Robert Ford Named US Ambassador to Syria

UPDATE: Now Lebanon reporting that “US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell informed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of Obama’s decision [to nominate Ford as ambassador to Syria] during his visit to Damascus earlier this month, according to the daily” newspaper An-Nahar, in a piece published today by the very well-informed Hisham Melham (who scored the first post-inaugural Obama interview).

Ford is a native of Maryland. He received his Master of Arts in 1983 from Johns Hopkins University.  Ford is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. He entered the service in 1985 and has been stationed in İzmir, Cairo, Algiers, and Yaoundé. Ford served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bahrain from 2001 until 2004, and Political Counselor to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 2004 until 2006. He is a recipient of several Department of State awards, including the 2005 James Clement Dunn Award for outstanding work at the mid-level in the Foreign Service as well as three Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards.

Robert Stephen Ford is a native of Maryland. He received his Master of Arts in 1983 from Johns Hopkins University. Ford is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. He entered the service in 1985 and has been stationed in İzmir, Cairo, Algiers, and Yaoundé. Ford served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bahrain from 2001 until 2004, and Political Counselor to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 2004 until 2006. United States Ambassador to Algeria from Aug 11 2006 until June 26, 2008. Then he became America’s deputy ambassador to Iraq.

He is a recipient of several Department of State awards, including the 2005 James Clement Dunn Award for outstanding work at the mid-level in the Foreign Service as well as three Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards.

U.S. to Name Ambassador to Syria
CBS News Learns Obama Administration Will Fill Long-Vacant Post in Move to Bolster Syrian-Israeli Peace Talks
By George Baghdadi, DAMASCUS, Jan. 30, 2010

(CBS) Five years after the United States pulled its envoy from Damascus in response to the assassination of Lebanon’s prime minister, Washington is prepared to fill the post of Ambassador to Syria, CBS News has learned.

The U.S. had not had an ambassador in Syria since the Bush administration called back its envoy following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell named the new ambassador in a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad last week, according to an official who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity.

The United States has passed the name of a candidate to fill a post vacant for five years, and is waiting for feedback from Damascus, a State Department official revealed on Saturday.

“Yes, the request of the Ambassador was passed to the Syrians; however, we don’t have any personal announcement to make and we will not get into diplomatic exchanges,” the official added, refusing to name the envoy, apparently until Washington hears back from the Syrian government.

But diplomats in the Syrian capital said Washington’s intended Ambassador was Robert Stephen Ford, who until now has served as the deputy ambassador to Iraq.

Ford, who speaks Arabic fluently, has also served as the U.S. envoy to Algeria from 2006 to 2008, and is considered to be an expert in Mideast affairs.

“A decision was made last year to return an Ambassador to Syria and this is a concrete example of the administration’s commitment to use our tools, including dialogue, to address our concerns,” the official said in a telephone conversation.

“The decision reflects recognition of the importance of Syria’s role in the region and we hope that it will play constructive efforts to promote peace and stability in the region,” said the U.S. department official.

Mitchell’s visit to Syria, the third since he was appointed as President Obama’s envoy to the region, was to discuss how to re-launch the long-stalled Syrian-Israeli peace talks, and review bilateral relations…..

Syria jails two for ‘fomenting unrest in Iraq’ (AFP)

NICOSIA — Damascus has jailed two Syrians convicted of seeking to foment unrest in Iraq for nine and seven years, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.

“The state security court on January 26 sentenced two Syrians, Abbas Yusif and Maher Yusif, to nine and seven years in prison, for attempting to cause trouble in Iraq,” SOHR said in a statement.

According to the newspaper Al-Iraqi, the condemned men were arrested “while trying to supply bombs to an armed group” in the war-torn country. The Iraqi paper did not give the group’s name, while the decision by the court in Damascus went unreported in the official Syrian media.

The Syrian advocacy group said the court also “interrogated Mustafa Ibrahim Qadhi, an Algerian, who had gone to fight in Iraq for Al-Qaeda and was then sent to Syria to liaise with groups there wishing to fight in Iraq,” adding that a new hearing has been scheduled for Sunday.

