Following Russia’s decision to lift a ban on supplying S-300 missile systems to Iran, the Israeli PM has called President Putin to express his “grave concerns” – and received a detailed explanation of defensive weapons and the logic behind Moscow’s move.
According to a statement released by the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin “gave a detailed explanation of the logic behind Russia’s decision…emphasizing the fact that the tactical and technical specifications of the S-300 system make it a purely defensive weapon; therefore, it would not pose any threat to the security of Israel or other countries in the Middle East.”
The assurances do not appear to have had the desired effect. In a statement released by his office, the Israeli PM expressed “grave concerns regarding the decision,” and told Russia’s president that this step “will only encourage Iranian aggression in the region and further undermine the stability of the Middle East.”
Russia signed an $800 million deal in 2007 to ship five S-300 divisions, which are composed of radars and multiple interception missile launchers, only to postpone the deal three years later, during the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev.
It was done as a sign of solidarity with Western partners who were imposing increasingly tough sanctions against the Islamic Republic – the missile systems themselves were never on the international sanctions list.
The reversal comes amid major progress in the negotiation framework between Iran and six leading world powers over the regulation of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, which should produce a final deal this summer.
Moscow believes at this stage there is “no longer need for this kind of embargo,” Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said, reiterating that “from the Russian side it was unilateral and voluntary.” Russia has also started supplying grain, equipment and construction materials to Iran in exchange for crude oil under the so-called “oil-for-goods” barter deal, which had earlier sparked dissatisfaction in the West.
The US officials also seemed displeased with Russia’s latest “non-constructive” moves, with State Department spokesperson Marie Harf however admitting that it did not violate any international norms. “We don’t believe it’s constructive at this time for Russia to move forward with this,” she said, adding that Secretary Kerry had voiced his concerns too.
For its part of the future deal with Iran, the West is promising it will drop some of its sanctions against Tehran – particularly in the oil and financial sectors. However on Tuesday the German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned that it was important to wait until the Iranians fulfill their side of the bargain.
“I’ve told some US senators that they should not now try to unnecessarily impede further negotiations,” he told the media when asked about Russia’s contract in Lubeck in Germany on Tuesday. “But I’ll also say that it is also too early to talk about rewards at this stage.”
Occupied Palestine – The night of the 17th of July 2014 the Israeli occupation forces bombed the Al Wafaa Hospital, in Shijaia, Gaza Strip. The hospital´s speciality was the rehabilitation of paralyzed patients.
This is the moving testimony of Dr. Basman Alashi, its director:
Dr. Basman Alashi
How is it possible to reach the point of bombing a hospital full of patients and medical staff?
“The UN told me that, according to a report from the Israeli occupation forces, the bombing of the hospital was due to the fact that there were weapons within its facilities … I can assure you that this report is completely false; the hospital opened its doors to the international press and to all the foreigners who freely inspected our facilities without finding any weapons at all. Despite all the overwhelming evidence, our hospital was bombed in the middle of the night, with its patients, medical staff, and some international witnesses, still inside the buildings.”
What were the consequences of the bombing by the Zionist occupation forces?
“Whilst under Israeli fire, we evacuated the remaining 17 paralyzed patients that still were inside the hospital. We couldn’t take any medication or equipment; we evacuated them just with sheets. That’s why during a cease-fire we asked the Red Cross to take us to rescue some medicines that were vital for our patients. However the Red Cross refused and we had to go by ourselves. We were only able to stay 45 minutes at the ruins of what was the Al Wafaa Hospital. The bombings continued, and we could only recover a very small amount of medicine, as bombs had destroyed most of it.
Four members of our staff were injured during the bombing. Luckily these weapons of war injured none of the patients. However they did suffer a lot during the emergency evacuation. Four of the paralyzed patients needed oxygen and many of them breathe through tubes, that’s why it was so dangerous to move them from one hospital to another; under conditions of intense aggression, under the attack of lethal weapons used against a defenceless civil population.
We could have lost some of them. It was very hard because we had to evacuate them in regular vehicles, three or four in every vehicle. Luckily we were able to move them all without any loss, due to the heroic efforts of our nurses and hospital staff. Without them all would be dead.
The patients suffered a lot during the Israeli attack on the hospital, some of them still hear the explosions of the bombs and are afraid of the start of another bombing. One of our patients, just 19 years old, refuses to enter to another hospital “the Al Wafa Hospital was bombed, my house was bombed, this hospital will also be bombed” he explained to me, terrified.
We are here to survive, to improve the lives of our children, of our patients. I can’t stand to see a small girl of barely 6 years old, to whom I can’t give the medicines she needs to survive and who can not leave Gaza to receive them. The only thing we want is for them to live with the same freedom as kids from any other place in the world.”
The Israeli occupation forces said that they bombed the hospital because there were weapons inside, this statement was firmly denied by many witnesses. In your opinion, what was the real reason for the attack that left a hospital as big and important as Al Wafaa reduced to rubble?
“The hospital was less than a kilometre from the fence that separates Gaza from the occupied territories. Our facilities had three big buildings, so it was just a military decision, given that those constructions blocked their way for a deeper land incursion. There wasn’t activity from the resistance inside or near the hospital installations.
I challenged the Israeli occupation forces to provide any proof of their reasons to bomb the hospital. They showed me a classified picture where, according to them, there was a rocket launcher from the resistance very near the hospital. However, the picture wasn’t from the hospital, it was from a place located almost five kilometres away. That proves that all the reasons provided by Israel were false. They just fabricated this story to justify the planned destruction of a hospital.
The Israeli occupation forces demanded we evacuate the hospital under fire and, as the facilities were under their control, it was Israel’s duty to protect the buildings. It was their obligation to preserve a hospital with 30 years history and an investment of more than 15 million dollars in equipment. Despite all this, far from protecting it’s medical facilities, they bombed them and destroyed it to the ground.”
The occupation forces point out that the attacks aren’t against the Palestinian people but against Hamas and the resistance. Do you have anything to say against the government of Gaza or the resistance?
“Against the resistance?” – asks the doctor with surprise – “We are the victims!” he clarifies. “In Gaza we have already had 8 years of suffering a terrible blockade by Israel. Our resistance is very basic. Israel has the lead, they have F16 planes, they have the tanks, war ships… they surround us! They deny us the right to defend our children, our women, our land, our homes, our own lives. It’s ridiculous. You corner me, you kill me, and you still ask me not to defend myself. Human beings in this world have the right to defend themselves. We, as Palestinians, have the right to defend our land and our families by all means available. The resistance is a way of defending our lives, it is our right.
Israel has the most powerful and destructive weapons; Israel is the one that the world should control.
Israel has committed genocide in Gaza while the world was looking. It assassinated children playing on the beach. Israel has killed children and women while they were sleeping in their homes and has bombed residential buildings without reason. Thousands of families have been left destroyed or without a home and all this took place before the eyes of the world. That’s why I blame Israel but also the international community.”
What is the situation now regarding the reconstruction of the hospital?
“There are many organizations and countries who want to help us. However, due to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, they find themselves unable to provide the materials necessary for the reconstruction, or to send to the Gaza Strip the funds necessary for funding this reconstruction. That’s why we started to raise funds through local activities. Even so the amount collected doesn’t cover the 0,01% of the amount needed for the reconstruction of the hospital.
A lot of people all around the world have said to me that they are sorry about what happened to the hospital, and that’s good but we need much more than that to be able to attend our patients and move forward. The blockade is affecting our patients terribly, and it’s impossible for us to provide the medical treatment that they urgently need. They don’t need charity, blankets, or clothes… they need to have the stability to be self-sufficient.
The blockade seriously affects the hospital, as we find ourselves unable to go back to a full medical service like we had before and we are unable to support the rehabilitation and healthy recovery of our patients. Of the 11.000 injured from the last Israeli aggression against Gaza, more than the 50% need rehabilitation. If in one or two years the hospital is not working as it was in the past, there will be an important segment of this population that will be left unable to manage by itself and to contribute to our society, affecting it at all the levels.
What we need from the world more than anything else is an end to the blockade, to allow the entrance of materials for the reconstructions; to allow us to rebuild the homes of our families that were destroyed by Israel. This way there will be peace. But if the blockade continues, peace will be further away every day. We are human; we want a normal life as in every other place in the world. For our kids to be able to grow in a normal house, not in a shelter or a tent, suffering from the cold, without a single blanket to cover them”.
How do you see the current situation and the future of Gaza?
