Thursday, February 4, 2016

Analysis: Kurds taking baby steps toward independence

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
February 4, 2016

While the constellation of events on the ground appears to work to the Kurds’ advantage, internal divisions, opposition from regional states and geography continue to impede rapid progress.

Iraqi kurdish Pashmarga. (photo credit:REUTERS)
The announcement by Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani this week calling, again, for a referendum on creating an independent state, demonstrates how slow things are moving.

Like previous announcements, no date was given for the referendum.

While the constellation of events on the ground appears to work to the Kurds’ advantage, internal divisions, opposition from regional states and geography continue to impede rapid progress.

The Kurd forces in Iraq and Syria are increasingly coordinating their attacks against Islamic State with US-led forces and Russia. But for now, although there are some voices of support, most world powers, Turkey, Iran and Arab states oppose a Kurdish state.

The fact that talks to end the Syrian conflict currently taking place in Geneva left out Syrian Kurds is but one example.

Interestingly, some analysts see Barzani himself as an obstacle.

“Call me dubious. Nationalist sentiment may be high in Iraqi Kurdistan, but Barzani is a cynic, not a nationalist,” Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, told The Jerusalem Post.

“He has run the economy into the ground, and like Palestinian [Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas, he has overstayed his elected term in office and cares more about bank accounts than statecraft,” argued Rubin.

“This is an excuse to wrap Kurds around the flag and distract them.”

If Barzani was truly serious about Kurdish freedom, he would not have invited former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards into Erbil just eight years after his regime committed the Anfal genocide in the late 1980s. Furthermore, Barzani has had many opportunities in the past to declare independence, but did not, he added.

Rubin concluded that this is because the Kurdish leader cares “more about the money derived from being part of Iraq than Kurdish aspirations.” While Barzani indeed complains that Baghdad does not distribute owed funds, his uncle Hoshyar Zebari is the finance minister of Iraq and says otherwise, explained Rubin.

Also, he continued, “Barzani knows that Iran – fearing the precedent among Iranian Kurds – would kill him before he makes any serious moves toward independence.”

“Israeli advocates of the Kurds shouldn’t confuse advocacy with reality. Maybe there will be some moves to a referendum, but independence? Not while Barzani is in power,” said Rubin.

Prof. Ofra Bengio, editor of the book Kurdish Awakening: Nation-Building in a Fragmented Homeland, also told the Post that Barzani has various motives for pushing for the referendum now.

“First, he genuinely believes that this is the best window of opportunity for such a move, since the international community needs the Kurds for fighting Islamic State and will therefore turn a blind eye on the referendum,” said Bengio, a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ex-Pentagon official Rhode: Muslim world must undergo ‘thought revolution’

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
February 2, 2016

“There can only be final peace when the Muslims recognize Israel as a Jewish state and declare an end to the conflict."

The Pentagon. (photo credit:WIKIMEDIA/PENTAGON/DAVID B. GLEASON)

There can be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians until there is a “thought revolution” in the Muslim world, former longtime Pentagon official Harold Rhode told The Jerusalem Post Monday.

Rhode cited the doctrine in Islam in which land conquered by Muslims must remain under Muslim rule forever.

This includes present-day Israel, which the Muslims conquered in 637 CE.

“There can only be final peace when the Muslims recognize Israel as a Jewish state and declare an end to the conflict,” he said. “Until then, peace as we understand it is impossible.”

Rhode, currently a senior fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute, made the point that independent thinking and personal responsibility were generally lacking in the region.

While it had been shown through testing that some Palestinians have DNA similar to that of Jews, which indicates that, biologically, they are just as capable as Jews, it is Islamic culture, he said, that stifles them.

“Could you imagine a lecture ends and the audience does not ask questions? There are always questions, but rarely in the Middle East,” he continued.

Instead, if someone from the audience asks a question of the lecturer, the speaker will often shame the questioner in front of everyone. That stifles future questions.

“Personal honor is more important than truth,” he explained.

