This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Monday, March 31, 2014

With Malice Aforethought

In Iran's rush to modernize and to take advantage of nuclear power under Shah Pahlavi before he was so rudely dethroned, it is understandable that Iran, a then-emerging-into-the-20th-Century nation, would not be aware that it makes no sense whatever to place a nuclear reactor structure on geography vulnerable to shifting tectonic plates. Earthquakes and nuclear plants do not make for a good combination.

But then on the other hand, a more technically advanced country like Japan made the same fatal error in judgement. But Germany and Russia, those two scientifically aware and advanced countries, not knowing any better? The mind boggles.

In any event, in 1975 Germany busied itself helping pre-Revolutionary Iran design and build a nuclear plant close to Bushehr, a city of over a million population in southeast Iran. An area that represents one of the most active seismic regions of the world. Not just two, but three tectonic plates rubbing aggravatingly against one another on the Earth's crust. Is that careless, or what?

Germany abandoned the project, it seems, when the Shah was unseated from his Peacock Throne. And that's when Russia stepped in to provide completion assistance in 1996. So the Bushehr plant comprises a mixed German-Russian technology. The plant began operating in July 2013 when Russia helpfully supplied the nuclear fuel to enable its start-up. The plant represents a 40-year-stale design, with a 30-year-old cooling system.

And as far as the International Atomic Energy Agency is concerned the staff operating the plant which runs on two different technologies has not been adequately trained to cope with any potential accident that might occur. One did surface in February 2011 with a broken water pump infiltrating the reactor cooling system with small metallic pieces, an event that led to the required unloading of the fuel rods.

A general view of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran, August 21, 2010. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
A general view of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran, August 21, 2010.
Credit: Reuters/Raheb Homavandi

But Iran needn't be too concerned over the possibility that the earth will go into one of its regular shake-and-roll syndromes of catastrophic consequences impinging on the Bushehr reactor. The plant wasn't online in April last year when a measly 6.3 magnitude quake hit the area. If shake comes to collapse, in any event, Bushehr is closer to population centres in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar than it is to other populous Iranian cities.

Should Iran become really ticked off at the objections of its Arab neighbours to the possible consequences of a nuclear reactor built too close to their major cities, their own protected by the Zagros Mountain range acting as a shield for Iran, with prevailing winds pushing radioactive materials toward its neighbours, it would have no need to go to war when provoked.

An accident at Bushehr would have consequences for the citizens of Bushehr, but Iran has stated before it can spare a million people - in reference to a nuclear war with Israel - knowing that the less populous state would be hit harder by its own dread losses.

Perhaps the same kind of thinking is being employed by the irascible, Islamist theocracy in regard to its other neighbours not just its Jewish ones.

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"Without Ukrainian Input"

"The Russian troop buildup is creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine. It certainly does not create the climate that we need for dialogue."
"The question is not one of right or legality. The question is one of strategic appropriateness and whether it's smart at this moment of time to have troops massed on the border."
"We will not accept a path forward where the legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table. No decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before the start of their meeting at the Russian Ambassador's residence about the situation in Ukraine, in Paris Sunday March 30, 2014. Kerry traveled to Paris for a last minute meeting with Lavrov. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before the start of their meeting at the Russian Ambassador's residence about the situation in Ukraine, in Paris Sunday March 30, 2014. Kerry traveled to Paris for a last minute meeting with Lavrov. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool) The Associated Press
"Federation does not mean, as some in Kyiv fear, an attempt to split Ukraine. To the contrary, federation ... answers the interests of all regions of Ukraine."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergiy Lavrov
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov advanced far-different proposals on how to calm tensions and de-escalate the situation
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov advanced far-different proposals on how to calm tensions and de-escalate the situation - Jacquelyn Martin / The Associated Press

Of course when it comes to the matter of the disposition of Ukrainian geography and politics, if the Kremlin feels it is entitled to have a say in what another country decides on its own behalf, diplomatic channels of communication are always a good idea. In this particular instance, however, Vladimir Putin does not recognize the 'undemocratic' removal of Russia's approved Ukrainian president, and by extension can give no diplomatic recognition to the current, temporary cabinet, including the new president.

Entirely justified, therefore, in snubbing any opportunity to speak directly to the new Ukrainian government. Russia, and particularly its president, is very, very big on the niceties of democratic convention and is absolutely scandalized at the amount of corruption endemic in Ukraine. Zounds and horrors! All the while Viktor Yanukovych sat as president, Moscow could have complete confidence that corruption did not dare raise its ugly head; now -- well, now anything goes.

Sedate, prim Russia is not accustomed to the rough-and-tumble of citizenry audacious enough to presume they could take matters of state politics into their own protesting hands, defiling the Maidan with rubbish and dangerous fires, allowing ruffians to roam about at will and threaten innocent Russian-speakers for their unasked-for views, and demanding the downfall of a duly elected government. Atrocious, to put it in a word expressing extreme dismay.

The 1994 Budapest Memorandum, with Ukraine forfeiting the deterrence effect of holding onto nuclear weapons in favour of sincere assurances of protective support from countries like ... well, the United States and Russia ... should events occur that threatened Ukraine... International law, international normalities and international institutions do matter, after all. One should have trust in them for security and protection, yes indeed.

It is the plight of Russians in Ukraine (Estonia, Moldova, Lithuania, Poland, etc., etc.) that motivates mother Russia to have a care for her children, and thus the build-up of troops on the Ukraine border. To ensure that no untoward events occur to threaten the well-being of Russians and Russian-speakers; reasonable enough reaction to imminent threats where one's people appeal for help, no? And who comes to the aid of Ukrainians intimidated and threatened by Russians and Russian-speaking thugs?

Best to allow children to thrash things out between themselves; parents should stand back and hope for the best. It's common parental wisdom, after all. Annexing Crimea somehow isn't quite in the same league as an exchange of opinion. The "consequences" of which remain largely verbally condemning with promises of more to come. However, Mr. Putin is still enjoying the warm glow of achievement without effort resulting in military loss of any kind.

