by Steven Emerson and John Rossomando IPT News June 26, 2013
Radical Egyptian cleric Yusuf Qaradawi is considered so radical that the United States banshim from entering the country.
Qaradawi, considered the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, has called for the killing of Jews andAmericans.
That history makes the June 13 White House meeting with Sheik Abdullah Bin Bayyahall the more inexplicable. Bin Bayyah is vice president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), a group founded by and headed by Qaradawi. The IUMS has a long history of supporting Hamas –a top Hamas leader is an IUMS member – and of calling for Israel's destruction.
Bin Bayyah's website claims that he met June 13 with senior Obama administration officials at the White House.
Nonetheless, it was the Obama administration which sought the meeting with Bin Bayyah, his website's account said.
"We asked for this meeting to learn from you and we need to be looking for new mechanisms to communicate with you and the Association of Muslim Scholars (another name used for the IUMS)," Gayle Smith, senior director of the National Security Council, reportedly said.
Smith also thanked Bin Bayyah for "his efforts to bring more understanding amongst humanity" during the meeting, the Bin Bayyah account said.
The White House did not respond to repeated requests for comments between June 14 and Tuesday.
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah posted this photo of his June 13 White House meeting.
Bin Bayyah lobbied the White House to "take urgent action" to help Syrian rebels. "We demand Washington take a greater role in [Syria]," Bin Bayyah told Al-Jazeera. President Obama laterannounced plansto arm Syrian rebels.
In granting Bin Bayyah a visa, White House officials ignored his radical statements as well as his close connection to Qaradawi. The IUMS's hostility toward Israel, and its support of terrorists, is well documented. Bin Bayyah falls comfortably in line with that view.
For example, in a 2011 statement on his Arabic-language website, he criticized the West for placing Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others in the same category as al-Qaida:
"[P]lacing the Palestinian resistance, which defends internationally recognized rights, on an equal footing with intercontinental terrorist organizations (al-Qaida) is not based on any moral principle and would be detrimental to the cause of the fight against terrorism and mix the cards and raises questions to the world conscience and serves terrorists."
The IUMS welcomed Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as a member in February 2012. The "Union will spare nothing in the service of the Palestinian people, praising the jihad of the Palestinian people with the leadership of the Hamas movement for resistance," Haniyeh's induction certificate said.
A 2004 fatwa, issued while Bin Bayyah was an IUMS board member, sanctioned "resistance," meaning attacks on American troops in Iraq as a duty on every able Muslim in and outside Iraq."
Badawi's radical views fit in well with the IUMS, which has issued numerous statements against peace with Israel, calling for the "liberation of Palestine" from Jewish control. Each statement has been unyielding in calling on Muslims to destroy Israel and in forbidding them from making peace with the Jewish state.
After a board of trustees meeting in December, the IUMS issued a communiquecalling on Hamas and Fatah to reconcile in the name of "the core Palestinian values (including the right of return and resistance until the liberation of Palestine and its capital Jerusalem) … Meanwhile, the union calls on the scholars of the nation to continue their religious role in enlightening the local and international public concerning the dangers that this Judaization policy in Jerusalem poses for the historic unity of the Palestinian territories which is religiously impermissible to give up one inch of it."
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, circled in red, is shown at the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) board meeting in Doha, Qatar in December. The trustees issued a concluding statement at the meeting calling for Israel's destruction and the return of Palestinians exiled after the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. (Photo:IUMS)
A photo on the group's website shows Bin Bayyah was present at the meeting.
In 2009, it issued a fatwa forbidding any normalization of relations with Israel. It came on the 42ndanniversary of the Six-Day War, and Israel's capturing of the Temple Mount.
"All political, economic, and cultural dealings and all forms of normalization with the Zionist entity are considered to be a form of supporting and sustaining the occupier in its occupation of land and holy places," the fatwa said. "Moreover, such actions are considered a form of loyalty to the enemy, which is religiously prohibited; as Allah (Exalted and Glorified be He) says: 'And if any amongst you takes them as Awliya' (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), then surely he is one of them.'(Al-Ma'idah 5: 51). In conclusion, we call on all Muslims, rulers and citizens, to undertake their role, and embark on rescuing Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Blessed Land and freeing them from the clutches of the Zionist occupation."
Just last month, an IUMS-affiliated Egyptian cleric blamed the United States and Israel for driving Egyptian opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government. Khaled Kholif invoked the anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as evidence of his argument, the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Watch reported.
