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News and events from around the world, commentary and discussion from an Israeli perspective

Alleged Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Reveals Details of Boston Marathon Attack

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has apparently told authorities he and his brother had no direction from overseas. – ABCNews·

Aaron Swartz Supporters Point the Finger at Prosecutor Stephen Heymann for Swartz’s Death

In the wake of Aaron Swartz’s death, the focus is now being shifted to the prosecutor, who some say acted over zealously in his pursuit to punish Swartz to the fullest extent for a relatively minor crime.

As it turns out, this is not the first time an Internet activist has taken his own life while being aggressively pursued by the same prosecutor.

Back in 2008, Jonathan James took his own life after his home was raided by authorities on suspicion of his involvement in the TJX Hacker case, which is regarded as one of the biggest identity hacks in history.

James maintained his innocence and left a suicide note saying that he believed the justice system is broken and will prosecute him nonetheless. Like Swartz, James was also faced with prosecutor Stephen Heymann.

According to Swartz’s lawyer, Elliot Peters, Heymann refused to negotiate on the terms of a plea deal and would not settle for anything less than the maximum 30-year jail sentence. Swartz hung himself in his apartment and was discovered by his girlfriend. It is believed that depression combined with the looming trial pushed him to the brink.

Heymann refused to compromise even though JSTOR, the online academic journal database that Swartz hacked into, decided not to move forward with charges against the Internet activist. Peters claims that Heymann intended on using Swartz as a stepping stone to elevate his own career and in order to add cybercrimes prosecution into his portfolio.

In the aftermath of Swartz’s death, Heymann has filed to drop the charges, which is routine practice when the defendant passes away before the trial begins. Petitions are now swirling around the Internet demanding the firing of Heymann. Supporters claim that Heymann acted way too aggressively against Swartz for what was a victimless and non-violent crime.

U.S. Schools may Soon Adopt Similar Security Measures Taken by Schools in Israel

The U.S. is still in mourning over the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, following a horrific school shooting that left 26 children and faculty members dead. The shooting sparked a debate over gun control. Some feel that gun restrictions need to be tightened and enforced while others believe that more guns can actually prevent such shootings from taking place.

Some gun advocates believe that the U.S. can benefit by adopting the same security measures taken by schools in Israel. The Jewish state is used to continuous threats and the possibility of a terrorist strike at crowded locations, which includes schools. Schools in Israel are nothing like the ones in the U.S. While the latter may have a few unarmed security guards, Israel schools are fortified with metal detectors, fences and armed private guards. To add to the security, some teachers even have a loaded weapon on them during classroom hours.

Israel’s Academy of Security and Investigation CEO, Oren Shemtov, say that shootings occur in a matter of minutes, and that teachers who are armed may be able to fight back and buy enough time for students to escape and while awaiting the arrival of police.

Shemtov commented on the shooting in Newtown and praised the adult victims as heroes for their actions but also added that their efforts were in vein as they had no means to defend themselves and their students.

Israeli police veteran Dov Zwerling echoed similar sentiments and said that the presence of armed guards may be able to prevent mass shootings. He added that in nearly all mass shooting incidents in the U.S., the shooter takes his own life the moment police arrive. This means that shooters will be deterred if challenged.

Teachers in Israeli schools are permitted to carry a firearm though the number that actually do has decreased over the years mainly due to philosophical objections.

Memorial Held for Victims of Elementary School Shooting

The U.S. is in mourning after a horrific mass shooting leaves 26 people dead at an elementary school in Newton, Connecticut. The saddest part stems from the fact that 20 of the 26 victims were children between the ages of 6 and 7. The other six victims included the school principal, teachers and faculty members.

What was supposed to be an ordinary school day turned into sheer terror when a lone gunman walked into the school premise with an automatic rifle and two handguns and began opening fire indiscriminately before turning the gun on himself.

An interfaith service was held for the victims with the president in attendance. The service included speeches from spiritual leaders of different religions including a rabbi, priest, pastor, Baha’i minister and imam. President Obama also addressed the audience.

The shooter has been identified as 20-year old Adam Lanza. While a motive has yet to be determined, the few people that knew him described him as withdrawn but friendly. Lanza’s mother, Nancy, was also found dead in the home that she shared with her son. The firearms used were all registered and legally owned by her. According to authorities, Lanza has no prior criminal history.

The shooting follows that of others that have taken place earlier this year, most notably the theater shooting at Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 dead and scores of others injured. This was followed by another shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and then a shooting at an Oregon mall that left two dead and took place just days before this shooting. This has also triggered a debate over gun control and keeping them out of the hands of the wrong people.

