Saturday, May 06, 2006

House of Straw goes up in smoke


British Prime Minister Tony Blair chose a new foreign secretary Friday and fired his home secretary in a wide-ranging Cabinet reshuffle after his party suffered a heavy defeat in local authority elections.

...Blair removed Jack Straw as foreign secretary, replacing him with Margaret Beckett, who had headed the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

There had long been rumors of tension between Straw and Blair - some reports said the outgoing foreign secretary had privately expressed doubts about the Iraq war, and he publicly took a different stance on Iran than Blair did.

Straw described military action against Tehran as "inconceivable" and alleged US contingency plans for a tactical nuclear strike as "nuts," something neither the prime minister nor US leaders would say.

Beckett's appointment as foreign secretary, the government's most internationally visible post after prime minister, came as a surprise. She is an experienced politician and loyal to Blair but has little experience in foreign affairs beyond her participation in international climate change talks....

Bittersweet milestone

From JPost Editorial May. 4, 2006 22:36 :

Two population milestones were attained this Independence Day: Our total population topped seven million, and Israel's Jewish population [5.4 million] ... surpassed that of the United States to become the largest Jewish community in the world.

These achievements represent success beyond, perhaps, the wildest dreams of the founders of the Zionist project a century ago. Yet they also reflect trends that, taken together, do not bode well for the Jewish people as a whole.

...The birth rate of American Jews is lower than Americans generally and lower than replacement level. So American Jewry would be shrinking even without taking into account that intermarriage rates are estimated to be well over 60% among non-Orthodox Jews, and that most children with only one Jewish parent are not being raised as Jews and are themselves even more likely to marry non-Jews.

Israel, by contrast, with negligible intermarriage rates and Jewish birth rates above replacement level and among the highest in developed nations, is "the only country in the world where the Jewish population is naturally increasing," notes DellaPergola.

As the Diaspora shrinks and Israel grows, DellaPergola projects that by 25 to 30 years from now, an absolute majority of world Jewry will live in Israel.

Such trends seem to have led some, like author A.B. Yehoshua, to a sort of nativist neo-triumphalism. Speaking at the 100th anniversary celebrations of the American Jewish Committee, Yehoshua stunned the audience by implying that Jewish life can never be lived in its totality outside of Israel....Yehoshua's glorification of a secular, land-based, cultural Israeliness - largely divorced from Jewish observance - is ironic given that the demographic woes of Diaspora Jewry seem tightly linked to a similar faith in non-religious engines of continuity.

The last two generations of American Jewry seem somewhat dumbfounded by their difficulty in translating their passion for causes such as Soviet Jewry, Israel, communal and social activism into a commitment among their children to maintain Judaism as a critical influence on life choices, such as whom to marry and how to raise their children.

...however, a debate in which Israel and the Diaspora point fingers or strut their respective advantages misses the point and illustrates the new failure of vision that is upon us. Without dismissing for a moment the physical threats to the Jewish people, as proudly proclaimed by such enemies as Iran and Hamas, a greater failure of will exists with respect to the opposite threat: that of losing our identity to the embrace of the modern world.

A growing Israel is not sufficient to compensate for a shrinking Diaspora. Israel and the Diaspora need each other, differently than in the past, but more than ever. Israel may not rest or celebrate unless the Jewish people as a whole has reversed its demographic decline, and is contributing to our survival as a people, a culture, and a positive influence on the world.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Lieberman Slams Collaborators

From Jerusalem Post May. 4, 2006 By JPOST.COM STAFF:

Israel Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman called for the execution of any Arab MKs who meet with representatives of the Palestinian Authority's Hamas-led government during a speech delivered to the Knesset plenum on Thursday.

'World War II ended with the Nurenberg trials,' Lieberman said. 'The heads of the Nazi regime, along with their collaborators, were executed. I hope this will be the fate of the collaborators in [the Knesset].'