"America and Israel are pleased with [the Egyptian opposition] movements, which are led by the brainless," Kholif said during an appearance on Egypt's Al-Hafez televisionflagged by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). "They have said so in The Protocols. Let me tell you exactly what they said in The Protocols: 'We will strive to undermine security in the lands of the Gentiles, through reckless revolutions, led by the brainless.' It says so in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as translated by Khalifa Al-Tunisi.
"If you haven't read it," Kholif said of the Protocols, "you should."
Qaradawi and Bin Bayyah show a keen mutual admiration of each other in their writing. Bin Bayyah notably referred to Qaradawi as "a mountain upon whose peak there is light" and as "a great reformer" who "spreads knowledge and wisdom" in a 2008 article published by Boston cleric Suhaib Webb. Qaradawi returned the favor three days later: "The reality is that the more I have come closer to him and got to know him better, the more I have loved him…"
And like Qaradawi, Bin Bayyah claims Palestinian violence is acceptable under international law. Islamic law's approval is a given.
"He who adheres to international covenants can resist. The Palestinians. There are international conventions and there are international resolutions which give them rights but do not provide them with the means to obtain these rights. It is their right to resist," Bin Bayyah said during a 2010 Al-Jazeera broadcast. "So, that which says resistance, says kinds of resistance, including the use of weapons. So, international conventions do not stray too far from the interests Islamic Sharia oversees."
Bin Bayyah endorsed a push by Muslim intellectuals to get the United Nations to criminalize blasphemy against the Muslim prophet Muhammad and Islam, saying that it causes violence.
"To people of reason and understanding: We ask everyone to ponder the ramifications of provoking the feelings of over one billion people by a small party of people who desires not to seek peace nor fraternity between members of humanity," Bin Bayyah wrote in a post last fall. "This poses a threat to world peace with no tangible benefit realized. Is it not necessary in today's world for the United Nations to issue a resolution criminalizing the impingement of religious symbols? We request all religious and political authorities, as well as people of reason to join us in putting a stop to this futility that benefit no one."
Considering that this information is readily available on the Internet, it would not have been too difficult for White House officials to uncover that both Bin Bayyah and the IUMS support Palestinian terrorism and Israel's destruction. The White House visit also raises questions relative to the degree the Obama administration is willing to go to court the Muslim Brotherhood both at home and abroad.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
By Anne Gearan, Published: June 24
Secretary of State John F. Kerry has been unable to win quick agreement for new peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and as he returns to Israel this week, the sense of momentum surrounding his signature effort is fading.
Kerry had hoped to announce earlier this month that both sides were ready to return to the negotiating table after a lull lasting most of the past five years. He never set a firm deadline but had asked both sides in the spring to give him a couple of months to get talks going.
He will use his fifth visit to Israel as secretary this week to keep up the pressure, but he comes with little new traction.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is dragging his feet, resisting strong U.S. pressure to drop his conditions for new talks but fearing that he will be blamed if the effort fails. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed in principle, though others in his coalition government remain firmly opposed to talks or a separate Palestinian state.
“I think we should stop negotiating about the negotiations. I think we should just get on with it,” Netanyahu said in an interview last week with The Washington Post.
There were unconfirmed reports on Israel’s Channel 2 late Monday that Abbas had agreed to talks, but the Palestinian Authority did not indicate that its position had changed.
Tough path for Kerry
If Kerry cannot show progress soon, his leverage as a peace broker could wither. He has said that he will not wait forever or waste his time, but he is caught in a familiar Mideast cycle of litigating the terms of a negotiation before it begins — exactly what he said had killed past peace initiatives.
Israeli officials squarely blame Abbas for the delay, but U.S. officials are trying to show more patience.
Abbas would find his position undermined among the more hard-line members of his political coalition if he appeared to cave to U.S. and Israeli demands at the outset. It will not help eventual negotiations if Abbas enters them weak, U.S. officials said.
Although U.S. officials insist that it is not a snub, Kerry is not planning to go to Ramallah, the seat of the moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank, during his 11-day trip through eight countries. He plans to see Abbas in Jordan, where the longtime Palestinian leader has a home.
In a gesture to Kerry, Palestinians had shelved plans to do an end run around peace talks by seeking further international recognition at the United Nations and elsewhere. Abbas has said the moratorium on those plans would expire this month.
