Obama’s Delay In Changing Bush Rules On Religion Funding Sparks Political Speculation, Protest
In his Feb. 4 address at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Barack Obama emphasized a theme that many Americans would agree with.
Lamenting the “erosion of civility” in political life, Obama said, “At times, it seems like we’re unable to listen to one another; to have at once a serious and civil debate. And this erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens.”
But later in the speech, the president made a remark that astonished many Washington observers.
Insisting that people can still be united to serve the common good, Obama said, “That’s why my Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has been working so hard since I announced it here last year…. And through that office we’ve turned the faith-based initiative around to find common ground among people of all beliefs, allowing them to make an impact in a way that’s civil and respectful of difference and focused on what matters most.”
In fact, many civil rights and civil liberties leaders say the president has not “turned the faith-based initiative around.” On the contrary, they say, Obama has failed to deliver on his campaign promises in regard to this issue and a growing political debate about it is brewing.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has led the escalating call for the president to act.
In a Feb. 2 letter to the White House, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn observed, “As the one-year anniversary of your creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships approaches, I urge you to restore the religious liberty and civil rights protections that were removed by the Bush administration’s ‘faith-based’ initiative.”
Lynn reminded Obama that President George W. Bush had allowed publicly funded “faith-based” groups to discriminate in hiring on religious grounds and had failed to enforce federal rules against proselytizing. Obama, at a July 1, 2008, campaign stop in Zanesville, Ohio, had promised to fix those problematic policies.
“[I]f you get a federal grant,” Obama said then, “you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs.”
Lynn expressed dismay and disappointment at the president’s failure to keep that commitment.
“After eight years of struggling with the Bush administration,” Lynn wrote, “those of us who support civil rights and civil liberties were greatly relieved to hear those words. Forcing Americans to subsidize religious bias and proselytization with our tax dollars is certainly unfair and manifestly unconstitutional. Many Americans freely and generously support their houses of worship and other religious ministries. But no American should be required to support religious discrimination through his or her taxes.
“Yet today, more than one year after you took office,” continued Lynn, who is both an attorney and ordained minister, “your administration has not changed these misguided policies of the Bush administration. Billions of dollars in federal grants and contracts — including those made under your Economic Recovery Package — continue to be issued under these policies.”
Concluded Lynn, “In your Zanesville speech, you asserted that ‘as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state.’ Mr. President, it is time to uphold that principle and keep your promise to correct the glaring deficiencies in the faith-based funding arena. I urge you to take immediate action to restore critical civil rights protections and vital religious freedom safeguards to your faith-based initiative.”
Later in the week, an array of civil rights, civil liberties, religious and advocacy groups joined the call for action. Twenty-five national religious and public policy organizations (including Americans United) wrote a letter to Obama asking him to make major changes to the “faith-based” initiative.
The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination’s joint letter laid out a specific set of proposals to protect civil rights and religious liberty in federally funded social services and urged Obama to adopt them. They include banning employment discrimination based on religion in tax-funded projects and issuing uniform guidelines to ensure that no person seeking help in a publicly funded program is subjected to unwanted proselytizing.
Among specific recommendations, the Feb. 4 missive asks the president to:
• Revoke a June 2007 legal memo issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that asserts that a 1993 religious freedom law gives religious groups the right to take tax funds and still discriminate on religious grounds in hiring. This interpretation, the joint letter asserts, is “erroneous and threatens core civil rights and religious freedom protections.”
• Issue policies making it clear that social-services providers must give proper notice to beneficiaries of their religious liberty rights and access to alternative secular providers.
• Require that houses of worship and other religious institutions that infuse religion into every program create separate corporations for the purpose of providing secular government-funded social services.
Aside from Americans United, groups signing the letter are: African American Ministers in Action; American Association of University Women; American Civil Liberties Union; American Humanist Association; American Jewish Committee; Anti-Defamation League; Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; B’nai B’rith International; Human Rights Campaign; The Interfaith Alliance; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; OMB Watch; People For the American Way; Secular Coalition for America; Texas Faith Network; Texas Freedom Network; The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Union for Reform Judaism; Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society; United Sikhs; and Women of Reform Judaism.
While the list of signers was impressive, there is a growing concern that the Obama administration is paying more attention to conservative religious forces than the civil rights and civil liberties supporters.
The Wall Street Journal suggested that Obama’s team is hoping to build bridges to conservatives in a bid for broader political support. A Feb. 4 article, headlined “Keeping Faith, Courting Conservatives,” noted that the president’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Initiatives includes a large number of religious conservatives who appear to be winning concessions from the White House.
The 25-member Council includes representatives from mainstream religious groups and minority faiths, but a conservative bloc is pushing for policies that jeopardize church-state separation. Its recommendations on many faith-based policies are scheduled to go to the president this month.
Many points among the recommendations are non-controversial and quite positive, but critics say at least one is deeply problematic. The Council in February voted to allow publicly funded faith-based agencies to display sectarian icons and signs in facilities where people of many faith perspectives come to get help from their government.
“Conservatives on the council,” the Journal reported, “are pleased with the direction the White House is taking.”
“As a conservative, I do feel there is a willing ear” in the White House, Council member Frank Page told the newspaper. Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, added, “If there’s ever a time that the White House needs to say, ‘We need to keep our ears open,’ this is it.”
The Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a Florida evangelical megachurch, said Obama aides “really are trying to be responsive.” The newspaper reported that Hunter, a longtime Republican, changed his voter registration in November to independent due in part to his White House interactions.
According to the Journal, Burns Strider, a Democratic consultant who works on religious outreach and has close ties to the faith-based office, said building ties to evangelicals can “smooth the edges” that often mobilize conservative voters to oppose a Democrat such as Obama.