The shooting is a terrible way to end 2012 and marks a grim point in a moment that is supposed to be marked by holiday celebration. There will be no joy this Christmas for 26 families who will never again be able to hug their loved one who was taken away too soon.

Kate Middleton In The Hospital With Pregnancy Illness

The Duchess of Cambridge ,Kate Middleton, has been admitted to the hospital for Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a “very acute morning sickness, which requires supplementary hydration and nutrients,” according to the duke and duchess’ official website. – abc

Shopping Local for Small Business Saturday

Black Friday is that crazy day of the year when bargain hunters camp outside a store in hopes of getting their hands on a killer deal, such as that laptop or Blu-ray player that has been advertised as half off. For those that are not keen on the idea of setting up a tent and roasting marshmallows outside a Wal-Mart or Target store, there is always Cyber Monday, in which most online stores offer their merchandise at discounted prices.

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday are widely ingrained into modern culture, there is another shopping day that is still mostly unknown. The day is known as Small Business Saturday and is a day created to promote local businesses.

Large retail chains like Wal-Mart are the real beneficiaries of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. They have the finances, national reputation and an online presence to promote discount sales. Traditional mom-and-pop shops and individually owned stores simply do not have the resources to compete.

This is where Small Business Saturday enters the picture. It is a fairly new concept that was created in 2010 by American Express and encourages shoppers to shop at small retail stores the Saturday following Black Friday. It is a way to keep small businesses a part of the community as these stores don’t have a means of competing with large franchises.

For this year’s Small Business Saturday, American Express is giving away 40,000 gift cards each worth 25 dollars via Facebook. The promotion is to help spread awareness that small businesses matter and are an integral part of the economy.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday follows right after Thanksgiving, so shoppers should not forget that the time of the year is about giving. Shopping at small businesses is a way to give by keeping local shop owners a part of the community.

Romney Leads Obama Following First Televised Debate

The upcoming election to decide the next U.S. commander-in-chief is going to be a tight race. Most polls show a slight lead for President Obama, which is practically a tie with the margin of error. The tide, however, appears to be shifting after the two met for their first televised debate.

Romney brought his A-game and was clear and concise in explaining exactly what he would do to fix the economy and get Americans back to work. The president on the other hand, fumbled his words and looked absolutely unprepared. This came as somewhat of a surprise as Obama is normally known as being a great orator. Polls of likely voters following the debate show that it is now Romney who holds a slight lead with 46 percent over Obama’s 45 percent.

Due to poll numbers being so close, the outcome of the race will depend on independent voters who currently favor Romney by a percentage of 44 to 32.

The president and governor both have opposing views over how they will handle the economy and lower the unemployment rate. They also disagree on foreign affairs. The president wishes to cut spending on military defense and has also been very vague over his stance with Iran. He has consistently been criticized by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu for not taking a tougher position over Iran’s nuclear program.

When it comes to the Jewish vote, however, Jews have traditionally voted democrat. AJC, a non-partisan Jewish advocacy group, shows that Jewish voters favor Obama by a percentage of 65 to 24.

The debate has certainly won Romney some favorable views among the public with 52 percent saying they have a positive view of him, as opposed to 48 percent prior to the debate. This is the first time the governor accumulated a favorable view rating of over 50 percent and also the first time he leads Obama.

Jerusalem in The Democratic National Convention

Is Jerusalem in or out? You decide…

Olympic Committee Denies Moment of Silence for Victims of the 1972 Munich Massacre

The 2012 Olympics will mark the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre in which 11 Israelis participating in the games lost their lives to a terrorist organization known as Black September. Surprisingly, ever since the incident, no Olympic event that followed ever held a moment of silence for the victims.

While many have lobbied for the International Olympic Committee to hold a moment of silence at the opening ceremony, the IOC has refused and refused to budge on its stance. For the 2012 Olympics, both President Obama and Senator Hilary Clinton as well as other world leaders have all spoke in favor of having the moment of silence. So far, though, the IOC has showed no signs of relenting.

It is suspected that the IOC refuses to hold a moment of silence out of fear of offending Muslim nations. In fact, Jibril Rajoub, who is the chairman for the Palestinian Olympic Committee, sent a personal letter to the IOC praising and thanking the members of the board for making the decision not to commemorate the fallen Israeli athletes. He also added that allowing such a moment to proceed will only lead to divisiveness and racism.

