Friday 29 April 2011

Israel delights in Syria's unrest

Syria, Israel's longtime enemy and a key supporter of Iran, has been weakened by domestic unrest, Israeli leaders say.

GLOBAL POST April 29, 2011

Matthew Kalman

JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders and commentators could not help gloating as they watched Syrian President Bashar al-Assad writhing under the pressure of the Arab world’s latest revolt.

Unlike Egypt, whose leaders were committed to peace with Israel, or Tunisia and Libya, which long ago became minor players in the anti-Israel coalition, Assad’s Syria is regarded as one of Israel’s deadliest enemies.

“Even in our world colored with grays and not only blacks and whites, the fall of the Assad regime in Damascus would be a great blessing for the Middle East and the world,” wrote Mordechai Nisan, a former lecturer in Middle East studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“The list of Syria’s misdemeanors and crimes is legion. From belligerent Soviet ally to godfather and patron of Palestinian terrorism, Hafez the father and Bashar the son crafted a policy strategy that demonized Israel, betrayed the Arab world, consolidated the regional hegemony of Iran, and perpetuated an Alawite sectarian regime in defiance of the Sunni Muslim majority in the country,” Nisan wrote in the Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth.

“With the Assads gone, the Middle East as a whole will be able to move to transcend the state of terror and tension with which the Syrian regime poisoned the political atmosphere for over four long decades,” he concluded.

Israeli observers were also bemused by the sudden discomfiture of radical Palestinian groups — including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — whose headquarters are in Damascus and who have long enjoyed the financial and political support of the Syrian dictatorship.

The Meir Amit Terrorism and Intelligence Information Center, a clearing-house for Mossad and Shin Bet analysis, said in a commentary that the Hamas leadership in Damascus was “attempting to play both sides of the fence … saying it supported both the Syrian leadership and the Syrian people.”

Hamas was particularly exposed when one of its heroes, Muslim Brotherhood spiritual mentor Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi, backed the Syrian protesters in a sermon aired on Al Jazeera on March 25. Calling for all-out revolution in Syria, he lambasted Assad and warned that “those who do not change will be trampled.”

“Hamas has found itself in a predicament over the clash between its solidarity with Muslim Brotherhood elements in Syria interested in toppling the regime, as well as with al-Qaradawi’s attack on Bashar al-Assad, and its dependence on the assistance provided by the Assad regime to its infrastructure and terrorist activity,” observed the center.

But Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli peace negotiator with Syria, warned that the picture was more complex. In early April, writing in Foreign Affairs, Rabinovich said that while Assad is no doubt a ruthless adversary, “Israel itself is ambivalent about the future of his rule.”

“Israeli leaders believe that Syria and the Iranian axis have been weakened by the domestic unrest plaguing Assad’s regime. But like others in the region, they wonder what the alternative to Assad might be. Although they are aware of pro-democracy and human rights groups active inside Syria and abroad, they naturally fear the power of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Rabinovich wrote.

In a commentary last week, Rabinovich suggested that Israel open a back-channel dialogue with Assad, offering to help him survive in return for changing the diplomatic dialogue between the two countries.

“People in Bashar Assad’s situation are concerned about their physical survival and Israel has something to offer in this area,” Rabinovich told Israel Radio. “We could change the agenda between us and Syria. The agenda doesn’t just have to be about a peace deal and territorial concessions.”

But for most Israelis the chance to see Assad fall is not to be missed.

“It is difficult to support any position that allows for the Assad regime’s continued rule,” wrote former Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi in the Jerusalem Post.

“Syria, via its proxies, spilled Israel Defense Forces blood in Lebanon for three decades,” Hanegbi recalled. “Assad offered a safe haven in Damascus to senior leaders of terrorist organizations and allowed them to continue their terror activities, with unlimited freedom, from his capital. The Syria-Iran alliance has provided Hamas and its satellites with financial aid, training camps, a supply of modern weapons and political backing … Syria’s enthusiastic support for Hezbollah has turned it into Lebanon’s strongest organization.”