AU’s Lynn, who served on a task force set up to advise the Council, said he thinks many people have overlooked the apparent conflict of interest inherent in having religious leaders make policy recommendations about programs that their organizations benefit from.
In an opinion essay for the Huffington Post, Lynn said some of the Council members appointed by President Obama are powerful religious lobbyists whose denominations and groups benefit handsomely from government funds. They include representatives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations and the evangelical charity World Vision.
“Our research in government databases,” Lynn reported, “indicates that Catholic Charities (including its various affiliates) has taken at least $521 million over the last 10 years. The Catholic bishops’ conference has corralled $304.8 million over the same period, and World Vision has taken in $405.9 million. Orthodox Union-affiliated synagogues and Jewish schools have also benefited from millions in federal grants, though government reporting methods make the precise figure impossible to ascertain.”
Concluded Lynn, “Wouldn’t this be a conflict of interest by any ethical standard?”
The Obama Advisory Council has been asked not to address the hiring discrimination issue. That is supposed to be dealt with by the Department of Justice, although Joshua DuBois, head of Obama’s faith-based office, keeps saying it will be handled on a “case by case basis,” whatever that means.
Religious conservatives are hoping to prevail even on that deeply controversial issue.
Evangelical leader Jim Wallis, an Obama Council member who wants to keep the Bush hiring policy, told the Journal that White House aides were concerned that changing the policy might force some groups to stop taking government money to deliver services needed in difficult economic times.
Council member Nathan Diament of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations told the newspaper Obama made a “deliberate decision” to side with aid groups rather than advocates that are not involved in delivering social welfare.
Advocates of civil rights and religious liberty hope Wallis and Diament are wrong. The issue is vitally important, they say, to people both in the United States and around the world.
In Kentucky, for example, Alicia Pedreira has fought a 10-year battle against a publicly funded Baptist child care agency that gave her top performance reviews but still fired her when it became public that she is a lesbian. (Americans United and the Kentucky ACLU are representing Pedreira and other Kentucky taxpayers in a federal lawsuit challenging public funding of Kentucky Baptist Homes, an agency that gets as much as half of its money from taxpayers yet discriminates on religious grounds in hiring and indoctrinates young people in its care in religious doctrine.)
Problems also are widespread in government-funded services overseas. According to a January report in Global Post, the evangelical organization World Vision received $281 million in government grants in 2008 — yet offers full-time employment only to Christians who fit the group’s creed.
Focusing on a project in predominately Muslim Mali, the story says people are being denied scarce jobs in U.S.-funded programs because World Vision is openly discriminatory.
World Vision officials don’t deny their religious bias. Torrey Olsen, World Vision’s Senior Director for Christian Engagement, told the Global Post, “We do want to be witnesses to Jesus Christ by life, word, deed and sign.” Fabiano Franz, another World Vision official, added, “We’re very clear from the beginning about hiring Christians. It’s not a surprise, so it’s not discrimination.”
Regardless of how these church-state conflicts turn out, religious lobbyists are hoping to maintain a major influence over Obama’s policies.
“I want him to listen to faith groups as much as he listens to people on Wall Street,” Wallis told The Washington Post. “I want him to listen to faith groups as much as military leaders on Afghanistan.”
Said AU’s Lynn, “The president needs to listen to the commands of the Constitution as well. We urge everyone who believes in civil rights and religious liberty to let the White House know how you feel.”
Nothing like an old-timey billionaire’s ad campaign — flush with Arabic script, images of war and an ominous Middle Eastern music track – to get the xenophobic engine cranking and sell some good ol’ U.S. of A. natural gas. The ad campaign drummed up by T. Boone Pickens has been sold as a renewed effort by the Texas energy investor to wean the U.S. off of foreign oil and promote homegrown resources like wind and natural gas.
Pickens has spent upwards of $62 million in the past couple of years on an ad campaign pushing his plan. The aptly named Pickens Plan aims to upgrade the electrical transmission grid; use natural gas — not oil-based products — as a transportation fuel; and use wind and solar instead of coal to generate electricity.
Although as I noted Wednesday after Pickens announced plans to ditch his massive Texas wind project, that strategy has shifted a bit. Now natural gas is the go-to fuel, with wind taking a backseat. The ad, which aired on cable networks Thursday, is specifically aimed at beefing up support for the Nat Gas Act, legislation that would, in part, help pay to convert U.S. diesel-powered trucks to natural gas.
Pickens when asked said he and his aides considered, and ultimately chose to use the Arabic because any added attention would be good for the cause, according to the NYT.
“We’re infidels with most of these people and they have no use for us,” Pickens was quoted by the NYT. “We’re getting more and more dependent on the wrong people.”
I get it. Pickens was aiming for a reaction with this recent ad. Here I am writing about it, so I guess it worked. But why oh why, risk your credibility by throwing out the Arabic and war images — especially when your motivates — as an investor in domestic oil and gas — will be questioned?
The natural gas industry had gained some momentum in recent months. Let’s not forget that it was pretty much left out of the House version of climate-change legislation passed last summer. And I have faith in Americans that the fear-mongering approach won’t work, as Pollyannaish as that may sound.
I have to wonder if the natural gas industry folk are cringing over the ad? I am.
Gas Tax Proposal to Provide More Funding for Nuclear Plants
FILE: Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., left, talks as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., listens during a press conference at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem, Monday Nov. 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
A group of senators are trying to resuscitate global warming legislation, but the potential inclusion of a new gas tax threatens to keep action on one of President Obama’s signature initiatives stalled.
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have pushed aside the politically unpopular idea of passing a “cap and trade” system for regulating most emissions and would instead go after power plants, motor vehicles and manufacturers with targeted taxes and caps.
