Archive for February, 2008

Obama’s Position Statement on Israel…

February 13, 2008
There was some negative reaction to my sending around that NYTimes article which described Barack Obama’s faith and his pastor, who reportedly has said that Zionism has elements of white racism and whom Obama has looked to for inspiration.  My sending that around did not come from a bigoted place.  In fact, I posted on my website several weeks ago Obama’s position paper on Israel in which he expresses his support for the basic tenets of a pro-Israel foreign policy.  I didn’t send that around in an email yet, so I am doing so now.  Also below the link to the Obama position statement are two opposing opinion pieces on Obama’s likely policies toward Israel. 
 
If there is any axe I have to grind with the Obama campaign, it is a recoiling I experience in the face of charisma and movements that seem to quickly capture the imagination of the masses.  History is full of blind following, so I recoil at such phenomena and find refuge in his boring, uncharismatic, but competent opponent.  Having said that, I believe he is a good person (though with the narcissistic and hubristic flaws typical of most politicians) with a very compelling, eclectic background; and, like many, I am truly moved by his speeches.  But to quote myself from an earlier piece:
 
Why can’t we find someone who may be a little clumsy behind the lectern, but authoritative, knowledgeable, and decisive behind the desk? 
 
Anyway, please have a look at the Obama campaign position statement on Israel below and the related articles. 
 
Obama’s Israel Position Statement
Two articles from JPost:

In the first article, Alon Pinkas argues that it is a myth that Obama is not sufficiently pro-Israel.  In the second article, Saul Singer argues that while Obama says all the right things on Israel, he is too mild in his approach to Iran, unlike Hillary, and therefore too mild in countering Israel’s number one existential threat. 

I would add that it is no accident that Obama hews to the conventional US line in support of Israel.  Because although Jews don’t control American politics and American foreign policy, as Walt and Mearsheimer and others would have it, we can say that in national races, Jewish financial contributors can have an impact.   National candidates raise money with large Jewish contributors from Wall St. and Hollywood (and elsewhere), in addition to the many, many other large donors with other agendas (though Obama seems to be doing fine lately with a more fragmented donor pool, buttressed by MoveOn.org).  The latter donors just don’t have as much focus policy-wise as the large Jewish donors.  Many of the large Jewish donors, in addition to asking about a liberal policy agenda, want to know, “So buddy, what do you think about Israel?” 

We can say that wealthy Jewish contributors can influence candidates without saying there is anything wrong with that, that it is an overwhelming influence, or that Jews control the US government.  Let’s not get paranoid, okay?  Finally, just because a national candidate makes pro-Israel noises, doesn’t mean he/she will always remain that way once safely in office.  Remember Jimmy Carter. And, it does concern me that Obama hangs around with the likes of Zbig Brzezinksi (not the most pro-Israel member of the foreign policy establishment) and MoveOn.org.  But, I’m not such a big fan of Richard Holbrooke either, a Hillary foreign policy adviser, though for other reasons.

What’s more, it seems that Jewish-American voters have been split between Hillary and Obama in recent races (see an article on this on my website).  And, in spite of the Republicans’ arguably more staunch support of Israel, Jewish voters still consistently poll around 70% in support of Democrats.  So, in spite of what some may think, Jewish-Americans are not single issue voters; they back the candidate that supports their liberal tendencies in spite of a somewhat less staunch support of the Jewish state (a point Dems may dispute).

Obama is not ‘bad for Israel

By ALON PINKAS
 

A dumb, misinformed, misguided and vicious accusation is circulating lately in cyberspace. According to anonymous commentators, Barack Obama is “bad for Israel“. He has an Islamic chapter in his biography (“radical” says one expert on both Obama and fundamentalist Islam), he called for talks with Iran, Syria and whomever else the US defines as an enemy and has never expounded what are commonly regarded as “Pro Israel” comments.

So troubling and critical were the accusations and their implications, that one Israeli newspaper, Maariv, took this lunacy one step further and sprinted to announce in a page-one headline that there are “Concerns in Jerusalem about an Obama Presidency”. Quoting “officials in Jerusalem“, the paper explained that Obama’s foreign policy inexperience (compared to George W. Bush’s extensive experience in managing relations between Texas and Oklahoma prior to his presidency) and calls for a diplomatic dialogue with Iran may result in policies inconsistent with Israeli security interests, hence the “concern”. I used to be an “Official in Jerusalem“.

There is no way in the world that anyone remotely involved in foreign policy or US policy ever expressed any concerns. At worst, Obama may have been described as a question mark we know little about as were, before him, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in 1992 and 2000 respectively. The paper fell just short of recommending that Israel withhold the $2.6 billion military grant it provides the US with annually or refrain from vetoing anti-American resolutions in the UN Security Council.

For due diligence, I am not an American citizen and therefore I cannot vote in US elections. In fact, despite having friends who both work for and support Senator Obama, I’m not sure I would have necessarily voted for him had I had the right to vote. I can vote in elections in Israel every 18 months for patently pro-Israeli candidates, so I probably just don’t have the urge.

