Senators Schumer, Boxer say will vote for Hagel

Share

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) said Tuesday that he will vote to confirm Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, after meeting with the former Nebraska Republican and receiving assurances on his positions on Iran and Israel. The endorsement from Schumer, the third ranking Democrat in the Senate who commands wide respect in the pro-Israel community, is likely to significantly ease Hagel’s path to Senate confirmation.

“In a meeting Monday, Senator Hagel spent approximately 90 minutes addressing my concerns one by one,” Schumer said in a statement Tuesday. “It was a very constructive session. Senator Hagel could not have been more forthcoming and sincere.”

“Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation,” Schumer continued, adding that he encourages his fellow Senate colleagues who shared such concerns to also support him.

Schumer’s public endorsement of Hagel came a day after Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) also announced that she would confirm Hagel, after receiving detailed assurances from him on Israel, Iran, fair treatment of gay troops, and efforts to combat sexual assault in the military. Continue reading

Shin Bet chiefs offer bleak outlook in new documentary


Go read Shlomi Eldar’s riveting account on the front page of a recent Tel Aviv screening of “The Gatekeepers,” an Israeli documentary featuring Israel’s former Shin Bet chiefs offering bleak views of Israel's lack of strategic direction:

The film The Gatekeepers was over. The credits started running down the screen in Tel Aviv’s Cinemateque … and a tense silence filled the theater. … When [the lights] did go on in the end, the real faces of those very people after whom this film was named — the six former heads of the Shin Bet [Israel National Security Agency] — could be seen seated in the hall. … Now that the film was over, even they seemed stunned. […]

In this film Dichter and his five colleagues in the Shin Bet slaughtered almost all the sacred cows of Israel’s security apparatus one after the other. The very people who fought terrorism day after day were unequivocal in their condemnation of the policies that they themselves carried out throughout their long service to the country. […]

Ami Ayalon described growing up on a kibbutz near the Sea of Galilee. “I had a wonderful childhood,” he said. “I knew that there's a house in Jerusalem, and on the second floor there’s a long corridor. At the end of the corridor there's a door, and behind the door is a wise man, who makes decisions. ….”

Then the camera returned to Ayalon’s worried face as he carried on with his story. …“Years later, after the Yom Kippur War [1973], I went to Jerusalem, and I went to that same building. I was on the second floor, and found no door at the end of the corridor, and behind the missing door, no one was thinking for me.” […] Continue reading

Wieseltier: Losing hope on Israeli-Palestinian peace

Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of the New Republic who has long pro-Israel ties, captured the sense of despair among some in Washington at the direction of Israeli politics in the wake of Israel’s decision to build in the sensitive E1 corridor and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s uncomfortable presentation to the Saban Forum earlier this month:

I no longer believe that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will occur in my lifetime. I have not changed my views; I have merely lost my hopes. […]

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu petulantly responds to the General Assembly vote with an outrageous proposal for Jewish housing in the area east of Jerusalem known as “E1,” which would scuttle any cartographically meaningful state for the Palestinians. He allies his party with the party of Avigdor Lieberman, the fascist face of Israel, who has proposed loyalty oaths for Israeli Arabs, and then his party, I mean the Likud, demotes its moderates and promotes the odious likes of Moshe Feiglin, who refers to Arabs as Amalek and advocates their “voluntary transfer” from Israel. As these anti-democratic maniacs flourish in Netanyahu’s base, one increasingly hears in those quarters the ugly old refrain that Jordan is the Palestinian state. And there is no significant opposition to Likud […] People assure me that all this can change if there is the political will to change it; but I do not detect the political will. So what if the two-state solution is the only solution, when nobody is desperate to solve the problem?…

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who announced upon his return to Israel from the United States this past week that he will not run in elections next month, warned that Israel's E1 building policies are further isolating Israel from the rest of the world, including its friends in the United States.

Continue reading

Obama golfs with Bill Clinton, spurring interest from Mideast watchers


Middle East watchers were seized with the news that President Barack Obama was playing golf on Sunday with former President Bill Clinton.

“Pleeeeze offer him role of Mideast Envoy? Pleeeeeze?,” Israeli lawyer and anti-settlements expert Daniel Seidemann wrote on Twitter, in response to a post noting Bill Clinton was among Obama’s golfing companions Sunday.