“The people of Gaza are resilient. They live in the most difficult conditions but still smile. The kids keep playing and adapt themselves to all the conditions, but the rest of the world must know that this situation is not normal and for this to end the only solution is to lift the blockade. The blockade must end. It’s not enough to give the people a tent, or some food or a blanket. People need a house, a job, and the possibility of giving their children a good education and to travel abroad if they wish to.
To have the possibility of going to a hospital abroad if their condition requires it. Give us the freedom that the rest of the world enjoys, because we are not different from any other population on the planet. We just want to live in peace if we are given the opportunity and doing it in freedom. But, if that right is denied to us, we will fight until we conquer it… Inshallah!”.
Former Washington insider and four-star General Wesley Clark spilled the beans several years ago on how Paul Wolfowitz and his neoconservative co-conspirators implemented their sweeping plan to destabilize key Middle Eastern countries once it became clear that post-Soviet Russia “won’t stop us.”
As I recently reviewed a YouTube eight-minute clip of General Clark’s October 2007 speech, what leaped out at me was that the neocons had been enabled by their assessment that – after the collapse of the Soviet Union – Russia had become neutralized and posed no deterrent to U.S. military action in the Middle East.
While Clark’s public exposé largely escaped attention in the neocon-friendly “mainstream media” (surprise, surprise!), he recounted being told by a senior general at the Pentagon shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 about the Donald Rumsfeld/Paul Wolfowitz-led plan for “regime change” in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.
This was startling enough, I grant you, since officially the United States presents itself as a nation that respects international law, frowns upon other powerful nations overthrowing the governments of weaker states, and – in the aftermath of World War II – condemned past aggressions by Nazi Germany and decried Soviet “subversion” of pro-U.S. nations.
But what caught my eye this time was the significance of Clark’s depiction of Wolfowitz in 1992 gloating over what he judged to be a major lesson learned from the Desert Storm attack on Iraq in 1991; namely, “the Soviets won’t stop us.”
That remark directly addresses a question that has troubled me since March 2003 when George W. Bush attacked Iraq. Would the neocons – widely known as “the crazies” at least among the remaining sane people of Washington – have been crazy enough to opt for war to re-arrange the Middle East if the Soviet Union had not fallen apart in 1991?
The question is not an idle one. Despite the debacle in Iraq and elsewhere, the neocon “crazies” still exercise huge influence in Establishment Washington. Thus, the question now becomes whether, with Russia far more stable and much stronger, the “crazies” are prepared to risk military escalation with Russia over Ukraine, what retired U.S. diplomat William R. Polk deemed a potentially dangerous nuclear confrontation, a “Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse.”
The geopolitical vacuum that enabled the neocons to try out their “regime change” scheme in the Middle East may have been what Russian President Vladimir Putin was referring to in his state-of-the-nation address on April 25, 2005, when he called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [past] century.” Putin’s comment has been a favorite meme of those who seek to demonize Putin by portraying him as lusting to re-establish a powerful USSR through aggression in Europe.
But, commenting two years after the Iraq invasion, Putin seemed correct at least in how the neocons exploited the absence of the Russian counterweight to over-extend American power in ways that were harmful to the world, devastating to the people at the receiving end of the neocon interventions, and even detrimental to the United States.
If one takes a step back and attempts an unbiased look at the spread of violence in the Middle East over the past quarter-century, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Putin’s comment was on the mark. With Russia a much-weakened military power in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was nothing to deter U.S. policymakers from the kind of adventurism at Russia’s soft underbelly that, in earlier years, would have carried considerable risk of armed U.S.-USSR confrontation.
I lived in the USSR during the 1970s and would not wish that kind of restrictive regime on anyone. Until it fell apart, though, it was militarily strong enough to deter Wolfowitz-style adventurism. And I will say that – for the millions of people now dead, injured or displaced by U.S. military action in the Middle East over the past dozen years – the collapse of the Soviet Union as a deterrent to U.S. war-making was not only a “geopolitical catastrophe” but an unmitigated disaster.
In his 2007 speech, General Clark related how in early 1991 he dropped in on Paul Wolfowitz, then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (and later, from 2001 to 2005, Deputy Secretary of Defense). It was just after a major Shia uprising in Iraq in March 1991. President George H.W. Bush’s administration had provoked it, but then did nothing to rescue the Shia from brutal retaliation by Saddam Hussein, who had just survived his Persian Gulf defeat.
According to Clark, Wolfowitz said: “We should have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein. The truth is, one thing we did learn is that we can use our military in the Middle East and the Soviets won’t stop us. We’ve got about five or 10 years to clean up those old Soviet client regimes – Syria, Iran (sic), Iraq – before the next great superpower comes on to challenge us.”
It’s now been more than 10 years, of course. But do not be deceived into thinking Wolfowitz and his neocon colleagues believe they have failed in any major way. The unrest they initiated keeps mounting – in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Lebanon – not to mention fresh violence now in full swing in Yemen and the crisis in Ukraine. Yet, the Teflon coating painted on the neocons continues to cover and protect them in the “mainstream media.”
True, one neocon disappointment is Iran. It is more stable and less isolated than before; it is playing a sophisticated role in Iraq; and it is on the verge of concluding a major nuclear agreement with the West – barring the throwing of a neocon/Israeli monkey wrench into the works to thwart it, as has been done in the past.
An earlier setback for the neocons came at the end of August 2013 when President Barack Obama decided not to let himself be mouse-trapped by the neocons into ordering U.S. forces to attack Syria. Wolfowitz et al. were on the threshold of having the U.S. formally join the war against Bashar al-Assad’s government of Syria when there was the proverbial slip between cup and lip. With the aid of the neocons’ new devil-incarnate Vladimir Putin, Obama faced them down and avoided war.
A week after it became clear that the neocons were not going to get their war in Syria, I found myself at the main CNN studio in Washington together with Paul Wolfowitz and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, another important neocon. As I reported in “How War on Syria Lost Its Way,” the scene was surreal – funereal, even, with both Wolfowitz and Lieberman very much down-in-the-mouth, behaving as though they had just watched their favorite team lose the Super Bowl.
But the neocons are nothing if not resilient. Despite their grotesque disasters, like the Iraq War, and their disappointments, like not getting their war on Syria, they neither learn lessons nor change goals. They just readjust their aim, shooting now at Putin over Ukraine as a way to clear the path again for “regime change” in Syria and Iran. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Neocons Seek to Destabilize Russia.”]
The neocons also can take some solace from their “success” at enflaming the Middle East with Shia and Sunni now at each other’s throats — a bad thing for many people of the world and certainly for the many innocent victims in the region, but not so bad for the neocons. After all, it is the view of Israeli leaders and their neocon bedfellows (and women) that the internecine wars among Muslims provide at least some short-term advantages for Israel as it consolidates control over the Palestinian West Bank.
In a Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity memorandum for President Obama on Sept. 6, 2013, we called attention to an uncommonly candid report about Israeli/neocon motivation, written by none other than the Israel-friendly New York Times Bureau Chief in Jerusalem Jodi Rudoren on Sept. 2, 2013, just two days after Obama took advantage of Putin’s success in persuading the Syrians to allow their chemical weapons to be destroyed and called off the planned attack on Syria, causing consternation among neocons in Washington.
Rudoren can perhaps be excused for her naïve lack of “political correctness.” She had been barely a year on the job, had very little prior experience with reporting on the Middle East, and – in the excitement about the almost-attack on Syria – she apparently forgot the strictures normally imposed on the Times’ reporting from Jerusalem. In any case, Israel’s priorities became crystal clear in what Rudoren wrote.
In her article, entitled “Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria,” Rudoren noted that the Israelis were arguing, quietly, that the best outcome for Syria’s (then) 2 ½-year-old civil war, at least for the moment, was no outcome:
“For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.
“‘This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,’ said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. ‘Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.’”
Clear enough? If this is the way Israel’s leaders continue to regard the situation in Syria, then they look on deeper U.S. involvement – overt or covert – as likely to ensure that there is no early resolution of the conflict there. The longer Sunni and Shia are killing each other, not only in Syria but also across the region as a whole, the safer Tel Aviv’s leaders calculate Israel is.
But Israeli leaders have also made clear that if one side must win, they would prefer the Sunni side, despite its bloody extremists from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In September 2013, shortly after Rudoren’s article, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.
“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
In June 2014, Oren – then speaking as a former ambassador – said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State, which was massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.
Netanyahu sounded a similar theme in his March 3, 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress in which he trivialized the threat from the Islamic State with its “butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube” when compared to Iran, which he accused of “gobbling up the nations” of the Middle East.