Damascus, which has been accused by Washington and Baghdad of facilitating the flow of Arab combatants into Iraq, has strengthened security along its porous borders in recent years and claims to have arrested hundreds of alleged insurgents.

Some Iraqi officials blamed people backed by Syria and Saudi Arabia for carrying out coordinated bombings in Baghdad on December 8 that killed 127 people.

Nearly 400 people were killed and more than 1,000 were wounded between August and December last year in coordinated vehicle bombings at government buildings, including the ministries of finance, foreign affairs and justice.

Experiencing the Real Syria
Boutique hotels in Damascus and Aleppo offer intimate service
By DON DUNCAN, Wall Street Journal

The pillar of Saint Simeon Stylites outside Aleppo

The pillar of Saint Simeon Stylites outside Aleppo

In the past few months, the long dried-up Quweiq River that runs through Aleppo has begun to flow anew, thanks to improved relations with neighboring country Turkey, whose dams control much of the water flowing into northern Syria. Changing diplomacy has also helped bring another kind of wave — tourists.

Visitor numbers through Syria’s main airport in the capital Damascus have doubled in the past five years to 4.5 million a year, according to the Damascus Chamber of Tourism, and signs of the bump are apparent everywhere. Damascus and Aleppo are the two cities with the most pulling power for tourists. At the core of their appeal are their respective old towns — medieval walled cities replete with religious sites, sprawling souks, miniscule porticos and maze-like alleys…..

Interior of the Baron Hotel

Interior of the Baron Hotel

Syria: A Year in Review 2009
Oxford Business Group
28 January 2010

As Syria prepares to take stock of the first decade under President Bashar Al Assad’s rule, observers of the Arab state will record a period of significant reform, the implications of which are steadily transforming both the country itself, and its standing in the wider region. With a new five-year plan under development however, 2010 will not be merely a year for reflection, but an important milestone in setting the tone of reform for the decade to come.

Of the various reforms undertaken over the past decade, perhaps the most significant have been those relating to the financial services sector. Prior to 2004, banking in Syria was a static state monopoly serviced by six public banks, with the largest being the Commercial Bank of Syria (CBoS). Following liberalisation however, 10 private commercial banks now operate in the country, while restrictions on convertibility have also been eased to allow Syrians to transfer up to $10,000 in foreign currency each month.

Private insurance companies and other financial services followed banks in 2005 and 2007, respectively. The liberalisation of capital that this process kick-started will transform Syria from “a socialist to a social market economy”. The capacity of private banks to finance capital projects is growing steadily, as demonstrated by Bank Audi Syria’s provision of a $380m bridging loan to Lafarge recently for the construction of a new cement works.

Numerous challenges do remain in the financial sector. The opening of the Damascus Securities Exchange in 2009 was a significant step in widening access to capital for the private sector, although listings have been limited. Likewise, in the continued absence of treasury bills, or certificates of deposit, private banks continue to have limited tools with which to price debt. A further decree issued in the second week of January 2010, requiring an increase in minimum capital from $30m to $200m, is also likely to prove controversial, though it was sweetened by a concession allowing private banks to increase their ownership from 49% to 60%, which may well result in more big hitters entering the Syrian banking sector in 2010.

As oil revenues continue to decline, the government will be hoping that investment – both in the form of capital from the nation’s new private banks, as well as foreign direct investment – will be able to ensure the 7% annual growth estimated to be required to provide enough jobs for Syria’s ever-expanding labour market. After early predictions from the government of 6% growth for 2009 (5.2% from the IMF), a downward revision was required midway through the year to account for the impact of continued drought in the agricultural sector and a severe recession in the textiles industry. The IMF revised growth expectations to 3% for 2009, although it expects 2010 to be more positive, with growth projected at 4.2%, while the government has announced growth of 4.5% for 2009.

