs represents an understatement. The increasingly uneasy relations between Israeli Jews and Arabs has been frighteningly volatile of late, incendiary in their outcome resulting from deliberate aggravation over the status of the Temple Mount.

Jews in Israel, their Jewish state, are disadvantaged to the advantage of Arab Muslims who claim the most sacred site in Jerusalem as their third most sacred site, where the Dome of the Rock sits atop the archaeological ruins of ancient Israel's two consecutive Temples of Solomon, with the Arabs naming the site the Noble Sanctuary, hosting the al-Aqsa mosque as well. Muslims refuse to permit Jews to pray at their most holy site, insisting that only they must have the privilege of Islamic prayer there.

So much for a Jewish State. Because of the violence that has resulted from the disruptions when Palestinian youths throw rocks at Jews appearing on the Temple Mount, their presence there has been restricted, raising further issues of violence with claims that Israeli authorities plan to change the long-held protocol permitting Islam the major precedence of worship, restraining Jews from prayers on the Temple Mount.

The recent lethal violence seen by mortal attacks by Palestinians against Jews and the steadfast refusal of the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League to recognize Israel formally as a Jewish State has led the Government of Israel to prepare to enact a sweeping legislative package om top of the new Jewish State legislation to deter further terror attacks and prevent violence against Israeli citizens. The preventive provisions of the bill are meant to apply equally to all Israeli citizens, regardless of religion.

This would include Jews, and those who hold not only citizenship but also residency permits, represented mostly by the Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem. There are eight steps in all that represent the full content of the bill and they seek to comprehensively throw a blanket of preventive protection over the nation, with penalties for those who deliberately seek to overthrow the authority of the State of Israel and to perpetrate violence upon its people.
  • Anyone convicted of carrying out a terrorist attack or who directly assists in an attack will be stripped automatically of Israeli citizenship or residency rights. After serving a prison sentence they are to be expelled to Gaza or another place not under Israeli control.
  • Anyone found to have carried out a terror act, even if killed, will cause the home of the terrorist's family to be destroyed. The family will have the right of appeal, but if upheld the order for demolition to be carried out within 24 hours after the attack.
  • The bodies of those who carry out terror attacks not to be returned to families for burial but to be buried without ceremony in a state cemetery, details not to be passed on to the family.
  • Anyone convicted of throwing Molotov cocktails or fireworks to be automatically deprived of citizenship or residency. Upon completion of a prison term, to be deported to Gaza or another place outside Israeli control.
  • Anyone inciting terror attacks, who throws stones during demonstrations or waves an enemy flag, including the flag of the Palestinian Authority, to be arrested and will lose state health and social security benefits for ten years, and the right to hold a driver's license.
  • Family members expressing support for terrorists or their actions to be deprived of Israeli citizenship or residency rights, and to be deported to Gaza or another place not under Israeli control.
  • Police or civil administration to order the immediate closure of any printing company or business publishing posters in support of a terrorist attack or a terrorist.
  • Employers to be able to turn to the police to determine whether an employee or prospective employee has been convicted of any security offence.

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Saving (what's left of) Kobane

"We can tell everyone, not just those on the front lines, that we are drawing up the necessary tactics and plans to liberate the city."
Jamil Marzuka, senior commander, YPG Kurdish Syrian fighting force 

"Fighting has broken out in the south and northeast of the city and heavy weaponry is used in the fight."
"ISIS hasn't been able to make any advance. On the contrary the Peshmerga and the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) are moving forward and ISIS is on the retreat."
Brigadier Toufik Khazyavayi 

Kurdish fighters control parts of Kobane now [AFP]

The YPG commanders state that they are now in control of about 80 percent of Kobane with coalition airstrikes having taken their toll, bombarding ISIS positions around the city repeatedly. Kurdish fighters take their sandbagged positions, firing at the areas where they suspect ISIS positions to be located. Female fighters have strung up sheets around their trenches to block the view of snipers as warplanes circle above.

A videojournalist inside Kobane shot views of the destroyed landscape resulting from two months of vicious fighting that has transformed the Kurdish town in northern Syria close by the border with Turkey. Backed by a small group of Iraqi Peshmerga along with some Free Syrian Army rebels, the Kurds are locked in what they feel will be the final stages of the rousting of ISIS forces from their town. The civilian Kurds huddling for haven in Turkey will not have much to return to.

In the past two days an estimated 50 jihadis of the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant  have been killed, a colossal setback for the group since its assault on the border city was launched with much jihadist confidence in mid-September. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the deaths resulted from suicide bombings, U.S.-led airstrikes and clashes between the ISIS terrorists and the defending YPG and their allies.

The Kurds suffered their own losses; some eleven of their number also killed, as well as one Syrian rebel fighter. Though the Kurdish commanders speak of 80% control, experts feel that control of the city is now fairly evenly divided between ISIL and the defending Kurds; quite an advance however from a few weeks earlier when ISIS had control of two-thirds of the city though the YPG claim its fighters have complete control of the border crossing with Turkey, as well now cutting off ISIS supply route.

The airdrop of weapons by the U.S. to benefit the Kurdish fighters, and the hundreds of airstrikes since the U.S.-led coalition began bombing militant positions has helped the YPG enormously in its existential battle. Leading the Kurds to insist that a corner has been turned in the conflict; the jihadist advance has been halted, and they're being turned back. The fighting has "entered  a new phase", according to to senior commander Jamil Marzurka.

Only small pockets of ISIS jihadis remain, according to a YPG fighter.  "They are scattered so as to give us the impression that there are a lot of them, but there are not", said Pozul. Caution, however, remains the order of the day in their movements since snipers with the Islamic State remain within the ruins and it's well known they have booby-trapped buildings as they leave.

Zardash Kobani, 26, a YPG unit commander, admitted that he and his fighters have little ammunition and even less sleep, but there is satisfaction in knowing the jihadis are looking for an escape from their position in Kobane. It is his feeling that a final battle for the town is on the near horizon. "But Islamic State knows that escaping from Kobane will spell their downfall."

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Blind Stupidity, Questionable Justice

"When you provide a condom, what do you expect him to do? How do you expect the man to interpret it? You went willingly up to the [hotel] room with him You were not forced. You end up sitting on the bed and providing him with a condom. What is the message?"
"I've always seen him to be a bon vivant, a very nice guy. I've never had any trouble with him at all."
"I don't know what was going through the woman's mind, or emotions, but there is my difficulty in believing Massimo [Pacetti, Member of Parliament] would use force. That I would have a lot of trouble believing."
"I'm not blaming anybody. From what we know, she didn't even want this to be brought out. It's a huge mess, a very very emotional thing. I can just imagine what she's going through right now."
"I do not envy my leader's [Justin Trudeau, leader, Liberal Party of Canada] position at all. It must be an incredibly difficult situation to go through with one of your MPs. I do believe he will feel morally obliged to give due consideration to whatever report comes out."
"I'm not excusing Massimo here. I don't approve of infidelity -- clearly not. But, again, that's not for me to judge. He's never been anything but a gentleman with me."
"I would say that quite a few, both sexes, would probably be guilty as charged [of sexual misconduct]."
Alexandra Mendes, former Liberal Member of Parliament

It seems abundantly clear that both Liberal Members of Parliament Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews, accused of unwanted sexual advances by unnamed New Democratic Members of Parliament are guilty of stupidity and allowing their libidos to control their intelligent sense of propriety, unchecked by the thought that harassing female MPs might come back to bite them at some time in the future.

