Tag Archives: military

Let My People Vote!

By Steven Philp

Egypt may lack a president, but it is not bereft of direction. Meeting two primary demands of pro-democracy protestors, Egyptian military leaders have dissolved the parliament, suspended the constitution and set a schedule for drafting a new one ahead of September elections. As the Washington Post details, this is one of the first steps towards civilian rule following the resignation of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. The ruling council has communicated that these changes will remain in effect for six months until presidential and parliamentary elections can occur. In the meantime a committee is being formed to amend the constitution, and provide a vehicle for popular referendum to approve these changes.

What is remarkable about these changes is their genesis within the citizens of Egypt. As noted by columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman, one of the mantras of the protestors sums it up: “The people made the regime step down.” This revolution occurred without the explicit endorsement of major world powers, the United States included. Rather support was not offered until after the conclusion of the protests, marked by the cessation of the Mubarak regime. Friedman notes that if – “and this is a big if” – the transition to democracy can successfully occur, it will resonate throughout the Middle East. This is not a model of government imported from the West – like the distinctly American institutions established in Iraq and Afghanistan – but one “conceived, gestated, and born in Tahrir Square.” Contingent on the success of the constitutional committee, it is one that will be shaped by the will of the people. This is a democracy that can be emulated throughout the Arab world, one that has refused the banner of the West while also rebuking the call of Islamists. When Iran issued a declaration compelling the protesters to label their movement an “Islamic revolution” it was the Muslim Brotherhood itself who resisted, noting that their focus is pan-Egyptian – which includes Christians and Muslims.

Although finding its origin in popular revolution the success of the nascent democracy should not rest on the people alone, but is the responsibility of the wider international community. It is in the best interest of the Egyptian people and foreign parties alike that this transition occurs. Several countries – including Israel – have issued statements of support for the pro-democracy movement. According to Haaretz, Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed hope for Egypt; speaking at the resignation of IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Peres offered his support to the budding democracy saying, “We bless the Egyptian people in anticipation that its desires for freedom and hope be met.” This comes only a week after Peres had offered an impassioned defense of Mubarak, on the grounds that his regime had been characterized by stability between Israel and Egypt. Although the transition to democracy is tenuous, the potential of improved relations between the two nations is tangible; yet it is important to note that the foundation for this relationship will be built now, necessitating immediate Israeli and Jewish support of the new regime.

This commitment to democracy will be tested further as the Egyptian revolution resonates across the Arab world. Already protests have begun to occur in Bahrain, Iran, Tunisia and the neighboring Palestinian Territories. According to the New York Times, officials in the Palestinian Authority responded to the toppling of the Mubarak regime by announcing presidential and parliamentary elections by September. The following day, the cabinet was dissolved until it could be appointed by democratic process. The Palestinian people have not participated in an election since 2006, when Hamas won a majority in the parliament. Following civil unrest in June 2007, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip while the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Liberation Organization asserted authority over the West Bank. Currently, Hamas has rejected the call for a national election. This is an important moment for Israel, and the larger Jewish community. Rather than withholding our support – as we did with Egypt until the revolution succeeded – it would behoove us to stand with the P.L.O. on the side of freedom. Letting the people speak may lead to surprising results, including the emergence of a true democracy – one that emulates the Egyptian revolution, refusing Western models while also shedding the burden of the Islamist ethos.

Jewish Senators Oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

By Steven Philp

Despite significant party shifts within the United States legislature, repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy may be addressed by the Senate as soon as mid-December. In a press conference held on Thursday, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) explained that repeal of the policy – included in the National Defense Authorization Act – is no longer contingent on gathering enough votes, but in finding time for full and open debate. According to The Advocate, Sen. Lieberman told reporters, “I am confident that we have more than 60 votes prepared to take up the defense authorization with the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ if only there will be a guarantee of a fair and open amendment process, in other words, whether we’ll take enough time to do it.” He was joined by twelve other senators, including fellow Jewish politicians Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), and Al Franken (D-MN).

