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Updated: 5 hours 58 min ago

Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas Denounces Synagogue Killings

Wed, 19 Nov 2014 - 1:41am

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday condemned an attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem that killed four Israelis earlier in the day.

Abbas’ office said in a statement that the presidency always denounced the killing of civilians by any party.

“Consequently, today the presidency denounces the killing of worshipers at a place of worship in West Jerusalem,” the statement said, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

“The presidency also denounces all violent acts no matter who their source is, and demands an end to the ongoing incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the provocative acts by Israeli settlers as well as incitement by some Israeli ministers,” it added.

The statement went on to demand an end to the Israeli occupation and said the Palestinian Authority remained committed to a two-state solution.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian factions Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Resistance Committees praised the attack.

Two Palestinians armed with a gun and axes attacked a Jerusalem synagogue earlier Tuesday, killing four Israelis before police shot the attackers dead.

Mirrored from Ma’an News Agency


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Why Israel Opposes a Final Nuclear Deal with Iran and What to Do About It

Wed, 19 Nov 2014 - 1:11am

By Robert E. Hunter

WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS) – Nov. 24 is the deadline for six world powers and Iran to reach a final deal over its nuclear programme. If there is no deal, then the talks are likely to be extended, not abandoned.

But as I learned from more than three decades’ work on Middle East issues, in and out of the U.S. government, success also depends on Israel no longer believing that it needs a regional enemy shared in common with the United States to ensure Washington’s commitment to its security.

Much is at stake in the negotiations with Iran in Vienna, notably the potential removal of the risk of war over its nuclear programme and the removal of any legitimate basis for Israel’s fear that it could become the target of an Iranian bomb.

Success could also begin Iran’s reintegration into the international community, ending its lengthy quarantine. If President Barack Obama and his national security officials get their way, including the Pentagon—hardly a group of softies—a comprehensive final accord would be a good deal for U.S. national security and, in the American analysis, for Israel’s security as well.

Yet more is at issue for Israel, and for the Persian Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. They want to keep Iran in purdah.

Indeed, since the Iranian Revolution ran out of steam outside its borders, the essential questions about the challenge Iran poses have been the following: Will it be able to compete for power and position in the region, and, how can Iran’s competition be dealt with?

The first response, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is to decry whatever might be agreed to in the talks, no matter how objectively good the results would be for everyone’s security. He has the Saudis and other Arab states as silent partners.

Between them, the Israeli and oil lobbies command a lot of attention in the U.S. Congress, a large part of whose members would otherwise accept that President Obama’s standard for an agreement meets the tests of both U.S. security and the security of its partners in the Middle East.

But a large fraction of Congress is no more willing to take on these two potent lobbies than the National Rifle Association.

Netanyahu will also do all he can to prevent the relaxation of any of the sanctions imposed on Iran. But even if he and his U.S. supporters succeed on Capitol Hill, President Obama can on his own suspend some of those sanctions—though exactly how much is being debated.

The U.S. does not have the last word on sanctions, however. The moment there is a final agreement, the floodgates of economic trade and investment with Iran will open. Europeans, in particular, are lined up with their order books, like Americans in 1889 who awaited the starter’s pistol to begin the Oklahoma land rush.

In response, U.S. private industry will ride up Capitol Hill to demand the relaxation of U.S.-mandated sanctions. Meanwhile, the sighs of relief resounding throughout the world will begin changing the international political climate concerning Iran.

Yet America’s concerns will not cease. While the U.S. and Iran have similar interests in opposing the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), and in wanting to see Afghanistan free from reconquest by of the Taliban, they are still far apart on other matters, notably the Assad regime in Syria, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas.

President Obama will also have an immediate problem in reassuring Israel and Gulf Arab states that American commitments to their security are sincere. To be sure, absent an Iranian nuclear weapon, there is no real Iranian military threat and all the Western weapons pumped into the Persian Gulf are thus essentially useless.

Iran’s real challenges emanate from its dynamic domestic economy, a highly educated, entrepreneurial culture that is matched in the region only by Israelis and Palestinians, and a good deal of cultural appeal even beyond Shi’a communities.

Obama thus faces a special problem in reassuring Israel, a problem that goes back decades. When the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed in 1979, the risks of a major Arab attack on Israel sank virtually to zero. So, too, did the risk of an Arab-Israeli conflict escalating to the level of a U.S.-Soviet confrontation. All at once, U.S. and Israeli strategic concerns were no longer obviously linked.

Thus as soon as Israel withdrew from the Sinai in May 1979, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin started searching for an alternative basis for linking American and Israeli strategic interests.

For him and for many other Israelis, then and now, it is not enough that the American people are firmly committed to Israel’s security for what could be called “sentimental” reasons: bonds of history (especially memories of the Holocaust), culture, religion, and the values of Western democracy.

But such “sentiment” is the strongest motivation for all U.S. commitments, a far stronger glue than strategic calculations that can and often do change, a fact that could be testified to by the people of South Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Yet for Begin and others, there had to be at least a strong similarity of strategic interests. Thus, in a meeting with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance the day after Egypt retook possession of the Sinai, Begin complained that the US had cancelled its “strategic dialogue” with Israel. Vance tasked me, as the National Security Council staff representative on his travelling team, to find out “what the heck Begin is talking about.”

I phoned Washington and got the skinny: the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment had been conducting a low-level dialogue with some Israeli military officers. Proving to be of little value, it was stopped.

The reason for Begin’s outburst thus became clear: in the absence of the strategic tie with the United States that had been provided by the conflict with Egypt, Israel needed something else, in effect, a common enemy.

That’s why many Israeli political stakeholders were ambivalent about the George W. Bush administration’s ambitions to topple Iraq’s Saddam Hussein: with his overthrow, a potential though remote threat to Israel would be removed, but so would the perception of a common enemy. Since Saddam’s ousting, Iran has gained even more importance for Israel as a means of linking Jerusalem’s strategic perceptions with those of Washington.

By the same political logic, Israel has always asserted that it is a strategic asset for the United States. As part of recognising Israel’s psychological needs, no U.S. official ever publicly challenges that Israeli assertion regardless of what they think in private or however much damage the U.S. might suffer politically in the region because of Israeli activities, including the building of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

So what must Obama do in order to eliminate the risk of an Iranian nuclear weapon, while also reassuring Israel of US fealty? On one side, to be able to honour an agreement with Iran, Obama has to undercut Netanyahu’s efforts with Congress to prevent any sanctions relief.

On the other side, he could reassure Israel through the classic means of buttressing the flow of arms, including the anti-missile capabilities of the Iron Dome that were so useful to Israel during the recent fighting in Gaza.

Israel would want even closer strategic cooperation with the U.S., including consultations on the full range of U.S. thinking and planning on all relevant issues in the Middle East. Israel (at least Netanyahu) would also want any notion of further negotiations with the Palestinians, and the relaxation of economic pressures on Gaza, put into the deep freeze—where, in effect, they already are.

Israel has an inherent, sovereign right to defend itself and to make, for and by itself, calculations about what that means. (The country is not unified, however: a surprising number of former leaders of the Israeli military and security agencies have publicly differed with Netanyahu’s pessimistic assessments of the Iranian threat).

As Israel’s only real friend in the world, the United States continues to have an obligation, within reason, to reassure Israel about its security and safety.

For Obama, this reassurance to Israel is a price worth paying in the event of a deal, which would be at least one step in trying to build security and stability in an increasingly turbulent Middle East. But that can only happen if Israel refrains from obstructing Obama’s effort to make everyone, including Israel, more secure.

Robert E. Hunter, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, was director of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council Staff in the Carter administration and in 2011-12 was director of Transatlantic Security Studies at the National Defense University. Read his work on IPS’s foreign policy blog, LobeLog.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Licensed from Inter Press Service


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Our new Climate-Change Denialist Congress and Looming Planetary Disaster

Wed, 19 Nov 2014 - 12:53am

By Michael T. Klare (

Pop the champagne corks in Washington!  It’s party time for Big Energy.  In the wake of the midterm elections, Republican energy hawks are ascendant, having taken the Senate and House by storm.  They are preparing to put pressure on a president already presiding over a largely drill-baby-drill administration to take the last constraints off the development of North American fossil fuel reserves.

The new Republican majority is certain to push their agenda on a variety of key issues, including tax reform and immigration.  None of their initiatives, however, will have as catastrophic an impact as their coming drive to ensure that fossil fuels will dominate the nation’s energy landscape into the distant future, long after climate change has wrecked the planet and ruined the lives of millions of Americans.

It’s already clear that the new Republican leadership in the Senate will make construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, intended to carry heavy oil (or “tar sands”) from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, one of their top legislative priorities. If the lame-duck Congress fails to secure Keystone’s approval now with the help of pro-carbon Senate Democrats, it certainly will push the measure through when a Republican-dominated Senate arrives in January. Approval of that pipeline, said soon-to-be Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, will be among the first measures “we’re very likely to be voting on.”  But while the Keystone issue is going to command the Senate’s attention, it’s only one of many measures being promoted by the Republicans to speed the exploitation of the country’s oil, coal, and natural gas reserves.  So devoted are their leaders to fossil fuel extraction that we should start thinking of them not as the Grand Old Party, but the Grand Oil Party.