One tenet of the government’s reform strategy has been improving business infrastructure – a crucial step, given that a major element in holding back more rapid growth is poor standards in accountancy among small and medium-sized private enterprises, which employ up to 70% of Syria’s workforce. Low standards prompted the government to delay indefinitely the introduction of value-added tax in 2009, thus hampering the transition of the state from oil revenues to tax-based revenues. Moreover, poor accountancy is affecting access to capital for these same companies from the nascent private banking sector. The expansion of Syria’s NGO sector (a feature of the 10th Five-Year Plan currently being concluded) means that there are now organisations such as the Syrian Enterprise and Business Centre, or indeed the First Microfinance Institution, which can provide advice and/or credit to private businesses, big and small. However, strengthening private enterprise will continue to remain an economic priority.

In all likelihood, the coming period will see further liberalisation of the economy, though not necessarily towards the US and EU. Instead, the beneficiary is likely to be Turkey, which recently concluded a visa exemption agreement with Syria, and has overseen the creation of a visa-free zone now including Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

A Jewish voice warns against France’s ‘burqa ban’
By Joshua M. Z. Stanton
Commentary by
Friday, January 29, 2010

Cosmetic Eye-colour Surgery Sparks Alarm in Syria
By an IWPR-trained reporter
Friday, 29 January 2010 18:58

A controversial surgical operation carried out in Damascus to change the colour of a Syrian woman’s eyes has raised public fears about the safety of cosmetic surgery in the country.

The surgeon who performed the operation, Mohamad Shoujah, said the procedure that replaced the unidentified patient’s brown irises with artificial green ones was revolutionary.

He told a packed news conference at a hotel in Damascus in December that the surgery could be used not only for cosmetic purposes but also for the restoration of irises damaged as a result of an accident, a birth defect or a tumour.

“The operation consists in removing the iris and doing an implant of a totally new iris. The new iris is made of synthetic fibres…..

Comments (69)


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51. Yossi said:

Dear Offended,

I don’t have that level of familiarity with her writings, but some of what I’ve read before was similarly false and manipulative, e.g., this piece which she engineered to make the reader believe that Israel assassinated Swedish foreign minister Lindh:

http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=3944&cp=all#comment-230690
http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=3944&cp=all#comment-230700

Another reason that I’m sensitive to what can be construed as anti-Semitism from the Baath regime is that the perception that it is anti-Semitic is a true obstacle to peace, so every time I see that it has roots in reality, it really upsets me. I’d like to believe that this is isolated to old timers such as Tlas and Shaaban, although Bashar himself told the pope something nasty about the Jews a few years ago.

I watched the clip about Obama you linked to. I thought he did fairly well. That’s really just the way it is. The Arabs should be looking for friends somewhere else.

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February 3rd, 2010, 6:25 pm

 

52. Alex said:

“Israel is indeed planting the seeds of war in the region, I would tell them stop playing the role of thugs in the Middle East,” Moallem told reporters Tuesday in Damascus.

“One day you threaten Gaza, next day you threaten Lebanon, later Iran and now Syria,” Moallem told a joint news conference with Moratinos.

“Don’t test, you Israelis, the determination of Syria. You know that war this time would move to your cities. Come to your senses and choose the road of peace. This path is clear,” Moallem warned.

“No doubt, if we assume that this war would erupt – and we should not exclude this possibility from an entity established on expansion – I would say it is going to be a comprehensive war, whether it starts in the south of Lebanon or from Syria,” Moallem said.

According to CBS News, Moratinos said during the news conference that he had left Israel with the impression that the country was in no mood for conflict.

“I came in from Israel after meetings with most senior officials there, and I would tell you that I heard no drums of war, rather I felt a desire for peace,” the Spanish foreign minister said.

Moallem: U.S. requests accreditation for new envoy

The United States has issued a formal request to accredit a new American ambassador to Damascus, Moallem told reporters on Wednesday.

Robert Ford, the envoy to be, will be the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since the Bush administration called back its envoy as a response to the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February of 2005.