Why is it that Japan and South Korea, which were devastated by World War II, recovered quickly into world-leading economies while the Muslim world has lagged far behind, Rhode asked rhetorically.

“The difference is that one has a Muslim culture and the other does not,” he argued.

To read the entire article click here.

MK Michael Oren warns of ISIS infiltration in meeting with Beduin soldiers

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 31, 2016

Beduin official behind national service program says he has received multiple threats, including telephone calls.

MK Michael Oren with Beduin women who participate in national service today in the Negev. (photo credit:ANNA OLIKER)

Kulanu MK Michael Oren on Sunday urged the government to address issues in the Beduin community to prevent further infiltration by Islamic State as he toured the Negev on Sunday meeting with Beduin soldiers and women national service volunteers.

“The Beduin community offers immense challenges to the state of Israel but also offers great opportunities.

The state can either meet the challenges intelligently and sensitively or other forces will fill the vacuum, including Islamic State,” Oren told The Jerusalem Post.

The Kulanu MK has introduced legislation granting lone status benefits to Muslim and Christian soldiers who face opposition from their communities due to their service. On his tour, he visited Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba where Beduin women perform their national service.

In the last few decades, he said, there have been twin processes among the Negev Beduin: Islamization and increased Palestinian nationalism.

“The state left a vacuum. I meet people today who want to be part of Israel,” he said, calling it a struggle for “awareness.”

“If we are smart, they will become very productive citizens of the state,” he said.

Oren added that he plans to learn more about the Beduin issues, in particular the ongoing government effort to resettle the Negev Beduin, and deal with hundreds of illegal settlements.

The Beduin women serving at Soroka, he pointed out, face tremendous difficulties, the main one being just getting there since there is no bus service from many of their villages scattered across the Negev.

“There is an immediate need for 200 additional positions for national service,” Oren stated, adding that there is much more demand than supply for the program.

The former ambassador to the US also commented on the difficulty for Beduin who complete their military or national service in finding work and integrating into Israeli society.

“We are not maximizing the investment” in the Beduin sector, he asserted, noting that he lived in the Negev in the past and that Israel cannot afford to ignore 62 percent of the country, which contains one of the fastest growing populations on the planet.

Othman Abu Ajaj, the head of the Beduin section at the Beduin Development Authority, which deals specifically with the land issue and has offices in Beersheba, accompanied Oren on the tour.

Ajaj, who is responsible for creating the Beduin national service program, which came up against strong opposition, said he has received multiple threats, including telephone calls, adding that he carries a weapon.

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kfar Kassem mayor to 'Post': City could become model for other Arab towns

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 29, 2016

Badir explains that city, with 22,000 residents, only received municipality property taxes from around 50% of them; today, that number is at 83%.

Kafr Kassem Mayor Adel Badir. (photo credit:Ariel Ben Solomon)

Kafr Kassem’s mayor, Adel Badir, told The Jerusalem Post his city is developing rapidly and could serve as a role model for other Arab cities.

In an interview on Thursday, Badir and a Jewish spokesman, Tom Wegner, explained, using maps to illustrate how he has already transformed his city by persuading more of its 22,000 residents to pay the local taxes.

Three years ago only half paid the municipal property tax and now that figure has grown to 83 percent, a rarely high number for an Arab municipality though similar to the collections statistics in many Jewish cities, Badir said. He even called up families on the phone himself urging people to pay up.

He cited the construction of three new parks and other development projects underway as having helped instill confidence in residents that their money was going to good use.

But the municipality needs more money to fund its growth plans which include paving all its roads, and improving education, and other services. Almost half of Kafr Kassem’s roads are unpaved and pot holes are scattered across many of the city’s streets.

One way the city has sought to boost its tax revenue is by seeking to obtain a share of revenue generated by the Afek industrial park. Though located adjacent to the city, the park’s tax funds are paid to the nearby Jewish city of Rosh Ha’ayin.

Badir said that since the park is geographically closer to his city and creates high levels of traffic congestion at the city’s entrance, “it is only fair” for Kafr Kassem to receive some of an estimated NIS 45 million in tax revenue generated by Afek each year.