Trying to refute the ridiculous allegations on their merits is relatively easy: Obama’s voting record on issues pertaining to Israel is impeccable. Amongst his supporters and contributors are prominent Chicago and New York Jewish community and civic leaders, and I assume there are many more in Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere. He has never outlined a policy that Israelis may find incompatible with what they believe a pro-Israeli Mid-East policy should be. In fact, Sen. Obama’s essay in Foreign Affairs is balanced and contains absolutely no policy prescriptions anyone in their right mind can define as “anti-Israeli”.

This leads me to question the very premise of the argument. What constitutes “Pro-Israel”, and who appointed or commissioned anyone to cast a judgment on the issue?

Does it constitute being “Pro-Israel” to support settlements? Is it pro-Israeli to pressure Israel into signing some peace agreement and dismantle settlements?

An American presidential candidate repeatedly pledges his eternal love for and belief that a united Jerusalem should and will remain Israel‘s capital. He then proceeds, as president to refuse to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Is he then considered pro-Israeli or just a pandering politician? (Answer: when he said it, he was genuinely pro-Israeli and of course he meant it, as he said in Boca Raton to Cohen and Levy during the campaign. When he didn’t move the embassy, it was because of the Arab-loving pencil pushers at the State Department and the corrupt Saudis who control Washington).

But the issue deserves a more elaborate answer. So let’s take a brief, broad-brush look at several past presidents who are case studies.

Richard Nixon for example. His background, education, early years in Congress, loathing of the northeast liberal establishment, borderline anti-Semitic remarks made while in the White House hardly made him a prime candidate for centerfold in “Pro-Israel Monthly’ magazine. 85% of US Jews voted for Humphrey and McGovern. So was Nixon “Anti-Israeli”? No.

History will judge him as the president who rehabilitated the Israeli Defense Forces after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, launched the annual military grant to Israel and pulled Egypt away from Soviet orbit. Jimmy Carter, now there is a real anti-Israel president. Oh really? His involvement in the Camp David negotiations was critical and indispensable in enabling Israel and Egypt to sign a peace agreement that has ever since been a pillar of stability (not much “peace” though) and part of Israel’s national security posture.

Ronald Reagan, now there is a true Zionist, a man who embodies and defines pro-Israelness. No kidding.

Who sold F-15 jets and AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia? Who consolidated the US-Saudi alliance which in turn contributed to the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism and Wahabi extremism? It sure wasn’t Barack Obama. Yet Jews voted for Reagan in unprecedented numbers for a Republican (35%). So Carter facilitates a peace deal between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and Jews vote for Reagan. They did so for perfectly legitimate reasons. They did so for “American” reasons because they thought he’d be a better president than Carter was.

 

Ah, you say, then came George H.W. Bush, AKA “41″. He really hated us. Didn’t his secretary of State, James Baker say: “F**k the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.” And didn’t he complain about the pro-Israel lobby? And didn’t he impede the loan guarantees?

 

But Bush 41 presided over the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the elimination of Iraq as a viable threat against Israel from the east and invaluably assisted Israel (and never asked for credit) in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

 

Bill Clinton was the greatest friend Israel ever had. Until he involved himself in the Israeli-Palestinian process which included recognizing the PLO, establishing a Palestinian Authority and would have entailed, had Camp David in July 2000 produced an agreement major territorial concessions. Then he was somewhat less pro-Israeli in the eyes of some.

 

And then there is the new greatest friend Israel ever had, the big W. himself. Contrary to all presidents before him since Truman, he called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, an end to Israeli occupation (his words, last week in Jerusalem) and further strengthened ties to the Saudis. He also attacked the wrong menace in the region. Iraq instead of Iran. Of course it’s Colin Powel’s fault, then Condi Rice’s infatuation with Palestinian “suffering”.

 

The point is, an American president is “Pro-Israel” when he profoundly appreciates the basic friendship with Israel, when he respects Israel as a democracy, when he truly believes in Israel as an idea and an enterprise. When his core value system and strategic outlook is similar to that of Israelis.

 

In this respect, if Barack Obama is not “pro-Israel”, then neither are most Israelis. Jan 21, 2008 9:48 | Updated Jan 21, 2008 19:43

Obama’s mixed record on Iran

 

By SAUL SINGER 

I agree with Alon Pinkas that the rumor campaign against Barack Obama is unfair. He is not a Muslim, nor is there anything in his voting record or statements to suggest that he is anti-Israel. He is, from what I can tell, well within the “pro-Israel” mainstream of the Democratic party today. The problem is more with the narrowness of the definition of “pro-Israel,” as that label is normally used. The truth is that a candidate’s voting record and position paper on Israel (here’s Obama’s) tells the voter little about what the presidency of that candidate would mean for Israel, or for
the
US, for that matter.

 

There are two reasons for this. First, thank goodness, the position papers of candidates and Members of Congress are now so uniformly pro-Israel, regardless of party (with some exceptions) that it is almost impossible to distinguish between them.

 

Second and more importantly, what matters most for Israel right now is not a candidate’s stance on foreign assistance or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, or even more controversial issues such as settlements and targeted killings of terrorists. Much more significant is the candidate’s position on the wider threat of radical Islamism and its potential nuclear epicenter, Iran.