Whatever outcome Israel would like to see in Syria, past attempts at interference in neighbors’ affairs are not encouraging. Israel’s effort to foster regime change in Lebanon in 1982 by backing the Christian Phalange movement led to the assassination of its leader, Bachir Gemayel, and the rise of Hezbollah. Israel’s encouragement of Islamic groups in Gaza in the 1980s to counter the influence of the Palestinian Liberation Organization led directly to the creation of Hamas.

Joshua Teitelbaum, principal fellow of the GLORIA Center in Herzilya, said Israel can do little more than watch and wait.

“All things considered, it’s a good thing,” Teitelbaum told GlobalPost. “Israel cannot affect this outcome in either way. I don’t think we can shore him up and I don’t think we can really bring him down.”

“When all is said and done, if his regime is gone, it has the possibility of being good for us. This is an ally of Iran, one who props up Hezbollah. The people who come into control, and we don’t know who they are, might choose a different policy. They might seek the comfort of the United States for all we know. There are many options.

“What we do know is that this is a very damaging regime — damaging to its own people, damaging to Lebanon and the independence of Lebanon, totally supporting Hezbollah and Iran’s main ally in the Arab world. So the weight of things from Israel’s perspective and also from an American perspective is clearly against this regime,” Teitelbaum said.

But he said it was doubtful the uprising would lead to a sudden flowering of democracy because of the ruthless suppression under the Assad regime — father and son.

“This is an authoritarian regime that’s been there for a long time controlling its people. Economically it’s horrible for them. They are not advanced. They are not sharing the fruits of globalization,” Teitelbaum said. “There’s no civil society in Syria. There’s no way to organize in Syria.”

“I think it’s more likely there’ll be some kind of regime change. There are so many unknowns here. If it’s an Alawi takeover, and they’re going to switch for another Alawi leader, it’s not going to be democracy.”

Monday 18 April 2011

Palestinians 'confess to Israeli family murders'

THE INDEPENDENT Monday, 18 April 2011

By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

Two Palestinian teenagers linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have been arrested by Israeli security forces for the murders of an Israeli family attacked as they lay sleeping.

Udi Fogel, 36, and his wife, Ruth, 35, died in a hail of bullets from a stolen M-16 assault rifle as they fought to protect their children from two men who broke into their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, near Nablus, on 11 March. Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and three-month-old Hadas were found by their 12-year-old sister, who raised the alarm. Their throats had been cut. Two more children aged eight and two survived because they were sleeping in another room.

Israeli officials said yesterday that Hakim Mazen Awad, 17, and Amjad Mahmad Awad, 19, from the nearby village of Awarta, were captured during a series of raids by the Israeli army and Shin Bet security service and had confessed to the crimes. Last week they led investigators through a reconstruction of the murders at the family's home.

"The murderers are in our hands," Colonel Nimrod Aloni, the localIsraeli military commander, saidyesterday.

Hakim's father, Maazan, a PFLP member, spent five years in a Palestinian prison for killing his niece and burning her body. His uncle Jibril, who was killed during a clash with Israeli soldiers in 2003, took part in an earlier attack on Itamar in June 2002 in which five Israelis were killed.

Israeli officials said the two suspected killers showed no sign of remorse and staged "a chilling re-enactment" of the attack. Shin Bet officers said they offered a "shocking, cold, remorseless and detailed description" of the murders.

Responding to widespread international outrage, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took the unusual step of going on Israel Radio three days later to condemn the killings as "despicable, immoral and inhuman".

Saturday 16 April 2011

Idealistic blogger 'was more Palestinian than the criminals who killed him'


By Matthew Kalman
THE INDEPENDENT Saturday, 16 April 2011

Vittorio Arrigoni's middle name was Utopia, yet he chose to spend most of the past three years in the hell of Gaza, acting as a human shield for Palestinian fishermen harassed by the Israeli navy and reporting to a worldwide audience.

His "Guerrilla Radio" blog about life in Gaza was required reading among radical circles in Italy and he published passionate newspaper commentaries about the plight of the Palestinian people and the "crimes" of "the Zionist regime in Tel Aviv", which he condemned as "one of the worst apartheid regimes in the world". His final post, published hours before his abduction, and subsequent hanging by gunmen in Gaza, praised the "invisible battle for survival" waged by the smugglers in Gaza's tunnel network under the border with Egypt against Israel's "villainous blockade".