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Israeli Arabs furious over Islamic Movement ban, to mark day for Israeli Arab rights

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 25, 2016

MK Jabareen is going to be one of four speakers on a panel in London organized by the Middle East Monitor, a pro-Palestinian website

Conferences will be held in 30 countries around the globe on Saturday to address the rights of Israeli Arabs in the wake of a ban on the Islamic Movement and other organizations.

“We are widening and continuing the international struggle against racist discrimination,” Mohammad Barakeh, the leader of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday following a Tel Aviv press conference to announce the international Israeli-Arab rights day.

The banning of the Islamic Movement and its organizations and charity NGOs “is not just a local issue,” the former Hadash head continued, saying the crackdown against the Islamic Movement “will eventually target everyone.”

If Israeli Arabs don’t stand up for their rights today, tomorrow it will get worse, Barakeh said after the meeting, which also included leaders of several Islamic Movement organizations that have been outlawed by the Israeli government.

Joint List MK Dr. Yousef Jabareen, who heads the faction’s international team, told the Post the conferences around the world would focus on “numerous human rights violations that successive Israeli governments have regularly undertaken against its Arab-Palestinian citizens.”

“Israeli policies have rendered Palestinians in Israel as second- class citizens in all social, economic and political aspects of society in clear violation of international law standards and the human-rights treaties to which Israel is a signatory,” he said.

Jabareen will be one of four speakers on a panel in London organized by the Middle East Monitor, a pro-Palestinian website.

The other speakers will be Dr. Durgham Saif, a professor at Al-Quds University; Malia Bouattia, the Black Students’ Officer of the National Union of Students; and journalist Ben White.

The event will be chaired by Meral Hussein-Ece of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary group, according to Middle East Monitor.

“Palestinian citizens are ill-represented, in the public sphere and in decision making circles, and Arab municipalities are substantially underfunded compared to Jewish towns and, as such, their inhabitants fail to have the same quality of schooling, housing and economic welfare as Jewish Israelis,” said Jabareen.

One of the issues to be highlighted is the government’s ban of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, he said, adding that the organization and its affiliated organizations “should be protected by freedom of expression and freedom of association.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended outlawing the group for acting to undermine Israel, inciting violence, cooperating closely with Hamas and seeking to replace Israel with a caliphate.

“We have nothing against Islam,” Netanyahu said after the group was outlawed in November.

“We have nothing against the Muslim citizens of Israel who enjoy full equal rights and the vast majority of whom are law-abiding citizens. But we will continue to act against inciters and those who encourage terrorism.”

Jabereen had told the Post last month that a diplomatic blitz was in the works with a main objective to reverse the ban on the Islamic Movement.

Tawfek Mohammad Jabarin, a representative of the Islamic Movement’s media arm based in Umm el-Fahm and the former editor of the northern Islamist Movement publication Sawt al-Haqq wal-Huriyyah (The Voice of Freedom and Justice), which has since been banned, told the Post there are now 45 journalists out of work, including himself.

“The stupid settler government shut the mouths of the Arabs and the Left and is inciting,” he said angrily.

The banning of the movement was “a political decision,” he argued, adding that there is no chance the courts would reverse the ruling for the media branch of the movement, but perhaps there was a chance for the NGOs working in charity.

Jabarin said half a million Arabs in Israel and the Palestinian territories depend on aid from the movement, asserting that the government does not take care of the Arab population adequately.

Asked how the organization would overcome the ban, he responded: “We know how to overcome things,” and will find a solution.

To read the entire article click here.

Rabbis to attend Morocco panel on religious minorities in Muslim countries

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 22, 2016

Prominent Muslims scholars, jurists, religious leaders and government officials will also attend.

A Muslim pilgrim prays atop Mount Thor in the holy city of Mecca ahead of the annual haj pilgrimage. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Top rabbis will attend a historic conference in Morocco on safeguarding the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries, The Jerusalem Post learned Thursday.