...Lieberman also claimed that Israel Beiteinu had demanded in coalition negotiations 'that it be written in the government's guidelines that all the inciters and terror collaborators sitting in the Knesset will be punished. Justice should be served to those who continue meeting with Hamas and Hizbullah.'

Over the past month, various Arab MKs have met with Hamas parliamentarians. Among other things, they spoke of the government's decision to rescind Hamas parliamentarians' residency rights in Israeli territory, including Jerusalem, following the April 17 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv's old central bus station.

The first to meet with Hamas parliamentarians in early April were UAL-Ta'al MKs, including the faction's representative on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Taleb A-Sanaa. Another meeting took place in east Jerusalem between Balad MKs Jamal Zahalka and Wasal Taha with Palestinian Authority minister Mahmoud Abu-Teir. The third meeting took place in late April in Qatar between Balad Chairman Azmi Bishara and Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud A-Zahar.

In response to the Arab MKs' complaints, Israel Beiteinu MK Estherina Tartman defended Lieberman's comments, saying that "Lieberman didn't speak of Arabs or Muslims, but all collaborators. There is nothing strange about this statement. When you have enemies who seek to destroy the state, you have to deal with them, whatever their ethnicity or religion."...

Arutz Sheva, 4/5/06 also reported Lieberman as saying:

... “We requested that in the government guidelines it would say explicitly that all the inciters and collaborators with terrorism that sit in this house should bear the brunt of the penalty for those actions,” Lieberman said from the Knesset plenum. “All those who continue to meet freely with Hamas and Hizbullah – who go on monthly visits to Lebanon. Those who declared Israel’s Independence Day to be ‘Nakba’ [Arabic for ‘catastrophe’ -ed.] Day and raised black flags…

Thursday, May 04, 2006

UN: West introduces Iran resolution

From Ynetnews, 4/5/06, AP and Reuters:

Heil Ahmedinejabberjabber!

Tougher approach in the face of nuke threat: Western countries introduce Security Council resolution calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment; resolution could pave way for sanctions against Teheran

...The United States, Britain and France introduced a U.N. Security Council resolution on Wednesday demanding Iran suspend uranium enrichment efforts that the West suspects are part of a secret nuclear weapons program. The resolution could trigger sanctions against Iran unless it abandons uranium enrichment and was introduced despite objections from Russia and China.

The West hopes the Security Council will adopt the resolution before foreign ministers convene in New York next Monday, the ambassadors of France and the United States said before a Security Council meeting to discuss the issue....The resolution would be under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which makes it legally binding and gives Iran another chance to comply with the council's demand

Also from Ynet news, 4/5/06, by Yitzhak Benhorin:

Ex-Mossad chief, Ephraim Halevy speaks in Washington, says world should believe Ahmadinejad threats to annihilate Israel

WASHINGTON – Former Mossad Director Ephraim Halevy said Wednesday in Washington the world should believe Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he talks about his desire to annihilate the State of Israel.

... Halevy said that Iran's aspirations for nuclear weapons constitute the most significant threat on global stability. This threat is bringing Israel and the United States, which are already strategic partners, even closer, he said.

... However, Halevy said at this time there are still no clear-cut answers to several questions, namely whether Iran should be attacked military, whether Israel should be a party to a military strike, and whether it is even possible to eliminate Iran's nuclear facilities....

Russia backs sanctions call

From The Australian network Source: AFP, May 04, 2006:

RUSSIA has thrown itself behind the need for a new Security Council resolution on Iran's nuclear program overnight, and said it hoped the measure could be adopted before Monday's meeting of major power foreign ministers in New York.

Moscow's incoming UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Russia had problems with some elements of a draft resolution put forward by France, Britain and the United States but had backed the decision to go ahead with council consideration...

Merkel backs US on Iran

From The Australian network, May 04, 2006, correspondents in Washington. Source: AFP:

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel has said overnight that the United States and Germany were in 'total agreement' on the need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, after her meeting at the White House with US President George W. Bush.