It seems that future time has arrived. The women prefer to remain anonymous. In stating their emotional upset at the behaviour of the two men they now, it appears, meant the men to be spoken to by the authorities in Parliament, most particularly their own party leaders. They had no wish for the incidents to go any further. Both refuse categorically to lay criminal charges, and both speak of legitimate reasons to decry the condescendingly crude sexual advances amounting to sexual abuse.

The casual attitude toward scoring a sexual advance evidenced by these men speak volumes of their emotional maturity. All the more so as they're married with families. Pressing unwanted advances of a physical and violent nature on women is about as despicable as possible. The matter wasn't kept in-house; the Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, took immediate action amounting to judicial censure and punishment by tossing the two out of caucus and effectively ruining their political careers.

The women, not wanting their own careers to be tarnished, have chosen to remain anonymous. If they meant to extract the revenge of the righteous, by exposing the two men involved to public revelation, they succeeded, but it clearly isn't as simple as that. This is not what they meant to achieve; perhaps they're not clear in their own minds what they meant to achieve other than that the two men become aware they are never to repeat their chauvinistic stupidity.

Their behaviour was clearly horribly wrong. At the same time the manner in which swift justice was meted out is questionable in the authority of its execution as far as blind justice is concerned. Surely we can do better in the Parliament of Canada?

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In Defence of Reality

"At first [his thinking] was, 'I want to go back, I'm a cop, I want to still be a cop'." It took some time for him to realize that wasn't exactly going to be what happened."
Danielle Thompson, legal team representing P.O. Darren Wilson

"I think I expressed to him, 'Do you realize your first call [back on the job] will be to a blind alley where you're executed?' He took a pause for a minute, thought about it and said, 'Oh', that is the reality'."
"[Zimmerman] is an idiot, Darren was not. Any criminal defence lawyer that has half a brain says, 'Shut up, don't say a word'."
"Even if he gave the most heartfelt apology, they'd [Michael Brown's parents] still not like it."
James Towey, legal team representing P.O. Darren Wilson

"Taking a life is a horrible thing to have to do."
And yet, the key phrase is, 'to have to do', because that is what he thinks. Is that going to make the Browns feel any less grief?"
Neil Bruntrager, legal team representing P.O. Darren Wilson

A series of CCTV pictures showing a robbery in a store in Ferguson
Store closed circuit video recording of Michael Brown's encounter with shop owner from whom he stole cigarillos

In the company of a friend, Michael Brown entered a neighbourhood convenience store and decided to take what wasn't his. When the shop owner protested, Mr. Brown used his 300 pound, six-foot-five frame to intimidate and bully the obviously much smaller man confronting him, before he and his companion left the store. The shop owner alerted police to a theft and gave a description of the malefactors.

A short time later Police Officer Wilson in his squad car saw two young men walking down the yellow-striped middle of a road, with cars passing by them. He pulled over to the two and asked them to take to the sidewalk, and the larger of the two men became enraged, informing the officer impolitely to shove off. Officer Wilson again drove up beside the two and repeated his request, then made to exit his vehicle.

The burly Michael Brown slammed the driver's side door back closed when the officer attempted to open it, and the second time this happened, with Michael Brown pressing his body against the door, he reached inside the vehicle and began thumping Officer Wilson about the head. Officer Wilson managed to draw his gun and Michael Brown grasped it from him; when Officer Wilson regained control of it he shot Michael Brown in the hand, causing both Brown and his companion Johnston to run.

When Officer Wilson exited his squad car after radioing for assistance, he pursued the two. Michael Brown turned and began to advance toward the police officer menacingly, at which time Officer Wilson shot him repeatedly, killing him. Witnesses at the scene both corroborate and deny the accuracy of Officer Wilson's account of the incident. Forensic evidence appears to support Officer Wilson's account.

When the grand jury advised their finding that there was no reason to charge Officer Wilson, the tension and anger of the black community in Ferguson was palpable and not readily defused. Looting and arson followed with a number of local businesses set afire and destroyed, along with a local church. The anger is real and it is one representing the anguish of discrimination, a situation that prevails across the nation where blacks are treated differently than their white counterparts in the security and justice establishment.

Reasons are explicable, from a history of exclusion and oppression derived from slavery and inhumane social conditions, to violence and repression, begetting a universal black pathology of defiance and victimhood. Out of this witch's brew of social dysfunction was bred a black underclass of young black men disproportionately involved in crime from the petty to the serious, but mostly violence characterized by black-on-black crimes.

Demonstrators celebrate as a business burns in Ferguson, 24 November Demonstrators flooded on to the streets of Ferguson after the grand jury verdict, with several buildings set alight

The death of Michael Brown has become symbolic of all of this, a great moral injustice and injury to a large population of Americans that is pervasive and troubling in its extremes of dysfunction for the entire society. Yet while the symbolism is there -- alive and demonstrably with cause, that Michael Brown, a young man with a disturbingly bullying attitude and resentment against authority is the spark that lit the protests -- it has its own troubling aspects.

That, for example, every news report has the obligatory exculpation of 'unarmed teenager' attached to it, rather overlooks the circumstances of the event, the young man's physical bullying of a shop keeper, his resentment toward the fact that his behaviour has consequences, and his willingness to physically confront a police officer and assault him to demonstrate his right to express his dissatisfaction with the prevailing system through violence, speaks volumes about the delicacy of race relations issues.

"For obvious reasons, I wanted to wait until the grand jury made their decision before I officially made my decision to resign.
"It was my hope to continue in police work, but the safety of other police officers and the community are of paramount importance to me. It is my hope that my resignation will allow the community to heal."
"I'm resigning of my own free will. I'm not willing to let someone else get hurt because of me."
[former] Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, 28

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What the Media Gets Wrong About Israel

The news tells us less about Israel than about the people writing the news, a former AP reporter says.

A Reuters truck drives through a bombed refugee camp in Gaza. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

During the Gaza war this summer, it became clear that one of the most important aspects of the media-saturated conflict between Jews and Arabs is also the least covered: the press itself. The Western press has become less an observer of this conflict than an actor in it, a role with consequences for the millions of people trying to comprehend current events, including policymakers who depend on journalistic accounts to understand a region where they consistently seek, and fail, to productively intervene.