Organizers of the January 25-27 conference in Marrakesh include the government of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, which hope to formulate a new declaration rooted in the Prophet Muhammad’s Medina Charter, which articulates how Islamic law calls for the protection of religious minorities.

Prominent Muslims scholars, jurists, religious leaders and government officials will also attend.

Only good governance can protect minority communities, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, co-founder of Zaytuna College in California and vice president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, said in a conference call.

He said the Jewish community in Morocco and those that have emigrated have acknowledged the protection the government gave them.

He added that the United Arab Emirates is also involved in the conference.

Asked by the Post which Jewish leaders plan on attending, organizers on the call named Rabbi David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland, who is the international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee and director of AJC’s Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Affairs.

Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, the leader of the conference, invited rabbis from around the world, as well as Christian and other religious leaders.

A Conservative rabbi from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America is also to attend.

Also on the call were Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, Director of the Secretariat of The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers in Washington, who previously served as director of community outreach for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and Imam Mohamed Magid, executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, who is also involved in ISNA’s activities

Magid, a Sudan native, is one of the American Muslim leaders who has consulted with President Barack Obama.

Questioned how this conference would have any real influence on the reality on the ground, Hamza responded that many Muslims are unaware that Islamic tradition has ways to allow for full enfranchisement of minorities based on “the prophet’s many statements of responsibilities toward minority communities.”

He asserted that the idea already has influenced Tunisia’s constitution.

Hamza also argued that positive initiatives usually are not mentioned by the media, which focuses on negative news that serves to “distort” the view of Muslims as fanatics.

Peaceful Muslims are the silent majority, he said.

Daniel Pipes, historian and president of the Middle East Forum think tank, told the Post he was skeptical about the conference since “they can hardly signal more overtly than this that they are Islamists.”

“They want to treat religious minorities as the Shari’a [law] requires, perhaps tweaking the rules slightly to make them less obnoxious to a modern sensibility,” asserted Pipes.“But the essential conditions of dhimma – Muslim superiority, special burdens on the minorities, restrictions on minority behavior – will surely remain in place.”

To read the entire article click here.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Iranian Kurds persecuted, benefiting from Kurdish gains next door

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 21, 2016

Iranian Kurd tells Post: "The Kurdish people will become independent in the near future with the help of the Israeli Government.”

A sculpture made by the ‘Chai Boys,’ the foreign fighters volunteering with the Syrian Kurds. The photo was taken by ‘Ariel,’ an Iranian volunteer.. (photo credit:COURTESY ROBERT AMOS)

Although Iranian Kurds believe their domestic situation is terrible, the advances of Kurds in neighboring countries has benefited them, according to a well-informed source.

“If we compare the Kurds’ situation to other parts of the world the situation is much worse than even in Syria where the Kurds’ situation is better than in Iran,” Dr. Amir Muradi, using a fictitious name to protect his identity, told The Jerusalem Post.

Asked how Kurdish independence would affect Iranian Kurds, Muradi speculated that most Kurds seek independence from Iran and would achieve “self-governance or even independence” if their brethren in Iraq, Syria or Turkey gained independence first.

“Personally, I believe that the Kurdish people will become independent in the near future with the help of the Israeli government,” Muradi said.

Muradi emailed answers to the Post from Iran.

No additional details about Muradi could be released nor could any live conversation by phone or online take place because of the risks involved in being interviewed by an Israeli newspaper.

Muradi said the situation for Kurds in Iran is “terrible.” Many of his compatriots are in prison, poor, and do not serve in official government positions. The discrimination is great.

Asked how the Kurd situation in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey is affecting Iranian Kurds, he replied that Kurds outside of Iran are “affecting us greatly and positively.”

The existence of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) makes Iranian Kurds proud.

Questioned about Internet access in Iran, Muradi said that compared to neighboring countries the service was bad and slow, and that all the popular social networks and websites were blocked.

The mood of people on the street is one of desperation and depression, the Iranian Kurd said. He said most Kurds thought the country could not be reformed. Iranian Kurds have no hope in the so-called reformist camp led by former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Hassan Rouhani.

