A Subdued Vladimir Putin Calls for ‘Mutually Beneficial’ Ties With U.S.

MOSCOW — After the outpouring of euphoria among Russia’s political elite over the victory of Donald J. Trump, President Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday gave a more measured response in his annual address to the nation, calling for cooperation but expressing misgivings over some of Mr. Trump’s statements about nuclear weapons.

The Russian leader appeared remarkably subdued at what was widely seen as a moment of triumph for him, with his popularity rising on a cresting wave of anti-establishment and often pro-Russian populism in Europe and America.

Speaking to an audience of political and economic barons in the ornate St. George’s Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace, Mr. Putin praised his compatriots for rallying around “patriotic values” and, counterintuitively, for eschewing the lure of populism.

He lamented that around the world, “even in the most seemingly affluent countries and stable regions, more and more fractures and conflicts on political, ethnic, religious and social grounds are rising.”

Those remarks had to surprise Western officials who have frequently accused the Kremlin of stirring up and supporting precisely those anti-establishment forces so as to sow disorder and weaken liberal democracies. Germany’s foreign intelligence chief, Bruno Kahl, warned in an interview published on Tuesday that Russia, seeking to create “political uncertainty,” was bombarding his country with disinformation before elections next year.

Mr. Putin did not mention Mr. Trump by name, saying only that Russia wanted to work with the incoming administration “to normalize and begin to develop bilateral relations on an equal and mutually beneficial basis.”

His comments largely reprised the message he gave Mr. Trump in a telephone call soon after the Nov. 8 election, when both men agreed that something needed to be done to improve “the absolutely unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations.”

In a departure from his speeches in recent years, Mr. Putin avoided sarcastic or downright angry comments about the United States. But he also made clear that Russia demanded to be treated as a global power, not the “regional power” that Mr. Obama described it as in 2014, infuriating Moscow.

“We have a joint responsibility for the provision of international security and stability, for the strengthening of anti-proliferation regimes,” Mr. Putin said, referring to efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump suggested that more countries should acquire nuclear weapons so that they can defend themselves without Washington’s help. He also threatened to dismantle the international agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program.

In another apparent reference to Mr. Trump’s campaign statements on nuclear weapons policy, which included assertions that the American arsenal had “fallen way behind” Russia’s and needed to catch up, Mr. Putin warned against any attempt by Washington to disrupt what he called the balance of nuclear firepower between the two countries.

Mr. Putin’s mixing of pointed reminders of Russia’s status as a nuclear power with a measured expression of hope for an end to the current deep chill in relations with Washington contrasted sharply with the unalloyed glee expressed by many Russian politicians and commentators after Mr. Trump’s election victory. In the run-up to the election, state-controlled news outlets cast Hillary Clinton as a Russophobic hawk and warmonger while Mr. Trump was presented as the candidate who would bring a new and sunny dawn to relations between Washington and Moscow.

Syria and the importance of fighting Islamic extremism are areas in which Mr. Putin’s interests and Mr. Trump’s statements seem to coincide. Mr. Putin, who has repeatedly accused the Obama administration of mollycoddling extremists, said the United States needed to focus on “a real rather than dreamt-up threat” and join Russia in fighting international terrorism.

The “dreamt-up” threat seemed to refer to fear in Washington and many European capitals that Russia has become a menace to security since it seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and supported pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ignoring American efforts to destroy the Islamic State, Mr. Putin said the problem of international terrorism “is being solved by our servicemen in Syria,” where Russian warplanes have helped President Bashar al-Assad regain control of large sections of Aleppo, once Syria’s biggest city, from rebels, some of whom are supported by the United States.

A new foreign policy doctrine signed by Mr. Putin on Thursday underscored the problems with Russia’s relations with the West and set a high bar for any swift easing of tensions. The doctrine, a summary of how Moscow sees the world and what it wants, stressed the gravity of “the serious crisis between Russia and the West” and blamed this on “geopolitical expansion” by NATO and the European Union. It said Russia and the United States could work together only on the basis of “equality, mutual respect for interests and noninterference in the internal affairs of each other.”

Insisting that Russia does “not accept any attempts to organize pressure, either military, political, economic or of any other kind,” the policy doctrine said Moscow “reserves the right to react hard to unfriendly actions, including through the strengthening of national defense and the taking of reciprocal or asymmetrical measures.”

Most of Mr. Putin’s hourlong speech, however, was devoted to domestic issues, not foreign relations. He acknowledged that two years of economic decline had brought great hardship but insisted this had only made the country stronger, and he focused on sectors of the economy that he said have done well, like agriculture and high-tech.

