Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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November 7, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

British General's Interpreter Spied for Iran - Michael Evans (Times-UK)
    Cpl. Daniel James, 45, who had been security-vetted to work alongside Gen. Sir David Richards when he was commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2006, was convicted Thursday of spying for Iran.
    MI5 counter-espionage officers were called in to investigate James after it was discovered he had been sending e-mails and making telephone calls to Col. Mohammad Hossein Heydari, a military assistant at the Iranian Embassy in Kabul.

Syrian TV: Fatah al-Islam Men Confess to Damascus Bombing (AFP)
    Syrian state television on Thursday broadcast statements by men it said were Fatah al-Islam militants, in which they admitted carrying out a bomb attack in September that killed 17 people.
    It also identified the man said to have been the suicide bomber in the Sep. 27 attack in Damascus as Abu Aysha al-Saudi - "The Saudi."
    The men said they had also planned to attack Syrian security posts, British and Italian diplomats, and the country's central bank.

France Jails Four Members of Jihad Network (AP/International Herald Tribune)
    A French court on Thursday sentenced four men of North African origin to prison terms for taking part in a network that recruited Islamists in France to join the war in Iraq.

Saudis on Hunger Strike to Demand Reform - Donna Abu-Nasr (AP)
    A group of 65 mostly male Saudi activists began a rare public hunger strike Thursday to demand judiciary reform and draw attention to the detention without trial of 11 political reformists.
    The activists posted a statement on Facebook to announce the strike and urge other Saudis to participate.
    The participants are holding the strike in their homes to avoid a confrontation with security forces.

China Resurgent in the Middle East - Chris Zambelis (Asia Times-Hong Kong)
    The impetus behind China's resurgent efforts to extend its influence in the Middle East stems from Beijing's pursuit of energy resources to sustain its rapidly expanding economy as the world's fastest-growing consumer of oil and third-largest net importer.
    China's decision to export intermediate-range ballistic missiles to Syria and other states in the region in the late 1980s and early 1990s represented Beijing's first significant inroads.
    Since Assad's landmark 2004 visit to Beijing, high-level contacts between Chinese and Syrian dignitaries have become commonplace, especially within the business sector.
    Chinese oil giants have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Syria in recent years to modernize the country's aging oil and gas infrastructure.
    Bilateral trade between the countries reached $1.87 billion in 2007, up almost 33%, a figure that is expected to double by 2011. China has become Syria's single-largest trading partner.