 

Here Obama’s record is mixed. On the one hand, he has co-sponsored a bill to impose further sanctions on Iran, and has spoken out on the seriousness of the Iranian threat. On the other, while he supported the sanctions that the Administration eventually imposed on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, he opposed the amendment that Hillary Clinton voted for because, “it tied our presence in Iraq to an effort to counter the Iranian threat, which he felt could 1) give a green light to premature military action against Iran, and 2) provide a rationale to keep our troops in Iraq, when of course, he believes we need to end our presence there,” as his staff explained to me in an email.

 

In other words, Obama placed the risk of a US military response to Iran and the risk of lengthening the US stay in Iraq as higher and more important than the risk that international sanctions will be too weak to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Such logic is warped and mistaken.

 

It also reveals Obama’s talk about sanctions and the need to stop Iran as lip service, rather than a serious, thought-through policy designed to succeed. It is all well and good to be for sanctions, but if this position melts away in the face of extremely tenuous excuses based on extraneous issues, than the “tough” position on Iran is meaningless.

 

It is not possible to be “pro-Israel” without a serious policy for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, because a nuclear Iran – besides threatening Israel directly – would substantially ramp up its support for all the forces that are arrayed against Israel and the US:
Hamas, Hizbullah, and al-Qaida.

 

Iran is the primary foreign policy challenge not just for Israel, but for the United States. The presidential candidates need to be measured first and foremost by the seriousness and coherence of their prescriptions on this issue. By this measure, all the major Democrats are currently fairing worse than all the major Republicans, but this could change as the campaign moves toward the general election.

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Bio of Hizballah Supreme Commander killed this week…

February 12, 2008

Read about his 25 yr career.  Bear in mind it’s from Debka, which is a website some believe to be affiliated with the Israel Defense Forces.  Best cataloguing of this man’s crimes over the years I have seen. 

On a personal note, he was one year older than I and about the same age as Barack Obama.  It’s interesting to see what people my age have done with themselves in the 20-25 yrs since high school.  After college, I went to intl relations/business grad school, worked at the Federal Reserve examining banks and tracking the foreign exchange market, had a stint in politics on the Gore campaign, a stint in the Foreign Service in Venezuela, and have worked on Wall Street for much of the balance, covering emerging markets.  Okay, so that’s an interesting mix and you can judge what positive I’ve contributed to the planet, if anything (something I think about from time to time). 

Not to put myself on the same plane, but he is the same age — Obama studied international relations and law, worked briefly in an econ/finance job, then did community organizing, and finally spent the balance in politics in a highly successful career. 

By contrast, Imad Mughniyeh began killing Americans, French, Israelis and other Jews in 1982 when I was a sophomore.  He started out in Arafat’s Force 17 and then was enlisted in Hizballah and for the Iranians and Syrians.  He allegedly became one of the only terrorists trusted by both Iranian leader Khamenei and Osama bin Laden.  His nominal boss, Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hizballah, is also a contemporary of ours and currently heads the organization.   Remember, if I grew my beard, it could be as gray as his.

To follow on this line of grandiosity, one thinks of the generation born around the 1880-90s, which included Churchill, Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin, David Ben-Gurion, and a little later, my two grandfathers, one of which served as a young man in the US Army in the trenches of Belgium during WWI, became an insurance salesman and had two sons who grew up in Brooklyn; the other was a soldier in the British Jewish forces in pre-State of Israel Palestine before immigrating to the United States and having six kids including my mom. 

Interesting to contemplate what members of your generation are up to.  The fellow below cut his teeth in the 80s-90s like I did, but in a very different manner.

Notorious Hizballah terrorist hostage-taker Imad Mughniyeh killed in Damascus

February 13, 2008, 6:31 PM (GMT+02:00)

 

 

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Imad Fayez Mughniyeh, the Hizballah’s supreme commander and plotter of major anti-US and anti-Israel terror operations in the last 25 years died aged 46 in a car bomb explosion in the Damascus district of Tanzim Kafr Susa Tuesday night, Feb. 12.

Hizballah TV interrupted its broadcasts Wednesday to announce his death, accusing Israel of assassination. Hizballah TV interrupted its broadcasts Wednesday to announce his death, accusing Israel of assassination. Its leaders are conferring in Beirut on how to retaliate. Special security imposed at Israeli embassies and Jewish centers worldwide.

The Iranian News Agency reports that Haj Hussein Khalil, the Hizballah’s deputy for political affairs was killed in the same explosion.

Hassan Nasrallah will eulogize the dead man at his funeral in Beirut Thursday by video link. Beirut is already tense since the funeral falls on the third anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

On Aug. 5, 2006, DEBKAfile described Mughniyeh as the only undercover agent in the Middle East who enjoys the complete personal trust of both Iranian supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. In recent years he has liaised between them. His death is a blow to both.

The elusive Mughniyeh surfaced before both of them on the Islamist terror horizon. In 1982, He orchestrated the suicide bombings of US Marine and French Beirut headquarters, in which 241 Marines and 58 French soldiers were killed, prompting a decision by President Ronald Reagan to evacuate US troops from Lebanon.

In 1983, he orchestrated the US embassy bombing, which killed 63 people and wiped out the top CIA Middle East staff. That year, the Israeli command center in Tyre was blown up killing scores of troops.

In 1985, the United States indicted him for hijacking TWA Flight 847 and the resulting death of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem.

