Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Politics – May 2009

Character is destiny. Heraclitus

Big results require big ambitions. Heraclitus

May 14, 2009: The economic crisis is now beginning to make its mark in Israel. In additional to global troubled markets, Israel experienced two costly wars in 2006-2009. Wars don’t come cheap. The government prepared the annual budget. Many cuts in all governmental offices. As always, the poor will suffer and be hurt more than any other sector. It is easy to harm them. They don’t have a strong lobby at the Knesset.

An Israeli scene: Senior officials at the Finance Office prepare the budget, and submit it to the Minister of Finance. He approves. The budget is published. Huge outcry. Many ministers object to the cuts in their offices. The Ministry of Education, a large ministry with lots of money for justified causes, is said to be hurt more than others. The Minister of Finance said that he was aware of the plans, but that the Prime Minister was not aware of it. The Prime Minister steps forward and announces that there won’t be drastic cuts in education.

Is there a need for a Minister of Finance?
The American administration makes statements that Israel did not hear in the past eight years, and more: Freezing settlements, evacuation of outposts, nuclear transparency, commitment to peace translated to concrete measures vis-à-vis the Palestinians. President Peres was sent to Washington to soften Obama before his meeting with Netanyahu. Obama and Netanyahu are on the path for collision.

Lieberman justifies his reputation and continues to air controversial statements. He called the peace process “an industry” from which some people profit. God. And this is the guy that is supposed to lead us to peace. Forget that. I hope this government will not lead us to yet another war.

One more month with the growing Iranian threat. This issue was, yet again, at the center of the AIPAC annual conference in Washington. President Peres made an eloquent speech and met with President Obama to that effect. Obama continues to say that all cards are on the table, and that no options should be ruled out, including direct negotiations. That’s fine, but we want to see some movement in any direction. The status quo serves the Iranian cause.

Prime Minister Netanyahu made his very first visit to a foreign country. On May 11, 2009 he left for Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak. On the agenda: Iran. Netanyahu is seeking support against Iran's nuclear drive despite the existing discord between the two countries on the Middle East peace process, but not on Hamas.

Two days earlier, the Hamas movement's Damascus-based politburo chief Khaled Meshal said that the Palestinian Islamic movement will not accept a two-state solution as a means to end the conflict with Israel. No surprises under the sun. More bloodshed will comfort his heart.

Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that his new government will not cede the strategic Golan Heights for the sake of peace with Syria. The announcement comes after heated debate among ministers about the wisdom of pursuing the indirect contacts with Syria via Turkey launched by the former government of Ehud Olmert.

Hectic developments ensued in preparation for the Netanyahu-Obama meeting as Netanyahu crossed the border to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II, who has been lobbying for a sweeping resolution of Israel's conflicts with the Muslim world, in step with the Obama administration's efforts to link progress on peacemaking to progress on curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu, however, argues that peacemaking cannot progress until Iran's influence in the region is clipped.

In the May 14, 2009 meeting, Abdullah pressed Netanyahu to "immediately declare his commitment to a two-state solution, acceptance of the Arab peace initiative and to take necessary steps to move forward toward a solution".

It seems that Netanyahu has found an idol to imitate. In his election campaign, he more or less copied the winning formula of Obama. His Internet site had such a resemblance to Obama’s that he could have been sued for copyright violation. After his election, Obama first visited his neighbours, Canada and Mexico. Netanyahu has now visited Egypt and Jordan. Mabruk. But what about our two other neighbours, Syria and Lebanon? Hamas?

With all his yearning to become Obama, Netanyahu is not, and the first to understand this is Obama himself. Both leaders would like to maintain a good relationship. They will strive to do so; time will tell whether successfully.

Efforts to bring Gilad Shalit home should continue. Prime Minister Netanyahu said it is a top priority. But until now he did not nominate a chief negotiator to replace Olmert’s man, who resigned. I hope, for a change, to find some correlation between statements and deeds. This will be refreshing.
There was a narrow window of opportunity during the last weeks of Olmert’s government. Olmert decided, at the end, that the price was too high. Gilad remains captive.