While proposing no significant reforms to revive Russia’s sluggish economy — which shrank by 3.7 percent last year and has contracted further this year, though at a much slower pace — Mr. Putin said he had ordered the government to work out a “substantive action plan” to ensure that Russia achieves higher growth rates than elsewhere by 2020 and elevates its position in the global economy.

Russia’s economy ranks around 13th in the world, on the basis of its gross domestic product, behind countries like Australia, Canada and South Korea

What shape such an economic development plan might take has been the object of bitter feuding between more liberal members of the government, who favor privatization, and those who want the state to keep control of crucial industries. The liberal camp suffered a major setback earlier this month with the late-night arrest on murky corruption charges of one of the country’s main economic policy makers, Aleksei Ulyukaev, a liberal stalwart who had served until his arrest as minister of economic development.

Mr. Putin said parliamentary elections in Russia in September, which delivered a resounding victory to his United Russia party, had “proven that we live in a healthy society that is confident in its fair demands, in which immunity to populism and demagoguery is growing stronger and the importance of mutual support, solidarity and unity are highly valued.”

A year after the San Bernardino terror attack, the FBI is still struggling to answer key questions

In the year since Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, authorities have conducted more than 600 interviews, gathered more than 500 pieces of evidence and served dozens of search warrants.

They launched an unprecedented legal battle with Apple in an effort to unlock Farook’s iPhone and deployed divers to scour a nearby lake in search of electronic equipment the couple might have dumped there.

But despite piecing together a detailed picture of the couple’s actions up to and including the massacre, federal officials acknowledge they still don’t have answers to some of the critical questions posed in the days after the Dec. 2, 2015, attack at the Inland Regional Center.

Most important, the FBI said it is still trying to determine whether anyone was aware of the couple’s plot or helped them in any way. From the beginning, agents have tried to figure out whether others might have known something about Farook and Malik’s plans, since the couple spent months gathering an arsenal of weapons and building bombs in the garage of their Redlands home.

Officials said they don’t have enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime but stressed the investigation is still open.

“There are unanswered questions in this case,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. “There is an ongoing investigation into did they get financial or material support from anyone else.”

The FBI has made several public appeals to help build a timeline of the terrorist couple’s movements between the attack and the beginning of a high-speed pursuit that would end with police fatally shooting them. In particular, officials said they could not account for the couple’s movements during a key 18-minute period.

But after checking video surveillance and interviewing countless witnesses, the FBI said, it still can’t say where Farook and Malik were during that time.

Another frustration has been the couple’s electronics. Early on in the investigation, federal officials stressed that the couple’s digital footprint would be key to building a complete picture of the plot.

The FBI was finally able to get a third party to unlock Farook’s work-issued iPhone. But officials said it didn’t yield any clues to the attack. The FBI believed the pair tried to destroy hard drives and other electronic devices, but the investigation has not yielded much on that front.

Experts said these gaps, while vexing, are far from uncommon in such sprawling investigations.

“There are always going to be untied threads,” said Brian Levin, a terrorism expert and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “And while this is most likely the work of a duo, there is always enough threads to leave open the question: What did those closest to the assailants actually know?”

Levin and others cited the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. More than 20 years later, some questions about that terrorist attack remain unanswered.

Investigators quickly arrested Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the case. McVeigh suggested others knew about their plans, There also remains a variety of questions over the timeline of the attack and whether McVeigh really had the sophistication to mastermind such a destructive plot on his own.

Brian Jenkins, a terrorism expert and senior advisor to Rand Corp.’s president, cited the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing case as another example in which terrorism investigators pieced together many of the facts but failed to answer all the questions.

“When you are recreating the events before and after an attack, there are lot of pieces and sometimes there are gaps,” Jenkins said.

Despite the lingering uncertainties in the San Bernardino terror attack, federal officials were able to lock down some key facts in the early days of the investigation.

Farook traveled to the Middle East before the attack and came back with his wife.  Farook was born in Illinois, but Malik was raised in Pakistan and lived in Saudi Arabia before marrying him. From the beginning, one of the biggest questions was whether the attack was part of a larger international plot hatched by Islamic State or some other Islamic terror group. Malik posted a note on Facebook pledging allegiance to Islamic State shortly after the attack, authorities said.

The FBI concluded fairly quickly that the couple were “self-radicalized.” They were inspired by terrorist groups, officials said, but did not receive financial support from any foreign or domestic organizations.

“They are essentially homegrown terrorists, self–radicalized and inspired by those overseas,” Jenkins said.

A few weeks after the massacre, authorities alleged that Farook and a friend, Enrique Marquez Jr., had planned an earlier bombing and shooting plot against a community college and drivers on the 91 Freeway but aborted the idea. Marquez is accused of purchasing two military-style rifles that Farook and Malik used in the attack, which also wounded 22 people at the regional center and two police officers in the final shootout.