An essay I wrote for Tablet on this topic in the aftermath of the war sparked intense interest. In the article, based on my experiences between 2006 and 2011 as a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press, one of the world’s largest news organizations, I pointed out the existence of a problem and discussed it in broad terms. Using staffing numbers, I illustrated the disproportionate media attention devoted to this conflict relative to other stories, and gave examples of editorial decisions that appeared to be driven by ideological considerations rather than journalistic ones. I suggested that the cumulative effect has been to create a grossly oversimplified story—a kind of modern morality play in which the Jews of Israel are displayed more than any other people on earth as examples of moral failure. This is a thought pattern with deep roots in Western civilization.
But how precisely does this thought pattern manifest itself in the day-to-day functioning, or malfunctioning, of the press corps? To answer this question, I want to explore the way Western press coverage is shaped by unique circumstances here in Israel and also by flaws affecting the media beyond the confines of this conflict. In doing so, I will draw on my own experiences and those of colleagues. These are obviously limited and yet, I believe, representative.
A rally in support of Islamic Jihad at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, in November 2013 (Courtesy of Matti Friedman)
I’ll begin with a simple illustration. The above photograph is of a student rally held last November at Al-Quds University, a mainstream Palestinian institution in East Jerusalem. The rally, in support of the armed fundamentalist group Islamic Jihad, featured actors playing dead Israeli soldiers and a row of masked men whose stiff-armed salute was returned by some of the hundreds of students in attendance. Similar rallies have been held periodically at the school.

I am not using this photograph to make the case that Palestinians are Nazis. Palestinians are not Nazis. They are, like Israelis, human beings dealing with a difficult present and past in ways that are occasionally ugly. I cite it now for a different reason.

Such an event at an institution like Al-Quds University, headed at the time by a well-known moderate professor, and with ties to sister institutions in America, indicates something about the winds now blowing in Palestinian society and across the Arab world. The rally is interesting for the visual connection it makes between radical Islam here and elsewhere in the region; a picture like this could help explain why many perfectly rational Israelis fear withdrawing their military from East Jerusalem or the West Bank, even if they loathe the occupation and wish to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbors. The images from the demonstration were, as photo editors like to say, “strong.” The rally had, in other words, all the necessary elements of a powerful news story.

The event took place a short drive from the homes and offices of the hundreds of international journalists who are based in Jerusalem. Journalists were aware of it: The sizable Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press, for example, which can produce several stories on an average day, was in possession of photos of the event, including the one above, a day later. (The photographs were taken by someone I know who was on campus that day, and I sent them to the bureau myself.) Jerusalem editors decided that the images, and the rally, were not newsworthy, and the demonstration was only mentioned by the AP weeks later when the organization’s Boston bureau reported that Brandeis University had cut ties with Al-Quds over the incident. On the day that the AP decided to ignore the rally, November 6, 2013, the same bureau published a report about a pledge from the U.S. State Department to provide a minor funding increase for the Palestinian Authority; that was newsworthy. This is standard. To offer another illustration, the construction of 100 apartments in a Jewish settlement is always news; the smuggling of 100 rockets into Gaza by Hamas is, with rare exceptions, not news at all.

I mention these instances to demonstrate the kind of decisions made regularly in the bureaus of the foreign press covering Israel and the Palestinian territories, and to show the way in which the pipeline of information from this place is not just rusty and leaking, which is the usual state of affairs in the media, but intentionally plugged.

There are banal explanations for problems with coverage—reporters are in a hurry, editors are overloaded and distracted. These are realities, and can explain small errors and mishaps like ill-conceived headlines, which is why such details don’t typically strike me as important or worth much analysis. Some say inflations and omissions are the inevitable results of an honest attempt to cover events in a challenging and occasionally dangerous reporting environment, which is what I initially believed myself. A few years on the job changed my mind. Such excuses can’t explain why the same inflations and omissions recur again and again, why they are common to so many news outlets, and why the simple “Israel story” of the international media is so foreign to people aware of the historical and regional context of events in this place. The explanation lies elsewhere.
* * *
To make sense of most international journalism from Israel, it is important first to understand that the news tells us far less about Israel than about the people writing the news. Journalistic decisions are made by people who exist in a particular social milieu, one which, like most social groups, involves a certain uniformity of attitude, behavior, and even dress (the fashion these days, for those interested, is less vests with unnecessary pockets than shirts with unnecessary buttons). These people know each other, meet regularly, exchange information, and closely watch one another’s work. This helps explain why a reader looking at articles written by the half-dozen biggest news providers in the region on a particular day will find that though the pieces are composed and edited by completely different people and organizations, they tend to tell the same story.
The best insight into one of the key phenomena at play here comes not from a local reporter but from the journalist and author Philip Gourevitch. In Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa, Gourevitch wrote in 2010, he was struck by the ethical gray zone of ties between reporters and NGOs. “Too often the press represents humanitarians with unquestioning admiration,” he observed in The New Yorker. “Why not seek to keep them honest? Why should our coverage of them look so much like their own self-representation in fund-raising appeals? Why should we (as many photojournalists and print reporters do) work for humanitarian agencies between journalism jobs, helping them with their official reports and institutional appeals, in a way that we would never consider doing for corporations, political parties, or government agencies?”

This confusion is very much present in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where foreign activists are a notable feature of the landscape, and where international NGOs and numerous arms of the United Nations are among the most powerful players, wielding billions of dollars and employing many thousands of foreign and local employees. Their SUVs dominate sections of East Jerusalem and their expense accounts keep Ramallah afloat. They provide reporters with social circles, romantic partners, and alternative employment—a fact that is more important to reporters now than it has ever been, given the disintegration of many newspapers and the shoestring nature of their Internet successors.

In my time in the press corps, I learned that our relationship with these groups was not journalistic. My colleagues and I did not, that is, seek to analyze or criticize them. For many foreign journalists, these were not targets but sources and friends—fellow members, in a sense, of an informal alliance. This alliance consists of activists and international staffers from the UN and the NGOs; the Western diplomatic corps, particularly in East Jerusalem; and foreign reporters. (There is also a local component, consisting of a small number of Israeli human-rights activists who are themselves largely funded by European governments, and Palestinian staffers from the Palestinian Authority, the NGOs, and the UN.) Mingling occurs at places like the lovely Oriental courtyard of the American Colony hotel in East Jerusalem, or at parties held at the British Consulate’s rooftop pool. The dominant characteristic of nearly all of these people is their transience. They arrive from somewhere, spend a while living in a peculiar subculture of expatriates, and then move on.

In these circles, in my experience, a distaste for Israel has come to be something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry. I don’t mean a critical approach to Israeli policies or to the ham-fisted government currently in charge in this country, but a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills, particularly those connected to nationalism, militarism, colonialism, and racism—an idea quickly becoming one of the central elements of the “progressive” Western zeitgeist, spreading from the European left to American college campuses and intellectuals, including journalists. In this social group, this sentiment is translated into editorial decisions made by individual reporters and editors covering Israel, and this, in turn, gives such thinking the means of mass self-replication. 
* * *
Anyone who has traveled abroad understands that arriving in a new country is daunting, and it is far more so when you are expected to show immediate expertise. I experienced this myself in 2008, when the AP sent me to cover the Russian invasion of Georgia and I found myself 24 hours later riding in a convoy of Russian military vehicles. I had to admit that not only did I not know Georgian, Russian, or any of the relevant history, but I did not know which way was north, and generally had no business being there. For a reporter in a situation like the one I just described, the solution is to stay close to more knowledgeable colleagues and hew to the common wisdom.