President Obama “is golfing with former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Virginian gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, according to the White House press office,” White House pool reporter Eric Wasson of The Hill wrote in a pool report Sunday sent to other reporters covering the administration.

“I’m sure 42 will have advice to share on the #MidEast Peace Process,” William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy at the Jewish Federation of North America, commented on the golf outing of Presidents 42 and 44, reported to have grown closer during Obama’s reelection campaign.

Middle East peace activists have long fantasized about Obama enlisting the popular former President to try to advance the stalled Middle East peace process. (“Bill Clinton is the only guy I can think of who is trusted and liked by all sides,” veteran US foreign policy watcher Steve Clemons told this reporter two years ago. “Employ Bill Clinton as peace envoy,” Bernard Avishai, writing at the Daily Beast, urged anew this month.)

But until recently, with the imminent departure of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and the key role Bill Clinton played helping Obama’s reelection campaign, the prospects of such an appointment seemed entirely unlikely. Even now, as yet, there is little sign the Obama administration seems inclined to wade back into a big new Israeli-Palestinian peace push, certainly not before Israeli elections next month. The biggest obstacle: the Israelis and the Palestinians don’t seem to want it.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, angry over the United Nations vote to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status last week, lashed out at the Palestinian entity Sunday, as Israel announced new settlement building plans and that it was withholding $100 million in tax payments to the PA. “The Palestinians want to use the peace process in order to bring about the end of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu charged Sunday.

Given the obstacles the Israeli and Palestinian parties have thrown up to returning to the peace table, “the ultimate question is what does America do,” former Congressman Robert Wexler (D-Florida), a close ally of the Obama White House on Middle East and Jewish affairs, told the Back Channel in an interview last week. Continue reading

Syria goes dark

Syria on Thursday was abruptly cut off from the Internet, two leading US Internet analysis firms said. Many mobile phone communications in Syria appeared to be cut off too, the BBC and several news organizations reported.

“Starting at 10:26 UTC (12:26pm in Damascus), Syria’s international Internet connectivity shut down,” an analyst with Internet monitoring firm Renesys wrote on the company’s blog  Thursday.  “In the global routing table, all 84 of Syria’s IP address blocks have become unreachable, effectively removing the country from the Internet.”

“We are investigating the dynamics of the outage and will post updates as they become available,” the post continued.

Internet analysis firm Akamai confirmed the analysis, as seen in the graphic above.

The Syrian regime appeared to have cut off the telecom services, in what may be an attempt to make coordination harder for Syrian opposition forces, an activist outside of the country told Al Monitor. Continue reading

Erdogan condemns hit Turkish TV drama


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given the thumbs down to a hit Turkish television series, the “Magnificent Century,” which has riled Turkish conservatives with its steamy depiction of the decadent Ottoman reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Wall Street Journal’s Emre Peker reports:

The show chronicles the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, whose 46-year rule which ended 1566, is seen as the pinnacle of the Ottoman Empire. Attracting a third of the prime-time audience every night it’s on air, and broadcasting to 150 million people in 22 countries from the Czech Republic to Japan, the series is a sure hit for Tims Productions–the Istanbul-based firm behind some of the most successful series and movies in the past decade.

But the decadent representation of Suleiman’s life, hinting that the sultan known as ‘the Lawgiver’ was given to alcohol and promiscuity, also drew widespread criticism from conservatives. […]

In a rhetorical flourish that rallied his supporters but baffled many commentators, the prime minister then meshed his defense of government policy with a salvo against the “Magnificent Century,” arguing for active international engagement by deriding the limited scope of the opposition’s stance and the show’s limited focus the luxuries of the palace.

“That’s not the Sultan Suleiman we know, that’s not the Lawgiver we know, 30 years of his life was spent on horseback, not in a palace like you see in TV shows,” Mr. Erdogan told a cheering crowd of thousands at an airport opening ceremony in the western province of Kutahya on Sunday. Continue reading

Gaza war intensifies — on Twitter


Given how polarized the Israel-Palestinian issue already is in the region and around the world, the Gaza conflict of 2012 is proving increasingly hard to navigate in one key virtual battleground: Twitter.

