PM opposes Syria ceasefire, says it will strengthen Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he opposes the deal brokered by the United States and Russia that led to an open-ended ceasefire in southern Syria, saying it does not sufficiently address Iranian military ambitions in the area.

Placing himself at odds with US President Donald Trump on the issue, Netanyahu told journalists in Paris that the agreement perpetuates Iranian plans to set up a disruptive long-term presence on Israel’s northern border, something he has repeatedly vowed that the Jewish state won’t tolerate.

The ceasefire, announced after a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg earlier this month, was the first initiative by the Trump administration in collaboration with Russia to bring some stability to war-torn Syria.

“Israel is aware of Iran’s expansionist goals in Syria,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

Netanyahu said that he had brought up the issue with French President Emmanuel Macron during his meeting with the French leader earlier in the day.

The prime minister said that while the plan aims to keep Iran 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Israeli border, it did not address Iran’s plans to cement its presence in Syria, which, he said, included the establishment of a naval and air force bases.

The premier’s comments Sunday were his first remarks explicitly condemning the ceasefire, after having gingerly endorsed the deal as it came into effect earlier this month.

Also on Sunday, a senior Israeli official strongly condemned the deal, calling it “very bad” and saying it did not take into account Israeli security concerns, the Haaretz daily reported.

Opposition fighters drive a tank in a rebel-held area of the southern Syrian city of Daraa, during renewed clashes with regime loyalists on May 10, 2016. (AFP Photo/Mohamad Abazeed)

Apprehensions over Iranian designs in the region were stoked by recent movements of Shiite Muslim militias — loyal to Iran and fighting alongside Syrian government forces — toward Jordan’s border with Syria, and to another strategic area in the southeast, close to where the two countries meet Iraq.

The advances are part of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s push to regain territory from rebel groups, some backed by the West, in the southern Daraa province, and from Islamic State extremists in the southeast, near the triangle with Iraq.

But Syria’s neighbors suspect that Iran is pursuing a broader agenda, including carving out a land route through Syria that would create a territorial continuum from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon.

The ceasefire for southern Syria is meant to keep all forces pinned to their current positions, said Jordan’s government which participated in the talks.

This would prevent further advances by forces under Iran’s command, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.

Hezbollah parading its military equipment in Qusayr, Syria, November 2016. (Twitter)

Ceasefires have repeatedly collapsed in Syria’s six-year-old civil war, and it’s not clear if this one will last. The southern Syria truce is separate from so far unsuccessful efforts by Russia, Turkey and Iran to set up “de-escalation zones” in Syria, including in the south.

Israel is expected to watch for truce violations.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to set up a permanent presence in Syria. Israel has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of “game-changing” weapons bound for Hezbollah.

A Jordanian official said the international community, regional powers and Jordan would not tolerate the creation of a “land line all the way from Tehran to Beirut.”

Such a “Shiite crescent” would disrupt the regional balance and be considered a “super red line,” he said, referring to rival Sunni and Shiite Muslim political camps led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively.

Conflicts between the camps have escalated in recent years, including in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. Predominantly Sunni Jordan is a US ally and maintains discrete security ties with Israel.

Israel is also worried about the recent movements of Iranian-backed forces.

Israeli soldiers patrol near the border with Syria after projectiles fired from the war-torn country hit the Israeli Golan Heights on June 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)

Israel controls the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in southwestern Syria that it captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel has fought cross-border wars with Hezbollah from Lebanon.

The truce deal, the first such agreement between the Trump administration and Russia, could help the US retain more of a say over who fills the power vacuum left behind as Islamic State is routed from additional territory in Syria.

Washington has been resistant to letting Iranian forces and their proxies gain strength in Syria’s south. In recent weeks, US forces have shot down a Syrian aircraft that got too close to American forces as well as Iranian-made drones.


UK Jewish lawmaker opposes a Trump address to parliament

The Speaker of Britain’s House of Commons said Monday he was “strongly opposed” to allowing Donald Trump to address members of parliament during the US president’s state visit later this year.

John Bercow said such a speech was “not an automatic right, it is an earned honor” — and one he would object to following Trump’s ban on refugees and travelers from seven mainly Muslim countries.

“Before the imposition of the migrant ban I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall,” said Bercow, one of three officials who would have to approve the move.

“After the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump I am even more strongly opposed.”

US President Donald Trump speaks following a visit to the US Central Command and Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base on February 6, 2017 in Tampa, Florida.  (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

Bercow, whose paternal grandparents were Romanian Jewish immigrants to England, attended the Finchley Reform Synagogue and had a bar mitzvah, though he now considers himself secular.

Prime Minister Theresa May has come under intense pressure for the invitation for Trump to make a state visit, which she extended while at the White House just hours before he announced his travel ban.

More than 1.8 million people have signed a public petition calling on ministers to cancel the visit, which MPs are due to debate later this month.

Bercow said that decision was above his pay grade.

