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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

ADL Chief: Washington believes US Jews are not loyal

Anti-Defamation League head: Washington’s concerns about Israeli tourist espionage are “almost irrational… It’s a prejudice”, since both countries co-operate at the highest levels of new security/military technologies.

 

 

The Anti-Defamation League has reacted harshly to reports that several members of US Congress and representatives of the country’s intelligence community have cautioned against admitting Israel into the State Department’s visa waiver program due to concerns over espionage.

Israeli Passport - Photo: IsraelandStuff/PP

Israeli & US Passport holder – Photo: IsraelandStuff/PP

During an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said he could not square such worries with the “special relationship” and high level of intelligence cooperation between the two nations.

“Is there a certain amount of hypocrisy? Sure,” Foxman told the Post, referring to recent revelations of widespread American spying on close allies. “Every couple of years something publicly surfaces, focusing the light on Israelis or Israel spying…. It is inordinate and inappropriate and inaccurate. This is the most recent example of it.”

For several years Israel has been lobbying for admission to the visa waiver program, which allows tourists to visit for up to 90 days without a visa. Several senators are now at work on a bill that would allow it to join the nearly 40 countries whose citizens can already visit freely. A senior State Department official recently voiced public support for easing entry for Israelis.

So far, two obstacles have stood in the way: Allegations by US officials that Israel discriminates against Arab- and Muslim-Americans seeking entry to the Jewish state, and a proliferation of young Israelis who travel to the US as tourists and then work illegally.

Abe Foxman

Abe Foxman – Photo: SAM SOKO

The maximum visa rejection rate for entry into the program is 3 percent; the rate for Israelis is 9.7%, spiking from a 6% average in recent years.

However, a report in Roll Call, a Washington publication focusing on Capitol Hill, quoted several congressional aides as stating that espionage fears were also in play. Representatives of the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the country’s intelligence community have testified to that effect before the House Judiciary Committee, Roll Call reported.

One aide the newspaper quoted cited “reservations from the intelligence community about allowing Israel into the visa waiver program because of concerns that it would allow in Israeli spies.”

Foxman said he continued to be “disturbed at the level of preoccupation, primarily in the American government, not just now but going back for years” in relation to alleged Israeli spying.

“I have a file of people who applied for [a security] clearance, American Jews who had difficulty getting it and didn’t get it because of questions which were inappropriate,” the ADL head stated.

“But none of these people wanted to take the case public because they were afraid it was going to destroy their employment opportunities.”

Foxman alluded to what he believes is an inbuilt institutional bias connected to a widespread belief that American Jews hold dual loyalties.

“One out of three Americans believe that they [US Jews] are not loyal,” and the current allegation of Israeli spying “enhances the stereotype and it fuels it,” he said. “This is endemic in our political system out of Washington.”

A 2013 poll by the ADL found that 30% of Americans believe Jews are “more loyal to Israel” than to the United States, a number that remains unchanged from a previous poll taken in 1964.

Such attitudes predate the arrest of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American intelligence analyst convicted of passing information to Israel. The Pollard case, Foxman averred, gave those concerned with Israeli spying “legitimacy” but did not create such worries.

“The exchange of information and data and specific research on technology is very high, and so at the same time to say we have to be careful of Israelis who come here on tourist visas because they can spy on us is almost irrational,” he said. “But if we are talking about being motivated in part by stereotypes, stereotypes are not rational. It’s a prejudice.”

JTA contributed to this report.

View original Jerusalem Post publication at:http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-Features/ADL-chief-US-concerns-about-Israeli-tourist-espionage-are-hypocritical-almost-irrational-350133

Birthright Eases 'Jewish' Definition as Applications for Free Israel Trip Dip

Is 'Propaganda' Tag Keeping Young People Away?


By Judy Maltz

(Haaretz) — Concerned about declining interest in its free 10-day trips to Israel, Taglit-Birthright has hired a marketing agency to seek out new participants, targeting college students with little or no connection to the Jewish community.

According to figures obtained by Haaretz, registration among North American Jews for Birthright’s summer trips dropped by more than 17 percent between 2011 and 2013. This followed a consistent upward trend ever since the program was launched 14 years ago.

The precise reasons for the downturn are unclear, but sources in Jewish organizations say Birthright might be close to maximizing its traditional candidate pool of affiliated or moderately affiliated young Jews.