Each blog post by "Vik from Gaza City" ended with the entreaty to "stay human" – also the title of his book about living through Israel's Cast Lead invasion in 2009, when he was one of the few foreign journalists reporting from inside Gaza. For Palestinian sympathisers around the world, Arrigoni's trademark curly pipe, rugged good looks and facial piercings became the human face of Gaza.

Arrigoni was born in Besana Brianza, near Milan, 36 years ago and said rebellion ran in his blood. He had the word muqawama – Arabic for "resistance" – tattooed on his right arm. "I come from a partisan family," he said in a recent interview. "My grandfathers fought and died struggling against an occupation, in Italy it was the Nazi-Fascist one. For this reason probably, in my DNA, my blood, there are particles that push me to struggle for freedom and human rights."

He was on the first Free Gaza boat to break the Israeli blockade in August 2008. A month later he was cut by flying glass after the Israeli navy used water cannon on a fishing boat where he was acting as a human shield. In November 2008 he was arrested by the Israelis while out with another fishing boat but managed to return to Gaza before Cast Lead began.

Among his friends in the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), his abduction and murder have left a bewildering sense of bereavement equal to the deaths of Rachel Corrie and Tim Hurndall, two activists killed by Israeli soldiers. Hundreds of ISM activists organised rallies in Ramallah and Gaza yesterday to mourn their friend. Several gatherings were also held in Italy.

"It's unbelievable," said Huwaida Arraf, a co-founder of the ISM. "He was more Palestinian than the criminals that killed him."

Greta Berlin, a founder of the FGM, said Arrigoni's death would not derail the struggle of foreign activists, who would remain in Gaza. The kidnapping came a week after the assassination of Juliano Mer-Khamis, a Palestinian-Israeli theatre director in Jenin.

"With Juliano murdered and now Vik, it makes us so terribly sad the killings continue," Ms Berlin told The Independent. "If the people behind these murders think we will quit, they are mistaken. Like the murder of Rachel Corrie, hundreds of us signed on to work for justice for the Palestinians. We will do the same this time."

Activist's murder shakes Hamas's grip on Gaza

Outrage as first death of foreigner since militants seized power in 2007 underscores rise of destabilising 'outlaw' element

By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

THE INDEPENDENT Saturday, 16 April 2011

Vittorio Arrigoni mans a boat during the 2008 protest against Israel's blockade of Gaza-bound ships

Rex Features

Vittorio Arrigoni mans a boat during the 2008 protest against Israel's blockade of Gaza-bound ships

The Hamas Government in Gaza has vowed to track down those behind the abduction and murder of an Italian activist who had lived in the Palestinian territory on and off since 2008.

Confusion surrounded the identity of those responsible for the murder of Vittorio Arrigoni after the extremist Islamic group that had originally claimed to be holding him denied any involvement.

Arrigoni, 36, was the first foreigner to be killed in Gaza since Hamas seized control of the enclave in 2007. He was active with the International Solidarity Movement and the Free Gaza Group and a well-known commentator in Italy.

He was found hanged in a house in the Mashrou Amer neighbourhood of Gaza City hours after an unknown group calling itself The Brigade of the Gallant Companion of the Prophet Mohamed bin Muslima released a video of him bound and blindfolded. His abductors said he would be released in return for Sheikh Hisham Su'idani, leader of the extremist Salafist Tawhid wal Jihad group who was arrested by Hamas security in March.

"We kidnapped the Italian prisoner Vittorio and we call on the Haniyeh government... to release all our prisoners," the abductors said.

But when Hamas forces stormed the house owned by a member of the group in the early hours of yesterday, they found Arrigoni had already been killed more than 12 hours before a 5pm deadline set by the kidnappers.

"The investigation led to a member of the group who gave away the other members and showed the place where the activist was kept," Hamas interior ministry spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein said in a statement.

"The security services... found the body of the hostage, who had been killed several hours earlier in an awful way," he said, adding that two of the kidnappers had been arrested and a manhunt was under way for co-conspirators.

The Italian foreign ministry expressed "deep horror over the barbaric murder" and denounced "in the strongest manner the act of vile and senseless violence committed by extremists who are indifferent to the value of human life".

