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Does Obama have a plan for peace — or a plan for a plan?

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Following weeks of meetings between U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, center, and leaders in the Middle East, President Obama reportedly is set to put forth new proposals for advancing Israeli-Arab talks. White House/Pete Souza

WASHINGTON – Are the parties in the Middle East ready for a U.S. peace plan? Or just for a plan for a peace plan?

Talk of a near-term U.S. peace plan was spurred last week when a State Department official said one would be in place “within weeks” — a projection confirmed within a day by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

“I think it will be in a matter of weeks,” the spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said in an Aug. 3 briefing when he was asked when George Mitchell, President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, would present a plan.

Barak echoed the same message a day later during a briefing to the Knesset’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, according to a Reuters report.

“In the coming weeks,” Barak said, “their plan will be formulated and presented to the parties.”

Officials in the pro-Israel community and among foreign diplomats now say those projections were premature, that Obama administration officials were preparing the ground for the modalities of peace talks rather than a plan with specifics.

“What we know with our contacts with the administration is that they were satisfied with results of conversations Mitchell had in Israel,” a European diplomat told JTA. “There appears to be some confidence in the White House that there is an overall optimism that a breakthrough can be made — but there is no specific plan.”

According to the current scenario, Obama may be ready by the start of the U.N. General Assembly in mid-September to speak about deadlines and about where the talks will take place and who will participate.

Specifics, however, have been frustrated by a who-blinks-first dynamic that has overtaken U.S. diplomacy for the time being.

Arab states want Israel to commit to a settlement freeze before they announce concessions that would include allowing Israeli overflights and limited trade. Israel wants to see the concessions, and a stated recognition of Israel’s Jewish nature from the Palestinians and other Arabs, before it commits to a freeze. And the Palestinians have said that Israel must freeze settlements before they return to the table.

Hopes for progress were not helped by the long-delayed congress convened last week by Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian party that controls affairs in the west bank. The congress bogged down in debates over the tactics of “resistance” as opposed to peacemaking.

The belligerence at the conference, with resolutions demanding all of Jerusalem and accusing Israel of murdering Yasser Arafat, belied a readiness for peace and handed an opening to U.S. pro-Israel groups that have scrambled in recent weeks for the means to defend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement policies.

The Fatah congress had the effect of marginalizing Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority president, said American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris.

“Two months ago, President Abbas firmly rejected Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call in his Bar-Ilan University speech to resume direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and now Abbas ups the ante with preposterous demands on Jerusalem and other final-status issues,” Harris said. “Why can’t Palestinian leaders openly recognize the fact that four consecutive Israeli prime ministers have offered a two-state solution?”

Another distraction for the Obama administration was his awarding of a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, the former U.N. human rights commissioner who has been blamed in some circles for having failed to keep the U.N. conference on racism in Durban in 2001 from becoming an anti-Israel fest.

That news invited a flood of critiques from Jewish organizational officials who were glad for the break from having to explain the court-ordered eviction of Palestinian families from Jerusalem homes they had occupied for decades.

The centrist pro-Israel groups were not about to cede the upper ground. More than 70 U.S. senators this week signed a letter, strongly backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and opposed by some Jewish groups that favor increased U.S. pressure on Israel, urging Obama to focus on pressuring Arab nations to conciliate with Israel. A companion letter from the U.S. House of Representatives was sent to Saudi Arabia’s king.

The gaps between Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East and between some pro-Israel groups and the White House here do not mean Obama’s peacemakers will stand down. And Barak, the Israeli defense minister, warned his colleagues that they should be ready to play along when the White House steps up with a plan.

“Israel must take the lead in accepting the plan,” he was quoted as telling his Knesset colleagues.

That strategy would put Israel at an advantage, said an official with a pro-Israel group who consults with the Obama administration.

“That would be very positive for Israel-U.S. relations,” said the official, from one of the groups that favors increased U.S. pressure on Israel.

He noted the recent furor over a leaked memo from Nadav Tamir, an Israeli diplomat in Boston, who alleged that Netanyahu’s refusal to accept a settlement freeze was damaging Israel’s ties with its most critical ally.

