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Sunday, 20 November 2016

An ‘Apartheid Wall’ being built to cage Palestinian refugees. What are you going to do about it?

An ‘Apartheid Wall’ being built to cage Palestinian refugees. Does your MSP know? What are you going to do about it?
The first blocks of an isolation wall were erected around one of the largest Palestinian refugee camps this week, as a plan to build 'security' cordons and watchtowers around it came into effect.
Oops sorry! Did I omit to mention it is being built by theLebanese Authorities around the Ain al-Hilwehrefugee camp south-east of the port city of Sidon?
Dubbed “The wall of Shame”, Authorities in Lebanon maintain the four security watchtowers will enable the army to better control the ghetto to 75,000 Palestinians and thousands more of Lebanon’s refugee cousins fleeing Syria.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Israel never far from its thoughts

For the Church of Scotland, Israel (and of course Jews) are never far from its thoughts:
World Mission Council 4 WM/16/31.4 Middle East Committee 
31.4.1 Update on Meeting of 1 June 2016 Maureen Jack highlighted the following points:  
The Committee had agreed to give financial support to a student from North Sudan who was completing a course at the Evangelical Theological Seminary, Cairo (ETSC). Following that, Kenny Roger received an appreciative note from the ETSC, which also said how glad they were to have Colin Johnston there.  
Kenny Roger would be returning to Scotland to be based in the department from mid-August 2016. Prior to his return Kenny would undertake meetings with Rev. Páraic Reamonn in Jerusalem and Rev. Kate Reynolds in Tiberias who will be picking up responsibility for linking with partners in I/OPT.  
Things had been very difficult for hotels and guesthouses in Jerusalem. Each incident in the city led to cancellations but the Guesthouse staff were working hard to maximise income.  
There were rumours about the Greek Orthodox Church planning to build a hotel on the plot of land they owned by the guesthouse. Kenny was making further investigations.  
The Committee was encouraged to receive a very positive report from the Principal at Tabeetha School, Margaret MacDonald. 
In September 2015 Tabeetha had joined other Christian schools in Israel in a strike. The strike had been resolved after an agreement by the Ministry of Education to carry out a review and also give 50 million shekels to be shared amongst the Christian schools to compensate for previous cuts in funding. The date for this payment had passed and no payment had been made. Some other Christian schools were facing closure on financial grounds. If Tabeetha were forced to join the Israeli schools system there would be significant implications for the school. Kenny was engaging with the issues.  
A WM tour to I/OPT was being planned for November 2016. Accommodation would be provided in the Guesthouse, Hotel and also the Lutheran Guesthouse in Bethlehem. Information would be available soon. 
31.4.2 Update on Scots Hotel Business Plan The Council noted that no further update was available on the Business Plan as advice on various issues was still to be received. 
31.4.3 Renovation of St. Andrew’s Church, Tiberias The Council noted the proposal and costs put forward by the MEC for the renovation work needing to be carried out at St. Andrew’s Church, Tiberias. Approval was required by the WMC to allow the MEC to move ahead with preparing a full plan and costings which would be presented to the Church of Scotland Trust and the Council of Assembly for approval. The Council agreed that the preparatory work should be completed for the refurbishment of the building.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Eyewitness report: Inside the UCL anti-Israel demonstration