The widows of two of the Israeli athletes who lost their lives that day are now calling for audience members to stage a peaceful and silent protest during the opening ceremony. They are asking for the spectators to remain silent when IOC president Jacques Rogge speaks at the ceremony.

While the IOC has commemorated the victims in other ways, families of the victims feel that the only true way to remember them is by having a moment of silence during the actual opening ceremony. Even with a petition of over 100,000 signatures requesting for the minute of silence, the IOC has already made it clear that no such moment will be held.

Peace Studies Professor Losses His Mind

Norwegian Sociologist and University of Oslo lecturer Johan Galtung has shocked and left the Jewish community aghast when he made remarks that carried a tone of anti-Semitism.

In one of his lectures, he claimed that a conspiracy exists between the Mossad and the Norway massacre that took place last year. He also went on to say that Jewish involvement was covered up by the U.S. media, which is primarily run by Jews and has a history of pro-Israeli bias.

Peace Research InstitutionSome of his other allegations suggested that anti-Semitism in World War II Germany was due to the influential positions that Jews held in German Society. Among Galtung’s recommended reading list is “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, a book that has been regarded as one of the world’s most anti-Semitic text.

Professor Galtung is 82-years-old and is the founder of the conflict resolution and peace studies discipline. He is also the founder of the Peace Research Institution in Oslo. He is a well-respected professor in the field of sociological research, which makes his remarks all the more dumfounding.

Galtung made repeated anti-Semitic remarks both during his lectures at the University of Oslo and in periodicals published in the Norwegian periodical.

Galtung also went on to say that the Norway killer, Anders Behring Breivik, had connections to the freemasons, an organization that Galtung believes is rooted in Jewish origins. He also believes it may be the case that it was the Mossad who gave Breivik the orders to go on his rampage.

He went on to say that the U.S. press has an unproportionate number of Jews who are running the show behind the scenes. He argued that this presents stories in the media that are unfairly leaned in the favor of Jewish and Israeli causes.

Despite his past reputation as a well-respected figure, his remarks could destroy his entire credibility. If this man truly believes in the words coming out of his own mouth, then he is no longer deserving of the reverence he earned over the years.

Leader of Terror Cell Taunts the U.S. at Press Conference

Last May, the U.S. brought to justice the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden. However, even with the head of the serpent cut off, another seems to grow in its place. With terrorism, there are plenty of evil doers willing to shed blood in the name of God.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed is one such person. He is the founder of the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which orchestrated the Mumbai massacre back in 2008 that killed close to 200 civilians. The U.S. has placed a 10 million dollar bounty on his head for information that would lead to his conviction and prosecution.

In reply to the bounty on his head, Saeed remains defiant and mocks the U.S. by openly stating that he is in Lahore and is willing to stand trial in an American court.

A two million dollar reward is also up for grabs for anyone who can provide information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of the deputy leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, who also happens to be Saeed’s brother-in-law.

Mark Toner, the spokesman for the State Department announced that the reward money is for information that can provide probable cause for an arrest and conviction, not Saeed’s whereabouts. Toner stressed that Saeed’s location is common knowledge as he has continuously provided press conferences through the Pakistani media.

In 2008, 10 heavily armed men took part in an assault in Mumbai, India, that claimed the lives of over 170 people, six of whom were Americans. Only one of the attackers was apprehended alive, and he named Saeed as the orchestrator. Saeed was placed under house arrest by Pakistani officials for the attacks but was later released for unspecified reasons. Until someone steps up to claim the reward, Saeed remains a free man who will continue to spew hateful and mocking rhetoric against the U.S. and anything and anyone he perceives as anti-Islamic.

Toulouse Jewish School Shooting

UPDATE:
Victims of Jewish School Massacre in France Laid to Rest in Israel

Four victims of a horrific shooting will finally be laid to rest as their bodies are transported to Israel for funeral services and burial. The victims, a rabbi, his two sons and an 8-year-old girl were wrapped in prayer shawls and laid on a podium in front of hundreds of mourners that included the French foreign minister.

The lives of these innocent four were maliciously taken as they were gunned down at a Jewish school by a gunman who fled the scene on a motorcycle. The suspect was later identified as Mohammed Merah, who continues to remain at a standoff in his apartment with police and negotiators. According to officials, Merah is a self-described jihadist with ties to al-Qaeda, and his shooting rampage was spurred by the massacre of Palestinian children at the hands of U.S. and NATO troops. Merah is believed to be a lone wolf, and at this time, there is no reason to believe there are additional suspects involved.