Mughniyeh was also infamous for numerous brutal kidnappings of Westerners in Beirut through the 1980s, most notably, that of Terry Anderson and William Buckley, the CIA’s Station Chief in Beirut, who was later murdered.

The dead terrorist’s association with Tehran and its violent overseas exploits went back twenty years. In 1988, in collusion with Tehran, he organized the kidnapping of Colonel William R. Rich Higgins, the most senior American intelligence officer in Lebanon, who was tortured to death by Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen and Hizballah operatives.

The same partnership is believed to have staged the Khobar Towers blast in eastern Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996, targeting US flight crews guarding Saudi oil fields. At least 19 Americans were killed and 200 injured.

Mughniyeh, acting for Tehran and Hizballah, was held responsible for the 1992 bombings of the Israeli embassy and Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, in which more than a hundred people died.

He planned the kidnap and murder of three Israeli soldiers eight years ago on Mt. Dov and his hand is believed behind the abduction of two Israeli reservists in 2006.

After numerous attempts to capture him, the FBI in Oct. 2001 put him on its list of 22 most wanted terrorists and a $25 million bounty on his head the same as for bin Laden.

The dead terrorist mastermind’s first mentor was the Palestinian Yasser Arafat as a member of the Fatah’s Force 17.

While America and Israel come first to mind as responsible for Mughniyeh’s death, DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources note that a possible inside job is worth considering. Dissatisfied with his performance in the 2006 Lebanon War against Israel, Tehran deposed Hizballah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasralah as its supreme commander and replaced him with Mughniyeh.

Nasrallah was confined to political functions, while his successor was assigned the task of rehabilitating Hizballah militia forces and preparing them for the next war on Israel.

The dead terrorist may have set up his headquarters in Damascus under the protection of Syrian and Iranian security services because he did not feel safe in Lebanon. Penetrating these two security belts to slay the wanted man was undoubtedly an exceptional intelligence feat.

Profile of an Israeli Basketball Coach…

February 12, 2008

By ALLON SINAI

When Robi Balinko took charge of Ironi Ramat Gan in the summer the club had just one goal – avoid relegation.

On Sunday, Balinko takes his team to the Malha Arena to face Hapoel Jerusalem with both sides tied for third position in the league, each with 25 points after 16 games.

Despite having one of the smaller budgets in the BSL at his disposal Balinko has managed to build a team capable of pushing for a Final Four berth.

Balinko’s men have already proven their potential this season by beating each of the Final Four favorites, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem, Bnei Hasharon and Hapoel Holon.

Another win against Jerusalem on Sunday will give Ramat Gan a massive advantage in the race for a top four finish, but the 46-year-old coach is not getting ahead of himself just yet.

“I’m optimistic, but cautious. I know Jerusalem is a very good team and is the favorite. I think we have a 20 percent chance of winning,” Balinko tells The Jerusalem Post .

“Playing Jerusalem in Malha is no simple task, but we’re entering the game with the aim of claiming a win.”

Ramat Gan is coming off a heartbreaking loss to Ironi Ashkelon, a defeat that ended a three game win streak.

“The defeat to Ashkelon was very disappointing and very frustrating.

“This was a game we had to win. If we aspire to compete for a Final Four berth we have to win these kinds of games. Every game from now on is essentially a playoff game,” the coach says.

Balinko is the main reason behind Ramat Gan’s success this season, building a balanced roster in which every player knows his place.

“The key to our success is the lack of ego on the team. The players put their egos aside for the greater good. “We manage to get the maximum out of our players. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Balinko says.

“Through the years all the sides I coached were typified by the fact that they played as a team and were not too dependent on any one player. With this system you can’t stop the team by stopping a single player.

“This also allows the team to overcome injuries and the absence of players.

“We were without the injured Ori Itzhaki for a while and Jerome Beasley had to go to the US for personal reasons, but the team still functioned.”

Balinko began his basketball career older than most coaches after serving as a company commander in the paratroopers 890 regiment.

“I think my leadership skills come from my army service,” he says. “A coach is the leader of the team and there are some similarities between being an officer in a fighting unit and a coach of a team.

Of course there’s a huge difference because in the army you’re fighting for you life.”

Balinko had to wait longer than most of his colleagues to finally get a real chance in the top flight, but after so many years in basketball wilderness he’s at least making the wait worth while.

“I always believed I could coach at these levels. There were years I believed more and years a believed less, but I always knew that if I get the right chance I’ll be able to display my abilities.”

Balinko used the fact that almost everybody wrote Ramat Gan off even before the season began to his advantage, motivating his players to prove their critics wrong.

“We were spurred on by the fact that we were labeled as a relegation favorite at the start of the season.

“I told the players that the only thing we can do about the fact that commentators and journalists are saying we’re going to be relegated is to prove them wrong on the court,” Balinko stresses.

Despite claiming wins earlier on in the season over Bnei Hasharon, Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv the coach admits that he only truly believed that his side can achieve more than just BSL survival after the 99-77 victory at Hapoel Afula/Gilboa on January 13 .

“I think that I understood what we’re capable of after the win in Afula. We won by 20 or so points, recording our fifth win of the season, and I felt the team was gelling well. This win came after the victories over Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem and was a test of our character,” he says.

