Another UN agency takes aim at Israel

Light Rail

This time it’s UNESCO issuing a report critical of Israel.

UNESCO is condemning Israel for what excavating in Jerusalem that, according to the report is damaging Islamic holy sites and Muslim artifacts and “endangering” the Old City. The report In particular, they are concerned about the building of a light rail system close to the Temple Mount.

Israeli’s foreign ministry was quick to slap back. Calling the report one sided for ignoring both the Jewish and Christian connections to Jerusalem. And for only viewing the Temple Mount as a Muslim holy site of worship.

In a statement, Foreign Ministry Director Dore Gold says, given the deliberate destruction by ISIS of artifacts throughout the Middle East, the report critical of Israel is “misplaced and hypocritical at best.”



Muslim Arabs marked Jerusalem Day on Wednesday by violently attacking Jews throughout the capital’s Old City. The violence began atop the Temple Mount, where a mob of Arab youth heckled Jewish visitors and hurled stones at Israeli police, injuring one officer. As more security forces entered the compound, the perpetrators barricaded themselves inside the Al Aqsa Mosque, from where they continued to hurl stones and firecrackers. Click here to read the rest of the story.


Photo by Bird Eye/Flickr

More than two years after the death of Osama bin Laden, concern about Islamic extremism remains widespread among Muslims from South Asia to the Middle East to sub-Saharan Africa. A Pew Research Center survey of 11 Muslim publics finds a median of 67% says they are somewhat or very concerned about Islamic extremism. And in many of the countries surveyed, clear majorities of Muslims oppose violence in the name of Islam.

Against this backdrop, extremist groups garner little popular support. Today, al Qaeda is widely reviled, with a median of 57% across the 11 Muslims publics surveyed saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the terrorist organization. Read the full report here.


We hear the rhetoric from radical Islamic leaders and organizations all the time – about how Israel is an illegal nation and how it should be removed from the map. But how representative are they of mainstream Muslims?

Apparently not very. At least not to a Canadian Muslim organization, who says it’s in everyone’s best interests to recognize the state of Israel. Because no one should be dying over this issue.

Read more at the Huffington Post.



CAIRO – Despite the state of uncertainty that encircles the future relation between Copts and Muslims, exemplified by the withdrawal of church representatives from the Constituent Assembly on November 16, current collaboration between Egyptian Muslims and Copts provides reasons to be optimistic about the future of co-existence in Egypt.

Perhaps the most notable example of this collaboration is the Family Home Initiative. In response to the bombing of the Two Saints church on the eve of 2011, Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, launched the Family Home Initiative welcomed by former pope of the Orthodox Church Shenouda II. The “family home” in Egyptian culture refers to one’s grandparents’ house, where family members meet to celebrate feasts and weddings, share sorrow and settle quarrels. Al-Azhar’s initiative seeks to build on this familial spirit.

The Family Home Initiative officially began in July 2011 after its charter was approved by the former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. This entity is jointly headed by the Grand Imam and the Pope of the Orthodox Church and its board of trustees comprises clergymen from Al-Azhar and Orthodox, Evangelical and Catholic churches, as well as known public figures.

The ultimate aim of the initiative is to unmask the underlying reasons for sectarianism and to work towards creating a foundation for peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians without delving into dogmatic differences. Nasr Farid Wasel, former Grand Mufti of Egypt, summed up this mission in seven words: “Religion for God, and Egypt for all”.

The initiative aims to carry out awareness campaigns in which mainstream, tolerant religious discourse is broadcast. The initiative holds emergency meetings with local priests, imams, mayors and chiefs of police after any sectarian dispute, in order to resolve them peacefully and to pre-empt future incidents.

Furthermore, the Family Home Initiative took it upon itself to urge the government to endorse a law that regulates the construction of churches and deepens the constitutional provision of principles of citizenship for all Egyptians. The initiative also submitted recommendations to the government to rid school curricula of any religious prejudices. The home board proposed the idea of curriculum that teach concepts rather than memorising religious verses.

Tolerance Train is another example of a peaceful co-existence campaign. The Tolerance Train initiative brings groups of youth of different faiths together to travel to many of Egypt’s governorates to promote tolerance. The campaign was launched in May 2011 under the slogan: “Tolerance is the cornerstone of healthy democracy”. At each stop, youth meet Christian and Muslim clerics, visit religious sites and hear from laymen about their views and ideas to avoid sectarianism. The whole journey is filmed and uploaded on a blog that carries the campaign’s name. In 2011, campaign leaders were honoured by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

Efforts to mitigate sectarianism are not solely confined to the official and national levels.

Another initiative, Coptic Orphans, a non-profit organisation founded by a Coptic immigrant to the United States, launched the “Valuable Girl Project” in 2003.

This project targets girls in high poverty areas across Egypt and enrols them in mentoring programs. The programme has attracted international attention for its support of all girls in need of it, regardless of religion. It is modelled after the Big Sister concept, pairing one Muslim girl and one Christian girl with each big sister. Big sisters are trained to be role models and help younger girls with their school homework and academic activities.