The lawmakers are hoping to get a bill together in the “coming weeks,” according to a Kerry aide, and then find a way to fit it in the already jammed Senate calendar, where the jobs agenda and now health care reform are the priorities.
“Unlike past pieces of legislation, we are taking a careful look at different sectors of the economy to determine the most appropriate policy to reduce emissions in each sector,” Kerry spokeswoman Whitney Smith said. “Based on input from all stakeholders, the idea is to take a reasonable, responsive approach to each sector to accomplish an economywide goal.”
Even without creating a cap and trade system, such a proposal would face opposition among Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, particularly those who will not support any bill that threatens to raise prices or impose a fuel tax, which could happen under this proposal.
“No bill that collides with the urgent imperative of job creation has a chance right now and to the extent that a climate bill has that feature or is seen as having that feature, it can’t go anywhere,” said William Galston, a political scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Senate proponents of the bill are up against a daunting deadline, with a little more than six months left to tackle legislative business before the chamber adjourns for 2010 campaigning. Few, if any, endangered Democrats will be willing to vote on a bill that could be unpopular among economically struggling constituents.
“I think they are all in denial,” Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a global warming skeptic, told The Examiner on Monday. “They are going to be trying to impose a huge tax on Americans without any positive results. And we’re going to be there to remind everybody.”
Proponents of the plan believe it can succeed by using the piecemeal approach, which will make it easier to craft a bill that could attract the 60 votes needed for passage. And with Graham already on board, Democrats would only have to round up all 59 Democratic-controlled votes. The proposal would increase domestic oil and gas drilling and would provide federal funding for nuclear energy plants, which could attract moderate votes.
“I don’t think the climate and energy issue is dead in the Senate,” Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told The Examiner. “The real question is what kind of bill can you put together that can pass.”
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 2 March 2010
uring an appearance at Vassar College in early February, controversial New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner was asked about the ongoing evictions of Palestinian families from homes in East Jerusalem which Israel occupied in 1967. Israeli courts have ruled that Jewish settlers could take over some Palestinian homes on the grounds that Jews held title to the properties before Israel was established in 1948.
Bronner was concerned, but not only about Palestinians being made homeless in Israel’s relentless drive to Judaize their city; he was also worried about properties in his West Jerusalem neighborhood, including the building he lives in, partially owned by The New York Times, that was the home of Palestinians made refugees in 1948. Facts about The New York Times’ acquisition of this property are revealed for the first time in this article.
“One of the things that is most worrying not just the Left but a lot of people in Israel about this decision is if the courts in Israel are going to start recognizing property ownership from before the State [of Israel was founded],” Bronner said according to a transcript made by independent reporter Philip Weiss who maintains the blog Mondoweiss.net.
Bronner added, “I think the Palestinians are going to have a fairly big case. I for example live in West Jerusalem. My entire neighborhood was Palestinian before 1948.”
The New York Times-owned property Bronner occupies in the prestigious Qatamon neighborhood, was once the home of Hasan Karmi, a distinguished BBC Arabic Service broadcaster and scholar (1905-2007). Karmi was forced to flee with his family in 1948 as Zionist militias occupied western Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods. His was one of an estimated 10,000 Palestinian homes in West Jerusalem that Jews took over that year.
The New York Times bought the property in 1984 in a transaction overseen by columnist Thomas Friedman who was then just beginning his four-year term as Jerusalem bureau chief.
Hasan Karmi’s daughter, Ghada, a physician and well-known author who lives in the United Kingdom, discovered that The New York Times was in — or rather on top of — her childhood home in 2005, when she was working temporarily in Ramallah. One day Karmi received a call from Steven Erlanger, then The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, who had just read her 2002 memoir In Search of Fatima.
Karmi recalled in a 15 May 2008 interview on Democracy Now! that Erlanger told her, “I have read your marvelous memoir, and, do you know, I think I’m living above your old house … From the description in your book it must be the same place” (“Conversation with Palestinian Writer and Doctor Ghada Karmi“).
At Erlanger’s invitation, Karmi visited, but did not find the elegant one-story stone house her family had moved into in 1938, that was typical of the homes middle- and upper-class Arabs began to build in Jerusalem suburbs like Qatamon, Talbiya, Baqa, Romema or Lifta toward the end of the 19th century. The original house was still there, but at some point after 1948 two upper stories had been built.
Erlanger, responding to questions posed by The Electronic Intifada via email, described the residence as “built over the Karmi family house — on its air rights, if you like. The [New York Times] is not in [the Karmi] house.” Erlanger described the building as having an “unbroken” facade but that it consisted of “two residences, two ownerships, two heating systems,” and a separate entrance for the upper levels reached via an external staircase on the side.
Questions The Electronic Intifada sent to Thomas Friedman about the purchase of the property were answered by David E. McCraw, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel for the newspaper, who wrote that the original Karmi house itself “was never owned even partly by The Times. The Times purchased in the 1980s a portion of the building that had been constructed above it in the late 1970s.” The purchase was made from “a Canadian family that had bought them from the original builders of the apartment.”
McCraw acknowledged in a follow-up conversation that as a general principle of property law, the “air rights” of a property — the right to build on top of it or use (and access) the space above it — belong to the owner of the ground.
Exiled from Qatamon
Ghada Karmi standing by the front door of her childhood home in Jerusalem’s Qatamon neighborhood in 2005. (Steven Erlanger)
Hasan Karmi hailed originally from Tulkarem, in what is now the northern West Bank. In 1938, he moved his family to Jerusalem to take up a job in the education department of the British-run Palestine Mandate government. Ghada — born around November 1939 (the exact date is unknown because her birth certificate along with all the family’s records, photographs, furniture, personal possessions and an extensive library were lost with the house) — has vivid memories of a happy childhood in what was a well-to-do mixed neighborhood of Arab Christians and Muslims, foreigners and a few Jewish families. The neighbors with whom her parents socialized and with whose children the young Ghada and her siblings played included the Tubbeh, Jouzeh, Wahbeh and Khayyat families. There was also a Jewish family called Kramer, whose father belonged to the Haganah, the Zionist militia that became the Israeli army after May 1948.