Many freshly arrived reporters in Israel, similarly adrift in a new country, undergo a rapid socialization in the circles I mentioned. This provides them not only with sources and friendships but with a ready-made framework for their reporting—the tools to distill and warp complex events into a simple narrative in which there is a bad guy who doesn’t want peace and a good guy who does. This is the “Israel story,” and it has the advantage of being an easy story to report. Everyone here answers their cell phone, and everyone knows what to say. You can put your kids in good schools and dine at good restaurants. It’s fine if you’re gay. Your chances of being beheaded on YouTube are slim. Nearly all of the information you need—that is, in most cases, information critical of Israel—is not only easily accessible but has already been reported for you by Israeli journalists or compiled by NGOs. You can claim to be speaking truth to power, having selected the only “power” in the area that poses no threat to your safety.

Many foreign journalists have come to see themselves as part of this world of international organizations, and specifically as the media arm of this world. They have decided not just to describe and explain, which is hard enough, and important enough, but to “help.” And that’s where reporters get into trouble, because “helping” is always a murky, subjective, and political enterprise, made more difficult if you are unfamiliar with the relevant languages and history.

Confusion over the role of the press explains one of the strangest aspects of coverage here—namely, that while international organizations are among the most powerful actors in the Israel story, they are almost never reported on. Are they bloated, ineffective, or corrupt? Are they helping, or hurting? We don’t know, because these groups are to be quoted, not covered. Journalists cross from places like the BBC to organizations like Oxfam and back. The current spokesman at the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, for example, is a former BBC man. A Palestinian woman who participated in protests against Israel and tweeted furiously about Israel a few years ago served at the same time as a spokesperson for a UN office, and was close friends with a few reporters I know. And so forth.
A Palestinian protester escapes tear gas fired by Israeli security forces during a demonstration in a West Bank near Ramallah. (Darren Whiteside/Reuters)
International organizations in the Palestinian territories have largely assumed a role of advocacy on behalf of the Palestinians and against Israel, and much of the press has allowed this political role to supplant its journalistic function. This dynamic explains the thinking behind editorial choices that are otherwise difficult to grasp, like the example I gave in my first essay about the suppression by the AP’s Jerusalem bureau of a report about an Israeli peace offer to the Palestinians in 2008, or the decision to ignore the rally at Al-Quds University, or the idea that Hamas’s development of extensive armament works in Gaza in recent years was not worth serious coverage despite objectively being one of the most important storylines demanding reporters’ attention.

As usual, Orwell got there first. Here is his description from 1946 of writers of communist and “fellow-traveler” journalism: “The argument that to tell the truth would be ‘inopportune’ or would ‘play into the hands of’ somebody or other is felt to be unanswerable, and few people are bothered by the prospect that the lies which they condone will get out of the newspapers and into the history books.” The stories I mentioned would be “inopportune” for the Palestinians, and would “play into the hands” of the Israelis. And so, in the judgment of the press corps, they generally aren’t news.
In the aftermath of the three-week Gaza war of 2008-2009, not yet quite understanding the way things work, I spent a week or so writing a story about NGOs like Human Rights Watch, whose work on Israel had just been subject to an unusual public lashing in The New York Times by its own founder, Robert Bernstein. (The Middle East, he wrote, “is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.”) My article was gentle, all things considered, beginning like this:
JERUSALEM (AP) _ The prickly relationship between Israel and its critics in human rights organizations has escalated into an unprecedented war of words as the fallout from Israel’s Gaza offensive persists ten months after the fighting ended.
Editors killed the story.
Around this time, a Jerusalem-based group called NGO Monitor was battling the international organizations condemning Israel after the Gaza conflict, and though the group was very much a pro-Israel outfit and by no means an objective observer, it could have offered some partisan counterpoint in our articles to charges by NGOs that Israel had committed “war crimes.” But the bureau’s explicit orders to reporters were to never quote the group or its director, an American-born professor named Gerald Steinberg. In my time as an AP writer moving through the local conflict, with its myriad lunatics, bigots, and killers, the only person I ever saw subjected to an interview ban was this professor.

When the UN released its controversial Goldstone report on the Gaza fighting, we at the bureau trumpeted its findings in dozens of articles, though there was discussion even at the time of the report’s failure to prove its central charge: that Israel had killed civilians on purpose. (The director of Israel’s premier human-rights group, B’Tselem, who was critical of the Israeli operation, told me at the time that this claim was “a reach given the facts,” an evaluation that was eventually seconded by the report’s author. “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,” Richard Goldstone wrote in The Washington Post in April 2011.) We understood that our job was not to look critically at the UN report, or any such document, but to publicize it.
Decisions like these are hard to fathom if you believe the foreign press corps’ role is to explain a complicated story to people far away. But they make sense if you understand that journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories often don’t see their role that way. The radio and print journalist Mark Lavie, who has reported from the region since 1972, was a colleague of mine at the AP, where he was an editor in the Jerusalem bureau and then in Cairo until his retirement last year. (It was Lavie who first learned of the Israeli peace offer of late 2008, and was ordered by his superiors to ignore the story.) An Indiana-born Israeli of moderate politics, he had a long run in journalism that included several wars and the first Palestinian intifada, and found little reason to complain about the functioning of the media.

But things changed in earnest in 2000, with the collapse of peace efforts and the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Israel accepted President Bill Clinton’s peace framework that fall and the Palestinians rejected it, as Clinton made clear. Nevertheless, Lavie recently told me, the bureau’s editorial line was still that the conflict was Israel’s fault, and the Palestinians and the Arab world were blameless. By the end of Lavie’s career, he was editing Israel copy on the AP’s Middle East regional desk in Cairo, trying to restore balance and context to stories he thought had little connection to reality. In his words, he had gone from seeing himself as a proud member of the international press corps to “the Jew-boy with his finger in the dike.” He wrote a book, Broken Spring, about his front-row view of the Middle East’s descent into chaos, and retired disillusioned and angry.
I have tended to see the specific failings that we both encountered at the AP as symptoms of a general thought pattern in the press, but Lavie takes a more forceful position, viewing the influential American news organization as one of the primary authors of this thought pattern. (In a statement, AP spokesman Paul Colford dismissed my criticism as “distortions, half-truths and inaccuracies,” and denied that AP coverage is biased against Israel.) This is not just because many thousands of media outlets use AP material directly, but also because when journalists arrive in their offices in the morning, the first thing many of them do is check the AP wire (or, these days, scroll through it in their Twitter feed). The AP is like Ringo Starr, thumping away at the back of the stage: there might be flashier performers in front, and you might not always notice him, but when Ringo’s off, everyone’s off.