One of the biggest surprises in Ramat Gan and for that matter in the entire league is the play of Nir Cohen. The 26-year-old, who spent the last two seasons at San Diego University, is averaging 10.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in 24 minutes on court.

“I thought Cohen was a good player, but I’d be lying if I said I thought he’d be this good,” Balinko says. “I knew all about his abilities, having trained him in the past. He came to train with Ramat Gan in the summer only because he couldn’t find a team to sign for.

“After two training sessions I told the chairman that Cohen is not leaving this arena. We didn’t plan to sign him, but I told the chairman that Cohen can make the difference. The truth is that I never dreamt he would make such a significant difference.”

Another key member of Ironi’s unlikely success is Jerome Beasley.

“I was surprised that we managed to sign Beasley,” Balinko admits. “Part of being a coach is knowing how to take decisions under pressure on the court and off the court.

“We were given the option to sign Beasley and I immediately called three coaches, David Blatt, Erez Edelstein and Sharon Druker, and after talking to them I decided to sign him. I didn’t even have a chance to watch his DVD.”

Nearly two-thirds of Catholic Dems vote for Hillary…

February 9, 2008

Interesting NYTimes article on the Catholic vote:

Catholic Vote Is Harbinger of Success for Clinton

By JIM DWYER
Published: February 9, 2008
Hillary Rodham Clinton has run away with the votes of Roman Catholic Democrats in nearly all the primaries, often beating Barack Obama by two to one or better, exit polls show. In New York, she received 66 percent of the Catholic vote to his 30 percent.

“I didn’t go to bed until 1 in the morning waiting on the results,” said Joe Quinn, a Catholic who is a building superintendent on the Upper West Side. “I slept very well, let me tell you.”

Does it matter whom Catholics like Mr. Quinn voted for in the Democratic primaries? By November, it may not. Still, Catholics, who make up about a quarter of the registered voters in the country, have backed the winner of the national popular vote for at least the last nine presidential elections, going back to 1972.

The Catholic scorecard: five Republican and three Democratic presidents, and one popular-vote-winning but presidency-losing Democrat, Al Gore.

No other large group has switched sides so often, or been so consistently aligned with the winners. Over that same period, a majority of white Protestants typically voted Republican, while blacks of all faiths and Jews strongly backed Democrats.

“Catholics are the last swing voters left in the country,” said Brian O’Dwyer, a Manhattan lawyer and a Clinton supporter.

So why Mrs. Clinton? Catholics are scattered across the American landscape, with the sun having long set on the empire of the parish, a source of boundary and social identity. No single explanation for Mrs. Clinton’s current success could credibly cover enough ground. That did not stop New Yorkers from trying.

Mr. O’Dwyer maintains that Mrs. Clinton as a senator — and Bill Clinton, as president — paid attention to ethnic and working-class Catholics who were often overlooked by both parties. “Every one of the ethnic groups got a hearing,” he said, making them comfortable with Mrs. Clinton’s position on Social Security, health care, education and immigration. And both Clintons, he said, had played central roles in brokering an end to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland.

Another, more daring idea is that Mrs. Clinton owes some of her success to the nuns who were once a potent presence in American Catholicism.

This notion was floated by Catherine T. Nolan, who attended St. Aloysius elementary school in Queens and now represents her old neighborhood in the State Assembly. She noted that older Catholic voters grew up with women in charge of daily life.

“Maybe we’re a little bit more open to female leadership,” said Ms. Nolan, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, one of the most powerful legislative posts in Albany. “We had female role models from an early age. When I was growing up, all the Catholic school principals were women, and almost none of the public school principals were. That’s changed now, but we’ve been used to female authority figures for much longer than other groups.”

Wait a minute: feminism in a religion with an all-male priesthood? “As a young girl, I never thought about who was up on the altar,” Ms. Nolan said. “The nuns were the people we saw every day, and they were running the whole show.”

The nuns, however, cannot account for all of Mrs. Clinton’s success. “She is putting more interest into the Latino communities,” said Gina Trifolio, 26, of Washington Heights. “And, of course, she is a woman.”

As with other groups, younger and more affluent Catholics were more likely to back Mr. Obama. So were people who just don’t like Mrs. Clinton.

“I voted for Obama, but it was mostly an anti-Hillary vote,” said Bill Duffy, a police officer who was picking up his children from a parochial school in the northwest Bronx. “I mean, Obama’s got some good things about him, but the experience is a question. So I might end up with McCain.”

Ms. Nolan recalled, as a girl, going on a field trip in Upper Manhattan to the shrine of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini — an immigrant nun from Italy who in the late 19th century built 67 orphanages, hospitals and schools, amassing and wielding power against a stubborn hierarchy. She was the first American to be canonized a saint.

The destination was the shrine where an effigy of the saint, along with some of her remains, are displayed under glass beneath the altar. “When you’re a fourth grader coming from Queens and you see that — well, you talk about female role models,” Ms. Nolan said. “Not that I’m putting Hillary Clinton in that category.”

Marjorie Connelly contributed research.
E-mail:dwyer@nytimes.com

Article on Culture and Education in New York City…

February 8, 2008
Published: February 8, 2008
Junior High School 22, in the South Bronx, had run through six principals in just over two years when Shimon Waronker was named the seventh.