That Syria’s main ally is Iran with which it has a mutual defense treaty plays a role in Israeli calculations. Accordingly, while some Western leaders would like to achieve a realistic if imperfect settlement of the Syrian civil war, others who enjoy considerable influence in Washington would just as soon see the Assad government and the entire region bleed out.
As cynical and cruel as this strategy is, it isn’t all that hard to understand. Yet, it seems to be one of those complicated, politically charged situations well above the pay-grade of the sophomores advising President Obama – who, sad to say, are no match for the neocons in the Washington Establishment. Not to mention the Netanyahu-mesmerized Congress.
Speaking of Congress, a year after Rudoren’s report, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, divulged some details about the military attack that had been planned against Syria, while lamenting that it was canceled.
In doing so, Corker called Obama’s abrupt change on Aug. 31, 2013, in opting for negotiations over open war on Syria, “the worst moment in U.S. foreign policy since I’ve been here.” Following the neocon script, Corker blasted the deal (since fully implemented) with Putin and the Syrians to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.
Corker complained, “In essence – I’m sorry to be slightly rhetorical – we jumped into Putin’s lap.” A big No-No, of course – especially in Congress – to “jump into Putin’s lap” even though Obama was able to achieve the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons without the United States jumping into another Middle East war.
It would have been nice, of course, if General Clark had thought to share his inside-Pentagon information earlier with the rest of us. In no way should he be seen as a whistleblower.
At the time of his September 2007 speech, he was deep into his quixotic attempt to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. In other words, Clark broke the omerta code of silence observed by virtually all U.S. generals, even post-retirement, merely to put some distance between himself and the debacle in Iraq – and win some favor among anti-war Democrats. It didn’t work, so he endorsed Hillary Clinton; that didn’t work, so he endorsed Barack Obama.
Wolfowitz, typically, has landed on his feet. He is now presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s foreign policy/defense adviser, no doubt outlining his preferred approach to the Middle East chessboard to his new boss. Does anyone know the plural of “bedlam?”
Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served for a total of 30 years as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and CIA analyst and is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Iran will always be the enemy
For more than twenty years the world has been hearing from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his friends in the United States that Iran is a global threat because it is developing nuclear weapons. Netanyahu’s warning has been framed around his repeated prediction that if nothing were done to intercede in the process the Mullahs would have a weapon of mass destruction in their hands within six months or a year. Since that time numerous time spans of six months or a year have passed and no weapon has appeared, even though Israel did its best to provide forged intelligence to muddy the waters about what was actually occurring. In a notable scam, a lap top prepared by Mossad and delivered by an Iranian dissident group half convinced the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran was up to something. Israel has also been adept at floating false “intelligence based” allegations that the Iranians were carrying out uranium enrichment in hidden, secret facilities.
But alas, the accepted narrative proved to be a bit creaky. In 2007 the United States intelligence community issued a joint assessment based on reliable information indicating that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program, so the threat that was being described as imminent suddenly became purely speculative and speculative threats are a dime a dozen, paling before the reality of actual North Korean nuclear weapons and fifty or more nukes in the hands of an unstable Pakistan.
When the threat of Iran actually building a bomb in the near term became less credible, the narrative perforce shifted its focus. It became no longer a question of Iran actually constructing a nuclear weapon. The central bone of contention became their having the capability to do so at some future point. This became known as “breakout capability,” which was defined as the ability to use stockpiled low enriched uranium, enrich it to weapons grade, and engineer it into a weapon. Inevitably, the breakout time for Iran was again often described as six months to a year, demonstrating that no good phony narrative detail element should ever go to waste.
Netanyahu and a number of American congressmen then continued to tinker with their warning, still complaining about breakout but emphasizing that it was actually the capability part that was most troubling. Iran, though a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which nuclear armed Israel is not, should have no right to enrich any uranium at all and ought to be forced to get rid of any uranium in its stockpile. It would also have to dispose of the centrifuges and other equipment used for enrichment and shut down the Fordo facility which, it was alleged, might be able to secretly produce weapons grade enriched uranium.
Ironically, the demands of both Israel and Congress made no sense as Iran and at least fifty other countries already possessed “capability” to make a nuclear weapon as there are many trained engineers able to understand the technical information that is already publicly available to those who know where to look. And the narrative became even more suspect when, in 2010, U.S. intelligence reexamined its previous finding and stated again that Tehran was not developing a weapon at all, an assertion that was actually confirmed by Israel’s Mossad, making it even more difficult to maintain the fiction that Iran was a danger to world peace.
Other intelligence assessments suggested that even if Tehran were able to obtain one or two crude nuclear weapons the threat could easily be contained, all of which produced yet another reset among the anti-Iran claque. The new focus was on delivery systems. Reports that Iran was developing or possibly buying from North Korea a new longer range missile for its arsenal became a key issue and the Obama administration wasted considerable time and energy in first correctly asserting that the missiles were not part of the discussion before folding and including mentioning them in talks as a sop to Israel. The new missiles, per Netanyahu, could allegedly hit parts of Europe and might be improved to the point where they could become intercontinental. And if Iran could acquire a bomb from somebody or develop its own through breakout it would threaten the entire world. The fact that Iran had neither the missile nor the weapon was seemingly irrelevant.
So now we arrive at 2015 and a former Israeli intelligence chief has openly said what most of the rest of the world has long known: Netanyahu is a liar when he talks about Iran. Concurrently, the P5+1 group of negotiators have concluded a marathon 18 months negotiation by achieving a framework agreement with Iran which will substantially diminish its ability to enrich uranium at all, will greatly reduce its stockpile and will also subject all of its research facilities to intrusive inspections. In return sanctions on Iran will slowly be lifted, but it should be observed that most of the major concessions were made by the Islamic Republic, where there is considerable pressure from the public to make Iran again a normal member of the international community.
It is a good agreement for all parties, guaranteeing that Iran will not go nuclear in a bad way and offering a substantive reward for cooperation to the country’s people and government. Unfortunately, details of how an agreement will actually be implemented have yet to be worked out, meaning that a final document is not anticipated until the end of June. That means the troublemakers still have time to create mischief.
Of course Netanyahu and a large number of American Congressmen might be singled out as the aforementioned troublemakers and it has to be reported that they are clearly not happy with the Obama framework. As an agreement will basically eliminate the short term threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, the initial kibitzing from the usual critics focused on what might happen after the ten years covered by the agreement. Netanyahu has averred that it would virtually guarantee an Iranian bomb after that point, but as his prescience is questionable and he has been wrong about everything else that argument did not obtain much traction, not even in the Washington Post or Wall Street Journal.
Sensing defeat, Netanyahu and his tame congressmen clearly decided a sharp change in direction would be necessary and, presumably guided by the warm and friendly hand of AIPAC, a new approach was concocted combining two essential elements. First, it was claimed that Iran cannot be trusted to abide by any agreement because, as Chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman put it “deception” is in the Iranian leadership DNA. That would mean that Iran might appear to be going along with the agreement but it would secretly be manufacturing a weapon. Just exactly how that would take place under an intrusive inspections regime is not clear, but the idea is to plant the seed that Iranians are intrinsically deceitful and dangerous.
The second argument, which began to evolve before the framework agreement was announced and which not surprisingly has nothing to do with nuclear weapons, is that Iran is threatening and dangerous by virtue of its behavior beyond its nuclear program. Congressmen and pundits have begun to bleat that Iran “now dominates four Arab capitals” and it also “supports terrorism.” One op-ed writer who should know better has described the development of a new Persian Empire.
The first argument is sheer fantasy and racist to boot but the second argument, intended to shift the narrative in a new direction, is actually the more ridiculous. Iran has a struggling economy, a relatively weak military, and much of its outreach to Shi’a communities in neighboring states is in response to the hostility surrounding it engineered by the U.S., Israel and the Sunni ruled regimes in the Persian Gulf. Creating and exploiting a limited sphere of influence as a defensive measure is far from uniquely Iranian.
And the assertion that Iran is controlling four Arab capitals – Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sanaa – is breathtaking in its audacity. Iran has friends and allies in all four states but it does not determine what the government does or does not do in any one of them. The close relationship of Iran with Syria and Iraq is largely defensive and can indeed be described as derived from the instability in the region that came about because of reckless American intervention against Saddam Hussein followed by Washington’s support of a roadmap to remove Bashir al-Assad.