But federal authorities said Marquez bought the weapons years earlier and didn’t know about last year’s plot or participate in it.

One of the early questions for investigators was whether those closest to the couple knew what they had been planning. Family members have said Farook was outspoken about his fundamentalist views but said they had no idea he planned violence. The FBI has said it found no evidence that Farook’s relatives had prior knowledge of the assault.

The question of whether others had suspicions about the couple’s activities has loomed large and was an issue in the presidential race. President-elect Donald Trump claimed during his campaign that neighbors saw explosives at the home of the attackers but neglected to alert law enforcement. Others have also suggested neighbors didn’t report activities at the home out of some sense of political correctness because the couple was Muslim. But there is no evidence that witnesses saw weapons in the Redlands townhouse.

Levin said it’s human nature to suspect that such a deadly massacre had to be the work of more than just two people.

“The fact the loner or duo can operate autonomously and do such damage is all the more concerning to people and leads people to search for greater explanation when gaps in information exist,” he said. But  “operationally everything we know suggests no one else is involved.”

Farook left his Redlands home at 8:37 a.m. on Dec. 2 and arrived at the Inland Regional Center 10 minutes later. His co-workers were gathered for a holiday event and training session there. He carried with him a bag containing a bomb, authorities say. He stuck around the center for about two hours before leaving. He returned to the event at 10:56 a.m. with his wife. They were armed with AR-15s and their faces were covered. They sprayed the room with bullets before fleeing. They left behind an explosive device made of several pipe bombs.

From there, it appears that the couple Zigzagged around greater San Bernardino. Traffic cameras, surveillance footage, witnesses and cell phone towers gave FBI agents glimpses of their seemingly haphazard route.

But the FBI cannot account for their whereabouts between 12:59 and 1:17 p.m. When the couple resurfaced, they were about a mile from the regional center, which by that time was surrounded by police and federal agents. Investigators believe they might have been returning to the scene in an attempt to remotely detonate a bomb they left behind, possibly in a bid to kill first-responders. No bomb went off.

FBI officials have said the 18-minute gap is a crucial part of the investigation because it’s possible the couple met with someone during that time, though investigators can only speculate.

“Until we know what happened in those 18 minutes, I am uncomfortable, and my investigators are uncomfortable,” FBI assistant director David Bowdich said earlier this year.

The FBI said it still has limited evidence of how the couple planned the attack or information about why they targeted Farook’s colleagues. Investigators had hoped the couple’s electronic equipment could provide answers. But that’s been another struggle.

Agents found that the hard drive of Farook’s home computer was missing.

In an effort to find the hard drive,  FBI agents scoured the bottom of Seccombe Lake, in the heart of San Bernardino. The couple had pulled over briefly in a parking lot near the lake at 11:45 a.m. FBI agents now theorize that the hard drive might have been thrown into a trash bin and be buried in a landfill.

A second cellphone Farook carried was so badly broken by him that investigators could not extract any data. The unlocking of the iPhone 5c that set off a national furor over security and privacy revealed only work-related data from his job as a health inspector, Eimiller said.

“The goal was to exploit all available digital evidence in this case in the event it contained data of investigative value,” Eimiller said.

Sources say the phone, which was owned by San Bernardino County, yielded limited information. It mostly had schedules for Farook’s health inspectors.

Authorities still aren’t exactly sure why the couple made the Christmas party the target of their attack. San Bernardino Police Lt. Mike Madden noted that in 2014, Farook attended another work event in that room, which was decorated for Christmas. Malik later stated on an online account something to the effect that she felt Muslims should not have to attend Christian events, Madden said.

Madden added that she did not specifically mention the event in her posting and that it’s far from clear that it played any role in the attack.

“It is open to speculation why they chose the party,” he said. “I don’t know if we can say with any certainty why the party was chosen apart from it was a soft target.”

San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan agreed.

“There are a lot of questions and we don’t have all the answers,” he said Thursday. “We never established the motive. The best we can do is theorize.”

Experts said it could take years to better understand how the San Bernardino plot was hatched and carried out. And even then, there will likely be many nagging, unanswered questions.

“The scope of what the San Bernardino couple prepared for is a reason alone for investigators to continue digging,” said Erroll Southers, a former presidential nominee for assistant secretary of the Transportation Security Administrationand a USC professor of homeland security. “In terrorism investigations there can be frustrations. At this point they may have exhausted the electronic trail. But it doesn’t mean they are going to stop.”

Trump lawyers file objection to delay Michigan recount

 

President-elect Donald Trump‘s lawyers have filed an objection to the recount in Michigan, delaying and potentially blocking a review that was slated to begin Friday.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (R) said that the state’s Bureau of Elections received the objection from Trump representatives on Thursday, a day after Green Party nominee Jill Stein filed for a recount.

