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Monday, March 29, 2010

Origination of Passover



Moses had been instructed to lead God's people out of Egypt and save them from the evil and ungodly Pharaoh. Because of Pharaoh's disbelief in the power of the One True God, Yahweh sent a series of ten plagues upon the Egyptians: the Nile turned to blood and at various times the land was filled with frogs, gnats, flies, hail, locusts, and darkness. In one awesome act of God's ultimate authority, He sent one final devastating plague: every firstborn of every household would be annihilated.
In His mercy towards His people, God would shield the Israelites from such unmerciful judgement if they would follow the instructions He gave to Moses and Aaron. The specific instructions are outlined in Exodus 12:1-11. In sum, each family was to take a lamb and all households were to slaughter their lambs at the same time at twilight after a certain number of days. Then they were commanded to paint the sides and top of their doorways with some of this blood. Once this was done and all the meat of the lamb was eaten in accordance with God's instructions, God would spare the Israelites from death. This is what the Lord said:
"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn -- both men and animals -- and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord -- a lasting ordinance" (Exodus 12:12-14).
The Seder Meal
The highlight of a contemporary Jewish Pesach, or Passover, is the Seder.
The Seder meal consists of six highly symbolic elements: matzah, a roasted shank bone, parsley or green herbs, the top of a horseradish, charoset, and an egg. On each plate are three piece of matzah (a special type of cracker or unleavened bread). Two of these pieces represent the traditional loaves used in the ancient Temple during festivals and the third piece symbolizes Passover. The roasted lamb bone connotes the sacrificial Passover lamb. Herbs symbolize springtime growth. The horseradish represents the bitter years of slavery in Egypt; charoset, a mixture of fruit and ground nuts soaked in wine, represents the mortar used in Egypt; and the egg represents the chagigah (a secondary sacrifice prepared along with the Passover lamb).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

How Quick They Forget: A Short History of U.S. Policy and Israeli Construction in East Jerusalem

By Barry Rubin*

March 14, 2010

http://www.gloria-center.org/blog/2010/03/how-quick-they-forget

For more than four months the U.S. government has been celebrating Israel agreeing to stop construction on settlements in the West Bank while continuing building in east Jerusalem as a great step forward and Israeli concession deserving a reward. Suddenly, all of this is forgotten to say that Israel building in east Jerusalem is some kind of terrible deed which deserves punishment.

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return. Here is a short history of this round:

October 31, 2009: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lavishly praises Israel as making "unprecedented" concessions in stopping construction on West Bank settlements while it is still going to build in east Jerusalem.

November 1, 2009: The U.S. State Department cheers Israel's announcement that it will stop construction on West Bank settlements but not in east Jerusalem: "Today's announcement by the Government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

March 12, 2010: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton says that Israel building in east Jerusalem is an "insult" to the United States, jeopardizes the bilateral relationship, and damages the cause of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, even though the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate for 14 months; made President Brack Obama look very foolish after destroying his publicly announced September plan to have negotiations in two months; and broke its promise not to sponsor the Goldstone report in the UN, no word of criticism has ever been offered by any administration official regarding the PA's continuous and very public sabotage of peace process efforts.

Can people please point out that there's a bit of a contradiction here?

Friday, March 12, 2010

European Parliament calls for immediate release of abducted IDF soldier



In an unprecedented move, the European Parliament on Thursday passed by majority vote a call for the immediate release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. 

Members of parliament from across the political spectrum signed on to a letter to European Union foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton ahead of her visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories next week.

The letter demands that Shalit, who also holds French citizenship, be released and voices protest against the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. 
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Noam Shalit, the father of the abducted soldier, called the letter sharp and clear and said he hoped that it would encourage the Israeli government to work toward his son's release and the Hamas government to submit its response to Israel's offer at once.

The elder Shalit met Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, with European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and updated him on the stalled negotiations with Hamas on a potential prisoner exchange. Hamas has not responded to Israel's most recent proposal.

Shalit urged for the EU resolution to call for the immediate release of his son and to demand that he be treated according to the Geneva Convention. 

Monday, March 08, 2010

Pardon Me, Obama Administration, But Isn't Your Policy on Fire?


Pardon Me, Obama Administration, But Isn't Your Policy on Fire?

March 8, 2010


The story of the U.S. engagement with Syria and the sanctions issue regarding Iran's nuclear program are fascinating. Each day there's some new development showing how the Obama Administration is acting like a deer standing in the middle of a busy highway admiring the pretty automobile headlights.

Or to put it a different way, it is like watching the monster sneak up behind someone. Even though you know he's not going to turn around, you can't help but watch in fascinated horror and yelling out: "Look out!" But he pays no attention.

So I'm not just writing about these two issues in isolation but as very appropriate symbols of everything wrong with Western perceptions of the Middle East (and everywhere else) and the debates over foreign policy (and everything else) nowadays.

On Syria, for the most recent episodes of the story see 
here and here but, briefly, the Syrian government keeps punching the United States in the face as Washington ignores it.

But now, on March 1, a new record is set. The place: State Department daily press conference; the main character, departmental spokesman Philip J. Crowley. A reporter wants to know how the administration views the fact that the moment the U.S. delegation left after urging Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to move away from Iran and stop supporting Hizballah, Syria's dictator invited in Iran's dictator along with Hizballah's leader and Damascus moved closer to Iran and Hizballah. Indeed, Asad said regarding Hizballah, "To support the resistance is a moral, patriotic and legal duty."