The flurry of controversies means the White House is likelier to proceed at a slower, more careful pace, said David Makovsky, a top analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“There’s no value in coming out with full guns if you’re going to fail,” said Makovsky, who has intensely lobbied the Obama and Netanyahu administrations in recent weeks to consider a “borders first” solution in which Israel and the Palestinians would mutually agree on borders that would allow Israel to keep some settlements in exchange for land swaps that would amount to 100 percent of the land Israel seized in the west bank during the 1967 Six Day War.

Establishing borders would hand both sides a “win,” Makovsky said: Netanyahu’s government would be the first to annex west bank settlements, and Abbas’ government would show that it won back land through negotiations, quelling claims by Hamas in Gaza that only violence works. It also would help defuse a major sticking point between Jerusalem and Washington, as Israel would not be asked to freeze settlement construction in territory slated for annexation.

Thorny issues such as Jerusalem and the status of refugees would still be on the table, but according to this theory, the momentum created by resolving borders would spur such talks forward.

“It’s like in football,” Makovsky said. “If you can’t go 100 yards, you go 70 yards.”

JTA

 
 

Jewish and non-Jewish doves unite to press for U.S. diplomacy

WASHINGTON – A funny thing happened on the way to modifying punitive legislation targeting Palestinians — Jewish and non-Jewish groups backing aggressive peacemaking established a coalition.

The groups succeeded in toning down the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. In the process they forged an unofficial coalition of so-called “pro-peace” groups that now routinely consults on issues ranging from Israel-Palestinian matters to how best to deal with Iran — most participants oppose new sanctions.

Participants say the Jewish groups in the new coalition include Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum, as well as two groups in the process of merging: J Street and Brit Tzedek V’Shalom. Officials with the groups unabashedly defend their growing ties with their non-Jewish partners, insisting that the non-Jewish groups back a two-state solution and favor other policies that will help Israel by improving chances for peace in the region.

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Jeremy Ben Ami, the director of J Street, addresses a session J Street held jointly on Oct. 25 with the Arab American Institute while Jim Zogby, center, the institute’s president, and J Street political director Hadar Susskind look on. Arab American Institute

The list of organizations from outside the Jewish community includes narrow-interest groups such as the Arab American Institute, the American Task Force on Palestine, Churches for Middle East Peace, and, more recently, the National Iranian American Council. At times the informal coalition also has included liberal think tanks such as the New America Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Center for American Progress.

The loose-knit coalition has persisted and even expanded since the election of President Obama, who is friendly to its goals of active engagement. Many of the organizations had an active role, or even helped sponsor, J Street’s inaugural national conference in October. Participants attend each other’s strategy meetings and, during intense periods — for instance, in crafting the modifications to the 2006 Palestinian legislation — speak routinely in conference calls.

“It’s informal and it’s based on personal relationships that we’ve developed over the months and years,” said Warren Clark, the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace, an umbrella body for mainstream church groups from Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox streams.

For years, liberal activists — including some associated with the budding coalition — have protested the willingness of establishment Jewish organizations to embrace pro-Israel Evangelical Christians, citing their conservative views on domestic social issues and hawkish foreign policy positions. In recent weeks, however, Conservative journalists and bloggers have criticized the willingness of dovish Jewish groups to work with non-Jewish groups that have been critical of Israeli policies and oppose Iran sanctions.

Many pro-Israel groups, including AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations, have made sanctions a top priority, portraying them as a means of leveraging Iran into abandoning its suspected nuclear weapons program. Several members of the informal dovish coalition oppose such steps, with the National Iranian American Council leading the way.

Conservative critics have focused on alleged links between J Street and the Iranian group, lumping together the two organizations. Yet J Street officials have always stopped short of publicly ruling out sanctions, arguing that the time was not right for tougher measures, but might be in the future to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And, indeed, J Street this week came out in favor of proposed sanctions legislation being considered in the U.S. Congress.