In seeking to boost fossil fuel production, the GOP leadership is already mapping out plans to fight on several fronts in addition to Keystone.  For example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a likely presidential candidate, is promoting a scheme to eliminate what he calls government “obstacles” — that is, federal oversight of energy-related matters — to the construction of any border-crossing pipelines, whether for the importation of tar sands from Canada or the export of natural gas to Mexico.  Other prominent Republicans, including McConnell (who comes from coal-rich Kentucky), are eager to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from imposing strict carbon restraints on the use of coal, ban federal oversight of hydro-fracking, open offshore Alaska and Virginia to drilling, and facilitate foreign sales of U.S. crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Whatever individual initiatives one Republican figure or another may be pushing, as a group they fervently believe in the desirability of boosting the consumption of fossil fuels and the absolute need to defeat any measures designed to slow climate change through restraints on such consumption.  For many of them, this is both an economic issue, aimed at boosting the profits of U.S. energy firms, and bedrock ideology, part of a quasi-mystical belief in the national-power-enhancing nature of petroleum.  Top Republicans argue, for instance, that the best way to counter Russian inroads in Ukraine (or elsewhere in Europe) is to accelerate the fracking of U.S. shale gas reserves and ship the added output to that continent in the form of liquefied natural gas.  This, they are convinced, will break Russia’s hold on the continent’s energy supplies.  “The ability to turn the tables and put the Russian leader in check,” House Speaker John Boehner wrote in March, “lies right beneath our feet, in the form of vast supplies of natural energy.”

Central to the political ethos of many Republicans, including the likely candidates for president in 2016, is a belief in the restorative abilities of oil and gas when it comes to waning national power and prestige.  Governor Christie, for example, devoted his initial foreign policy speech to a vision of a “North American energy renaissance” based on the accelerated production of hydrocarbons in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.  “The dramatic change in the energy landscape in North America,” he declared, “has made all of us better off and will continue to do so.”  (Significantly, Christie unveiled his plan in Mexico, which is expected to open its oil and gas fields to development by U.S. firms for the first time since it expropriated foreign oil assets in 1938.)

In order to claim such benefits from increased fossil-fuel production, the increasingly severe effects of climate change — including on highly vulnerable coastal communities in New Jersey — have to be conveniently left out of the equation.  In fact, most top Republicans solve that problem either by denying the very reality of climate change or by viewing it as, at worst, a future minor irritant.  In one of the genuinely bizarre outcomes of the recent election, Oklahoma’s James Inhofe is expected to be chosen as the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  A long-time proponent of the view that human-induced climate change is a giant “hoax,” Inhofe has pledged, among other things, to sabotage the EPA’s drive to restrict carbon emissions from coal.

The Power of the Purse

What accounts for such a messianic belief in the beneficial effects of fossil fuel extraction?

Never underestimate the lure of money — or, to be more precise, campaign contributions.  The giant energy firms are among the leading sources of campaign financing.  Most of their money has, in recent years, gone to Republicans who espouse a pro-carbon agenda — and with such a crew now ascendant in Congress, staggering sums will undoubtedly continue to pour in.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics, the oil and gas industry was the ninth biggest supplier of campaign funds during the 2013-2014 election cycle, with 87% of the $51 million it spent going to Republicans.  The coal industry provided another $10 million in contributions, with 95% going to Republicans.  Koch Industries, the energy conglomerate controlled by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, was the top oil company provider, accounting for $9.4 million in contributions; Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Occidental Petroleum were also major donors.  These figures, it should be noted, only include direct donations to candidates in accordance with federal campaign laws.  They exclude funds channeled through secretive super PACS and supposedly “non-profit” organizations that are not bound by such rules.  During the 2012 election, the CRP reports, the Koch Brothers helped steer an estimated $407 million to such entities; equally large amounts are thought to have been expended in the 2014 go-around.

To a significant extent, these funds were shuttled to especially industry-friendly and powerful Republicans.  Among the leading recipients of oil funding in 2014, according to the CRP, were John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, along with John Cornyn, the particularly enthusiastic pro-energy senator from Texas, and Congressman Cory Gardner of Colorado, who just took a Senate seat from the environmentally conscious Democrat Mark Udall.  Not surprisingly, among the top recipients of coal industry funding were Boehner and McConnell, as well as especially coal-friendly congressional representatives like Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley of West Virginia.

These and other recipients of fossil fuel cash know full well that their future access to such largesse, and so their ability to get reelected, will depend on their success in pushing legislation that facilitates the accelerated extraction of oil, gas, and coal.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to calculate the consequences of this conveyor belt of financial support, both for affected communities and for the climate.

Energy-Surplus States

Another way to understand the Republican embrace of fossil fuels is to focus on the relative importance of oil, gas, and mining operations to the economies of certain predominantly “red” states with built-in Republican majorities.  According to a revealing analysis by John Kemp of Reuters, only 13 U.S. states export more energy than they import (in descending order): Wyoming, West Virginia, Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Montana, Arkansas, Utah, and Kentucky. Fossil fuel extraction helps drive the economies of these states and voters there tend to elect particularly pro-extraction Republicans. When the 114th Congress convenes in January, 19 of the 26 Senate seats from these states will be held by Republicans and only six by Democrats.

Note that these states played a particularly pivotal role in the 2014 midterms, with the Republican leadership making an all-out drive to score major victories in them. Ten of these states had Senate races this year and the Republicans succeeded in ousting Democrats in five of them: Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and Alaska.  Needless to say, the giant oil and coal companies poured vast amounts of money into these campaigns. Koch Industries, for example, made substantial contributions to the Senate campaigns of Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Steve Daines in Montana, and Cory Gardner in Colorado.

In many respects, energy-surplus states have different interests than other states, which must import the preponderance of their energy supplies.  These energy-importing states, including Democratic bastions like Illinois, New York, California, and Massachusetts, often seek strict federal regulation of things like hydro-fracking and power-plant emissions.  Surplus states like Texas and Pennsylvania, on the other hand, largely prefer state-level oversight rather than the generally stronger federal version of the same.

The major fossil fuel companies also favor state-level oversight of energy affairs, which regularly results into drilling-friendly legislation.  When it comes to hydraulic fracking, here’s how ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson politely puts the matter: “[W]e believe that is best left to the state, [to] state regulatory bodies,” as they are more attuned to conditions on the ground.  “[W]riting a federal standard to apply across a whole range of these conditions we don’t think is the most efficient way to go about it.”

In this and other ways, energy-surplus states often resemble oil-rich countries like Russia, Nigeria, Angola, and Kazakhstan, where energy companies enjoy a cozy, often venal, relationship with top leaders. Scholars in the field speak of an “oil curse” that bedevils such countries, in which the best interests of ordinary citizens — not to mention the environment — are regularly sacrificed in efforts to boost output and line the pockets of ruling elites.

Oil, Gas, and National Security

A third reason why the Grand Oil Party tends to favor fossil fuel extraction is that its representatives view such production as a vital pillar of national security — another Republican priority.  Increased oil, gas, and coal extraction is said to enhance U.S. security in two ways: by invigorating the economy and so strengthening America’s competitive advantage vis-à-vis rival powers and by bolstering Washington’s capacity to confront hostile petro-states like Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.

The recent upsurge in oil and natural gas production in what’s being called “Saudi America” is especially beneficial, Republicans claim, because it lowers the cost of energy for American manufacturers and attracts fresh investment in energy-intensive activities by companies that might otherwise locate their factories in China, Taiwan, or elsewhere.  “The production boom in gas and associated lower costs,” Governor Christie argues, “have contributed to ‘re-shoring,’ a return of manufacturing jobs that had been migrating to Asia before.”

Equally important, it is a Republican conviction that an upsurge in domestic oil and gas production will give Washington a stronger hand in its dealings with Iran and Russia, in particular.  For one thing, by becoming less dependent on imported energy, the U.S. is making itself ever less vulnerable to the blandishments of major suppliers in the Middle East.  In addition, by driving down international prices, American oil and gas output is also curtailing the energy revenues of Iran and Russia, making their leaders more susceptible to U.S. pressure.

Given this, the Republican leadership is especially focused on eliminating existing obstacles to selling crude oil and natural gas abroad.  At the moment, the exporting of crude is prohibited, thanks to a 40-year-old ban adopted in the wake of the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974.  Natural gas exports are hindered by the lack of LNG facilities in this country and by regulatory barriers to their rapid construction. Constraints on such construction, according to Boehner (who, of course, wants to lift them), constitute a “de-facto ban on American natural-gas exports — a situation that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin happily exploited to finance his geopolitical goals.”

Not surprisingly, the major oil and gas companies are also strongly in favor of such steps, which would allow them to sell cheap oil and gas to Europe and Asia, where prices are substantially higher.  Building more gas-export facilities, says Erik Milito, an official of the pro-industry American Petroleum Institute, would mean that “our LNG exports could significantly strengthen the global energy market against crisis and manipulation… a win-win for our economy and our friends.”

The oil companies are also pushing for intensified efforts to integrate the U.S., Mexican, and Canadian oil systems which, Christie and others claim, would enhance U.S. security by diminishing reliance on Middle Eastern and other extra-hemispheric suppliers. At the same time, such integration would help American companies acquire greater control over production in Mexico and Canada. Mexico’s new energy legislation, which opens the way for foreign investment in its oil and gas fields, was heavily pushed by U.S. oil firms and prominent Republicans.