Arrigoni's murder highlights increasing concerns that Hamas's influence is crumbling, exacerbated by a violent and intractable split with the Fatah-dominated leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. That fear was echoed by Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, who said the "goal of this depraved band of outlaws was to spread chaos and anarchy in the Gaza Strip, a desperate attempt to strike at the stable security situation".

Former Palestine Liberation Organisation negotiator Saeb Erekat said the kidnapping resulted from the "chaos and lawlessness" in Gaza. The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights issues regular reports condemning the chaos under Hamas rule. In recent weeks, Hamas has been unable or unwilling to stop extremist splinter groups from firing hundreds of rockets across the border into Israel, triggering deadly Israeli air strikes.

Latest polls indicate that Fatah would easily defeat Hamas in new elections, but Hamas will not allow them to be held even though they are overdue.

Mr Barhoum condemned the killing as "shameful" and said he suspected Israel might be responsible since the death appeared to be timed to deter foreign activists from joining a flotilla due to sail to Gaza in May to break Israel's naval blockade of the area. Arrigoni was aboard the first blockade-busting boat in August 2008, when he was arrested by the Israelis for providing a human shield to Gaza fishermen.

Tawhid wal Jihad, which claimed responsibility for a series of attacks including the 2006 bombing of hotels in Sinai, denied killing Arrigoni, but said the death was a direct result of Hamas policies against Islamic extremists.

In 2007, the Salafist Army of Islam kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston and held him for four months. In August 2009, 24 people were killed when Hamas forces stormed a mosque in Rafah after a leader of Soldiers of the Partisans of God announced the creation of an Islamist state in Gaza.

"While we, Tawhid wal Jihad, had no role in this kidnapping, we affirm that what happened is the natural result of the repressive policy of Hamas and its government against the Salafists," said a statement from the group.

Friday 15 April 2011

Bruising political spat cools Bieber's fever for Israel

By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

THE INDEPENDENT Friday, 15 April 2011

Justin Bieber, a Christian, had planned to visit religious sites


Justin Bieber, a Christian, had planned to visit religious sites

Israeli teenagers were delighted when singing sensation and heartthrob Justin Bieber arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday ahead of a concert last night for 25,000 fans.

After the cancellation of shows in Israel by Elvis Costello, the Pixies, the Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System due to a pro-Palestinian boycott, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have been expected to treat the pint-sized superstar with care. Instead, Bieber, who at 17 is too young even to vote, found himself in the middle of a petty political spat that sent the singer scuttling for the safety of his hotel room.

Bieber pouted on Twitter that he was "staying in the hotel for the rest of the week" after being "pulled into politics."

"It's been frustrating," he moaned before imposing an uncharacteristic 24-hour Twitter blackout.

The row erupted after the prime minister's office leaked the news that Bieber had refused to meet Mr Netanyahu and young Israelis threatened by constant Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.

Bieber's camp denied he had snubbed the youngsters, saying that the meeting was never finalised and Bieber had already invited 700 children from the region bordering Gaza to be special guests at his concert.

Gadi Yaron, the concert promoter, told Israel Army Radio that he was unaware of any plans for a Netanyahu-Bieber summit, and anyway it was a bad idea. "There is heavy pressure on artists not to come to Israel," he said. "We are working very hard so they will visit Israel, get to know it, and won't view it as a political place."

But Mr Netanyahu, who fancies himself a master communicator, kept digging. "The idea was to do an event, which these kids could enjoy, to do something for the kids in the south who haven't had it easy. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out," an aide told The Independent. "The initiative didn't come from us. It came from people claiming to be representing the Bieber people."

But Bieber's manager Scooter Braun told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, "We never asked to meet with him nor has anyone connected with us asked to meet him."

A committed Christian, Bieber had planned to tour religious sites but complained that his plans were wrecked by the political row and photographers who pursued him around the country.

He began the week upbeat, evading hundreds of teenage girls camped outside his hotel and hitting Tel Aviv on a motor scooter while providing a running commentary on Twitter.

"This place is beautiful... Amazing place," Bieber gushed.

