Friday, May 25, 2012

Did Muhammad Exist?

Reviewed by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Go to a high-street or online bookstore, and one can find numerous biographies written about Muhammad -- the reputed founder of Islam -- by the likes of Karen Armstrong and Tariq Ramadan. These works -- generally apologetic in nature -- wholly rely on the traditional Islamic accounts of the Prophet's life, and if they ever delve into the question of the reliability of those sources, it is only in the hope of explaining away incidents in Muhammad's life that might come across as unsavory to modern readers.
Such an approach, however, simply will not do for genuine historical research. One cannot adopt a pick-and-mix method to determining what aspects of Muhammad's life actually occurred on moralistic grounds. It is in this respect that Robert Spencer's latest book differs from the writings of Armstrong and Ramadan.
Without indulging in polemics or pushing a partisan political agenda, the author simply investigates the question of whether we can really trust the traditional Islamic accounts for the life of Muhammad and the supposed early days of Islam during the Arab conquests.
To be sure, serious scholarship on Islamic historiography dates back to the latter half of the 19th century -- with the works of the Belgian Jesuit Henri Lammens and the acclaimed Geschichte des Qorans by Theodor Noldeke, to name just two pioneers of the field -- and Spencer makes no pretense to originality.

"Transcending the News"

There comes a time when it is important to move beyond the trap of current events and look higher.  Such a time is coming with the holiday of Shavuot, which will be celebrated on Sunday here in Israel, and also on Monday outside of Israel.
Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. 
It was a transformative and singular moment of direct revelation.  It involved all of the people of Israel, who were present and received the word of the Almighty with fear and trembling. 

What Iran’s Rulers Want

Clifford D. May
It’s no longer possible to pretend we don’t know the intentions of Iran’s rulers. They are telling us — candidly, clearly, and repeatedly. Most recently last Sunday: Addressing a gathering in Tehran, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, vowed the “full annihilation of the Zionist regime of Israel to the end.”
A few days earlier, José Maria Aznar, former prime minister of Spain, during a presentation at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a respected Israeli think tank, recalled a “private discussion” in Tehran in October of 2000 with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who told him: “Israel must be burned to the ground and made to disappear from the face of the Earth.”

Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. who now heads the JCPA, wanted to be certain there was no misunderstanding. He asked Aznar: Was Khamenei suggesting “a gradual historical process involving the collapse of the Zionist state, or rather its physical-military termination?”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"And Here We See It"

It: the absolute intransigence, the lack of good intentions, the ultimate malevolence of Iran.
Today in Baghdad, the Iranians rejected a proposal that had been put forward by P5 + 1.  What was being sought by the international community was a cessation of enrichment of uranium to 20% (not even all enrichment!).  In return Iran would have received benefits such as medical isotopes and spare parts that Iran needs for its for civilian airliners.
But what Iran wanted was the easing of economic sanctions on Iranian oil export in return for Iranian pledges that UN inspectors would be permitted wider inspection of their facilities.  (Remember: agreeing to permit inspections is not agreeing to halt the process towards nuclear capability.)
The Iranians are saying that world powers are making the atmosphere "difficult." 

Fundamentally Freund: Tax and spend, Israel-style


It isn’t enough that the taxman takes from you when you earn money, he also wants a larger piece of what you have left.

books: new reagan revolution Photo: Courtesy
Just when Israel’s economic situation is facing some increasingly difficult challenges, along comes the Finance Ministry with plans to make things even worse.

With forecasts indicating that the country’s budget deficit in 2012 will come in more than 60 percent higher than previously anticipated, the number-crunchers at the Treasury are anxiously looking for ways to close the gap. Alarmed by a sharp drop in tax revenues, they have decided to do what bureaucrats with calculators do best: punch in higher figures and make the public toss yet more money into government coffers.
 Marshaling all the obtuseness at their disposal, the Treasury has floated a proposal to raise Israel’s value-added tax from 16% to 17% on July 1. This, they say, would bring the government a windfall estimated at NIS 2 billion this year, as well as a whopping 4 billion NIS in 2013.

Now at first glance this might not sound all that bad. After all, what is another 1% between friends? But that argument simply does not wash.

If a normal household experiences a drop in income and finds itself spending more than it takes in, the natural thing to do would be to reduce its outlays.

Why should government be any different in this regard? Is our bureaucracy so lean and efficient that there is simply no place left to cut? I doubt it.

Moreover, you do not need an advanced degree in economics to realize that increasing VAT will reduce consumer spending. When prices rise, demand falls. This means fewer jobs and less growth, which naturally results in... you guessed it: less government revenue down the road.