Gilad is now more than 1000 days in captivity. It is time for Veshavu banim legvulam. See

Pope’s Visit to Israel - Obama-Netanyahu Meeting - Will Russia Help the United States with Iran? - Survey: Ahmadinejad's Popularity Rises in Iran - Allegations that Gaza Patients "Forced" to Help Security Services in Exchange for Israeli Medical Treatment - Brazil: Supreme Court Strikes Down Press Law - UNESCO Launches First-ever Survey of Historical and Contemporary Slavery - Sixth Ordinary Session of the World Commission of the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (16 - 19 June 2009) - Human Rights Reporting and U.S. Foreign Policy - My Visit to Israel - My New Article -
Gad Yaakobi’s Autobiography - New Book - Movie of the Month: The Curious Story of Benjamin Button - Light Side

Pope’s Visit to Israel

As could be expected from Pope Benedict XVI, he arrived in Israel for a visit. As expected, on May 11, 2009 he used his first speech in Israel to remember the six million Jews killed by the Nazis and try to heal fresh wounds over his reinstatement of a bishop who denied the Holocaust.
"Tragically, the Jewish people have experienced the terrible circumstances of ideologies that deny the fundamental dignity of every human person," he said, going on to challenge Israel's right-leaning government by calling for a Palestinian homeland.

"I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah," the German-born pope said, using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, "and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude."

In the 45 years since the Second Vatican Council repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for Christ's death, Catholic-Jewish relations have been haunted by the Holocaust and the question of what the church did, or failed to do, about it.

They went through one of their worst periods after the pope in January lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, including one who denied six million Jews were killed.

The Vatican says it had not known enough about that British bishop's past and the church and Jewish religious leaders now hope the issue can be definitively closed with a visit later in the day by the pontiff to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel's memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

Pope Benedict, who flew into Israel from Jordan, lashed out at anti-Semitism, which he said "continues to rear its ugly head" in many parts of the world.

"This is totally unacceptable," he said in his speech at Ben-Gurion airport. "Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe."

Pope Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria in 1927, was a member of the Hitler Youth and later served in the German army before deserting at the end of World War Two.

Reiterating Vatican policy, the pope called for "just resolution" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders."


Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

On Monday, May 18, 2009, the much awaited meeting took place. Netanyahu stressed the Iranian issue. Obama stressed the Palestinian issue. The disagreements were noticeable. Netanyahu and Obama came to the meeting with competing goals. They knew this will be the case as the Israeli and American teams have been working on the agenda for quite sometime. Obama wanted Netanyahu to embrace a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu wanted Obama to take a strong stand on the threat to Israel’s security posed by Iran.

If Obama thinks that he will be successful in offering Israel a package deal, Muslim and Arab states’ recognition of Israel and, in return, Israel will make concessions to the Palestinians, I wish him good luck but history showed that his chances to fail are great. Traditionally, Muslim and Arab states demand Israel make concrete steps before such recognition. Netanyahu will not move quickly, if at all. The Israeli electorate, by empowering Likud and Lieberman, said a clear “no” to peace.

This reflects Israel’s public stance. For some time now, since the attack on Park Hotel during Passover night in 2002, Israelis do not wish peace. Security is enough, thank you. Only dreamers, utopians, and hopeless optimists still believe in peace. Hamas has successfully awakened all the rest. (Photo - NY Times, May 19, 2009)


Obama wants time for his diplomatic overtures to work. He said that he expected to know by the end of the year whether Iran was making “a good-faith effort to resolve differences” in talks aimed at ending its nuclear program, signaling to Israel as well as Iran that his willingness to engage in diplomacy over the issue has its limits. According to the New York Times (May 19, 2009), Obama said that “We’re not going to have talks forever,” and that “We’re not going to create a situation in which talks become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds.” Obama added that he did not intend to foreclose “a range of steps” if Iran did not cooperate.

Obama is expecting international talks with Iran, involving six nations including the United States, to begin shortly after the Iranian elections in June, with the possibility of “direct talks” between the United States and Iran after that.

Netanyahu thanked Obama for keeping “all options on the table” with respect to Iran. This is language that Obama rarely uses, but that was invoked frequently by President Bush, typically to imply that the United States might use military force against Iran if its nuclear program progressed too far.

Israel reluctantly will wait and see what will transpire. Iran poses an existential threat with which Israel finds it difficult to live. It will coordinate its moves with the USA and all other international parties, hoping to resolve the threat via peaceful means. Possibly (but don’t hold your breath; see infra) the Iranian elections will bring good news and change of mood in the Iranian radical regime.
On May 20, 2009 The Washington Times reported that the United States and Israel are quietly forming a high-level working group to assess the progress of President Obama's outreach to Iran and to share intelligence about the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons program. The agreement, reached during Monday's meeting between Netanyahu and Obama gives the U.S. a clear channel for communicating with the new Israeli government and a vehicle for keeping tabs on any military contingency plans Israel might make if diplomacy fails and Iran develops nuclear weapons capability.