Then he set off for the Galilee and Jerusalem accompanied by his mother and Mama Jan, head of Jan Smith Studios in Atlanta.

"All I wanted was the chance to walk where jesus [sic] did here in isreal [sic]. I'm in the holy [sic] land and I am grateful for that. I just want to have the same personal experience that others have here," he said.

But things turned sour when photographers pursued him into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional site of Christ's crucifixion.

The Israeli press is notoriously aggressive. They once sent Dallas star Victoria Principal fleeing the country, and forced Jim Carrey to hire a body double. Fights erupted with bodyguards for Madonna and Leonardo di Caprio.

"You would think paparazzi would have some respect in holy places," Bieber tweeted. "They should be ashamed of themselves. Take pictures of me eating but not in a place of prayer, ridiculous. People wait their whole lives for opportunities like this, why would they want to take that experience away from someone. But some people just don't have respect."

He was seen briefly on Wednesday in the McDonalds on Tel Aviv beach.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

The ravaged palace that symbolises the hope of peace

Palestinian businessman is rebuilding his home after it was caught in the crossfire

By Matthew Kalman in Beit Jala

THE INDEPENDENT Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Albert Abu Zgheibreh's home cost $880,000 and took five years to complete

The first remodelling of Albert Abu Zgheibreh's impressive home in Beit Jala on the outskirts of Bethlehem was free of charge, but not to his taste. Hellfire missiles fired from Israeli Apache helicopter gunships left gaping holes in the walls, tank shells smashed through the supporting pillars of the verandas and the stonework was raked with heavy-calibre machine-gun fire.

For nearly a decade, the ravaged beauty towered over the valley dividing Palestinian Beit Jala from the Israeli suburb of Gilo, its blackened holes and shattered stones like broken teeth in a gaping mouth silently bemoaning the folly of war.

It took five years and $880,000 to build the house. It was barely completed before the Palestinian intifada erupted in the autumn of 2000. Taking advantage of Mr Abu Zgheibreh's absence abroad, a group of gunmen decided to use it as a machine-gun nest to fire across the valley at Gilo, triggering the explosive Israeli response.

No one knows how many holes the Israelis punched in Albert's Hall, but now he has begun to fill them. "Last year I decided it was time to rebuild it again. I didn't want the people – Israelis and Palestinians – to have to keep looking at this reminder of what war could do," Mr Abu Zgheibreh, 69, tells The Independent as he conducts a private tour of the premises.

He has recalled the expert craftsmen, stonemasons and engineers and sunk another million dollars into a second remodelling, in the hope this stark reminder of recent violence will become, instead, a symbol of peace.

"This house has entered into history because of the Israeli bombardment. Everyone wanted to know why I wasn't rebuilding," he says. "I'm building for the future and for my family. I hope now there will be peace. It's enough. For the Palestinians, for the Israelis, for everyone, peace will be better."

Mr Abu Zgheibreh's story is almost a parable for the Christian Palestinians who now make up less than 2 per cent of the population and have been reduced to a minority even in the region of Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Like thousands of Christian Palestinians, his father emigrated to Latin America in the 1920s when Palestine was hit by drought and a severe economic depression. Mr Abu Zgheibreh's grandfather was a textile merchant. His father set up a branch of the family textile business in Colombia and later settled in Honduras. Mr Abu Zgheibreh inherited the family textile business and then moved it to the Free Zone in Panama, where he has lived for the past quarter-century.

After the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, Mr Abu Zgheibreh decided it was time to re-establish the family ties with their ancestral homestead. He decided to build a new home which would also secure the family's ownership of an acre of land adjoining his grandfather's home, built in 1929. "I wanted to make something different, something new and really beautiful. I want people to look at this house and remember my family, remember this house, and remember Beit Jala," he says.

With its fine stone carvings, sweeping balconies and soaring arches, the 16,000sqft home on three storeys quickly earned the sobriquet Al Qasr – "The Palace".

"When the Israelis look across the valley they can also see that this is a good place with good people. I want everyone to enjoy the beauty of this house. It's for all the people," he says.

Mr Abu Zgheibreh climbed nearby mountains to look at the house from all angles as it was under construction and added new elements which could be seen from far off. He jokes that he has used enough stone cladding for four houses, and plans to fill the three-quarters of an acre of garden with fruit trees and fountains.