A Bronx School Revives

On his first visit, in October 2004, he found a police officer arresting a student and calling for backup to handle the swelling crowd. Students roamed the hallways with abandon; in one class of 30, only 5 students had bothered to show up. “It was chaos,” Mr. Waronker recalled. “I was like, this can’t be real.”

Teachers, parents and students at the school, which is mostly Hispanic and black, were equally taken aback by the sight of their new leader: A member of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism with a beard, a black hat and a velvet yarmulke.

“The talk was, ‘You’re not going to believe who’s running the show,’ ” said Lisa DeBonis, now an assistant principal.

At a time when the Bloomberg administration has put principals at the center of its efforts to overhaul schools, making the search for great school leaders more pressing than ever, the tale of Mr. Waronker shows that sometimes, the most unlikely of candidates can produce surprising results.

Despite warnings from some in the school system that Mr. Waronker was a cultural mismatch for a predominantly minority school, he has outlasted his predecessors, and test scores have risen enough to earn J.H.S. 22 an A on its new school report card. The school, once on the city’s list of the 12 most dangerous, has since been removed.

Attendance among the 670 students is above 93 percent, and some of the offerings seem positively elite, like a new French dual-language program, one of only three in the city.

“It’s an entirely different place,” Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said in a recent interview. “If I could clone Shimon Waronker, I would do that immediately.”

Not everyone would.

Mr. Waronker has replaced half the school’s teachers, and some of his fiercest critics are teachers who say he interprets healthy dissent as disloyalty and is more concerned with creating flashy new programs than with ensuring they survive. Critics note that the school is far from perfect; it is one of 32 in the city that the state lists as failing and at risk of closing. Even his critics, though, acknowledge the scope of his challenge.

“I don’t agree with a lot of what he’s done, but I actually recognize that he has a beast in front of him,” said Lauren Bassi, a teacher who has since left. “I’m not sure there’s enough money in the world you could pay me to tackle this job.”

Mr. Waronker, 39, a former public school teacher, was in the first graduating class of the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg created in 2003 to groom promising principal candidates. Considered one of the stars, he was among the last to get a job, as school officials deemed him “not a fit” in a city where the tensions between blacks and Hasidic Jews that erupted in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 1991 are not forgotten.

“They just said he may be terrific, but not the right person for that school,” Chancellor Klein said.

Some parents at J.H.S. 22, also called Jordan L. Mott, were suspicious, viewing Mr. Waronker as too much an outsider. In fact, one parent, Angie Vazquez, 37, acknowledged that her upbringing had led her to wonder: “Wow, we’re going to have a Jewish person, what’s going to happen? Are the kids going to have to pay for lunch?”

Ms. Vazquez was won over by Mr. Waronker’s swift response after her daughter was bullied, saying, “I never had no principal tell me, ‘Let’s file a report, let’s call the other student’s parent and have a meeting.’ ”

For many students and parents, the real surprise was that like them, Mr. Waronker speaks Spanish; he grew up in South America, the son of a Chilean mother and an American father, and when he moved to Maryland at age 11, he spoke no English.

“I was like, ‘You speak Spanish?’ ” recalled Nathalie Reyes, 12, dropping her jaw at the memory.

He also has a background in the military. Mr. Waronker joined R.O.T.C. during college and served on active duty for two years, including six months studying tactical intelligence. After becoming an increasingly observant Jew, he began studying at a yeshiva, thinking he was leaving his military training behind.

“You become a Hasid, you don’t think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to suppress revolutions,’ ” Mr. Waronker said. But, he said, he drew on his military training as he tackled a school where a cluster of girls identifying themselves as Bloods stormed the main office one day looking for a classmate, calling, “We’re going to get you, you Crip.”

He focused relentlessly on hallway patrols, labeling one rowdy passageway the “fall of Saigon.” In an effort to eliminate gang colors, he instituted a student uniform policy.

He even tried to send home the students who flouted it, a violation of city policy that drew television news cameras. In his first year, he suspended so many students that a deputy chancellor whispered in his ear, “You’d better cool it.”

In trying times — when a seventh grader was beaten so badly that he nearly lost his eyesight, when another student’s arm was broken in an attack in the school gym, when the state listed J.H.S. 22 as a failing school — Mr. Waronker gathered his teachers and had them hold hands and pray. Some teachers winced with discomfort.

At first Mr. Waronker worked such long hours that his wife, a lawyer, gently suggested he get a cot at school to save himself the commute from their home in Crown Heights.

He also asked a lot from his teachers, and often they delivered. One longtime teacher, Roy Naraine, said, “I like people who are visionaries.”

Sometimes teachers balked, as when Mr. Waronker asked them to take to rooftops with walkie-talkies before Halloween in 2006. He wanted to avoid a repetition of the previous year’s troubles, when students had been pelted with potatoes and frozen eggs.

“You control the heights, you control the terrain,” he explained.

“I said, if you go on a roof, you’re not covered,” said Jacqueline Williams, the leader of the teachers’ union chapter, referring to teachers’ insurance coverage.