Demonstrators hold banners as they take part in a protest against US President Donald Trump's controversial travel ban on refugees and people from seven mainly-Muslim countries, outside Downing Street in London, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (AP/Alastair Grant)

“However, as far as this place is concerned, I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons,” he said.

The date and details of the state visit are still being worked out and a spokeswoman for the speaker’s office said the government had not made any request for Trump to address parliament.

But a speech to both Houses of Commons and Lords has been a feature of many previous state visits, including one by Barack Obama in 2011.

Some 163 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion opposing an address by Trump, citing the travel ban and his comments on torture and women.

Bercow’s statement sparked cheers and clapping from the opposition benches.

Earlier, May told MPs that at a summit last week, she had urged her fellow European leaders to “engage patiently and constructively” with the new US administration.

Trump’s criticism of the NATO military alliance and his prediction that the EU could fall apart following Britain’s vote to leave has caused alarm in European capitals.

Bernie Sanders Opposes “Divisive” Reparations for African-Americans


Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay on reparations for The Atlanta ushered in widespread
acclaim for the writer. As Coates acknowledged in his essay, Congressman John Conyers has proposed a bill that would study the feasibility of reparations in this country, but lawmakers won’t pass it, preferring instead to dismiss the idea out of hand. Bernie Sanders joined that group of politicians recently when revealing he would not support reparations.

“Its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil,” Sanders told Fusion in an interview. “Second of all, I think it would be very divisive.”

Although Sanders does believe in reinvestment in America’s urban areas, he doesn’t believe reparations is the way to proceed.

Shouldn’t politicians at least research the feasibility of reparations before taking a position, as Coates reasoned?

“Broach the topic of reparations today and a barrage of questions inevitably follows: Who will be paid? How much will they be paid? Who will pay? But if the practicalities, not the justice, of reparations are the true sticking point, there has for some time been the beginnings of a solution. For the past 25 years, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who represents the Detroit area, has marked every session of Congress by introducing a bill calling for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for ‘appropriate remedies’”, Coates wrote in 2014.

“A country curious about how reparations might actually work has an easy solution in Conyers’s bill, now called HR 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. We would support this bill, submit the question to study, and then assess the possible solutions. But we are not interested.”

Bill Clinton (American Freemason) Attacks George H.W. Bush (American Freemason) on Israel and Opposes a Palestinian State

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton pledged this week that if elected president, he would oppose the creation of an independent Palestinian state and launch a joint high-technology development program with Israel.

The expected Democratic nominee also attacked President Bush’s “relentless pressure on Israel,” protesting that “this is no way to treat a steady friend and consistent ally.

“As president,” he promised, “I will put an end to this.”

The governor delivered his remarks Tuesday in a bicoastal talk to the newly formed Clinton National Jewish Leadership Council. Clinton appeared in person at a meeting of the group in Washington, and his words were transmitted via satellite hookup to a similar gathering in Los Angeles.

Clinton appeared upbeat on a day that saw him leading independent candidate Ross Perot and President Bush in the polls for the first time.

In his talk, frequently punctuated by the applause of the partisan audience, Clinton stressed nine points of his Middle East platform:

*Provide loan guarantees and other aid to Israel to assist in the ingathering and absorption of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. “The dream must not be deferred,” he said.

* Advance the peace process, but without Washington predetermining the outcome or imposing conditions.

* Oppose creation of an independent Palestinian state.

* Create a U.S.-Israel high-technology commission for the 21st century, to help apply “the genius of Israel’s people.”

* Ensure that any peace settlement guarantees the security of Israel’s boundaries.

* No support for “dangerous, despotic regimes,” such as Iraq and Syria.

* Enhanced logistical cooperation with Israel and assurances that Israel will retain its qualitative military edge.

* Completion of the Arrow missile defense program, based on American-Israeli cooperation.

* Ensure that Jerusalem remains Israel’s undivided capital.


But during a question-and-answer period linking Washington and Los Angeles, Clinton hedged when asked if he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Not if it would affect the peace process,” he answered. “Timing is crucial, and nothing should be done that might destabilize the process.”

The Arkansas Democrat warmly praised Israel’s commitment to democracy, as shown in the recent elections, and said he looked forward to working with Yitzhak Rabin as the likely prime minister.

He added that he would await Rabin’s initiative on the peace process. The United States, he said, should act as a catalyst in the peace process and later as a guarantor of any settlement, through the United Nations.

In response to another question, Clinton said he would support any changes proposed by the new Israeli government to streamline the country’s economy and make it more competitive.

Clinton responded cautiously when asked if he would “undo the injustice” to Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. naval intelligence analyst serving a life prison sentence for passing classified information to Israel.

“In good conscience, I cannot commit myself, but I will review the case in good faith,” he replied.

He also predicted that Bush would make some pro-Israel gestures in the near future and “try in four weeks to make you forget what he has done in the last four years.”

On a lighter note, Clinton said that he was thinking of writing a book about his campaign against Perot and Bush, and would title it, “The Billionaire, the Millionaire and Me.”

Supreme Leader opposes nuke deal, says Iranian hard-liner


TEHRAN — A prominent hard-liner in Iran says Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is opposed to a landmark nuclear deal reached with world powers.

Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the daily newspaper Kayhan who is appointed by Khamenei and a serves as a representative of the supreme leader, made the comments in an editorial Saturday. It marked the first time someone had publicly claimed to know where Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, stands on the deal.

Shariatmadari also referred to an Al-Quds Day speech by Khamenei last month during which the ayatollah said, “Whether this text is approved or disapproved, no one will be allowed to harm the main principles of the (ruling) Islamic system.”

The editorial noted: “Using the phrase ‘whether this text is approved or disapproved’ shows his lack of trust in the text of the deal. If His Excellency had a positive view, he would have not insisted on the need for the text to be scrutinized through legal channels … It leaves no doubt that His Excellency is not satisfied with the text.”

Khamenei has not publicly approved or disapproved of the deal. However, he repeatedly has offered words of support for his country’s nuclear negotiators.

Moderates also believe the deal would have never been reached without Khamenei’s private approval throughout the negotiations.

Arash Ghafouri, a former campaign organizer for reformist presidential candidate Mir Housein Mousavi, told Al Jazeera this week that: “The deal is done, the regime has approved it, and the supreme leader has signed off on it, so all this is just political rhetoric.”

He said that, “Despite all that the hard-liners are saying, which is nothing new, the regime has already accepted this deal, and one or two or three hard-liner headlines won’t have any impact on the country’s acceptance of this historic deal.”

The supreme leader appeared to have given measured support for the agreement, which lifts crippling sanctions on Iran in return for significant curbs on its nuclear program, in the July 19 Al-Quds Day speech in Tehran, days after the deal was reached.

“A word of thanks to officials in charge of these long and arduous negotiations — the honorable President and particularly the negotiation team who really made great efforts and worked hard,” he said. “They will certainly be divinely rewarded whether the document that has been prepared will — through its determined legal procedures — be ratified or not.” (Shariatmadari interpreted that phrase very differently, however, deducing that it signaled opposition.)

“We have said this to those brothers in person as well,” Khamenei continued. “Of course in order to ratify this document, there is a clear legal procedure that, by Allah’s favor, has to be taken. We expect that these officials take the interests — interests of the country, interests of the people — into consideration by paying careful attention, so that when they deliver the matter to the people, they can do so with their heads held high in front of Allah the Exalted as well.”

Iran’s parliament and the Supreme National Security Council, the country’s highest security decision-making body, will consider the agreement in the coming days.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, a top negotiator during the talks with the world powers, is scheduled appear before the Iranian parliament on Sunday for a session on the text of the accord and will take questions from parliament members.

U.S. anti-Semitism envoy opposes criminalizing anti-Semitism


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The top U.S. official combating anti-Semitism said he does not counsel any restrictions on speech in his interactions with foreign officials.

“In our interactions with other governments and civil society outside the United States we make very clear that we support freedom of speech and assembly and oppose criminalizing speech – even the most odious forms of anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred,” Ira Forman, the State Department’s special envoy to combat and monitor anti-Semitism, said in an Aug. 10 letter to Jewish Voice for Peace.

Forman was replying to the group after it said that the State Department definition of anti-Semitism, which is used to deal with foreign officials, inhibits free speech on U.S. campuses.

Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, a group that supports the movement to enact anti-Israel boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, had in May sent Forman and Secretary of State John Kerry a letter from its academic advisory council saying that the State Department definition of anti-Semitism was “vague” and “problematic” and had been “construed to silence any criticism of Israeli policies.”

The letter, signed by over 250 academics and backed by a petition with more than 15,800 signers, cited instances where terms related to Israel appearing in a 2010 State Department circular on anti-Semitism  – “demonize,” “double standard” and “delegitimize” – were used on some U.S. college campuses to define anti-Semitism, a definition the group said silences criticism of Israel.

Those terms appear in an addendum to the definition explaining, “What is anti-Semitism relative to Israel?”

In his reply, Forman said that the addendum expands on and makes more specific the “demonize,” “double standard” and “delegitimize” terms deemed vague by JVP.

He noted that the expanded explanation includes: “Denying the Jewish people the right of self-determination … applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation … drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” as examples of anti-Semitism. Forman also notes that the addendum says that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

Forman said that the definition has been “useful” in his work. He quoted Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaking last year of anti-Semitic manifestations at protests of Israel’s actions during last summer’s Gaza war.

“Just as there is a way to express criticisms of Palestinian policies and actions without expressing Islamophobic views or attacking Muslims, so too there is a way to express criticisms of Israel’s policies and actions without making anti-Semitic remarks,” Power had said.

In a reply to Forman, JVP said it was “heartened” by Forman’s commitment to speech protections but argued that even the expanded definition of the terms is problematic.

“’Denying the Jewish people the right of self-determination … applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,’ are vague and overbroad, so much so that they can be construed to deem any criticism of the State of Israel as anti-Semitic,” the letter said.

Angry conservative wishes beheading on Oregon city official who opposes ‘In God We Trust’ display