US President George W. Bush will travel to Germany in July for a summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the two leaders said after their meeting. The meeting, set for July 14, is due to take place immediately before the US president participates in the G-8 summit in St Petersburg, Russia. Mr Bush was to travel during his visit to Merkel's electoral district in the former East Germany, where she said he would have the opportunity to see how 'I lived on the other side of the (Berlin) wall'."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Israel celebrates 58 years today

From Ynetnews 3/5/06:

Independence Day celebrations launched with torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl, centered on theme of Negev and Galilee development; Peres calls on Muslims to curb hostility against Jewish State.

Israel celebrates independence: With the conclusion of Memorial Day at sundown Tuesday, at 8:00 p.m. the nation launched its 58th Independence Day celebrations with a torch-lighting ceremony at the Mount Herzl plaza in Jerusalem.

Speaking at the ceremony, Shimon Peres said: 'I call on those near and far, on the Palestinians and the rulers of Arab countries that have not yet signed peace treaties with us, lay down your weapons.'

Happy Birthday Israel! Official ceremony in Jerusalem (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

'I call on all Muslim nations to let go the hostility,' he said. 'There are still existential dangers - there are those who want to exterminate us.'

'In its 58th year, despite crises and difficulties, the country is still a wonder in the eyes of nations when it comes to its abilities, achievements, and unique qualities,' Peres said. 'We, the citizens of Israel, should be looking back with immense satisfaction at what we have done. (We should) expect the future with hope, we shouldn't stop dreaming and we shouldn't stop creating.'

'We have be proud ....' he said" .....

No UN agreement on Iran

From The Australian network correspondents in Paris May 03, 2006. Source: AFP:

THE five major UN powers and Germany wrapped up talks in Paris today without a final agreement on how best to tackle Iran over its nuclear programme, but more talks were scheduled, US official Nicholas Burns said.

Mr Burns, number three in the US State Department, said: 'We certainly do not yet have an agreement. This is going to require more talks in New York and our ministers are going to have to meet, no question about it.'
He hinted at frustration at permanent Security Council members Russia and China, which were resisting a tough UN resolution on Iran. 'It's time for countries to take responsibilities, especially those countries that have close relationships with Iran,' he said."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The imperative to remember

This year Tuesday 2 May is Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day).
From Ynet News, 1/5/06, by Aviad Kleinberg:

We must try to ensure no more sacrifices are needed

... Each Memorial Day, Israel remembers the many thousands who gave their lives in obedience to its laws, the thousands who found their ways to our military cemeteries to defend this country.

... it is impossible to be moved by the faith of so, so many, who believed that Israeli "togetherness" was something not only to live for, but also to die for. At their willingness to lay down their lives for others. For us....

National sacrifice
...The fallen have come from every sector of society – rich and poor, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Jewish and non-Jewish, country folk and city dwellers, university educated and illiterate people, new immigrants and veteran Israelis .... The dead, whose absence casts a heavy pall over our lives.

Remembering the dead is more than missing our loved ones who are no longer with us. It is a moral imperative, one that demands we do all we can to ensure their sacrifice was not in vein. So there will be no need for further sacrifices.

Olmert to Katzav: I Have a Government

From Arutz Sheva, 15:14 May 01, '06 / 3 Iyar 5766, by Hillel Fendel:

The consent of Shas to join Olmert's coalition provided the margin of difference, and Olmert was able to inform President Katzav today that he has succeeded in forming a government.

Shas demanded and received four ministerial positions, 1.8 billion shekels for child allowance payments, understandings regarding civil marriages - and permission not to vote for the unilateral withdrawal plan when and if it is presented.

The government, as it stands now, numbers 67 MKs: Kadima-Pensioners (36), Labor (19), and Shas (12).

United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beiteinu are still candidates to join the government coalition.

The road now appears to be clear for Ehud Olmert, as head of the new government, to attempt to carry out his unilateral withdrawal plan. Shas says it will vote against it, or possibly even quit the government, when and if the plan is presented to the Knesset. However, Olmert might not need their votes at the time, as he might choose to rely on the votes of non-government parties such as Meretz and the Arabs.