There is little question that increased exports would benefit American energy firms and their customers abroad.  Any easing of export constraints would, however, induce U.S. producers to divert output from domestic markets to more lucrative markets abroad, potentially harming American consumers. While prices might fall in Europe, they could rise in the United States, removing the current economic stimulus that relatively low-cost oil and gas provide.  Increased exports would also mean that the recent slowdown in U.S. carbon emissions — a product of economic hard times and a switch from coal to gas in electricity generation — would be rendered meaningless by increased greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of U.S. fossil fuels in other countries.

Fossil Fuels Forever

At a time when more and more people around the world are coming to recognize the need for tough restraints on fossil fuel combustion, the Republicans are about to march forcefully in the opposite direction.  Theirs will be a powerful vote for a fossil-fuels-forever planet.

The consequences of such a commitment are chilling.  While virtually all scientists and many world leaders have concluded that the heating of the planet must be kept to an average increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the pro-carbon agenda being pursued by the Republicans would guarantee a planet heated by four to six or more degrees Celsius or six to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.  That large an increase is almost certain to render significant portions of the planet virtually uninhabitable, and so threaten human civilization as we know it.  As the U.N.’s prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted in its recent summary report, “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

With Republicans now in control, pro-carbon initiatives will be the order of the day in Congress.  President Obama has veto power over most such measures and is reportedly planning various executive actions on climate issues — some intended to clinch a recent climate deal with China.  In the long run, however, his need to secure Republican support for key legislative endeavors and his own “all of the above” energy policy may mean that he will give ground in this area to win votes for what he may view as more actionable steps on free trade pacts and other issues.  In other words, for each modest step forward on climate stabilization, the latest election ensures that Americans are destined to march several steps backward when it comes to reliance on climate-altering fossil fuels.  It’s a recipe for good times for Big Energy and its congressional supporters and bad times for the rest of us.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2014 Michael T. Klare

Mirrored from


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Pope Francis’s Visit to Turkey Embroiled in Partisan Controversies

Wed, 19 Nov 2014 - 12:33am

By Ali Murat Yel

The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis will visit Turkey on 3-day official visit from November 28 to 30. However, the publication of Turkey’s official invitation letter in Milli Gazete, a Turkish daily, has caused an enormous stir in the country. As a result, Pope Francis’s visit has stirred controversy among opposition circles of Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s style in the letter (which was in a similar form sent by earlier heads of state) was criticized harshly. The September 10, 2014 dated letter starts with a cordial address “His Holiness Francis,” which critics said constituted inappropriate exaltation and admiration on the part of Erdogan.

Pope Francis’s visit itinerary is not materially different from the earlier papal visits of Paul VI (1967), John Paul II (1979), and Benedict (2006): except for Paul VI, all the popes visited Turkey on the feast of St. Andrew (Patron Saint of Patriarchate and his feast is celebrated on November 30). Since Turkey is not a Catholic country (0,07% of the 76 million population), the pope’s main objective is in fact to meet the Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul to advance inter-Christian relations. These trips start in Ankara with official meetings with Turkey’s President, Prime Minister to pay his respects, and public authorities in addition to paying an official visit to the President of Religious Affairs on the first day. The papal journey continues in Istanbul the next day by visiting Saint Sofia Museum and Sultan Ahmet Mosque and a mass celebration at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. The third day, on November 30, is the climax of the papal visit by celebrating Divine Liturgy in the Patriarchal Church of St. George participating in the Orthodox Church’s feast.

Whereas the Vatican has concerns over the current problems and future of Christians in the Middle East with the latest developments and the Patriarchate seeks to improve its ties with the Church of Rome for Turkish authorities it is just another foreign official visit, which would contribute to build good relations between the Christian West and the Islamic East. In fact, the Pope had originally been sent an invitation by Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople earlier but the Pope anticipated an official invitation from the Turkish political authorities in his status of being a “head of state”.

So far, everything was going smoothly, that is, the head of the Orthodox Church had invited the head of the Catholic Church and the invitation was accepted on condition that it should be an official invitation. The head of Turkish state issued an official letter of invitation as per with the expectations of both sides.

The title of the newspaper article reporting on Erdogan’s invitation was very provocative in nature, claiming that the president had engaged in “unfortunate praises”. In fact, it was simply a custom or a protocol rule, or at least, etiquette to respect another culture. As in the address to the British Queen “Her Majesty” although one may not think that she is “majestic”; the title “holiness” does not necessarily indicate that one thinks the Pope is “holy”. This addressing style was compared with the historical letter (1536) of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to the French King François with full of praises of the Sultan and a simple address to the King of France. The news item continues to criticize Erdogan on his “insistently” inviting the Pope, which is not even possible considering the hectic first days of his presidency; as in the same item and in the letter, it is clear that it was only a renewal of the previous President Abdullah Gul’s official invitation.

Inter-faith dialogue has the hope of enhancing mutual respect among the followers of different faiths. It is true that there is a segment of Turkish society that is against inter-religious dialogue, saying that it had been initiated by the Catholic Church especially after the Second Vatican Council and the Muslims had been relegated to being its subject rather than an equal partner in the dialogue meetings. It is interesting that although this dialogue process had been promoted mainly by the Gulen Movement, they also joined the criticisms by emphasizing the “hypocritical praises”. A faith-based group who is experienced in promoting inter-faith dialogue outside of Turkey should be aware of the etiquette rules in addressing the clergy of other faiths and should be more than content when the state is willing to meet the Pope. The Gulen movement, part of the Turkish religious Right, had been a member of President Erdogan’s coalition earlier, but has broken with him and become his biggest critic.

The papal visit will also mark the first official welcoming ceremony at the newly constructed the so-called Ak Saray “White Palace”, which has caused another stir among opposition circles in Turkey. The presidential palace has been criticized for its grandeur and its lavish cost. The president’s supporters maintain that the old and almost derelict offices of the prime minister desperately needed to be replaced. Some groups have asked the Pope not to participate in the official welcoming ceremony at the new presidential palace by urging him to protest Erdogan. They believe that Pope Francis is against capitalism and he would refuse to “legitimize” what they see as luxurious consumerism. The pope, as a guest, however, may not have much choice in the matter.

It is too bad that the papal visit is being dominated by partisan sniping of this sort. There are after all potentially weighty items thatcould be put on the agenda, such as a solution of problems in the Middle East and how the Papacy could contribute in generating awareness in the wider world of potential peaceful solutions– as he had done when he visited Palestine earlier this year. If only he could visit the refugee camps at the Syrian border and experience the tragedy of fleeing people who come from diverse religious backgrounds. This forthcoming visit could also contribute to more mutual understanding between Muslims and Christians especially in the post 9/11 era and improving the project of Alliance of Civilization initiated by the Turkish and Spanish governments.

Ali Murat Yel – Editor-in-Chief, TurkeyAgenda


ROME REPORTS in English: “Pope Francis to Visit the Istanbul´s Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia”

Secular Palestinians in Iraq made Refugees again by Daesh/ ISIL Threats

Tue, 18 Nov 2014 - 1:56am

Fearing IS, Palestinian families leave Mosul for Iraqi Kurdistan | —

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — About 120 Palestinian families have emigrated from Mosul in northern Iraq to Iraqi Kurdistan fearing IS threats, according to the consulate of Palestine in Erbil.

In a statement, released Saturday, the consul of Palestine in Erbil Nathmi Hazouri said Palestinian families living in Iraq were facing very dire conditions.

His remarks, according to the statement, came during a celebration the consulate organized marking the 10th anniversary of the death of late leader Yasser Arafat.

Hazouri said that Palestinian families started to leave Mosul to Iraqi Kurdistan in June after IS fighters started to deploy in the city.

Mirrored from Ma’an News Agency


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Child Homelessness rising in US — Red States wonder why they’re the Worst

Tue, 18 Nov 2014 - 1:32am

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“Arizona ranks as one of the worst states for homeless children.”

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Should Iran and the US accept a Good, but not perfect Nuclear Deal?

Tue, 18 Nov 2014 - 1:01am

By Hamid Zangeneh | —

We have a few days left to the final deadline (Nov. 24 target date) for this round of negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (P5+1 countries). There are some contradictory messages from both sides, some of which are unsettling. It seems that both sides are trying to get the last ounces of advantage over the other side, which is unfortunate. Both sides have been treating these negotiations as if they were zero-sum games, they are not.

I believe both sides must agree on a good bargain, which will not, in the nature of the case, be thought perfect by either Iran or the P5+1. One thing that Iranians need to learn from all these years of economic and political hardship is that being in the right does not mean sacrificing everything, being stubborn, and forcing economic and political martyrdom on the public.

What should a good deal look like?

Iran, it must receive explicit recognition of its rights to have a viable civilian nuclear enrichment program similar to what Germany, Japan, and many other countries have. That is, a nuclear program in Iran and with Iranian personnel, short of the Bomb. It must not require export of its enriched materials to Russia for safe keeping or for their transformation into fuel rods. Iran must be self-sufficient and self-reliant. Russia has been unreliable and malleable in favor of the P5+1 and has sided against Iran in many instances. This current case as well as the Bushehr project is the best evidence of Russian unreliability and lack of trustworthiness. The Bushehr project’s completion date has been postponed and cost overruns have been beyond acceptable standards. In the current case, Russia, looking for its own national self-interest, has been selling out Iran to the best bidder, which appears to feel is an acceptable norm of conduct for it. But this behavior does not encourage Iranians to put their future in Moscow’s hands.