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler was a school teacher who pursued religious studies in Israel before returning to France for a teaching position. His sons were Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4. The fourth victim was 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego, the daughter of the school’s principal. Her father was present at the time of the shooting and witnessed his daughter being gunned down.

Such a senseless act of brutality and loss of innocent life serves as a reminder that violence of any form must be strongly condemned. It is a time for unity and to set aside petty differences. It is also a time to recognize that evil exists and that steps must be taken to maintain the security of a sovereign nation. With grieving losses come strength and a call for people to unite and put an end to hate from all sides.

UPDATE: Mohammed Merah, the man believed to be the gunman on a scooter who killed seven people in south-western France, is a 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian extraction. Police in France surround a block of flats in Toulouse where they say the suspect in Monday’s shooting of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school is holed up. The man informed police he wanted to “avenge Palestinian children” and denounced French “crimes” in Afghanistan.

The attack occurred earlier this week at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. According to witnesses, a lone gunman entered the building and shot a teacher and three children dead in the school, also injuring one more teenager. The attacker then fled on a scooter, in a similar fashion as from two earlier incidents in France last week. The same type of caliber was also used in all 3 attacks, a .45 calibre gun, and the search for the killer is under way. This marks a very deadly series of incidents to happen in the country in a very short time frame.

According to sources close to the investigation, CCTV cameras captured the license plate number of the scooter, and the police is searching for this vehicle along with its owner. Meanwhile, a special memorial is being setup for the victims and will be taking place in one of the synagogues in Toulouse. President Sarkozy flew to the city and declared the attack a national tragedy, after speaking with some of the friends and families of the victims. He asked all students in France to observe a minute of silence on Tuesday, and said the hunt for the killer was well under way. All other candidates in the France election campaign have suspended their activities for the week.

The attack Monday occurred at around 8 am, just as school children arrived with their parents. According to witnesses, the gunman apparently pulled up on the black scooter and began shooting at an area where primary-age children would be dropped off by their parents. According to witness accounts, he shot at everybody in the area, including kids and adults. The students fled into the school as the gunshots were heard. Some say he used a 9mm gun, but then the weapon jammed and he switched to a .45 calibre weapon.

Over 60 officers, including some anti-terrorist specialists, were brought on the scene earlier in the week to investigate the other shootings, and were quickly on the scene, but could not arrive in time to stop the suspect. Several helicopters scanned the area for most of the day, while France Prime Minister Fillon said extra security would be put in place at all schools and religious buildings.

This is the third attack in a short time in the southern part of France. On March 11, an off-duty airborne trooper was shot dead in Toulouse, on March 15 two soldiers were killed and one more injured while waiting at a cash machine in Montauban, and on March 19 three children and a teacher were shot dead at the Toulouse school. While there’s no definitive evidence that all 3 attacks were conducted by the same person, that’s what it seems so far. This latest attack was the deadliest attack on Jews in France since a 1982 shooting.

Saying it Out Loud

A human rights oriented report issued in honor of the 60th anniversary for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights crowned the country of Israel as most unsupportive western country to the disabled and minorities. The report addressed aspects such as health, education, accommodation, the right to privacy and many more.
The most unsettling kind of discrimination for me is the legal and legitimate blunt kind directed at Arab citizens in Israel. It manifests itself daily in legislation and policies unquestionably favoring Jewish citizens.

Taboo as it may be, I cannot avoid the comparison between Jews facing anti-Semitism in early 20th century Europe and Arabs facing racism in 2012’s Israel. Actually, some Israeli extremists where probably inspired by those “anti-Semite Monsters”.

I often encounter the horrific, irresponsible and practically illegal declaration: “death to Arabs”. As infants who innocently repeat curse words that their unsuspecting parents blurred out, without understanding the full meaning, questioning or casting doubt, so do Israelis that “hear” their government’s relations with Arab citizens and duplicate. No job opportunities, funding or quality education is perfectly fine, they’re Arabs and it’s their fault. Since infancy we have been suckling on the tales of their inferiority and our superiority, their blame and our innocence, them and us, so without a shadow of doubt – they had it coming.

When I talk with friends my age, a progressive and information driven generation, I often hear estranged, recited slogans. We can discuss art, music, sex and fashion in a deep and meaningful way, but the moment the Arab “problem” arises they become the echo of a blind and hateful mob.

