Monday, March 31, 2014

Former Israel PM Ehud Olmert Convicted of Bribery Having Rope-a-Doped Other Scandals For Years

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of bribery committed while he was mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003, Israel Radio reported.

Those were the years of the second intifada -- which took 1,000 Israeli lives.

The case involved construction of a grandiose housing development known as Holyland. It is an eyesore of a complex sitting above Begin Highway in the southern section of the city.

In 2010, businessman Shmuel Dachner, turned state's witness and implicated Olmert in the scandal. Dachner died in 2013 after a long illness.

Olmert denigrated Dachner -- but to no avail. 

In his ruling, Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rosen -- there are no jury trials in Israel -- said Olmert lied to the court. 

Olmert also paid the legal expenses of his trusty former office manager who had – until last week – refused to testify against him.  

The judge said the aide, Shula Zaken, would nevertheless have to pay the price of her refusal to testify. She would not get points for changing her mind when it was too late.

Among those convicted in the scandal was Uri Lupolianski, who succeeded Olmert as Jerusalem mayor.

This actually saddens me. Lupolianski was the city's first ultra-Orthodox mayor. His family founded Yad Sarah which is a social service network that, among other things, provides free medical equipment to those in need.

Olmert was separately convicted in 2012 of breach of trust in another case involving financial irregularities while he was a cabinet minister. He was fined and handed a suspended sentence.

But he dodged conviction on several other cases, in large measure I'm assuming, because Shula Zaken kept "sthum."

Olmert became premier after Ariel Sharon was felled by a stroke. Elected in his own right he served from 2006 to 2009 including during the mismanaged Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah, and Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza.

It was under Olmert that Gilad Shalit was taken prisoner in 2006. Neither Olmert nor his defense minister Ehud Barak were able to locate Shalit who was being held within driving distance of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

Instead they both made bombastic threats against Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Olmert has been making speeches since leaving office. He's criticized Netanyahu for not seducing Mahmud Abbas into making peace with Israel -- even though he couldn't either.

Rather than siding with Israel while he was abroad and with the Israeli government against foreign governments -- ex-PM Olmert has waged a campaign against Netanyahu from the left.

Given Olmert's reputation for integrity, former chief of staff Dan Halutz's reputation for single-minded focus on his work, and ex-Mossad director Meir Dagan reputation for keeping his mouth shut, I was not surprised that the three of them recently went into business together. 

A sentencing hearing is set for April 28 in the Holyland case.

Olmert faces a possible prison term. He would be the first ex-prime minister to be sent to prison in Israel's history. Former president Moshe Katsav is currently serving a sentence for rape.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


I was delighted to attend a March 26 evening at the Begin Center here in Jerusalem dedicated to Prime Minister Menachem Begin's friendship with Evangelical Christians.

It was an evening hosted by the savvy and gracious David Parsons, media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

The Begin Center is marking the 100th Anniversary since Begin's birth with a series of events.

This one dedicated to Begin and Christian Zionists.

The guest speaker was Dr. Daniel Gordis of the Shalem College and author of Menachem Begin: The Struggle for Israel's Soul.

I have not had the chance to read it yet, but is definitely on my list.

According to Parsons: "Of all the successive prime ministers of Israel following the nation's re-birth in 1948, Begin stands out as the first premier to publicly welcome Christian Zionist support and to seek to harness it in defense of the Jewish state. 

"Others before him may have had connections to individual Christian figures, but the story of the Israel-Evangelical partnership as we know it today starts with Begin."

Parsons notes that David Ben-Gurion had encounters with Christian Zionists including Southern Baptist leader Dr. W. A. Criswell.  

And Rev. Pat Robertson sought to reach out to Yitzhak Rabin.

"But Menachem Begin holds the unique distinction of being the first Israeli prime minister to warmly embrace Christian Zionist support in an open manner," says Parsons.

What made Begin different?   

Gordis -- who is an engaging speaker --  made the point that it took Begin, a genuine liberal -- not in the "left" v "right" sense -- but in the classical sense of dedication to individual liberty and tolerance, and Begin the Biblical Jew -- in the sense of someone who lived the Bible to value Christian support.

David Ben Gurion had a solid grasp of Scripture but Begin lived it, said Gordis.

Begin understood that Christians truly know their bible. They know that those who bless Israel will be blessed, said Gordis.

Begin knew that Christian believers appreciated that the Jews dwell alone, and that as a leader of Israel he would sometimes be isolated.

Like Christian believers, Begin understood Jewish destiny in the long biblical sense.

When during the Camp David talks with Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter told him this is the "last opportunity" for peace, Begin thought that absurd, said Gordis.

For an ancient people that has thousands of years of history and thousands of years of destiny ahead the idea that Carter could talk of "last chances" was ridiculous.

Begin was not "Orthodox" in the common sense of the term, but he was the most deeply Jewish PM, said Gordis.

It was Begin who recited Psalms as IAF bombers were dispatched to take out Saddam Hussein's Iraqi nuclear plant.  

Parsons adds that Begin surrounded himself with advisers like Harry Hurwitz who also valued Christian support.

It was Hurwitz who encouraged Begin to support the founding of a Christian Embassy in Jerusalem in 1980, according to Parsons.

Begin sought, welcomed and received the support of Christian leaders such as Rev. Jerry Falwell 

and Ed McAteer.