On the other side, the world needs to have robust assurances that Iran is not interested in and will not turn to making nuclear bombs. This means that Iran must give the world intrusive access to its nuclear programs as much as every other country with a nuclear program.

I believe a stable Iran is much more in the national interest of the US and Europe than is an Iran in political disarray– the likely outcome of a failure of the negotiations. A good deal for Iran is one that Rouhani could sell to the “right-wing” of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is anxiously waiting and praying for a failure of negotiations.

An Iran in political turmoil would be an extremist and uncooperative regime, which would not serve our national self-interest. On the other hand a self-assured Iran could take bold actions that would help the region’s political stability and progress. Both sides must agree on a good deal rather than trying to force a humiliating perfect deal that does not exist and cannot be achieved.

Hamid Zangeneh is Professor of Economics at Widener University, Chester, PA


Related video added by Juan Cole

AFP: “Iran’s nuclear programme”

Egypt’s Battle for Worker’s Rights in Upcoming Legislation

Tue, 18 Nov 2014 - 12:29am

By Nehal Amer

Over the past year Egypt has undergone harsh reforms in a narrowing sociopolitical environment. New legislation is rapidly being produced in the absence of an elected parliament—from the repressive protest law to the draft NGO law, and now to the draft labor law. This past August, the Ministry of Manpower and Migration finalized a draft of their proposed labor law. Labor reforms and the absence of trade union freedoms have been a point of contention under the various short-lived regimes in Egypt since the 2011 uprising. The ministry’s most recent draft law is viewed by labor activists as an attempt to further marginalize the rights of workers in favor of Egypt’s elites. This particular piece of anti-labor legislation is part of a coordinated effort to target recent gains for labor such as the new Investment Law , which prevents third parties from challenging contracts between the government and investors or entities—a move widely seen as an attempt to re-privatize businesses that were previously returned to the public sector.

The ministry’s proposed legislation was met with resistance by activists and trade unionists who gathered to form a grassroots campaign to mobilize for legislation that complies with fair labor standards. “The Campaign for a Just Labor Law”, according to unionist and campaign coordinator Fatma Ramadan, was organized in response to proposed reforms to the labor law in February 2014: “We decided we would establish a campaign for a fair labor law after alarming reforms were proposed under former Minister Kamal Abu Eita.” In March, the campaign released its founding statement in which it explained that “a number of representatives of labor unions, trade unions and labor leaders, as well as human rights organizations and political parties have come together to establish the ‘Campaign for a Just Labor Law.’”

Hoda Kamel, a coordinator of the campaign, explained that founding members decided to draft an alternative labor law to present to workers across Egypt’s governorates and to rework the draft according to suggestions made during workshops. Kamel explained, “We have had a number of workshops so far in Cairo, Sharqia, Mahalla, Alexandria, Suez, Zagazig, and Luxor in order to talk about the main differences between our law and the ministry’s law with workers.” A few of the main differences emphasized between the ministry’s draft and the campaign’s draft include the insurance of equity in minimum wage between private and public sector workers, unemployment benefits, and greater accountability for business owners. One of the campaign’s key differences with both current and proposed legislation is the creation of an entity comprised of representatives of the ministry, business owners, and workers. This council is tasked with formulating regulations and developing plans for employment in order to break the ministry’s monopoly on creating, implementing, and monitoring procedures.

According to Ramadan, engaging with workers about the law has also resulted in raising awareness about workers’ rights in existing legislation. By encountering workers’ grievances on the ground and engaging with them through the law, many workers have been learning about the rights they already have—of which many were previously unaware. For example, in a press release published by the campaign on their Facebook page, references are made to workers who are routinely forced to sign resignation documents by employers upon hire. Additionally, campaign members are coming across cases of workers who have not been afforded breaks during the workday. Both of these practices are criminalized in current legislation. Kamel explained, “When we sat down with workers at Tawakol we discovered a worker had been working for the company for thirty-five years and was unaware of the fact that he legally had the right to a break during the work day.” Workers at the Tawakol Company for Metal Industries are on strike in response to a company decision to cut wages by 25 per cent. Kamel continued, “Efforts to raise awareness about workers’ rights have also been made by the campaign through visual art which has been incredibly important.” Campaign member and artist Nabil el-Sonbaaty has produced a number of posters delivering messages about trade union freedoms, the right to strike, and the impact of mass privatization and crony capitalism on Egypt’s poor. In a political cartoon by el-el-Sonbaaty, a man in a black suit sitting behind a desk at the Labor Office says to a businessman, “The fine for firing a worker is between 100 and 500 LE.” The plump businessman carried on the back of an emaciated worker—presumably the worker he seeks to fire—responds, “Might as well be for free!” The artist exposes the hypocrisy of a law which claims to regulate labor relations while in fact it privileges wealthy businessmen at the expense of a struggling working class. The meager expense of firing a worker is portrayed by el-Sonbaaty as nothing to a businessman who views his employees as disposable. Kamel explained, “This has been an incredibly important part of the campaign’s efforts to raise awareness because it gives people something to look at as opposed to the tedious task of reading technical texts and articles in the law.”

Campaign coordinators have focused their efforts on ensuring business owners are held accountable for arbitrary dismissals of workers, a tactic sometimes used by employers to target unionists in their factories while facing little to no consequence. According to Ramadan, the ministry’s draft law still allows for the arbitrary termination of service of workers as the fine for employers who arbitrarily dismiss workers ranges between LE100 and LE500 ($14.00 and $70.00 USD). The campaign’s draft law proposes that disputes between employers and workers be subject to the judiciary through a labor court and proposes potential jail time for employers who fail to comply with a judicial verdict or arbitrarily terminate the service of a unionist.

The ministry is expected to present the proposed legislation to parliament after elections are held in May 2015. Once workshops produce a final draft of the campaign’s proposed law, the campaign will seek to pressure lawmakers and the government into adopting just legislation that complies with international labor standards, whether it be through amending their own draft or adopting the campaign’s.

Upcoming labor legislation will substitute the current Labor Law of 12/2003, and in the absence of a Trade Union Freedoms bill, it will not only determine business relations between employers and workers but it will also determine the space afforded for workers to organize. The ministry’s draft labor law prohibits the collection of money or donations, the distribution of leaflets, collecting signatures, and organizing meetings without the consent of the employer. Additionally, Article 194 of the document bans sit-ins within the workplace that lead to a full or partial halt in work. Thus, in light of the government’s resistance to issuing a Trade Union Freedoms bill, the restriction of such activities creates an even more hostile environment for organized labor.Moreover, the ministry’s draft law does nothing to address concerns about the vast inequality between private and public sector workers in terms of wage and vacation as it continues to discriminate against the private sector by failing to establish minimum wage policies.

The campaign faces an uphill battle in Egypt’s current political environment. As Ramadan noted, “We are living in tough times, and anyone who speaks out is met with harsh consequences, but we must continue to speak out and demand the rights of workers…not only that, but we must present an alternative to what is being presented, and that’s what this campaign aims to do.” 

Nehal Amer is an M.A student specializing in Modern Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

“More Collective Punishment of Gaza”: Norwegian Dr. Denied Entrance to Gaza by Israelis

Mon, 17 Nov 2014 - 2:34am

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A Norwegian physician who has volunteered in the medical field in the Gaza Strip repeatedly in recent years has been banned by Israel from ever returning.

Dr. Mads Gilbert, who most recently spent time working in Gaza during Israel’s massive summer assault that left nearly 2,200 dead, has revealed that he was denied entry in October when he tried to re-enter the besieged coastal enclave through the Erez crossing.

The Israeli foreign ministry has confirmed the ban, calling Dr. Gilbert a “Jekyll and Hyde” figure, apparently for his political activism on behalf of the Palestinian cause.

Gilbert has been a vocal critic of Israeli policy against Palestinians, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

“This is not about me. This is about Israel denying the Palestinian people in Gaza international support,” Gilbert told The Independent.

“To deny professionals from the medical field the right to go to Gaza is another aspect of the collective punishment. They’re exercising the siege in an increasingly harsh and brutal way.”

“I’ve done nothing wrong. The truth on the ground is very inconvenient for Israel. Anyone who conveys that truth is unwanted,” he added.

Although Israeli authorities claim that Gaza is not occupied, they control the movement of both people and goods in and out of the Strip.

Gilbert has blamed the eight-year long Israeli siege for crippling Gaza’s economy and social welfare — in particular its medical facilities — and has repeatedly called upon Israeli authorities to lift the blockade.

Upon returning to his hometown of Tromsø in Norway after serving in Gaza over the summer, he gave a speech comparing the Palestinian struggle to the Norwegian resistance to the Nazi occupation in World War II.

“This is not a battle between terrorism and democracy. Hamas is not the enemy Israel is fighting. Israel is waging a war against the Palestinian people’s will to resist. The unbending determination not to submit to the occupation!”

“The Palestinian people’s resistance in Gaza today is admirable, it is fair and it is a struggle for all of us. We do not want a world where raw power can be abused, to kill those who struggle for justice.”