Mr Youth, the marketing and social media agency hired by Birthright, has been instructed to widen the circle of potential candidates by targeting a group described as “low affiliated” young Jews. Loosely defined, these are young adults with at least one Jewish parent who have little or no formal connection to the Jewish community. As a result, they’ve escaped Birthright’s reach.

Mr Youth, which mainly targets college students, was acquired several years ago by LBi, the giant UK-based digital agency. In recent weeks, Mr Youth helped recruit applicants for Birthright’s upcoming summer trips with great success, according to the program’s chief executive.

“Thanks to their campaign, we’re expecting a record number of participants in Israel this summer,” said Birthright CEO Gidi Marks. Although Birthright draws participants from dozens of countries around the world, the overwhelming majority – more than 80 percent – hail from North America.

The number of North Americans registered for summer 2014 trips rose by almost 20 percent from last year to 39,723. The summer trips are the main draw for Birthright participants, as they tend to coincide with vacation from studies and work.

Mr Youth representatives were dispatched to 40 large U.S. campuses as part of the recruitment campaign. Titled ”Hello Israel,” the campaign highlights what Marks describes as the fun aspects of a trip to Israel, featuring posters of participants in bathing suits gallivanting at the sea.

Marks said he believed that by tapping into the market of “low affiliated” young Jews, the participation numbers would continue rising. This group of potential applicants account for about 60 percent of all young Jews in North America, he said.

Until now, Birthright has relied on its 14 certified trip organizers to recruit candidates, as well as word of mouth.

“We decided to hire a marketing agency because now we’re going into areas where we haven’t been before,” said Marks. “These are young Jews whose names don’t appear on the usual listservs and who aren’t connected to Judaism via social media.”

Figures on actual participation in Birthright trips in recent years do not reveal as sharp a downturn as do the registration figures. Many participants have been old applicants who were wait-listed several years back, and all those on waiting lists have since been accommodated.

In another step aimed at boosting participation numbers, Birthright recently commissioned a survey to determine the main reasons “low affiliated” young Jews were slow to sign up for its trips and how best to overcome this resistance.

The poll, conducted late last summer by the Washington-based Benenson Strategy Group, was based on more than 800 online interviews with 18-to-26-year-olds who identified as Jews, had at least one Jewish parent or were raised Jewish. It screened out Jews who attended Jewish day schools or high schools, paid membership dues at a synagogue or belonged to a Hillel or other Jewish organizations.

The survey found that these less affiliated Jews had not enrolled in Birthright amid concerns it would be too religious for them or push pro-Israel propaganda. More than half the respondents cited these two issues. Other key concerns were safety and lack of time.

Anticipating a change in the profile of participants in the coming years, Birthright is also rethinking the content of its trips. The plan is to put greater emphasis on modern Israel and less on history and religion, Marks said.

Today, each tour operator is required to provide three hours of content during the 10-day trip that pertains to modern Israel, choosing from activities linked to technology and business, the environment, arts and culture, and government and politics.

“Now we’re going to intensify that part of the trip,” said Marks. “My goal is to triple or quadruple the amount of time on modern Israel.”

Although North America is its main target market, Birthright is also actively recruiting candidates in two other hubs: the former Soviet Union and France. To this end, it recently hired the Israeli agency Tel Aviv Moscow Advertising to help boost participation numbers in Russia and Ukraine.

Birthright is also increasing funding to enable more candidates from France to come on the trips. To date, participation in France has been low, mainly because local Jewish organizations lack the funding to finance the trips.

“Last year, we only had 110 participants from France,” said Marks. “This year, we’ll have more than 1,000, and in the coming years, I expect we’ll reach somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500.”

For more stories, go to Haaretz.com or to subscribe to Haaretz, click here and use the following promotional code for Forward readers: FWD13.


For Moroccan, Algerians Jews, Passover Has a Sweet Ending

By Daina Beth Solomon

Tonight, right after sundown, chef Simon Elmaleh will discard the Passover matzo, set out fine platters laden with leavened, sugary sweets and welcome friends into his home with cries of terbhou ou tseedou, Arabic for “good luck.”

For Moroccan Jews like Elmaleh, the end of Passover marks the start of the Jewish-Moroccan festival Mimouna — a night of open house parties complete with a feast of traditional sweets that honors the Exodus story.

This year, Elmaleh has prepared platters that glisten with sugary glazes: slivers of candied orange peels, fat eggplants in sweetened ginger syrup, poached Bosch pears in a Cointreau-based syrup and figs cooked in syrup with white wine and vanilla.