Begin addressed Christian audiences with warmth and friendship, said Parsons.

I am grateful to the Christian Embassy for its important work -- may they go from strength to strength.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Was the Malaysian Pilot a 'Political Fanatic' as The Sunday Daily Mail Claims? And, if so, is that Fact Pertinent?

The pilot of missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 was a "strident" supporter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the Daily Mail on Sunday reported.

Hours before the plane took off, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah reportedly attended a session of Ibrahim's long-running court proceedings. His colleagues said the captain was preoccupied with Ibrahim's trial.

The British tabloid said its own investigation of the pilot showed him to be a "political fanatic" and that he kept a makeshift flight simulator in his private home.

If the name Ibrahim is slightly familiar it is because he is a former deputy premier of Malaysia. 

He broke with the ruling Barisan Nasional Party and founded an anti-corruption reformist Islamic movement. 

He has been involved in lengthy proceedings following his imprisonment for alleged corruption and homosexual activity-- such activity is formally illegal.

Ibrahim is currently out on bail and the leader of the Malaysian parliamentary opposition. He is planning to run for re-election in his constituency on March 23.

Though viewed as a moderate— Ibrahim is prominently supported in the U.S. by Al Gore— he has spoken darkly of a conspiracy between the Malaysian government, the United States and Israel. He said that the Jews were manipulating Malaysian foreign policy. 

This Ibrahim angle may explain why the Malaysian authorities have been so cagey about releasing information.

Even if it proves a dead end -- it might have proved explosive so they may have wanted to be cautious. 

At its outset, Ibrahim's movement received Saudi funding, according to the Israel-based Gloria Center. His International Institute of Islamic Thought is a front group for the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Discover The Networks.

Investigator are examining the possibility that the pilot's political and religious leanings are somehow related to the plane's disappearance. 

How running a plane into the ocean helps Ibrahim's cause is not easily apparent. 

But then, why did First Officer Gameel Al-Batouti of EgyptAir Flight 990 possibly drive his Boeing 767-300ER into Long Island Sound in October 1999?

But to Zaharie. He had been with the airline since 1981 and a captain for about 10 years. 

The background of co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid is also being investigated in light of photographs showing that he unlawfully allowed female passengers into the cockpit on a previous flight.

Additionally, reportsalso emerged of the presence of an aviation engineer among the passengers, according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph 
reported -- and here I think this is a stretch -- that Saajid Muhammad Badat, a British-born al-Qaida informant, told British authorities that he was aware of a long-standing plot by a group of Malaysians— one of whom reportedly was a pilot— to  hijack and airliner. 

Badat said he once supplied the cell with a shoe bomb and that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now being held in Guantánamo, was the plot's original organizer.

Monday, March 10, 2014

State Department Goes Wobbly on 'Jewish State'

A Palestinian Arab newspaper has reportedly quoted State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki as saying the United States does not necessarily expect Palestinian Arabs to accept that Israel has a right to exist in the Middle East as the state of the Jewish people.

Psaki was interviewed by the Arabic-language Al-Quds newspaper on Saturday.

According to multiple Israeli press reports, Psaki said, "The American position is clear, Israel is a Jewish state. However, we do not see a need that both sides recognize this position as part of the final agreement."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintains that the Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the return of the Jewish people to Israel is at the core of the conflict. The rejectionism signals that that even if the more moderate Palestinian faction signed a peace accord with Israel they would see it as only a temporary expediency – while adhering to the position that Jews have no right to a nation state in the Middle East.   

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank, is scheduled to arrive in Washington on March 17 for meetings with President Barack Obama and other administration officials.

His opposition to accepting the right of a Jewish state in the Middle East is the same as that of the Palestinian Hamas leadership which governs in Gaza.

Psaki also reportedly said that a "framework agreement" outlining the future direction of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has not yet been finalized.

The current round of talks began in July 2013 under heavy Obama administration pressure on both sides. The administration pressured Israel to release hundreds of terrorists -- a factor that explains the uptick in security dangers including on Road 443.

The release of the Gilad Schalit prisoners has already caused major damage to security and deterrence.

At any rate, neither side wanted these talks. If nothing else they agreed that talking would be pointless. The Palestinian Arab "minimum" was well beyond anything Israel could accept. 

Indeed, forced talks that collapse in failure were likely to de-stabilize the Arab street and lead to dashed hopes and increased violence.

But the administration and the Europeans opted for the illusion of momentum.

The administration said that it hoped to wrap up a deal by April 2014. 

That now appears, shall we say, unlikely. 

As a fallback, the State Department wanted to have the two sides initial a "framework agreement" that, based on agreed parameters, would carry the talks past April.

But the two sides can't even agree on that -- certainly not for signature.

Now, according to an Israel Radio on Friday, the U.S. is trying to come up with wording for a "framework agreement" that is satisfactory to the sides though neither Arabs nor Israelis would have to formally endorse it.

By putting the talks between Israel and the PLO on the front burner rather than dealing with Iran, and by simply ignoring that with Hamas in control of Gaza, a deal with the PLO is anyway pointless -- the US has wasted its diplomatic capital.

On the Palestinian conflict with Israel, this administration has managed to get it all wrong.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Sally Bercovic's Moving Talk on Life, Death and Meaning

This is absolutely worth watching:

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