Mirrored from Ma’an News Agency

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Norwegian doctor vows to defy Israeli ban to enter Gaza”

Turkish President Alleges Muslims ‘discovered’ America before Columbus

Mon, 17 Nov 2014 - 2:10am

Ruptly TV | –

[ What follows is some crackpot theory completely divorced from reality... for another attempt at mystifying the Ottomans in the New World see this earlier blog post about the map of Piri Reis- Juan]


“Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President (Turkish): ”Two Ottoman ships left Istanbul port to Basra Bay through Cape hope in 1866 but somehow they lost their course in the Atlantic Ocean and reached the city of Rio in Brazil. The wise man of Islam called Ahmed Afandi in the ship stayed in Brazil and wander around the Latin American countries to tell Islam to the Latin American people. I want you to pay attention here, the meeting of the Latin America with Islam goes back to the 12th century.”

M/S Audience

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President (Turkish): “It is claimed that the Land of America has been discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, but Muslim sailors reached the Land of America in 1178, 314 years before Columbus. Moreover it is mentioned in Columbus’ diary that there was a mosque on the top of a hill along the Cuban shore. Me and my Cuban Brother would talk about that a Mosque would look so good on the top of that hill.”
C/U Recep Tayyip Erdogan in audience . . .”

[RUPTLY Comments:]

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that the Americas had been discovered by Muslims more than three centuries before Christopher Columbus during a summit in Istanbul, Saturday. Addressing an audience of Muslim leaders from South America, Erdogan declared “I want you to pay attention here, the meeting of the Latin America with Islam goes back to the 12th century.” He added that “Muslim sailors reached the Land of America in 1178, 314 years before Columbus.”

The leader of the Justice and Development party’s (AKP) comments relate to controversial research carried out by Turkish scholar Youssef Mroueh, in which the historian refers to a diary entry from Columbus mentioning a mosque in Cuba. Erdogan went on to state Ankara would be happy to build a mosque at the site mentioned by the Columbus.

The claims have been widely disputed by a number of scholars. The quote that Erdogan ascribes to Columbus actually reads as a simile, according to the primary source of the information Bartholome de Casas. “He describes its mountains as lofty and beautiful, like the Pena de las Enamoradas, and one of them has another little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque,” reads the entry.”

Video in Turkish:

Ruptly TV: “Turkey: ‘Muslims discovered the Americas before Columbus’ – Erdogan”

Yazidi Women Victimized by Daesh/ ISIL tell of Rape, Slavery, & their Resistance

Mon, 17 Nov 2014 - 1:42am

By Khales Joumah | Mosul | via | —

Three months ago, the extremist group known as the Islamic State kidnapped hundreds of women from the Yazidi sect. Since then there have been many stories about what has happened to the women, including physical and sexual abuse, slavery and forced marriage. NIQASH spoke to doctors who have treated some of those women and confirmed that the horror stories are true – and worse.

When the young girl first came to their village, the people living there knew nothing about her. In this village, mostly populated by Arabs, the locals just saw a young girl that kept crying. Every day she cried.

And for a long time nobody could figure out why. This was because the man who owned the house in which the 16-year-old girl was living was a member of the extremist group, the Islamic State, or IS, and he didn’t want his neighbours to know what was going on.

However in small villages like this one it is hard to keep secrets. The women of the village began to whisper about the girl whose name is Layla. “Poor thing, she is a Yazidi,” they said.

A few weeks have passed since Layla was brought to the village to live in the house of the IS fighter and one of the IS group leaders comes to visit her regularly – she was forced to marry him and was also forced to convert to Islam.

Layla’s story is not uncommon. The Yazidi women and girls who have been kidnapped by the IS group have been forced to either become the wives of the IS fighters and convert, or they are given as “sex slaves” to members to reward them for their service.

The real number of women held captive is not known. Most reports suggest there are hundreds and that most of them are being held in and around Tal Afar, 60 kilometres west of Mosul. Eyewitnesses say there are literally hundreds of Yazidi women there.

Some of the women have been able to escape on their own – a week ago Yazidi spokespeople said that 50 captives managed to make their way to Sinjar mountain. Before that around another 200 were released, due to ransoms paid and also thanks to mediation by local Arab tribes who negotiated the women’s release.

A lot of the kidnapped Yazidi women also seem to have been distributed in Baaj, around 120 kilometres west of Mosul, to fighters from the IS group. Doctors at Baaj hospital confirm this, saying they have treated a number of Yazidi women who have suffered at the hands of their captors, subjected to sexual and other physical violence.

“How can sane people do this?” the doctor who spoke to NIQASH said; the doctor had to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “It is a public, collective act of rape. I treated about ten women and I was stunned to find one who was just 13 years old. Her mental and physical health were very bad.”

Anther of the women treated at the hospital is a well-known individual who worked at one of the schools in the Sanouni district in Sinjar.

“When she arrived at the hospital we thought she was dead,” the doctor says. “But she was alive. She had been on a hunger strike after being raped by several of the IS gunmen and if she had not been brought to hospital, I am sure she would be dead by now.”

Meanwhile back in the village, Layla wasn’t talking to anybody. She stayed in her room most of the time and only ate what she had to.

Like almost all of the people in this village, the woman who runs the household – the IS member’s wife – sympathizes. The housewife says that when Layla was first brought to the house, her husband told her she must be very careful not to show any feelings about the situation because the emir, or senior member within the group, who comes to visit Layla “is a very ruthless person”.

Still, many of the extremist fighters who come from Ninawa have refused to take the captive women. Local culture and societal norms are strongly opposed to this kind of behaviour, no matter what the IS group doctrine “creatively” says about it. However hardly anybody dares to speak out about it either, for fear of retribution.

That is why when, in the village where Layla was being held, it was noteworthy that one of the village elders openly said that any family that opens its house to those who kidnap and enslave women would be dishonoured forever.

The woman of the house where Layla was being held has become closer to her captive. And eventually the older woman realised that the younger needed medical care. She asked her husband to ask permission for the pair to travel to Mosul, to hospital there, and eventually she was told that she could do this. However the emir, to whom the girl belonged, said that the women would have to travel with another IS fighter to ensure that Layla didn’t escape.

At the Al Jumhuri Hospital in Mosul, medical staff and patients are forced to deal with one particularly tough member of the IS group, a female Russian convert who wears a niqab. She supervises the treatment of any Yazidi women who come in and is, according to nurses there, very tough. There have been several attempts by captured Yazidi women to escape from the hospital and the Russian woman’s task is to prevent these. Apparently she carries a stick that she uses to beat both the prisoners and the doctors who do not obey her orders.

It was in Mosul that Layla told her story to the doctor who treated her – the doctor then told her story to NIQASH. “She was pale and she had physical and psychological pain,” the doctor says. “Still, she was in better condition than some of the other Yazidi women we have treated here. Those women were beaten because they did not yield to the demands of the IS group members.”

Before leaving the clinic, Layla begged the doctor to give her some contraceptives. Because, as the teenager said, “I don’t want to return to my family carrying a baby made by one of the filthiest, meanest men ever.”

Khales Joumah

Mirrored from


Related video:

CNN: “Yazidi women bought and sold by ISIS”

U2′s Bono on ‘Band Aid 30′: Ebola is a ‘political failure’

Mon, 17 Nov 2014 - 1:25am

Channel 4 News | –

“The spread of Ebola is “not a medical failure” – U2 lead singer Bono tells Channel 4 News political leaders “need to keep their promises”.”

Bono on Band Aid 30: Ebola is a ‘political failure’ | Channel 4 News

Top 5 Ways Daesh/ ISIL is Losing, as it lashes out like a Cornered Rat

Mon, 17 Nov 2014 - 12:07am

By Juan Cole

Daesh is what ISIL is called in the Middle East by the vast majority that doesn’t like it. It has not had a good month, suffering substantial setbacks in Iraq and watching with concern as the Damascus regime of Bashar al-Assad looks set to retake the major northern city of Aleppo, to the immediate west of Daesh’s territory in al-Raqqa Province. As its leadership panics, it turns to brutal images such as another beheading as a way of trying to calm down its terrified allies. Here are some of the setbacks:

1. On November 7, the leader of Daesh, Ibrahim al-Samarra’i, was wounded by a US airstrike on his convoy near Mosul. While he is not irreplaceable, as I argued at the time, his ignominious wounding surely lowered morale in the organization.

2. The Iraqi military is maintaining that it cleared Daesh elements from the oil refining city of Beiji, north of Baghdad. Since the organization makes some money by smuggling refined oil products, this loss hurts them in their bottom line.

3. The Iraqi military and its Shiite militia allies, along with some Sunni tribes, say that they have retaken from Daesh a key dam in the eastern province of Diyala:

4. In late October, the Iraqi Army and allied Shiite militias took Jurf al-Sakhr, a Sunni Arab town of some 80,000, away from Daesh, depriving them of a base south of Baghdad from which they could menace Hilla, the Shiite Shrine Cities, or Baghdad itself.

5. In Syria, the army of dictator Bashar al-Assad has regained the momentum in the past 18 months, and now seasoned Syria observers are actually contemplating the possibility that the army will take Aleppo back from the rebels there. That would put pressure on Daesh’s chief base, of al-Raqqah Province. Until recently the two sides have largely avoided closing with one another but they won’t have that option if Aleppo falls.

G20 conclude “Climate Change Summit:” Obama Pressures Australia as PM presents lonely defense of Coal

Sun, 16 Nov 2014 - 2:41am

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra, (The Conversation)

G20 nations have supported “strong and effective” action on climate change – but included some equivocal wording on the timing for issuing post-2020 targets and on the Green Climate Fund to accommodate differences among them.