The assumption is that hard liners led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, and the Revolutionary Guards, under his control, hold real power.

Arif Bawecani, the head of the Kurdistan Independent Party (Parti Serbesti Kurdistan, PSK), told the Post how poor conditions were for Iranian Kurds. He said that Kurdish political activists were being executed or receive long jail terms.

Bawecani, a Kurd originating from land that Kurds consider as occupied Iranian territory, heads the liberal democratic oriented PSK Party. Founded in February 2006, it has offices in Oslo, Norway, and in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
“Iranian authorities or persons with approval from them, distribute drugs to youth in Kurdish areas in order to get their minds off thoughts about claiming and working for their human rights,” he said.

Asked if Iranian Kurds were involved in fighting against Islamic State in Iraq, he replied that “Kurds from eastern Kurdistan – or the part occupied by Iran – always try to support their brethren in other parts of Kurdistan.”

Regarding the influence of his PSK party, Bawecani asserted there are thousands of secret members inside Iran.

“The active members who can be open about it are located in European countries and Iraqi Kurdistan. They are mostly students and academics.”

Asked about the constant talk of Kurdistan becoming an independent state, Bawecani said that the strategic goal is independence, and that the KRG has “the best chance of becoming an independent country.”

The period of autonomy since 2003 has allowed for establishing the structure of a state, and the KRG is functioning well despite a dysfunctional Iraqi state, he said.

Freedom for Iranian and Turkish Kurds will take longer, Bawecani said.

He alleged that Tehran constantly tries to create problems among the different Kurdish political parties and religions, but has not succeeded in ruining cooperation.

Regarding upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran, the Kurdish party leader said his party boycotts the Iranian elections and has sent statements to Iranian Kurds urging them not to participate.

“Iran is dangerous and we hope that the world will work together to remove this dictatorial regime,” Bawecani said.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Analysis: Iran most powerful since ’79 revolution

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 20, 2016

With wind at its back because of the newly gained international legitimacy and sanctions removal, Tehran could more aggressively push its sectarian agenda in the region.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has probably its best strategic position since the founding of the regime in 1979.

World powers such as the US, Europe and Russia are favorably disposed to the regime as the nuclear deal reached last summer progresses and their combined operations against Islamic State and other Sunni terrorist groups continue.

Reflecting the mood, Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Tuesday that Iran is key to stabilizing the Middle East.

“We need Iran to calm the conflicts and re-establish stability in this crisis-hit region,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

But Iran is most likely to do the very opposite.

With wind at its back because of the newly gained international legitimacy and sanctions removal, it could more aggressively push its sectarian agenda in the region.

“The Islamic Republic has done the deal of their life and been recognized internationally,” David Menashri, professor emeritus at The Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor at The Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA, toldThe Jerusalem Post.

“The nuclear program has been blessed by world powers even if the deal delays it for 10 to 15 years. In historical terms, it is tomorrow morning,” said Menashri, an Israeli, internationally recognized Iran expert.

Following the 1979 revolution, the Shi’ite regime was busy consolidating power at home and used the war against Sunni Iraq from 1980-1988 to further this cause by rallying the nation around the flag.

Today, its former primary regional rival, Iraq, is a main ally, flipped thanks to the US invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein. The Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad is allied with Tehran.

The Islamic Republic’s expansionist revolutionary ideology continues to take it into other Arab countries where it and its proxies are fighting for power including Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. Influence also is being exerted in bordering Afghanistan following the withdrawal of most Western forces from the country, as well as in adjacent Gulf states that have significant Shi’ite minorities.

Tehran also has sought to influence terrorist groups in Gaza that oppose Israel.

The opposition Sunni bloc is led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, with Israel as a wild card that could be cooperated with to help achieve a balance of power to counter Tehran’ regional encroachment.

“The Islamic Republic’s regional and international standing have really been upgraded, as just a few years ago Iran was on its knees in Syria and other places and now all of the sudden you see smiles on the faces of Iranians,” said Menashri.

To read the entire article click here.