Indonesia, Israel Sign Medical Agreement - Muhammad Nafik (Jakarta Post-Indonesia)
    Indonesian delegates signed a medical cooperation agreement with Israel's national emergency medical service Magen David Adom (MDA) and the American-Israel Joint Distribution Committee in Tel Aviv last week.
    The agreement was preceded by a week-long MDA course for 23 Indonesian health system professionals on the "management of multi-casualty incidents," something that the two countries sadly share a need for.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Obama, Olmert Agree on Need to Advance Peace Process
    Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Olmert called U.S. President-elect Obama on Thursday, Olmert's office said. A statement said the prime minister and Obama "both spoke about the need to continue to advance the peace process, and this, while safeguarding the security of Israel." Obama and Olmert also "spoke about the long friendship between the United States and Israel and the need to preserve and strengthen this friendship." (Reuters)
        See also Obama Speaks with Nine World Leaders - Christina Bellantoni
    President-elect Obama spoke to nine world leaders Thursday, returning their congratulatory calls. (Washington Times)
  • Iran President Urges Obama to Change U.S. Policies
    Iranian President Ahmadinejad congratulated U.S. President-elect Obama on Thursday and called for changes to U.S. policies in the region, Iran's official IRNA news agency said. (Reuters)
        See also Ahmadinejad's Letter to Obama
    Iranian President Ahmadinejad wrote to President-elect Obama: "The nations of the world expect an end to policies based on warmongering, invasion, bullying, trickery, the humiliation of other countries by the imposition of biased and unfair requirements, and a diplomatic approach that has bred hatred for America's leaders and undermined respect for its people....They want the American government to keep its interventions within its own country's borders. In the sensitive Middle East region, in particular, the expectation is that the unjust actions of the past 60 years will give way to a policy encouraging full rights for all nations, especially the oppressed nations of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan." (Washington Post)
  • No Mideast Deal Under Bush, White House Says - Glenn Kessler
    The White House made it official Thursday: There will be no Middle East peace pact on President Bush's watch. "We do not think that it's likely that it would happen before the end of the year," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. Rice made nearly monthly trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories to encourage the two sides in their efforts, though she never appeared to be a hands-on negotiator. But the results were fairly opaque. Israeli and Palestinian officials said the talks were frank and open, but a written outline of an agreement never emerged. The process was hampered by the fact that chief Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas did not control the territory of Gaza, where nearly half of Palestinians live. (Washington Post)
        See also Rice Says Mideast Deal Unlikely Soon - Isabel Kershner
    Winding up a year of intensive peace efforts, Secretary of State Rice arrived in Israel on Thursday with a somewhat diminished vision of trying to keep Israeli-Palestinian negotiations alive. This will be her eighth visit to the region since an American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis last November. But the political transitions and upheavals affecting politics in both the U.S. and Israel have already effectively put the talks on hold. "Obviously, Israel is in the midst of elections and that is a constraint on the ability of any government to conclude what is the core conflict," she said. "It is our expectation that the Annapolis process has laid groundwork which should make possible the establishment of a Palestinian state when the political circumstances permit," Rice said. (New York Times)
  • U.S. Treasury Tightens Banking Sanctions on Iran - David Lawder
    The U.S. Treasury on Thursday revoked Iran's license for "U-turn" bank transfers, which briefly enter the U.S. before being sent to offshore banks. "This regulatory action will close the last general entry point for Iran to the U.S. financial system," the Treasury said in a statement. It said the action was aimed at increasing financial pressure on Tehran to end support of terrorist groups as well as nuclear and missile proliferation. (Reuters)
  • Egypt: Pro-Government Mob Torches Opposition Headquarters - Maggie Michael
    Dozens of pro-government protesters stormed the Cairo headquarters of the opposition al-Ghad party, led by jailed Egyptian dissident Ayman Nour, and set it on fire Thursday, injuring seven people. About 200 protesters first pelted the building with stones and bottles, said a witness. Nour's wife, Gamila Ismail, who was inside the headquarters during the rioting, accused the police of siding with the rioters. (AP/Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues, 50 Rockets Since Tuesday - Shmulik Hadad
    Palestinian terrorists fired five Kassam rockets at Gaza-region communities Friday morning. Two rockets landed in the Sderot area. Since Tuesday, Palestinians have fired more than 50 rockets at Israel. (Ynet News)
        See also Gaza-Region Parents: Rocket Fears Are Back - Ilana Curiel (Ynet News)
  • IDF Drill Simulates War with Syria and Lebanon - Amos Harel
    The Israel Defense Forces Northern Command concluded a large-scale exercise Thursday which simulated a two-front war with Syria and Lebanon. The exercise drilled the Israel Air Force and the Home Front Command in dealing with the simulated firing of thousands of rockets and missiles into the heart of Israel's population centers. The exercise entailed the deployment of troops on the ground, comprising mainly reservists. During the drill, the striking aircraft were under orders to focus on long and medium-range missile launchers. The responsibility for knocking out shorter-range rockets lay on ground troops that were ordered to carry out an on-paper invasion into Syrian and Lebanese territory. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinians Throw Firebombs at Israeli Bus in West Bank
    Palestinians on Thursday evening threw two Molotov cocktails at an Israeli bus traveling by Beit Omar, south of Bethlehem. There were no wounded but the bus sustained damage. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Palestinians, Israelis See Obama Differently - Patrick Martin
    Palestinian pollster Jamil Rabah cautioned against reading too much into Palestinian support for Obama. "They like this guy because he's black, because he's not the typical blue-eyed white Westerner. But they don't know anything about what he stands for." "They're investing so much in what they think he promises, because he's not George Bush," Rabah said. "They see in him what they want to see, but they're setting themselves up for disappointment."
        Barry Rubin, at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, believes the U.S.-Israel relationship will hold, "but I'm extremely worried about the unintended consequences of what might be Obama's approach to the region." "My concern is that the Islamists will see Obama as weak, and feel able to do what they want. Iran won't be afraid to develop nuclear weapons, Hizbullah won't be afraid to attack Israel and Hamas will be the same." In that event, he said, "I worry that pro-Western Arab leaders won't feel they're getting the support they need from Washington and that, then, they'll try to appease Iran. In the end, Islamists everywhere will feel bolder." (Globe and Mail-Canada)
  • Don't Pin Much Hope on Obama - Editorial
    There are some quite extraordinary notions circulating about what sort of president Barack Obama will be, particularly in this part of the world - for example, that he is going to turn years of American Middle East policy on its head. This is a willful, and ultimately destructive, fantasy. There will be attempts at dialogue, even at finding peace in the Middle East, but no one should imagine that they would be radical or pursued with all his energy and determination.
        A president whose deputy is Joe Biden, a man who last year said that Israel is "the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East" and who is proud to call himself a Zionist, is not going to turn his back on the Israelis. Far from challenging Israel, the new team may turn out to be as pro-Israeli as the one it is replacing. If only because he is the first African-American president, he will want to carry as wide a section of American public opinion with him as possible in his decisions. If he wants a second term, he is going to be very cautious at best. (Arab News-Saudi Arabia)
  • Iran's Youths Would Back Obama over Ahmadinejad - David Blair
    It is suspected that if Iran's Westernized youths were given the choice of Barack Obama or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a free election, an overwhelming majority would back the American. When Tehran's leaders claim that America is leading a "crusade" to wipe out the Muslim faith, young Iranians will know that Obama's father was a Muslim and the new president spent some of his childhood in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country. When Tehran condemns America as a country riddled with racial prejudice, Obama's presence in the White House will be the most eloquent rebuttal. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Understanding the Syria-Iran Alliance - Marwan Kabalan
    The resumption of peace talks between Syria and Israel has triggered questions about a shift in the regional balance of power and the likelihood of producing a new Middle Eastern order. Why should Syria give up its relations with Tehran and at what price?
        From a Syrian perspective the marriage with Iran was a matter of necessity more than a choice. Iran compensated for the loss of Egypt in the Arab-Israeli balance of power after the Camp David Accord. It also compensated for the lack of Arab economic handouts. A shared animosity towards the Saddam Hussein regime provided one more reason to consolidate this alliance. The support of the religiously-oriented Iranian regime in the confrontation between the Syrian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s was also vital. Iran also proved useful in Lebanon, especially after the establishment of Hizbullah and the revival of the Shiite community in Lebanon. The writer is a lecturer in media and international relations at the Center for Strategic Studies and Research, Damascus University. (Gulf News-UAE)