Karmi describes the house at length in her memoir — but she told The Electronic Intifada her fondest memories were of the tree-filled garden where she spent much time playing with her brother and sister and the family dog Rex. The lemon and olive trees she remembers are still there, Erlanger noted to The Electronic Intifada.
In the mid-1940s, the lively Qatamon social life gave way to terror as the dark clouds of what would come to be known as the Nakba approached. Violence broke out all over Jerusalem after the UN’s devastating recommendation to partition Palestine without giving its people any say in the matter. Spontaneous riots by Arabs were followed by organized violence from Zionist groups and mutual retaliatory attacks that claimed lives from both communities. This climate provided the pretext for the Haganah’s premeditated campaign to seize Jerusalem.
Poorly armed and disorganized Arab irregulars, who had nevertheless succeeded in disrupting Zionist supply convoys to Jerusalem, proved no match for highly-trained and well-armed Zionist militias which, on the orders of David Ben-Gurion, began a well-planned campaign to conquer the western parts of the city. The occupation of western Jerusalem and some 40 villages in its vicinity was executed as part of the Haganah’s “Plan Dalet.” These events are well documented in books including Benny Morris’ The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947-1949 (1987), Walid Khalidi’s (ed.) All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (1992), Salim Tamari’s (ed.) Jerusalem 1948: The Arab Neighborhoods and their Fate in the War (1999) and Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006).
Zionist militias used frequent bombings of Arab civilians to terrorize residents into fleeing. These attacks were amplified by posters and warnings broadcast over loudspeakers that those choosing to remain behind would share the fate of those killed in atrocities.
Karmi wrote that one night in November 1947, their neighbor Kramer came to see her father and said, “I have come to tell you at some risk to myself to take your family and leave Jerusalem as soon as possible …. Please believe me, it is not safe here.” Many Qatamon families left after the Zionist bombing of the nearby Semiramis Hotel, which killed 26 civilians including the Spanish consul-general, on the night of 4-5 January 1948.
The Karmis however held on, and Ghada records in her memoir her mother steadfastly saying, “The Jews are not going to drive me out of my house … Others may go if they like, but we’re not giving in.”
Toward the end of April, bombardment by Zionist militias against virtually undefended Arab areas became so heavy, and the terror generated by the Deir Yassin massacre earlier that month so intense, that the Karmis relented and departed by taxi for Damascus, via Amman, with nothing but a few clothes. Their intention was to bring the children to safety at their maternal grandparents’ house while the adults would return home to Jerusalem. A few days after reaching Damascus the elder Karmis tried to return to Jerusalem but were unable to do so. So began the family’s exile that continues to this day.
As Arabs left their homes, Jews were moved in by the Haganah. “While the cleansing of Qatamon went on,” Itzhak Levy, the head of Haganah intelligence in Jerusalem recalled, “pillage and robbery began. Soldiers and citizens took part in it. They broke into the houses and took from them furniture, clothing, electric equipment and food” (quoted in Pappe, p.99). Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli scholar and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, wrote in his book Sacred Landscape of personally witnessing the “looting of Arab homes in Qatamon” as a boy. Palestinians also lost art work, financial instruments and — like the Karmis — irreplaceable family records, as the fabric of a society and a way of life were destroyed.
Jerusalem return denied
The Karmis’ story is a variation of what happened to tens of thousands of Jerusalem-area Palestinians during the Nakba, in which approximately 750,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from their homes all over the country and never allowed to return. (In my book One Country I describe the departure under similar circumstances of my mother’s family from Lifta-Romema.)
As of 1997, there were 84,000 living West Jerusalem refugees (23,000 born before 1948), according to Tamari. Half lived in the West Bank, many just miles from their original homes, but thousands of others were spread across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip.
Arab property is well-documented through administrative and UN records, but tracing the fate of an individual house or proving title is extremely difficult if not impossible for Palestinians scattered, exiled and forbidden from returning home. Some, who have foreign passports that allowed them to make brief visits, have attempted to locate their family properties. In recent years a small Israeli group called Zochrot (Remembering) has even joined in — taking some displaced Palestinians back to their original villages and homes, whose traces Israel often made deliberate efforts to conceal or destroy. But such activities are not welcomed by most Israeli Jews still in denial about their state’s genesis.
Ghada Karmi recalls an earlier attempt to revisit her family home in 1998. The residents were unwelcoming and would not give her the phone number of the landlord, though a plaque outside bore the name “Ben-Porat.”
The owner of the original, lower-level house at the time The New York Times bought the upper levels was Yoram Ben-Porat, an economics professor who became president of the Hebrew University and was killed with his wife and young son in a road accident in October 1992. According to Erlanger, the house remained with heirs from the Ben-Porat family who rented it out until it was sold in 2005 to an Israeli couple who did some remodeling. It is unknown when the Ben-Porats acquired the house or if they were the ones who had the upper levels built.
During Karmi’s 2005 visit, Erlanger invited her to see his part of the house and introduced her to the Israeli tenants in the lower level who gave her free access while Erlanger took photographs. For Karmi, revisiting the house was disconcerting. She described to The Electronic Intifada its occupants as “Ashkenazi Jewish Israelis, liberals, nice people who wanted to be nice.” She felt like asking them, “how can you live here knowing this is an Arab house, knowing this was once owned by Arabs, what goes through your mind?” But, she explained, “in the way people have of not wanting to upset people who appear to be nice, I didn’t say anything.”