Israel, doing its part to give Kerry elbow room to get talks resumed, had observed an undeclared moratorium on housing expansions on Palestinian land until earlier this month, but it said recently that it would go ahead with plans to build more than 1,000 homes in two isolated West Bank settlements.
Abbas’s government warned Kerry recently not to pressure or hurry the Palestinian leader, while Netanyahu said Abbas may squander Kerry’s effort.
Kerry has repeatedly warned that this may be the last chance for a deal that gives the Palestinians a separate state. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who came close to a deal in 2008, said the same thing during a recent visit to Washington.
“The secretary would not have returned as many times as he had if he didn’t think that there was an opportunity here,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said this month. “There have been positive comments from both sides about the openness to continuing the discussions, and we’ll see if we get to the point where both sides make the tough decisions to move back to the table.”
Although Kerry and President Obama have said that they will not present an “American plan” for peace, Kerry has been at work on something very close to that, said Arab and other officials familiar with his effort. The State Department has declined to give details.
‘It’s a border dispute’
Influential Arab leaders have urged Kerry to “define the end game first,” by establishing clear U.S. principles for the deal at the outset, and then settle borders quickly, a senior Arab diplomat said. That would require a strong U.S. hand in setting the terms for negotiations and keeping both sides at the table.
“We have always maintained that it’s a border dispute. You fix the border and you fix the dispute,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the message delivered in private to Kerry and other U.S. officials.
Palestinians claim the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for their future state. All were captured by Israel in 1967.
The short-term U.S. goal is new peace talks without the baggage of “preconditions,” or requirements that either side must meet before discussions can begin.
The larger goal is a fast agreement — ideally, within a year or so — that draws permanent borders on the West Bank. The newly independent Palestinian state would have full international diplomatic recognition.
The agreement would establish separate areas of jurisdiction in Jerusalem, probably with international administration; resolve claims of Palestinian families that left homes in what is now Israel when the Jewish state was founded; and provide new security assurances to Israel. Those issues are well understood by both sides and have been the subject of past negotiations.
It is unclear how Kerry would address the split between Abbas’s moderate Fatah party and the militant Hamas faction that rules Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The two Palestinian territories, which sit on opposite sides of Israel, were supposed to be linked by a road or tunnel under previous peace proposals. Neither Israel nor the United States will bargain with Hamas, so the Gaza leadership would not be included in new direct talks.
Arab states gave Kerry an early boost by reaffirming their offer for a comprehensive regional peace deal with Israel under its pre-1967 borders. The Arab League also sweetened the offer by saying publicly that those borders could be adjusted by mutually agreed land swaps.
Kerry has lobbied Abbas hard to return to talks without preconditions, but the Palestinian leader has insisted that he needs more assurances from the United States and Israel that the talks would begin in good faith. Although his public demands are broader, Abbas is chiefly seeking the release of Palestinian prisoners long held by Israel, officials familiar with the effort said.
Israel has considered a good-faith gesture beyond the unofficial building hiatus, but recent statements suggest that Netanyahu is hardening his position.
“Secretary Kerry is undertaking an effort to resume direct negotiations without preconditions,” Netanyahu said Thursday, during a meeting with the visiting European Union foreign policy chief. “That’s the right thing to do. Israel is ready to resume these talks without preconditions today, yesterday and tomorrow. I hope that President Abbas will do the same.”
After a briefing from Abbas on Kerry’s latest efforts, the Fatah party warned last week against “all forms of pressure” and hinted that it could resume efforts to seek international recognition outside of negotiations. That effort, strongly opposed by Israel, has been on hold while Kerry pursues talks.
The Palestinian Authority is likely to renew those international efforts at the annual U.N. General Assembly session in September if there is no agreement to begin negotiations by then.
Michele Dunne, a senior Mideast expert at the Atlantic Council, said Kerry is trying several gambits at once. He is pushing private-sector development to boost the West Bank’s struggling economy, dispatching retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen to explore possible security upgrades for Israel and pushing the Arab League peace plan as a template. Perhaps at least one will yield talks of some sort, Dunne said.
“Talks have a certain value for their own sake, but it is not at all clear whether talks would lead to a breakthrough under the current discouraging political conditions on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides,” she said.
Ruth Eglash and William Booth in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
Monday, June 24, 2013
(JTA) — Israel will not object to a planned 5 percent cut in the annual military aid package from the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said.