Oh, wait: there was military loss but it wasn't Russia's, was it, after all? Russia, on the other hand, gained hugely; expanded territory, the Black Sea ports that it is entitled to, some new (Ukrainian) military recruits, Ukrainian infrastructure and Ukrainian battleships, not bad for a few weeks' work. Without much of a strain, come to think of it. It's amazing what a little bit of well-planned and -placed propaganda will net.

Oh, and that meeting between the two diplomatic super-stars? Well, Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry did come to an amicable agreement to work alongside the Ukrainian government to ... improve rights for Russian-speaking Ukrainians and to disarm "irregular forces and provocateurs". An agreement that will have to be relayed to the government of Ukraine.

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Scandalous Dodges - Dalton McGuilty

"The fact that any member of a minister's political staff would think it appropriate to delete all email records, without exercising any judgement regarding the content of those records and the possible need to retain them ... is, quite frankly, unbelievable."
Ontario Privacy Commissioner Anne Cavoukian
Former premier Dalton McGuinty says he learned about the allegations against his former chief of staff when they were reported in the news last week.
Colin McConnell / Toronto Star file photo
Former premier Dalton McGuinty says he learned about the allegations against his former chief of staff when they were reported in the news last week.

It is now well past time for the current provincial government in Ontario to call an election. If Ontario voters decide they still have trust in provincial Liberals they can vote them back into office as they've done on previous occasions. The government of former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty was rife with scandal and corruption. Despite which, voters cast votes of trust for the Ontario Liberal party.

Dalton McGuinty's management of provincial issues and the economy was a nightmare. His sanctimonious handling of so many files was so disastrous, it is unimaginable that Ontarians continued to vote him and his party back into power time and again. There was the Caledonia standoff when Premier McGuinty instructed the Ontario Provincial Police not to arrest the aboriginal perpetrators of intimidation and violence against a community in Caledonia, making a mockery of law and order.

And then there was the eHealth scandal, when it was revealed that the computerization of provincial health records was an absolute mess, costing almost a billion dollars in wasted effort and enormous salaries though nothing of value was ever produced. On top of that was the Ornge air ambulance scandal with those in authority misusing public funds and becoming personally wealthy on the taxpayers' dime.

McGuinty resignation stalls wind turbine debate in OntarioWind turbines at the Erie Shores Wind Farm near Port Burwell, ON. Credits: CRAIG GLOVER/The London Free Press/QMI AGENCY

Then again, the McGuinty government was determined to earn the province recognition as the most 'green' jurisdiction in North America, signing on to a costly contract with a South Korean company for the production of wind turbines, and paying out expensive energy contracts for solar power-generated electricity, and passing on the enormous costs to Ontario users, while ending up with more electrical power than the province could use, and selling it at a loss to New York state.

It looked possible that the Liberals might lose the 2011 election, or at least some pretty important Toronto seats, and that's when Dalton McGuinty resorted to  connivance resulting in the cancellation of two Toronto-area gas plants under construction that were hugely unpopular in the areas where they were being built, Mississauga and Oakville. He smugly informed an enquiry launched into the affair that "it's never too late" to do the "right thing".

As though he had been motivated by voters' concerns, and not by his own concerns relating to lose seats during an election campaign. The cancellations of those gas plants eventually was revealed to be $1-billion in penalty fees. More hard-earned tax dollars flushed away by a government that views it as easy-come, easy-go. What's more, Mr. McGuinty authorized his trusted staff to make an effort to ensure that any documentation revolving around that cancellation not come to public light.

And now that the Ontario Provincial Police in launching a criminal investigation has concluded that criminal acts did indeed take place, with the unauthorized, underhanded and clearly illegal destruction of email that would fully incriminate the government be wiped off hard drives, it's time for a new election. Ontario's current premier was a key, high-level cabinet minister at the time of the election, and she was also co-chair of the election.

Premier Kathleen Wynne was not elected premier of the province. The man elected as premier after manipulating events to enable his party to return, albeit to a minority place, decided when things finally got too hot, that he would prefer to leave public office and take up an offer at Harvard as living proof, presumably, that corruption will get you everywhere and you can live to tell the tale. Premier Wynne, in other words, is an interim premier.

It is past time for Andrea Horwath, leader of the New Democratic Party, whose considerable ability and pleasure in extorting concessions from the liberals in lieu of bringing down the government by voting against, for example, a budget that now liberally sprinkles goodies to various constituencies to spread the pixie dust of gratitude and forgetfulness, join the Conservatives in arranging for a fresh, new election.

And then let the consequences fall where they may. At least the electorate will be given a choice and another chance at a choice other than the irremediably corrupt Liberals.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

What Crisis in Ukraine?

"[Mr. Obama informed Vladimir Putin that a diplomatic solution] remains possible only if Russia pulls back its troops and does not take any steps to further violate Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty."
White House statement
President Vladimir Putin spoke during a ceremony with newly appointed high-ranking military and interior officers at the Kremlin on Friday. Credit Pool photo by Alexey Druzhinin

Western governments are convinced of the belief that Moscow is gathering a fully equipped army on the border with Ukraine, in preparation for an invasion of eastern Ukraine. President Obama warned on Friday that Russian troops were "massing along that border", making it plain enough that there are suspicions of what is yet to come that an hour-long telephone conversation which President Putin had initiated between the two, did not dissipate.

"It may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine -- or it may be that they've got additional plans", theorized President Obama. Intelligence analysts conclude that Russia is focused on the three elements required for a sustained offensive in eastern Ukraine; artillery, supplies and communications -- under the screen of military exercises. Satellite images have provided U.S. assessments of between 40,000 to 50,000 troops within striking distance of Ukraine.