Lavie believes that in the last years of his career, the AP’s Israel operation drifted from its traditional role of careful explanation toward a kind of political activism that both contributed to and fed off growing hostility to Israel worldwide. “The AP is extremely important, and when the AP turned, it turned a lot of the world with it,” Lavie said. “That’s when it became harder for any professional journalist to work here, Jewish or not. I reject the idea that my dissatisfaction had to do with being Jewish or Israeli. It had to do with being a journalist.”
* * *
In describing the realities of combat in the Second World War, the American critic Paul Fussell wrote, the press was censored and censored itself to such an extent that “for almost six years a large slice of actuality—perhaps one-quarter to one-half of it—was declared off-limits, and the sanitized and euphemized remainder was presented as the whole.” During the same war, American journalists (chiefly from Henry Luce’s magazines) were engaged in what Fussell called the “Great China Hoax”—years of skewed reporting designed to portray the venal regime of Chiang Kai-shek as an admirable Western ally against Japan. Chiang was featured six times on the cover of Time, and his government’s corruption and dysfunction were carefully ignored. One Marine stationed in China was so disillusioned by the chasm between what he saw and what he read that upon his discharge, he said, “I switched to Newsweek.”

Journalistic hallucinations, in other words, have a precedent. They tend to occur, as in the case of the Great China Hoax, when reporters are not granted the freedom to write what they see but are rather expected to maintain a “story” that follows predictable lines. For the international press, the uglier characteristics of Palestinian politics and society are mostly untouchable because they would disrupt the Israel story, which is a story of Jewish moral failure.

Most consumers of the Israel story don’t understand how the story is manufactured. But Hamas does. Since assuming power in Gaza in 2007, the Islamic Resistance Movement has come to understand that many reporters are committed to a narrative wherein Israelis are oppressors and Palestinians passive victims with reasonable goals, and are uninterested in contradictory information. Recognizing this, certain Hamas spokesmen have taken to confiding to Western journalists, including some I know personally, that the group is in fact a secretly pragmatic outfit with bellicose rhetoric, and journalists—eager to believe the confession, and sometimes unwilling to credit locals with the smarts necessary to deceive them—have taken it as a scoop instead of as spin.

During my time at the AP, we helped Hamas get this point across with a school of reporting that might be classified as “Surprising Signs of Moderation” (a direct precursor to the “Muslim Brotherhood Is Actually Liberal” school that enjoyed a brief vogue in Egypt). In one of my favorite stories, “More Tolerant Hamas” (December 11, 2011), reporters quoted a Hamas spokesman informing readers that the movement’s policy was that “we are not going to dictate anything to anyone,” and another Hamas leader saying the movement had “learned it needs to be more tolerant of others.” Around the same time, I was informed by the bureau’s senior editors that our Palestinian reporter in Gaza couldn’t possibly provide critical coverage of Hamas because doing so would put him in danger.

Hamas is aided in its manipulation of the media by the old reportorial belief, a kind of reflex, according to which reporters shouldn’t mention the existence of reporters. In a conflict like ours, this ends up requiring considerable exertions: So many photographers cover protests in Israel and the Palestinian territories, for example, that one of the challenges for anyone taking pictures is keeping colleagues out of the frame. That the other photographers are as important to the story as Palestinian protesters or Israeli soldiers—this does not seem to be considered.
A Hamas fighter inside an underground tunnel in Gaza in August 2014, during a tour for Reuters journalists (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
In Gaza, this goes from being a curious detail of press psychology to a major deficiency. Hamas’s strategy is to provoke a response from Israel by attacking from behind the cover of Palestinian civilians, thus drawing Israeli strikes that kill those civilians, and then to have the casualties filmed by one of the world’s largest press contingents, with the understanding that the resulting outrage abroad will blunt Israel’s response. This is a ruthless strategy, and an effective one. It is predicated on the cooperation of journalists. One of the reasons it works is because of the reflex I mentioned. If you report that Hamas has a strategy based on co-opting the media, this raises several difficult questions, like, What exactly is the relationship between the media and Hamas? And has this relationship corrupted the media? It is easier just to leave the other photographers out of the frame and let the picture tell the story: Here are dead people, and Israel killed them.

In previous rounds of Gaza fighting, Hamas learned that international coverage from the territory could be molded to its needs, a lesson it would implement in this summer’s war. Most of the press work in Gaza is done by local fixers, translators, and reporters, people who would understandably not dare cross Hamas, making it only rarely necessary for the group to threaten a Westerner. The organization’s armed forces could be made to disappear. The press could be trusted to play its role in the Hamas script, instead of reporting that there was such a script. Hamas strategy did not exist, according to Hamas—or, as reporters would say, was “not the story.” There was no Hamas charter blaming Jews for centuries of perfidy, or calling for their murder; this was not the story. The rockets falling on Israeli cities were quite harmless; they were not the story either.

Hamas understood that journalists would not only accept as fact the Hamas-reported civilian death toll—relayed through the UN or through something called the “Gaza Health Ministry,” an office controlled by Hamas—but would make those numbers the center of coverage. Hamas understood that reporters could be intimidated when necessary and that they would not report the intimidation; Western news organizations tend to see no ethical imperative to inform readers of the restrictions shaping their coverage in repressive states or other dangerous areas. In the war’s aftermath, the NGO-UN-media alliance could be depended upon to unleash the organs of the international community on Israel, and to leave the jihadist group alone.

When Hamas’s leaders surveyed their assets before this summer’s round of fighting, they knew that among those assets was the international press. The AP staff in Gaza City would witness a rocket launch right beside their office, endangering reporters and other civilians nearby—and the AP wouldn’t report it, not even in AP articles about Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas. (This happened.) Hamas fighters would burst into the AP’s Gaza bureau and threaten the staff—and the AP wouldn’t report it. (This also happened.) Cameramen waiting outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City would film the arrival of civilian casualties and then, at a signal from an official, turn off their cameras when wounded and dead fighters came in, helping Hamas maintain the illusion that only civilians were dying. (This too happened; the information comes from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge of these incidents.)

Colford, the AP spokesman, confirmed that armed militants entered the AP’s Gaza office in the early days of the war to complain about a photo showing the location of a rocket launch, though he said that Hamas claimed that the men “did not represent the group.” The AP “does not report many interactions with militias, armies, thugs or governments,” he wrote. “These incidents are part of the challenge of getting out the news—and not themselves news.”

This summer, with Yazidis, Christians, and Kurds falling back before the forces of radical Islam not far away from here, this ideology’s local franchise launched its latest war against the last thriving minority in the Middle East. The Western press corps showed up en masse to cover it. This conflict included rocket barrages across Israel and was deliberately fought from behind Palestinian civilians, many of whom died as a result. Dulled by years of the “Israel story” and inured to its routine omissions, confused about the role they are meant to play, and co-opted by Hamas, reporters described this war as an Israeli onslaught against innocent people. By doing so, this group of intelligent and generally well-meaning professionals ceased to be reliable observers and became instead an amplifier for the propaganda of one of the most intolerant and aggressive forces on earth.

And that, as they say, is the story.