In other words, the exact opposite of what the United States requested. Is the government annoyed, does it want to express some anger or threat?so

Let's
 listen:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would point it in a slightly different direction. It came several days after an important visit to Damascus by Under Secretary Bill Burns....We want to see Syria play a more constructive role in the region. We also want - to the extent that it has the ability to talk to Iran directly, we want to make sure that Syria's communicating to Iran its concerns about its role in the region and the direction, the nature of its nuclear ambitions...."

In other words, I'm going to ignore the fact that the first thing that Asad did after Burns' visit was a love fest with Iran and Hizballah. But even more amazing, what Crowley said is that the U.S. government thinks Syria, Iran's partner and ally, is upset that Iran is being aggressive and expansionist. And it actually expects the Syrians to urge Iran not to build nuclear weapons!

One Lebanese observer called this approach, "Living in an alternate universe."

Meanwhile, as the administration congratulates itself on explaining to Syria that it should reduce support for Hizballah, Israeli military intelligence releases an 
assessment that Syria is giving Hizballah more and better arms than ever before.

Oh wait! Now it's March 3 so time for something new. The √≥fficial Syrian press agency 
reports that Syria's government opposed an Arab League proposal to support indirect Palestinian Authority-Israel negotiations. Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem asserted that Syria is "no way part" of the consensus supporting the plan.

But guess what? First, Senator John Kerry opened a meeting of his Senate Foreign Relations Committee by erroneously praising Syria as supporting the plan, giving this as an example of Damascus's  moderation. The New York Times 
quoted from the Syrian report, making it sound like Moallem is praising the United States, but left out the paragraphs attacking the U.S.-backed plan! And the State Department circulated the Times article as proof of its success in winning over Syria when in fact Syrian behavior proved the exact opposite!

Oh, and that's not all! Not only did Syria oppose the plan but it 
attacked the Arab states that supported the U.S. effort and blasted the Palestinian Authority for not following the path of resistance, that is urged it to carry out terrorist violence against Israel.

Hey, that's not all either. Syria also issued a 
statement accusing Israel of "framing" it by dropping uranium particles from the air to make it seem that Syria had been building a nuclear reactor for making nuclear weapons. Not exactly evidence of rational moderation I'd say.

Meanwhile, on the Iran front, it is now March 2010 and still-six months after the first administration deadline and three months after the second deadline-there are no additional sanctions on Iran yet. In fact, the process has barely started.

Even former Democratic presidential candidate and head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry has taken a 
stronger stance than the administration.

He supports the congressional call for tough sanctions to block Iran's energy industry which easily passed both houses. "I believe that the most biting and important sanctions would be those on the energy side." But the Obama administration wants far more limited sanctions focused on a small group in the regime elite.

Yet sanctions are getting further away rather than closer. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted at this by pulling back from her early prediction of sanctions by April, now 
saying it might be "some time in the next several months."

At the same time, we have endless evidence that the claim the Russians (and Chinese and others) are coming, to support sanctions, is nonsense. Just before meeting with Clinton to discuss the issue, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (or Lula for short) explained, "Peace in the world does not mean isolating someone." (Quick, invite him to explain this to the anti-Israel forces in Europe and elsewhere).

But it's outright amusing to see the efforts to spin the Russian and Chinese position. In this regard, the prize for this week should be won by an AP 
dispatch. The headline is: "Russia moves closer to Iran sanctions over nukes."

And what is the basis for this claim that there has just been "the strongest sign to date that the Kremlin was prepared to drop traditional opposition to such penalties if Tehran remain obstinate?" This statement from President Dmitry Medvedev:

"We believe that [engagement with Iran is] not over yet, that we can still reach an agreement," he said. "But if we don't succeed, Russia is ready - along with our partners...to consider the question of adopting sanctions."

Get it? When Russia decides that talking with Iran won't work, then at that point-how long from now would that be?-it will "consider" sanctions. Actually, he said the same thing last August, a statement trumpeted in September by the New York Times as proving Obama's policy was working.

There is more clarity with the Chinese, sort of, though the pretense is also made that they might do something. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang put it this way: "We believe there is still room for diplomatic efforts and the parties concerned should intensify those efforts." At most, the optimists suggest, in the words of this Reuters 
dispatch:

"China will resist any proposed sanctions that threaten flows of oil and Chinese investments, but most believe it will accept a more narrowly cast resolution that has more symbolic than practical impact."

Yes, that's the kind of thing that already existed four years ago. Some progress.

Is it too much to ask policymakers to pay attention to what's going on occasionally?

So let's leave it to Ahmadinejad to 
sum up how things seem to Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and lots of Arabs both pro- and anti-American:

The Americans, Ahmadinejad said, "not only have failed to gain any power, but also are forced to leave the region. They are leaving their reputation, image, and power behind in order to escape....The [American] government has no influence [to stop]....the expansion of Iran-Syria ties, Syria-Turkey ties, and Iran-Turkey ties--God willing, Iraq too will join the circle...."

In other words, Obama Administration policy isn't making the radicals more moderate but rather--by feeding their arrogance and belief in American weakness--making them more aggressive. 

Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel

Never Again!


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