The New Gaza Blockade


Since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian military has been shutting down the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza—to universal indifference in the international community.

Read more at Via Meadia

More about: Egypt, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Mohamed Morsi, Palestinians


Tunisia’s Ex-President Should Worry about His Own Country’s Problems


While Moncef Marzouki, the former president of Tunisia, was on a boat that was attempting to run the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, one of his countrymen murdered 37 beachgoers. David Horovitz wonders why, exactly, Marzouki was so concerned with Gaza:

[E]ven as it has sought to shift toward democratic stability, Tunisia is widely reported to have provided more recruits for Islamic extremist groups, most emphatically including Islamic State, than any other nation on earth. That river of recruitment was flowing full speed during the three years of the Marzouki presidency.

As the Israeli navy escorts him into port, has the former president of the world’s largest supplier of Islamic extremists paused for thought? Has he engaged in a little introspection? How has the news of [the recent] act of barbarism been affecting him? . . .

[O]n the very weekend that a young Tunisian man, poisoned by benighted zealots, gunned down dozens of innocents in the country Marzouki used to run, here he was sailing the high seas on behalf of [Hamas], an Islamic extremist organization, strategically engaged in poisoning young minds and bent on dispatching its recruits to carry out murder. Does the president see the appalling irony? Probably not.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Terrorism, Tunisia

For Palestinians, Terrorism, Not Competence, Is the Path to Political Popularity


Salam Fayyad, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, has recently been subjected to legal bullying by Mahmoud Abbas, who sees him as a potential rival. Khaled Abu Toameh explains why Fayyad is, and is not, a real threat:

Following his resignation as prime minister, the U.S.-educated Fayyad established a Ramallah-based group called Future for Palestine. According to Fayyad, the group’s mission is to “enhance the resilience of Palestinian citizens in their homeland, especially in marginalized and severely impacted areas, by providing the basic development requirements.”

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority leadership did not like the idea from the beginning. Ever since Future for Palestine was established in August 2013, they have been working toward undermining the group and its founder. . . .

[But] Fayyad’s chances of succeeding Abbas are [anyway] very slim, if not non-existent. Fayyad is an independent figure who does not belong to Fatah, Hamas, or any other political group. When he ran in the January 2006 parliamentary election at the head of the Third Way list, his group received two seats out of 132.

The reason most Palestinians did not vote for Fayyad is because he . . . did not participate in any armed attack on Jews, and never supported the armed struggle against Israel. . . . It took Salam Fayyad too long to realize that no matter how many good things he does for his people, in the end he will be judged on the basis of his contribution to the fight against Israel.

Read more at Gatestone

More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian economy, Politics & Current Affairs, Salam Fayyad


The Weakest Western Link in the Nuclear Talks with Iran


When it comes to Iran, Germany routinely put its business interests over security and human rights. Benjamin Weinthal writes:

Since the world powers—Germany, France, the U.S., the UK, China, and Russia—reached a tentative agreement with Tehran in 2013, there has been no shortage of German politicians and businesspeople bending over backward to court Iran’s regime.

Last month, the Islamic Republic’s oil minister Bijan Zangeneh met with Germany’s economics minister, Sigmar Gabriel, to discuss investments in Iran. As vice chancellor, Gabriel is the number-two political leader after Chancellor Angela Merkel. Business representatives from Volkswagen and the engineering giants the Linde Group and Siemens also held talks with Zangeneh.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Germany, Iran sanctions, Israeli-German relations, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

Using “Ghost Letters” to Decipher the Wisdom of Ben Sira


The book of Ben Sira (also known as Ecclesiasticus) is a collection of proverbs and poems thought to have originally been written in Hebrew in the 2nd century BCE. Although excluded from the Jewish canon, it is included in many Christian Bibles; nevertheless, it is occasionally cited with reverence in ancient and medieval rabbinic works. The oldest surviving manuscripts of the book are in Greek and Syriac; the oldest one in Hebrew, discovered in 1896, was written in the late-11th century CE and contains mysterious faded letters, which a scholar now believes he has deciphered:

[Eric R]eymond has [made] a connection between the lost first page of the manuscript and the strange ghosts of backward letters that appear on the first of the surviving pages. He posits that the backward letters are offsets or impressions of the missing text transmitted from the opposite, and long-missing, first folio page of this ancient manuscript. . . .

A scholar of ancient Hebrew texts, Reymond has been noticing and puzzling over the faint traces of letters since he was in graduate school. Were they Arabic or some other language? Could they reveal something about Ben Sira’s text that was not known from the Greek or Syriac Aramaic translations? Could they help resolve which of the variant translations—the Greek or the Syriac—was closer to the original mark?

The discovery that the ghost letters are backward Hebrew is important in and of itself. What adds even more value to his find is that it seems to indicate that the Hebrew . . . is, for the passage in question, closer to the Syriac translation than to the Greek, which will help guide future research on the evolution of Ben Sira’s text.

Read more at Notes from the Quad

More about: ancient Judaism, Apocrypha, Ben Sira, Bible, Christianity, History & Ideas

How Great Sacred Art Differs from Great Sacred Subject Matter


Reviewing an exhibit at the NYU Catholic Center, Maureen Mullarkey explains the distinction and why it matters:

With few exceptions, the show confirmed my growing assent to the Orthodox distinction between sacred art and mere secular art with religious subject matter. It illustrated, too, the distance between piety and genius. . . .

However fine, [a featured] drawing remains a copy of part of a painting from the Dutch Golden Age. It is a beautiful rendition of its model, but what distinguishes it as sacred art? Neither subject matter nor an artist’s piety qualifies art as sacred. Technique and touch applied to the rendering of a religious theme do not differ from what would be used to depict any moodily lit, anatomically correct figure in space. . . .

Guiding the selections for [the exhibit] is the assumption that faith is primary in matters of artistic achievement in sacred art. Were that true, this would have been more than the unexceptional exhibit that it is. . . . In commenting on the great periods of religious art in the past, Mark Chagall remarked, “There were good and bad artists even then. The difference did not lie in their piety but in their painterly ability.”

Read more at First Things

More about: Art, Arts & Culture, Orthodox Christianity, Religion, Religious art