JFP 5/16: House considers NDAA; DEA admits participation in Honduras raid
Just Foreign Policy News, May 16, 2012
House considers NDAA; DEA admits participation in Honduras raid
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Tell the House: Exit Afghanistan, No War with Iran, End "Signature" Drone Strikes
The National Defense Authorization Act is being considered by the House. Amendments have been submitted to expedite U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, oppose war with Iran, and end "signature" drone strikes. Urge your Rep. to support these amendments. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 1-877-429-0678 and ask to be transferred to your Rep. If you can't call, you can write here:
More: House Moots Afghan Exit, Iran War, Military Budget, and 'Signature' Drone Strikes
The Afghanistan amendment could well pass the House; a similar amendment last year got more than 200 votes. If the amendment to block "signature" drone strikes wins significant support, that will send a signal to the Administration to curtail the strikes, and that could save the lives of innocent civilians in Yemen.
Kucinich/Conyers amendment to NDAA: Prohibit conduct of drone strikes on unidentified targets
The offices of Rep. Kucinich and Rep. Conyers have submitted an amendment on the National Defense Authorization Act which would bar the military from conducting drone strikes on unidentified targets ("signature strikes.") FCNL and Peace Action West are backing the amendment.
*Action: Support Turkey's Opposition to Israeli Government's Participation in NATO Summit
The Republic of Turkey has objected to the participation of the Israeli government in the NATO meeting in Chicago on the grounds that the Israeli government still has not been held to account for its assault on the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which left Turkish citizens and an American citizen dead. Veterans of the Gaza Freedom Flotillas have initiated a letter/petition to Turkey in support of its position and in support of sanctions against the Israeli government until it respects international law with respect to Palestinian human rights. You can add your name here:
ACLU et al: support Smith-Amash amendment to NDAA against indefinite detention
The purpose of the amendment is to clarify that indefinite detention is not legal in the United States.
FCNL: 2013 Military Authorization: Amendments to Watch
A roundup of key amendments on the NDAA. [On Afghanistan, Smith and McGovern have joined forces, so there are now two amendments, McGovern and Lee.]
Conyers to Rice on UN: Help Alleviate the Haitian Cholera Crisis
The office of Rep. John Conyers is circulating a letter to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice urging UN authorities to play a central role in addressing the cholera crisis in Haiti [a crisis initiated when UN troops brought cholera to Haiti.] Current signers [5/16] include: Conyers, Cohen, Clarke (NY), Moran, Towns, Grijalva, Rush, Lee, Kucinich, Edwards, Stark, Rangel, Brown, Maloney, Schakowsky, Clarke (MI), Waters, Honda, Clay, Lewis (GA), McCollum, Wilson (FL), Capuano, Blumenauer, McDermott, Ellison, Johnson (GA), Gutierrez, Jackson, Deutch. The Conyers letter was cited in a New York Times editorial. Urge your Rep. to support this letter.
1) DEA officials said Wednesday their agents were working with Honduran military forces during an anti-drug operation in which several civilians were reportedly slain, AP reports. Human rights organizations and Honduran news media say at least four people were killed and several more were wounded when forces aboard the helicopter fired on a boat Friday night in eastern Honduras. U.S. officials said Honduran law enforcement did not initiate the shooting, but rather returned fire after being attacked. [If so, they "returned fire" on people who weren't shooting at them, according to Honduran news reports - JFP.] The U.S. officials said the DEA agents did not fire.
WOLA criticized the U.S. for promoting the use of the military in anti-drug operations, saying that has dramatically increased human rights abuses.
2) The Smith-Amash amendment to the NDAA would clarify that indefinite military detention is not legal in the United States, the ACLU reports. [This evening, Courthouse News reported that a judge in New York ruled that the existing provision of the NDAA is indeed unconstitutional: http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/05/16/46550.htm]
3) Ninety Members of the House of Representatives, including four Republicans, joined a letter to President Obama urging an expedited withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, the office of Rep. Barbara Lee reports.
4) Already this year, 22 coalition service members have been killed by men in Afghan uniform, compared with 35 for all of last year, the New York Times reports. The attacks, and the personal animosity that officials believe have driven most of them, are threatening the joint-training model that is one of the remaining imperatives of the Western mission in Afghanistan, the Times says.