As for the terrorism issue, one might reasonably argue that Iran has been on the receiving end more often than not. It has been subjected to bombing and shooting attacks carried out by armed separatists supported by Tel Aviv and Washington, its scientists and technicians have been assassinated by Israel and its computer systems have been attacked with Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame viruses. According to the annual State Department Countries Report on Terrorism, Tehran’s actual support of what the U.S. and Israel claim are terrorists consists of continuing “… support for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and for Hizballah. It has also increased its presence in Africa and attempted to smuggle arms to Houthi separatists in Yemen and Shia oppositionists in Bahrain. Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and its regional proxy groups to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and create instability in the Middle East. The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad. Iran views Syria as a crucial causeway in its weapons supply route to Hizballah, its primary beneficiary.”
The meddling by the Revolutionary Guards would appear to be small potatoes, largely defensive in nature and focused on specific regional interests and concerns, relatively minor in comparison with what the United States does globally. The two Palestinian groups cited by name later in the report, the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), plus Hizballah in Lebanon, would be considered resistance organizations against Israeli occupation and aggression by many. None of them threatens the United States.
The sad reality is that the pro-Israel crowd wants a war with Iran to be fought exclusively by the United States no matter what Iran does to avoid an armed conflict and they will twist the narrative so that Tehran always represents a serious threat. Remember the lies that were concocted to justify invading Iraq? Iraq allegedly had weapons of mass destruction, it threatened the entire region, it supported terrorism… does that sound familiar? Even complete surrender by Tehran might not be enough to satisfy the hawks in Congress and in Israel because the fact that Iran is in terms of geography, resources and population a regional power is what disturbs psychopaths like Benjamin Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Hopefully the American public has finally developed enough savvy to see through the barrage of war talk and lies that it will be subjected to over the next two months. Hopefully Israel and its Lobby and its friends will go down in defeat one more time, perhaps a defeat decisive enough to convince them that their narrative shifting is not any longer working. Hopefully.
In 2011, the Center for American Progress published “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” in order to identify and expose the organizations, scholars, pundits, and activists comprising a tightly linked network that spread misinformation and hateful propaganda about American Muslims and Islam. The report found that seven charitable foundations spent $42.6 million between 2001 and 2009 to support the spread of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
… Islamophobia in the United States takes many shapes and forms. It takes the form of a general climate of fear and anger toward American Muslims, as seen in the “civilization jihad” narrative, the religious right’s rhetoric, and the biased media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. It comes out in cynical political efforts to capitalize on this climate of fear, as seen in state-level anti-Sharia bills introduced across the country and in far-right politicians’ grandstanding. And perhaps most dangerously, it manifests itself in institutional policies that view American Muslims as a threat, as seen in the FBI training manuals that profile Islam as a religion of violence. …
The Demographics Unit of the New York Police Department, later known as the Zone Assessment Unit, was created with the help of the CIA following the 9/11 attacks to conduct surveillance and monitor Muslims in New York City and the Tri-State Area. However, the Demographics Unit never led to a single terrorism investigation.
In 2011, Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman won the Pulitzer Prize for revealing that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the New York City Police Department had consistently spied on the Muslim community in New York City and the Tri-State Area.
In April 2014 under the leadership of its new commissioner, William J. Bratton, the New York City Police Department announced that it would end its controversial Muslim spying program by ending the Demographics Unit.
In its own public statement on the closing of its Muslim spying program, the NYPD conceded that “it has been determined that much of the same information previously gathered by the [Muslim spying program over the years] may be obtained through direct outreach by the NYPD to the communities concerned” instead of spying on them.
However, less than one month after announcing the end of the NYPD spying program, The New York Times reported that the NYPD has not backed away from other counterterrorism initiatives that it created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, including recruiting Arab and Muslim men charged with various crimes and trying to convince them to serve as informants on their mosques and local communities.
Around 120 professors at New York University have joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in calling for the institution to divest from companies linked to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Al-Risalah newspaper has reported. The BDS movement has had some success in other parts of the US, notably in California.
According to Al-Risalah, the academics criticised the NYU policy of not disclosing the identity of the companies it is dealing with. This, they say, makes it harder to know whether they deal with the Israeli occupation or not. Students at NYU are pushing their professors to call for transparency in the university’s investments, and for divestment if and when links to the occupation are discovered.
“I support ‘NYU Out of Occupied Palestine’ because I am opposed to apartheid,” said Professor of English Elaine Freedgood in a press statement. “The international boycott of apartheid in South Africa was a significant factor in its demise.”
Other professors who signed the petition include Iraqi novelist Sinan Antoon, historians Greg Grandin and Zachary Lockman, and Ella Shohat, a well-known cultural studies scholar.
Chief Military Advocate General Danny Efroni said he refuses to probe the bombing of civilians in the Gaza Strip during last summer’s war, but will probe potential acts of looting and robbery committed by Israeli soldiers.
Efroni said: “You will never hear me say, ‘The IDF is the most moral army in the world’.”
Nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed during the air, naval and ground strikes on Gaza, the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians. A quarter of the victims were children.
In an interview with Haaretz newspaper, published yesterday, Efroni said: “We will not put soldiers on trial only in order to satisfy the media, which is disturbed by the large number of civilians killed in the war. I am not investigating in order to satisfy anyone. I will not file indictments in order to arrange the statistics of B’Tselem,” which criticised the small number of indictments in the past.
An indication of Efroni and the army’s general approach is the fact that despite the passing of over eight months since the end of the war, no decision has been made regarding whether or not a military probe into the incident in Rafah that has become known as “Black Friday” on 1 August, when the IDF implemented the Hannibal Directive after the abduction of Second Lt. Hadar Goldin.
This criminal and brutal operation involved the launching of very heavy artillery fire and intensive air, ground and naval strikes, resulting in the death of dozens of Palestinian civilians. Some estimates indicate that 150 Palestinians were killed in the attack, the vast majority of whom were civilians. The Israeli army has admitted that it did not warn the civilians in the Rafah area to leave their homes before they launched the intense strike.
Despite this, Efroni said that a Military Police probe is not an insurance policy for the IDF protecting them from being prosecuted at The Hague. “If the probe is a whitewash and not a true investigation, nothing will stop the ICC,” he added.
Israeli human rights organisations B’Tselem and Yesh Din claimed that the investigation system in the IDF is “a failure” and that Israel “is not interested and not capable of investigating violations of Palestinians’ human rights by the security forces.”
B’Tselem also claimed that the IDF investigations do not arrive at the truth, noting that of the 52 Military Police probes opened after Operation Cast Lead, carried out in late 2008 and early 2009, only three resulted in the filing of indictments – and the harshest punishment was for a soldier who stole a credit card.
To get a sense of how badly the regime in Iran wants sanctions relief for the Iranian people, you have to do more than contemplate the major concessions it has made in negotiations with the United States and the rest of the P5+1. Not only is Iran willing to dismantle a major part of its peaceful civilian nuclear program, to submit to the most intrusive inspections, to redesign a reactor, to eliminate two-thirds of its centrifuges, to get rid of much of its enriched uranium, and to limit nuclear research — it must do all this while being harangued by the nuclear monopolist of the Middle East — Israel — which remains, unlike Iran, a nonsigner of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and faces no inspections or limits on its production of nuclear weapons.
This is something out of Alice in Wonderland. The Islamic Republic of Iran, born in 1979, has not attacked another country. (With U.S. help, Iraq attacked Iran in 1980.) In contrast, Israel has attacked its Arab neighbors several times since its founding, including two devastating invasions and a long occupation of Lebanon, not to mention repeated onslaughts in the Gaza Strip and the military occupation of the West Bank. Israel has also repeatedly threatened war against Iran and engaged in covert and proxy warfare, including the assassination of scientists. Even with Iran progressing toward a nuclear agreement, Israel (like the United States) continues to threaten Iran.
Yet Iran is universally cast as the villain (with scant evidence) and Israel the vulnerable victim.
You’d never know that Iran favors turning the Middle East into a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone (a nuclear-weapons-free zone was first proposed by the U.S.-allied shah of Iran and Egypt in 1974), and beyond that, Iran over a decade ago offered a “grand bargain” that contained provisions to reassure the world about its nuclear program and an offer to recognize Israel, specifically, acceptance of the Arab League’s 2002 peace initiative. The George W. Bush administration rebuffed Iran.
At the last NPT review conference in 2010, Iran renewed its support for the zone, the BBC reported at the time: “Tehran supports the ‘immediate and unconditional’ implementation of the 1995 resolution [to create the zone], declares the [then] president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
The United States and Israel claim in principle to support having the Middle East free of nuclear weapons — but not just yet. The Israeli government said in 2010 that implementation of the principle could occur “only after peace agreements with all the countries in the region.” ABC News quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying that Israel might sign the NPT “if the Middle East one day advances to a messianic age where the lion lies down with the lambs.”