Under the sequester, the across-the-board cuts mandated by 2011 legislation, Washington is set to cut more than $150 million from the annual $3.1 billion package to Israel.
According to the Maariv daily, Netanyahu instructed Israeli officials in Washington not to ask the U.S. government for an exception from cuts.
“Israel did not seek an exception,” Maariv quoted Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, as saying. “We are willing to share in the burden.”
The planned cuts will likely affect Israel’s ability to purchase advanced F-35 stealth fighters, according to the report, 19 of which were supposed to be delivered in 2016.
Because of budgetary cuts in Washington, the Pentagon has slashed production of the F-35s, from 2,500 to 1,200 planes, thereby making each fighter more expensive.
The cuts are also expected to affect future joint military exercises between the two countries, Maariv reported.
Apparently unaffected is some $220 million President Obama has budgeted for the short-range Iron Dome missile defense system, which Israel claims successfully repelled more than 90 percent of rockets launched by Hamas in last November’s Gaza Strip war.
Appropriators in the U.S. House of Representatives have approved that sum, as well as an increase to $270 million of Obama’s $173 million request for missile defense cooperation programs separate from Iron Dome.
Less than a month after he was sworn in, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Thursday abruptly submitted his resignation to President Mahmoud Abbas.
PA officials in Ramallah said Abbas would decide in the coming hours whether to accept the resignation.
Hamdallah, who until recently was president of An- Najah University in Nablus, offered his resignation even though Palestinians were still publishing advertisements in the media congratulating him and his new ministers.
A source close to Hamdallah said he submitted his letter of resignation to Hussein al- A’raj, director of the PA president’s bureau.
The source attributed the move to a power struggle between Hamdallah and his two deputies – Muhammad Mustafa and Ziad Abu Amr – who were appointed by Abbas.
“The prime minister feels that his deputies have been encroaching on his powers,” the source said.
After submitting his resignation Hamdallah left his office in Ramallah alone and drove in his private car to his home in the village of Anabta, east of Tulkarm.
A senior PA official told the Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency that Hamdallah had not clashed with Abbas. The real dispute was between Hamdallah and his two deputies, the official said.
On Thursday evening, senior PA officials headed from Ramallah to Hamdallah’s home to persuade him to withdraw his resignation.
Another PA source said that Hamdallah, whom Abbas appointed on June 2, quickly found himself in the same situation as his predecessor Salam Fayyad.
“Hamdallah discovered that the Palestinian Authority president wants him to serve as a yes-man with no powers,” the source explained. “Abbas wanted a prime minister who would play no role and only carry out orders from the president’s office.”
Abbas’s decision to appoint two deputy prime ministers with expanded powers to the new government was the first sign of the PA president’s intention to curtail the powers of Hamdallah.
Some Palestinians pointed out that the real prime minister was Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Muhammad Mustafa, who also serves as the director of the PLO’s Palestine Investment Fund.
Mustafa was initially reported to be Abbas’s favored candidate to replace Fayyad. It remains unclear why Abbas finally preferred Hamdallah over Mustafa.
“Hamdallah quit because he was lacking any authority,” said Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri. “He discovered that he was just another employee with the rank of prime minister. He had two deputies who were in charge of the political and economic portfolios.”
Masri said the swift resignation was an indication of the deep crisis plaguing the PA’s political system.
Muhammad Dahlan, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a former PA security commander, said he was not surprised by Hamdallah’s decision to resign.
Dahlan, often described as an arch-enemy of Abbas, said the resignation showed that the PA leadership in Ramallah was determined to “reproduce the same mistakes.”
Dahlan predicted that any new prime minister would also fail as long as Abbas refused to share powers with anyone.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH | Associated Press
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian president and his Fatah movement on Wednesday signaled a tough line on talks with Israel, casting new doubt on U.S. efforts to revive long-stalled negotiations.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is returning to the region next week, his fifth attempt this year to bridge wide gaps between the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the ground rules for talks.
Abbas has said he won't negotiate unless Israel stops building in settlements on war-won lands or accepts its 1967 lines — before the capture of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in a Mideast war that year — as a starting point for border talks. The Palestinians claim all three areas for their future state.
Netanyahu has rejected the Palestinian demands, saying there should be no pre-conditions — though his predecessor conducted talks on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, and the international community views the settlements as illegal or illegitimate.
Abbas briefed Fatah leaders on Wednesday. In a statement after the meeting, Abbas adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Fatah supports Abbas in his positions and "affirmed its rejection of the pressures on Abbas and the leadership," an apparent reference to the Kerry mission.