The New York Times
In the early years after their original residents left, many of the former Arab neighborhoods were run down. But in the 1970s, wealthier Israeli Jews began to gentrify them and acquiring an old Arab house became a status symbol. Today, Israeli real estate agencies list even small apartments in Qatamon for hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, and house prices can run into the millions. In Jerusalem, such homes have become popular especially with wealthy American Jews, according to Pappe. The New York Times did not disclose what it paid for the Qatamon property.
It was a curious decision for The New York Times to have purchased part of what must obviously have been property with — at the very least — a political, moral and legal cloud over its title. Asked whether The New York Times or Friedman had made any effort to learn the history of the property, the newspaper responded, “Neither The Times nor Mr. Friedman knew who owned the original ground floor prior to 1948.”
As Friedman prepared to make the move to Jerusalem from Beirut where he was covering the Lebanon war in the early 1980s, The Times hired an Israeli real estate agent to help him locate a home. According to McCraw, Friedman’s wife Ann went ahead to Jerusalem and looked at properties “and she, working with the agent, made the selection for The Times.” During the process Friedman visited Jerusalem and looked at properties as well, a fact he mentions in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem. By the time the property was selected, Friedman had moved permanently to Jerusalem and oversaw the closing.
The choice of the Qatamon property — over several modern apartments that the real estate agent also showed — makes The New York Times a protagonist and interested party in one of the most difficult aspects of the Palestine conflict: the property and refugee rights of Palestinians that Israel has adamantly denied. It also raises interesting questions about what such choices have on news coverage — with which the newspaper itself has had to grapple.
In 2002, an Electronic Intifada article partly attributed the pervasive underreporting of Israeli violence against Palestinians to “a structural geographic bias” — the fact that “most US news organizations who have reporters on the ground base them in Tel Aviv or west Jerusalem, very far from the places where Palestinians are being killed and bombarded on a daily basis” ( Michael Brown and Ali Abunimah, “Killings of dozens once again called ‘period of calm’ by US media, 20 September 2002).
In 2005, The New York Times’ then Public Editor Daniel Okrent echoed this criticism, writing:
“The Times, like virtually every American news organization, maintains its bureau in West Jerusalem. Its reporters and their families shop in the same markets, walk the same streets and sit in the same cafes that have long been at risk of terrorist attack. Some advocates of the Palestinian cause call this ‘structural geographic bias.’” (“The Hottest Button: How The Times Covers Israel and Palestine,” 24 April 2005).
Okrent recommended that in order to broaden the view of the newspaper’s reporters, it should locate a correspondent in Ramallah or Gaza — where she or he would share the daily experiences, concerns and risks of Palestinians. This advice went unheeded, just as Executive Editor Bill Keller recently publicly rejected the advice of the current public editor that current Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner should be reassigned because of the conflict of interest created by Bronner’s son’s voluntary enlistment in the Israeli army.
Thus, in a sense, Bronner’s structural and personal identification with Israel has become complete: when the younger Bronner joins army attacks in Gaza, fires tear gas canisters or live bullets at nonviolent demonstrators trying to save their land from confiscation in West Bank villages, or conducts night arrest raids in Ramallah or Nablus — as he may well be ordered to do — his father will root for him, worry about him, perhaps hope that his enemies will fall in place of his son, as any Israeli parent would. And on weekends, the elder Bronner will await his soldier-son’s homecoming to a property whose true heirs live every day, like millions of Palestinians, with the unacknowledged trauma, and enduring injustice of dispossession and exile.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.
From birth, Israel was a regional menace until America became its benefactor in the late 1960s. Now it’s a global one, powerful with a large standing army and the latest weapons and technology, nuclear armed and ready to use them. It’s belligerent on the slightest pretext or none at all, and a threat to world peace and security because US administrations since Lyndon Johnson supported a nation of 5.6 million Jews in an area the size of New Jersey, partnering in its worst crimes and abuses.
It’s due largely to the Israeli Lobby’s influence, or as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote in their book, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” America’s Middle East policy is driven “almost entirely (by) US domestic politics, and especially (because of) the (Lobby’s) activities….This situation has no equal in American political history.”
In his book, “The Power of Israel in the United States,” James Petras documented its enormous influence, explaining its roots throughout government, the business community, the dominant media, academia, the clergy, and powerful wealthy Jewish families. Broad support comes from thousands of dedicated activists, including doctors, lawyers, accountants, other professionals, philanthropists, and journalists given special prominence and benefits for their unwavering pro-Israeli reporting, suppressing decades of its militarism, belligerence, and illegal occupation while vilifying Israel’s enemies.
As a result, Israel receives enormous benefits, including billions in annual aid, the latest weapons and technology, unrestricted US market access, and free entry of its immigrants. Its imperial wars, illegal occupation, and crimes of war and against humanity are supported. Harmful Security Council resolutions are vetoed and General Assembly ones ignored. As a result, it operates freely, including spying in America by covertly penetrating US military bases, the FBI, CIA, IRS, DHS and many other government agencies, remaining unaccountable for its actions.
Israel is unique as America’s largest aid recipient, on the most favorable terms, and virtually anything more requested, given openly or covertly, in violation of the 1961 US Foreign Assistance Act (as amended), stipulating that no aid be provided to governments that engage:
“in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, and the security of person, unless such assistance will directly benefit the needy people in such country.”
In 2004, the amended Act let the president provide aid to treat orphans, other vulnerable children, those with HIV/AIDS, and to set up schools and other supportive programs.