5) Last week, a particularly egregious series of NATO air strikes in Logar, Kapisa, Badghis and Helmand provinces that left at least eighteen Afghan civilians dead, notes Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation. Countless such incidents have occurred since 2001, and a depressing and familiar pattern has followed each one: villagers claim civilian casualties, the Afghan government protests, NATO promises an investigation and then little is heard about the story again. Dreyfuss notes that while most of the civilians killed in Afghanistan die as the result of attacks by the Taliban and its allies, most Afghans don't make distinctions between civilians killed by the U.S. and its allies or by the Taliban. The dead are dead, and they're killed because foreign forces are waging a war on Afghan soil.
6) Iraq War vet Greg Broseus wants to return his medals to NATO officials on Sunday during the NATO summit, the Chicago Tribune reports. He says he doesn't feel he earned the medals justly, because U.S. troops in Iraq were occupiers.
7) The Santa Fe City Council approved a resolution expressing opposition to any attack on Iran, the Albuquerque Journal reports. Santa Fe joins Charlottesville, Va.; Oakland, Calif.; and the National Council of Mayors in voicing opposition to an attack on Iran, the paper says. [Voters in Urbana, IL passed such a measure by referendum in 2008: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/illinois-town-rejects-war_b_85298.html - JFP.]
8) Syrian rebels have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the U.S., the Washington Post reports. Many officials now consider an expanding military confrontation to be inevitable, the Post says. Opposition figures said they have been in direct contact with State Department officials to designate worthy rebel recipients of arms and pinpoint locations for stockpiles.
Despite administration hopes that the Sunni-led Syrian National Congress would become an umbrella organization, it has failed to win support from minority Syrian Christians, Kurds, Druze and Assad's Alawite sect, the Post notes. All have resisted what they say is the group's domination by the Muslim Brotherhood.
9) Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, said Obama had "moved to the center" on both Iran and the peace process, and that his policies today resemble those of his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Haaretz reports. Kristol said "the difference" between Obama and Mitt Romney on issues relating to Iran and Israel "is not that great." The ECI has run billboard campaigns describing Obama as "not pro-Israel."
10) UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called for an investigation into the killing of Erick Martínez Ávila, a Honduran journalist and gay rights activist, UNESCO reports.
1) US agents on Honduran military operation
Martha Mendoza, Associated Press, May 16, 2012
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials said Wednesday that their agents were working with Honduran military forces aboard a helicopter during an anti-drug operation in which several people were reportedly slain.
Human rights organizations and Honduran news media say at least four people were killed and several more were wounded when forces aboard the helicopter fired on a boat Friday night in eastern Honduras. "We were there in a support role, working with our counterparts," DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said in Washington.
U.S. government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because their statements had not been authorized, said Honduran law enforcement did not initiate the shooting, but rather returned fire after being attacked. The officials said the DEA agents did not fire.
When asked about the shooting, U.S. Embassy official Matthias Mitman in Tegucigalpa provided a written statement saying that "the U.S. assisted Honduran forces with logistical support in this operation" as part of efforts to fight narcotics trafficking.
The shooting took place on the Patuca River in northeastern Honduras in a region known as Gracias a Dios. National newspapers in Honduras quoted local officials as saying the victims were diving for lobster and shellfish.
George Withers, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, which promotes human rights and democracy in the region, said his organization is concerned that DEA agents are frequently embedded with police and military throughout Central and South America for counter-drug operations. He said it's disconcerting to have Latin American military forces engaged in police work.
"We have seen over the years that whenever the military interfaces with the populace, incidents of human rights abuses go way up," he said. "We're concerned that the U.S. is encouraging the use of the military for police work."
In a written statement, the Committee of the Families of the Disappeared of Honduras, a human rights organization, said that "the so called Honduran authorities have the ethical and political duty to demand from the U.S. Department of State an explanation and a public apology, and to punish those responsible."
2) 36 Hours Left! Tell Congress to Pass the Smith-Amash Amendment to the NDAA
Chris Anders, ACLU, May 16, 2012
Thirty-six hours might not seem like much time. But we are hoping it will be just enough time for all Americans to convince our members of Congress that no president should have the authority to order the military to detain civilians without charge or trial in the United States, or put anyone in our country on trial in front of military commissions.
Using indefinite military detention of civilians here at home in the United States is unconstitutional and illegal and we do not believe it is permitted by last year's National Defense Authorization Act - but incredibly, some top members of Congress seem to think it is perfectly ok and allowed by the NDAA. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has kept himself busy in the Senate arguing that there is a war going on in your backyard and using the military to lock people up without charge or trial is a good idea. He has been more recently joined by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who believes in indefinite military detention without charge or trial here at home.