So, what came first, the policy or the hatred? All of those decision makers where once children, students, soldiers and this hate trickled deep within their minds. They now have the honor of fulfilling the message of superiority by ignoring the needs of a large segment of the population they took upon themselves to serve. And so the torch of hatred is passed on from generation to generation, parent to child, teacher to student, elected official to attentive citizen.

One cannot ignore the threat of terror, the fear and the bereavement which ache and throb in all of us. I knowingly separate the politics, lands and local history from the welfare of Arabs in Israel. Those two conversations usually collapse into one and are misused as excuses for one another. This is a country of complexities that deeply scar our reality throughout years of settlement, resistances, wars, terror attacks and more. All take their toll on our spirits, sensibility and morals.

Homer, in 800 BC said: “The outcome of the war is in our hands; the outcome of words is in the council”. I say: The outcome of the war is in our words, as they shape our reality.

Guest Post by Maayan Cohen

Sheldon & Newt

Having rich lobbies acting behind closed doors with politicians is nothing new. The whole system is run by money, as anyone who investigates what goes on in Washington could tell you, and those individuals and corporations who make big donations to politicians also get big friends. Now with last year’s Citizen United rule that was added to the books, opening the way for anyone to give unlimited amounts to presidential candidates, the money play is even more pervasive than before. Just this week, news media learned that Gingrich, one of the top Republican nominees, receives large amounts of cash from a single man, Sheldon Adelson. This multi-millionaire invests many millions into Gingrich’s campaign, and is making a powerful friend.

But what exactly does that mean, and why could this be a problem? For one thing, anyone who becomes, by far, the biggest donor behind your campaign is sure to get the candidate’s attention. Indeed, the two men have regular meetings, discussing important subjects like Israel, campaign finances, and gambling legalization.

You see, Sheldon has some very strong political views. For one thing, he made most of his fortune in Las Vegas, by owning casinos. So of course, he’s all for the legalization of gambling. But he’s also a hardliner, and believes in full US support of Israel. These views are shared by other Americans, but not all, and the problem is that if one man becomes so important to the next president, basically giving him the money he needs to reach the office, then that may give him and his views privileged access as well.

The problem with these types of donors is that the money they give always carry a political agenda, and thanks to the recent law, the door is wide open for these agendas to enter politician’s offices. In this case, it’s clear that Sheldon is betting his fortune on Gingrich, and doing everything he can so that he will win the White House. Often, voters don’t know the details of campaign finances, and they only hear what the candidate says, not what goes on behind closed doors, and what’s on the agenda, often an agenda that may be influenced by these big donors. But in this case, will Sheldon influence Gingrich? There’s no way to know for sure, but one reporter asked, after a meeting of the two men, what his view was on Israel, and not surprising, Gingrich had a view that was identical to Sheldon, promising to do aggressive backing of Israel, saying that in his term he would “seek to defend the United States and United States allies.”

Overall, this should not be much of a surprise. Many people warned that should such a law pass, and the doors stay open to large donors, then we would see cases like this, where a single entity funnels most of a politician’s budget, and the political agenda of the country could suddenly become very one sided.

Romney Victorious in New Hampshire

Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night with a broad-based coalition of both conservative and moderate voters overwhelmingly motivated by their worries about America’s economic future and wanting above all to beat President Barack Obama in November.

According to exit poll data, more than a third of voters on Tuesday said the quality that mattered most in deciding their vote was the candidate’s ability to defeat Obama. Romney won an overwhelming 62 percent of those voters.

Regardless of how they voted, 56 percent of Tuesday’s voters thought Romney would be most likely to beat Obama in November; the runner-up in that category was Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with only 15 percent and only 11 percent saw former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman as most likely to defeat Obama.

Even though Tuesday was a Republican primary, independents could request Republican ballots and vote in the primary.
Remarkably, self-described independents accounted for nearly half of all voters Tuesday – a piece of data which has implications for November. Paul won 32 percent of independents, with Romney getting 29 percent, and Huntsman picking up 23 percent of them.

In his 2000 battle with Al Gore, George W. Bush won New Hampshire by 7,211 votes out of a total of nearly 570,000 votes. If Romney is the GOP nominee that would make New Hampshire competitive this fall. Having an appeal to independents would be crucial to his hopes of carrying the state and its four electoral votes.

Among self-described Republicans Romney won a solid 49 percent of them, according to exit poll interviews. The closet contenders with appeal to Republicans were Paul with 16 percent and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 13 percent.Huntsman invested heavily in New Hampshire and will likely finish a distant third once all the votes are counted.

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