Mr. Waronker has also courted his teachers; one of his first acts as principal was to meet with each individually, inviting them to discuss their perspective and goals. He says he was inspired by a story of how the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitch spiritual leader, met with an Army general, then inquired after his driver.

“That’s leadership,” he said, “when you’re sensitive about the driver.”

Lynne Bourke-Johnson, now an assistant principal, said: “His first question was, ‘Well, how can I help you, Lynne?’ I’m like, ‘Excuse me?’ No principal had ever asked me that.”

The principal enlisted teachers in an effort to “take back the hallways” from students who seemed to have no fear of authority. He enlisted the students, too, by creating a democratically elected student congress.

“It’s just textbook counterinsurgency,” he said. “The first thing you have to do is you have to invite the insurgents into the government.” He added, “I wanted to have influence over the popular kids.”

These days, the congress gathers in Mr. Waronker’s office for leadership lessons. One recent afternoon, two dozen students listened intently as Mr. Waronker played President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, then opened a discussion on leadership and responsibility.

When an etiquette expert, Lyudmila Bloch, first approached principals about training sessions she runs at a Manhattan restaurant, most declined to send students. Mr. Waronker, who happened to be reading her book, “The Golden Rules of Etiquette at the Plaza,” to his own children (he has six), has since dispatched most of the school for training at a cost of $40 a head.

Flipper Bautista, 10, loved the trip, saying, “It’s this place where you go and eat, and they teach you how to be first-class.”

In a school where many children lack basic reading and math skills, though, such programs are not universally applauded. When Mr. Waronker spent $8,000 in school money to give students a copy of “The Code: The 5 Secrets of Teen Success” and to invite the writer to give a motivational speech, it outraged Marietta Synodis, a teacher who has since left.

“My kids could much better benefit from math workbooks,” Ms. Synodis said.

Mr. Waronker counters that key elements of his leadership are dreaming big and offering children a taste of worlds beyond their own. “Those experiences can be life-transforming,” he said.

So when Emmanuel Bruntson, 14, a cut-up in whom Mr. Waronker saw potential, started getting into fights, he met with him daily and gave him a copy of Jane Austen’s “Emma.”

“I wanted to get him out of his environment so he could see a different world,” Mr. Waronker said.

Mr. Waronker has divided the school into eight academies, a process that has led to some venomous staff meetings, as teachers sparred over who got what resources and which students. The new system has allowed for more personalized environments and pockets of excellence, like an honors program that one parent, Nadine Rosado, whose daughter graduated last year, called “wonderful.”

“It was always said that the children are the ones that run that school,” she said, “so it was very shocking all the changes he put in place, that they actually went along with it.” Students agree, if sometimes grudgingly, that the school is now a different place.

“It’s like they figured out our game,” groused Brian Roman, 15, an eighth grader with a ponytail.

Back in Crown Heights, Mr. Waronker says he occasionally finds himself on the other side of a quizzical look, with his Hasidic neighbors wondering why he is devoting himself to a Bronx public school instead of a Brooklyn yeshiva.

“We’re all connected,” he responds.

Gesturing in his school at a class full of students, he said, “I feel the hand of the Lord here all the time.”

US to boycott UN Racism Conference to avoid gang-up on Israel

February 7, 2008
Senator: U.S. to boycott UN anti-racism meet due to anti-Israel agenda
By The Associated Press
Tags: Israel, Racism, UN, Durban
A U.S. senator says the United States has decided not to attend next year’s follow-up to the 2001 United Nations World Conference on Racism because the panel seems certain to repeat anti-Semitic and anti-Israel positions of the original gathering.

The United States and Israel walked out of that conference, which ended two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States. A State Department spokesman, Karl Duckworth, said Wednesday no decision had been made whether to stay away from the second conference.

Word that the United States would reject the conference again came from Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman. In a news release, Coleman said the decision came in response to a letter he and 26 fellow senators wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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“The U.S. walked out of this conference after the anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli activities reached such an intolerable level that it was beyond repair, the letter said. It called the conference yet another example of a seemingly noble UN agenda item being hijacked by member states to spew anti-Semitism.”

Canada already announced it is boycotting the conference, known as Durban II for the South African city hosting it. In announcing the decision last month, Canada’s secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, Jason Kenney, said, “We’ll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance.”

The Bush administration showed its distaste for the conference in December by refusing to accept a consensus vote on a preliminary UN budget for 2008-2009 and demanding a recorded vote. The vote was 141 to 1, the no vote coming from the United States.

A separate recorded vote on including the Durban II language in the budget also passed, but the United States, Canada and 38 other countries voted against it. Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland abstained.

In the letter, Coleman and the others had particularly bitter words for governments and people being appointed to run Durban II. “Libya was appointed to chair the Executive Committee of the Preparatory Committee; a vice chairman is Iran, despite the fact that this country’s leader has called for the destruction of Israel and been a leader on one of the most despicable forms of racism – Holocaust denial.”

In 2001, Rice, then President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, explained on television why the Americans and Israelis had walked out: Participants spent far too much time trying to condemn Israel and single it out, and I think the United States made the right decision to leave.