Both Abbas and Netanyahu are waiting for Kerry to present the proposed U.S. terms for renewing talks. It's not clear what they are and if Kerry will present them during his upcoming visit.
Abu Rdeneh's statement suggested that Kerry failed to persuade Netanyahu to relent on a settlement freeze or accept the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline, saying that Abbas is being pressured to return to talks on Israeli terms. The statement also suggested there was no agreement on the release of veteran Palestinian prisoners by Israel — floated in the past as a possible goodwill gesture to bring Abbas to the table.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table immediately.
"It seems that the Palestinians still insist on reaching the last stage without bothering to go through chapter one, two and the rest," he said. "There are no shortcuts, and the only way to start negotiating is at the beginning, which means just start negotiating. It's as simple as that."
The U.S. State Department said Kerry would be in the Jordanian capital of Amman and Jerusalem from June 27-29 for talks on renewing negotiations.
Earlier Wednesday, international Mideast envoy Tony Blair said Kerry's mission may be the last chance for an Israeli-Palestinian deal.
He said that the "window of opportunity will be open for only a short period of time."
"We must go through it together," he said in a speech in Jerusalem. "If not, the window will close and could close forever. Time is not our friend. This is urgent. This is now. This is the time for statesmen, not politicians."
Later Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met Abbas, the latest of several foreign diplomats trying to persuade Abbas to resume negotiations.
Abbas aide Nabil Shaath said before that meeting that Abbas has told visitors, including the foreign ministers of New Zealand and Canada, that they should instead appeal to Israel to change its position.
Palestinian officials have said they nonetheless fear being blamed by the international community for a possible failure of Kerry's mission. In Wednesday's meeting, Fatah asked four leading members to devise a plan "to face the Israeli campaign to put the blame on us," Shaath said.
Associated Press writer Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel will not accept Iranian uranium enrichment at any level.
"We cannot accept anything less than the total cessation of all enrichment of nuclear materials at all levels, removal from Iran of all enriched nuclear material, closure of Iran's illicit nuclear facilities," Netanyahu said during a meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.
"Until Iran meets these demands, pressure must be stepped up and Iranian nuclear program must be stopped. Period."
Netanyahu warned against the new Iranian President Hasan Rowhani, saying that his strategy is to calm the international community while quietly advancing the nuclear program.
"He is the author of a document – you could call it talk and enrich - that is, talk and continue to enrich uranium. For nuclear weapons. He wrote this in the book. He said that by calming international community, Iran is able to steadily move forward in its nuclear weapons program. We cannot allow Iran to play this game. We cannot let Iran ride out the clock."
Netanyahu made the comments after several statements by the U.S. government and the European Union wishing to continue talks with Iran on its nuclear program. The talks between Iran and the six world powers stopped in April
Earlier Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Iran is willing to halt its 20 percent enrichment of uranium, which has been a key concession sought ininternational negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.
That is the highest level of enrichment acknowledged by Iran and one that experts say could be turned into warhead grade in a matter of months.
In an interview with the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA that was released by the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, Lavrov said that "for the first time in many years" there are encouraging signs in international efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute.
He said Iran has confirmed that it is ready to halt production of uranium-enriched to 20 percent. He did not give details, but said the sextet of international negotiators should make "substantial reciprocal steps."
Meanwhile, on Monday the UN nuclear agency chief said Iran is making "steady progress" in expanding its nuclear program and international sanctions do not seem to be slowing it down.
Yukiya Amano's comments underlined the difficult challenges facing world powers in seeking to persuade the Islamic state to scale back nuclear activities they suspect could be used to make atomic bombs, a charge Tehran denies.
The surprise victory of moderate cleric Hasan Rowhani in Iran's presidential election last Friday has raised hopes for an easing of tension in the decade-old nuclear dispute.
Rowhani pledged on Monday to be more transparent about Tehran's atomic work in order to see sanctions lifted but he also said Iran was not ready to suspend its enrichment of uranium. "
Hamas has deployed a 600-man military force in the Gaza Strip that operates 24 hours a day in order to prevent rocket fire at Israel, a senior Arab source told The Times of Israel on Monday.
Since Egypt — with the election a year ago of President Mohammed Morsi – stepped up its involvement in Gaza and began to pressure Hamas to not allow rocket fire, the Islamic organization has diligently worked to keep the peace in Gaza, even when that came at the price of confrontations with smaller Islamic groups such as the extremist Salafists, the source said.