“Under Michigan law, the recount is halted when the Board of State Canvassers resolves the objection,” Johnson said in a statement. “The board, which by law must resolve the complaint within five days, is scheduled to consider resolution of the objection, tomorrow, Dec. 2.“If the objection is not adopted by the board, the recount can commence the second business day following the board’s decision. If the board adopts the objection, the recount would be ended.”

Lawyers representing Trump outlined their case for ending Stein’s recount effort in a 36-page filing to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Thursday.

“Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein received barely 1 percent of the vote in the 2016 Michigan presidential election, finishing over 2.2 million votes behind the winner,” they wrote.

“Stein, in fact, finished no higher than fourth in any state where she appeared on the ballot,” they added. “Yet despite being just a blip on the electoral radar, Stein has now commandeered Michigan’s electoral process.

“Simply put, Michigan should not grant this lawless, insulting request, and its voters should not risk having the Electoral College door knocked off its hinges, all because a 1-percent candidate is dissatisfied with the election’s outcome.”

Trump’s lawyers said Stein is not entitled to a recount as her election results mean she was not “aggrieved” by any alleged fraud or misconduct.

The legal team also noted Michigan would struggle to finish a full recount by Dec. 13, the deadline for casting its Electoral College votes. Trump’s attorneys added Stein did not properly sign or swear to her petition recount, rendering it void.

Stein filed her request for a recount in the state on Wednesday, two days after Trump was formally declared the winner in the traditionally blue state, which he won by 10,704 votes.

Stein’s campaign has also filed for recounts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The president-elect has won all three states, which had gone blue in recent elections.

Obama signs waiver to prevent moving U.S. embassy to Jerusalem

(JTA) — President Barack Obama signed a waiver to prevent moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It is the eighth time Obama has signed the waiver, which must be renewed every six months.

Congress passed a law in 1995 mandating the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, but allowed the president to exercise a waiver, citing the national security interests of the United States.

President-elect Donald Trump pledged during the 2016 campaign to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

The end of liberalism as we know it

The refusal to accept the election results that was accompanied by violent protests, claims of election fraud and hateful labeling of the large and diverse public that voted for Donald Trump, mark the end of the long-held Liberal pretense of holding the moral high ground. Not only did Liberals scorn precisely this type of behavior they predicted and feared would come from Trump supporters, they have been acting in complete opposition to the values they feign to uphold.

What America needs most is unity above differences. Violent protests and labeling Americans as racist, xenophobic, deplorable, uneducated people for thinking differently causes separation that endangers the already fragmented American society. The intensity of hatred that has been spewed from demonstrations and prodigious online posts and articles is sufficient to conclude that finally the masks have been lifted. 


Understanding Human Nature

This uncovering of the ugly truth is actually a good thing, because just as there are rules in nature, there are rules in human nature, and it’s about time we get to know them. It is precisely because humanity is mostly oblivious to these rules that we see so much chaos and destruction in our world, as well as the cluelessness as to why things happen as they do. The complete surprise about Trump’s victory was just another example of our inability to read the map correctly.

Nature is a complex system that maintains its balance through the symbiosis and mutual complementation of its parts. As part of nature, humanity too must gradually attain this form by becoming consciously connected by mutual care. Humanity is already growing increasingly connected through transportation and communication technologies and the constantly growing financial ties of trade and industry, which have turned the world into a small global village. However, people have yet to adapt to this interdependence and learn to embrace the new era. This change cannot come about if we maintain the current politically correct censorship. By doing so, we are obscuring our innate oppositeness and antagonism towards unity.

It is written, “The inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). We all have egos; Freud knew it too. Consciously or not, we all want to be right, to be superior to others, to dominate. Painting ourselves as good and behaving self-righteously actually results in using even greater coerciveness against others whose behavior mirrors what we are trying so hard to repress. So it is no surprise that the Politically Correct culture has become a form of Fascism, forcing people to speak “properly” about everyone and everything, but actually terrorizing and threatening them at the same time, inhibiting civil liberties and free thought.

We do need to become good and loving people, but the path to get there is not through forcing behavioral codes and altering language, but through actual educational practices that connect and change us for the better. In Europe, letting in millions of Muslim immigrants, which has been showing its destructive effects, was mistaken not because people shouldn’t care, or desire a pluralistic society, but because it was done without prior preparation that would allow it to go smoothly.