The communique issued by the leaders today said that consistent with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its agreed outcomes, “our actions will support sustainable development, economic growth and certainty for business and investment”.

They said they would work together to achieve a successful and binding outcome at next year’s Paris Climate Conference (COP21).

“We encourage parties that are ready to communicate their intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of COP21 (by the first quarter of 2015 by those parties ready to do so),” the communique said.

It also said that the G20 “reaffirm our support for mobilising finance for adaptation and mitigation, such as the Green Climate Fund”.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott would give no commitment that the government would donate to the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries deal with climate change. The government has previously been very critical of the fund.

“We are all going to approach this in our own way obviously,” Abbott said. “And there’s a range of funds which are there – and the fund in question is certainly one of them.”

Climate change was one of the most vigorously discussed issues of the G20. United States President Barack Obama determinedly pushed the issue, especially with strong words in a public address on the sidelines of the conference on Saturday, when he committed US$3 billion to the fund.

Obama said in his post summit wrap up conference that “this week we took historic steps in the fight against climate change”, pointing to the US-China agreement and to the money for the Green Climate Fund. He commended Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe for Japan’s US$1.5 billion to the fund.

Australia had consistently tried to limit the consideration of climate change, although in his post summit news conference Abbott pointed out that the original draft of the communique prepared by Australia had a reference to it.

Asked about his reported defence of coal in the meeting Abbott told his news conference: “I should remind everyone that right now there are 1.3 billion people right around the globe who have no access whatsoever to electricity. Now, how can those people have a better life, have a decent living standard, without access to electricity?

“A fifth of the globe don’t have access to electricity. We’ve got to give them access to electricity. And coal is going to be an important part of that for decades to come.”

He said he welcomed last week’s agreement between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping on their post 2020 plans. “But my reading of that agreement is that 80% of China’s power needs in 2030 will be provided by coal. So coal is going to be now and for the foreseeable future a very important part of the world’s energy needs,” he said.

“What we need to do is ensure that the coal fired power stations that we need are as efficient as possible.”

However despite Abbott’s strong defence of coal, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to phasing out fossil fuels.

The leaders committed themselves to action plans to lift global growth by 2.1% over five years, beyond what it would otherwise be. If “fully implemented” this would add more that US$2 trillion to the global economy and create “millions of jobs” they said.

Abbott said “people right around the world are going to be better off and that’s what it’s all about, it is all about the people of the world being better off through the achievement of inclusive growth and jobs”.

Asked about budget measures in the Australian action plan which the Senate is opposing, Abbott said that the government would do “everything we humanly can” to implement all the measures it had promised.

The communique said: “our measures to lift investment, increase trade and competition, and boost employment, along with our macroeconomic policies, will support development and inclusive growth, and help to reduce inequality and poverty”.

The leaders committed to “monitor and hold each other to account” for implementing their pledges.

They agreed to the goal of reducing the gap in employment participation rates between men and women in their countries by 25% by 2025. This would bring more than 100 million women into the labour force, which would “significantly increase global growth and reduce poverty and inequality”.

Australia has won approval for an infrastructure information sharing hub which will be located in Sydney.

The leaders said they were taking actions to ensure the fairness of the international tax system and to secure countries’ revenue bases. “Profits should be taxed where economic activities deriving the profits are performed and where value is created,” the communique said.

Chief Executive of The Business Council of Australia Jennifer Westacott said the G20 meeting has “reset the international growth agenda with sensible policies that can be applied both collectively and within individual nations”.

WWF Australia said that “on any measure, climate change prevailed as a dominant economic agenda item for G20 leaders”. CEO Dermot O’Gorman said Brisbane G20 “may well become known as the ‘defacto’ climate change summit. By calling for action powerful leaders – including President Obama and [British] Prime Minister Cameron – put the issue front and centre of world attention”.

Michelle Grattan is Professorial Fellow at University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Australian Broadcasting Co.: “[Conservative Australian Treasurer] Joe Hockey on climate change at the G20″

Thousands march in Bethlehem to mark Palestine Independence Day

Sun, 16 Nov 2014 - 2:13am

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Thousands marched in the streets of Bethlehem on Saturday to mark Palestinian Independence Day and the 10th anniversary of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death.

Palestinians marched through the main streets of the holy city waving Palestinian and Fatah flags. The march went from the governmental compound near Duheisha refugee camp past the city’s central Fatah office and then onward to the Nativity Church in the historic center.

The celebrations came on the 26th anniversary of the Palestinian declaration of independence, signed by the Palestinian National Council on Nov. 15, 1988.

In the document, Palestinian leaders led by Arafat declared the existence of a State of Palestine inside the 1967 borders and the State’s belief “in the settlement of international and regional disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the charter and resolutions of the United Nations.”

Heralded as a “historic compromise,” the move implied that Palestinians would agree to accept only 22 percent of historic Palestine in exchange for peace with Israel.

Although many feared the move would endanger the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, others were optimistic that finally Palestinians would be represented on the world stage as an independent actor.

On the 26th anniversary of the treaty’s signing, the PLO said in a statement that despite the Palestinians’ historic move in 1988, in the years since Israel had failed to be a partner for peace.

“Israel responded by colonizing more of our land and entrenching its control over the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. The possibility of a two-state solution is quickly fading away,” the statement read.

“The international community must now act decisively in order to salvage the two-state solution. The international community’s recognition of a State of Palestine on all of the territory occupied by Israel in 1967 would be an important first step.”

Although the declaration paved the way for years of popular struggle culminating in the historic Oslo Peace Accords with Israel, in the years following Israeli expansion and colonization of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip increasingly dimmed the prospect of a two-state solution.

According to the PLO, between 1989 and 2014, the number of Israeli settlers on Palestinian land soared from 189,900 to nearly 600,000. These settlements, meanwhile, are located between and around Palestinians towns and villages, making a contiguous state next to impossible.

“Israel’s complete lack of accountability for its actions has led to a culture of impunity that threatens to destroy the last hope for a two-state solution,” the PLO said in the statement.

The declaration of independence — and the Oslo Accords that followed — did however pave the way for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Palestinian leaders sought to create the institutions of statehood despite the lack of an actual state, leading to the development of a security apparatus under US tutelage and a Palestinian bureaucracy.

While major Palestinian cities have boomed in the 26 years since “independence,” Israeli confiscation of land in border regions has continued unabated.

Last year, the World Bank estimated that Israeli control over Area C — the 61 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control — costs the Palestinian economy around $3.4 billion annually, or more than one-third of the Palestinian Authority’s GDP.

In its Independence Day statement, however, the PLO struck an optimistic chord, reaching out for international solidarity to achieve the dream of a Palestinian state free of occupation denied since 1948.

“One effective step that the international community can take is to recognize the State of Palestine over the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital and support Palestine’s diplomatic initiatives such as the UNSC resolution to put an end to the Israeli occupation as well as our access to international treaties and organizations. This will provide additional support to the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine while nullifying any Israeli attempt to change the status quo of the occupied State of Palestine,” the PLO said.

“The international community must ban all Israeli settlement products, divest from all companies involved directly or indirectly in the Israeli occupation and take all possible measures in order to hold Israel, the occupying power, accountable for its daily violations to Palestinian rights and international law.”

Mirrored from Ma’an News Agency

Israel’s Ban on Norwegian Humanitarian Dr. in Gaza spells ‘trouble for gov’t’

Sun, 16 Nov 2014 - 1:54am

RT | –

“Israel has permanently banned Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert from entering Gaza. He told RT that he has become “a great problem for the Israeli government” because he documents the atrocities he sees in Palestine.”

RT: “Norwegian doc’s Gaza ban: Spells ‘trouble for Israeli govt’”

Saudi Arabia at the G20: Is it waging Econ War on Iran, Russia and N. Dakota?

Sun, 16 Nov 2014 - 12:02am

By Juan Cole

The G20 is a conference of the world’s top 20 economies as measured by Gross Domestic Product. Some observers have slammed it as an unelected and arbitrary body that is doing some of the work the United Nations was intended to do– only in a much less egalitarian way. The official web site notes

“The G20 membership comprises a mix of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, representing about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 per cent of global gross domestic product and over 75 per cent of global trade.

The members of the G20 are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.”

In other words, three of the G20 states are Muslim–Indonesia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. What did Saudi Arabia have to say at the just-concluded conference?

Saudi Arabia maintained to journalists that Riyadh is not behind the recent fall in gasoline prices. The suspicion has arisen that Riyadh is “flooding the market,” a technique it has used in the past, of pumping a lot of oil even in the face of weakening market demand, thus driving the price down.

Saudi Arabia is annoyed at Russia over Moscow’s support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus. SA will support the US in the latter’s annoyance with Russia over Ukraine. Saudi is perpetually annoyed with Iran, its Shiite rival that also supports al-Assad and the civilian nuclear enrichment program of which it fears for its dual-use, weapons potential. And Saudi Arabia is threatened by the rise of hydraulic fracturing as a way to produce petroleum, which detracts from the centrality of the vast Saudi reserves.