That is classic Netanyahu demagoguery. As noted, the Arab League in 2002 — and again in 2007 — offered to recognize Israel if it accepted a Palestinian state in the occupied territories and arrived at a “just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” At that point the Arab countries would “consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region”; i.e., they would “establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.”
Thus Netanyahu’s position is a sham. He could have peace treaties in short order if he wanted to. But, as he said before the recent elections, he will never allow the Palestinians to have their own country.
For its part, the United States “broadly agrees with Israel that conditions for a nuclear-weapons-free-zone do not yet exist in the Middle East,” the BBC reported. In other words, the Obama administration slavishly takes the Israel-AIPAC line.
While politicians and pundits lose sleep over an Iranian nuclear-weapons program that does not exist — are they having nightmares of the United States being deterred by Iran? — they support Israel, the nuclear power that brutalizes a captive population, attacks its neighbors, threatens war against Iran, and refuses to talk peace with willing partners.
On March 22, in his Sunday sermon, the Patriarch Philaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate explained to his parishioners in Volodymyrsky cathedral in Kyiv that Ukrainian soldiers who are killing civilians and rebels in Donbas do not transgress God’s commandment “thou shalt not kill”.
Why? Because they are defending their own land against “separatists” who want to join Donbas to Russia. These separatists as well as their masters in Moscow carry inside themselves the root of evil. They do not want to recognize that Donbas is a Ukrainian land and has been for centuries. Donbas villagers speak Ukrainian, said Philaret. These people are the indigenous population of Donbas. Separatists are foreigners, strangers who came from Russia and other republics of the Soviet Union and Russian Empire over the decades and settled on Ukrainian land. Ukrainian land welcomed them gladly. But instead of being thankful for life, for refuge, for bread that the Ukrainian land provided them, these ungrateful separatists want to deliver the land to Russia, a land which does not belong to them. They want to betray Donbas, as Judas betrayed his master, Jesus Christ. Are their actions just? Any intelligent person will answer: “no”. They commit injustices, they go against their own conscience, stated Patriarch Philaret.
His argument is firmly grounded in the present nationalist rhetoric and vision of Ukraine and its history, which caused the conflict in Donbas in the first place. The anti-Maidan demonstrations in Luhansk and Donetsk erupted precisely because Donbas rejected the Ukrainian nationalism which was marching in Kyiv with Bandera portraits and whose adherents were jumping up and down on Maidan Square shouting “Ukraine above all” and “Russians to the knives”.
Philaret claims that Donbas villagers speak Ukrainian. However, from the latest data available on the linguistic portrait of the population of Donetsk region, from the 2001 Ukrainian census, roughly three quarters of the population (74.9%) considered Russian as their native language. One quarter (24.1%) named Ukrainian. The historical trend in dynamics of the linguistic situation in Donetsk region is the gradual increase of Russian as the native language (from 25% in 1898), and the decrease of Ukrainian (from 53% in 1898). Russian constitutes the majority language in all cities of Donetsk region except in the city of Krasnyi Lyman.
As for the ethnic composition of the Donetsk region, Ukrainians constituted almost 57% of the population, while Russians constituted 38%. Among the rural population, over 73% were Ukrainians while Russians constituted around 19%. According to the latest Ukrainian official statistics, dated 2014, out of the total population of 4,343,882 people in the Donetsk region, 3,937,732, or 90.6%, live in cities and 406,150, or 9.4%, live in the countryside.
These data reflect the socio-economic processes of the industrialization of Donbas, which was conducted by the Russian-speaking political and industrial elites of the Russian Empire and of the Soviet Union, and of the Russian workers who migrated massively from Russian cities during the period of intensive industrialization of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and during the period of Soviet industrialization boom of the late 1920 and 1930s.
The Ukrainian rural population of Donbas, to which Patriarch Philaret refers as “indigenous” residents of Donbas, are descendants of Zaporizzhia Cossacks and peasants of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and of Russia who were fleeing from serfdom in the 16th and 17th centuries into the Donetsk steppes–the huge territory known as the Dyke Pole (Wild Steppes). The Dyke Pole abounded in game and fish. Being under the control of Crimean Khanate, it was a frontier, a buffer zone between nomadic cultures of Tatars, Nogai, Krymchaks and other tribes and agricultural settlements of the Dnieper regions to the west of Donbas.
There were also other Cossacks, the Don ones, who belonged to the Don Cossack Host, established in the 16th century and allied with Russia (while the Zaporizzhia Cossacks were subordinated to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth). In 1648, the Zaporizzhia Cossacks, led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, launched a massive rebellion against their Polish overlords which was supported by the peasants of the region. They declared an independent Cossack Hetmanate. The rebellion led to the Treaty of Pereyaslav of 1654 which brought most of the Ukrainian Cossack state under Russian rule.
In modern Ukraine, the Zaporizzhia Cossacks became one of the stepping stones of Ukrainian national identity. Meanwhile, the Don Cossacks preserved their separate regional and cultural identity within contemporary Russia and Ukraine. Their historical area of settlement (part of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in Ukraine, and in Rostov and Volgodrad regions in Russia) cut across borders between Russia and Ukraine.
This short excursion into history shows how problematic is the depiction of Donbas as a “Ukrainian land” in nationalistic, fundamentalist terms. Throughout Soviet times, Donetsk region remained a region in which Russian language and culture predominated. In independent Ukraine, Donbas has always been known for its orientation towards Russia and the use of Russian language in all spheres of public life. Ukrainian essentialist nationalism inspired by the legacy of Stepan Bandera and the OUN-UPA (Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists, and Ukrainian Insurgent Army) has never been mainstream in Donbas. In fact, not even Russian nationalism was accepted. If there is an “ism” that can describe Donbas identity, it is “regionalism” and “internationalism”. Kiev’s criminal reluctance to recognize this is at the root of the current civil conflict in Ukraine.
Patriarch Philaret’s categorizations of Donbas residents as “indigenous” Ukrainians and alien “Russians” is racist and dangerous. Who will decide who is “indigenous” and who is not? If you were born on this land, are you “indigenous”, even though your parents come, say, from Voronezh or Moscow? How many generations of “pure” Ukrainians are required in the ancestry line of Donbas people before they may claim their land to be theirs? And who will consider those claims and grant them legitimacy?
All the tragedies of ethnic cleansings through history stem from the fatal, reductionist link between nation and land. The Donbas conflict is but one of them. Ukrainians from all over Ukraine, including residents of Donbas, are fighting other Ukrainians, so-called pro-Russian separatists, because these “separatists” do not want to define themselves in exclusive terms as belonging to a glorious Ukrainian nation. These “pro-Russian” Ukrainians want to retain their economic, cultural and family ties with Russia, and they want to be able to speak Russian in all spheres of life. Patriarch Philaret used to be one of those Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
Philaret’s secular name is Mykailo (or Mikhail) Denysenko. He was born in 1929 in the village of Blagodatnoye, Amvrosievskiy district, Donetsk region in Ukraine. Denysenko studied at the Odessa Orthodox Seminary and later at the Moscow Theological Academy. In his second year at the Academy, in 1950, he took monastic vows under the name of Philaret and was appointed the warden of Patriarchal Chambers of the Trinity Sergius Lavra, the most important Russian monastery and the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. Philaret’s clerical career was quite rapid and successful. After holding “executive” positions such as archbishop Luzhsky and Dmitrovsky and rector of the Moscow Theological Academy, Philaret was elevated to the rank of archbishop of Kyiv and Halych, Exarch of Ukraine (in simple secular terms, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate). That also made him a permanent member of the Holy Synod, the highest governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1968, he became a metropolitan (a rank above archbishop and below patriarch, having authority over the the bishops of a province).
In May-June of 1990, after the death of Patriarch Pimen, Philaret became the locum tenens of the Patriarchal throne during the preparations of the Council of Bishops to elect a new Patriarch. Philaret himself was one of the three candidates to the Patriarchy. According to several bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Philaret had high hopes to become the head of the Russian Orthodoxy because he had long-standing and close connections in the Central Committee of the Communist Party and in the KGB, which controlled to a large extent the activities of the Orthodox Church, as it controlled the whole society. However, the times had changed. Perestroika and glasnost destroyed the power of the Communist Party and Philaret’s hopes were not realized. On June 7, 1990, The Council of Bishops elected Alexy II (Rideger), the metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod, as the new patriarch. He was the first patriarch in Soviet history to be chosen in a democratic vote: by secret ballot, without government pressure and candidates being nominated from the floor.