Thus, Hamas has established a special force to “safeguard public order” that numbers around 600 gunmen and operates mostly along the Gaza-Israeli border.
The past few months have seen a dramatic decline in the number of rockets fired at Israel as compared to a year ago, a trend that has been confirmed by Israeli security sources. According to Israeli figures, since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense in November, some 20 rockets or mortar shells have been fired into Israel, compared to about 150 over the same period last year.
At the same time, there has also been a drop in the number of weapons smuggled into the Gaza Strip, due to Egypt’s efforts in the Sinai Peninsula and the prevention of smuggling from Libya.
The Egyptians have fielded a relatively large force to fight terror cells operating in the Sinai and to prevent the smuggling of “game-changing” long-range missiles. Still, Israel claims that the Egyptian activity is insufficient to dismantle terrorist infrastructure in the peninsula, despite being a significant improvement over the days of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who during his rule did not conduct major operations against terrorists in the Sinai.
Over the last few days, a delegation of senior Hamas officials has been holding consultations in Cairo, sponsored by the Egyptian government. According to Arab media reports, Morsi gave special permission to three Hamas men wanted by Egyptian security to join the proceedings.
Egyptian security forces, including 24 senior officers, have been deployed around the Intercontinental Hotel in Cairo where the Hamas delegation is staying, fearing demonstrations by secular activists who oppose Hamas due to reports that the Islamic group has attempted to intervene in Egyptian politics and has been involved in attacks on Egyptian soil, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported.
Meanwhile, Cairo has apparently deployed a considerable military force in the Sinai Peninsula, especially around Rafah, el-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, in anticipation of potential demonstrations and riots on June 30,the date chosen by the “National Salvation Front,” the umbrella opposition group, to stage massive nationwide protests.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Applications of pro-Israel groups for tax-exempt status are routinely routed to an antiterrorism unit within the Internal Revenue Service for additional screening, according to the testimony of a Cincinnati-based IRS agent.
Asked whether Jewish or pro-Israel applications are treated differently from other applications, Gary Muthert told House Oversight Committee investigators that they are considered “specialty cases” and that “probably” all are sent to an IRS unit that examines groups for potential terrorist ties.
Muthert, who served as an application screener before transferring to the agency’s antiterrorism unit, was interviewed in connection with the committee’s investigation into the IRS’s discrimination against conservative groups. As a screener, Muthert flagged tea-party applications and passed them along to specialists for further scrutiny.
sked by investigators whether “all pro-Israel applicants went to the terrorism unit,” Muthert responded, “Probably . . . foreign activity, pro-Israel — if it is any type of foreign activity, it will go to the antiterrorism area.” Screeners like Muthert must consult the list of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Treasury Department office that enforces economic and trade sanctions, and “the terrorist list . . . because a lot of organizations will create charities to funnel the money to terrorist countries.” In further questioning, Muthert was more categorical, saying that pro-Israel groups get “not so much additional scrutiny, just more procedures.”
“More review?” an investigator asked.
“Clearly, correct,” Muthert responded.
The IRS’s practices as described by Muthert touch on a political debate that has been raging in the United States and Israel since 2009. That’s when Washington Post columnist David Ignatius noted that opponents of Israeli settlements were fighting against tax exemption for groups that raise charitable contributions for organizations that support Israeli settlements. “Critics of Israeli settlements question why American taxpayers are supporting indirectly, through the exempt contributions, a process that the government condemns,” Ignatius wrote.
On March 27, 2009, the day after Ignatius’s article appeared, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed a spate of administrative complaints with the Treasury Department and the IRS, alleging that pro-Israel groups raising funds for settlements in the West Bank were supporting “illegal and terrorist activities abroad.” Later that year, in October, the ADC said that it was waging an ongoing legal campaign against the IRS for what the ADC regarded as violations of the tax code by some pro-Israel groups.
The following year, in 2010, a New York Timesreport observed that “donations to the settler movement stand out because of the centrality of the settlement issue in the current [American-Israeli] talks and the fact that Washington has consistently refused to allow Israel to spend American government aid in the settlements.” The article quoted State Department officials complaining about the American dollars flowing to Israeli settlers. “It’s a problem,” a senior State Department official told the Times. The implication was that it may be wrong to grant tax-exempt status to groups devoted to causes that undermine administration policy. Relying on information in the Times article, the left-leaning advocacy group J Street called on the Treasury Department to investigate whether pro-Israel organizations collecting tax-deductible gifts for schools, synagogues, and recreation centers in the West Bank had broken the law by supporting certain Israeli settlements.
