Posted by Joshua on Friday, July 24th, 2009
Change for Syria? – listen
Public Radio International – “The World” interview with Joshua Landis, July 24, 2009 ⋅
US special envoy George Mitchell will be in Syria soon. Anchor Katy Clark speaks with Syria expert, Joshua Landis, about the prospects for change in the Middle East. Landis is associate professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
Mitchell’s assistant, Fred Hof, has been in Damascus preparing the ground for Mitchell’s arrival.
In The Washington Note: Via FLC
BY Brian Till
….A pair of anecdotes from Shepherdstown, 2000:
Martin Indyk recalls riding with Ehud Barak on flights from Israel to Washington as often as possible in order to glean as much as he could about the prime minister’s thinking. At the time, it was apparently a rather battered old 707, with a bedroom that had been hastily installed with little room for more than a bed. On the eve of the summit, Indyk, then an assistant secretary of state, was waiting for Barak’s arrival at Andrews AFB. After the delegation filed off the plane the prime minister failed to emerge, Indyk climbed aboard and found Barak in his bedroom. Barak motioned for him to sit on the bed alongside him. He told him he couldn’t cut a deal with Assad — there would be no peace in exchange for the Golan.
Danny Yatom also recalls going to the gym with Barak and finding Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharraa there working out. Barak tried to make a joke, saying that he would follow al-Sharraa through the routine so they could see who was stronger; al-Sharra picked up his belongings and left without a word.
So where are we now, nearly a decade down the line?
While Washington seems to be content to quibble about whether Hillary was upstaged by the White House’s decision to return an ambassador to Damascus — apparently without a quo to match the quid — the difficult question remains unanswered: can Damascus really offer what Israel’s after?
Far more than recognition; more than a peaceable border — Hezbollah seems to be the one issue looming in the minds of the Israeli leadership.
Hezbollah, the dominant Lebanese political movement, or Hezbollah the militant lung through which Iran breathes?
If Israel attacks next year, we’ll certainly find out. But until then, post-election Hezbollah, the better equipped, more strategically positioned, and more internationally credible incarnation — having proved willing to play both sides of the democracy game — remains an insufferable ire for Netanyahu.
Bashar is looking for concessions that are quite tangible — one can wrap the mind around 1,200 square kilometers of strategic high ground.
But networks of support connecting Syria to Nasrallah’s army, contacts and friendships intertwined with intelligence and armament deals — these are less concrete, less severable bonds.
If Bashar is as eager to get the Golan back as we’ve all believed — and as David Lesch, who literally wrote on the book on the new lion, suggested while presenting a paper at the National Press Club last week — he’ll have to be less fixated on dangling his feet in lake Tiberias than his father was, and more devoted to delivering on the Party of God.
The Israeli leadership is rightfully wary of what the new lion can deliver.
— Brian Till
Syrian Sephardic Communities Shaken by Charges Against a Leading Rabbi
By PAUL VITALLY, 24 July 2009
The New York Times
The young receive free educations and the old get free geriatric care. Family businesses connect relatives in a web of interdependence to the furthest reaches of kinship. Wedding receptions with 1,000 guests are common. A Friday night Sabbath dinner with 40 people is the norm.
And that enveloping tradition among the Syrian Jewish communities of Brooklyn and New Jersey seemed to redouble the shock and outrage among their members Thursday after the arrests of five Sephardic rabbis in a New Jersey corruption investigation.
”Shock and disbelief — my cellphone, my office phone, they’re ringing off the hook,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, who represents an Orthodox Jewish community adjacent to the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods where about 75,000 Sephardic Jews live. ”People do not believe it.”
In a criminal complaint, the F.B.I. said the rabbis used their congregations’ charitable organizations to launder about $3 million — passing what they were told was a donor’s ill-gotten gains through their charities’ bank accounts, and then returning the money to the donor in exchange for a cut of 5 to 10 percent.
The donor turned out to be an apparent F.B.I. informer, Solomon Dwek, who, like the rabbis, is a Sephardic Jew of Syrian descent.
One of the five rabbis, Saul J. Kassin, 87, a slight, soft-spoken man who has written several books on Jewish law, leads the largest of about 50 Sephardic synagogues in the United States, Shaare Zion in Brooklyn. He is considered the leading cleric of the national community.
The congregation was founded by his father, Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, who was known from 1932 until his death in 1994 as the chief rabbi of Brooklyn’s Syrian Sephardic Jews.
David G. Greenfield, executive vice president of the Sephardic Community Federation, a group representing the approximately 100,000 Sephardim in Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey, said in a statement, ”The community is shocked and saddened by these allegations, which go against every value and teaching the community holds dear.”
He added, ”If over time these allegations are proven, we must remember that these are the isolated actions of a few individuals.”
Sephardic Jews trace their ancestry to Spain and various parts of North Africa and the Middle East, as distinct from the Ashkenazic Jews from Eastern Europe. They include Moroccans, Turks, Iranians and Iraqis. But most belong to families that emigrated to the United States from the Middle East, especially Syria, because of anti-Jewish attacks there after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Unique among groups within Judaism, Sephardic leaders have tried mightily to strike a difficult balance between preservation of identity and participation in the American entrepreneurial dream, said Prof. Aviva Ben-Ur of the University of Massachusetts, author of ”Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History.”
In 1935, Rabbi Kassin’s father issued an edict forbidding both marriage outside the faith and marriage to Jewish converts, she said. At the same time, Sephardim, unlike the ultra-Orthodox who live at a remove from American society, attend public schools in the lower grades and are encouraged to succeed in business.
Among the successful businesses founded by Sephardic Jews are Jordache and Bonjour, the jeans makers, and the Conway and Century 21 department stores.
Phone messages left at Rabbi Kassin’s home were not returned. At the home of his son, Jacob S. Kassin, a woman answered and said the son would not be available to comment.
David Ben-Hooren, a member of the congregation and publisher of The Jewish Voice and Opinion, a conservative monthly newspaper, spoke to reporters at the synagogue, on Ocean Parkway.
”When the facts come out, we’ll find out that those rabbis never broke the law,” he said. ”I believe they’re going to be vindicated. Knowing those rabbis for many years, I know that they devoted their lives to charity, and there’s no way that they benefited from any of those activities.”
Israel expels ‘Nakba’ from schools (or did it just flee on its own?)
by Philip Weiss on July 22, 2009
Reuters reports it. So does Israel Hayom:
The Nakba is leaving the education system: Education Minister Gidon Saar decided yesterday to cancel the subject of the Nakba in the Arab sector. The Nakba is the description used by the Palestinians for Israel’s victory in the War of Independence, and literally means “catastrophe.
The topic was studied until today as part of the geography subject, after a decision made on the matter during the period of Limor Livnat, and was officially introduced into textbooks during the term of the previous education minister, Yuli Tamir. “There is no reason for the official curriculum of the State of Israel to present the state’s establishment as a Holocaust or catastrophe,” Saar said yesterday. “The education system is not supposed to contribute to processes of delegitimizing the state, which heighten the processes of extremism in the Arab sector. In particular, there are no reasons to legitimize this concept for teaching eight-year olds.”
Obama Sends His A-Team to Israel
By: Laura Rozen | Foreign Policy