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Libel Chill in Levantland

"Much of what [Mr. Levant] wanted to talk about at trial related more to Dr. Elmasry than to [Mr. Awan]."
"I find that [Mr. Levant's] dominant motive in these blog posts was ill-will, and that his repeated failure to take even basic steps to check his facts showed a reckless disregard for the truth."
"[Mr. Levant] ought to have been aware of the serious ramifications of his words on the reputation of this law student. Yet, at trial, he repeatedly tried to minimize his mistakes and his lack of diligence."
Judge Wendy Matheson, Ontario Superior Court

"Mr. Awan is very pleased with the decision and is grateful that at long last he has been vindicated."
Brian Shiller, lawyer

"This is a shocking case of libel chill and should concern any Canadian who is worried about radical Islam, and the right to call out anti-Semitism in the public square."
"But Awan was, at one time, the youth president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, an anti-Semitic organization. At the time Awan was its youth president, the CIC was led by a notorious anti-Semite, Mohamed Elmasry. Elmasry famously went on national TV to state that any adult in Israel is a legitimate target for terrorism. The CIC has publicly called for the legalization of anti-Semitic terrorist groups."
"And yet the judge ruled that it is defamatory to call the former youth president of an anti-Semitic organization, anti-Semitic. Because he denied it in court, and said he never knew about his organization’s infamous misconduct."
Ezra Levant, commentator/pundit, political personality

And so it is that Ezra Levant will appeal Justice Matheson's verdict that he was guilty of defamation in the case of then-law student Khurrum Awan, and must pay him $80,000; $50,000 in general damages and an additional $30,000 in aggravated damages. In 2007 Mr. Awan was involved in a human rights complaint brought by the then-head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, Mohamed Elmasry against Macleans magazine.

Macleans had published extracts from author Mark Steyn's book, America Alone. The excerpt was entitled "The Future Belongs To Islam", and Mr. Elmasry took exception to its tone, its descriptions, its conclusions, holding it to represent an extreme form of incitement through its Islamophobia focus, as he would have it. Mr. Elmasry had previously gained fame of his own by stating in a television interview that all Israelis regardless of civilian status were legitimate targets of Arab violence.

We can most certainly be identified in our values and preoccupations by the company we choose to keep. Mr. Awan bought into Mr. Elmasry's virulent hatred of Jews. And, as youth president of the Canadian Islamic Congress he would have had to be blind and deaf not to be aware of the prevailing sentiments held therein and by its head. If one aligns oneself in close communion with anti-Semites it is usually because of shared sentiments.

That the campaign of three human rights complaints against the free speech values of Canadian society and the right to publish points of view gleaned from experience and observation and a sincere belief that the result of which represents a reality and expressing that reality borne out by actual and ongoing events brought the umbrage of a representative of a group the article published in Macleans represented failed, is testament to its lack of merit.

The hate speech section of the Canadian Human Rights Act was much discussed in the wake of that failed complaint, with the majority of Canadians expressing their view that it was being misused and that the law had more than sufficient hate speech clout to render the hate speech section utterly redundant, the tool of mischief makers. Since most of those in government agreed, the law was subsequently repealed by the Government of Canada.

Mr. Levant and his colleagues felt that Mr. Awan allowed himself to be manipulated by his trust in Mohamed Elmasry. Justice Matheson drew her conclusion that there was no close relationship of ideals and beliefs between Mr. Awan and Mr. Elmasry, that the controversial mindset held by one was not reflected in the beliefs of the other.

In her wisdom she ruled that there was "ample evidence before me demonstrating express malice on the part of [Mr. Levant]", in particular in that "he did little or no fact-checking regarding the posts complained of, either before or after their publication." Mr Levant's lawyer's observation that those who tended to read his blog where the offending descriptions of Mr. Awan appeared, knew of the writer's penchant toward over-statement.

Mr. Levant was ordered to remove the posts in question within fifteen days, and pay the $80,000 fine levied.

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Israel, The Jewish State

"We will never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel."
"Return to negotiations is possible if Israel agrees to a full freeze of settlement [construction], including Jerusalem, release of the fourth group of long-term prisoners, and setting a timetable for negotiations which will begin with setting borders."
"It’s impossible for us to wait any longer, because Israel continues its aggression and expropriation of lands and setting facts on the ground by continuing to build settlements."
"The government of Israel doesn’t want, for internal reasons, to define its borders and we can’t continue with this situation."
"The situations in the [West] Bank is dangerous, and can’t continue. All signs point to [the fact that] the American mediation [of peace talks] failed with the end of negotiations."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas gives a press conference following his meeting with South African president, on November 26, 2014 in Pretoria, as part of his first official visit to South Africa. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/STEFAN HEUNIS)
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas gives a press conference following his meeting with South African president, on November 26, 2014, in Pretoria, as part of his first official visit to South Africa. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/STEFAN HEUNIS)
How talks could even get off the ground when the Palestinians refuse at the starting gate to recognize Israel as a Jewish State is a puzzle only the Byzantine mind of Arabs can understand, although even they would be hard put to make a logical case to defend that refusal. All the States of the Middle East save Iran and Israel are Arab nations. They are all, including Iran, Islamic states. But Israel, founded for the very specific purpose of returning Jews to a heritage homeland of their own, cannot be recognized as a Jewish state whose religion is Judaism.

Palestinian Authority President Abbas once again insisted that Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, accusing Israel of establishing an apartheid government. Bearing in mind that Israel has given citizenship and equality rights to Arabs living within Israel, along with Druze and many other ethnic and religious groups, it would more accurately be described as a democratic liberal pluralist society. Whereas the Arab countries of the Middle East, which expelled its Jewish population, and oppress Christians could more accurately be considered apartheid states.

Speaking in Cairo during an emergency session of the Arab League with the foreign ministers present representing the Arab world, discussion revolved around a new Knesset bill which would remove any doubt whatever in law and convention that Israel is a Jewish state. The prospect of which has led to a general state of apoplexy in the corridors of power in the Middle East. That a Jewish State should have the effrontery to believe it could exist within the larger Islamic presence of the geography sends Arab politicians into a rage of rejection

Arab League
Arab League

And, of course, on Saturday the Arab League gave Chairman Abbas their full support, for nor would they see their way clear to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state; to do so would confer legitimacy upon Israel of a kind none are prepared to be part of. They also saw fit to support Mr. Abbas's threats to Israel that it intends to secure UN endorsement for the unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian State, bypassing negotiations with Israel for agreement with a two-state solution leading to peace.

The Arab League foreign ministers agreed to submitting an "Arab proposal to the UN Security Council to end the [Israeli] occupation" of Palestinian land. And it promised to fully support Palestinian intention to seek out membership in UN agencies and international courts, announcing their "categorical rejection of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state". Evidently no discussion took place with respect to Hamas in all of this, let alone the violence continually directed against Israel which a mutual agreement between Israel and the Palestinians should be addressing.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (C-L) seen attending an extraordinary Arab League meeting to discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories, in Cairo on November 29, 2014. (AFP)

Chairman Abbas's end-run around Israel and the settlement efficacy of peace talks has total approval by the Arab League whose ministers set up a committee comprised of Kuwait, Mauritania, Jordan and Nabil al-Araby, chief of the Arab League, to launch a mission to find international backing for the resolution they plan to present to the UN Security Council. Diplomatic sources feel that Jordan, an Arab member in the revolving membership of the Security Council could within days present the draft.