Americans for Peace Now, on the other hand, has joined the Iranian group, known by the acronym NIAC, in portraying the sanctions as inhumane and likely to reinforce support for the regime. In at least one mass e-mail, Americans for Peace Now directed readers to NIAC’s talking points outlining the case for opposing sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

In the wake of Obama’s election, NIAC called a meeting to strategize among like minds on Iran sanctions.

Lara Friedman, an Americans for Peace Now lobbyist, attended the meeting. So did Joel Rubin, then a staffer at J Street, though participants say he took part in a personal capacity.

In any case, the proposed language that emerged from the Nov. 12, 2008 meeting is broad to the point of meaninglessness, underlining the difficulties of pleasing all parties in such coalitions.

“Obviously with such a diverse group, it will be difficult to coalesce behind any specific position,” the minutes of the meeting stated. “But we all share a view that advocates a diplomatic resolution to the conflict between the U.S. and Iran, opposes military action against Iran, and agrees that sanctions are no substitute for diplomatic engagement.” (See page 26.)

Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, said Friedman’s presence was unexceptional.

“We seek advice and guidance, including those that don’t share the views of NIAC — including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, of which we are a member,” he said. “Lara participated in this meeting and other meetings that included NIAC and other meetings of groups that have an interest in Iran policy.”

JTA

 
 

Language matters

 

‘To be pessimistic would be wrong’

Paramus native turned pundit weighs in on Iran

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The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Lisa Daftari is an award-winning freelance journalist who has made a career out of following the political and social scene in Iran.

Daftari grew up in Paramus, where she attended the JCC of Paramus with her parents, Sion and Simin Daftari, and her three siblings, Bobby, Danny, and Diana.

She first gained national attention in 2006, when, as a graduate student in broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California, she presented a documentary she made on an Iranian political youth movement to a subcommittee of Congress. After the presentation she went on to write a report for the Pentagon on Iranian youth movements and since then has appeared on Voice of America and PBS. Last year she became a regular guest contributor on Iran for Fox News Channel.

Daftari spoke with The Jewish Standard from her Los Angeles home about her career, her life, and Iran.

Jewish Standard: Had you always planned on going into journalism?

Daftari: I pretty much had my mind set on going to law school. After I graduated it was a combination of things. [The events of] 9/11 had a huge impact on influencing me and inspiring me to become a journalist. At the time we had family friends who unfortunately passed away. It was a hard time for the entire community and anybody living in the New York metro area. Watching the coverage and watching the stories of the aftermath, I felt so many important stories were missing from the coverage — stories that would put into context why we were being attacked, stories that would put into context who these fundamentalist groups are.

It left Americans very scared and vulnerable. I think at that point I realized there was so much more out there. Journalism combined a lot of what I liked about going into law — the analytical reasoning and the writing, putting into perspective for others important stories that will affect their lives.

J.S.: How did your career shift to a focus on the Middle East and Iran?

Daftari: I was a Middle Eastern studies major. I was doing a lot of independent study on Iran and the Middle East. My family’s from Iran so it was always an area of interest for me — how a revolution 30 years ago changed the entire fate of my community and my family, for an Iranian girl to be raised in Paramus, N.J. I always had an interest, and when I started researching the Middle East and Iran it wasn’t the hot topic at the time, but it was definitely a hot topic for me. You could scrape away the layers and get to all these questions about why things are a certain way right now.

J.S.: Why has the Middle East become such a hot topic?

Daftari: It is the most sensitive region of the world. We’ll always need people to put into context — and [provide] perspective [on] — what’s going on over there, whether it’s Israel and the Palestinians or Iran or Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 9/11, Americans want to know more about this area. For me it’s been very exciting to be able to tell the stories of the Middle Eastern people and to share their experience.

J.S.: How often are you in touch with people on the ground in Iran?

Daftari: It depends on what’s going on. Sometimes every day. Sometimes I set up different interviews with different people of specific interests — someone who just recently got out of jail or recently experienced something with the government. Something like that or an artist who’s doing something unique, or a rock star. I did an interview with a girl who’s a heavy metal artist in Iran.