...United Torah Judaism and the National Union/National Religious Party have only criticism for Shas. "Their only social welfare achievement was to get jobs [ministerial positions - ed.] for four of their party leaders," according to a statement by NU/NRP. UTJ said that Shas' claimed coalition achievements are less than they seem. UTJ officials said that some of the money Shas received for child allowances would have been given in any event, while other portions of it are to be used for "children at risk" and not for across-the-board child allowances. The Ashkenazi hareidi-religious party also had criticism of Shas' alleged religious services gains.

In the meanwhile, Ehud Olmert announced his appointments for Kadima Party ministers today. They are:
1. Ehud Olmert - Prime Minister
2. Shimon Peres (formerly of Labor) - Minister for the Development of the Galilee and Negev, Assistant Prime Minister
3. Tzippy Livny - Foreign Minister
4. Sha'ul Mofaz - Transportation Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, member of the security mini-cabinet, and responsible for Strategic Dialogue
5. Chaim Ramon (formerly of Labor) - Justice Minister
6. Avraham Hirschson - Finance Minister
7. Ze'ev Boim - Absorption Minister
8. Avi Dichter - Minister of Public Security
9. Meir Sheetrit - Housing Minister, Israel Lands Authority, secret services, and Chairman of the Non-Jewish Sector Affairs Committee
10. Roni Bar'on - Interior Minister
11. Gideon Ezra - Minister of the Environment
12. Yaakov Edry - Liaison Minister Between Government and Knesset

Dalia Itzik (formerly of Labor) will be the Knesset Speaker.

The Labor Party's Central Committee narrowly approved on Sunday party leader Amir Peretz's proposal for the party's six ministers. The close vote showed that Peretz has a strong internal opposition, but for the meanwhile, the ministers will be as follows:
Amir Peretz - Defense Minister
Eitan Cabel - minister without portfolio, responsible for the Israel Broadcasting Authority
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer - Infrastructures Minister
Yitzchak Herzog - Tourism Minister
Yuli Tamir - Education Minister Shalom Simchon - Agriculture Minister
Ophir Pines - Minister of Culture and Sport.

Other ministers include:
Eli Yishai (Shas) - Minister of Trade and Deputy Prime Minister
Ariel Atias (Shas) - Minister of Communications
Yitzchak Cohen (Shas) - minister without portfolio
Meshulam Nahari (Shas) - minister without portfolio
Yaakov Ben Yizri (Pensioners) - Health
Rafi Eitan (Pensioners) - Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, responsible for Pensioners' Affairs

Ynet News 1/5/06, by Ilan Marciano reports:

Agreement with Kadima doesn’t obligate Shas to support the convergence plan; more benefits for Shas: Rabbinical court authority to be boosted, increased budget for disadvantaged haredi youth, ‘independent education’ monitor in Education Ministry

... This agreement raises a number of question marks, especially regarding how Olmert plans to push his “Convergence Plan” through the government.

The deal between the parties doesn’t obligate Shas to support the plan, and leaves it an open escape route: according to the deal, Olmert may change the coalition make-up at any time during the latter part of the session.

“Both sides and partners in the coalition will support and vote in favor of political policy as it was presented during Olmert’s inauguration speech,” the agreement says. That speech, however, neglects to mention the Convergence plan. Reinforcing the deal's ambiguity, in another clause Shas Chairman Eli Yishai clarifies: “Regarding the political section of the basic principles, I wish to clarify that the faction supports political policy as presented in your speech alone.”

Disadvantaged sectors
During elections, Shas made intense efforts to recruit votes from the disadvantaged and poor sectors.... However, when Shas representatives sat down at the negotiating table with Kadima, it became apparent that the promises the party made and the reality it could achieve did not quite match up. Olmert unequivocally refused to increase allowance payments to the disadvantaged. The sides solved the disagreement in the clause, “Allotment of resources for programs for poor children and adolescents,” although the bulk of the monies end up going to disadvantaged youths in the Haredi sector.