It is striking that half of the senators present at the press conference were Jewish.  Indeed, Jewish senators have been at the forefront of fighting DADT from early on.  Both Feinstein and Boxer were present in the Senate when “don’t ask, don’t tell” came to the floor in 1993, with the latter sponsoring the “Boxer amendment” to remove the policy from the parent Defense Authorization bill. Both voted against “don’t ask, don’t tell.” At the press conference, Boxer touched on her long-standing support for the LGBT community, saying that the vote for repeal is “a no-brainer.” Wyden has more recently added his voice to the debate. In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he asked that the National Defense Authorization Act come to the floor with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” included. “This law has resulted in a waste of military talent and resources,” Wyden explained. “It is time for the Senate to repeal it.” Cardin expressed his support for repeal early in the year, releasing a statement on his Web site explaining that the policy “runs contrary to the core American belief of equality.” Franken has been a vocal opponent of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” famously coming close to tears on the Senate floor after Republicans filibustered an initial attempt at repeal of the policy in September.

But can the movement to repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” count on support from every Jew in the Senate?  Jewish senators absent from the press conference include Carl Levin (D-MI), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Levin, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been an important ally in the fight to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In a opinion piece authored February, Levin criticized the policy stating, “I did not find the arguments used to justify ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ convincing when it took effect in 1993, and they are less so now.” Lautenberg has also come out against the policy, tweeting his support for repeal after being targeted by pop singer Lady Gaga in September. With Lautenberg, Kohl voted for the initial repeal that failed to pass that same month. Schumer was an early supporter for repeal; at the Empire State Pride Agenda in October 2009 he expressed his desire to be one of the first co-sponsors for an amendment overturning DADT. Like his colleagues from California, Sanders also voted against “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it was originally proposed in 1993. On his Web site he expresses his support for LGBT service people stating, “As a nation, we owe those who desire to dedicate their lives to service an equal chance to do so.” Bennet also went to the Internet to express his support for repeal, uploading a Youtube response to two students from the University of Colorado who had posted a video urging their senator to come out against “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Blumenthal has been less vocal about his opinion on the policy, prompting a student at George Washington University to solicit a position from the former Attorney General when he was running for Senate this past November. The student related his conversation with Blumenthal on his blog, conveying the senator’s opposition to “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Considering the divisiveness of issues concerning the LGBT community, it’s remarkable that the Jewish presence in the Senate is not only unanimously opposed to “don’t ask, don’t tell” but includes many of the most vocal advocates for repeal of the policy. Reading the arguments presented by each senator, there is a strong appeal to tzedek, or justice. Not only does “don’t ask, don’t tell” come with significant costs to the military budget and personnel, it prevents the realization of justice within the body that was designed to protect that very American – and Jewish – value (see Moment‘s column on Israel’s example on DADT). This support is not insignificant for their LGBT constituents; unlike the House, there has never been an openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender member of the Senate. Although “don’t ask, don’t tell’s” repeal remains uncertain for this congress, it is comforting to know that Jewish senators will continue to fight for what’s right.

The Jewish Part in the Caucasus Conflict

Last week, as the state of war was officially declared between Russia and Georgia over the region of South Ossetia, Israel suddenly popped into the picture as a controversial participator. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the Jewish state of its support for Georgia based on the United States’s driven Cold War philosophy: seeing Russia as the enemy and Georgia as a victim. Israel, however, responded with a claim that above all other implications, it respects Georgia’s territorial rights.

To those who were barely aware of the small Caucasus nation of only 4.7 million until an eruption of the latest events, Israel’s response might seem surprising, but Israeli endorsement of Georgia is an old story. It developed atop strong personal ties dating as far back as early 2000. Since Georgia Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili received his education in Israel, Georgia’s entire military infrastructure has been built on an Israeli model. Hundreds of retired Israeli top army personnel have been designated to assist with training of the Georgian forces, and more than $500 million worth of Israeli-made military equipment was sold to Georgia over the past few years. (Even though this supply comes after that of the U.S. and France.)

Ha’aretz quoted an Israeli soldier who had recently returned from Georgia, where he partook in the training:

“There was an atmosphere of war about to break out….From my point of view, the battles of the past few days were to be expected.”

His observations proved gruesomely true. Continue reading