It depends on what I’m working on or whether I just want to keep in touch with what people are doing over there on a daily basis.

And when the post-election demonstrations broke out, it was more often multiple times per day, just keeping up with all the things going on and staying on top of all the excitement and all the developments.

J.S.: The post-election protests in Iran have been out of the headlines for some time now. Is the opposition still protesting at the same levels as after the elections? What is happening that we’re not seeing?

Daftari: On a daily basis you see small groups of Iranians gather, whether it’s on a college campus, outside a government building, on rooftops at night.

This is very similar to what happened right before the revolution in ’79. What the American media and American public have to understand is sometimes these movements are very gradual. Nothing is done overnight.

The Iranian people realize if they’re out every day in large-scale demonstrations it doesn’t have the same effect. They’re coming out during holidays, especially holidays that signify something for the Islamic republic.

They wait for those types of opportunities in order to get their voices heard and in order to get the media coverage as well.

J.S.: Do you think that the American public is still as interested in what’s happening on the ground in Iran or has the focus shifted to the nuclear standoff?

Daftari: It’s definitely shifted to the nuclear standoff. In terms of national security, we have to be worried about the nuclear standoff. If you’re part of the Jewish community you’re going to be worried about Israel. If you’re living in America you’re going to be worried. I think every single person on Earth should be worried. It’s not just an America thing or an Israel thing.

Of course, that’s going to overshadow human rights violations in Iran. But at the same time, because of the nuclear issue, people are going to be more cognizant of the human rights issues that people are protesting about. It’s a clear indication of what type of government we’re dealing with. It’s the Islamic republic on one hand and Iran on the other.

And now for the first time in 30 years the American public is becoming aware of this difference. I think that’s the one big thing the Iranian population and the demonstrators were successful in doing in June: bringing [the difference] to the attention of the international community and more so the Americans.

The Iranian people came out and they came on the news. The coverage was pretty good — international coverage is always lacking in this country and it’s gotten much, much better. The Iran coverage was pretty good. It raised awareness and curiosity in the international community.

J.S.: What is the public perception of what is happening in Iran?

Daftari: The American public — you have to give them more credit. Because of the whole nuclear issue.... It’s not the first time we’re seeing a tyrant government that’s so different from its people. We’ve seen it in so many different circumstances and in so many different countries.

The American people are finally seeing that discrepancy and maybe feeling a little bit more for the Iranian people because their government is so rogue and so in the hard line. I think the American people have begun to see the differences there.

J.S.: What kind of impact has the nuclear standoff had on the opposition in Iran? Is there a danger of the country uniting in the face of a perceived “us vs. them” mentality?

Daftari: If you ask an Iranian plain and simple, “Do you think your country should have nuclear arms?,” it’s a very, very touchy subject. It almost comes out to a patriotic issue: “Why shouldn’t our country have nuclear arms?” Just like “Why shouldn’t our country have a great education system?” Our country should have this and our country should have that.

The difference in this case is the Iranian people don’t consider their government an Iranian government. They consider it an Islamic government that doesn’t have their best interests in mind.

The Iranian people don’t really trust their government to have these weapons. In this internal strife, why wouldn’t the government use their nuclear weapons on their own people? They hang their people, they beat and torture their people just for coming out in demonstration, so what would stop them from using nuclear weapons on their own people?
To say that the nuclear arms issue is going to unite the Iranian people is a little out there. It’s not going to happen and it’s not going to be a simple black-and-white answer. I don’t think the Iranian people are that naïve or have that much faith in their government.

J.S.: What can we do as Americans to support the people of Iran?

Daftari: Educating ourselves is probably the best thing we can do at this point — asking for Iran stories in the news and keeping up with what’s going on there. There’s an Iranian saying, “I didn’t ask for your help, but I didn’t want you to get in my way either.” It’s a very loose translation but what it means is the Iranian people weren’t asking our government or our people to help them in the outbreak of the post-election demonstrations but at the same time they didn’t want us to stand in the way. They feel like sometimes the American government has a way of just taking the attention to where they want.