According to Metropolitan Onufriy, Archbishop Ionaphan and other members of the high clergy of the The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOCH), Philaret loves power and the money that comes with it. He is also a vainglorious person. His defeat in the election to the Patriarch offended his pride and he decided to try and withdraw the Ukrainian Church from the jurisdiction of Moscow, although until that time he had always been an ardent advocate of one, undivided church.
Upon his return to Kyiv from Moscow in June of 1990, Philaret called an assembly of Ukrainian bishops which under his close control and authority elected him as the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. No alternate to him was presented. The assembly of Bishops also sent an address to Patriarch Alexy II asking him to grant the Ukrainian Church independence and autonomy in governance, which Alexy II accepted in October of 1990.
Patriarch Alexy II also sent a letter to the Ukrainian government announcing that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROCH) henceforth waived its right to property and assets which it possessed in Ukraine or which had been confiscated by the Soviet regime. The UOCH was declared the successor of the ROCH.
On November 2, 1990 in Kyiv, the first assembly of the UOCH convened to adopt a new Statute of the Church. Philaret, having taken as the basis the Statute of the ROCH, made several amendments in order to solidify his personal power: henceforth, the primate of the church was elected for life, and nominees for the post could only come from among Ukrainian bishops. The Holy Synod, consisting of permanent members, was abolished.
The Patriarchate in Moscow received numerous complaints about Philaret’s unholy style of life. According to these complaints, Philaret broke his monastic vow by living with a wife and children. His wife was not shy, standing beside her husband during masses in the Volodymyrsky Cathedral in Kyiv and intervening directly in the everyday matters of the church.
Philaret knew that he could be excommunicated. Only by leaving the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church could his position be saved. So he made a final decision to create an autocephalous (independent) Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The time was propitious. After the adoption of the “Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine” by the Verkhovna Rada on August 24, 1991, Ukraine was preparing for a referendum on independence on December 1, 1991. The head of the Presidium of the Verkhovna Rada, communist Leonid Kravchuk, who would become the first president of Ukraine, formulated the idea of an “independent church for an independent state”. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church which was still affiliated with the ROCH, was the “hand of Moscow” in Ukraine and could not fulfill this role. Philaret found a powerful, loyal ally in his campaign to separate Kyiv from Moscow.
On November 1, 1991, Philaret convened the Council of Ukrainian Bishops at which he declared that since Ukraine was now an independent state, it needed an independent church. Kyiv should therefore demand complete independence from Moscow and accept the creation of a Kyiv Patriarchate.
By threats and pressure, Philaret pressed forward in order to obtain a complete independence from Moscow. However, the majority of priests and parishioners were against the separation from the Moscow Patriarchate. In many parishes, monasteries and theological schools, committees in defense of canonical orthodoxy were created.
On January 23, 1992 at the Council of Ukrainian bishops, a new address to the Holiest Patriarch was adopted which stated that the ROCH was deliberately delaying the question of the autocephaly and that the examination of the “calumnies” directed at Philaret by the Synod of the ROCH was an attack on Ukrainian independence.
The Holy Synod requested that Philaret and the episcopacy of the UOCH reconsider the demand for autocephaly as it had provoked deep schisms among parishioners. The question of the full canonic independence of the UOCH was submitted to the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church for their consideration.
The Council took place in Moscow from March 31 to April 5, 1992. Ninety seven bishops were present, including 20 from Ukraine. Metropolitan Philaret gave a speech in which he again requested independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox church. A discussion followed, the results of which were surprising: the Russian bishops as well as a majority of the Ukrainian bishops spoke against the full autonomy of the UOCH, mainly because in this case it would be left alone in the struggle against the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (Uniates) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOCH). The majority of Ukrainian bishops disavowed their signatures on the address of January 23, explaining that they were coerced to sign, fearing retaliation from Philaret and Ukrainian government authorities. Only six out of 20 Ukrainian bishops voted in favor of autocephaly.
It was noted during the deliberations that the granting of autonomy and independence in governance to the UOCH in 1990 had only produced negative results. It did not heal the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Metropolitan Philaret had used the granted autonomy to consolidate his own personal power and to intimidate those who did not agree with him. It was also proposed that Philaret be replaced as the primate of the Church since there were few supporters of the independence of the UOCH and the campaign for its independence was based exclusively on Metropolitan Philaret’s personal ambitions.
The Council of Bishops sent an epistle to pastors and parishioners in Ukraine, explaining to them the Council’s vision of how the question of autocephaly should be resolved: through a peaceful, measured, competent, and pious discussion, without violence, extremism or political pressure.
Philaret said he agreed. He promised in front of the whole Council to resign upon his return to Kyiv. He also asked the Council to let the Ukrainian episcopacy hold an election for a new primate. The Council thanked Philaret for his long-standing service at Kyiv chair and wished him success at another chair.
The Council also noted that the clergy and the faithful in Ukraine were split in the question of autocephaly: the idea was popular in the West but not supported in the East. The whole issue would therefore be discussed at the next Сouncil of the ROCH.
Upon his return to Kyiv, Philaret declared that he had suffered persecution at the hands of the Council of Bishops. He said he was forced to give the oath to resign, and because it was forced it was not valid. He refused to resign and declared he would lead the Ukrainian Church until the end of his days. He declared he “was given by God to the Ukrainian Orthodoxy”.
After several vain attempts to admonish Philaret, the Synod of the ROCH appointed the eldest in ordination, Metropolitan Nikodim Rusnak, to convene the Council of Ukranian Bishops in order to accept Philaret’s resignation and to elect a new primate.
Nikodim wrote a letter to Philaret, asking him to call the Council and not to split the church. Philaret did not answer.
Instead, Philaret gathered in Kyiv his few supporters for a conference. It declared bishops who did not ally with him to be traitors of the people of Ukraine. He asked Kravchuk and the Ukrainian state to support Philaret’s UOCH at that historic moment when the Moscow Patriarchate was threatening and committing non-canonical actions against Philaret. Not a single bishop of the UOCH was present at the Kyiv conference.
On May 27, 1991, 17 out of 20 Ukrainian bishops gathered in Kharkiv. They changed the Statute of the UOCH by removing two amendments made by Philaret – namely, the provision that the primate is elected for life and is selected exclusively from Ukrainian bishops. After that, they proceeded to elect a new primate. During the deliberations, Metropolitan Nikodim, who was presiding, was called several times to the phone. As he said later, on the line were people from the entourage of President Kravchuk, asking him not to go against Philaret. If he did, the UOCH would be deprived of state support.
The Council of Bishops elected Volodymyr (Sabodan) as Metropolitan of Kyiv and of all Ukraine.
Philaret declared the Kharkiv Council non-canonical and stated that bishops had seceded from the church and could not speak in its name.
On June 11, 1992 in Moscow, a council of bishops of the ROCH was called expressly to examine the case of Philaret. He was invited three times to be present but he never showed up. A statement, signed by 16 Ukrainian bishops, was presented to the council. In the process of examination, all the accusations against Philaret were confirmed. The Council decreed the defrocking of Mykhailo Denysenko (Philaret) and stripped him of all the degrees of priesthood.
On June 15, 1992, ignoring the fact that the state has no right to intervene in church internal affairs, the Presidium of the Verkhovna Rada declared that the decision of the Khakriv council was illegal and non-canonical.
The ROCH informed all the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches of what had happened. Philaret also addressed the churches, stating that he did not consider himself guilty in absentia of the accusations by the Kharkiv and Moscow councils of bishops. Heads of all Eastern Orthodox Churches congratulated Volodymyr as the new Metropolitan of the UOCH and supported the expulsion of Philaret.
The latter found himself in complete isolation on behalf of the canonic Orthodoxy. He decided to ally with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOCH), which until then he had denounced as sectarian and schismatic. On June 25-26, 1992 at a “unifying” council in Philaret’s office, where several bishops of the UAOCH, deputies of Verkhovna Rada, and service staff of the office were present, a decision was made to dissolve the UOCH and UAOCH and to fuse its real estate, finances, and assets into one property of a newly created Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate. Patriarch Mstyslav of the UAOCH, who was living in the United States at that time, did not even know that the UAOCH was declared dissolved by the decision of Philaret and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk.
Patriarch Dymytriy of the UAOCH, who had worked during his entire life for the creation of a Ukrainian autocephalous orthodox church, wrote later that Philaret caused a tragic schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. He had allied with Kravchuk, an ideologist of atheism who was afraid that the UAOCH would dominate in Ukraine. Together, the two created a so-called “church” to suffocate the faith of the Ukrainian people, as they had worked together before to kill the faith of the “Soviet people”. Patriarch Dimitry stated that Philaret only pretended to be a believer, driven in reality by money and glory.