But the Treasury doesn’t appear to be giving much thought to “down the road,” preferring instead to focus on a short-term fix, even at the expense of long-term stability.

Indeed, raising VAT will only encourage greater tax evasion, driving more economic activity underground and under the table. It creates a greater incentive to cheat, further eroding standards of honesty and morality in the commercial sphere.

And then there is the question of fairness. VAT is essentially a tax on consumption.

But the government already taxes Israeli breadwinners on their income. In other words, it isn’t enough that the taxman takes from you when you earn money, he also wants a larger piece of what you have left when you choose to spend it on something.

And as many economists have pointed out, VAT is what is known as a regressive tax.

Since low-income individuals spend a larger proportion of what they earn on basic items needed for subsistence, a rise in VAT ends up hitting them harder.

If the Treasury does go ahead with the planned hike, it would be the third time in the past three years that the VAT rate has been changed. In the summer of 2009, it rose from 15.5% to 16.5%, before being lowered back to 16% at the start of 2010.

These erratic fluctuations also exact a price, as they make it harder for businesses and individuals to plan their economic horizons.

To be fair, the primary concern driving the Treasury is the desire to prevent Israel’s public debt from ballooning. In recent years, it has fallen steadily as a percentage of GDP to under 75%. But there are far better and more urgently needed ways to tame the deficit than to stick the taxpayers with a higher bill.

Israel still suffers from a bloated and inefficient public sector where waste is rampant, and our economy is being choked by monopolies, oligopolies, over-regulation and an overall lack of competition.

Hence, the Treasury would do best to wield an axe in the direction of the budget, and compel our 30 government ministries to tighten their belts.

Cutting the red tape and unleashing the entrepreneurial power of the Israeli public, rather than taxing them to death, would go a long way towards reinvigorating the economy.

In these challenging times, the Finance Ministry would do well to recall the words of Ronald Reagan, who told an audience at Kansas State University on September 9, 1982, that “Balancing the budget is a little like protecting your virtue. You just have to learn to say ‘no.’” The last thing we need is another round of taxing and spending, Israel-style.

If the Treasury is serious about cutting the deficit, then let it stop squandering money it doesn’t have before they dare to reach still deeper into peoples’ pockets. In this case, a little bit of fiscal discipline can go a long way.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Egypt: If There's No Danger of Radicalism and Islamism Why Can't You Provide Evidence?

Barry Rubin 

Consider one fact that demolishes the apparatus of nonsense about moderate Islamists and the credibility of those claiming there is nothing to worry about. These are the same people who have been declaring for more than a year that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate. Yet now the Brotherhood's presidential campaign has shown it to be extraordinarily radical, openly demanding a caliphate and Egypt being a Sharia state. 

Suddenly the subject is changed. Nobody acknowledges that they were wrong about the Brotherhood. They focus now on a different candidate who we are told is the true moderate Islamist, as if their previous favorite "moderate Islamist" movement has now thrown off its camouflage.    

“Democracy, as Western democracies have long known,” wrote Shadi Hamid, in predicting a Brotherhood majority in the parliamentary election some months ago, “is about the right to make the wrong choice.” True. But foreign policy, as everyone has long known, is about dealing with the consequences of wrong outcomes and trying to prevent them if possible.

Knesset passes bill granting tax benefits to settlement donations

Bill initiator MK Zeev Elkin says legislation meant to make amends for lack of institutional support for settlement enterprise
Moran Azulay

The Knesset plenum on Monday passed in second and third reading a bill to amend the Income Tax Act, by which those who donate to settlements will enjoy tax benefits.
The initiator of the bill, Coalition Chairman MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), said that it aims to make amends for the lack of legislation that supports the settlement enterprise, although the government declared it as a top national priority.
Organizations that wish to construct new mosques – like the Islamic Movement or other charity groups that funnel money to Hamas – receive tax breaks, while organizations that want to settle the Negev and Galilee fall between the chairs," he said. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"No Respite"

Arlene Kushner

Fighting the good fight is something that must be done without let-up.  And it means fighting here at home as well as internationally.
I want to begin by sharing an excellent article by Moshe Dann, "The fundamental misconception about Arab-Israeli peace." 
Dann addresses a very basic issue for our nation with clarity (all emphasis added):
"'The “peace process' between Israel and the Arabs, touted as part of a 'two state' plan, failed not because of disagreements over settlements and boundaries, but because of a basic false assumption: that Palestinianism could be fulfilled in a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It failed not because Israel did not give enough, but because nothing would have been enough...

The dispute is not over territory, but ideology – Palestinianism, the basis of their nearly hundred-year war against Zionism and the State of Israel, the national historic homeland of the Jewish People. For Arabs, Palestinians and most Muslims, that struggle is jihad against the infidel.