Devora Khafi, the campus director of Stand With Us, was recovering today after allegedly being assaulted during the protest at University College London on Thursday night.
She described the moment she was confronted by up to 50 angry protesters.
Ms Khafi said: “I was standing outside the main doors of the room where the meeting was planned to take place, with a list of people to tick off as they arrived.
“All of a sudden, about 40-50 protesters appeared in front of us. They were in the same building as us. They approached and I was pushed against the doors by one of them – a girl.
“I was held there for about two minutes. Her back was to me and she was pressing me against the door. She didn’t move. Then her friend came and she moved. She took a step forward, but she still stood in front of me the whole time.
“I was feeling very claustrophobic. I managed to get outside the building where I had a bit of a panic attack. It was the feeling of claustrophobia - that was really terrible.
“Another of us, Liora Cadranel, who is co-president of UCL Israel Society, was assaulted. I didn’t see it happen because she was inside the room, but she got a pushed by a man. She’s OK, but shaken up.
“We’re all very shaken up. We go to a lot of Israel events on campus, but we’ve never seen protests on this scale before. We’re all thinking about what it means for Jewish students.
“We knew a protest was going to happen. A mass text was sent out to a lot of students beforehand. But we had no idea that it would be like this.
“During the actual event, when Hen Mazzig was speaking, two men managed to open a window and get into the room. They jumped over two girls sitting there, who were very shocked.
“When we were escorted out of the room in the face of all those protesters shouting at us, that was very intimidating. We felt more police should have been called to escort us out. Cameras were in our faces as well. I felt many there truly enjoyed making us feel scared. And that is what is truly worrying.
“I filed a report to the police. Liora filed a report. We’ll see what happens. It will be very disappointing if the people who did this don’t get banned or expelled.
“I go to a lot a Israel events. This one was very different. They weren’t afraid to hurt girls. These people are not afraid to do anything. It was unbelievable This was the worst experience I’ve ever had at an Israel event on campus.
But I am so proud of the Jewish students unifying and carrying on with the event. We didn't cower in the face of intimidation and stood up with our heads held high.”
Metropolitan Police have confirmed they are investigation an allegation of common assault made by a female student.
UCL has launched an inquiry into incidents at the event, which it said was “not violent”.

UCL statement: protest at UCLU event

28 October 2016
UCL and UCLU do not condone acts of intimidation or violence under any circumstances and, as a university with a longstanding radical history, we fiercely support the right to exercise free speech within the law.
The freedom to debate and challenge views is fundamental to the nature of a university. We also acknowledge the right to peaceful protest and we put the safety of our staff and student community at the heart of everything we do.
On 27 October, we did all we could to ensure that the UCLU Friends of Israel Society event could go ahead at UCL, working with our Security team and the Metropolitan police.
It was widely advertised and open to the public, and as a result a small but noisy group of protesters attended and occupied the rooms where the event was originally meant to take place. UCL Security found an alternative location and ensured the event went ahead safely. We regret protesters took measures to try to prevent the event from happening but stress that the protest was non-violent.

We are aware that the Metropolitan police attended following accusations of assault and support them fully in their investigations. As this was a public event, it is unclear how many UCL students were present but we are instigating an enquiry and we will take appropriate disciplinary action where there is clear evidence that students may have breached our disciplinary regulations.
Both UCL and UCLU have a code of practice governing the participation of external speakers at events held at UCL. It is clearly stated in UCL’s code of practice that the premises will not be denied to any individual on any ground connected with their beliefs. The code also requires speakers to behave lawfully and avoid any action or language which is offensive, provocative or a clear incitement to violence.


Thursday, 27 October 2016

Nobel Peace Prize Winner: Israel Can Teach Europe to Fight ISIS While Preserving Freedoms