He has brought in traditional artisans like Abu Wa'el, a third-generation stonemason from the nearby village of Beit Fajjar, who on a recent morning was hand-chiselling the final touches to the delicate filigree around the windows.

"I like this artistic, delicate work," says Abu Wa'el. "There are very few people who want this kind of work these days. I learned it from my father and grandfather and I've been working like this for 40 years. I don't imagine my grandchildren will be doing this 40 years from now."

Mr Abu Zgheibreh admits he is gambling on peace to ensure he will not have to build the house a third time. He first found out what was happening to it when he saw it being attacked by a helicopter gunship on CNN. "I couldn't do anything," he says. "It was war, and I was in Panama."

He says the gunmen who first drew Israel's fire to the building in 2000 did not come from Beit Jala – a charge confirmed by Abu Atef, one of the Fatah gunmen who began firing from the building. Abu Atef says it became a right of passage for the most daring gunmen to take their turn behind the group's belt-fed Browning M2 .50-caliber machine-gun. Several gunmen and residents of Beit Jala were killed in the resulting firefights.

"The first time we came, the neighbours were OK, but after their houses began to be damaged from the Israeli tanks, people became very angry and tried to push us to another area to shoot. They didn't give us any help, not even a drink of water when the guys were thirsty. Even now they don't like us," Abu Atef admits.

These days, far from shelling the building, the Israeli army is taking an active role in securing it. Last year, the local Israeli commander made a rare early-morning visit to Beit Jala to inspect progress. A unit of Palestinian National Guard troops is stationed at the top of the road.

"If anybody comes, the Israeli soldiers see through their binoculars and tell the Palestinians to go and check it out. I have protection from both," Mr Abu Zgheibreh laughs.

Most of his five children continue to work in Latin America, but one of his daughters has married a local man and settled back in Beit Jala. He spends about four months of the year here but intends to spend more time once the house is finished. "I'm an old man and I want to retire," he says.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

A Bitter Return to Politics at Israel's Bar-Ilan U.

Bar-Ilan University has a scarred past when it comes to politics.

In November 1995, Yigal Amir, a Bar-Ilan law student, shot and killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as he left a peace rally in Tel Aviv. The assassination cast a grim shadow over Bar-Ilan, Israel's only religious university, whose founding philosophy is to combine "Jewish identity and tradition with modern technologies and research."

Some observers wondered aloud whether the university's religious values had contributed to the killer's extremist politics, and Bar-Ilan immediately banned all political activity on the campus and engaged in a deep soul-searching.

Today, Bar-Ilan is again being roiled by political controversies. A right-wing student group has accused some academics at the university of having connections to anti-Zionist, if not anti-Jewish, elements, while several left-wing faculty members have accused the university of denying them promotion because of their views.

Nasty political debates have affected other Israeli universities, but recent events at Bar-Ilan show that a university that has tried to moderate extreme political viewpoints can still be challenged by them.

For many years after Mr. Rabin's assassination, public political activity remained largely on hold at Bar-Ilan, except for occasional, carefully choreographed public debates on national issues, held just off-campus.

Then, two years ago, the Forum for the Land of Israel, a right-wing student group, demanded the reintroduction of political activity, citing Israel's laws on freedom of speech and political expression. Last fall Bar-Ilan's student union, with the university's tacit approval, said it was reviving political activity on the campus, within carefully supervised parameters, and invited students to join the debate in the pages of the student newspaper. In March, the union sponsored a Political Awareness Week, a fair with booths representing the full spectrum of Israeli politics, and a trip to the West Bank guided by both Peace Now and the Yesha Council, which represents Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

"We believe as a student union that students must be involved in society and the community," Orel Lahav, a student-union spokesman, said in an interview with The Chronicle. "Students must be part of political life. We have to ensure that the discussion is sensible, appropriate, pragmatic—and it shouldn't, God forbid, slide into incitement that could lead to the murder of a prime minister, as happened in 1995."

Student Activism

Ranen Shwartzman, a law student who founded the Forum for the Land of Israel, said his 200-member group wants an open and robust political discussion on the campus.