Throughout this debate, whether pro-Israel groups have been receiving additional scrutiny from the IRS has remained unclear. But in 2010, after the pro-Israel organization Z Street applied for tax-exempt status, the IRS sent it requests for further information. Z Street sued the IRS in October 2010, claiming it was targeted merely for being connected to Israel. According to court documents, an IRS official told the group that its application was delayed because it was assigned to a “special unit” to determine “whether the organization’s activities contradict the Administration’s public policies.”
Certainly, charities based in the United States have funneled money to Israeli charities that are controlled by terrorist groups in Israel. But those charities have not been of a pro-Israel bent. The most-high profile case is that of the Holy Land Foundation, the Texas-based charity whose employees were indicted in 2004 for using the group as a front to provide material support to Hamas.
The policy that the applications of pro-Israel groups be examined by the IRS’s antiterrorism unit was instituted “probably years ago,” according to Muthert in his testimony. That testimony leaves unclear whether the news coverage in 2009 and 2010 prompted the scrutiny to which groups like Z Street say they have been subjected, or whether every nonprofit group whose application indicates it may engage in foreign activity, regardless of the country, is put under the microscope.
According to Muthert, it’s the latter, and he denies that pro-Israel applications are treated differently from those of other groups that claim they plan to engage with foreign countries. “It has to do with money laundering and things, because a lot of organizations will create charities to funnel the money to terrorist countries,” he explained. “So it is not so much Israel. It is just foreign countries.”
— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.
Syrian rebel group that twice abducted United Nations peacekeepers near the Israeli border in the past three months stole several UN vehicles, a UN Peacekeeping spokesperson acknowledged to The Times of Israel — including at least two sophisticated armored personnel carriers.
An Israeli expert warned that the sophisticated UN-marked vehicles could be used in surprise border attacks on IDF targets.UNDOF reported in itsquarterly report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that on March 6, a supply convoy carrying 21 UN personnel was waylaid by Syrian rebels near the village of Jamlah, near the Israeli border. After several days in captivity the Filipino peacekeepers were released unharmed, but, as of the writing of the March report, their four vehicles were “yet to be recovered.”
Video footage uploaded by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, the Syrian rebel group that claimed responsibility for the March 6 hijacking, showed the hijacked vehicles, which included a UN-marked Renault water tanker and two RG-31 Nyala armored personnel carriers.
The RG-31 Nyala is a South African-made, mine- and IED-resistant eight-metric-ton behemoth capable of carrying up to 10 men, and has a price tag of approximately $670,000, according to analyst estimates. According to a Canadian news report from 2005, the Nyala is “virtually indestructible” and is “designed to be able to resist twosimultaneous blasts from anti-tank mines.”
UN Peacekeeping spokesperson Josephine Guerrero confirmed to The Times of Israel, however, that not only were the four vehicles missing from March’s kidnapping, but that “a number of vehicles were taken during the March and May incidents involving the detention of UNDOF peacekeepers [emphasis added].”
She didn’t specify how many vehicles were stolen during the May 7 incident, during which four more Filipino peacekeepers were taken hostage by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade. (Evidently, in the latest May 15 kidnapping of UNTSO peacekeepers on the Israel-Syria border, only the soldiers’ personal effects were “looted,” according to the UN, and no military hardware was stolen.)
Guerrero also refused to verify the types of vehicles stolen by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, or confirm the authenticity of the rebel videos, which clearly showed the rebels taking control of two RG-31 Nyalas.
“This is of concern to UNDOF and the Mission is working to recover them,” Guerrero added. Neither she nor Secretary General Ban’s spokesman Farhan Haq specified how the UN planned to retrieve the vehicles. The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade ignored Times of Israel queries about the vehicles believed to be in their possession.
Professor Efraim Inbar, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Stategic Studies, said that while the vehicles didn’t confer a game-changing strategic advantage to the Syrian rebels, they were a platform by which the Yarmouk Brigade could launch potentially deadly surprise attacks against IDF positions along the border.