Saudi Arabia is not hurt as much by falling oil prices as many other OPEC countries. In part, it has larger reserves than most such countries, and so can afford to be patient until prices recover. In part, it has relatively low extraction costs, so it keeps much more of the current $80 a barrel than many countries. Some proposed drilling projects in Norway and Britain don’t make any economic sense at $80 a barrel or less

Saudi Arabia, however, says it is no longer the world swing producer. It produces 9.5 million barrels a day or so, about ten percent of the world production of 90 million barrels a day. While it used to matter a lot whether Saudi did 8 mn barrels a day or 9.5 mn barrels a day, nowadays a small difference like that, Saudi Arabia says, would likely be made up by other suppliers, including new fields drilled via hydraulic fracking. The fact is that demand is soft, which is what is driving prices down despite substantial decreases in Libyan, Iranian, Syrian, Iraqi and South Sudanese exports. The softness in demand, in other words, is so great that prices have come down despite significant production shortfalls in some former producing countries. Saudi Arabia may be happy about idling some proposed North Dakota or Norwegian fields, reducing competition. But it denies responsibility.

I’m not so sure the Saudi role is as unimportant as the government says. Riyadh may well be flooding the market against Iran, Russia and North Dakota. It is hard to tell. Would prices really not rise if the Saudis went down to 8 mn barrels a day? (As a country of 23 mn citizens, they don’t need to pump as much oil as they do and could survive nicely on lower production and lower proceeds).

Related video:

The Saudis Dont Mind Low Oil Prices | CNBC

Peru: Descendants of Incans to get Rural Electrification via 500,000 Solar Panels

Sat, 15 Nov 2014 - 2:16am

WochitGernalNews | –

“Peru’s government said on Wednesday that it plans to nearly close its gap in electrical coverage in rural regions by the end of the decade with a recently-awarded $28.5 million solar-energy contract. Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga said Ergon Peru S.A.C., which beat one other bidder on the contract awarded on Friday, will install 500,000 solar panels across Peru and guarantee their operation for 15 years. Only 70 percent of rural Peru is now connected to the electrical grid, compared to 90 percent nationally.”

WochitGeneralNews: “Peru Aims to Cover Rural Electrical Gap With Solar Panels by 2020

UCLA Mideast Center fights Smears by off-campus Israel-Lobby Extremists

Sat, 15 Nov 2014 - 1:09am

By James Gelvin | —

Response to criticisms of the G.E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies

The G.E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies (hereafter CNES) of UCLA is one of the oldest such centers in the United States. It is also one of the largest, currently including seventy-six affiliated faculty (among whom are seventeen lecturers/adjuncts and fifteen academically active and productive emeriti), representing such diverse departments/fields as Anthropology, Art History, History, Comparative Literature, Economics, English, Ethnomusicology, French and Francophone Studies, Law, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Political Science, Public Health, and World Arts and Cultures. Its mission is to further understanding of the region through programming, outreach, promoting individual and collaborative faculty and graduate student research, sponsoring instruction in the languages of the region, and furthering the education of undergraduate and graduate students in all aspects of the Middle East.

Recently, CNES, its directors, affiliated faculty, and those who have participated in its programming have been the target of criticism that has accused them of a variety of transgressions. Among them are that CNES has engaged in anti-Semitic activity, has obsessively focused on Israel and singled it out for opprobrium (simultaneously giving other states in the region a free pass), has demonized and delegitimated Israel by condoning terrorism against its citizens and promoting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. To prove their case, critics of CNES cite bogus statistical evidence, take snippets of talks given by invited speakers and present them out of context, and use McCarthyite smears against respected scholars that verge on the libelous. One report condemning CNES includes among its “evidence” of anti-Semitism the fact that CNES (along with UCLA’s International Institute) is featured on a Saudi Arabian website which contains “openly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic discourse, as well as anti-homosexual and sexist rhetoric.” This is representative of the sort of tactic employed by many of CNES’s critics. Besides the fact that the center has no control over those who wish to use its name to promote their own agenda, anyone taking the time to access the website ( will see that the center is not singled out at all, but is included in a rather haphazard list of twenty centers (including those at Oxford, Cambridge, Duke and SOAS) where people might attain information about the Middle East and Islam.

So, here are the facts:

Programming: Because CNES has been the recipient of federal funds, the Department of Education requires it to send in biannual lists of its programming activities. The following statistics on programming come from those lists and, as such, is the most reliable source for programming data. The two lists that follow indicate that CNES programming is hardly obsessively focused on Israel/Palestine.

I. A statistical breakdown of programming sponsored by CNES between 2010-13, the timeframe most often used by critics of the center, is as follows:

A. Total number of events, 2010-2013….278

B. Top ten topics programmed by CNES during this period (in descending order)
1. Iran (58 events, 20.9% of total)
2. Arab World (47 events, 16.9% of total)
3. Israel/Palestine (35 events, 12.6% of total)
4. History/Historiography (non-Israel related) (30 events, 12.3% of total)
5. Topical (non-Israel related) (26 events, 9.4% of total)
6. Pedagogy/Outreach (20 events, 7.2% of total)
7. Islam (19 events, 6.8% of total)
8. Armenian topics (13 events, 4.6% of total)
9. Jewish topics (non-Israel related) (13 events, 4.6% of total)
10. Other (6 events, 2.5% of total)

II. A statistical breakdown of programming sponsored by CNES between 2010-14, the timeframe used by the Department of Education in its assessment of National Resource Centers, is as follows (note: Because programming is an ongoing process, these statistics are necessarily incomplete. The following is a full breakdown of events from June 22, 2010 to November 1, 2014):

A. Total number of events, 2010-2014….333

B. Top ten topics programmed by CNES during this period (in descending order)
1. Iran (72 events, 21.6% of total)
2. Arab World (54 events, 16.2% of total)
3. History/Historiography (non-Israel related) (41 events, 12.3% of total)
4. Israel/Palestine (39 events, 11.7% of total)
5. Topical (non-Israel related) (28 events, 8.4% of total)
6. Pedagogy/Outreach (26 events, 7.8%)
7. Islam (20 events, 6.0% of total)
8. Armenian topics (16 events, 4.8% of total)
9. Jewish topics (non-Israel related) (15 events, 4.5% of total)
10. Turkey (10 events, 3.0% of total)

What the statistics indicate:
1. Israel/Palestine ranks third and fourth on the two lists in terms of the number of events that focus on the topic. Israel/Palestine programming has made up 12.6% and 11.7% of total programming in each of the two periods. There has been no obsessive fixation on Israel/Palestine.
2. Much of the programming on the Arab world has concerned the Arab uprisings, which broke out in December 2010. All of that programming has offered harsh critiques of Arab governments, past, present, or both. Most of the programming on Turkey has concerned the Gezi park protests and the creeping authoritarianism of the Turkish government (Armenian programming has also included events that focused on the Armenian genocide, the role played by the Ottoman government in that genocide, and denials by the Turkish government that genocide took place). While much of the programming on Iran concerned culture and history, in this case, too, there were a number of events in which the government of Iran met with harsh criticism. Overall, then, if Israel was “singled out for opprobrium,” so were Arab states, Turkey, Iran and others.
3. Those responsible for programming at CNES saw no reason to “balance” the criticism of the governments of Arab states, Turkey, Iran, and other states by bringing in speakers who would defend them. Speakers invited by CNES are, after all, accomplished scholars presenting original work. Likewise, in that programming where the Israeli government has been criticized, those responsible for staging events saw no reason to bring in speakers who would defend it. Needless to say, lectures and other events are followed by questions and comments from the floor during which members of the audience may voice their support or disagreement with the speakers’ methodologies, facts, conclusions, etc. (CNES cannot podcast questions and comments for legal reasons.)

III. Co-sponsorship of Israel/Palestine and Jewish events: CNES sometimes initiates co-sponsorship of programs with other units of the university (other centers, programs, endowed chairs, departments, etc.) for financial and promotional purposes. Other units of the university also approach CNES for the same reasons. It can be assumed that those units would not cooperate with the center on programming with which they disagree. The following is a list of Israel/Palestine and Jewish events that were co-sponsored with other units during the 2010-14 period, along with the names of those units. In all, eighteen of thirty-nine events sponsored by CNES concerning Israel/Palestine—46%—received co-sponsorship. The large number of co-sponsored events concerning Israel/Palestine, as well as events concerning Jewish communities outside Israel, demonstrates that CNES was anything but a “rogue operation” specializing in anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist programming. Furthermore, as can be seen from the list below, much of the programming on Israel/Palestine and Jewish communities outside Israel does not concern conflict or politics; rather topics run the gamut from cinematography to food to music and dance. (NOTE: Some of the Jewish topical programming does not appear as such in the statistical breakdown above. In some cases programming with Jewish content has been placed in categories deemed more appropriate):

1. “Preserving the Two State Solution,” UCLA International Institute.

2. Film: “Z32,” UCLA International Institute.

3. “My Heart is in the East” (Lecture, Demonstration Israeli Sacred Music), Younes and Souraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, Center for Jewish Studies, Herb Alpert School of Music, UCLA Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music.

4. “The Israeli-Bedouin Music Connection” (Lecture, Demonstration), Younes and Souraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, Center for Jewish Studies, Herb Alpert School of Music, UCLA Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music.

5. “The Magic Carpet” (Lecture, Demonstration of Music of Yemenite Jews), Center for Jewish Studies, Herb Alpert School of Music, UCLA Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music.

6. “What is Israeli Music?” (Lecture, Demonstration), Younes and Souraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, Center for Jewish Studies, Herb Alpert School of Music, UCLA Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music.

7. “West Bank Story: The Role of Humor and Art in Peacemaking,” Younes and Souraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, Center for Jewish Studies, Herb Alpert School of Music, UCLA Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music.