US Aid to Israel
In November 2008, Shirl McArthur of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA) used Congressional Research Report (CRS) data for a “Conservative Estimate of Total Direct US Aid to Israel” since 1949, saying it’s almost $114 billion, but explaining that determining the exact figure is impossible since parts are buried in various agency budgets, mostly the Defense Department’s (DOD) or in forms not easily quantifiable.
“It must be emphasized that this analysis is a conservative, defensible accounting of US direct aid to Israel, NOT of Israel’s cost to the US or the American taxpayer, not of the benefits to Israel of US aid. The distinction is important, because the indirect or consequential costs suffered by the US as a result of its blind support for Israel exceed by many times the substantial amount of direct aid” provided.
Besides Afghanistan and other Middle East conflicts, excluded from McArthur’s data, is the mounting Iraq invasion and occupation cost, estimated by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes to be $3 trillion in their book titled, “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.”
They include an extra $2 trillion national debt, ad infinitum interest on it, veterans’ healthcare and disability payments, the economic impact of lives lost and jobs interrupted, the higher cost of oil, the long-term economic impact, and numerous intangibles such as global anti-American sentiment, the near universal Arab world view that Washington attacked Iraq for Israel, and the US’s reduced capability to respond to other global crises and address vital homeland needs.
In his June 2003 WRMEA article titled, “The Cost to American Taxpayers of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Thomas Stauffer conservatively estimated it at around $3 trillion measured in 2002 dollars, nearly four times the amount for the Vietnam war, also in 2002 dollars.
Stauffer said US Israeli aid is way-understated:
“since much is outside of the foreign aid appropriation process or implicit in other programs. It comes to $1.8 trillion, including special trade advantages, preferential contracts, or aid buried in other accounts. In addition to the financial outlay,” about 275,000 US jobs are lost annually.
His estimates include:
– multi-fold oil price increases;
– the effect on US jobs and exports;
– economic and military aid,
– special benefits to Israel, including privileged contracts for Israeli firms, legal and illegal weapons and technology transfers, exemption from US trade protection provisions, discounted “surplus” military equipment sales, low or no-interest loans, and other undisclosed costly benefits, exclusively for Israel.
He concluded that Israeli assistance and Middle East unrest “ha(ve) proven to be very expensive for the US,” much higher than revealed figures. Their total costs “are some six times the official aid” with all related factors included such as the price of oil and burden on other regional states. “All states – not just the US – have borne the burden of conflicts in the Middle East.”
Known US aid includes:
– annual $3 billion direct appropriations;
– undisclosed additional amounts;
– millions annually to resettle immigrants;
– disclosed and unknown billions in loan guarantees;
– since 1981, economic aid in direct cash transfers, and since 1985 military aid the same way;
– Israeli military loans as grants, repayment not required; Israel wants them called loans to avoid US monitoring; according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), “Technically, the assistance is called loans, but as a practical matter, the military aid is (given as) grants;”
– economic aid is the same, Israel spending it as it pleases with no required accountability;
– since 1982, Economic Support Fund (ESF) cash transfers come in lump sum form at the beginning of each fiscal year, no strings attached – a benefit afforded no other country, made even greater by investing it in US Treasuries;
– special Foreign Military Sales (FMS) funding is also afforded to purchase American weapons and technology; other countries buy them through the Defense Department (DOD); Israel deals directly with US companies; other countries must comply with minimum purchase amounts; Israel has no such restriction; other countries let DOD disburse funds to suppliers; Israel pays them directly and is reimbursed by the US Treasury; under this arrangement, Israeli officials have committed serious offenses, including embezzlement and improper access to highly classified information on US weapons and technology;
– US weapons suppliers provide offsets by purchasing Israeli products and services;
– Israel may use over 26% of its aid to buy weapons, munitions and other equipment from its own companies; no other nation has this benefit; as a result, its arms industry is one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated; in 2007, it was the 8th largest supplier to developing countries;
– aid finances Israel’s defense industry;
– state-of-the-art weapons and technology are provided; and
– America guarantees Israel’s access to oil and finances its settlements – illegal under international law.
In April 1998, Washington designed Israel a “major non-NATO ally,” qualifying it to receive Excess Defense Articles (EDA) under Section 516 of the Foreign Assistance Act and Section 23(a) of the Arms Export Control Act. As a strategic US ally, it gets unmatched preferential treatment.
In FY 2009, the If Americans Knew web site said America gave Israel $7 million or more daily. Palestinians got nothing, except to police their own people, strengthen Fatah against Hamas and other competing parties, some economic aid benefitting Israel and the West, and spotty amounts through USAID and to UNRWA and US-based NGOs for projects called “humanitarian.”
In their above-mentioned book, Mearsheimer and Walt said:
“Since the October (1973) War, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing the amounts (given) any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct US economic and military assistance since 1976 and the largest total recipient since World War II. Total direct US aid to Israel amounts to well over $140 billion in 2003 dollars….In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year.”
Over the last 20 years, Washington focused mainly on military aid, increasing it by $150 million annually since FY 2007, plus additional amounts for Israeli incursions, planned jointly with Washington.
Before 1998, Israel annually received military grants of $1.8 billion and economic ones totaling $1.2 billion. Beginning in FY 2009, by mutual agreement, economic aid is being reduced by $120 million and military grants increased by $60 million annually over 10 years. In August 2007, a memorandum of understanding afforded Israel $30 billion in aid for 10 years, plus later discovered undisclosed amounts, totaling billions.
Budgeted amounts go mostly for specific projects, such as Israel’s Merkava tank, its Arrow anti-missile missile, other anti-missile systems, and the cancelled Lavi attack fighter. Grants also go to US – Israeli scientific and business cooperation organizations, the two largest being the BIRD (Binational Research & Development) Foundation and the BARD (Binational Agriculture and Research and Development) Fund.
Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report on US Foreign Aid to Israel – December 4, 2009
Its latest report affirms Israel as “the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II,” saying it gets nearly $3 billion annually, mainly as military assistance.
In August 2007, the Bush administration incrementally increased it by $6 billion over the next decade. For FY 2010, the Obama administration requested $2.775 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF). Congress provided $555 million of Israel’s total FY 2010 FMF in PL (Public Law) 111-32, in the FY 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act. HR 3081 and S 1434 contain the remaining funds.
On July 9, 2009, HR 3160 was introduced, the Israeli Foreign Assistance Appropriations Act, 2010. The bill was referred to committee and awaits further action.
Recent possible military sales include:
– on September 29, 2008, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with associated equipment and training, a deal, if consummated, worth up to $15.2 billion; Israel wants up to 75 depending on the cost; negotiations continue, but reported disagreement was reported over its right to customize aircraft to its needs and the final per plane cost, from $100 – $200 million depending on the degree of customization;
– on September 9, 2008, Patriot Missile Fire Unit upgrades, 1,000 GBU-39 small diameter guided bombs, and 28,000 M72A7 light anti-armor weapons, in total worth about $330 million; Israel already has US-supplied Hawk and Patriot missiles as well as its own defense systems; since 1988, both countries have been developing the Arrow Anti-Missile system, a weapon with theater ballistic missile capability; Arrow became operational in 2000; Arrow II is designed to deter longer-range conventional ballistic missiles, and other systems are under development, including Arrow III;
– on July 30, 2008, nine C-130 J-30 aircraft with associated equipment and training, worth up to $1.9; billion; and
– on July 15, 2008, four Littoral combat ships, worth up to $1.9 billion, and JP-8 aviation jet fuel worth up to $1.3 billion; in 2009, Israel declined to purchase these ships over cost concerns.
American Israeli aid began in 1949 with a $100 million Export-Import Bank loan and continued modestly for the next two decades. In 1962, Israel bought its first advanced weapons system, Hawk anti-aircraft missiles. In 1968, a year after the Six Day War, the Johnson administration assured Israel’s regional military superiority. Since 1970, large-scale aid followed. In 1971, it was $545 million, and by 1974 Israel became America’s largest aid recipient, two-thirds for military purposes.
After the 1979 Camp David Accords and Israel – Egypt Peace Treaty, Washington gave both sides $7.5 billion under the 1979 Special International Security Assistance Act, allocated 3 – 2 favoring Israel. Thereafter, regular and emergency economic and military aid followed. Today, Israeli allocations far exceed amounts given Egypt or any other nation.
In 1985, Congress appropriated special economic assistance of $1.5 billion under terms of a US – Israel Joint Economic Development Group (JEDG), calling for neoliberal reforms and empowering Israel’s Finance Ministry and national Bank.
Washington and Tel Aviv colluded for two goals:
– balancing Israel’s budget; and
– cutting wages, prices, credit, public benefits, pensions, and the currency’s value as well as curbing union power and establishing an exploitable temporary worker market.
It began Israel’s race to the bottom by mass privatizations, welfare and social benefit cuts, and wealth shifted to the top as in America, the result being growing Jewish poverty, hunger and homelessness to the present.
In 1985, all US military aid became grants, what began for economic aid in 1981. Thereafter, generous supplemental aid followed, including after the Gulf and 2003 Iraq wars. The FY 2003 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act included $9 billion in loan guarantees over three years and $1 billion in military grants. Other amounts came earlier. They’ve continued ever since, some open, others covert, affording Israel exclusive preferential treatment.
The “special relationship” remains fixed under Obama, what he affirmed at the June 2008 AIPAC meeting that he’s “a true friend of Israel,” felt he was “among friends,” stressed that “the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, tomorrow and forever,” and, in fact, “as president, I will work with you to ensure that this bond is strengthened.” He hasn’t disappointed.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The government will not exempt universities, libraries and small businesses providing open Wi-Fi services from its Digital Economy Bill copyright crackdown, according to official advice released earlier this week.
This would leave many organisations open to the same penalties for copyright infringement as individual subscribers, potentially including disconnection from the internet, leading legal experts to say it will become impossible for small businesses and the like to offer Wi-Fi access.
Lilian Edwards, professor of internet law at Sheffield University, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the scenario described by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in an explanatory document would effectively “outlaw open Wi-Fi for small businesses”, and would leave libraries and universities in an uncertain position.
“This is going to be a very unfortunate measure for small businesses, particularly in a recession, many of whom are using open free Wi-Fi very effectively as a way to get the punters in,” Edwards said.
“Even if they password protect, they then have two options — to pay someone like The Cloud to manage it for them, or take responsibility themselves for becoming an ISP effectively, and keep records for everyone they assign connections to, which is an impossible burden for a small café.”
In the explanatory document, Lord Young, a minister at BIS, described common classes of public Wi-Fi access, and explained that none of them could be protected. Libraries, he said, could not be exempted because “this would send entirely the wrong signal and could lead to ‘fake’ organisations being set up, claiming an exemption and becoming a hub for copyright infringement”.
Universities cannot be exempted, Young said, because some universities already have stringent anti-file-sharing rules for their networks, and “it does not seem sensible to force those universities who already have a system providing very effective action against copyright infringement to abandon it and replace it with an alternative”.
Subscriber vs IP
Young added that universities will need to figure out for themselves whether they qualify as an ISP or a subscriber. This is a distinction that carries very different implications under the terms of the bill, which would establish possible account suspension as a sanction against subscribers who repeatedly break copyright law, and force ISPs to store user data and hand it over to rights holders when ordered to do so.