Because our nature is the way it is, there are only two ways in which very different people or totally opposed cultures can get along. Either they keep their distance from one another, allowing each to live freely as they are, minding their own business, OR they undergo a process of education that allows them to come closer and even to bond as friends who willfully accept their interdependence, because they sense that they actually need one another. This is true for all of us; we really do need one another, but we often cannot see this without a process that opens our eyes to how this connection will help us achieve something higher and greater than what we have now. We have to give people this incentive in order to succeed in truly bringing them together. Otherwise, we are approaching extremely dangerous situations.

We need only take example from what’s happening in Europe as a backlash to its open-borders, neoliberal policies: far-right opinions and attacks are on the rise, Jews have been fleeing the continent by numbers unseen since the 1930s, and Europe’s far-right parties are gaining strength. A similar situation in America under Clinton, who promised to walk in the footsteps of European leaders in terms of migration policies, would have made the  questionable acts of hate we have been seeing since the election look like a mere fleeting shadow inflated by the media. Moreover, it is actually Liberalism that can itself turn into Fascism and it was already crossing this line under Obama’s presidency. If we are truly to achieve pluralistic values and social justice, it must be done through careful consideration of human nature and a step-by-step educational plan; for the middle path that transcends the pitfalls of political ideologies can only be reached by tending to the source of all separation and hate- by addressing man’s self-centered nature.

A Much Needed Method

In the whole of nature, there is a balance between positive and negative forces, between giving and receiving. In humankind, the positive force lies dormant, paralyzed under the tyranny of self-absorption. Without a positive force to balance egoistic human behavior, our society becomes a nightmare.

When the forefathers of the Jewish people emerged from Egypt and formed a nation, they did so by clinging to the strict condition of being “as one man with one heart.” From the very beginning, they had instilled the positive force among them, which guided them in everything they did. They fought and struggled, and for centuries succeeded in covering their egos with brotherhood.

The method for covering all hatred with love, as King Solomon put it (Proverbs 10:12), was our weapon against extinction. If the US is to survive as a single entity, it must adopt the principle of covering hatred with love, instead of simply suppressing it until it bursts again, more intensely than before.

Uniting the States of America 

The election has revealed how split America is, between its urban population and rural Middle America, two groups with diametrically opposed ways of life. Add to that the  increasing racial tensions reported by blacks and Hispanics and the threat of radical Islam causing deep concern, and you’ve got a melting pot about to boil over. This is the America that Trump will need to lead into better times, and he intends to do so as is evident in his recent statements declaring that Americans must come together as one united people. Only by applying a methodical educational process that will unite all factions of the nation will he be able to succeed. Only by acknowledging the differences among the factions of American society and rising above them will the fears of another civil war be quelled. This is crucial for American society, and the success of America is essential for the world.

Jewish General admits to committing sexual offenses

former IDF general on trial for rape and sexual assault released a letter on Thursday in which he admitted to having committed sexual offenses.

Ofek Buchris is currently involved in negotiations to reach a plea dealwith the IDF’s Chief Military Prosecution. In exchange for admitting to certain sexual offenses, the far more serious crimes of rape and sexual assault will be dropped.

The prosecution said earlier this week that the plea deal would be contingent upon his accusers agreeing to it, one of whom insisted on Wednesday that Buchris must take responsibility for his actions and clarify that they were not engaged in a consensual romantic relationship in order for her to consent to the deal .

In his letter, Buchris did not admit to rape or sexual assault, but wrote that he takes “full responsibility” for his actions.

“In the wake of various media reports, I clarify that I fully admit to the charges against me and I take full responsibility for the actions detailed therein,” the former general wrote.

“I would like to add that the media reports related to the plea bargain citing those who claim to be close to me do not represent me,” he added.

Golani Brigade Commander Ofek Buchris (L) seen during a visit Tel Hashomer army base on November 22, 2010. (Flash90)

Buchris’ admission of having committed unspecified sexual offenses constitutes a serious reversal for the former general, who had until Thursday vehemently denied all of the charges against him.

The lawyer for one of the accusers, criticized the letter, saying it lacks on empathy and shows him to have done the absolute minimum.

“The suspect’s letter, while being feeble, laconic and missing any real empathy for the accuser of the damage caused to her by his actions, still prevents any renouncing of the plea deal, both by him or others,” the lawyer said, according to Ynet. “The suspect, who lied during the whole investigation, discredited the reliability of the accusers and didn’t prevent mudslinging at them, alongside taking responsibility for his action, seemingly lacked the magnanimity to offer a real and sincere apology.”

His confession also likely clears the way for the finalization of the plea deal, although Buchris has previously said that he will not agree to a deal that involves jail time, and it remains unclear what form of punishment the prosecution will pursue.

