Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Saudi Arabia

 

Inside the beltway

Of spies and sanctions

Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process continue to dominate American foreign policy, subtly influencing other goings-on in Washington. The Obama administration recently received two letters from members of the House of Representatives, one calling for clemency for convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, and the other questioning a proposed multi-billion-dollar weapons sale to Saudi Arabia.

Questioning Saudi Arabia

Reps. Scott Garrett (R-5), Steve Rothman (D-9), and Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-5) have signed on to a letter with more than 190 other members of the House who questioned a proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. The letter, sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Nov. 10, asks for clarification on how the sale advances U.S. interests, if any conditions have been placed on the sale, and what threats the sale is intended to address.

“We do that in light of the concerns we raised of the failures by Saudi Arabia to meet the levels of commitments in other areas we hope they would raise before we engage in such arms sales,” Garrett told The Jewish Standard during a phone interview last week.

The letter also raises concerns about Saudi Arabia’s regional policies, in particular with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to the letter, members of Congress “have serious concerns about the nature of Saudi involvement in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly since the Saudis have failed to take steps toward normalization of relations with Israel or to augment their financial support of the Palestinian Authority.

“Likewise, Saudi officials have often made clear their anxiety over the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. But what action, if any, has Saudi Arabia taken to address this threat?”

The letter, Garrett said, is “a strong message that we’re looking for answers in a timely manner.”

Rothman said the letter is meant to ensure Israel’s military advantage in the region.

“My initial conversation with military and intelligence leaders who are most aware of the realities on the ground indicates that Israel’s qualitative military advantages would not be compromised by such a deal,” Rothman said, adding that the letter’s purpose was to get specifics as to how that advantage would be sustained, if not enhanced, by this deal.

Rothman’s office received a letter in response from Clinton and Gates earlier this week. According to that letter, the secretaries “ believe the proposed package promotes U.S. strategic and foreign policy interests, and it is a key component of our overall regional strategy.”

The letter cited the close “political-military relations” of six decades with Saudi Arabia, “a primary security pillar in the region.”

The secretaries also cited the Iranian threat to Saudi Arabia as well as attacks on its border with Yemen. They also concluded, according to the letter, that the sale will not impact Israel’s military advantage in the region.

“I will now be doing my own due diligence with regards to the statements made by Secretaries Gates and Clinton,” Rothman said.

To read both letters in full, visit http://www.jstandard.com.

Only Einhorn can go to China?

As the United States continues to push for tougher sanctions against Iran in the United Nations, China and Russia have consistently fought against harsher measures. Garrett recently met with Robert Einhorn, special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control and the Obama administration’s point-man on sanctions enforcement, for a briefing on a recent meeting with Chinese officials. Einhorn has worked on nuclear proliferation issues in almost every administration since Richard Nixon’s. In September, he went to China with a list of Chinese companies and banks that continue to violate sanctions against Iran.

Garrett raised questions about that list and China’s response. During his conversation with the Standard, Garrett stayed away from specifics about that list, but said it would be a subject of continuing talks with Einhorn.

Sanctions can be effective, the representative said, but they need to lead to something.

“The endgame is not to simply be implementing sanctions, but to bring about a change of behavior by Iran and we have yet to see that,” Garrett said.

Calls increasing for Pollard’s release

Calls for clemency for convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard are gaining steam in Washington, with a letter to the White House signed by almost 40 members of the House of Representatives. Pollard is serving a life sentence on charges of espionage on behalf of Israel.

Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) sent the letter to President Obama Nov. 18 after collecting signatures from 35 other members of the house, including Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).

“We are not questioning Mr. Pollard’s guilt, but rather appealing for clemency based on the vast disparity between his sentence and his crime,” said Pascrell in a statement to the Standard. “Israel is one of America’s strongest allies, and I believe that 25 years behind bars is far too many for Mr. Pollard, especially considering the sentences to those convicted of similar crimes on behalf of countries who are not our friends.”

Pascrell, who visited Pollard in federal prison in 1998, has made Pollard’s case one of his main issues.

Pollard’s lawyers submitted a request for clemency to Obama last month after it was revealed that Pollard’s sentence may have been influenced by the anti-Israel attitude of the late U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. The Jerusalem Post also reported Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to ask Obama for Pollard’s release as part of an incentive package for Israel to extend its settlement freeze.

“In the end, the reasons why now is the appropriate time or whether Mr. Pollard’s release on clemency grounds would dovetail with other activities occurring in the Middle East or at home are irrelevant,” Rothman said. “What is most important is that the injustice of Mr. Pollard’s continued incarceration — albeit for an extremely serious act of treason that he committed — be granted immediately.”