The social media space has already become a key front in the battle for information and narrative sympathies in the two day old Operation Pillar of Defense, avidly used by journalists on the ground and foreign capitals, the warring parties, and hundreds of thousands of their followers and observers around the world, often using hashtags that signify the posters’ point of view (#Gazaunderattack #LifeUnderRockets #PillarofDefense). But beyond the accurate information offered from the ground in real time–reports of air strikes in Gaza City and air raid sirens in Tel Aviv, videos posted of the Iron Dome system firing to try to intercept Hamas rocket fire, and heartbreaking photos of children killed–the Twitter forum has also produced a dizzying stream of misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, confusion, reports of rockets hitting Tel Aviv that didn’t, official accounts that seemed fake and fake accounts that seemed real.

In the deluge, even experienced journalists and ordinary observers were having trouble separating fact from fiction, real information from propaganda. Continue reading

Ambassador Rita: Iranian-Israeli superstar dazzles diplomatic crowd


Iranian-born Israeli singing superstar Rita Jahanforuz, on a US tour to promote her Persian language hit album, ‘My Joys,’ charmed guests at a performance at the Washington residence of Israeli Ambassador Michael and Sally Oren Monday night.

Several in the largely Iranian American audience had flown in from Los Angeles to see the Israeli Madonna, known universally just as Rita, sing the Persian hits of their youths. The crowd in the packed living room at times could hardly contain themselves from joining in, as Rita sang in Farsi and Hebrew, recalled her mother’s Persian lullabies, and cracked a couple political jokes. (“The last president I sang for went to prison,” she quipped in one such exchange, apparently referring to former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, who was also born in Iran.) Amb. Oren, who addressed Rita “as one ambassador to another,” joined the band for a final number, playing the Irish drums.

Talking about a message she had received from a fan in Iran, where Rita’s albums are reportedly an underground sensation played at weddings, Rita spoke of her hope that one day Iranians and Israelis can again be friends.

“‘Rita khoshgelee (beautiful), I so want to come see your concert, even if I would receive 3 years in jail and 20 lashes,'” she cited the message, adding, “So every concert, I keep a chair open, so that Israel and Iran can one day be open to each other.”

And then she and her band took the crowd into another joyful, Persian-Klezmir-gypsy-Polish wedding frenzy.

Continue reading

President Obama and Elie Wiesel writing book

Holocaust survivor, writer and philanthropist Elie Wiesel is writing a book with President Barack Obama, he tells Ofer Aderet in an interview published in Haaretz Friday:

Wiesel, who celebrated his 84th birthday on September 30, looks and sounds well and says he is up to his neck in work – despite the open-heart surgery he underwent a year ago. […] Much of his time is devoted to writing …

He did, however, agree to disclose an interesting project that will resume after the presidential elections in the United States. “[President Barack] Obama and I decided to write a book together, a book of two friends,” he says.

Wiesel became friends with Obama in 2009, a few months after the Democratic candidate was elected. Obama’s staff invited Wiesel to join the president on a visit to the site of Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Wiesel had first arrived at the camp at the end of World War II, with his father and other prisoners, following a death march from Auschwitz. His mother and his younger sister were murdered there, while Wiesel and his father, who did forced labor there, survived; his father died at Buchenwald. Only Wiesel and two of his sisters were still alive at the liberation.

When Obama concluded his remarks at Buchenwald, he whispered to Wiesel, “The last word has to be yours here.” Choking with tears, Wiesel made an impromptu speech in which he said to Obama, “Mr. President, we have such high hopes for you, because you, with your moral vision of history, will be able and compelled to change this world into a better place … You are our last hope.”

Since then, he adds, the two have become good friends and he is occasionally invited to dinner by the president: “We talk about philosophy, contemplation, thought, but never about politics. He is a thinking person, a person with depth and intellectual curiosity.”

 

(Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel after Wiesel introduced him to speak at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, April 23, 2012. Obama delivered remarks on future holocaust prevention at the museum.    REUTERS/Jason Reed.)

Friday links: Abbas not seeking right of return, US Syria plan faces resistance