8. “Arabs of the Jewish Faith: The Civilizing Mission in Colonial Algeria,” Center for Jewish Studies, Maurice Amado Program in Sephardic Studies.

9. “Narrating Migration around the Table: The Frenchfication of North African Jewish Palates,” Center for Jewish Studies, Maurice Amado Program in Sephardic Studies.

10. “Between Memory and Extinction: The Moroccan Jewish Quarter in the Twentieth Century,” Center for Jewish Studies, Maurice Amado Program in Sephardic Studies.

11. “Pledging Water: Qadis, Jews, and Water Ownership in a Southern Moroccan Oasis,” Center for Jewish Studies, Maurice Amado Program in Sephardic Studies.

12. George E. Bisharat, “Violence’s Law,” UCLA International Human Rights Program, UCLA School of Law, Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law.

13. Film Screening, Azi Aiyma, Center for the Study of Religion.

14. Between Two Worlds: The American Jewish Culture Wars, Department of History, J Street U.

15. “What Does a Jew Want? On Binationalism and Other Specters,” Department of History, Department of Comparative Literature, Center for Jewish Studies.

16. “Imagining ‘Back Home’ in an Era of Homeland Insecurity: Palestinian-American Youth, Education, and the War on Terror,” UCLA International Institute, Program on International Migration, UCLA Division of Social Sciences.

17. “A Jewish Voice from Ottoman Salonica: The Ladino Memoir of Sa’adi Besalel A-Levi” (book talk), Department of History, Center for Jewish Studies.

18. “From Pashas to Pariahs: The Arrogant Years of Egypt’s Jewry,” Center for Jewish Studies, Maurice Amado Program in Sephardic Studies.

19. “The Tigers of Jinbah: Smugglers and Border Entrepreneurs in the Southern West Bank and Israel (2005-2010), UCLA International Institute, Program on International Migration, Irene Flecknoe Ross Lecture Series in the Department of Sociology.

20. “Beautiful Resistance: Defying the Occupation through the Theater and the Arts,” Department of History.

21. “Palestine and the UN,” Burkle Center for International Relations, Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

22. Conference: “From Ancient Persia to Contemporary LA: 2,700 Years of Iranian Jewish History,” UCLA Fowler Museum, Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, Department of History, Center for Jewish Studies, Center for the Study of Religion.

23. “Said Sarmad the Jewish Saint,” Program on Central Asia, Center for the Study of Religion.

24. “Pinkwashing: Gay Rights and Queer Indigeneities,” Center for Gender Studies, Graduate Council, Department of Sociology Gender Study Group.

25. “Perspectives on Peace, Health, and Hope: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey from Personal Tragedy to a Search for Peace and Human Dignity,” UCLA Student Affairs, Burkle Center for International Relations, International Institute, Fielding School of Public Affairs, Department of History, Hillel, Abrahamic Faiths Peace Initiative, New Vision Partners, Olive Tree Initiative.

26. “Third Annual University of California Ladino Symposium: Judeo-Spanish Revitalization,” Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Center for Jewish Studies, UCLA Center for Student Programming, UCLA Graduate Association, Maurice Amado Program in Sephardic Studies.

27. “The Settler-Colonial Paradigm: Debating Gershon Shafir’s Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict on its 25th Anniversary,” Department of History.

28. “Crossing Cairo: A Jewish Woman’s Encounter with Egypt,” Center for Jewish Studies, Center for the Study of Religion.

29. “Ralph Bunche and the Politics of Binationalism in Palestine,” Department of History.

IV. Publications based on CNES Conferences: Every year, CNES sponsors or co-sponsors conferences which feature both American and international speakers. Some of them result in edited volumes published by distinguished presses, special issues of peer reviewed journals, or special sections within those journals. Between 2010-14, eight such publications have appeared. None concern Israel/Palestine, demonstrating once again that rather than having an obsessive interest in that subject, the interests of CNES and CNES affiliated faculty are quite diverse. The publications are as follows:

1. “Criminalization of Islamic Philanthropy,” Journal of
Islamic and Near Eastern Law, edited by Asli Bali (and ?), 2010.

2. Clifford Geertz in Morocco, edited by Susan Slyomovics. London:
Routledge, 2010.

3. The Anthropology of The Middle East and North Africa: Into the New
Millennium, co-edited by Sherine Hafez and Susan Slyomovics. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 2013.

4. “Jews and French Colonialism in Algeria,” edited by Susan Slyomovics and Sarah Abrevaya Stein, Journal of North African Studies (special issue), 2013.

5. Afghanistan in Ink: Literature between Diaspora and Nation, edited by Nile Green & Nushin Arbabzadah. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

6. Roundtable on ‘The Future of Afghan History,’ International Journal of Middle East Studies, edited by Nile Green, (2013).

7. The Making of the Tunisian Revolution: Contexts, Architects, Prospects, edited by Nouri Gana. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013.

8. Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print, 1850-1930, edited by James
Gelvin & Nile Green. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

Governance: Some critics of CNES have been particularly harsh on the past three center directors, all of whom are distinguished scholars. Critics have noted that the directors have signed petitions and otherwise voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It should be noted that such support, while controversial, is not out of the mainstream within the scholarly community: as of this writing more than 700 anthropologists (two of the three most recent directors of CNES are anthropologists) recently signed a boycott petition, and an online BDS petition attracted more than 600 signatures from the wider Middle East studies community. Two former CNES directors also signed a petition for the University of California system to stop Education Abroad Programs (EAPs) to Israel. They did so because Palestinian-American students from the system were either harassed or prevented entry into that country. It’s their job and responsibility to look after the welfare of all UCLA students engaged in work on or travel to the region.

Critics claim that the directors’ stance is the stance of CNES and that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic because it delegitimizes Israel. Since the official State Department list of anti-Semitic activities does not mention support for the BDS movement as an act of anti-Semitism, one report criticizing CNES had to add an additional criterion of its own to make its case. As the petition signed by forty Jewish Studies professors and published in the Jewish Daily Forward (October 1, 2014) put it, that report’s “definition of antisemitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless.” CNES has not taken a position on BDS, nor will it. Directors, as well as affiliated faculty, are free to express their political opinions as they wish.

As far as CNES’ stance toward the EAP in Israel is concerned, EAPs are administered by the University of California, not CNES. Currently, there are a number of such programs, including programs at Hebrew University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project. CNES is, however, responsible for administering the Foreign Languages and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships which support undergraduate and graduate language training. As the Department of Education’s guidelines stipulate, these fellowships are distributed for all major Middle Eastern languages, including Hebrew, although by far the most popular language (as determined by the number of applicants for full year and summer FLAS fellowships) has consistently been Arabic. During the last FLAS funding cycle (2010-14), CNES distributed seven FLAS fellowships for the study of Hebrew: three students elected to study in Israel, three at UCLA, and one at American Jewish University.

Critics of CNES do not understand how it, or many other centers at UCLA, is administered. While directors make all sorts of decisions, from budgeting to last minute programming, the Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) is generally consulted for important budgeting as well as important programming decisions (i.e., international conferences, etc.). In her charge to members of the FAC, the Interim Vice Provost for International Studies wrote, “The committee will meet periodically to advise on strategic goals for the Center and to assist in the development of instructional programs about Near Eastern Studies on the UCLA campus.” This is exactly what the committee has done. The director is not a member of the FAC and attends meetings led by the chair of the FAC at the sufferance of the FAC—a decision made two decades ago. While the director advises the vice provost on possible members for the FAC, it is the latter, not the former, who selects them. For the 2014-15 academic year, the vice provost tapped twelve scholars from a variety of fields to serve on the FAC. All agreed. Interestingly, of these four are also affliliated with the Center for Jewish Studies and two are affiliated with the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

One other criticism of CNES underscores how little critics of the center know about academic governance and how academic institutions are actually run. In 2010, Saudi Aramco donated $14,643 to CNES, earmarked for outreach. Aramco annually donates $10-20,000 to several Title VI Middle East centers across the country. The money was used for the intended purpose at the discretion of CNES, since in the academy there is firewall that separates donors from interfering in the scholarly activities they support, be it the selection of the recipient of an endowed chair or the content of programming. During the same period (2010-14), CNES received $1,928,106 from the federal and state governments, of which the largest sum ($600,000) went for language instruction (it is a frequent, but ill-informed criticism of Title VI programs that they neglect language instruction). Covering .76% of an institution’s budget does not buy much influence—if buying influence in this case were even possible.

Overall, much of the criticism aimed at the Center for Near Eastern Studies is little more than a politically motivated hatchet job. Most critics use the same sets of statistics which bear little resemblance to what CNES actually does and play on the fears of those outside academia who do not know that area studies programs such as that run by CNES are under multiple layers of scrutiny, including that of the Department of Education and internal and external peer review processes. UCLA and the broader community should feel proud of the accomplishments of CNES, particularly its diverse programming (always open to the public), its attention to the needs of the Los Angeles community, and its outreach program which brings elementary and secondary school teachers together with world-class scholars to the benefit of schoolchildren throughout the Greater Los Angeles area. And those of us associated with CNES want, in particular, to thank our unfairly maligned current and former directors who have put so much effort into making CNES one of the most active and accomplished Middle East centers in the country.

James L. Gelvin, on behalf of the Faculty Advisory Committee of the G.E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.