That's a swiftly impressive increase from the 30,000 that had marched to the border a mere week earlier. But then, events have moved on a whirlwind of decisions and implementation of those decisions. Mr. Putin decides, the Kremlin rubber-stamps, and the orders are issued and followed with exemplary speed. It is as though all of Russia is focused on restoring itself to its former glory in the belief that Ukraine is Russian.

The diplomatic channels opened after the telephone conference between the two presidents has resulted in nothing other than U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meeting in France with Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to "discuss next steps". Discussing next steps may have taken place, as both men agreed between themselves that it would be far preferable to find a 'diplomatic solution' to the current crisis than for the tension to continue at the current level.

But President Putin, while assuring President Obama that heavens, no, Moscow has no intention of marching further into Ukraine, nor for that matter anywhere else outside of the Russian Federation, has made similar sincere declarations on previous occasions, only to abruptly surrender to a change of mind, soon afterward. So the concerns of a trip-wire tension remain unabated. 'Will he or won't he' appears to absorb the minds of eastern Europe and NATO countries.

Russia, emphasized the Russian president, is extremely alarmed at "a continued rampage of extremists" intimidating authorities and residents "in various regions and in Kyiv". Odd, that, since Ukrainian authorities and residents are quite, quite upset at the prospect of Russia's continued threats to the integrity of their borders and their population and on fairly good grounds, given the recent yank-back of Crimea, its territory, assets and citizens.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove (good thing he wasn't named Breedwar), NATO's supreme commander in Europe, offers another possibility. The contemplation of a Russian plan to move from Ukraine's eastern border past Crimea to Odessa and Transnistria, to leave Ukraine landlocked. What was that speech last week in Moscow on the annexation of Crimea, by a smoulderingly triumphant Putin?

Pain at the Russian collapse of empire, and even before that: "After the revolution, the Bolsheviks ... may God judge them, added large sections of the historical south of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine." In obvious reference to Kharkiv and Donetsk and the remainder of southeastern Ukraine.

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The Illegal Israeli Invasion

"[These jobs] offer the opportunity to take a year off and travel while working at kiosks selling items such as beauty products, remote-controlled helicopters, and heating pads."
"CBSA officers have reported targets employing counter-surveillance techniques during surveillance and that interviews with kiosk workers are rarely productive as their 'conduct after capture' training has prepared them for providing information of limited value."
Canada Border Security Agency report: Israeli Nationals Working in Kiosks across Canada

"It's clearly a problem and I don't want to excuse it or be dismissive of it. But it is, relatively speaking, fairly benign. And it flows from a particular convergence of circumstances in Israel."
Shimon Fogel, CEO, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Canada

"My client didn't own the company. What happens is they're promised certain jobs and they came here to work. He was essentially working the business but not earning any money."
Leora Shemesh, Lawyer for Iftach Jacob, kiosk worker, Halifax

"Believe me, I was an Israeli soldier and now I'm studying law. I didn't break the law on purpose."
"I know not to trust anyone ... you should always check and double check everything. I just wanted to have fun in other countries."
Israeli law student, former kiosk worker in Canada

It might have appeared on the face of it, to represent an opportunity to see other parts of the world, having completed the obligatory two-to-three-year military conscription at age 18 for young Israelis released from service and on the cusp of beginning university. Taking a year or a summer off between military service and nose-to-the-study grindstone seems like a relieving break, and many young Israelis take to the idea.

They're offered temporary jobs working at malls all over Canada. Between last November and February, busts relating to illegal workers involving Israelis at malls in Thunder Ba y, Vancouver, Burnaby, Dieppe, N.B. Halifax, St. John's Fredericton and Ottawa, were documened by the Immigration and Refugee Board. What represents a year of travel for young Israelis between their military service and university attendance, represents illegal workers in Canada.

An extremely large 2009 bust of illegal Israeli workers in the United States led to Canada becoming a popular destination for these kiosk workers. According to the CBSA report no indications have surfaced of any implicating ties to serious or violent organized crime groups. The scheme, they claim, is one representing "employment fraud and tax evasion". 

Recruitment conventions and websites serve to pair workers with jobs in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Workers earn commission, are promised between $1,500 and $3,000 weekly at the kiosks, quoting a U.S. estimate. Last summer, 25-year-old Iftach Jacob was charged with employing foreign nationals without authorization, failing the conditions of a visitor's permit; charges later dropped for a conditional discharge for working without authorization.

CBSA spokeswoman Maja Graham stated that "a small minority" of kiosk workers are foreign nationals and "a smaller fraction of that number are working without a work permit", placing matters in proportional perspective. Those charged were issued exclusion orders to leave Canada and not return for at least a year, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board.

And one is left to ponder the other realities that there are 'visitors' to Canada representing the Gaza-placed Hamas terrorist group who work underground in illegal smuggling activities, ranging from profitable smuggling of tobacco and drug products to weapons smuggling. The profits are said to be in the hundreds of thousands, and go directly to Hamas and Hezbollah. No word reaches the public whether there are any apprehensions of these smugglers, whether they are arrested and brought to justice.

That's a perspective of an entirely different kind. Like those who arrive with or without visitors' visas, from the Middle East or North Africa, and ply their trade of recruiting impressionable young Muslims in mosques, madrassas or community centres, with the promotion of martyrdom as a great honour in taking part as a mujahadin in the battle for Islamist jihad.

Areas which might and possibly should hugely represent far greater emphasis on safety and security in illegal employment within Canada.