With regards to the government, I think they’d want to see more support and with regards to the American people they’d want to see the same support. Knowing that the Iranian Americans and mainstream Americans are all standing behind them and wishing them well in their endeavor.

J.S.: How are the Iranian relationships with Hezbollah and Hamas viewed by the Iranian people?

Daftari: It used to be in ’79 and up to about this past year it was always “Death to America,” “Death to Israel.”

A lot of the slogans that we’re seeing on the street during the post-elections say something along the lines of, “We don’t care about Palestinians, we don’t care about Gaza. We are purely Iranian and we care about the Iranian people.”

I think the Iranian people are finally turning on their government — in the sense that they’re calling them out on this: “Why are we worried about the Palestinians? Why are we worried about helping the people in Gaza? Why are we giving money to these terrorists? Why are we giving money to children in the Palestinian territories when we should be supporting poor children in our own country?”

This government has gone so far and has become so radicalized that it’s pushing the Iranian people in the opposite direction and making them so secular, and so Iranian in their views and less Islamic in their views. And so patriotic in the sense that they want things for their own country and not for other countries.

The Palestinian issue has always been something the Islamic republic emphasized. Finally the Iranians are basically questioning that: “Why should we stand with the Palestinians? We should stand with ourselves. We have a rich culture that dates back thousands of years” — and they’re romanticizing that.

J.S.: Would the people want to re-establish relations with Israel?

Daftari: We’re a bit away from that. I think the people want to establish good ties with their government first. Everything is local for the Iranian people right now. They don’t care about America. They don’t care about Israel. They don’t care about the Palestinians. They just really want their human rights. They want unemployment to go down — it’s so high in that country. They want pollution to go down. They want jobs. They want to be able to get a divorce. Wives want to be able to complain against their husbands if they’re being beaten.

They want rights.

Israel and the United States are much farther off; they’re not on their minds as much as we think. The Iranian people think Israel’s going to help them get to their goals; they’re all for it. They think America’s going to help them; they’re all for it too. The Iranian people have become less polarized.

J.S.: Is the West using the right strategy with Iran?

Daftari: From the time President Obama was campaigning, he was very much set on negotiating with Iran. To give him credit, he has definitely mentioned Iran a number of times, but there hasn’t been as much action.

I think we haven’t seen the results. He’s using negotiating measures that don’t work and he’s repeating measures that don’t work. We’ve had three rounds of weak sanctions. It’s not going to work.

Unless we get crippling, crippling sanctions, serious sanctions — gasoline sanctions — that are going to choke off this regime, then we’re not going to get anywhere. Everybody pretty much agrees with that. If we can get China on board — which is probably a very slim to zero chance — then we’ll be on the right track to choking off this regime. Otherwise, we’re just embarrassing ourselves and making empty offers and gestures to a president and a government that’s so radicalized and so set in — they pretty much pride themselves in being outlandish. Every time President Obama is going to extend a hand, they’re going to ridicule [the gesture], and it’s just going to be another media fiasco.

Sanctions are definitely what we need right now.

J.S.: If we push for crippling sanctions, couldn’t that push the people into an extremist corner?

Daftari: That argument could be made, but at this point the Iranian people are coming out on those streets and watching their young children being shot at and watching their children hanged because of a simple demonstration. I think [imposing] sanctions — an economic pinch to an already suffering economy — is not going to be the worst option. I think the Iranian people are willing to brave that if it means they’re going to have the freedoms that they’ve been yearning for.

J.S.: What do you see happening if Israel or the United States moves forward with a military option?

Daftari: It’s going to be awful. It’s basically going to be utter chaos in the Middle East. That would obviously be the last, last, last option. If you’re worried about hurting the Iranian people with sanctions, the military option is the most unfair option for the Iranian people. It’s going to be the innocent Iranians that are going to be losing their lives.