“The United States has nominated an ambassador. This is an American sovereign issue and it is Syria’s right to study the nomination,” Moallem told reporters in Damascus.

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February 3rd, 2010, 6:31 pm

 

53. offended said:

Dear Yossi,

Thanks for the links to the earlier comments.

Dr. Sha’ban is secular and she comes from a secular background, I really can’t stress that enough. She’s highly intelligent and passionate about the Palestinian cause. She even wrote against the Minarets ban in Switzerland and the Niqab ban in France, despite, again, her secularism. Now, do writers not make mistakes or include unsubstantiated claims in their writings sometimes? they do. Does Syria need to improve her PR capabilities? we do. I skimmed through her earlier articles and it seems like the point of contention is the same: the report by the Swedish journalist about harvesting organs. Now, I don’t know why you insist to read too much into this: how could you tell for sure this is anti-semitism?

I can’t see how. If that was true, let’s reverse the case for a moment, since the Israeli forensic institute admitted harvesting organs from dead Palestinians without the consent of their families, can we then infer that the blood libel is true?

No.

IDF commits war crimes. Does that mean committing war crimes is a Jewish thing? I can’t see how this could be concluded from Dr. Sha’ban’s writings.

But I agree with you on Syria’s need to improve its PR. And to be more aware of who we make friends with. Like OTW said, characters like David Dukes do not do us any good. And receiving him in Damascus was a mistake. Syria needs to improve the discourse and the PR game. Syria deserves better friends.

As for Obama, I’m not sure how you define a ‘good job’. He speaks of hostility in the region as if Arabs have this violent streak within them, and chooses to ignore that Israel has been equally, if not more, hostile. He talks of Palestinian ‘interests’ (which probably makes my blood boils the most). What Palestinian interests? is seeking to live in peace and freedom from occupation and harassment a luxury nowadays? are civil and human rights luxuries? will he be dubbed an anti-semite if he said ‘rights’ instead of ‘interests’?

It’s a sad world we live in, my friend.

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February 3rd, 2010, 8:10 pm

 

54. Yossi said:

Offended, dear friend,

You could be correct, I may have been reading too much into it, in terms of anti-Semitism. BTW, I don’t assume that secular people are immune to racism and bigotry.

On the other hand, in my opinion, in both this piece and the previous one I reviewed, she made no mistakes but deliberate misrepresentations and manipulations with the goal of maximizing the demonization of Israel (which works out pretty well for Israel as others have noted).

When she says that there are “credited reports” about organ theft from Haiti, that can be nothing but a lie, because no such credited reports exist.

When a minister responsible for communications in the Syrian presidency writes “[…] foreign minister Anna Maria Lindh […] who also took honourable stances in support of justice in Palestine, was arrested several times by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and was then assassinated in ambiguous circumstances.” She knows exactly what she’s trying to achieve and there is nothing honest about it.

My problem with the previous piece about organ theft was not with the topic of organ theft which, unfortunately, appears to be true (if it’s any consolation, it appears that the head of the forensic autopsy institute, one Yehuda Hiss, was responsible for removal of organs from dead Israeli soldiers as well as Palestinians and others). This issue will hopefully get sorted out through the work of the courts, investigative journalists (not of the Shaaban kind) and NGO’s—as OTW wrote.

The issue I took with her previous piece was about the misrepresentation of her being “attacked” by JPost by order of the Zionist regime (she wasn’t attacked) and the second issue was the insinuation that Israel was behind the assassination of Lindh (which isn’t true or insinuated by anybody else except for Shaaban).

About Obama… I have no doubt in my mind that he identifies with the Palestinians and plays the game of Israel support as he is obliged to. He needs to get reelected and he has a lot to achieve. His electorate is decidedly pro-Israeli and anti-Arab and some of reasons for that are not the Israeli lobby but deep and ancient antagonisms between West and East. Given all of that… I think he did a good job of talking to his audience in a language they understand and at the same time seeding the notion that the Palestinians are also human and can’t be just killed or starved. He said something like “they need to have jobs and education”. Nothing about freedom and self-determination, or their property. He’s walking a tight rope and overstating support for the Palestinians will not do them any good, because it will kill his presidency.