If ISIS or other terror groups expand their operations against Western nations, Europe should look to Israel as “a welcome guide in navigating the difficult moral, legal and tactical terrain ahead,” a Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote Thursday in The Telegraph.
Lord David Trimble, the Nobel laureate and former First Minister of Northern Ireland, and Robert Quick, a former assistant commissioner in charge of anti-terrorism for London’s Metropolitan Police, observed that even if ISIS is defeated in Iraq and Syria, its fighters could still target European nations. Those countries face challenges not only in protecting their citizens, but also in sustaining “our societies’ liberal and democratic values in the face of this brutal menace.”
Trimble and Quick recommended expanded cooperation with “those who share our values and can help us build our capabilities.  One country fits this bill better than most – no democratic nation has endured Islamist terrorism to the extent that Israel has. ”
The writers recounted their experience on a recent fact-finding mission to Israel, which they took along with senior figures from the FBI, Australian National Police, and other law enforcement bodies. They found that despite the decades of terrorism that has been committed against Israeli civilians, the country has been “become extraordinarily resilient, coping with stresses until recently unimaginable to European policymakers, while flourishing as an economically successful democratic nation.”
As a result of their fact-finding trip, Trimble and Quick identified four elements of Israel’s fight against terror that should be adopted by European nations.
The first is Israel’s intelligence prowess. Europe must work on improving its intelligence capabilities. They noted that “Israel’s governance of the interagency process, so crucial to success, appears to offer a model with strong political and judicial oversight relevant to other democracies.”
A second feature that Europe should emulate is its system of legal governance of its counter-terror operations, including “bringing more legally mandated judicial oversight to intelligence activity that cannot be conducted on the basis of open evidence.” This will help European countries maintain an open society while fighting “an enemy that ruthlessly exploits the very freedoms our generous political and social systems afford our citizens.”
Trimble and Quick also praised Israel’s resilience, specifically citing Israel’s “ability to overcome and return to normality” within hours of an attack.
The last feature of Israel’s terror fight that should be adopted, they wrote, is in its approach to social media, which has “provided the medium to fuel both the rise of Islamic State as well as the recent terror wave against Israel.” They predicted that Europe will be challenged in the coming years with balancing freedom of expression with the readiness to respond when social media platforms are used to incite violence.
Trimble and Quick concluded:
Israel is on the frontline of the West’s confrontation with Islamist terrorism and a crucial ally. One thing is clear: its expertise will help save European lives and act as a welcome guide in navigating the difficult moral, legal and tactical terrain ahead. Britain’s spirit in previous conflicts bodes well for this great country matching Israel in resolve to overcome the murderous hatred we now face.
Trimble is a founding member of the Friends of Israel Initiative, and has frequently spoken out in defense of Israel. In 2013, he blasted a United Nations Human Rights Council report that called for removing all Israelis living past the 1949 armistice lines from their homes. Later that year, Trimble and other members of the Friends of Israel Initiative questioned a European Union proposal that would cut off cooperation between European nations and Israeli institutions beyond the 1949 boundaries. The next year, Trimble and members of the Friends of Israel Initiative condemned Hamas’s targeting of Israeli civilians and called on European governments, the United Nations, and other international institutions to do the same.
[Photo: Steve Punter / WikiCommons ]