Everything at this point should be targeted toward this regime. I think that’s a unanimous point of view in the case of Iran. I think everything — whether it’s sanctions, whether it’s negotiations, any sort of choke or pinch — should be targeted toward this regime and we should basically stay away from hurting the people of Iran as much as we can.

J.S.: What is your sense of the situation from the Iranian communities within America?

Daftari: The Iranians are very much politically cynical people. When the demonstrations broke out, it wasn’t just political, it was also highly emotional.

A lot of Iranians [in America] were just staying by the phone, by the computer, by the television, waiting for reports, waiting to find out where their loved ones were.

Here in Los Angeles, which has such a large enclave of Iranians, you couldn’t even step into a coffee shop without hearing multiple conversations about what’s going on and whether it was in the general scheme or talking about specific cousins and friends who went out to the protests. There was a huge solidarity. There were demonstrations here at the Federal Building and at the United Nations in New York.

It’s as if a 30-year-old pot had finally boiled over. Iranians of all different denominations and religions came together because it was a purely secular and Iranian patriotic fight for democracy and for human rights. It was a movement to go back to the Iranian culture that’s so fundamental in all Iranian families.

Since then, with the nuclear issue, people have become more cynical and a little bit more questioning of where America stands, where Europe stands. I think Iranians are always concerned about what the allies want because that’s what’s going to happen. They feel as though the ‘79 revolution was organized not by Iranians but by foreign powers. They’re applying that same formula to what’s going on right now.

A lot of Iranians believe nothing’s going to happen unless the foreign powers would want something to change.

J.S.: How optimistic are you about the situation?

Daftari: To be pessimistic would be wrong. We’ve seen movements that begin even slower and on a less steady course and ultimately reach some sort of development.

There’s such a discrepancy between [the government and] the people, who have become so secularized and modernized. One of the biggest problems for them is that Yahoo and Google were shut down during the demonstrations. They blog, they use Twitter. This is not a people who want to be represented by this type of government.

On the other hand, you have a government that’s embezzling millions and millions of dollars and is not going to go anywhere anytime soon without the proper pressure.

We have to be optimistic in the case of Iran. We have to for the sake of the Iranians and for the sake of the entire world.

We’re all at risk here. We’re not the ones suffering the daily consequences of the regime.

If and when Iran does become a nuclear power — and that’s one to maximum two years — we’re all going to be at risk. I don’t think we should wait till that point to be dealing with the situation.

I think the Iranian predicament is something the Iranian people and the entire world have to shoulder at this point. We have to be optimistic because something will happen.

J.S.: What brought your parents to the U.S.?

Daftari: My father came to New York to study about 45 years ago. He came before the revolution. He went back to Iran and met my mother — it was a year before the revolution. They got married and came to the States in hopes of basically organizing my father’s life and moving back to Iran. So my mother basically came out of Iran with about two suitcases. And then the revolution happened and they were forced to stay; they couldn’t go back.

At that point, my grandparents and uncles were all still in Iran. By 1980 they were all in New York.

J.S.: What role did Iran play for you growing up?

Daftari: My mother was very nostalgic about Iran, from the way she would buy corn on the cob on the street to her school memories and her friends and how everybody was so warm and hospitable and kind. It left us with this idea of a utopian society that I would give anything to visit.

I remember thinking [Iranian revolutionary leader] Ayatollah [Ruhollah] Khomeini was the only reason I was living in New Jersey instead of Iran, living the life my mother had always described to me. I remember watching TV when Ayatollah Khomeini passed away. I looked at my mother and said, “Does that mean we’re moving back to Iran?” I remember that, thinking he was the reason we were here and if things were better we’d be living in Iran.

It was always looked upon so positively; everybody was so kind and warm.

J.S.: What was it like growing up in a predominantly Ashkenazi community?

Daftari: I was pretty much raised with the Ashkenazi culture. Sephardi/Mizrachi culture was what I had at home. I didn’t think there was a divide, really. I felt I had a bonus at home, this bedazzled version of Judaism where we can have rice on Passover.