Buchris’ trial began at the end of September. He faced 16 charges, including three of rape and six of indecent acts against a lower-ranking female soldier, identified as A. He was accused of a further six counts of indecent acts against a second female soldier, known as L. Buchris was indicted in July for the alleged crimes that were said to have taken place between 2010 and 2012.

Buchris had earlier agreed to face his accusers within the framework of “non-binding arbitration” before a former military advocate general, Ilan Schiff.

The idea was to save the plaintiffs from a long legal process, Channel 10 said at the time, a consideration that would be consistent with Buchris’s desire to reach a plea deal.

Buchris officially resigned from the IDF in July in order to manage his legal defense as a civilian.

Reports of the initial allegations in March sent shock waves through the IDF and the rest of the country, as Buchris’s previously glowing reputation was suddenly called into question.

According to reports at the time, the first soldier to make allegations told investigators that she knew of another soldier, an officer in the Golani Brigade, who was also sexually assaulted by Buchris. Several days later, the second woman came forward to accuse him.

ADL chief sees ‘organized’ campaign to discredit group (GOOD!!!)

WASHINGTON — Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt urged the organization’s leading activists to counter what he said was an “organized, concerted effort” to delegitimize the group.

The 900-word email sent Wednesday was a bid to counter what has been at times a fierce assault on the venerable civil rights group for its criticism of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and his transition.

“Over the past year, certain columnists and elements of the US Jewish community have engaged in a full-scale assault on ADL and its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt,” said the email to the group’s lay leadership. “We came back from Thanksgiving to find that an organized, concerted effort to delegitimize ADL was underway. These charges against ADL are a significant and deliberate misrepresentation of our positions and our actions.”

Greenblatt goes on to refute several myths circulating in the right-wing Jewish blogosphere and on social media, among them, that the ADL does not support Israel; that it no longer combats anti-Semitism; that it supports the movement to boycott Israel; and that Greenblatt is a Democratic operative.

Greenblatt, an entrepreneur who was a non-political Obama White House appointee charged with social innovation, noted that the group recently hosted a major conference on anti-Semitism in New York and called it ADL’s “number one concern.” ADL also vigorously opposes the BDS movement.

Steve Bannon at a meeting with advisers at Trump Tower, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

In one instance, Greenblatt fudges the record slightly: He decries as a myth the claim that the group attacked Stephen Bannon, Trump’s top strategic adviser, but not Keith Ellison, the Minnesota congressman vying to lead the Democratic National Committee. Greenblatt said the group had expressed “concerns” about each man – Bannon for his associations with the alt-right, which includes within its ranks white supremacists and anti-Semites, and Ellison, for his strident criticism of Israel and his backing of the Iran nuclear deal. In fact, the ADL outright opposed Bannon’s appointment, while it raised questions about Ellison’s candidacy.

Greenblatt named only one of ADL’s critics, the Zionist Organization of America, which has been a strident critic of Greenblatt since his appointment over a year ago and has more recently accused him of “character assassination” of Bannon.

Also criticizing Greenblatt have been Breitbart, the news website Bannon led before he joined the Trump campaign, and the Republican Jewish Coalition.

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President Elect Mike Pence arrive for a day of meetings at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club November 20, 2016 in Bedminster, NJ. (AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERT)

“Much of this campaign reflects wider trends of our time: the dangerous polarization in the US, Israel and within our community fed by the dogma that if you are not 100 percent with me you are the enemy as well as the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ where agenda-driven half-truths are presented as fact, reinforcing these hardened positions,” said the email, one of whose recipients posted the contents on Facebook.

“But it also reflects willingness by some to pass along lies because, frankly, there are few consequences for doing so,” the email said.

“We need you to stand firmly with us to counter these accusations,” Greenblatt told the recipients. “Those who seek to delegitimize ADL and other communal organizations do more than harm us – they make all of us less safe.”

Israeli justices sued in Chile over West Bank security barrier (GOOD!!!)

Two lawsuits have been filed in Chile against three current or former Israeli Supreme Court justices for endorsing the construction of the West Bank security barrier and the seizure of goods from Palestinians.

Chile’s Palestinian Federation filed a war crimes suit Monday against current Justices Uzi Vogelman and Neal Hendel and retired justice Asher Grunis, who was president of the court in 2012-15. The group argues that Chile’s international agreements allow for suits involving crimes against humanity committed in other countries.

A Chilean-Palestinian woman who owns land in the Cremisan Valley, which is near Bethlehem, filed a separate suit against the justices.

The lawyer representing her in the case, Nicolas Pavez, said the plaintiffs decided to sue in Chile after exhausting all avenues in Israel over the past eight years, leading to the Israel top court ruling on the legality of the barrier.