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(French) Language Uber Alles

"We think it's important to adopt a new French Language Charter because I think in Montreal we have real problems on this issue.
"We want to live in French, to work in French. That is very important."
"If you want to be bilingual, I agree with you as a person. But as an institution and as government, I think the official language of Quebec is French and we don't have to be bilingual in our institutions."
Parti Quebecois Leader, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois

"Always in North America, French will need special attention."
"We must respect and apply Bill 101 as it stands today. As for going forward and protecting and promoting French, for us the solution goes better with teaching it better, writing it better, speaking it better, teaching it faster for newcomers to Quebec."
"It's always a great advantage for anyone to be bilingual. I know. And this is something the Pequistes don't want me to say, but I'll say it again -- there's not a single parent in Quebec who doesn't hope for their kids to be bilingual."
"It's such a fantastic asset in life."
Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard
The Parti Quebecois has suffered an unexpected -- though it shouldn't have been totally unexpected -- surprise when their campaign went from an assured majority PQ government rising out of the election of April 7, to the dismal (for them) news that their popularity levels had plunged after the public announcement by their prize candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau in announcing his candidacy for the PQ, also announcing his goal of achieving full sovereignty for Quebec; secession from Canada.

This in-your-face triumphalism evidently did not go over too well with the Quebec electorate, which has signalled in the past its unwillingness to once again address that issue so dear to the heart of Quebec separatists. With the full understanding of that campaign debacle, the PQ has back-pedalled on sovereignty, opting instead to use the divisive tactics of "them" and "us". Emphasizing the secular nature of Quebec and that conformity to secular values by religious minorities will become law.

Above all, placing the aggravating issue of French-language heritage rights as the language of first, and mostly only acceptability in Quebec, keening on about the danger to its primacy as a result of the presence of English-speakers, diluting the power and legal efficacy of French as the language of commerce and education. It is the identity politics that is Quebec's guiding light as an exceptional people of a proud heritage, a 'nation' unlike any other part of  Canada.

During televised election debates Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard was roundly denounced for musing how necessary it is to protect the French language, but how (controversially) beneficial it is for French-speakers to also have proficiency in English, which is the majority language in North America, the second language of choice the world over, and the international language of business and aviation, science and finance.

The new, French-language-protective measures that the PQ has promised to bring into law with a majority government would be inclusive of obligatory study in mastering French for English-language college students in the province; competence in French a requirement before diplomas are granted. And as far as business is concerned, a minimization of bilingualism requirements in hiring employees; quite unnecessary in a social-business environment that is weighted to French only.

And to round things off, Quebec's chief electoral officer made an abject apology after a spokesman for the electoral office had inconveniently commented on the obvious; that the sovereignty referendum process would be swiftly triggered once the PQ formed their yearned-for majority government. Such a scenario is not being considered, assured Jacques Drouin, in a widely-issued statement, for which the PQ is undoubtedly quite grateful.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Syrian rebels allowed to attack Latakia from Turkish soil under Turkish air cover. Iran raises Cain in Ankara

Syrian rebels allowed to attack Latakia from Turkish soil under Turkish air cover. Iran raises Cain in Ankara

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 29, 2014, 10:45 PM (IST)
Intense fighting for Kasab in northwest Syria
Intense fighting for Kasab in northwest Syria
Turkey has ratcheted up its intervention in the Syrian war to an unprecedented level, according to exclusive debkafile military and intelligence sources. For the first time in the three-year conflict the Turkish army is allowing Syrian rebel forces, including the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, passage through Turkish territory for their offensive to capture the northwestern Syrian coastal area where the Assad clan’s lands are situated. 
Ankara’s support for the rebels is inclusive: Turkish troops are posted at the roadside with supplies of ammo, fuel, food, mechanical repair crews and medical aid for rebel forces as they head north. The Turkish air force gives them air cover and Turkish agents arm them with surveillance data on Syrian military movements ahead.

The Syrian fighter jet shot down on March 23 just inside the Turkish border was in fact downed in a dogfight with Turkish warplanes, while trying to bomb the rebel convoy heading for the new combat arena. Both sides preferred to stay quiet about the incident and its causes.

The rebels receiving Turkish military support are disclosed by our sources as belonging to two militias: The Syrian Revolutionaries Front under the command of Jamal Maarouf, which has gathered in remnants of the disbanded Free Syrian Army; and the Islamic Front, sponsored until recently by Saudi intelligence.  They number around 4,000 fighting men including elements of the Nusra Front.

With powerful Turkish backing, this force has been able to carve a very narrow corridor into northwest Syria from the tall Jabal al-Zawiya in the Idlib region up to a point near Syria’s northern Mediterranean coast, thereby severing the northwestern link between Syria and Turkey.
This was the first time rebel forces had gained full control of a strategic corridor. First, they had to battle through and capture the towns of Kazab, Khirbet and Samra northwest of the coastal town of Latakia.

The Syrian army is throwing air, armored and heavy artillery strength against the rebels to stop them firming up their positions in those towns, while also aiming to regain command of the Syrian-Turkish border region.

The fighting Saturday, March 29 was most intense around Kasab.

This new development in the Syrian war raises two questions:
1. For how long can the Syrian rebels hold out against constant battering by superior military strength?
2. If the rebels are thrown out of their new positions, will the Turkish army come to their aid?  If so, it would be Ankara’s first outright military incursion into Syrian territory and the first intrusion by a NATO member in its civil conflict.

Our sources in Ankara report that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is in favor of going ahead. He is vehemently opposed by the Turkish chief of staff.

It is this argument which triggered the banning of YouTube by the Turkish government Friday, March 28 - not the important municipal elections taking place Monday. A leaked recording published anonymously purported to reveal a conversation between Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, spy chief Hakan Fidan and a general discussing how to drum up a pretext for a Turkish attack inside Syria. A voice identified as that of Fidan appeared to suggest a missile assault as the pretext for a Turkish invasion.

Erdogan and Turkish intelligence chiefs are convinced that the leak was orchestrated by generals who are against deeper Turkish involvement in the Syria war.

In the meantime, debkafile’s Iranian sources report that Tehran was so jittery about this turn of events that a Iranian military delegation was rushed to Ankara, arriving Saturday, to force Erdogan to take his hands off the Syrian war by any means, including a threat to suspend oil supplies. The two sides are still talking.