But now is your chance to fight back. No one should be picked up far from a battlefield and locked away without charge or trial by the military, and certainly not here in the United States itself.
Some key members of the House of Representatives are putting party differences aside and are trying to make clear that last year's law doesn't permit indefinite military detention within the United States. They can't fix the problem for the whole world right now, but they are committed to making clear that the United States is off-limits to indefinite military detention. They also want to make clear that military commissions cannot be used for civilians in the United States.
On Thursday afternoon or Friday, a bipartisan group of congressmen will offer the Smith-Amash amendment to this year's NDAA. They range from Tea Party-endorsed Republicans to senior Democrats, including Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), Paul Garamendi (D-Calif.), John Duncan (R-Tenn.), and many others from both parties. And a broad range of groups, from the ACLU to the Gun Owners of America to the United Methodist Church have endorsed it.
3) Congresswoman Barbara Lee Urges Colleagues to Catch up with the Will of the American People and End the War in Afghanistan
Office of Rep. Barbara Lee, May 16, 2012
Washington – Today 91 Members of the House of Representatives, led by Barbara Lee (D-CA), sent a letter to President Obama urging an expedited withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. Ninety Members of the House of Representatives signed the letter, including four Republicans. The Congresswoman was joined by a dozen colleagues at a morning press conference.
Today, the House of Representatives is scheduled to begin debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which provides war funding, at the same time President Obama prepares for the NATO summit in Chicago. The bi-partisan group of Members outlined the need to discuss the need to make a change in policy in Afghanistan.
"I believe that it is time for Members of Congress to stand with seven out of ten Americans who oppose the war in Afghanistan," said Congresswoman Lee. "There is no military solution in Afghanistan, which is why I am pushing Republican leadership to allow me to offer an amendment to the NDAA that would bring about a responsible and immediate end to the war in Afghanistan. The amendment would end combat operations while protecting our troops by ensuring that any dollar directed to Afghanistan can only be spent for the safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors."
The Congresswoman was joined by Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC), Ron Paul (R-TX), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Laura Richardson (D-CA), Janice Hahn (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-NY), and James McGovern (D-MA). Congresswoman Lee thanked her colleagues for joining her at the press conference, noting that "the silence on Capitol Hill on this issue has been deafening."
[The letter to Obama can be found on Rep. Lee's website at the link - JFP.]
4) As Trained Afghans Turn Enemy, a U.S.-Led Imperative Is in Peril
Matthew Rosenberg, New York Times, May 15, 2012
Combat Outpost Sangesar, Afghanistan - A burst of gunfire snapped First Sgt. Joseph Hissong awake. Then came another, and another, all with the familiar three-round bursts of an American assault rifle - and the unfamiliar sound of its rounds being fired in his direction.
The shooters were close. His first thought: "Are Taliban inside the wire?"
But it was not the Taliban. Over the next 52 minutes, as his company of paratroopers braved bullets and rocket-propelled grenades in the predawn darkness to retake one of their own guard towers in southern Afghanistan, they found themselves facing what has become a more pernicious threat: the Afghan soldiers who live and fight alongside the Americans.
The attack on Sergeant Hissong's company, on March 1 at Combat Outpost Sangesar, left two Americans dead along with two Afghan assailants, but it was not the first time that Afghan solders had attacked forces from the American-led coalition, nor would it be the last of what the military calls "green on blue" attacks. Already this year, 22 coalition service members have been killed by men in Afghan uniform, compared with 35 for all of last year, according to coalition officials.
Yet with the coalition as a matter of policy offering only the barest of details about the attacks - the episode at Sangesar, for instance, was disclosed in a 71-word coalition statement - interviews conducted during a week at this outpost provided a rare and detailed account of the violence.
The attacks, and the personal animosity that officials believe have driven most of them, are threatening the joint-training model that is one of the remaining imperatives of the Western mission in Afghanistan. The future of that mission will be a main topic at a NATO summit meeting this weekend, as American and European leaders discuss whether to accelerate their drawdown.
5) The Civilian Toll in Afghanistan
Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, May 15, 2012 - 8:04 AM ET
In the 1970s, Americans asked, à la John Kerry, who will be the last American to die for a lost cause in Vietnam? In 2012, many Afghans-including President Karzai-are increasing asking: Which Afghan will be the last to die for America's misguided, hopeless war in Afghanistan? For each American killed in Afghanistan since 2001, probably a dozen or more Afghans has died, and the toll is mounting.