Israel and the U.S. have long consulted closely on strategic issues, but the new working group will focus exclusively on Iran. One Israeli official said that the working group intends to meet at least once a month. "Contingencies would include sanctions and other forms of pressure".
President Reagan signed a directive forming the first U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue in 1983. It originally discussed contingency plans for downed pilots in the region. Since then, consultation between the two countries has expanded and became especially close during the last administration.

Obama understands that concrete trust-building steps should be made by both sides in order to bring the peace wagon back on track. He therefore pressed Netanyahu to freeze the construction of Israeli settlements on the West Bank: “Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward,” Obama said. “That’s a difficult issue. I recognize that. But it’s an important one, and it has to be addressed.”

Netanyahu did not respond. He cannot. He is leading one of the most hawkish governments in the history of Israel. If he were to accede, his government will fall apart.

Netanyahu does not wish to embrace a two-state solution. He cannot. The very first person with whom he signed coalition agreement was Avigdor Lieberman, presently his Minister of Foreign Affairs. Netanyahu was willing to concede that “I want to make it clear that we don’t want to govern the Palestinians; we want to live in peace with them.”

Netanyahu also said that he was ready to resume peace talks with the Palestinian Authority immediately, but only if the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish state, something that President Abbas is not willing to do. Meaning, standstill.

One senior person in the Netanyahu delegation was reported saying that the two state solution is “childish”. He, apparently, thinks that the continuation of the occupation is mature and just. I think, and I have been saying this for many years, that this is the only sensible solution to bring some tranquility for Israel and Palestine. Concrete steps, such as dismantling illegal outposts, freezing building in the settlements, reducing the number of checkpoints, and freeing prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, are right and prudent steps to take at this point.

To be continued.

Will Russia Help the United States with Iran?

The free world needs China and Russia for enforcing significant sanctions on Iran. This piece is about Russia. I thank Patrick Clawson, The Washington Institute, for sending this to me. I have shortened the piece a bit.

By Mark N. Katz, May 13, 2009

Russia's recent decision not to sell the S-300 antiaircraft missile system to Iran (at least for now) raised hopes that Moscow would cooperate more fully in the effort to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. Recent statements from Russian leaders indicating that they were on board with the U.S. strategy further buoyed optimism. Despite these promising signs, however, there is strong reason to doubt that Moscow's cooperation will continue.

The Need for Russian Help

While the Obama administration has been formulating its Iran strategy, Congress and many pundits have touted the need for Russian support. At the opening session of the hearing "Prospects for Engagement with Russia" held on March 19, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) observed that "Vital to our efforts toward a nuclear-free world will be a greater effort from Russia to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. The president is right to open the door to direct engagement with Iran. But it is imperative that we back a strategy of engagement with a commitment to more effective multilateral sanctions if negotiations do not bring progress. To do this effectively, we need Russia on board."
In a May 1 Wall Street Journal interview, Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to Republican presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, said with regard to "the looming Iranian nuclear danger" that "the only chance to dissuade Iran is if the United States and Russia are linked together on Iran."

Russia's Real Agenda
Like Europe, Israel, the United States, and most Arab governments, Russia does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The expectation that this will lead to joint Russian-American cooperation, however, is seriously mistaken. Moscow does not want Iran to either voluntarily renounce or be forcefully prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons if -- as Moscow fears -- this results in a diminution of Russia's value to Iran as a protector or partner. Even a nuclear-armed Iran would be preferable to Moscow than this prospect.
Moscow has little interest in working with Washington to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for two important reasons: First, Moscow has reasonably good -- though not untroubled -- relations with Tehran. Russian firms profit from selling arms and nuclear technology to Iran, and Russian petroleum firms are actively seeking to invest in the Iranian oil and gas sectors. Moscow is also deeply appreciative that Tehran has not supported Chechen or other Muslim rebels in Russia, or challenged Moscow's influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Moscow does not want to jeopardize any of this by seriously cooperating with Washington against Tehran. What Moscow would prefer instead is that others -- the United States, Europe, Israel, or some combination -- take the lead in confronting Tehran on the nuclear issue. If they succeed in getting Iran to halt its efforts, then Russia gains by avoiding the strategic challenge of having another nuclear power in its neighborhood. But if they fail to halt this activity, Moscow prefers that these actors -- and not Russia -- be the focus of Iran's ire. This is especially true if Iran actually acquires nuclear weapons.
Second, the Kremlin sees the Obama administration as asking Russia to risk harming its Iranian ties while Washington is openly attempting to improve Iranian-American relations. Moscow has long feared that if U.S.-Iranian ties improve, Russia's importance to Iran will diminish. Many Russian observers are convinced that Tehran would much prefer to purchase weapons, nuclear reactors, and virtually everything else from America and the West rather than from Russia. Although Moscow does not want to see open conflict between the United States and Iran (especially if it leads to greater American influence in the region), it certainly has no interest in facilitating an improvement in American-Iranian relations that the Kremlin fears will diminish Russian influence over Iran.