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 History, Repeating Itself

"[Kassab] is a symbol of Armenian history, language and continuity. It's very symbolic."
"And so the fall of Kassab, I consider it the defeat of Armenian identity in that area."
Ohannes Geukjian, political science professor, Armenian history and politics

"When you say Kassab, you understand you are referring to the Armenians. It symbolizes Armenian culture."
Arpi Mangassarian, Badguer, Beirut-based Armenian cultural organization
A rebel fighter checks a launcher near the village of Kasab and the border crossing with Turkey, in the northwestern province of Latakia. AFP Photo
A rebel fighter checks a launcher near the village of Kasab and the border crossing with Turkey, in the northwestern province of Latakia. AFP Photo 
This is the Middle East, with all its Byzantine intrigues, hatreds, connections, conspiracies and unabated tribal, ethnic, sectarian antipathies and related violence. The Armenians of Turkey suffered horrendously during the First World War, when Turkey unleashed a massive atrocity the world considers the first 'modern-day' genocide. Official Turkey has always strenuously denied that it committed such a horror, denying fact and reality and history.

The Middle East's latest mass murdering tyrant, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, intent on punishing Syria's majority Sunni population for the offence against the ruling Syrian minority Alawite Baathist government, is seen as Syria's Armenian population as their protector. Just as the Syrian Christian population see the Alawite government of al-Assad as their protector. The Kurds trust neither and are self-reliant, battling any who bring the conflict to them.

Turkey's government has declared a diplomatic war against Syria's tyrannical government, defending the Syrian Sunnis, and giving haven to the rebel leadership within Turkey's borders. And no doubt harbouring some elements of the rebel militias as well. Square that with Turkey's friendly relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Shia Islam's most frenetically Islamist country whose Middle East and nuclear designs hugely concern most Sunni-majority countries.

The position of the Kurds in Turkey has always been fraught with oppressive violence. Only in Iraq, another minority-Shia country, have the Kurds been able, post-Saddam Hussein, to obtain geographic and political autonomy, hoping no doubt, to eventually carve out a country of their own from a little bit of Syria, Turkey, Iran and of course Iraq, but not if Turkey has anything to say about it.

The Syrian regime, which looked to be in dire straits under the combined attack of its own Syrian rebel groups, later augmented by hordes of Islamist jihadis flocking into Syria from North Africa and other Arab states, has seen better fortune smile on its prospects when its sponsor Iran and the Al Quds division of the Republican Guard authorized Shia-Lebanese Hezbollah, a proxy militia of Iran, to join the fray, enabling the Syrian military to retake rebel-held portions of the country of great importance.

Now, Armenians living in Kassab, the very area where Alawite Syrians call home, are once again leaving in a panic of self-preservation with the seizure of Kassab after a two-day successful attack by Syrian rebels, most of whose fighters represent a abundance of 'conservative' Islamic groups, inclusive of the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. Islamists do not look kindly upon Christians, even Christians who have lived historically in areas Islamists are now invading.

That Bashar al-Assad's ancestral 'home' and that of his followers has been taken by the rebels will not sit well with the regime. The village that holds Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches, now in the hands of rebels does not auger well for its Armenian population, and so they flee to safer areas. The fleeing residents describe mortar shells and gunfire from over the Turkish border toward their village. And, claimed a Syrian field commander, gunmen initiated their attack "with clear support from the Turks".

"The allegations by some circles that Turkey is providing support to the opposition forces by letting them use its territory or through some other ways during the conflict ... are totally unfounded", claimed the Turkish government through a statement to the media. The government claims its preparedness to admit Syrian Armenian refugees as "protection could be provided to them".

Armenia's President Serge Sarkisian confirmed the attack by Turkish militants in 1909 of Kassab, when local Armenians were forced to flee for their lives. When, in 1915, the Ottoman Empire was in its death throes, the Armenian population was deported by the Turks, with tens of thousands dying in the march across the desert. "This is the third expulsion of Armenians from Kassab and it represents a major challenge to modern mechanisms for the protection of ethnic minorities", stated the Armenian president.

Before the Syrian rebellion some 70,000 ethnic Armenians lived in Syria, concentrated in the northern city of Aleppo, and the area around Kassab. Armenians are now leaving for Lebanon, Armenia, Canada and the United States.

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Insulting Islam

"They hatched a conspiracy to push out the residents of the colony. They contrived a case and got it filed by a person who was close to me."
"I am innocent."
Sawan Masih, Pakistani Christian

"In Pakistan, even being accused of blasphemy is equivalent to being sentenced."
"The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used to settle personal vendettas."
Xavier Williams, president, Christian group, Life for All Pakistan
An angry mob reacts after burning Christian houses in Lahore, Pakistan, Saturday, March 9, 2013. A mob of hundreds of people in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore attacked a Christian neighborhood Saturday and set fire to homes after hearing accusations that a Christian man had committed blasphemy against Islam's prophet Mohammed, said a police officer. Placard center reads, " Blasphemer is liable to death." (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
Associated Press
The death penalty for insulting the Prophet Mohammed. A more grave, grievous crime cannot be imagined by the faithful of Islam. It is an unforgivable crime, one so dreadful in its resonating violence against the faith that it must be punished by death. Never again would someone who assaulted the sanctity of the Prophet's name be able to repeat his intolerable offence. And his/her death would serve as a caution to all others who dare to insult Islam.

It cannot be known how many people languish in jail in Muslim countries which enforce capital punishment for any who are accused of blasphemy. In some Muslim countries, antipathies between Muslims and Christians are so great that false testimony is often given intending the accused to come to harm through false witness. Although the penalty of death is seen as required to ensure that respect and honour for Islam and its Prophet be ensured, it is possible that intervention can commute the sentence.

It is also possible, in a country like Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iran, for example, that those who come to the defense of the accused, even faithful Muslims, court death themselves through assassination by incensed Muslim fanatics. It has occurred often enough, even for Muslims of the rank of a governor, who in attempting to defend a Christian woman accused of slandering Mohammed, was killed by his own bodyguard in revenge for a perceived slight of Islam.