“The Supreme Court justices are accused of giving an appearance of legality to this wall that is illegal and that constitutes a war crime,” Pavez said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the suit is a yet another publicity stunt with no legal basis by the Palestinian Federation of Chile.

Chile’s Palestinian community is among the world’s largest, with about 350,000 immigrants and their descendants.

Palestinian men climb a section of Israel's security barrier in the village of Al-Ram, on June 26, 2015 (Flash90)

Nahshon condemned what he called “the cynical abuse of the legal system to advance a political agenda” and said he expects Chilean authorities will “not to give a hand to such abuse.”

Marcela Prieto Rudolphy, a Chilean attorney who specializes in human rights, said the suit is not likely to succeed.

“It’s impossible for prosecutors to carry out an investigation over acts carried out in another country,” she said. “Even if the case received a ruling, it would be impossible to carry it out.”

Israel began building the barrier in 2002 in response to a wave of suicide bombings that killed hundreds of people. Israel says the barrier is needed to keep out Palestinian attackers. Palestinians say the structure is an illegal land grab because it frequently juts into the West Bank.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest judicial organ, issued an advisory opinion that found Israel’s barrier to be illegal.

After 5-year dry spell, EU and Israel move to upgrade ties (VERY VERY BAD!!!!)

After years in which relations between the European Union and Israel have been frosty, bilateral ties will take a significant leap forward in 2017, senior officials from both sides said this week.

In one notable sign of such warming ties, Jerusalem and the EU are in advanced talks over convening the EU-Israel Association Council, a bilateral forum on ministerial level, early next year. The last such meeting took place in 2012.

“Quite a lot of good things are happening, often unseen by the naked eye, but they are there,” Nicholas Westcott, the director of the EU External Action Service’s North Africa and Middle East department, said this week during a visit in Tel Aviv. “We hope early next year to have an Association Council, which we haven’t had for a while, to look at a ministerial level how we can take the relationship forward.”

If a EU-Israel Association Council meeting were to be held in 2017, the EU would likely be represented by its foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Israel by Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, The Times of Israel has learned.

In addition, the EU “would like to develop something we call partnership priorities,” said Westcott, who is the second-most senior EU diplomat dealing with the Middle East, after Mogherini. The so-called partnership priorities are a new instrument regulating bilateral ties that emerged of the EU’s 2015 review of its neighborhood policy program.

EU officials Nicholas Westcott, left, and Federica Mogherini (Chris Kleponis/EEAS)

Visiting Jerusalem this week for the second time since he took over his position, Westcott met with various senior officials in the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and COGAT, the branch of the Israeli army that deals with civilian matters in the West Bank.

“The main focus was on EU-Israel cooperation, which is moving in a relatively positive direction,” he said. “We are looking at areas where we can deepen cooperation within the existing framework and beginning to think about what the next generation of framework might be.”

The anticipated rapprochement does not entail a formal upgrade of ties. But several officials from both sides said this week that there are clear indications that Israel and the EU will improve bilateral relations in various ways. This is projected to happen despite remaining differences of opinion, such as the union’s vehement opposition to settlement expansion and Israeli demolitions of EU-funded structures in Area C of the West Bank.

There are “significant signs that the bilateral relationship is making progress and going forward,” one senior EU official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon concurred with that assessment and confirmed ongoing talks over convening the EU-Israel Association Council in the near future. He added that this particular forum is just one of various expressions of ongoing bilateral dialogue between Jerusalem and Brussels, such as the annual EU-Israel Seminar on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Antisemitism, which is taking place later this month.

Last planned major update in ties fell over Cast Lead

After the 11th and last meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council, held in July 2012 in Brussels, the union said it viewed the event as a “demonstration of the significance the EU attaches to its relations with the State of Israel.” The council meeting reiterated the “importance of further developing our broad bilateral partnership,” the EU said in a statement at the time.

But in July 2013 the EU angered Israel by issuing new regulations according to which no Israeli body that operates or has links beyond the Green Line can receive EU funding or have any cooperation with the EU.

Jerusalem replied by vowing not sign any further agreements with the European Union until the EU “clarifies” its new regulations. In the wake of the heated arguments over the so-called guidelines, no Association Council was held that year and in the following years.

EU-Israel relations took another hit in November 2015, when the union instructed its member states to label certain Israeli goods made outside the pre-1967 lines. Israeli officials fumed and, amid accusations of anti-Semitism, vowed to curtail bilateral ties.

“We have to reset our relationship with the EU,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in January. “There is a natural tendency in the EU establishment to single out Israel and treat it in ways that other countries are not being dealt with, and especially other democracies,” he said. “And I think it’s wrong. I think it should be corrected.”

‘We think that making progress on the peace process is important for overall regional stability’

However, after a meeting with Mogherini the following month, Netanyahu said he was ready to bury the hatchet.