Medvedev's False Reassurances

First, Medvedev's alleged desire for greater cooperation with the United States does not mean that he will follow through. He knows Washington wants Russia's help, and he may hold out the prospect of collaboration to see what concessions the Obama administration might make to secure Moscow's support. Second, the Russian president's cool response to Obama's letter -- stating that there would be no need for U.S. deployment of ballistic missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic (something Moscow vociferously opposes) if there were no Iranian threat -- indicates that this concession is not enough for Moscow. Even if Medvedev meant what he reportedly told Obama, it is Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, not Medvedev, who has the final say on Russian foreign policy. Third, Putin, who has privately expressed concern to Western visitors about Iran's nuclear program, hinted during a CNN interview in August 2008 that Russian cooperation on Iran is contingent on American cooperation on Georgia. As far as Moscow is concerned, Washington's continued support for Georgia (including the recent NATO military exercises there) demonstrates that the United States is not cooperating with Russia on this issue.
Even if Washington made the concessions Moscow seeks, what help can the United States reasonably expect Russia to provide on the Iranian nuclear issue? Russia will neither take part in any forceful action against Iran, nor damage its economic relationship with the country, especially since Moscow fears that Washington is trying to snatch the Iranian market away.
Some believe that Medvedev's reputed concern about Iran's nuclear program will lead to Russian support for tougher UN Security Council sanctions against the Iranian regime. But Medvedev's alarm is more rhetorical than real, and Moscow will most likely do what it has done in the past: work with China to delay and water down a resolution introduced by the United States or one of its allies, and then try to mitigate Iranian anger by claiming that Moscow had actually protected Iran from much harsher sanctions that the United States sought to impose.

Moving Forward Without Russia
The degree of effort necessary to secure Russia's limited help is not worth Washington's time or resources: if U.S.-Iranian relations improve, Washington would not need Moscow's help, and if they do not, Russia would not be willing or able to do anything significant to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Whether the Obama administration should attempt to improve relations with Tehran is open for debate, but the notion that "We need Russia to help us with Iran" is not.

Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

Survey: Ahmadinejad's Popularity Rises in Iran

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of all kind of positive, wishful-thinking so-called experts and envisage the downfall of the Holocaust denier president Ahmadinejad, Iranian surveys constantly and repeatedly forecast his indisputable victory as his popularity rises.

On May 13, 2009, Press TV reported that while Ahmadinejad's popularity has grown among Iranian voters, support for Ahmadinejad's rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has remained unchanged.

The survey showed that 58.6% would vote for Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential elections, while some 21.9% would vote for Mousavi.

A government survey conducted earlier this month showed that Ahmadinejad had 53.6% support, with Mousavi securing almost the same backing.

According to a more recent poll, 44.8% of Teheran residents would vote for Ahmadinejad while some 29% would cast their ballots in favour of Mousavi.

The Holocaust denier also enjoys the support of the supreme clergy. On June 12, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, implicitly backed Ahmadinejad. "We should elect those who have popular support and who live in a simple and modest way... are pained by the pain of the people," Khamenei said. “They should be close to people, be away from corruption. They should not be aristocrats themselves so to push people toward aristocracy."


Allegations that Gaza Patients "Forced" to Help Security Services in Exchange for Israeli Medical Treatment

A report issued by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel indicates that the Shin Bet security services conduct a policy of forcing patients to provide information as a condition of being allowed to leave the Gaza Strip for medical care.