The clause on religious matters in the Kadima-Shas coalition agreement further testifies to the parity between promises made on the eve of elections and the reality. That clause rules that no legislation will be passed regarding marriage, for example, without Shas’ agreement.

Rabbinical courts
Additionally, the government will propose a law - bypassing the High Court of Justice - which grants rabbinical courts the authority to judge in financial matters between married couples. Rabbinical courts claimed for years that they should have the authority to rule in arbitration cases between partners, although the High Court of Justice decided three weeks ago that they did not have that authority.

Finally, designated Education Minister Yuli Tamir should prepare to receive another minister in her office, who will be responsible for independent education, as insisted upon by Shas.

“The law will allow all Orthodox learning institutions to continue the unique curriculum they have practiced up until now. The law will ensure the continued existence of the Orthodox schools’ independent monitoring system,” the agreement says.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Israel Mourns its Soldiers

From JPost May. 1, 2006 By YAAKOV KATZ:

When the nation bows its head Monday evening to mark the start of Remembrance Day, it will be mourning the 22,123 servicemen and women who have fallen defending the Land of Israel since 1860 - the year Jews settled outside Jerusalem's Old City walls.

In the past year, 138 soldiers have been killed in the service of the state. Remembrance Day officially begins at 8 p.m. Monday when a one-minute siren will sound across the country. President Moshe Katsav will open the state ceremony at the Western Wall attended by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and representatives of bereaved parents.

On Tuesday, the main memorial will take place at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl military cemetery. A two-minute siren will sound at 11 a.m. and a ceremony for Mahal overseas volunteers who fought and died during the War of Independence will take place at the Mahal memorial near the Sha'ar Hagai Junction.

...On Monday afternoon, the Victims of Arab Terror organization will hold a ceremony at Zion Square in Jerusalem during which all of the names of Israelis killed in terrorist attacks since 1993 will be read out loud.

Olmert likens Iran leader to Hitler

From The Australian, May 01, 2006 Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem:

ISRAEL'S prime minister-designate Ehud Olmert has denounced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a "psychopath" and said the West would never permit Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb.

"Ahmadinejad talks today like Hitler spoke before seizing power," said Mr Olmert in an interview with the German newspaper Bild. "We are dealing with a psychopath of the worst kind, with an anti-Semite. God forbid this man from ever getting his hands on nuclear weapons." The Israeli leader indicated, however, that the matter was not being left in God's hands alone.

Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, travelled to Washington last week to meet the CIA and pass on Israel's latest findings on Iran's nuclear progress. According to Israeli sources, Jerusalem believes that Iran is closer to nuclear capability than is generally realised.

...In Mr Olmert's interview with Bild, he indicated that Israel did not intend to take the lead in the confrontation with Iran, leaving that to the international community. "The West, above all under the leadership of the United States, will ensure that Iran under no circumstances comes to possess unconventional weapons," he said. If, however, the West fails to take action, Israel has always left open the possibility that it would itself launch an attack against Iranian nuclear development facilities.

"When I read the recent (intelligence) reports regarding Iran," said Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset's foreign affairs and defence committee, "I saw a monster in the making." The committee oversees Mossad.

London's Sunday Times quoted an Israeli source yesterday as saying that Mossad had evidence of hidden uranium-enrichment sites in Iran "which can shortcut their timetable in the race for their first bomb". The source said Mr Dagan presented US officials with Mossad's evidence and told them: "This is what we know and this is what we'll do if you continue to do nothing."

...The US is preparing to seek a UN resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter which would make the UN's demands on Iran mandatory. The chapter leaves open the possibility of military action as a last resort.

Last week, Mr Ahmadinejad said he did "not give a damn" about UN resolutions.
The Iranian leader has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and expressed doubts that the Holocaust ever occurred.... the Iranian President earlier this month called Israel "a rotten, dried tree" that would be swept away by "one storm".