Now another case in Pakistan, a country where a young girl can be accused by an imam of desecrating the Koran by tearing pages and placing them in a bag she carried. Causing panic and terror in her Christian community, and pleas for mercy, that the child not be arrested, jailed and sentenced to death on the word of a malevolent Muslim cleric. In the more recent instance, a Christian has been accused by a Muslim friend of insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Muslim mobs attack a Christian area of Lahore after blasphemy allegation. (M. Ali photo)
Muslim mobs attack a Christian area of Lahore after blasphemy allegation. (M. Ali photo)

Sawan Masih was convicted during a hearing held in the jail where he has been incarcerated; held there in hopes of avoiding violent protests. Accused during a conversation with his friend of speaking ill of the Prophet, word quickly spread in the eastern city of Lahore. Swiftly, thousands of Muslim protesters began marauding in a Christian neighbourhood known as Joseph Colony. They torched Christian homes and churches and pandemonium and terror ensued.

Police only looked on as homes, shops and churches were destroyed in Lahore. (M. Ali photo)
Police only looked on as homes, shops and churches were destroyed in Lahore. (M. Ali photo)

Mr. Masih and his supporters insist that the incident was a fabricated one, meant to lead to success of an underhanded plot to seize land. Even if the government of Pakistan withholds committing an accused to the death penalty, the very issue is sufficient to arouse passions to the extent that rampaging mobs will carry out the death sentence on behalf of the state, with the assurance that in so doing they are committing to god's will as pious Muslims.

More than 180 homes and shops were reduced to rubble in Islamic rampage in Lahore. (M. Ali photo)
More than 180 homes and shops were reduced to rubble in Islamic rampage in Lahore. (M. Ali photo)

Following the rampage through the Christian colony, police arrested 83 suspects, including the man who lodged the complaint of blasphemy. So far, though a year has passed, no one has been convicted. A call has come from Amnesty International for Mr. Masih's release, and for those guilty of attacking Christian homes to face justice.
"Failure to do so will effectively send the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and excuse them as defence of religious sentiments", commented David Griffiths, Amnesty's deputy Asia Pacific director.
What a curious case of naivete.

Pakistani men, part of an angry mob, react after burning …

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The Aftermath of Horrific Realities

"You cannot measure the consequences of war and conflict by counting the number killed. You have to count the survivors and what happened to them."
"The health outcomes aren't good."
Duncan Pederson, World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, Montreal

"We're not just starting to see PTSD, we are in the thick of it. It's an extremely big problem and we're not keeping up with the suffering."
"Will we come out of it quickly. I don't think anyone knows, but we need to work or study or do something that allows us to think of something other than death."
Naasso Munyandamutsa, Rwandan psychiatrist

"The whole thing is just so pervasive, you probably need 10,000 counsellors to even begin to make a difference. For most of us in other countries, the problem is anxiety, and this is ten times deeper than that. It's a huge challenge."
Delanyo Dovlo, World Health Organization Rwandan representative
Young people gather in Amahoro Stadium in Kigali for the 18th commemoration of Rwanda’s genocide, in 2012. Photo by Sue Montgomery/The Gazette

Young people gather in Amahoro Stadium in Kigali for the 18th commemoration of Rwanda’s genocide, in 2012. Photo by Sue Montgomery/The Gazette

The question is: How do vulnerable young children survive the horror of witnessing atrocities so brutal that their minds would be forever in a state of confused derangement over the loss of parents, siblings, extended family, leaving them as children to cope on their own and attempt to surmount that horror? Over a quarter of the Rwandan population now suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

Each of the country's 43 district hospitals sees between 15 and 25 patients a day for psychiatric problems. Its first addiction facility, recently opened, treats 300 to 400 people a month, from age 16 and up. There are six psychiatrists serving 11.4 million Rwandans. A UNICEF national trauma survey that took place a year after the genocide took place warned of problems to come.

Of the estimated 99.9 percent of Rwandan children who witnessed violence during the genocide, 79.6 percent had at least one death in their family; 69.5 percent witnessed someone being killed or injured, and 31.4 percent witnessed rape of sexual assault. Those children in the UNICEF study are now young adults, and the trauma of their experiences has left them still struggling to understand what they experienced.
In 1994, at the Munigi refugee camp near Goma, a Rwandan child cries at his dying mother's side. Associated Press file photo
In 1994, at the Munigi refugee camp near Goma, a Rwandan child cries at his dying mother's side. Associated Press file photo
On April 7, Rwanda mourns the 20th anniversary of the genocide that befell it. And every April 7 there is a national recognition of the genocide, with a national week of mourning. The very churches and schools where hundreds of thousands of desperate Tutsis sought refuge, but found death instead, stand as memorials, testament, if any were required, of their torment. An estimated 300 people butchered each hour of one hundred days of slaughter.

Those young adults still struggling to understand what their young eyes were assaulted by in one hundred days of butchery where neighbours, former friends and even relatives by marriage viciously used machetes, nail-studded clubs and spears engaged on mass slaughter. Their minds cannot help but wander helplessly in the direction of the same question repeated without answer; what would make Hutus turn on that segment of the citizenry known as Tutsis?

This is an entirely different country now than it was twenty years ago. It present as clean, safe, and swiftly developing to embrace and meet all of the advanced indices the United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals by next year. The very picture of success in living standards for Africa, achieving a list of targets agreed to by all countries in 2000; inclusive of pledges of poverty reduction and universal primary education provision by 2015.

And while the country becomes an information-technology hub, installing over 1,600 kilometres of fibre-optic cables and a 4G network covering 95 percent of the country, many among its population are barely managing to function. An estimated 600,000 people who lost both parents and have little to no access to psychological support, plagued by stress, epilepsy, unable to sleep, resorting to alcohol and drugs for relief.