Clinton Advisors Advocating Tougher Line on Iran

Advisors to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton are articulating policies that suggest that a Clinton administration will adopt a tougher line towards Iran, Eli Lake of Bloomberg View reported Wednesday.
Lake’s report focuses mostly on former acting CIA director Michael Morell, who said in a speech earlier this week that the United States is “back and we’re going to lead again.” Morell, who is expected to receive a high-level appointment in a future Clinton administration, added that the United States should consider new sanctions against Iran to fight its “malign behavior in the region.” Obama, in contrast, has urged Congress not to pass any new sanctions against Iran.
Morell also raised the possibility of U.S. naval forces boarding Iranian ships heading to Yemen to arm rebels there: “I would have no problem from a policy perspective of having the U.S. Navy boarding their ships and if there are weapons on them to turn those ships around,” he said, though he later acknowledged that this could be questionable under international law.
As part of a broader strategy to counter Iran’s growing strength, Morell urged American allies in the Middle East to fight jihadist ideology and reform corrupt governments. Lake contrasted this with Obama, whose “policy for reassuring these allies has been a new suite of arms sales—without a new policy framework to counter Iranian influence.”
Morell’s  approach, according to Lake, aligns with that of Clinton foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan, who told the Truman Security Project in June that “We need to be raising the costs to Iran for its destabilizing behavior and we need to be raising the confidence of our Sunni partners.”
The Morell talk was presented at the Center for American Progress, which was founded by Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and is currently run by the policy director of the 2008 Clinton campaign. In a report released earlier this week outlining Middle East policy options, the Center for American Progress acknowledged that last year’s nuclear deal with Iran “does not make Iran a regional partner for the United States” and that “Iran continues to pose a threat to U.S. interests and values in the Middle East and around the world.”
Lake surmised that the views expressed by Clinton’s advisors and confidants suggest that if she wins the presidency in two weeks, she will ” she will be taking on … Iranian aggression abroad.”
Lake reported earlier this month, based on documents released by WikiLeaks, that in 2013 Clinton expressed doubts that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was truly a “moderate,” as he was portrayed in the media, and dismissed his apparent moderation as a “charm offensive” intended to deceive the West. Additionally, Lake noted that leaked e-mails from last December showed Clinton to be more receptive to critics of the nuclear deal than the Obama administration has been.
In a major speech at the Brookings Institution in September 2015, Clinton laid out five pillars of her foreign policy, including an “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s military security;” defending America’s Persian Gulf allies; building multinational coalitions to battle Iran’s proxies and enforce embargoes on Iranian arms shipments; taking a strong stand against Iran’s humans rights abuses; and adopting a “comprehensive regional strategy that promotes stability and counters extremism.” Clinton added in the speech that she would downplay disagreements with Israel and invite the Israeli prime minister to Washington during her first month in office.
In another talk at Brookings three months later, Clinton said that Israel was an essential ally in countering “Iran’s increasing aggressive regional ambitions.”
[Photo: CBS This Morning / YouTube ]

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Ewan McGregor’s Jewish connection to ‘American Pastoral

Ewan McGregor and Dakota Fanning in “American Pastoral.” Photo by Richard Foreman

At first glance, Ewan McGregor seems like an unlikely actor and director to have become obsessed with the Jewish character of Seymour “The Swede” Levov, the tragic hero of his new film, “American Pastoral,” based on Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

The movie follows the Swede from his 1940s childhood as the star athlete of his predominantly Jewish high school to his successful assimilation into the upper crust WASP melting pot, to his unraveling when his teenage daughter is accused of a deadly bombing in protest of the Vietnam War.

McGregor himself grew up in a secular Protestant family in Crieff, Scotland, where there was not a single synagogue and he knew no Jews. But during an interview at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, the boyish, 45-year-old Scotsman — wearing hipster black and speaking in a lilting brogue — revealed that taking on “American Pastoral” hit quite close to home.

McGregor said his connection with the Tribe began in his early 20s, when he met his wife-to-be, Eve Mavrakis, a production designer and French-Greek Jew, on the set of a British television show. Mavrakis mostly had been raised in Beijing by her French-Jewish mother, an ardent Communist, and was not an observant Jew. She and McGregor married in 1995 in a secular ceremony led by the mayor of a small town in France.  

But as the couple contemplated starting a family, “I saw her religion become more vital in her life,” said McGregor, who is best known for his iconic role as the Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in three “Star Wars” films, and has also stood out in movies such as Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting.”

The couple’s four daughters attended religious school and became bat mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue in London.

“Their bat mitzvahs were some of the best days of my life,” said McGregor, who now lives with his family in Los Angeles but has not yet joined a synagogue. “I was really moved not only by my children but by the occasion itself.

“From quite early on in my adult life, the religion I was seeing and being amongst the most was Judaism.”

The actor-director added that he admires the religion “because everything seems to be debated so much, as opposed to preached.”

“I’ve always enjoyed that. And the tradition marks things that are very useful to us,” McGregor continued, citing how a friend’s sitting shivah for his father proved healing.

McGregor returned home from his “American Pastoral” press tour in order to celebrate the Yom Kippur break the fast with his family.  “But I didn’t fast because I need to gain weight for an upcoming role,” he said with a laugh.

Nor has he converted to Judaism. “I don’t have faith in my heart, so it would have been sort of a falsity, I think,” he said. “And my family has never asked me to do it; that was never an issue.”