There will be no problem anticipated of a certainty in a plenitude of support from among European Union countries; think France, Denmark, Norway and Britain, for example; nor those of Latin America and Asia and Africa; a done deal.

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Egyptian Moratorium on Hamas Smuggling

Egyptian soldiers in Rafah, Gaza
Egyptian soldiers in Rafah, Gaza
Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed about 70 years ago in Egypt. It has spread its membership as an Islamist organization agitating for change in the Muslim world since that time. It is a religious and a political movement, and it is also recognized by some countries of the world as a terrorist organization; most latterly Egypt, which under its most recent government declared it outlawed in  after a one-year flirtation with a Brotherhood government, since ousted.

Official Egypt loathes the Muslim Brotherhood and the compliment is returned. The Brotherhood, with its support among the downtrodden and poverty-stricken resulting from its years of ministering to the needs of those at the bottom scale of social development, creating a relationship of trust and religious conviction, acts both as a humanitarian lifeboat for the poor, and an inciter of rebellion against most conventional Arab governments.

Since its ouster from government the Brotherhood has incited to violence, and it has formed a greater connection with the Bedouin Salafists in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, along with al-Qaeda-linked groups, and its own Islamist offshoots, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to attack Egyptian military installations and police. Egypt has responded by arresting Brotherhood authorities and imposing long prison sentences.

Since the loss of their Brotherhood protection as a result of its outlawed status, Hamas has struggled to retain its authority in Gaza, unable to pay the salaries of their civil servants, unable to smuggle goods and  weapons through its underground tunnels with the Egyptian military collapsing them and clearing the border area between Egypt and Gaza of homes of suspected Hamas and Brotherhood sympathizers.

As one of only two Arab countries with a peace treaty signed with Israel, both countries cooperate in measures to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons and construction materials used to build tunnels, into Gaza. All of this has resulted in the inevitable failure of an already-struggling Gaza economy, particularly in the wake of the Israeli defensive incursion into Gaza which saw much of its infrastructure destroyed.

The buffer zone that Egypt enforced along the Sinai border with Gaza has resulted in soaring prices now that the smuggling tunnels used by Hamas to mount lethal attacks on Egyptian soldiers were destroyed. An echo of the technique used by Hamas to mount attacks on Israeli military personnel.
The siege on Gaza imposed by Egypt has indeed reduced the flow of weapons and cash for Hamas through the tunnels.

The smuggling of building materials has been curtailed; materials largely used in the construction of those very tunnels which were estimated to cost roughly $1.2-billion on an annual basis, using the figures given by Ayman Abed of the Gaza economy ministry. Some 1,600 smuggling tunnels have been destroyed by Egypt, along with the demolishing of homes and expelling Gazans from the border area to established the 1 kilometer buffer zone.

"Prices are very high since Egypt completely closed the tunnels. We used to sell Egyptian cheese for ten or 11 shekels and it is now over $6, and we don't sell it anymore, since no one can afford it at this price", said Abu Mohammed, who owns a small supermarket west of Gaza City, mentioning the increase in price of "milk, legumes and even cheese."

And then there is the youth unemployment rate under Hamas rule in Gaza, at 63%. Oxfam reports that over 40% of the population is without employment, with 80% living on humanitarian aid. Because of such humanitarian issues and the world's fixation on Israel's responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians, despite Hamas's charter declaration of destroying Israel, the Jewish state sent  several huge shipments of construction materials into Gaza.

Reports have arisen that Hamas has in fact restarted construction of its terror tunnels into Israel.
Just recently 1,120 tons of cement were delivered by Israel to Gaza, after 1,300 tons of construction materials were transferred on October 14. "When the tunnels were open, a ton of cement sold for just under $100 on the black market. Today it is 3,800 shekels (just under $1,000)", bemoaned Gaza builders' merchant Suheil Tuman.

"Today, Gaza market stalls offer Israeli goods at a price that is more expensive to begin with and to which heavy taxes are added on their entry to Gaza", explained economist Amr Shaabane. In the past, prices in Gaza had been lower than consumer prices in the West Bank, a situation resulting from the economy supported by the smuggling tunnels.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Importing Terrorist Alliances

"Mr. Speaker as Canadians of Tamil heritage in November we commemorate two important events, Remembrance Day and the Tamil Heroes Day. This month symbolizes the beauty of life because we remember all those who sacrifice their lives for the rest of us to live in peace and freedom."
"[Not in support of terrorism or encouraging violence] Rather, as the first Tamil MP elected, I join Tamil-Canadians and all across our country in mourning those who have died in wars at home or abroad, and in supporting those who work tirelessly for the cause of peace."
Rathika Sitsabaiesan, NDP Member of Parliament

NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan giving her statement in support of commemorating Tamil Heroes Day, Nov. 27, 2014.
YouTube    NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan giving her statement in support of commemorating Tamil Heroes Day, Nov. 27, 2014.
"Tamil Heroes Day is dedicated to the glorification of the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known more commonly as the Tamil Tigers."
"I am shocked and appalled that an NDP member of Parliament would not only endorse the celebration of terrorists, but would also equate it to the solemn occasion of Remembrance Day where we honour our fallen Canadian heroes."
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney

"Heroes Day] is not and has never been a national day of Tamil mourning. [Rather, it was] an intensely conducted partisan event 'of the Tigers' for the Tigers and by the Tigers'."
D.B.S. Jeyaraj, Sri-Lanka-Canadian journalist
Toronto Tamils rally in support of the Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who have been fighting a years-long civil war in Sri Lanka. Known as the Tamil Tigers the group has been labelled by Canada as a terrorist organization.
Photo by Monique Plessas   Toronto Tamils rally in support of the Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who have been fighting a years-long civil war in Sri Lanka. Known as the Tamil Tigers the group has been labelled by Canada as a terrorist organization.

Canada has the largest expatriate Tamil community originating in Sri Lanka of any other community outside the country. Up until the last war in Sri Lanka between the government and the Tamil Tigers in 2009, agents of the Tigers strenuously canvassed the Canadian Tamil community for financial support of the Tigers. Covert weapons-procurement to benefit the Tigers took place. Rallies for the Tigers took place in Montreal and Toronto where governing Liberal MPs were in attendance, where the Tigers flag proudly flew.

This, though in 2006 Canada declared the Tamil Tigers to be a terrorist organization and it was placed on the country's proscribed list. The Tamil Tigers were the world's foremost suicide bombers, stimulating the Palestinians to emulate their wild successes in bloody excesses. They were responsible for the murders of Sri Lankan government figures, and they assassinated the-then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. While killing thousands of Sinhalese Sri Lankans, the Tigers also killed Tamils.

Steven Blaney stood in Parliament to call upon the Sri Lankan-born MP to apologize "to veterans and all Canadians" for equating Tamil Tigers' day with Remembrance Day, for speaking of November 17 as an "important event", when in reality this was a day held each year by the Tamil Tigers to commemorate the date the first member of the terrorist group was killed in combat.