Karzai is engaged in a delicate balancing act between the United States, which funds his government and supports his very existence, and his domestic constituents, more and more angry and bitter over the civilian toll, from air strikes, night raids and other incidents of "collateral damage." Last week, Karzai tilted explicitly in favor of Afghan civilians, just days after signing a long-term strategic accord with the United States intended to govern US-Afghan relations through 2024.
"If the lives of Afghan people are not safe, the signing of the strategic partnership has no meaning," said Karzai. His comments came after a particularly egregious series of NATO air strikes in Logar, Kapisa, Badghis and Helmand provinces that left at least eighteen Afghan civilians dead. Karzai's office said that the toll was higher, and that "tens of civilians" were killed in the attacks.
Local officials and members of parliament in Afghanistan charged that the Badghis incident alone resulted in fifteen dead civilians, including women and children. Before being summoned to meet Karzai, the NATO-ISAF command said only that three insurgents were killed. It's very possible that had Karzai not spoken out, no investigation at all would have happened.
Countless such incidents have occurred since 2001, and a depressing and familiar pattern has followed each one: villagers claim civilian casualties, the Afghan government protests, NATO promises an investigation and then little is heard about the story again. In this case, the US-led command conducted "preliminary investigations" into the bombings and issued a statement expressing "deepest regrets and sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who died or were injured during coalition airstrikes on May 4 in PanKalay and May 6 in Nowbar villages."
But it's unlikely that we'll ever see the (classified) results of the final investigations into these incidents, which are almost always kept under wraps.
Six other civilians died in Helmand, reports AFP: 'In a separate incident, in the volatile Helmand province in southern Afghanistan on Friday, six civilians were killed in a NATO airstrike, an Afghan official said. "Six people-a woman, two boys and three girls-were killed in a foreign forces airstrike on Friday in Sangin district," provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi told AFP.'
In advance of the NATO meeting in Chicago, the United Nations announced that its most recent figures show that, overall, civilian casualties in Afghanistan are down by 20 percent in 2012, and they're expected to release a report this week reflecting that fact. And, of course, most of the civilians killed in Afghanistan die as the result of attacks by the Taliban and its allies, including suicide bombings and roadside IEDs. But most Afghans don't make distinctions between civilians killed by the United States and its allies or by the Taliban. The dead are dead, and they're killed because foreign forces are waging a war on Afghan soil.
6) Iraq War vet talks about why he wants to return his medals during NATO summit
Ohio guardsman's hitch as gunner in Iraq turned him against war
Dawn Turner Trice, Chicago Tribune, May 14, 2012
Greg Broseus joined the Ohio National Guard in 2002 to help pay for college. He wound up spending all of 2005 in Iraq as a gunner on a convoy whose mission was to search for roadside bombs. For his service, he received 11 medals. But now he wants to give them all back.
On Sunday, he plans to participate in a unity march for reconciliation and justice at the 25th NATO summit. The march, organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, will culminate in a ceremony in which veterans will get rid of their medals.
Organizers said they wish they could hand over their medals to a NATO representative. Since that's unlikely, contingency plans range from members erecting a memorial site where the medals would be pinned to an American flag to tossing them over a barricade near McCormick Place, where NATO officials will be meeting.
"I would love to give my medals directly to a NATO official," said Broseus, 28. "I don't feel like I earned them in a just manner. I felt I was more of an occupier in Iraq than anything else, and I want them to know how that feels."
He said that if he could have a moment with any member of the world's largest military alliance, he would say that while some engagements may be unavoidable, there are few, if any, upsides to war.
"War is not good for the aggressor or the people who are being attacked or (whose country is being) occupied," he said. "What I heard every single day when I was in Iraq - and everybody said it - was: 'What the (expletive) are we doing here?'
"We didn't feel like we were doing much to protect the American people. We were only occupying two different countries (Iraq and Afghanistan) that didn't want to be occupied."
Now a photography student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Broseus said he's often reminded that he entered the National Guard to help pay for college - which still covers only a fraction of his education.
But something else haunts him. "I can't forget that we were there looking for devices that were there because we were there," he said. "The easiest way to have solved that problem was for us not to be there."
7) Council Says No To War in Iran
Kiera Hay, Albuquerque Journal, Thu, May 10, 2012
The Santa Fe City Council added its voice Wednesday night to the political chorus on Iran by approving a resolution expressing opposition to any attack on the country.