"We don't want only right-wing groups to act here," he told The Chronicle. "We know that because of the structure of the population here, the right wing will be stronger than the left wing. We are in favor of every political view being heard."

However, the forum has been accused of demonizing and suppressing views, among both students and faculty members, that it deems not Zionist enough. Last June a left-wing professor of psychology at Tel Aviv University pulled out of a symposium organized by the group after it was advertised with a photo montage that replaced his head with that of a hooded terrorist. The forum also objected to Bar-Ilan's giving several hundred Arab students a Muslim prayer room and an Arabic-language exam coach.

More recently the group has begun to extend its campaigns beyond student activism into Bar-Ilan's faculty affairs. In February a private meeting held by the law faculty between Israel's top international and human-rights law professors and Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights, was canceled by the university after protests by the forum.

"Anything the forum don't like, they try to cancel," said Mr. Lahav. "The forum are on the edge. Not a few times they have been warned that they have gone too far. On several occasions they have crossed the line."

He called the cancellation of Ms. Pillay's visit "an act of cowardice."

In March the forum accused the law faculty of consorting with anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish groups and called for an "in-depth public discussion" of their allegations.

In contrast to the Pillay incident, when Bar-Ilan acceded to the forum's demands, Haim Zisovitch, a university spokesman, condemned the group's "false accusations" and said it was attempting to "defame" the law faculty.

"The forum is doing enormous damage to the university," said Elad Caplan, a law student who heads a moderate political-religious group. "It's creating hate between Arabs and Jews. Bar-Ilan is irrelevant when it comes to left-wing politics. No one in Bar-Ilan is promoting an anti-Zionist agenda. They are manipulating fear and using demagoguery to create conflict between left and right, between secular and religious. It's really terrible."

Controversy Over Job Denials

The revival of student political activity comes at a particularly sensitive time for Bar-Ilan. In recent months, it has been accused of denying promotion to two prominent left-wing instructors because of their politics.

Menachem Klein, a lecturer in political science, was rejected for the rank of full professor for the second time in five years. Ariella Azoulay, a lecturer in cultural studies, was denied tenure last year after 10 years teaching at the university. Seventy prominent Israeli faculty members wrote to Bar-Ilan in protest, accusing it of "political persecution."

In April, Tova Cohen, a professor accused of connections to liberal causes deemed suspect by some university officials, resigned as director of gender studies after the university rejected the recommendation of the dean and a departmental search committee that her term be extended.

"The key positions in Bar-Ilan are taken by very radical people, political rightists," Mr. Klein told The Chronicle. "They are committed to the so-called purification of the university from so-called leftists."

The university said no political agenda was involved in the cases of Mr. Klein and Ms. Azoulay. "The two are convinced that their promotion was declined due to their political viewpoints. Bar-Ilan University adamantly denies this," said Mr. Zisovitch. "The criteria for promotion before the appointments committee are solely of an academic nature and based upon the academic achievements of the candidates in their field of expertise."

But a university appeals committee agreed enough with Mr. Klein's concerns that it recommended a new evaluation of his application. His proposed promotion to professor will be re-examined by a panel of experts in his field.

Mr. Klein's rejection has divided faculty members who know his work. Efraim Inbar, a professor in the political-science department who has made no secret of his opposition to Mr. Klein's promotion, rejects any accusations of political bias. "In our department, in which there is a leftist tilt, it's simply an accusation that doesn't hold water," he said to The Chronicle before the appeal committee made its decision. "Klein is trying to intimidate the university. I thought he hadn't published enough, and not in good-enough journals."

But Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University who was an external referee in Mr. Klein's application, called the rejection "simply puzzling."

"I am aware of concerns that it may be politically motivated. I am in no position to judge those concerns, but the outcome is a strange one," he said. "If this decision is based on scholarship, then it appears to me to be an easy one. Indeed, it is both open-and-shut and overdue. The publication record itself is easily comparable to those of more advanced rank. He has a sterling record in the academic field."

It is unclear what effect, if any, those faculty controversies will have on the decision to permit student political activity on Bar-Ilan's campus. Senior officials refused to discuss the issues with The Chronicle, aside from short statements delivered through the university spokesman.