Participants recognised notable improvement in their school marks. One of the Muslim girls reported that she had had a negative impression about the program, but after joining she found out that there is no difference between Christian and Muslim girls and that both of them encounter a common challenge in a society that devalues the importance of their education. This philanthropic project is unique as it aims to change people’s thinking and doesn’t stick only to traditional charity.

Egyptians are at the crossroads in history, the revolution makes it imperative that dialogue that leads to greater understanding is pursued.

Magdy Aziz Tobia is a member of the Egyptian delegation to the Arab League. This article was written for theCommon Ground News Service.




There will come a time, and that time will arrive sooner than many believe, when Near East Muslims will grasp that Jews are not, that Israel is not, what holds them back. This is a reason I am for (as every United States president since Truman has been for) a two-state solution. With a state to manage, Palestinians will be responsible to more than rhetoric and bullets and bombs. They and the nations who support them will have to come to terms with some stubborn and uncomfortable problems, none of which can be laid at Israel’s door.

Three points:

1- Religious ideology (any religious ideology) that rejects modernity, that rejects the bases of the French Revolution and The Enlightenment, cannot hope to raise educational standards enough to be competitive and raise living standards for millions. Israel has nothing to do with the grip of the Arab world’s pre-modern religious ideology that retards economic development. The irony is that it was not always so in the Iberian and Near East Muslim world: it was a leader in math, the sciences, engineering, architecture and other forms of design until about four hundred years ago when it began to become increasingly reactionary, if not xenophobic, finding it more and more difficult to live with and near non-Muslims.

2- Misogyny, even when cultures try to legitimate it with religion–any religion–stymies the progress any region can make. Keeping women subservient and dependent work against progress. Israel has nothing to do with the lack of women’s educational and business opportunities in many Near East nations.

3- a) There’s a wholly non-religious aspect to what has kept Palestinians and millions of other Near East Muslims poor. Wealthy Arabs cannot stand poor ones. No nation, ours, Israel, is without ugly, dismissive, class-based prejudice. Yet what has to be confronted by poorer Near East Muslims themselves is the back-of-the-hand that rich, authoritarian Arab states have continually given to their poor co-religionists.
b) In part, of course, it’s been simpler for wealthy Arabs to refrain from helping to develop decent housing, robust schools on a large scale, and widening the circle of who benefits from oil. It’s been simpler and more useful for the wealthy autocracies to keep them poor so as to use them as a thorn in Israel’s side, as ready canon fodder. It’s been easier to point to Israel as the reason they live as they do. We all know that with a concerted effort, the oil states could, if they genuinely cared about Palestinians, raise living and educational standards and accomplishment in a generation. That they fail to do it has everything to do with class (and tribal) prejudice wanting Jews gone, and nothing to do with Israel’s existence or behavior.

The long-term solution will be about secure borders, mutual respect for Islam’s and Judaism’s holy sites, formal political recognition by Palestinians of Israel, and other issues yet to be negotiated.

But it’s more.

It’s also about core cultural/regional issues that Israel cannot influence and that only Muslims themselves can.
Ask yourselves: were Israel to be gone in the morning, would poor, Near East Muslims genuinely enjoy a new dawn?


I outlined, above, several intractable problems in the Near East Muslim world for which Israel is not responsible despite continuous criticism to the contrary. Muslims themselves have made and continue to make choices that keep the region from developing in ways that would sustain long-term, positive economic growth. I have argued that any culture that chooses to suppress half its population, women, cannot expect more than a halting development.
I am reminded of the 2011 Saudi imprisonment of thirty-two year old Manal al-Sharif, for organizing a protest during which she drove a car. Driving a car is, for women, illegal in the kingdom. So is her voting there as would be her operating a business and working, absent a husband’s or a father’s permission. Ms. al-Sharif’s real crime, though, goes beyond the stick shift. An internet technologies specialist with oil giant Aramco, she organized her protest on Facebook and Twitter, garnering over 600 names of men and women who see the rule for what it is: at best an absurd shackle not only cuffing women but any nation that would so easily infantalize them. In a nation where your name on a petition can swiftly have you disappeared, the 600-plus are to be efforts. Initially, she and her brother were arrested and detained. He was sent home with a warning; she was imprisoned far longer.

The routine suppression of women under law is simply never an avenue toward long-term societal success. This is true no matter how much oil you may have, no matter your religious beliefs. Certainly not all Near East nations deny women the right to drive a car. In how many, though, may they vote? In how many may they work outside the home without a man’s permission?

So while Israel is far from perfect – far – it remains important to see and it is only honest to acknowledge that nothing Israel has done or is doing results in this region’s longstanding choice to regard women as children, nor in that choice’s many consequences.

The truth is that Israel could hand over all of its land to a combined Hamas/Palestinian Authority, to the Lebanese, to the Egyptians, to the Saudis…and Near East Muslims would see no significant improvement in the quality of the lives these organizations and governments represent until half of those lives, women’s lives, were taken seriously.