The measure states that the City Council "on behalf of the citizens of Santa Fe, petitions the President and the Congress of the United States to: say NO to any attack on Iran; say NO to any pre-emptive strike on Iran; say NO to U.S. weapons on Iran; use diplomacy and NOT threats in negotiations with Iran; and to NOT allow U.S. planes, weaponry, intelligence or technology be used in a pre-emptive attack on Iran."
Its passage was met with applause from around 20 supporters.
The resolution was drafted by a coalition of more than 10 antiwar, religious, grass-roots and labor organizations. With Wednesday's approval, Santa Fe joins Charlottesville, Va.; Oakland, Calif.; and the National Council of Mayors in voicing opposition to an attack on Iran.
Mayor David Coss, who introduced the measure, said he disagreed with the notion that the Santa Fe City Council should mind its own business.
"I just can't accept the premise that the citizens' representatives can't say, 'I'm tired of war.' We don't want war to be the first option. We want to say no to that, and let this president, the Congress, know where we're at," Coss said.
8) Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors' money, U.S. coordination
Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly, Washington Post, May 15
Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials.
Obama administration officials emphasized that the United States is neither supplying nor funding the lethal material, which includes antitank weaponry. Instead, they said, the administration has expanded contacts with opposition military forces to provide the gulf nations with assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure.
"We are increasing our nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, and we continue to coordinate our efforts with friends and allies in the region and beyond in order to have the biggest impact on what we are collectively doing," said a senior State Department official, one of several U.S. and foreign government officials who discussed the evolving effort on the condition of anonymity.
The U.S. contacts with the rebel military and the information-sharing with gulf nations mark a shift in Obama administration policy as hopes dim for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Many officials now consider an expanding military confrontation to be inevitable.
Material is being stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border. Opposition activists who two months ago said the rebels were running out of ammunition said this week that the flow of weapons - most still bought on the black market in neighboring countries or from elements of the Syrian military - has significantly increased after a decision by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states to provide millions of dollars in funding each month.
Syria's Muslim Brotherhood also said it has opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said Mulham al-Drobi, a member of the Brotherhood's executive committee.
Administration officials also held talks in Washington this week with a delegation of Kurds from sparsely populated eastern Syria, where little violence has occurred. The talks included discussion of what one U.S. official said remained the "theoretical" possibility of opening a second front against Assad's forces that would compel him to move resources from the west.
Syria will also be on the agenda at this weekend's NATO summit in Chicago, according to administration officials.
Opposition figures said they have been in direct contact with State Department officials to designate worthy rebel recipients of arms and pinpoint locations for stockpiles, but U.S. officials said that there currently are no military or intelligence personnel on the ground in Syria.
The Pentagon has prepared options for Syria extending all the way to air assaults to destroy the nation's air defenses. U.S. officials, however, have said that such involvement remains very unlikely. Instead, they said, the United States and others are moving forward toward increased coordination of intelligence and arming for the rebel forces.
The Sunni-led gulf states, which would see the fall of Assad as a blow against Shiite Iran, would welcome such assistance, but they would like a more formal approach. One gulf official described the Obama administration's gradual evolution from an initial refusal to consider any action outside the political realm to a current position falling "between 'here's what we need to do' and 'we're doing it.'"
"Various people are hoping that the U.S. will step up its efforts to undermine or confront the Syrian regime," the gulf official said. "We want them to get rid" of Assad.
Since the uprising began early last year, U.S. efforts to promote a political solution have been stymied by Assad's political intransigence and his ongoing military assault on Syrian towns and cities, as well as the opposition's failure to agree on a unified political leadership or game plan.
Despite administration hopes that the Sunni-led Syrian National Congress would become an umbrella organization, it has failed to win support from minority Syrian Christians, Kurds, Druze and Assad's Alawite sect. All have resisted what they say is the group's domination by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Free Syrian Army, the opposition military force, has resisted direction from the fractured political opposition. Its troops, many of them Syrian army defectors, are said to operate in independent entities spread across Syria, leading the United States and others in the past to express caution about assisting them.
9) J Street's Ben-Ami: 'U.S. Congressmen live in fear of pro-Israeli intimidation'
William Kristol, head of right-wing Emergency Committee for Israel, stuns debate audience in New York: 'I agree with Obama's Israel policies to a considerable degree.'
Chemi Shalev, Haaretz, May.16, 2012 | 3:07 PM
Many American senators and congressmen "keep quiet" and refrain from criticizing Israeli policies because they "live in fear" and are "intimidated" by pro-Israeli groups such as the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), according to J Street founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami.