Observing Mimouna is “a beautiful thing,” Elmaleh told me in early April while taking a break from cooking tagine and couscous at his cozy restaurant Simon’s Café in Los Angeles. In Montreal young Jews gather for Mimouna hops and in Israel, Moroccan Jews welcome their Ashkenazi neighbors. “The welcoming — that’s the big thing,” explained Elmaleh.

Growing up in Morocco, his family would leave their door open for the night, welcoming friends and neighbors to a party where men would don elegant fez hats, while women wore gold jewelry and shone in bright caftans adorned with gold stitching. Guests would sing and dance until dawn to Moroccan party music on the stereo while sipping mint tea, yogurt drinks and coffee.

Elmaleh’s mother would spend entire days during Passover preparing sweets for the family and their guests. The centerpiece of Mimouna in their home was always mufleta, a thin pancake made with dough and lightly fried, meant to be topped with butter, honey, jam or chocolate. As a kid, Elmaleh would help his mother make coconut macaroons, stuffed dates, marzipan, jams and preserves.

They would visit the busy souks, or marketplaces where vendors would hawk dates and walnuts, yelling at the tops of their voices, “Hey, this is for the Mimouna!”

When his family moved to Israel when he was 12, they brought their Mimouna along. Later, Elmaleh carried it with him to Japan where he worked as a chef for nearly two decades. And now, his family’s Mimouna has found its way to Los Angeles.

Elmaleh knows only a few other Jewish Moroccan families here, so the festivities are considerably smaller than what he remembers growing up.

But, he still cooks his mother’s syrupy figs and sugar-soaked pears saying, “even if only a few friends come, that’s good too.”

Mimouna Recipes

Sweet Couscous Cooked in Milk

Chocolate Dipped Candied Orange

Photos by Daina Beth Solomon

After Mordechai Vanunu Glasgow University install Edward Snowden as Rector

Edward Snowden installed as Glasgow University rector

Edward Snowden appeared via video link
Edward Snowden spoke at the ceremony in Bute Hall via a video link from Russia

Intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden has been installed as rector at Glasgow University.

The former US National Security Agency contractor fled from his homeland last May after revealing extensive details of internet and phone surveillance.

The 30-year-old is currently staying in Russia, where he has temporary asylum.

Speaking via a video link from Russia, Mr Snowden said he was honoured to take up the post but could not attend as he was not allowed in the UK.

Addressing about 200 university staff and students in Bute Hall, Mr Snowden said: "I'm disappointed and I must apologise for being unable to attend in person, but unfortunately I've discovered that I'm barred from entering the United Kingdom on the grounds that my presence is considered detrimental to the public good."

He added: "I do think it's fair to say that the election shows the students of this university have a different opinion."

Mr Snowden fled the US last year after releasing tens of thousands of classified documents, including details of phone and internet surveillance, to the media.

His appointment as rector has proved controversial, but Mr Snowden told staff and students it was his intention to serve in the role to the best of his ability.

"Regardless of what the government says, today, now, nearly a year forward, what we are learning is that the public feels something different, the students feel something different," he said.

'Great honour'

"It's my great honour to be given the opportunity by this university, by the students, to serve the public good not only in defence of our public rights, but as rector of this university."

Mr Snowden said that "people have a right to know the policies of their government".

"We may not need to know the names and identities of every target of surveillance on every active operation, but we should know the general outlines and what the government is doing in our name, and particularly what the government is doing against us."

Edward Snowden on video link at Bute Hall
Edward Snowden addressed about 200 staff and students

Mr Snowden ended his speech by saying: "The idea that we believe in something, that we have to stand for something is what I intend to follow and what I intend to guide my service as your rector."

The rector is the students' elected representative and is expected to serve a three-year term.

Among the rector's key duties are to attend the university court, work with the students' representative council, and to bring student concerns to the attention of university management.

Mr Snowden beat three other candidates to the post - cyclist Graeme Obree, author Alan Bissett and Scottish Episcopal clergyman Kelvin Holdsworth.

He received 3,124 votes in the first round and 3,347 in the second, comfortably beating Mr Holdsworth, who received 1,563 votes.

Mr Snowden succeeds the former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Previous rectors at Glasgow University include Winnie Mandela and Mordechai Vanunu.