It’s a beautiful world my friend, you just have to know where to look and to put things in perspective, the world is as peaceful as it has ever been. (Written from Maui :).

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February 4th, 2010, 5:06 am

 

55. offended said:

Dear Yossi,

Maui? of course the world is a happy place, then. We had sandstorms in Dubai all day. : )

One was having a few hopes over the presidency of Obama. I wonder what it would take for somebody like Dennis Kucinich to be president instead? But he never will. Doesn’t toe the line.

I agree that secular people could also be racist/anti-semite/islamophobes..etc.. But less likely, since they’re not bound by a religious script.

Now. I’ll leave you to enjoy what I assume is a vacation.

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February 4th, 2010, 8:28 pm

 

56. Off the Wall said:

First, I would like to indicate how impressed I am by the civility of the discussion between two of our luminaries (Offended and Yossi), both demonstrate “impeccable” character and thoughtful arguments. Kudos to both, and I am honored that my dribbles share the same domain name with both.

On a second note, If i can stand as a character witness. I still disagree with Dr. Shahbaan’s inclusion of the Haiti accusations in her article. Yet, while I do not know her personally, all I have read and heard from people, some of whom I do trust very much, tell me that Offended description of her is, to a large degree, accurate.

As a syrian expat, i know for sure that Dr. Shabaan is one of the architects of the attempts to open Syria’s doors back to many of her children, and while much remain to be done, I believe that despite of some of her earlier, controversial comments about expats, she tried hard, with few enlightened Ambassadors to make some of the progress we have seen in recent years a possibility.

One other thing for which I admire her is the recognition that politics in Syria, like most other countries, is a good old boys club, and Dr. Shabaan was able to break quite few glass and iron ceilings.

To make things clear, I still did not like her argument about the reasons to block face book, and to continue suffocating the internet in Syria, I am not sure she is behind these policies, but I do not agree with her defense of that policy. Although i have argued then that she was convinced of her own argument (Trustquest may remember that conversation).

I think that the main reason we see contradictions in intellectuals is that while they are, like all humans, full of contradictions, they are also vocal and visible, which is why we can see their contradictions.

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February 5th, 2010, 6:02 am

 

57. Yossi said:

Dear Offended and OTW,

It is always my pleasure to converse and debate with both of you, you have so much to offer in terms of intellectual integrity, curiosity and of course, courtesy. Your existence and our dialog has become an important part of my life, and I’m very thankful for that.

I’m returning to the “mainland” today after a nice vacation. If you get a chance, read about the history of Hawaii and how it was coerced to become a part of the US, it will explain in some ways why it’s so natural for the Americans to support Israel.

I’m convinced Mrs. Shaaban is a talented and multi-faceted person who is very devoted to her country; that doesn’t preclude employing whatever weapon she can muster against what she views as a deeply immoral enemy (“Israel” as Nour would say). I’m sure many Syrian patriots agree that you don’t have to play fair against Israel.

Anyway, we gave this little piece too much attention already, while Leiberman has launched his Syrian peace initiative. An historic moment :)

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February 5th, 2010, 6:14 pm

 

58. Shai said:

Yossi,

So you were the Israeli-team that set up camp in Maui! :-)

Btw, Lieberman has started his “Syria Piece” initiative, not that other thing you mentioned…

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February 5th, 2010, 6:41 pm

 

59. Akbar Palace said:

The usual crowd gets huffy at the statements made by Israeli leaders, but ignore the statements made by their fellow Arab leaders:

Lieberman’s exceptionally sharp words followed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s accusation on Wednesday that Israel was the one avoiding peace, and the Syrian foreign minister’s earlier threat that Israeli cities would be attacked in a future conflict.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100204/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_israel_syria

No surprise here.