According to the human rights organization, the number of Palestinian patients who are summoned for interrogation as a precondition to receiving an exit permit from Gaza for treatment has risen. Between January 2008 and March 2009 at least 438 patients were interrogated by the Shin Bet.
The report, which was presented to the United Nations Committee against Torture, in Geneva, also shows that the Shin Bet has begun interrogating minors in need of medical care, to photograph patients against their will, and to detain patients for undisclosed periods of time. According to testimonies, patients who do not cooperate are returned to Gaza without receiving a permit to exit the territory for medical treatment.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel gathered testimony from 30 patients who underwent interrogation. One patient, known as R, has cancer and is being treated at a hospital in central Israel. R said that she came to the Erez crossing after being informed that an exit permit had been approved for her and her mother. According to her testimony, at 9AM R and her mother were told to wait in the departure hall. At 11 30AM, three Shin Bet agents approached and asked R to come with them for questioning. R was removed from her mother for interrogation. She was asked questions about her father and an uncle, including about their place of employment. Only at 5 pm was she permitted to leave for Israel.

Another patient in the report is W, a Gaza man with kidney stones, who was interrogated in December 2008 after being referred for treatment at St Joseph Hospital in east Jerusalem. He told researchers that he was asked which members of his family belonged to Hamas and which to Islamic Jihad. He told them, "There aren’t any people like that in my family." W was sent back to Gaza.

Hadas Ziv, director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, called for an end to the use of patients for the purpose of gathering intelligence.

"It is incredibly dangerous for any democratic nation when a secret agency known to use unorthodox methods is allowed to operate without proper supervision or criticism," he said.

Shin Bet categorically rejected all claims of "extortion" of patients.

"The position of the security service is determined by concrete circumstances and balances an estimate of the level of threat posed by the individual requesting entrance to Israel for medical treatment against medical need," the agency said in a statement.

"The entry of most of those asking to enter Israel is enabled eventually, despite the complex security circumstances and despite the large number of examples of the use of forged permits, in part for purposes of terror."

Source: British Medical Journal (8 May 2009);338:b1879

Brazil: Supreme Court Strikes Down Press Law

On April 30, 2009, the Brazilian Supreme Court held that the 1967 Press Law, adopted by a military government, was void as it breached the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression. This important victory should be followed up by the adoption of legislation on privacy and defamation which respects constitutional and international guarantees of freedom of expression.
The Press Law was originally passed in 1967, during a period of dictatorship, and it was historically used to silence and manipulate the press. The Law authorised a number of abusive measures against journalists and media outlets, such as the seizure of newspapers without a judicial order, the banning of newspapers and magazines, and censorship.
The Press Law also regulated civil defamation and the right of reply. The Criminal Code and electoral legislation continue to provide for criminal defamation, but there is no longer a specific legal framework for civil defamation and the right of reply. Research by ARTICLE 19 suggests that this legal gap is likely to create serious legal insecurity, in particular since no clear standards apply to the question of damages for defamation, which will be now at the sole discretion of individual judges.
ARTICLE 19 participated in the Supreme Court challenge by filing an amicus curiae with the Court. In its brief, ARTICLE 19 argued that the Press Law criminalised the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right. Our brief demonstrated that criminal defamation rules were applied abusively to convict journalists and human rights defenders, including when reporting on human rights violations and corruption.
Together with ARTICLE 19, I welcome the revocation of the outdated and repressive Press Law in all parts of the world, including Israel. There is a need to adopt new laws on defamation and privacy which are consistent with international and constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, as well as other rights. Defamation should be addressed exclusively as a civil matter.

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech. For more information on ARTICLE 19 please visit

Source: Mark Perkins lists -

UNESCO Launches First-ever Survey of Historical and Contemporary Slavery

Slavery may have been legally abolished around the world, but it remains “a widespread and deeply rooted component on contemporary life” concludes the first-ever comparative analysis of historical slave systems and modern forms of human bondage, published by UNESCO.

Entitled “Unfinished Business”, the survey was commissioned by UNESCO’s Slave Route project and prepared by Joel Quirk of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE, University of Hull). It aims to provide the basis for dialogue about ways of addressing contemporary slavery, including human trafficking, sexual servitude and child labour, and the enduring legacies of historical slave systems.

