German president planning visit to Israel later this month

Newly-elected Joachim Gauck to conduct three-day state visit that will also include the Palestinian territories

Germany’s newly elected president will travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories later this month.

Joachim Gauck’s office said Monday that he will be conduct a state visit in Israel on May 28-31.

It says Gauck, who was elected in March, will also visit the Palestinian territories during that time. No further details of the trip were announced.

A visit to Israel is a must for high-ranking German officials, but it is never an entirely easy trip, given Germany’s history of genocide against the Jews.

Since Germany and Israel established diplomatic ties in 1965, Germany has become perhaps Israel’s strongest ally in Europe.

Story via Times of Israel

“Canada is Israel’s Best Friend,” Foreign Minister Tells AJC Global Forum

“Israel has no greater friend in the world today than Canada,” declared Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird at the AJC Global Forum.

“Our strong support for Israel is not about politics at home, and certainly not about winning popularity contests at the United Nations. Canada certainly has the scars to show for it,” Baird said. “It’s about values.”

The foreign minister was addressing the AJC World Leaders Plenary, attended by an audience of more than 1,500, including many ambassadors in Washington, D.C. The foreign ministers of Cyprus and Germany also spoke at that Global Forum session.

Canada’s pro-Israel position, he said, was a matter of principle, based on the values of “freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law” that Canada shares with Israel and the U.S.

“At the UN and elsewhere, we make it clear that Israel’s right to exist is non-negotiable. We vote against one-sided and unfair resolutions,” he said.

Canada has not always been so friendly to Israel, said Baird, who recalled two incidents in his own career when his suggestions to speak up for the Jewish state were rebuffed as naive and politically unrealistic.

“That is no longer how Canada operates,” he declared, “Not under this Foreign Minister. And not under this Prime Minister.” Baird’s speech was interrupted by frequent applause.

The current Canadian government “rejects the concept of moral relativism in international relations,” said Baird, adding that in Canada’s view “liberal democracies and international terrorist groups are not equal.”

Baird remarked that over the decades Canada has “paid a high toll for the principles that guide us” in fighting against hatred and intolerance, and in defense of freedom, democracy and dignity in two world wars and other conflicts around the world.

“In Afghanistan, we have invested billions of dollars and sacrificed more than 150 lives to ensure that country never again becomes a haven for terrorism,” said Baird.

Baird also expressed his country’s commitment to human rights, specifically denouncing Iran for its persecution of women, Christians and Baha’i; China for driving Christianity underground; and Egypt for its treatment of Coptic Christians.

And he pointed out that AJC, similarly, “does important advocacy work” not just for Jews but supports “dignity and respect for all peoples.”

The Foreign Minister also stressed the importance of economic prosperity for areas of the world that are beset with unrest and violence. He described his government’s success in providing “jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity.”

Noting that Canada has the third largest oil reserves in the world, Baird spoke of the potential benefits to his country and the U.S. of the Keystone XL pipeline project, which AJC strongly supports.

Story via Canada.com

Israeli candidate runs for Congress in Texas

Hundreds of Israelis are running for a seat in the Knesset. Only one is running for a seat in Congress.

Itamar Gelbman was born in New York 30 years ago and as a child moved with his parents to Herzliya, where he was raised. He studied business management and computer science at Tel Aviv University and served as an undercover reserve officer in the Tel Aviv Police District.

After graduation, Gelbman joined the IDF where he was a lieutenant in what he calls the “army special forces.” He said he could not be more specific about what he did in the army but that he received multiple awards, including a commendation from the IDF chief of staff.

Eight years ago, he moved to Texas. After US President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Gelbman decided to get involved in politics. At first he wanted to volunteer for a politician, but he did not like the current crop of politicians where he lives.

“I didn’t like what I saw, so I decided to step up and run myself,” he said.

Gelbman is running in the May 29 Republican Primary in Texas’s Sixth Congressional District, which is outside Dallas. He will face off against incumbent Joe Barton, who was first elected in 1984 and has never won reelection with less than 60 percent of the vote, and challenger Joe Chow.

After Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly and the television show Inside Edition ran critical reports of Barton receiving a car paid for by taxpayers, Gelbman said he is confident he could beat him. One of his reasons for optimism is that voters in the heavily Evangelical Christian district like his connection to Israel.

“I’m the only candidate for the seat who is pro-Israel,” Gelbman said.

“Barton has been in office for 28 years and has never been publicly outspoken on Israel. He votes with Republicans in favor of Israel, but he never visited. Israel’s not his thing,” he said.

Gelbman said he believes American politicians need to give Israel the benefit of the doubt. He does not believe the US should involve itself in the settlement issue and he would work to block foreign aid to Islamic countries that act against Israel and the United States.

“I would defend Israel and be their voice in the House,” he said.

“Israel should be allowed to do whatever it needs to do. The Palestinians need to change their education system and accept Israel as a Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Gelbman said he would work to make sure a law requiring the US to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would be enforced.