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February 5th, 2010, 6:43 pm

 

60. Shai said:

Akbar,

I was wondering when you were going to pop up to defend Lieberman. God-forbid you’ll actually criticize the Buffoon-of-a-Minister and agree he’s doing Israel a terrible service in his belligerent-style of “diplomacy”.

But believe it or not, I actually agree with you. I think we’re focusing too much on Lieberman, and not stressing enough how this whole thing got started. It was Ehud Barak, who gave a speech before a school of army officers, who suggested that if Israel and Syria do not make Peace soon, the All-Out War option cannot be ruled. And that, if war does occur, Israel and Syria will be negotiating the same peace afterwards. I believe, that unlike Lieberman’s taunting and humiliating of Syria and of Assad, Barak intended exactly the opposite – he intended to speak to Israelis, and to suggest Peace was the better option, and the urgent one.

I think Mouallem made a mistake by interpreting Barak’s message as a flexing of Israeli muscle, and there’s little doubt that most Israelis interpreted his words as a threat to Israel. That still should not excuse Lieberman for his personal attack on the Syrian president – that is crossing lines that no politician (certainly no diplomat) should cross.

If one day, 20 years from now, Barak and Mouallem will tell us that they planned this whole thing out, to pressure the U.S. to get involved, I’ll give them both a standing ovation… :-) (although complementing Barak is almost the last thing I can imagine doing.)

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February 5th, 2010, 7:06 pm

 

61. Ghat Albird said:

Lebanese MP: We support Syria against Israeli threats

English.news.cn 2010-02-06 01:17:51

BEIRUT, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) — Lebanese lawmaker Walid Jumblatt on Friday expressed his support “to the people and the leaders of Syria.”

The leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) said in a statement that “as the Israeli madness and continuous threats hit its peak, I tell Syria and the Syrian leadership that we are with you above all considerations.”

And so it goes.

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February 5th, 2010, 7:29 pm

 

62. Akbar Palace said:

I was wondering when you were going to pop up to defend Lieberman.

Shai,

OK. But I would like to add that I WASN’T wondering when you were going to criticize Lieberman without saying anything about the equally belligerent Syrian foreign minister. Because this is your modus operandi.

Syria Comment is lucky to have you.

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February 5th, 2010, 8:40 pm

 

63. Shai said:

Akbar,

Come on, I know you can say the words “Lieberman is an a##”. Don’t always look for excuses. Show us that you have the ability to criticize when criticism is due. Heck, even the majority of Israelis disapprove of him, so you have a green-light from the majority you so blindly follow.

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February 5th, 2010, 10:01 pm

 

64. norman said:

Shai,

Abba Eb an once said ,The question is not if Israel is going to survive , the question is what kind of Israel is going to survive , looking at what is going on in Israel makes me think that he was saved from what kind of Israel he was worry about , He would have surrendered his Diplomatic passport too,

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February 6th, 2010, 12:19 am

 

65. Akbar Palace said:

… looking at what is going on in Israel …

Norman,

Tell us “what is going on in Israel”. Be as detailed as you can. Were you there recently?

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February 6th, 2010, 12:27 am

 

66. Yossi said:

Very wise words Norman @63.

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February 6th, 2010, 9:14 am

 

67. Akbar Palace said:

Ban’s report pleases Israel

http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=167884

Meanwhile, Muslims are blowing up muslims on a daily basis. And the no one cares a bit, because Jews aren’t involved.

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February 6th, 2010, 1:54 pm

 

68. norman said:

Yossi,

Thank you ,

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February 6th, 2010, 7:20 pm

 

69. offended said:

Yossi and OTW, sorry I couldn’t reply earlier, was having difficulties accessing the website. Thought it might have been a new onslaught of DOS attacks (AIG?).

Thank you for the nice words. I’m no luminary. I keep a low profile in real life and most of my opinions to myself. And I find myself easily turned off by despondent or ignorant ideas while having discussions with others…. This is the main reason why I don’t usually talk politics. Except in cyber space, and here’s where this website and Dr. Landis do a great job and provide a great venue for us all to let off some steam ;-)

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February 7th, 2010, 11:08 am

 

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