Patriarch Philaret managed to create a “pocket”, official church that would cater to the needs of the Ukrainian State. Patriarch Philaret, a fervent patriot, is preaching in Volodymyrskyi Cathedral, the heart of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, which he took away from the UOCH. He preaches to his parishioners, Ukrainians, that to kill is not a sin when you kill a “separatist”, a fellow Ukrainian who does not share your vision of Ukraine. But when a citizen is blinded by a powerful and all-encompassing, official propaganda machine, of which Patriarch Philaret is an integral part, how can he or she see a Ukrainian in that Donetsk or Luhansk “separatist”? If that “good” Ukrainian is hesitating to kill, it is because he/she has a weak soul and does not understand that killing in defense of “your” land is not killing at all. Donetsk and Luhansk insurgents are claiming just that: they are defending their land from a Kyiv army that came uninvited and with arms.
Patriarch Philaret is well known for his militaristic statements and actions. In early February 2015, he visited Washington DC to lobby the US government to send arms and troops to Ukraine. In cooperation with the UOCH, headed by Philaret, in October of 2014 in Dnipropetrovsk, two local organizations opened a ‘Christian school of snipers and fire training of patriots’, in which atheist military instructors are teaching the believers of various confessions– kids and adults–how to use an air gun. In January 2015, he proclaimed that those who are avoiding conscription to the Ukrainian army are committing a sin and are not patriots of Ukraine.
Neither is the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, Patriarch Onufriy, a patriot, stated Patriarch Philaret in October of 2014. Why? Because Patriarch Onufriy and his church are calling on all sides of the conflict to stop fighting and conclude peace in Ukraine. Patriarch Onufriy states that it is not the Church’s role to designate who is responsible for killings, it is the courts’ role. Patriarch Onufriy refuses to collect funds for the Ukrainian army. His church works for Moscow, retorts Patriarch Philaret.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, headed by Philaret, is not recognized by other canonical Eastern Orthodox churches, including the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). It is strongest in the centre and in the west of Ukraine and has but a weak presence in the east and in the south of the country. According to the 2011 data of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) remains the biggest in Ukraine. It has 12,340 parishes, 191 monasteries and employs 9,922 clerics. By contrast, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate has 4,482 parishes, 49 monasteries and 3,088 clerics.
During the Euromaidan movement and in its aftermath, there have been numerous attacks on the orthodox churches of Moscow Patriarchate by supporters of the Kyiv Patriarchate, including armed ones. These attacks follow the sermons of the schismatic Patriarch Philaret, who preaches that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is the servant of Moscow, non-patriotic, which in the logic of war means it is an enemy. Forget that this “enemy” shares the same faith and country with you. Your spiritual guide has already forgiven you the sin of killing.
To be continued.
Halyna Mokrushyna is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Sociology at the University of Ottawa and a part-time professor. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and MA degree in communication. Her academic interests include: transitional justice; collective memory; ethnic studies; dissent movement in Ukraine; history of Ukraine; sociological thought. Her doctoral project deals with the memory of Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In the summer of 2013 she travelled to Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk to conduct her field research. She is currently working on completing her thesis. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The sudden cancellation of an academic conference on Israel, as well as the lack of outcry from ‘mainstream’ media, demonstrates once again the skewed limits to ‘free speech’ in ‘advanced’ Western democracies. ‘Je suis Charlie’ already feels like ancient history. It certainly does not apply when it comes to scrutiny of the state of Israel.
The conference, titled ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’, was to be held at the University of Southampton from 15-17 April 2015. Planned speakers included Richard Falk, the former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Gabi Piterberg, a historian at the University of California at Los Angeles, Israeli academic Ilan Pappé and Palestinian historian Nur Musalha.
The meeting was billed as the ‘first of its kind and constitutes a ground-breaking historical event on the road towards justice and enduring peace in historic Palestine.’ The approach would be scholarly with ‘multidisciplinary debate reflecting diverse perspectives, and thus genuine disagreements’. Rather than being a coven of political extremists and violent hotheads, this was to be a serious gathering of respected and authoritative academics with in-depth knowledge of Israel and Palestine.
But intense pressure from the Israel lobby about the airing of ‘anti-Semitic views’ has torpedoed the University of Southampton’s earlier stated commitment to uphold ‘freedom of speech within the law’. In a classic piece of bureaucratic hand-wringing, the university issued a corporate-style statement on 1 April that leaned heavily on the pretext of ‘health and safety’ to kill off the conference. This happened a mere two weeks before the conference, planned months earlier in consultation with the university, was due to begin.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews was among those Zionist groups that had been urging the university to cancel the event. Its president, Vivian Wineman, said:
‘It is formulated in extremist terms, has attracted toxic speakers and is likely to result in an increase in anti-Semitism and tension on campus.’
The Telegraph reported that ‘at least two major patrons of the university were considering withdrawing their financial support. One is a charitable foundation, the other a wealthy family.’
There was also fierce criticism from several politicians at Westminster. Mark Hoban, the Conservative MP for Fareham, described the conference as a ‘provocative, hard-line, one-sided forum that would question and delegitimize the existence of a democratic state.’ Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, said the university risked bringing itself into disrepute by hosting what she described as ‘an apparently one-sided event’.
A senior government minister even got involved. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities, derided the conference as a ‘one-sided diatribe’. He went further:
‘There is a careful line between legitimate academic debate on international law and the actions of governments, and the far-left’s bashing of Israel which often descends into naked anti-Semitism.’
This was outrageous high-level political interference in free speech. When the university confirmed that it was cancelling the conference, the decision was predictably welcomed by the Israeli embassy in London:
‘This was a clear instance of an extremist political campaign masquerading as an academic exercise, and it is only right to recognise that respecting free speech does not mean tolerating intolerance.’
Michael Gove, the Government Chief Whip and former Secretary of State for Education, could barely contain his glee:
‘It was not a conference, it was an anti-Israel hate-fest.’
The ‘Health And Safety’ Pretext
On April 2, the conference organisers responded to the university’s sudden reversal of its earlier commitment to hold the conference. The organisers, who include Israeli-born law professor Oren Ben-Dor, said that they were ‘shocked and dismayed’ at the university’s about-turn. This was especially disappointing given that the police had given assurances that they would be ‘able to manage the demonstrations’.
The organisers noted that ‘general sensitivity following recent terrorist events in Europe’ had been ‘misused to inflate the risks’ of the conference going ahead. More widely, warned the organisers, the implications for academic freedom would be dire:
‘The stakes for academic public space, for academic freedom and for freedom of speech are too high. The message it sends to other academic institutions and to students all over the world is grave and depressing. It will potentially make campuses obedient and depoliticised, distant and docile corporate spaces.’
An inadvertent clue to the reality underlying the university’s rhetoric on ‘security’ and ‘health and safety’ could be found in a report last month in the Jewish Chronicle. Board of Deputies of British Jews president Wineman told the Chronicle that:
‘When we had a meeting with the university vice-chancellor they said they would review it [the conference] on health and safety terms.
‘The two lines of attack [sic] possible were legal and health and safety and they were leaning on that one.’
The ‘line of attack’ about ‘health and safety’, then, appears to be cover for the university caving in to pro-Israel pressure. This fits a wider pattern of the pro-Israel lobby’s fear of increasing global condemnation of Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people and international law. As Ben White, an authoritative freelance journalist on the Middle East, reported last month, the British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, recently met with UK university heads to discuss Israel and the limits of ‘freedom of speech’. Also present were representatives of at least three pro-Israel organisations: the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, and the Union of Jewish Students.
Southampton University’s refusal at the time to buckle under pro-Israel lobby pressure was cited in the meeting. White noted:
‘This stubborn commitment to freedom of speech has clearly angered Britain’s Israel lobby, but the bigger question here is why a UK ambassador was involved in the first place.’
When pressed to explain this, a Foreign Office spokesperson told White that ‘part of Matthew Gould’s role involves outreach to the British Jewish Community.’ White added:
‘The spokesperson did not elaborate on whether lobbying British universities was part of the ambassador’s remit.’
The conference organisers have now lodged an injunction at the High Court in London in an attempt to prevent the university from curtailing their right to freedom of speech. The legal argument is that in unfairly withdrawing permission for the conference, the university has capitulated to the pro-Israel lobby. ‘This is blatant censorship under the guise of a specter of campus being overrun by violent hordes, which is patently groundless,’ said Mark McDonald, a public interest lawyer from the chambers of Michael Mansfield QC.