Pollard’s sentence, he said, “has so grossly exceeded” the sentences of other Americans tried for similar crimes, Rothman said. The 25 years Pollard has already served meets the needs of punishment and deterrence, he said, adding that Pollard has expressed remorse for his actions.

Garrett did not sign the letter, which he said he had not seen. He declined further comment on the issue of clemency until he reads the letter.

For more on the Pollard issue, see Timing, noodging advance new push for Pollard.

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 
 

Tunisian Jews safe but watchful

The violence roiling Tunisia hasn’t put the country’s 1,500 or so Jews in serious jeopardy, but Jewish organizations are increasingly concerned about their fate as massive anti-government protests continue.

No Jews have been targeted by the protesters, according to Roger Bismuth, a Jewish businessman and member of Tunisia’s Chamber of Deputies.

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled Tunisia with an iron fist for 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia over the weekend following violent protests by mostly unemployed young men venting their anger at Ben Ali and his wealthy cronies.

On Tuesday, the North African country’s interim prime minister and president, Mohamed Ghannouchi and Fouad Mebazaa, both resigned from what had been the country’s ruling party.

“The community is fine,” Bismuth told JTA by phone from Tunis. “Up until now we’ve had no problems. This is not really a matter of religion; it’s a popular revolution. The Jewish community is very well taken care of.”

Asked about Ben Ali, often described by the local Jewish community as a protector of Tunisia’s Jews, Bismuth sounded a new tone.

“He was behaving like a crook,” Bismuth said. “He and his family stole property from people and the state, and they destroyed everything they could put their hands on.”

Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, described the Tunisian government of Ben Ali as a “corrupt and kleptocratic dictatorship.”

About 1,000 Jews, the majority of Tunisia’s Jewish community, live on the island of Djerba, where Jews have maintained a historical presence for more than 2,000 years. Another 400 Jews live in Tunis, the capital, with much smaller communities in Zarzis, Sfax, and Sousse.

The country’s population of 9.5 million is nearly all Muslims. Islam is the state religion of Tunisia, which sits on the Mediterranean coast between Algeria and Libya just south of Italy.

In 2002, a terrorist attack on the El-Ghriba synagogue in Djerba involving a truck bomb killed 21 tourists, mostly Germans. Al-Qaida took responsibility for the bombing.

Judy Amit, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s regional director for Africa and Asia, said her organization has been in daily contact with Tunisian Jewish leaders throughout the crisis.

“Ever since the rioting erupted there, we’ve been in close contact with members of the community,” said Amit, speaking in an interview from Israel. “It’s an economic protest with local grievances related to high unemployment and high food prices. There’s been no violence against the Jewish community, and no Jews or Jewish institutions have been targeted.”

Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs at the American Jewish Committee, noted that “Jews have been part of the fabric of Tunisian life for more than 2,000 years, since well before the Arab conquest.”

Yet Isaacson, who visited Tunisia last month, warned that things could quickly change for the worse.

“My concern is that if the situation is not stabilized, there could be further instability and create a breeding ground for extremism,” he said. “That’s not been a part of the equation, but it could happen if the enormous damage done first by Ben Ali and second by the riots is not compensated by a very serious international infusion of outside assistance.”

As of Tuesday, some 78 people have been killed, with economic losses estimated at $2.2 billion — equivalent to about 4 percent of Tunisia’s GDP. Schools and universities have been shut down as a precaution against violence and vandalism by protesters, including the Chabad school in downtown Tunis.

Yechiel Bar-Chaim, JDC’s country director for Tunisia, said his main concern is for the 100 Jews of Zarzis, who live in a two-square-block area just off the town center. Four non-Jewish civilians were killed during protests there late last week, and a Jewish-owned shop was among the many looted.

Bar-Chaim said that until a few days ago, this self-imposed “ghetto without walls” was carefully guarded by police. But the police have “simply disappeared from the streets of Zarzis and the army presence there is basically a passive one,” he reported.

“The police have reportedly disappeared in many places throughout Tunisia,” though a heavy police presence continues to guard the Grand Synagogue of Tunis and the central building of the Jewish community, he said.

Isaacson, who has been speaking by phone daily to Bismuth and other Tunisian Jewish leaders since the crisis began, said that “It’s generally a secular uprising directed at the regime’s corruption and economic stagnation and a general desire for freedom, especially in the last few days as unrest has continued.”

Sharansky warned of an “ever-present possibility of anti-Jewish sentiment leading to violence” in the cities where Jews live and work.

“Before the revolt, Ben Ali had a tolerant attitude towards the Jewish community,” he wrote. “Until the revolt there was no blatant anti-Semitism. However, an uncomfortable relationship between the Jewish community and the Arab population exists.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
Page 1 of 1 pages
 
 
S M T W T F S
1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31