The wonderful thing about Jews is no matter where anyone’s from you can go to Israel and have Friday night dinner and just feel at home in anyone’s home. It’s a wonderful uniting characteristic about Judaism. I always felt it was an additional side of Judaism I got to explore.

J.S.: Have you traveled to Iran at all?

Daftari: No. I’ve traveled to the Middle East, to Israel and Turkey. I travel under my own name so I don’t think it’d be safe for me to travel to Iran.

J.S.: Would you eventually like to go?

Daftari: Absolutely. If I knew that it was safe I would go at any point. My mother always tells me she wouldn’t want me to go now because of all the wonderful pictures she’s painted in my mind about what Iran is. She wants them to stay that way and not [have me] see what it’s become. Pre-revolution Iran was competing [globally] — now it’s definitely not as it used to be.

J.S.: Thank for sharing your ideas with Jewish Standard readers.

 
 

Local town affirms support for Israel

The Fair Lawn Borough Council passed a non-binding, non-partisan resolution Tuesday night supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.

Sponsored by Fair Lawn resident Sam Heller, a member of Shomrei Torah Orthodox Congregation, the resolution had been moved to the top of the council’s agenda at its working session last Tuesday.

According to Heller, the idea came to him when he was driving home from Daughters of Miriam in Clifton, where he is a volunteer. The resolution — which includes a concise history of the State of Israel and describes in detail acts of terrorism by Hamas — states that Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas from getting materials to use against Israel and other parties. It further states that only after cargoes are inspected may humanitarian aid supplies pass through to Gaza.

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Sam Heller

Citing recent events and describing what happened when Israel Defense Forces soldiers tried to board the sixth ship in the flotilla from Turkey, the conclusion of the one-page resolution read, “We therefore resolve to demonstrate our support for Israel during this crisis in its efforts to control its borders and protect its people.”

Councilman Edward J. Trawinski said that passage of the resolution would be “the proverbial no-brainer” and that once it passed, it should be sent to Sens. Lautenberg and Menendez and Rep. Steven Rothman. Trawinski, a Republican, also asked that the resolution be amended to contain a statement that President Obama be called upon “to reverse his anti-Israel stand.”

Heller insisted, however, that his intention was to create a non-partisan resolution. A compromise was proposed in which wording would be included calling upon the president to speak out in support of Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of ongoing terrorism. The proposal was accepted and included in the original resolution.

Heller later told The Jewish Standard that some of his supporters felt that the language he used was not strong enough in condemning the administration for its policies on Israel.

“But that’s not what I wanted,” he said. “I learned from NORPAC that the non-partisan approach works best. That’s why I first approached the Democratic councilman, Steven Weinstein, and asked him to introduce the resolution.” Heller is a registered Republican who left the Democratic Party to vote for Ronald Reagan.

He also approached Jeanne Baratta, a Republican, and Trawinski and told them that he sought a non-partisan statement.

“I’m really surprised it went so fast,” he said, “and I am glad it happened in a non-partisan way. My personal views are stronger than those expressed in the resolution, but that is not what this is about. I also wanted to add something about Gilad Shalit and what was really happening in Turkey, but this couldn’t become a history lesson. I wanted to keep it short and sweet, so people would accept it.”

Asked if he was worried that anti-Israel demonstrators might show up at the council meeting to create an incident, Heller said he was very careful in sending out his information.

“I am an advocate for Israel trying to win the PR war for Israel. I count this as one for the good guys. Yes, it took some political skill, but a win is a win. That is how I see it.”

 
 

What McChrystal’s firing says about American values

 

Obama-Netanyahu meeting looks good, but what did they talk about?

WASHINGTON – The visuals were perfect, but the meaning was elusive.

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat together Tuesday, joshing and smiling, trying to project a clear message: The rift was over. Israel and the United States are on the same track again.

“In terms of my relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I know the press, both in Israel and stateside, enjoys seeing if there’s news there,” Obama said. “But the fact of the matter is that I’ve trusted Prime Minister Netanyahu since I met him before I was elected president, and have said so both publicly and privately.”