"Since a 'peace process' requires Arabs to give up their opposition to a Jewish state, it contradicts their basic principles and historic mission. While some might make temporary concessions, the goal is the same. It explains not only why the “peace process” failed, but why that failure was and is inevitable.
"The primary goal of Palestinian nationalism is to wipe out the State of Israel, not to legitimize its existence.

Talk on possible EU boycott of Israeli settlements stirs controversy

Jewish settler Joseph Zander, founder and co-owner of Holy Cocoa, holds the handle of a roaster containing cocoa beans at his workshop in the West Bank settlement of Pnei Hever. (Reuters)
Jewish settler Joseph Zander, founder and co-owner of Holy Cocoa, holds the handle of a roaster containing cocoa beans at his workshop in the West Bank settlement of Pnei Hever. (Reuters)
Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore’s recent statements that he may push for an EU wide boycott of products from Israeli settlements if Israel does not quickly change its settlements policy in Palestinian territories has stirred controversy.

Gilmore, whose country will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union in January 2013, also said his government may seek to have certain extremist Israeli settlers banned from the EU if they do not stop their violence in settlement areas, according to a report by the Irish Times.
He was speaking following an EU foreign ministers’ meeting that condemned the Israeli settlements as threatening to the possibility of a two-state solution.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Liberating Our Jerusalem

Sultan Knish

When Jordan's Arab Legion seized half of Jerusalem, ethnically cleansed its Jewish population and annexed the city-- the only entity to recognize the annexation was the United Kingdom which had provided the officers and the training that made the conquest possible. Officers like Colonel Bill Newman, Major Geoffrey Lockett and Major Bob Slade, under Glubb Pasha, better known as General John Bagot Glubb, whose son later converted to Islam, invaded Jerusalem and used the Muslim forces under their command to make the partition and ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem possible.

Since then the annexation and ethnic cleansing has become an international mandate. It would be absolutely inconceivable for the international community to denounce an ethnically cleansed group which survived attempted genocide for moving back into a city where they had lived. It is however standard policy at the State Department and the Foreign Office to denounce Jews living in those parts of Jerusalem that had been ethnically cleansed by Muslims, as "settlers" living in "settlements", and describe them as an "obstruction to peace." Peace being the state of affairs that sets in when an ethnic cleansing goes unchallenged.Describing Jewish homes in Jerusalem, one of the world's oldest cities, a city that all three religions in the region associate with Jews and Jewish history, as "settlements" is a triumph of distorted language that Orwell would have to dip his hat to. How does one have "settlements" in a city older than London or Washington D.C.? To understand that you would have to ask London and Washington D.C. where the diplomats insist that one more round of Israeli compromises will bring peace to the region.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jewish Birthrate Up, Arab Rate Down in Jerusalem

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu Jewish Birthrate Up, Arab Rate Down in Jerusalem

The Jewish birthrate in Jerusalem is higher than the Arab birthrate, putting an end to reports of an Arab demographic threat in the united capital.

The birthrate in the expected life of mothers is 4.2 children for Jewish mothers compared with 3.9 children for Arab mothers, according to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS).

Reflecting the trend in the rest of Israel, the birthrate for Jews represents a dramatic reversal and is on the increase while the Arab birthrate is declining.

In 1999, the birthrate was only 3.8 for Jewish mothers and 4.4 for Arabs, the JIIS reported.
Jews are a solid majority in the city, where the Arab population is only 36 percent, almost all of them in the areas that were restored to the capital 45 years ago in the Six-Day War in 1967.

The total population of Jerusalem as of last year is 801,000.

The largest Jewish neighborhoods are Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev, each one with slightly more than 40,000 people, followed by Gilo with 29,600. All three neighborhoods are located in areas restored to Israel n 1967 and which are claimed by the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu is waiving our rights to Judea and Samaria

Ted Belman

Dore Gold explains in The Berlin Wall of Mideast oil comes down explains that over the next 10 years, the Arabs will gradually lose their oil weapon.

Strangely, when making the argument, he doesn’t factor in Israel’s huge off shore gas reserves which are expected to be onlne next year and her huge oil shale deposits which are expected to be producing oil within the said 10 year period.
Even so, he writes:

    Israel needs to reach peace treaties with its neighbors. But the terms of any agreement should not be influenced by Western dependence on Middle Eastern oil, which undoubtedly prompted the international diplomatic pressures on Israel in the past. There is no reason why Israel should feel compelled to race back to the 1967 lines, but rather should protect its legal right to defensible borders, without the sword of Middle East oil hanging over its head.