Jonathan Nettal, a psychotherapist working for a Canadian NGO called Hopethiopia/Rwanda, counsels 19- to 23-year-olds how to help one another, even while traumatized. A native of Montreal whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors, Mr. Nettal teaches small groups of ten to 15 people coping skills. "So you have more calm, people are more supportive, more socially connected, and that's a huge resource in terms of post-traumatic resilience."

Think about it: how do you cope as a teen when you've just been informed you were conceived through mass rape. That venomous, self-destructive mind-flood of shame, confusion and anger must be confronted and dealt with. Mental illness in Rwanda is a dire issue, where thousands of "genocidaires" (perpetrators) live among their victims.
Egidie walks arm in arm with her son, Bertrand, who was born after Egidie was raped several times by many men during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Through counselling, they have learned to accept the horrific past and love each other. (Neither wanted their last names published) Photo by Sue Montgomery/The Gazette

Egidie walks arm in arm with her son, Bertrand, who was born after Egidie was raped several times by many men during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Through counselling, they have learned to accept the horrific past and love each other. (Neither wanted their last names published) Photo by Sue Montgomery/The Gazette

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Pure As The Fresh-Driven Snow

"When Madame Marois accuses the Liberals of having quotas, well, there were quotas at the PQ as well. [When people didn't meet their quotas, the party would] try to shame them."
CAQ Leader Francois Legault former PQ cabinet minister

"I'm particularly surprised, to say the least, by the false attitude of virginity, if I could say so, of the PQ on these matters. Given the Moisan report, given other elements that are now of public knowledge, they should maybe take these questions with more humility." (alluding to a 2006 report by retired Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean Moisan finding the PQ had turned a blind eye to law violations on political parties' financing from 1995 to 2000.)
Philippe Couillard, Quebec Liberal leader

Thursday's debate will feature Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault, Parti Québecois Leader Pauline Marois, Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard and Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Françoise David (left to right, top to bottom).
Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault, Parti Québecois Leader Pauline Marois, Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard and Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Françoise David (left to right, top to bottom). (The Canadian Press) 
The Parti Quebecois proudly presents itself as the paradigm of political virtue, what all political parties should aspire to, in forwarding an agenda in defence of the public weal. Political integrity personifies the Parti Quebecois's agenda, motivation and desires. Vote for the Parti Quebecois and one votes for the future of the province; forward-looking, prosperous, a beacon of equality and proudly aspirational French culture, a showcase to the world.

And then, whoops! Something has obviously gone awry and it cannot be related to the activities of the Parti Quebecois; clearly Quebec's anti-corruption police are horribly confused and have gone off on a totally wrong tack, attempting to track PQ finances. The integrity of the PQ being beyond dispute, what can have driven police to look into past Parti Quebecois fundraising practices? Clearly, they've been listening to slanderous accusations by the PQ's political competitors.

It was just a courtesy visit to PQ headquarters by investigators with the province's anti-corruption police squad last month, nothing more. Trust the political adversaries of the PQ's governing style to snoop about and overturn rocks to find their hoped-for slimy accusations of wrong-doing. The investigators were merely curious about how the party looked after its fundraising. Possibly to laud it as an example for other parties to follow.

Most notably, the Liberal party whose popularity leading to the April 7 provincial election has irritatingly experienced an upward spiral of late in voters' opinions. Too much talk of separation and too little talk about the economy and employment. If one wants to examine real wrong-doing, then look at the search warrant at provincial Liberal headquarters last year linked to an investigation into political funding, said Madame Marois.

"The Liberal party was searched following a warrant issued by a judge. We are not talking about the same thing with the Parti Quebecois", she assured. Yet according to La Presse "police actions" aimed at the PQ were imminent, but temporarily held off so the police would not be seen as interfering in the democratic process. And while the PQ claimed the police 'visit' represented a mere tour by investigators of all provincial parties, neither the Coalition Avenir Quebec nor Action democratique du Quebec were 'visited'.

The man accused of raising more than $400,000 for the Liberal party and then somehow hiding it denies he ever did such a thing, responding to the PQ's complaint filed with Elections Quebec that $428,000 was raised in the past decade, and never declared. The individual charged with raising those funds, Marc Bibeaub, scoffed that any single fundraising event could gather in such an amount.
"On the contrary, this amount probably represents the cumulative effect of multiple personal donations given to the Liberal Party over a period of several months, all of which were individually accounted for, and as such, were made in accordance with the law."
The PQ is charging through new election ads that the Liberals would poke its fingers into the Charbonneau commission on corruption. That just happens to be the commission that has heard testimony implicating Pauline Marois's wealthy businessman husband in allegations of corruption, charges that she has denied, claiming that overtures made to her were swiftly dismissed out of hand; she is incorruptible. Yet her husband represents the very picture of a Quebec-style oligarch.

When the question was put to Premier Marois about a 2006 report by retired judge Jean Moisan to the effect that the PQ had benefited from $100,000 in illegal donations between 1994 and 2000, Ms. Marois shrugged it off as irrelevant; any irregularities were dealt with. "They were isolated incidents, and never will I accept that someone claims there was a system in the Parti Quebecois."

Which was when now CAQ leader Francois Legault had his say, explaining that when he was a PQ cabinet minister intense pressure was exerted to meet fundraising targets. As high as $80,000 annually, in his case.

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If the Israeli presence in the West Bank, and the "settlements" from 1967 on, are the root cause of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, then why does Article 14 of the 1964 PLO Charter call for the destruction of all of Israel?
Because Judea and Samaria had no recognized sovereign, apart from the Ottoman Empire, prior to the illegal Jordanian occupation, the current Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria cannot possibly be designated as illegal.
It seems therefore that nothing Israel offers that is less than 100% of its entire land -- in other words if Israel agrees not to exist -- will affect the Palestinian Authority's willingness to make peace.
In a world ablaze, European governments and companies still see fit to boycott Israeli companies and products from the so called West Bank. The boycotting parties claim to base their actions on the fact that the West Bank is occupied territory and that the Israeli presence in the West Bank is the one true obstacle to durable peace.