The publication is divided into five chapters: defining slavery in all its forms; presenting data on the scale of slavery, slave trading and other forms of human bondage; examining differences and similarities between historical and contemporary practices; identifying, via case studies in the United States, Saint Domingue/Haiti, Great Britain and Portugal, the main paths through which abolition of slavery has historically occurred; and, through a further series of case studies, exploring the key limitations of the legal abolition of slavery.
The conclusion outlines a series of general strategies and recommendations for addressing contemporary problems, based around education, information and awareness, further legal reform, effective enforcement, and release, rehabilitation and restitution.


Sixth Ordinary Session of the World Commission of the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (16 - 19 June 2009)

The sixth ordinary session of the World Commission of the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) will be held in Kuala Lumpur, from 16 to 19 June 2009.

COMEST is an advisory body and forum of reflection composed of 18 independent experts. The Commission is mandated to formulate ethical principles that could provide decision-makers with criteria other than purely economic.

Discussions will focus mainly on the two COMEST reports foreseen for 2009: on science ethics, and on the ethical implications of climate change. Discussions will also be scheduled on environmental ethics, with particular reference to teaching, and on the ethical issues of nanotechnologies.

The session will be an excellent opportunity to extend discussions through the UNESCO Asia-Pacific School of Ethics and gathered experts from around the globe on the ethical issues concerning science and technology in Asia and the Pacific, enlarge the framework of the debate, and reinforce future activities throughout the region and beyond.
A Youth Forum on the ethical and social responsibilities of scientists in Asia will also be integrated into the program, with a view to involving young researchers and representatives of youth organizations in the work of COMEST and UNESCO.
The sessions are open to the public, as will be satellite conferences on 15 and 19 June. There is no registration fee for any of these events. However, as is customary, the travel and living expenses of observers will be borne by them or by the Organization they represent.
To register, please complete the registration form.


Henk ten Have, COMEST Secretariat
UNESCO 1 rue Miollis 75732 Paris Cedex 15 FRANCE
Tel.: +33 (0)1 45 68 38 28; Fax: +33 (0)1 45 68 57 24

Human Rights Reporting and U.S. Foreign Policy

From Robert McMahon, Deputy Editor, Council on Foreign Relations

The annual U.S. State Department report cataloguing the human rights failures and progress of nations around the world regularly arouses controversy as well as acclaim. Nations that receive poor ratings in the report, sometimes important U.S. partners, bitterly resent the exercise and often accuse Washington of hypocrisy. Since 9/11, many states have sharply criticized the United States for singling out their records when Washington has itself been under scrutiny for its actions at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. At the same time, many rights activists say the annual U.S. report shines a useful spotlight on abusive nations. Since the U.S. Congress mandated the reports in 1976, policymakers have sought to balance the need to engage friends and allies while acknowledging the human rights shortcomings cited by the State Department. The Obama administration has stressed a commitment to improving the United States' own record, but already has grappled with reconciling strategic interests with China and other partners against the human rights concerns. Have a look at this comprehensive and important report.


My Visit to Israel

I plan to be in Israel from July 21 until August 12, 2009 and be happy to meet my friends. Those who wish to set time for a meeting are welcomed to contact me now, as I am beginning to organize my schedule.

My New Article

“Euthanasia Policy and Practice in Belgium: Critical Observations and Suggestions for Improvement”, Issues in Law and Medicine, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Spring 2009), pp. 187-218.

The essay opens with some background information about the context of euthanasia in Belgium. It proceeds by discussing the Belgian law on euthanasia and concerns about the law, its interpretations and implementation. Finally, the major developments and controversies since the law came into effect are discussed. Suggestions as to how to improve the Belgian law and circumscribe the practice of euthanasia are made, urging Belgian legislators and the medical establishment to reflect and study so as to prevent potential abuse of vulnerable patients.

The article’s methodology is based on critical review of the literature supplemented by interviews I conducted in Belgium with leading scholars and practitioners in February 2003 and February 2005. The interviews were conducted in English, usually in the interviewees’ offices. The interviews were semi-structured. I began with a list of twenty-four questions but did not insist on answers to all of them if I saw that the interviewee preferred to speak about subjects that were not included in the original questionnaire. The length of interviews varied from one to two and a half hours. After completing the first draft I sent the manuscript to my interviewees as well as to some leading experts for critical review and comments. The comments received were integrated into this final version of the essay. In 2008, while writing the final draft, I approached my interviewees and some other well-known experts and invited their comments and updates. Responses received by mid-January 2009 were integrated into the article.

The essay is on my website, As ever, I’d be happy to circulate my new article to interested parties.