Long shadow over Palestine killing

New book tackles intriguing question of whether the leader of the notorious Stern Gang was really shot 'while trying to escape', Ian Black writes

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Photo of Avraham Stern, leder of the extremist zionist organisation Lehi
Avraham Stern. Photograph: PD

In the ever-controversial history of Palestine, a special place is reserved for Avraham Stern. The leader of the eponymous "gang" – its Hebrew name meant "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel" – was shot and killed in February 1942 after masterminding a wave of terrorist attacks on British targets with the goal of securing Jewish independence in the holy land. Now a new account of Stern's life, focusing on his violent death, raises fascinating questions – and serves as a vivid reminder of a fateful stage in the development of the world's most intractable conflict.

Patrick Bishop, author of several acclaimed military histories, has skillfully re-created a drama that pitted the charismatic, Polish-born Stern against the British detective Geoffrey Morton, who tracked down his quarry to what was supposed to be a safe house in Tel Aviv - thus the "reckoning" of the book's title.

Morton had risen through the ranks of the Palestine Police from humble origins. He was a loyal servant of an imperial power "holding the ring" - with considerable brutality especially in the second half of the 1930s - in a confrontation its own policies had done much to create. He insisted from the start that he shot Stern while the prisoner was trying to get away, arguing "justifiable homicide." Eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence contradicts this. Bishop has done some smart sleuthing, aided by the lucky discovery of Morton's private papers. These record a life-long determination to defend his reputation and see off his detractors, if necessary in court. (He declined to respond to my questions when I contacted him some years ago). The book strongly suggests, but does not quite prove, that he in fact killed Stern in cold blood.

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Stern was certainly an extreme figure: his underground nom de guerre was Yair - homage to the leader of the first century Jewish Zealots who killed themselves rather than surrender to the Romans. His violence put him at odds with the mainstream Zionist movement and its Haganah militia at a time of great peril both for the British empire and the Jews of Europe as the Nazi extermination machine cranked into action. Stern's men planted bombs, robbed banks and killed British officials as well as Jews and Arabs. They saw themselves as anti-colonial rebels.

This ignored the crucial fact that without the fateful promise of the Balfour declaration and the British mandate to implement it in the face of Arab opposition, there would have been no Jewish national home in Palestine. Still, anti-British feeling was fuelled by draconian restrictions on Jewish immigration and land sales that had been imposed on the eve of the second world war.

The Stern gang and the like-minded but larger Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, found it easy to recruit. The British saw Stern as a potential Quisling who was ready to do deals with the Italians and even the Germans. When Morton gunned him down Rommel was advancing on Egypt and threatening to break through into Palestine, where Britain's suppression of the Arab rebellion had created sympathy for its enemies.

Front cover of The Reckoning, a book telling the tale of Avraham Stern written by Patrick Bishop
 The Reckoning, by Patrick Bishop Photograph: William Collins Books

The Reckoning is a good story but it needs no embellishment. I would quibble with the book's subtitle: "how the killing of one man changed the fate of the promised land." Stern's death changed very little. The group carried on fighting the British ruthlessly and effectively: two Sternists assassinated Lord Moyne, Churchill's minister for the Middle East, in Cairo in 1944. In 1948 the group took part in the infamous Deir Yassin massacre, an important trigger for the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, the centrepiece of the "nakbah." It also assassinated the UN mediator, Count Bernadotte. Stern's martyrdom still inspired his followers many years later.

But as the Israelis would discover when fighting the Palestinians, determined terrorists/freedom fighters often grow another head when one is lopped off. The group was disbanded after the creation of Israel but another of its leaders, Yitzhak Shamir, followed the Irgun's Begin to become prime minister in the 1990s. Stern's analysis, at the the end of the day, was correct: if the Jews were to have their independent state in Palestine, the Arabs would have to be defeated - and the British would have to go.

Abbas issues conditions on extending talks as negotiations continue

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met yesterday to try to find a formula for extending peace talks beyond next week’s deadline. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas issued conditions for such an extension, which Israeli officials said cast doubt over his commitment towards peace.

Speaking to a group of Israeli journalists in Ramallah, Abbas said that the PA would only agree to extend peace talks with Israel, which were resumed in July for a nine-month period terminating next week, if Israel complies with three conditions; The release of a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners with none subsequently deported; a freeze on all settlement construction and that the next three months be devoted to negotiating the borders of a future Palestinian state. Israeli officials argue that borders cannot be finalised in isolation from other final status issues such as security arrangements and the status of Jerusalem.

Haaretz says that an unnamed Israeli official commented on Abbas’ demands, saying that the conditions “mean that he [Abbas] is not interested in peace,” as “he knows Israel cannot accept” such terms. An official in the Prime Minister’s Office was quoted by the Jerusalem Post saying that Abbas “wants to receive without giving” and questioned how Abbas could talk about peace when his Fatah faction is currently holding unity talks with Hamas, “which is known in the world as a terrorist organisation.”