It is apparently unbeknownst to them that both premises are entirely false.

In the West, the so-called "Green Line" is usually referred to when the "peace process" is being evaluated. Someone usually states that Israel should retreat behind this Green Line in order to maintain legitimacy and legality. The Green Line is allegedly synonymous with "the Borders of 1967." This is a highly misleading semantic trick. By asserting the Green Line as the borders of 1967, the case is made to sound as if this is the border from whence the Israelis started an aggressive expansion. The truth is the opposite. The Green Line is in reality the armistice line of 1949: the border where the Arab war of extermination was halted and where the Israelis finally prevented the attempted genocide of their people.

The term "occupied territories," even if not correct, is enough to nonplus the average Israel supporter and send left-wing and Muslim front groups into a twist. It is probably worthwhile to examine the legal accuracy of the term "occupied" as it is applied to the West Bank.

First, it is important to realize that the West Bank had no legally recognized sovereign prior to 1948. After the proclamation of the state of Israel in 1948, which then counted a scarce 660,920 Jewish inhabitants, Israel, literally on the day of its birth, was immediately faced with a war of extermination launched by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, complemented by Saudi Arabian forces fighting under Egyptian command and a Yemeni contingent.

During this effort to obliterate the nascent state, Jordanian forces took control of the area that had, from biblical times, been known as Judea and Samaria. The Jordanians, in 1950, changed this name to the "West Bank" [of the Jordan River], apparently in an attempt to semantically strengthen their case of "occupation" by making the territory sound as if it were a legitimate part of their East Bank. The move also appears to be an attempt to delegitimize Israel's claim to the area by de-Judaizing its name[1] -- a strategy first adopted by Roman emperor Hadrian, when he changed the country's name from Judea to Palestine, after a nomadic maritime people, the Philistines, who had been in constant armed conflict with the Jews.

Moreover, only Britain, Iraq and Pakistan recognized the Jordanian occupation of Judea and Samaria. The rest of the world, including Jordan's Arab allies, never recognized the Jordanian occupation of Judea and Samaria as legitimate, let alone legal. The same goes for the Gaza Strip, only there, it was the Egyptians who ended up illegally occupying the area after the 1948 war of extermination.

During the Six Day War of 1967, Israel was faced with another war of extermination launched by its Arab neighbors. To survive yet another attempted genocide, Israeli forces conducted, in response, a war of defense in which the Israel Air Force destroyed Egyptian aircraft before enemy troops could reach Israel's fragile borders. In the process of this defensive war, the Israelis ended up expelling the Jordanians from the part of Jerusalem they occupied and the West Bank of the Jordan River: Judea and Samaria.

Because Judea and Samaria had no recognized sovereign, apart from the Ottoman Empire, prior to the illegal Jordanian occupation, the current Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria cannot possibly be designated as illegal. After all, from whom are they occupying the area, save from the former Ottoman Empire? The area can only be correctly designated as "disputed" territories, just like Kashmir, the Western Sahara, Zubarah, Thumbs Island, and a lengthy parchment of other disputed territories.

It has been alleged -- originally by diplomats of the Arab and Muslim world, and later parroted by a gullible European political elite -- that to leave this dispute unresolved blocks not only the peace process but also the general stability of the region. Any impartial examination of facts, however, shows that the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria has no significant relationship to either the "peace process" or regional stability. It is probably just irresistibly convenient for autocrats to keep telling diplomats to focus on Israel and the Palestinian problem to throw them -- as well as their own people -- off the scent of their own questionable governance.

If the Israeli presence in the West Bank, and the "settlements" from 1967 on, are the root cause of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, then why does Article 14 of the 1964 PLO charter call for the destruction of all of Israel? "The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national duty. Its responsibilities fall upon the entire Arab nation, governments and peoples, the Palestinian peoples being in the forefront. For this purpose, the Arab nation must mobilize its military, spiritual and material potentialities; specifically, it must give to the Palestinian Arab people all possible support and backing and place at its disposal all opportunities and means to enable them to perform their role in liberating their homeland."

In 1964, there was not a single Israeli in Judea and Samaria, nevertheless the PLO called for the obliteration of Israel. It is this '64 PLO mentality that has pervaded the upper echelons of Palestinian administration ever since. With the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords, although PLO leader Yasser Arafat said 'yes' to peace, in the period following his actions led to the first massive wave of terror attacks, known as the "Second Intifada." In 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak made Arafat an offer that shocked the world. Barak offered the PLO nearly everything it demanded, including a state with its capital in Jerusalem; control of the Temple Mount; the return of approximately 97% of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, and a $30 billion compensation package for the 1948 refugees.[2] Arafat turned this deal down. In 2008, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas almost 98% of the West Bank, and again accepted nearly all Palestinian demands. Olmert too, was turned down.

It seems therefore that nothing Israel offers that is less than 100% of its entire land -- in other words, if Israel agrees not to exist -- will affect the Palestinian Authority's [PA] willingness to make peace. The Arabs rejected a plan to partition the land, they did not want peace when there were no Israelis in Gaza, the West Bank or the Jordanian-occupied eastern part Jerusalem, and have repeatedly turned down generous peace offers.

Judea and Samaria are not occupied territories, and the Israeli presence there has no relationship to the PA's willingness to make peace.

Why then would European governments and companies boycott the region? They do not boycott other comparable regions. Even more revealingly, in 2006, the EU even actively aided an occupying power, Turkey, by approving a $259 million aid package for Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus.

Anti-Israel protestors in Melbourne, Australia in June 2010. (Image source: Wikimedia/Takver)

Why these double standards and what do they tell us about the morality -- or lack thereof -- of the people who hold them?

As Thomas Friedman once wrote "Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest."

[1] Wim Kortenoeven, De Kern van de zaak

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