Ben-Ami's bald assertion came during a debate with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a director of ECI, held on Tuesday night at Manhattan's palatial B'nai Jeshurun Synagogue and moderated by Jane Eisner, the editor of the Forward. Ben Ami said that because of accusatory ECI ads in the New York Times and other media outlets, members of Congress are afraid of being branded as anti-Israel and are deterred by the "ramifications" of voicing open criticism of Israeli policies.
It was a rare moment of tension in an otherwise civil and even friendly debate, which pitted representatives of the two diametrically opposed poles of the current Jewish debate on Israel – the controversial lobby J Street on the left and the no-less contentious Emergency Committee on the right. The crowd of 700-800, mainly from Manhattan's Upper West Side, clearly favored Ben Ami's positions though they were obviously pleased by Kristol's agreement to debate him.
Another reason for the amicable nature of the debate was that Kristol "didn't supply the goods," as Israelis would put it. He voiced surprisingly moderate positions about President Obama and about the creation of a Palestinian state, which seemed completely at odds with the harsh tone of ECI advertisements and especially of its popular 30 minute television film "Daylight: The Story of Obama and Israel."
While the film depicts Obama's attitude toward Israel as "alarming" and "damaging to the relationship" between the U.S. and Israel, Kristol told the audience that Obama had, in fact, "moved to the center" on both Iran and the peace process, and that his policies today resemble those of his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
And while the ECI committee has run billboard campaigns describing Obama as "not pro-Israel," Kristol told the audience that the president had evolved considerably between his 2009 Cairo speech and his 2012 AIPAC speech, and that "the difference" between Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney on issues relating to Iran and Israel "is not that great."
"I am happy to agree with Obama to a considerable degree," said Kristol, one of America's most well-known conservative commentators. He added that he does not expect Israel to be "that great an issue" in the upcoming November elections.
Nonetheless, Kristol elicited howls of protest from the audience when he predicted that the next U.S. secretary of state in a "Romney administration" would be former Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Lieberman. Ben-Ami wryly noted, "Israel already has a Lieberman as foreign minister."
Ben-Ami, who deals with the Israeli-Palestinian issue seven days a week, was clearly better informed on the details of the issues than Kristol, who is a major player in the overall Republican agenda. Kristol repeatedly cited his own ignorance in order to dodge open disagreements with Ben-Ami, conceding that he doesn't know much about the blockade of Gaza, that he is not aware of the details of Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and that he is incapable of judging whether Israeli democracy and the rule of law are indeed endangered by the government's refusal to carry out High Court orders to evacuate the settlements at Migron and at the Ulpana sector of Beit-El, as Ben-Ami asserted.
But, he protested, "This is what American Jews have to do? Criticize the level of democracy and the rule of law in Israel? It is certainly better than in any other country in the Middle East and in other parts of the world." Ben-Ami drew enthusiastic support from the audience when he retorted that large parts of the American Jewish community "won't stand for" Kristol's "Israel right or wrong" attitude.
The Ben-Ami - Kristol debate, coming on the heels of a similar debate held two weeks ago between controversial author Peter Beinart and the conservative Shalem Center's Daniel Gordis at Columbia University, appears to signal an attempt by the Jewish community – at least in New York - to create an ongoing dialogue between its warring "factions" and to arrest the polarization of the community.
The debates may also herald an end to attempts to ostracize organizations such as J Street and viewpoints like those espoused by Beinart, and to recognize the legitimacy of their hitherto shunned left-wing views.
As an Israeli observer, I must admit I found myself envious of the ability of the two debaters and of their audience to conduct such a potentially volatile political debate in an atmosphere of mutual respect. In Israel, I suspect, such civilized debates may no longer be possible.
10) Director-General deplores murder of Honduran journalist and rights activist Eric Martínez Ávila
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova today called for an investigation into the killing of Erick Martínez Ávila, a journalist and gay rights activist.
"I condemn the murder of Erick Martínez Ávila," declared the Director-General. "I am deeply concerned about this second journalist killed in Honduras in a month and call on the authorities to bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime against the basic human right of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy and rule of law and it is essential that journalists be allowed to contribute freely to political and social debate."
Erick Martínez Ávila, 32 was a spokesman for Kukulcán, an organization that defends lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Ávila's body was found on 7 May, two days after he had been reported missing. He is said to have been strangled.
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