Many academics have protested the university’s decision. David Gurnham, the Director of Research at the university’s School of Law, wrote in an email to vice-chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam:
‘It seems to me outrageous that you seem to have allowed the bullying and threats of the Israeli lobby to prevent the perfectly lawful and legitimate exercise of free speech and academic debate. I understand that the police had reported that they would be perfectly able and willing to deal with any security concerns at the event: this ought to be good enough.
‘Cancelling the event in this way makes the University look weak, spineless and reactionary. I am proud to be a member of academic staff here, but your decision to withdraw support for a conference in this manner makes me, and I’m sure very many others like me, seriously question the University’s commitment to open and free debate.’
(More letters of protest from academics can be read here.)
All this comes at a time when the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is gathering strength. A recent debate at the Cambridge Union Society even passed the motion that ‘This House Believes Israel Is A Rogue State’.
At the time of writing, a petition calling for the University of Southampton to uphold free speech has attracted almost 10,000 signatures in just one week (it took a Zionist petition in favour of cancelling the conference one month to reach around 6,500).
An earlier petition in support of the conference was signed by round 900 academics around the world.
All of this must make the pro-Israel lobby deeply uncomfortable. As Ben White observed:
‘Whatever the final outcome, this story is significant for the way in which it illustrates not so much the pro-Israel lobby’s power, but its weaknesses.’
No More ‘Je Suis Charlie’
Media coverage of the cancellation of the conference has been almost non-existent. We found just three news articles in the national press: one in the Guardian, one in the Telegraph and one in the Express.
But what is even more glaring than the lack of news coverage is the editorial silence on the pro-Israel lobby’s bullying and intimidation. What happened to all those grand declarations from editorial offices, under the banner ‘Je suis Charlie’, to uphold freedom of speech and the ‘right to offend’? The journalists and cartoonists who were murdered at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris were, we were told, ‘martyrs for freedom of speech’. The atrocity was ‘a war declared on civilisation’, ‘an attack on the free world’, ‘an assault on journalists and free speech’. A Guardian editorial proclaimed:
‘If there is a right to free speech, implicit within it there has to be a right to offend. Any society that’s serious about liberty has to defend the free flow of ugly words, even ugly sentiments.’
Where is the outpouring of dismay now from liberal commentators across the British media at the actions of the pro-Israel lobby? Where are the comment pieces decrying this latest attack on free speech? When it comes to Israel, the ‘right to offend’ is quietly dropped.
Moreover, why should it be ‘toxic’ to examine critically the founding ideology of Israel, a state that was built on one of the largest forced migrations in modern history? As Israeli historian Ilan Pappé documented in his acclaimed 2006 book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the establishment of Israel in 1948 was ‘Nakba’ – a catastrophe – for the Palestinians. More than half of Palestine’s native population, close to 800,000 people, were uprooted, and over 500 Palestinian villages destroyed.
Nakba largely remains a taboo subject for ‘mainstream’ coverage of the Middle East. Indeed, notes Pappé, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by Israel is a ‘crime [that] has been erased almost totally from the global public memory’. This crime, he continues:
‘has been systematically denied, and is still today not recognised as an historical fact, let alone acknowledged as a crime that needs to be confronted politically as well as morally.’ (Ibid., p. xiii)
Sadly, the fear of offending the powerful pro-Israel lobby remains a major factor in British politics, cultural debate and media reporting of Israel and Palestine (see Peter Oborne’s Dispatches documentary for Channel 4 in 2009). As one senior BBC television news producer revealed to Professor Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group:
‘We wait in fear for the telephone call from the Israelis.’
‘The Specious Slur Of Anti-Semitism’
In a moving piece of personal testimony, Professor Suleiman Sharkh of the University of Southampton, one of the conference organisers, published an open letter. He said:
‘I grew up in Gaza, but my family is originally from a town called Majdal Asqlan (now called Ashkelon by Israel). In November 1948, six months after the establishment of the State of Israel and after the wars had ended, the town was bombed and many people were killed. Those who survived were herded towards Gaza, crawling on their hands and knees in the thorny field. Since then we have lived in squalid refugee camps. I walked around in the sand soiled by the open sewers with my bare feet. I got my first shoes when I went to school at the age of six.’
Professor Sharkh then explained the relevance and importance of the conference to Palestinian people:
‘International Law was responsible for our misery. It was used to legalise the theft of our homes and it continues to be used to legalise the ongoing oppression of my people by the State of Israel. The questions asked by the conference are therefore questions that I have been asking all my life. They are important questions that need to be answered.’
The conference is now likely to go ahead at an alternative venue to be publicised soon.
The journalist and filmmaker John Pilger, whose powerful documentary Palestine Is Still The Issue is a must-see, told Media Lens (email, April 3, 2015):
‘Israel is a gangster state. It holds the world record in the breach and defiance of international law. It regularly massacres and terrorises the Palestinian civilian population of Gaza, which even David Cameron has described as an “open prison”. Its courts uphold racism as state policy. It has re-elected a congenital liar as its prime minister. Its historians have long revealed the criminality of its beginning — the theft of land, the murder and brutalising of the indigenous population.’
‘What Israel has, however, are powerful collaborators, who, even at the lowest rung, are able to intimidate institutional bureaucrats and others with the specious slur of anti-Semitism. In Britain, the Jewish Chronicle and the Board of Deputies operate this barely disguised smear as efficiently as a metronome. They, and others, have now helped silence a much needed conference on Israel at the University of Southampton. But they should not be wholly blamed. The collusion of the university authorities as they run up the false flag of “security concerns” is to blame; and the memory of every murdered child in Gaza is now their spectre. And along with the so-called “lobby”, they cannot win.’
‘The rest of humanity has long recognised the truth about Israel, as every international survey shows. With exquisite timing, student unions across the UK are joining the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that is sweeping country after country, including the United States. The craven decision of Southampton will speed its progress; nothing is surer.’
Please sign this petition in support of the conference.
Academics can also sign this statement of support.
Activists from across the US state of California gathered in the city of Los Angeles to protest police brutality amid ongoing anger over police violence and racial profiling in the country.
The activists marched in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday to protest hundreds of police killings of minorities since 2000, the latest in a series of demonstrations across the United States, Press TV reported.
Protesters marched from four different directions before converging on the headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
The march featured more than 600 coffins to represent more than 600 people killed by Los Angeles law enforcement since 2000.
The activists marched the coffins by Los Angeles City Hall. They also led a procession by the federal court building as well as the office of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
“Los Angeles leads the nation in killing of community members by law enforcement and that has to end,” said Mark Anthony Johnson, a member of Dignity and Power Now, a grassroots organization based in Los Angeles that fights for the dignity and power of incarcerated people.
About 28 percent of the people killed by police are African-American, and 54 percent killed are Latino, Johnson told Press TV. He said residents are tired of being targeted by Los Angeles police officers.
Activists say Los Angeles county leaders have failed to hold law enforcement accountable.
“The persecution of people of color, of poor people, of homeless people, the indiscriminate killing, the injustice of it all and the lack of response by the institutions [must stop],” said David Feurtadot, a member of Los Angeles Community Action Network.
Marchers also delivered public records act requests to the LAPD and to the office of the sheriff. They want to see data on the LAPD’s use of force that law enforcement has yet to make available.
The activists later marched by the office of Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, calling for charges against the police officers responsible for the killings.
The Israeli army uses Palestinians as targets for their training, Haaretz reported a former soldier as saying.
In an article entitled “From an Israeli combat soldier to conscientious objector”, Haaretz said that “after two years in the Israel Defence Forces, Yaron Kaplan, 21, of Lod, is declaring himself a conscientious objector and is refusing to continue his service because of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.”
“From the moment I began my training I understood how violent this place is,” he said. “It was a totally traumatic experience. Every time we would do shooting practice, we would be ‘executing’ someone – ‘Now we shoot Mohammed; now we shoot at Ahmed’,” he said.
Kaplan said that he joined the army immediately after he graduated from the military college, but has now quit. He explained this is because of the “violent nature of the army”.
Ruling out any chance of a peaceful solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he said: “I can’t expect or demand from a person that he be my partner, or that he should really see me as a partner for dialogue as long as I am imposing a military regime on him.”
Kalan said he would not return to his army service after Passover, he will present himself at his base and expect to be imprisoned.
“I am fully aware of the ramifications of this, what the path before me looks like – a lot of prison, including lengthy terms,” he said. “I have no doubt that this is the right thing to do. The emotional price and the price to my conscience that I would have to pay for the mental suffering of being in the army are too heavy from my perspective.”