The meeting capped months of tensions sparked by Israel’s announcement in March of a major housing start in eastern Jerusalem during an official visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden.

The image of a friendly encounter between the two leaders was almost tainted in the lead-up to the meeting when it was leaked that Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, had warned in a private conversation of a “tectonic rift” between the two countries. Oren later explained that he had been misquoted: “Shift,” he said.

In any case, U.S. officials said in a rare on-the-record call last Friday, there is no fissure.

“There’s absolutely no rift between the United States and Israel,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, said in the conference call.

Dan Shapiro, the senior National Security Council official who runs the Israel desk, said he “can certainly underscore the incredible richness and intensity and quality of the exchange between our governments in military channels, in political channels, in intelligence channels.”

Officials were brimming with superlatives. Details, however, were lacking, and in some areas there was evident disagreement.

The leaders agreed, for instance, on the need to go to direct talks with the Palestinians; the Palestinian Authority has resisted them pending a full settlement freeze.

Obama, however, set a deadline of sorts when he made clear that he wanted such talks to start before September, when Netanyahu’s self-imposed 10-month settlement freeze lapses.

“My hope is that once direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in success,” Obama said.

Israeli officials, speaking on and off the record, made it clear that they were not confident the Palestinians were ready for direct talks and would not commit to a deadline.

The sides also spoke of confidence-building measures. Pressed for specifics, Obama cited the need for the Palestinians to further inhibit incitement, and called on Israel to “widen the scope” of Palestinian security responsibilities in the west bank, given the advances that a U.S.-led team has had in training Palestinian security forces.

In the meetings before and after lunch, however, Netanyahu and his team suggested that the Israelis were not confident enough in the Palestinians to assume greater security control in areas outside their current purview of a handful of cities.

Most tellingly, Obama administration officials said the peace process and moving to direct talks was reason No. 1 for the Obama-Netanyahu meeting.

Israeli officials placed it a distant third behind delivering assurances to Israel that the United States would not press Israel for nuclear transparency, and U.S. assistance in shepherding Israel past the crisis sparked by Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on an aid flotilla that aimed to breach Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip.

Still, the Israeli team emerged from the meetings reassured and even jovial. The nuclear issue was key.

“The United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security interests,” Obama said, referring to his administration’s efforts to get more countries to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Israeli officials had raised concerns after a U.S.-hosted conference in May concluded with an agreement to consider the issue of Israel. U.S. officials said later that the issue should only be considered subsequent to a comprehensive, permanent peace, which is Israel’s position.

The United States and Israel have a longstanding agreement to maintain ambiguity on Israel’s nuclear capacity. Israel is believed to maintain an arsenal of up to 200 nuclear warheads.

Netanyahu thanked Obama for “reaffirming the longstanding U.S. commitments to Israel on matters of vital strategic importance.”

Especially impressive to the Israelis, and to pro-Israel lobbyists that have fretted about the ostensible rift, was how Obama framed the announcement.

“We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in and the threats that are leveled against us — against it — that Israel has unique security requirements,” Obama said. “It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that’s why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security.”

The remark spoke to the “kishkes” factor — the concern among some pro-Israel groups about whether Obama has an intuitive, gut understanding of Israel’s security needs.

“This recognition by the United States of Israel’s security needs is a testament to the common understanding of the complexities of the Middle East situation,” B’nai B’rith International said in a statement.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said, “For over 60 years Israel has offered its hand in peace, demonstrating again and again its willingness to make real and heartrending sacrifices — altering borders, relinquishing territory, uprooting families and entire communities — in the pursuit of peace,” the organization noted.

Israeli officials said they were especially pleased with U.S. efforts to push back pressure for an international inquiry into the flotilla raid, which left nine Turks dead — including one Turkish-American citizen — and which has disrupted ties among Turkey, the United States, and Israel.

Netanyahu also said he was pleased by the Iran sanctions Obama helped shepherd through the United Nations Security Council, as well as congressional sanctions that became law last week.

JTA

 
 

Lockerbie bomber case not closed

 
 
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