But McGregor happily agreed to raise his children Jewish. “I was essentially brought up with no religion, so I had nothing in the [spiritual] realm to offer them,” he explained.

One reason he signed on to direct “American Pastoral” is because “I had never before played a Jewish character, and Judaism had been such an important part of my life for 20 years,” he said.  “And the fact that my first movie as a director is to tell the story of this incredible Jewish man makes me very proud.”

The Swede’s life starts out promisingly enough. As Roth’s narrator says in the book,  “None possessed anything remotely like the … Viking mask of this blue-eyed blond born into our tribe … a boy as close as a goy as we were going to get.”

In the film, as in the novel, Levov appears to be the poster boy for a stellar Tribal assimilation story in his Jewish immigrant neighborhood in Newark, N.J.  

When the Swede (McGregor) weds a non-Jew, a former Miss New Jersey no less, we’re told, “He’d done it.  He’d married a shiksa.” Levov goes on to make his home on a bucolic farm in the white, conservative enclave of Old Rimrock, N.J., where his wife, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), raises cows and he commutes to Newark to run his father’s glove factory. When the couple has a beautiful daughter, Merry, the Swede’s vision of his American dream appears to be complete.

But Merry (played as a teenager by Dakota Fanning) turns out to be a sensitive, troubled girl with a severe stutter. As a teenager, she becomes a radical furious with the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. At 16, she disappears after she is accused of blowing up the town’s grocery and post office, resulting in the death of one person.

After suffering a nervous breakdown and severe depression, Dawn essentially writes Merry out of her thoughts and wants to move on. But the Swede can’t let go.

“Dawn is able to fall apart and then can have a life, so she survives Merry in a way that the Swede can’t,” McGregor said.  “Some people think Roth might be saying that his life turned to s--- because he turned his back on his Judaism.  But I don’t think that’s true.  The Swede is a good, morally correct man who tries to do the right thing by everyone to the point where he’s completely got no life left.  He can’t let go of his belief that he’s responsible for everyone and anyone.”

McGregor also relates to the Swede’s story as a father; his oldest daughter, Clara, a 20-year-old college student in New York, is no longer living under his family’s roof.  “American Pastoral,” in a way, is an allegory of that kind of parental loss, and a universal tale of the emotional fallout when children leave home, he said.

“What [screenwriter] John Romano did very carefully with his script was to extract the story line about the father and the daughter,” the director said.  

While McGregor was attached to the film as an actor for some 15 years, he was only intermittently considered as its director while others, such as Phillip Noyce, dropped in and out of the project. Finally, in 2014, he sold producers on his vision for the drama. 

“I believe that Roth’s novel presents us with many points of view,” he said. “He doesn’t tell us how to feel as a reader, so you’re left to consider your own life and your own experience. I tried to do that by not presenting black or white versions of the characters. But I also wanted to understand them. [For example,] I didn’t want to think that Merry blew up the post office because she’s crazy, but because she’s passionate about her beliefs and angry about what was happening in America.”

“American Pastoral” is one of eight Roth novels or short stories to have been made into a film. Poor reviews of efforts like “Goodbye Columbus” (1969) and “Portnoy’s Complaint” (1972) have given Roth’s works the reputation for being unadaptable. (One notable exception is James Schamus’ “Indignation,” which hit theaters earlier this year.)

So far, “American Pastoral” has mostly earned negative reviews, with one critic labeling it a CliffsNotes version of the novel. When asked about these reviews, McGregor politely stopped a reporter. “If you don’t mind, I haven’t read them,” he said. “I never read reviews of my work because I’m not interested in what they have to say.”

Roth, however, gave the film a thumb’s up, through a note his agents sent to the producers. “He was very complimentary,” McGregor said. “I was very happy and very relieved that he liked it. If he hadn’t, I would’ve felt a sense of failure in some way.”

American Pastoral” opens in Los Angeles theaters on Oct. 21.