Such a maneuver would hark back to tactics employed last August, when Sinai-based terrorists launched a sneak attack on an Egyptian army base located near the Gaza Strip and the Israeli border. The attackers killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, hijacked an armored vehicle and careened the juggernaut through the Israeli border crossing. Speeding nearly a kilometer into Israeli territory, the stolen vehicle almost reached a nearby kibbutz, but was stopped in its tracks by a last-ditch airstrike.
In response to inquiries about the possible threat the trucks may pose to soldiers on the Israeli border and nearby communities, an army spokesperson stated that “the IDF is fully confident in its ability to defend Israel’s borders.”
According to a military source, the IDF has strict procedures regulating the entry of UN vehicles from Syria into Israeli territory. The source said that the IDF coordinates with UNDOF, “who inform us in cases when UN vehicles are stolen or go missing in Syria, and we use the details they give us” to deny red-flagged vehicles entry via the Quneitra border crossing.
The IDF source wouldn’t absolutely confirm or deny such coordination with UNDOF regarding the vehicles snatched this spring by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade.
Syrian civil war analyst Eliot Higgins of the Brown Moses blog said that the RG-31s would provide the rebels with a secure platform for smuggling arms, fuel or other contraband near the area where the Israeli, Syrian and Jordanian borders converge.
Though the trucks wouldn’t be a major offensive weapon, Inbar, the Begin-Sadat Center expert, suggested that their loss may have dealt yet another blow to the increasingly fragile morale of international peacekeepers on the Golan Heights.
Amid frequent raids on United Nations personnel and near-constant violence between rebel forces and those loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, UNDOF peacekeeping soldiers are said to be growing increasingly concerned about their personal safety and the effectiveness of their mandate. The UNDOF peacekeepers, drawn from the Indian, Austrian and Philippine militaries, are licensed by the UN Security Council to observe the ceasefire lines separating Israeli and Syrian forces on the Golan Heights. They are lightly armed, carrying sidearms and occasionally M-16s, but are not allowed to intervene in the event of third-party violence.
Both Manila and Vienna have expressed concern over the deteriorating security situation on the Israel-Syria border, and officials from both countries have suggested that morale among the peacekeeping forces is understandably low.
Philippine Ambassador to Israel Generoso D. G. Calonge, who has seen 25 countrymen abducted and liberated by Syrian rebels in the past few months, recently said that Philippine soldiers stationed on the Syrian border are likewise “disappointed” by the devolving situation.
A journalist who recently visited UNDOF’s headquarters told The Times of Israel that Austrian soldiers may be eager to sign up for the mission, but they are growing disheartened by their inability to do anything except defend themselves from direct assault. (Despite this, only a handful have returned to Austria out of concern over the growing violence, according to the Austrian newspaper Kurier.)
With the intensification of hostilities along the Israel-Syria border, the Austrian force’s “main task changed from reporting to stay safe themselves,” the reporter said. Deputy UNDOF commander Brig. Gen. Stefan Thaller was said to tell Austrian Defense Minister Gerald Klug during the latter’s recent visit to Camp Faouar that UNDOF’s mission “is only to report to New York [the UN secretary-general's office], and that’s it.”
An UNDOF spokesperson refused to comment on the status of morale among UNDOF troops, and rejected repeated requests to interview force commander Maj. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha about the sit
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
May 22, 2013
The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved a resolution affirming America's firm opposition to Iran's nuclear ambitions, and pledging full support for Israel in the event of an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
The chance to slam Iran’s government and speak up for Israel brought a rare moment of complete bipartisan unity to the Senate. Republican Lindsey Graham was a lead sponsor of the resolution.
“If that day ever comes where Israel has to take military action, to our friends in Israel: we will be there with you every step of the way diplomatically, economically, and, yes, militarily. And to the Iranian people: we would love to have a better relationship with you. To the Iranian regime: you are one of the biggest evils on the planet. And we will stand up to you. We will stand by our friends,” Graham said.
The resolution is an expression of the collective will of the Senate. It neither authorizes the use of U.S. military force, nor constitutes a declaration of war.
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez noted a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency saying that Iran has boosted its ability to enrich uranium with hundreds of new centrifuges.
“We seek full implementation of U.S. and international sanctions on Iran, and urge the president [Barack Obama] to continue to strengthen enforcement of those sanctions. I cannot emphasize enough my strong concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and the extraordinary threat it poses - yes, to Israel, but very importantly to the United States of America,” Menendez said.
Iran has long insisted its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, arguing that Israel is the true threat to regional peace.