Businesses providing open Wi-Fi networks to customers and clients will also need to decide whether they are ISPs or subscribers, “depending on the type of service and the nature of their relationship with their consumers…although it appears unlikely that few other than possibly the large hotel chains or conference centres might be ISPs”, Young said.
Young added that free or ‘coffee shop’ access tends to be too low-bandwidth to support file-sharing and, under the bill, “such a service is more likely to receive notification letters as a subscriber than as an ISP”. He recommended that they secure their connections and install privacy controls, to “reduce the possibility of infringement with any cases on appeal being considered on their merits”.
The BIS minister also noted that there was scope in the bill’s text — currently being amended in the House of Lords — “to reflect the position of libraries, universities or Wi-Fi providers”, perhaps by letting such organisations have different sets of thresholds that would trigger notification letters from rights holders.
“This would be a matter for the code and we would urge the relevant representative bodies to consider now how best to engage in the [Digital Economy Bill] code development process,” he added.
The bill defines an ‘internet access service’ as an electronic communications service that “is provided to a subscriber, consists entirely or mainly of the provision of access to the internet, and includes the allocation of an IP address or IP addresses to the subscriber to enable that access”.
An ISP is defined as a person who provides an internet access service, and a subscriber is defined as a person who “receives the service under an agreement between the person and the provider of the service, and does not receive it as a communications provider”.
Referring to BIS’s comments about the low bandwidth of coffee-shop connections, Lilian Edwards suggested it was “not correct to draft laws hoping they are difficult to break”.
Edwards also pointed out that BIS’s guidance for universities shows the government admitting “they don’t know themselves how universities fit into the Digital Economy Bill”.
“[Universities] don’t know if they’re subscribers, ISPs or neither,” Edwards said. “If the government is not clear, how on earth are the universities supposed to respond? This seems almost unprecedented to me, for a government document.”
We’re proud to have the endorsement of The Jersey Girls, who single handedly forced the Bush Administration to convene the 9/11 Commission after one year of inaction following the attacks of September 11
Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth is proud to be working for and on behalf of the 9/11 victims’ family members, in particular The Jersey Girls. We recommend “9/11 Press for Truth”, which is the story of the Jersey Girls and their struggle for the truth.
We are pleased that Patty, Lorie and Monica have signed our petition. We have also received signatures from Josef Princiotta, Manny Badillo, Bob McIlvaine, Ellen Mariani. Let us know if there are any of them we are not listing here!
We have taken a lot of criticism from so called debunkers & unconscious government officials that our work is “upsetting the family members”. Let it be clear that only the truth about the deaths of these innocent people will bring healing to their loved ones. AE911Truth has ever increasing support from them to reveal the truth to the American people.
February 25, 2010
We must applaud Mr. Richard Gage and his colleagues, Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, for their tenacity in seeking to answer lingering questions concerning the total destruction of the World Trade Center complex, in particular buildings 1, 2 and 7.
As with any scientific report, conclusions must be able to be replicated and verified by subsequent public peer reviews. Mr. Gage and his colleagues have attempted to do just that with NIST’s Final Report of the Collapse of the WTC. There seem to be discrepancies and omissions in NIST’s conclusions, which Mr. Gage and his colleagues have brought to light.
With their combined professional training and work experience, this group of professionals is uniquely qualified to address the myriad oddities resulting in the collapse of the WTC high-rise buildings – including WTC 7, which was not hit by an airplane. This chosen course of action by the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, has often come at a high cost to them personally and professionally making this endeavor all the more admirable.
As family members of 9/11 victims, we have been seeking truth and transparency since 200l. Almost nine years later, in spite of the NIST Investigation and the 9/11 Independent Commission, a vast majority of our questions remain unanswered.
It was always our hope that both of these government investigations would uncover the cause of the WTC destruction and any loopholes or lapses in security protocols that could be remedied to protect us in the future. In this case, it was of utmost importance to determine what actually caused the collapses to ensure the future safety of high-rise buildings. Since the government failed to do that, we applaud Mr. Richard Gage and the many other professionals who are spending their own time attempting to seek the truth.
Lorie Van Auken
Bloomberg — Germany’s highest court overturned a two-year-old anti-terrorism law that requires telecommunications providers such as Deutsche Telekom AG to store Internet and phone data for six months, saying the rules violate privacy.
The law, which came into effect in December 2007 during Chancellor Angela Merkel’s previous government, calls for phone companies to collect data on phone calls, Internet surfing and text messaging for potential use in criminal or terrorist investigations.
The Federal Constitutional Court found that while the storing of communications data isn’t automatically unconstitutional, the law doesn’t sufficiently clarify what the information will be used for or provide for transparency.
The data “must be deleted immediately,” Hans-Juergen Papier, the court’s president, said today as he read out the decision in the western city of Karlsruhe.
Merkel’s government passed the law as part of its efforts to fight crime and terrorism, implementing a European Union directive adopted after the March 2004 bomb attack on Spanish trains that killed 191 people. While prosecutors had access to the data, the law provided limits against storing conversation details or identifying specific Web sites.
Privacy advocates challenged the legislation soon after it came into effect. Some 35,000 complaints were filed to the court, the most in its history, Deutsche Presse-Agentur said.
“This blanket data saving must conform to the very strictest constitutional standards in order to be effective,” Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told reporters in Berlin. “This is a day to be very happy.”
The court said collected information can only be made available through a court warrant. Investigators also must be limited to use such data to pursue a proven “concrete danger” directed against a person or the security of the state. The data can also be used to prevent a “communal danger.”
The judges in Karlsruhe also said service providers should not be allowed to have “uncontrolled” discretion over how information is stored and secured.
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a member of the Free Democratic Party, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, declined to say when the government would begin drafting a new data-storage law.
–Editors: Alan Crawford, Leon Mangasarian
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at firstname.lastname@example.org