He received national attention when Muslims in his district were offended by his campaign flyer in which vowed to “fight the Islamization of America.”

Asked for his views on Iran, he said he was “100% against the Iranian nuclear weapons program and 100% behind Israel’s right to defend itself.”

He said that if Iran’s nuclearization was prevented, it would make the entire world safer.

Gelbman recently came to Israel to spend Passover with family. While he was in the country, he met with MK Danny Danon and other Likud politicians. He said he’s not a religious person but that he respects Jewish tradition.

Though Gelbman bills himself as the “first American- Israeli running for US Congress,” current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose father was born in Jerusalem and served in the Irgun, was in Congress from 2002 to 2009.

“Rahm Emanuel isn’t Israeli,” Gelbman said. “He never lived in Israel, and never served in the IDF. His father is Israeli.”

Story via JPost

Israeli doco wins prize at Canadian film festival

Critically-acclaimed ‘The Law in These Parts,’ which charts Israeli justice system’s dealing in Palestinian territories, wins New Director’s Prize at Canadian International Film Festival

A film chronicling the Israeli justice system’s dealings in the Palestinian territories has snagged yet another international prize, this time in Canada.

Israeli filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’ “The Law in These Parts” has won the Special Jury Prize in the international feature category at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, which took place in Toronto and is considered North America’s leading event of its kind.

Ever since it won the Best Documentary Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival last year, the film has garnered critical acclaim and prestigious prizes worldwide. One such win includes the

World Cinema Jury Prize in the documentary category at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

“The Law in These Parts” features a series of interviews with the judges and officials who architected a system of long-term military jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as historical footage showing the enactment of these laws upon the Palestinian population.

Good weekend for Israeli films

Four other Israeli documentaries competed in the Canadian festival this year: Tamar Tal’s “Life in Stills,” Miri and Erez Laufer’s “One Day After Peace,” Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat’s “Five Broken Cameras” and Silvina Landsmann’s “Soldier/Citizen.”

Full story via YnetNews

Israel’s Resilient Democracy

Like the United States, we have our flaws. But to say Israel is undemocratic is just dead wrong.

At 64, Israel is older than more than half of the democracies in the world. The Jewish state, moreover, belongs to a tiny group of countries — the United States, Britain, and Canada among them — never to have suffered intervals of non-democratic governance. Since its inception, Israel has been threatened ceaselessly with destruction. Yet it never once succumbed to the wartime pressures that often crush democracies.

On the contrary, conflict has only tempered an Israeli democracy that affords equal rights even to those Arabs and Jews who deny the state’s legitimacy. Is there another democracy that would uphold the immunity of legislators who praise the terrorists sworn to destroy it? Where else could more than 5 percent of the population — the equivalent of 15 million Americans — rally in protest without incident and be protected by the police. And which country could rival the commitment to the rule of law displayed by the Jewish state, whose former president was convicted and jailed for sexual offenses by three Supreme Court justices — two women and an Arab? Israeli democracy, according to pollster Khalil Shikaki, topped the United States as the most admired government in the world — by the Palestinians.

These facts are incontestable, and yet recent media reports suggest that democracy in Israel is endangered. The Washington Post was “shock[ed] to see Israel’s democratic government propose measures that could silence its own critics” after several Israeli ministers proposed limiting contributions to political NGOs by foreign governments. Citing “sickening reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting on school girls whose attire they consider insufficiently demure, and demanding that women sit at the back of public buses,” New Yorker editor David Remnick warned that the dream of a democratic, Jewish state “may be painfully, even fatally, deferred.” In response to legislation sanctioning civil suits against those who boycott Israelis living in the West Bank, the New York Times concluded that “Israel’s reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished.”

The most scathing criticism of Israeli democracy derives from the situation in the West Bank, captured by Israel in a defensive war with Jordan in 1967. The fact that the Israelis and Palestinians living in those territories exercise different rights is certainly anomalous — some would say anti-democratic. “There are today two Israels,” author Peter Beinart wrote recently in the New York Times, “a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it.” The latter, Beinart concluded, should actually be called “nondemocratic Israel.”

Together, these critiques create the impression of an erosion of democratic values in Israel. Threats to freedom of speech and equal rights for women are cited as harbingers of this breakdown. Several observers have wondered whether the state that has long distinguished itself as the Middle East’s only genuine democracy is deteriorating into one of the region’s many autocracies and theocracies.

But are the allegations justified? Is Israeli democracy truly in jeopardy? Are basic liberties and gender equality — the cornerstones of an open society — imperiled? Will Israel retain its character as both a Jewish and a democratic state — a redoubt of stability in the Middle East and of shared values with the United States?

These questions will be examined in depth, citing comparative, historical, and contemporary examples. The answers will show that, in the face of innumerable obstacles, Israeli democracy remains remarkable, resilient, and stable.

Story via Foreign Policy