“Israel and the European Union have agreed to put relations between us back on track,” he declared. Mogherini had assured him that the labeling was “non-binding” and does not reflect the EU’s position on Israel’s final borders, he added.

“Of course, this is not to say that there will not be friction. There are things that we do not agree on,” he said.

Indeed, the EU’s longstanding opposition to Israeli settlement expansions has been one of the key sources of tensions in the bilateral relationship, which are anchored in the EU-Israel Association Agreement from 2000.

In 2005, the two parties agreed upon a so-called Action Plan, an important bilateral agreement that sought to “gradually integrate Israel into European policies and programmes.”

In 2008, the two sides agreed to upgrade the Action Plan, but due to the break out of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza a few months later — and ongoing arguments over settlement buildings — Brussels froze these negotiations.

The current rapprochement between Israel and the EU is in its fragile early stages and does not entail plans for negotiations over a new Action Plan, officials from both sides stressed this week. However, the current Action Plan remains in force.

Despite the expected detente, the union remains strongly opposed to Israel’s construction of housing units beyond the Green Line. Westcott, the senior EU official, said in Tel Aviv this week, called on Israel to take urgent steps to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

 

“We do not regard the status quo as indefinitely stable. It will become increasingly unstable, in unpredictable ways,” he said. “Something will give — might be sooner, might be later. But it’s not sustainable, so we still have to find a better solution than the status quo. It’s not a stable status quo, it’s evolving all the time. And you never know at what point it will tip, and which way it will tip.”

Westcott disagreed with the assertion, often made by Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, that the current turmoil in the region means that Israel must not rush to make territorial concessions.

“Regional instability and uncertainty over the Middle East generally is a factor that makes it, from an EU point of view, more important to make progress with the peace process, rather than less,” he said. “We think that making progress on the peace process is important for overall regional stability.”

Westcott also said he sees an improvement regarding Palestinian incitement against Israelis. The Israeli government has recently brought to his attention “one or two” examples of incitement, “but not a lot,” he told The Times of Israel.

It is possible that Palestinian leaders have realized, in light of increasing international criticism, that incitement is unhelpful in their bid to reach an agreement with Israel, Westcott continued. “And the Palestinians have an interest in creating a conducive environment for a two-state solution.”

US Senate (White Freemasons, Zionists) votes unanimously to renew Iran sanctions law

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate moved decisively Thursday to renew a decades-old sanctions law that lawmakers said gives the United States the clout to punish Iran should it fail to live up to the terms of the landmark nuclear deal.

Senators passed the bill unanimously, 99-0, two weeks after the House also approved the legislation by an overwhelming margin of 419-1.

The bill to grant a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act will be sent to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it. Although the White House said the bill is still being reviewed, Obama administration officials said they’ve determined it doesn’t breach the international accord meant to slow Iran’s ability to make nuclear arms.

That satisfies a key condition Obama had established for his approval. The officials weren’t authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We’ll let you know what the president decides to do with it,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.

Lawmakers view the sanctions law, which is set to expire at the end of the year, as an important tool for holding Iran accountable for any violations of the nuclear agreement and also as a bulwark against Tehran’ aggression in the Middle East. The law, first passed by Congress in 1996 and renewed several times since then, allows the U.S. to slap companies with economic sanctions for doing business with Iran.

The White House had previously laid out a litmus test for the law’s renewal, saying Obama would reject if it would undermine the nuclear agreement reached last year. In exchange for Tehran rolling back its nuclear program, the U.S. and other world powers agreed to suspend wide-ranging oil and trade sanctions that had choked the Iranian economy.

While the sanctions renewal bill passed by the House and Senate doesn’t violate the terms of the nuclear deal, the Obama administration has said it considers the renewal unnecessary given the president’s other authorities to sanction Iran.

But congressional Republicans and Democrats view the law as valuable leverage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday that preserving the sanctions law is critical to blunt Iran’s “persistent efforts to expand its sphere of influence” throughout the Middle East. He also criticized the administration for allowing itself to be “held hostage” by Iran’s threats to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

Congress approved the Iran Sanctions Act 20 years ago to block major foreign investment in Iran’s energy sector. The goal was to deny Tehran the ability to financially support terrorism and build nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has argued that keeping the law on the books is necessary if the US wants to retain “a credible deterrent” of putting sanctions back into place should Iran cheat on its obligations under the nuclear agreement.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that any renewal of the sanctions would violate the nuclear agreement and would be met with a “definite” response from Tehran.

“If these sanctions are extended, it will surely constitute a violation of the [nuclear deal] and they [the US] should know that the Islamic Republic will definitely react to it,” he said on Wednesday without elaborating.

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