    Weekend Features

  • Teaching the Holocaust to the Palestinians - Tim McGirk
    Israeli-Arab lawyer Khaled Kasab Mahameed's mission is to educate Palestinians about the Jewish Holocaust. Many Palestinians have never heard that the Nazis killed 6 million Jews during World War II - it doesn't rate a mention in their school history books. Yet the key to the Palestinians achieving their own goals, Mahameed says, is to understand the Holocaust.
        In Edna village in the Hebron Hills, where seven middle-aged men sit beside me drinking tea, Mahameed passes around a death-camp photo of a Jewish inmate standing over a mass grave full of naked corpses. The room of Palestinians falls silent. "That man, that survivor, in the photograph came to Israel. Can you imagine the nightmares, the horrors that he brought with him? It's a suffering that nobody, even us Palestinians, can begin to comprehend," he says. Finally, a retired Palestinian general, Abdul Latah Solimia, says: "As a militant, I know the cost of war and hatred. For 60 years, we have tried to eliminate each other, and neither has won. Israelis and Palestinians should share this land." (TIME)
  • Secondary Anti-Semitism: From Hard-Core to Soft-Core Denial of the Shoah - Clemens Heni
    Research on anti-Semitism must be vigilant to develop new strategies to fight a new brand of Jew-hatred, secondary anti-Semitism. Its core principle is the refusal or rejection of remembrance of the unprecedented crime which Germans committed during the Second World War, namely the Shoah. Secondary anti-Semitism has a specific dimension in Germany where it is widespread and basically reflects the country's unique political culture.
        Three categories of soft-core denial are: distortion, universalization and projection of guilt-relativization-trivialization. People who generate such a soft-core denial do not often refer to the Holocaust as a lie or fabrication by Jews or their sympathizers, but are much more subtle. Dr. Clemens Heni is a post-doctoral associate at the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism at Yale University. (Jewish Political Studies Review)
  • Tying the Knot in Jerusalem - Matthew Wagner
    A growing number of diaspora Jews are choosing to come to Israel, usually Jerusalem, to marry, and then head back home. According to Rabbi David Banino, head of the Jerusalem rabbinate's marriage registration department, about 300 Jewish couples from the diaspora have come to the Holy City in the past year to tie the knot. Until about five years ago, Jewish tourists who wished to get married in Jerusalem had to run a gauntlet of bureaucracy. But thanks to Rabbi Shaul Farber, head of ITIM, a non-profit organization that specializes in helping Jews navigate the bureaucracy of the Israeli Rabbinate, marriage registration for tourists has become more user-friendly. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    For Israel, No News Is Good News - Michael Oren (Ha'aretz)

    • Israel is no longer in the news in Washington. For the past month, at least, Israel - indeed, the entire Middle East - has been knocked out of the newspapers and from television screens by the financial crisis and the presidential election. Israeli events that once would have made headlines in America are now relegated to the back pages, if not unreported altogether.
    • This is good news for those who felt that the Jewish state is unfairly placed under a media microscope intent on magnifying its faults.
    • In spite of Obama's pledge to personally and vigorously pursue an Arab-Israel accord, the president-elect is likely to lack both the time and financial resources to take on a time-consuming and potentially expensive peace initiative.
    • Nor will he, with domestic newspapers crammed with stories of layoffs and foreclosures, be under immediate pressure to embark for the distant Middle East.
    • The falloff of coverage of Israel in the U.S. is almost certain to be temporary.

      The writer is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and a visiting professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

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