Gad Yaakobi’s Autobiography

Gad Yaacobi, Grace of Time: An Autobiography (Tel Aviv: Yedioth Ahronoth-Miskal, 2002).

Gad Yaacobi tells the story of his life, from Kfar Vitkin, where he was born and where he grew up; his acquaintance with his mentor, Moshe Dayan; activities as Member of Knesset from 1969 until 1992; poetry; Minister in Israeli governments (1974-1977, 1984-1990); service as Israel Ambassador to the UN, and finally Chairman of the Board of the Israel Electric Corporation.

Yaacobi, in his reserved and precise style, describes people he knew: Moshe Dayan, Henry Kissinger, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and others. He is candid and open as he can be, and sometimes you need to read between the lines more than in the lines. Gad achieved a lot in his lifetime, but he felt he could achieve more. His complaint is to himself: The character is the destiny. If he were more ambitious, if he had zeal for politics to the extent that, say, Shimon Peres, has, then he could have reached the highest post in Israel: Prime Minister. Gad thought he was well-suited for the job. I concur.

Yaakobi’s autobiography provides a personal account of some twenty years of Israeli history, from the 1970s until the 1990s. He was right there when crucial decisions were in the making, and sometimes his mind and experience helped to shape history. For better and for worse, his career was interwoven with Peres’s career. Their complex relationships are at the heart of this book.

More than anything else, this book is so him. I knew Gad since 2003 until the last days of his life. This book, which accompanied me over the past few weeks, took me back to our meetings at his home in Tel Aviv, where -- so he proudly said -- you can see the sea. Gad was always true and honest with himself, rational, learned, observant, sensitive, fair-minded, concerned and involved. His qualities shine out from his autobiography. I miss him.

New Book

Richard Jackson et. al., Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda (London: Routledge, 2009).

Movie of the Month - The Curious Story of Benjamin Button (2008)

There are magical movies, movies that enthrall you, capturing your soul and mind. This is the story of Benjamin Button, who was born with several aging diseases and experiences a unique life journey, opposed to what we know: Benjamin was born an old man, and as he grows up he becomes younger and younger until he completes a full life circle. Meanwhile, his family and friends are all getting old and, with the exception of the love of his life, Daisy, all die.

Abandoned by his biological father, Thomas Button, after Benjamin's biological mother died in childbirth, Benjamin was raised by Queenie, a black woman and caregiver at a seniors’ home. The movie opens with the last day of the Great War, and finishes with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. With Benjamin we witness scenes from the Second World War, the 1960s (Beatles), New York Ballet, race relations in New Orleans. Benjamin Button is played by six different actors, mainly by Brad Pitt.

At the core this is a love story between Benjamin and Daisy, played by three actresses, mainly by Cate Blanchett who gives yet another superb performance. Benjamin, while away getting younger, had a short love affair with Elizabeth Abbott, played by another wonderful British actress, Tilda Swinton. There are many touching moments that touch your heart, but the most touching one is when Benjamin decides to leave his lover, and his one-year-old daughter, before she will be able to remember him.
He wanted his daughter to have a real father, not one who grows to become a child as his daughter grows older.

David Fincher directed this movie with sensitivity and silky imagination. Alexandre Desplat’s music is enchanting and moving. It's a beautiful score that promotes the many magical moments you experience while watching this long movie, 2:40 hours, yet I found myself hoping that the movie would never end. I highly recommend this Hollywood gem.

Light Side

An old farmer wished to plow his field in order to plant his vegetables, but the work was too difficult for him. His only son was in jail for bank robbery. The old farmer sat down and wrote his son a letter in which he complained of his hardship.

After a short while, he received a letter from his son: Please dad. Don’t plow the field. It is where I buried the money!!

At 4 a.m., twelve policemen appeared at the old farmer’s home, and then turned his field upside down, looking for the money.

The old farmer wrote his son another letter, telling him what has just happened, and asking him what he should do now.

Plant your vegetables, answered the son. This is what I could do from where I am.

Happy Spring, peace and love. I hope that Israel will have a good and relaxed summer for a change. We call it in Hebrew “Onat Hamelafefonim”, Cucumber Period. May I continue writing about issues for the heart, joyful to the eye, comforting the mind.

Yours as ever,

My last communications are available on
Earlier posts at my home page: People wishing to subscribe to this Monthly Newsletter are welcome to e-mail me at