A Heroes Day event took place in Markham, Ontario on Thursday. The Facebook page of the Tamil Youth Organization-Canada featured the militaristic flag of the Tamil Tigers. The RCMP back in 2006 closed the Tiger's offices in Toronto and Montreal through which millions in support of the conflict had been raised. A number of Toronto area Tamils were convicted of supplying arms and equipment to the Tamil Tigers.

A video of MP Sitsabaiesan's speech in the House of Commons was posted on her YouTube page, showing her reading from a prepared statement. "I think it needs to be pointed out to her that you can't compare the two, you can't compare a terrorist organization to people who have fought for core Canadian values", said Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary of foreign affairs and international human rights.

Ethnic Tamils faced and still face discrimination in their native Sri Lanka, he agreed, "but you can't compare Remembrance Day to Tamil Heroes Day". To do so represented "a disservice to veterans". It also represents a disservice to Canada on a wholesale scale. As a demonstration that Canadian values have not been respected, nor its justice system.

The affair does represent yet another instance where new Canadians have brought with them the debilitating and hateful culture of hatred and violence that they are meant to leave behind when they enter a new country as citizens. Those whom they venerate as heroes are anything but in the understanding of the international community.

Glossing over the reality that the Tigers were responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, Tamils included does no service to Tamils either.

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Square Pegs and Round Holes

"We disclose the salaries of councillors and chief."
"We have supplemented federal funding with our own dollars and we do a line-by-line audit in the community hall every year."
Onion Lake Cree First Nation Chief Wallace Fox, Alberta
Sask First Nations resist feds on transparency act
Onion Lake Cree First Nation Chief Wallace Fox, with legal counsel Robert Hladun, has filed a lawsuit against the federal government's new transparency law.  Photograph by: John Lucas, Postmedia
"The Act applies the same principles of transparency and accountability to First Nation governments that already exist for other governments in Canada."
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt

The new federal transparency law that requires public disclosure by reservation governments and Indian bands of all their finances and transactions has not presented too much of a challenge to most of the nation's First Nations; certainly not the 529 out of 582 who have sensibly complied. Chief Wallace Fox is an exception; he takes umbrage at the very suggestion that his band is required to adhere to the legislation.

The Onion Lake Cree has its financial fortunes enhanced substantially by oil and gas holdings which as Chief Fox sees it, does not require him to make public disclosure of all the band's finances. The deadline for disclosure having passed, Chief Fox rejects the insistence and threats from the Aboriginal Affairs Department that it will take steps to withhold funds to the tribe on the basis of non-compliance with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

The fact that Chief Fox's decision to defy the requirements for disclosure over the band's revenue from oil and gas operations may in other words, put it at risk of losing the $1 million in housing funds along with funding for the salaries of about 800 employees in the band should Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt decide to follow through on the warning to make the threat real and financially painful is offensive to the chief.

"Enough is enough", he declared. It is beyond puzzling that a band comprised of four thousand people would require 800 of that number to be employed by the band. Of course it is not the purported band revenues from oil and gas operations that pays their salaries, but tax dollars. If the bulk of those employed have their positions related to the oil and gas operations, surely an explication is required through the publishing of all financial data.

There is a cautionary tale in the most recent disclosures forced upon the Sushwap First Nations in British Columbia, when public revelations were made that the chief, his wife and his family each earned in excess of tax-free $200,000 annually to administer a band of several hundred living on the reserve. That revelation resulted in a recent election overturning his position as chief. The new chief, a former band councillor, has discovered that the former chief's claim that assets to the value of $75 million held in the band's name has disappeared.

Claims of successful businesses operated by the band, including a resort, a supermarket and real estate holdings, with revenues from the band's Kinbasket Development Corp., operated by the former chief's son, with his take-home pay in the half-million range, haven't actually materialized. Having been dismissed from his role as CEO of the band's development corporation by new chief
Barbara Cote, Dean Martin is threatening a lawsuit.

Of the 582 First Nations, 52 now risk losing their entitlements to funding for their bands due to the unwillingness of their chiefs for whatever reason to accede to the new legislation requiring long-overdue financial accountability. Hardly what one could describe as responsible governance.

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A Mighty Fall From Grace

"Mr. Ghomeshi will be pleading not guilty."
"We will address these allegations [sexual assault] fully and directly in a courtroom. It is not my practice to litigate my cases in the media. This one will be no different. We will say whatever we have to say in a court of law. We will not be making any further media statements nor will Mr. Ghomeshi be making further media statements."
Marie Henein, defence lawyer, Toronto

"The past month has seen a major shift in the conversation about violence against women. It has been an overwhelming and painful time for many people, including myself, but also very inspiring [in public support]. I hope that victims' voices continue to be heard and that this is the start of a change that is so desperately needed."
Lucy De Coutere, complainant

Jian Ghomeshi leaves College Park Court with lawyer Marie Henein, right, and co-counsel Danielle...Jian Ghomeshi leaves College Park Court with lawyer Marie Henein, right, and co-counsel Danielle Robitaille, left, after being freed on bail on Wednesday, November 26, 2014. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)
Criminal charges have finally been lodged by three victims of sexual violence perpetrated by one-time host of the wildly successful CBC radio program Q. The three women, two of whose names are being protected; one actor, Lucy De Coutere deciding to fully present herself and with the self-confidence of one who could take the public strain, has described in the press her violent encounter with Jian Ghomeshi.

The man who delighted in being the centre of attention, basking in the adoration of his listening public, confident in the knowledge that his radio program was held in huge esteem for its popularity that brought it to U.S. stations' prominence through its celebrity appeal, now faces a media frantic to hear from him directly more about the 'rough sex' he had formerly claimed was fully consensual. When rumours rose to public discussions, Mr. Ghomeshi had alerted his employers at the CBC.

Examining the evidence he himself brought to them to fully apprise them of what he insists was simply 'rough sex', not all that different from what the current social elite is accustomed to, the
CBC decided they had no option but to shed themselves of their golden goose, and that goose giddily decided he would sue them for $55-million in damages to his reputation, firing him without cause. A suit he has since withdrawn.

Arraigned on charges of four counts of sex assault (up to a 10-year penalty) and a fifth charge: 'overcome resistance -- choking', which has the potential to carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment should he be found guilty as charged, there was a short bail hearing with $100,000 surety. Conditions for his release are several; he must live with his mother, maintain no contact with the complainants, and remain a minimum of 500 metres from them.

Banned from possessing prohibited weapons, his passport surrendered, he has been ordered to remain in Ontario. Justice Rebecca Rutherford presiding, elicited the response "I do", when she asked Mr. Ghomeshi if he understood his release conditions. Theatrically, flanked by two attractive and high-powered female lawyers with whom 'rough play' might not have gone over too well, he exhibits his soulful penance at the misunderstanding that has landed him in this situation.

That was one powerful !thud! when that graven idol tumbled off its pedestal.

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