Later in the day, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for five hours in Jerusalem in a session facilitated by US special envoy Martin Indyk, although there was reportedly no breakthrough on extending talks. Israel was represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and special envoy Isaac Molcho, who met with PA senior negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestinian General Intelligence head Majd Faraj. Erekat was one of several Palestinian officials who yesterday denied that the PA might be dissolved, following sharp criticism of the suggested measure by US officials. He told AFP, “No Palestinian is speaking of an initiative to dismantle the Palestinian Authority.”

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Attorney General: Rise of fundamentalism is 'damaging' Christianity

Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Justice Secretary.
Dominic Grieve has warned that fundamentalism is turning people away from religion

The rise of religious fundamentalists with a 'deep intolerance' to other people's views has made Christians reluctant to express their beliefs, Dominic Grieve warns

Christians are increasingly reluctant to express their religious views because they are being “turned off” by the “disturbing” and “very damaging” rise of religious fundamentalism, the Attorney General has said.

Dominic Grieve said that atheists who claim that Britain is no longer a Christian nation are “deluding themselves” and must accept that faith has shaped this country’s laws and ethics.

He said that 1,500 years of Christian values are “not going to disappear overnight” and said that many people remain believers even if they choose not to go to Church.

However, he warned people are being discouraged from openly declaring their beliefs because of the “deep intolerance” of religious extremists of all faiths, including Islam and Christianity.

He told The Telegraph: “I do think that there has been a rise of an assertiveness of religious groups across the spectrum. That is why those with softer religious views find it disturbing and say they don’t want anything to do with it.”

His made the comments after David Cameron faced criticism for openly talking about his beliefs and declaring Britain to be a “Christian country”.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, more than 50 celebrities, scientists and academics accused the Prime Minister of sowing “alienation and division” and fuelling “sectarian divides”.

Mr Grieve was one of two senior cabinet ministers who on Tuesday defended Mr Cameron’s comments and criticised the letter's signatories.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, yesterday joined Mr Grieve in his criticism and said those denying Britain is a Christian country are “absurd” and “ignoring both historical and constitutional reality".

He said: “The idea that his comments have alienated those of other faiths is questionable given the range of religious leaders from other denominations who have welcomed them.

“It is arguably our Christian heritage, with its innate tolerance and inclusivity, that has ensured the freedom of all voices – religious or non-religious – to be heard and to be valued.”

Mr Grieve said that “atheism hasn’t made much progress” in Britain and that “our state, its ethics and our society are underpinned by Christian values”.

He said that the “basic premise” of the people who signed the letter, who included the authors Philip Pullman and Sir Terry Pratchett and the TV presenter Nick Ross, is “wrong”.

Mr Grieve said: “As I go around and look at the way we make laws, and indeed many of the underlying ethics of society are Christian based and the result of 1500 years of Christian input into our national life. It is not going to disappear overnight. They [the atheists] are deluding themselves.”

The 2011 census showed that 59 per cent of people in England and Wales – or 33.2 million people – identified themselves with Christianity.

But that proportion plunged from 72 per cent a decade earlier and those reporting “no religion” almost doubled from just under 15 per cent to more than 25 per cent.

Mr Grieve said: “I do think that the rise of religious fundamentalism is a major deterrent to people. It is a big turn off away from religion generally, and it's very damaging in that context.

“It encourages people to say I'm not interested, [it encourages] an unwillingness to express commitment.

“The evidence in this country is overwhelming that most people in this country by a very substantial margin have religious belief in the supernatural or a deity.

“To that extent atheism doesn't appear to have made much progress in this country at all, which is probably why the people that wrote this letter are so exercised about it.”

Last night the Church of England hit back accusing the secular and humanist campaigners of a “shameful” and even “dishonest” attempt to “eradicate” recognition of faith in shaping British culture.

The Very Rev Dr John Hall, the Dean of Westminster, whose position places him at the juncture of church and state, said: “What is clear to me is that Christian values have formed our nation and are fundamental to who we are and how we are.

“There is a sense in which those things have disappeared into what we regard as our own values in a broader sense but they owe themselves to our Christian heritage and beliefs.

“To reconnect values to the beliefs that gave rise to them, I think is extremely important, and that is not in any sense offensive to people of other faiths and traditions and is about the particular character of our nation.”