Jewish vote in America…

February 6, 2008

From Haaretz, Feb. 6, 2008:

The Jewish vote: Obama carried Massachusetts, Connecticut
By Shmuel Rosner
Majority of Jewish Democrats will go along with the nominee, be it Clinton or Obama.
The Illinois Senator also came close in all states but New York and New Jersey. Some Jewish voters might be more apprehensive about him than others, but the majority of Jewish Democrats will go along with the nominee, be it Clinton or Obama.

1.

In New Jersey, where the Jewish vote was 9 percent of the total. Hillary Clinton won, as she did among Jews in almost all states in which the Jewish voters were analyzed separately before Super Tuesday: 63 percent for her, 37 percent for Obama.

2.

And there’s the more important New York. There was never a question that Clinton would win this state, but how about the large Jewish constituency?

16 percent of the vote was Jewish, and it went, also as expected, to Clinton. 65 percent voted for her, only 33 percent for Obama. This is better for Obama than he did in Nevada, but there’s an important difference: John Edwards is no longer in the race.

Since Jews in Nevada – and in Florida too – voted for Obama in similar numbers (in Florida, just last week, it was 26 percent for Obama), one might assume that the Jews who supported Edwards moved to Obama, and not to Clinton (she got 58 percent of the Jewish vote in Florida).

3.

And how about Massachusetts?

In this state, especially in Boston and the area around it, there are also many Jews. They constituted 6 percent of the total vote. But there’s a surprise here. Or maybe not. The more liberal Jewish community is the one that voted for Obama and not for Clinton. The margin is small, but nevertheless, it is the first time that he wins among Jewish voters – 52 percent for Obama, just 48 percent for Clinton.

Clinton was happy today to be able to win Massachusetts, a state in which both Senators Kennedy and Kerry, who endorsed Obama, reside. But she wasn’t so lucky with Jewish Massachusetts. An achievement for one of the most visible of Obama’s Jewish supporters, Alan Solomont (I mentioned Solomont in Democrats woo Jewish, minority vote as primaries heat up a month ago.

4.

This article was originally written before the predictions for California were made (update: Clinton won), but after the exit polls were made available on the web. And Obama came very close in California.

The Jewish vote in this state was 5 percent of the total, and also went to Clinton, but the margin was small – 48 percent for her, 44 percent for Obama (8 percent voted for no-longer-a-candidate Edwards).

A long while ago I wrote that many Jews would vote for Obama, especially the younger generation. With all the brouhaha about him and Israel, and Farrakhan, and the smear campaign, and the emails and all the rest, Obama has many Jewish followers, and will have even more if he wins the nomination.

Some Jewish voters might be more apprehensive about him than others, but the majority of Jewish Democrats will go along with the nominee, be it Clinton or Obama.

5.

Need more proof? Massachusetts is not the only state in which Clinton lost the Jewish vote. Take a look at Connecticut. Obama won the race, and the Jewish vote. In fact, he won impressively.

Jews were 10 percent of the vote in Connecticut, and Obama got 61 percent of it. Clinton got only 38 percent. An Obama campaign aid reacted to these numbers tonight in this fashion: “We are proud of our support across the spectrum of all voters, including the Jewish community. Barack Obama’s message of bring change to Washington, ending the War in Iraq and strong support of Israel resonates well in the Jewish community.”

And here is why they can be proud: In Arizona, Obama also came closer to winning the Jewish vote than he did in the past (this means he lost). 51 percent to Clinton, 44 percent to Obama (the Jews made up 5 percent of the vote).

And here is another way to look at it: Clinton won the Jewish vote handily in her backyard (New York and New Jersey), but did not have such luck in other places. She won some, and lost some, but the margin in all places but those two backyard states was not significant.

6.

Did you wonder about Jewish Republicans?

They are more a myth than a reality.

In New York, they make up 4 percent of the voters (Jewish Democrats are 16 percent). In California 2%. In New Jersey, 3 percent of the total vote (Democrats 9 percent) are Jewish. In Massachusetts, the number is also 3 percent (6 percent for Jewish Democrats). We had similar percentage in Florida (3 percent).

Exit polls don’t deal with such small numbers of voters, so we do not know who they voted for. But we know they could barely make a difference.

No free election in Iran…

February 6, 2008

From the Financial Times:

Iran reformists’ electoral hopes dashed

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Published: February 6 2008 

Iran’s reformists say they may be unable to compete for more than 10 per cent of seats in the forthcoming parliamentary elections because of the mass disqualification their candidates.Over 2,400 nominees, most of them reformists, have been barred from running for the 290 parliamentary seats that come up for election on March 14.

A grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 revolution, was also among those rejected, on the grounds of a lack of loyalty to Islam and the constitution.

Mohammad-Reza Aref, a former first vice-president, who was supposed to head the list of the main reformists’ coalition, withdrew on Wednesday in protest at the disqualifications, even though he was one of the few senior reformists who had passed the vetting procedure.

The interior ministry last month disqualified most reformist candidates in the first round. The Guardian Council, the constitutional watchdog, this week upheld the government decision and barred more nominees.

Disqualified candidates can appeal, but it is doubtful that many will be de-barred. This process, which can continue until early March, has kept reformists in limbo and unable to make any plans.

Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister, one of those disqualified for being against Islam and constitution, said reformist were reviewing their choices , one of which was not to run even in the remaining constituencies.

“We have been left with the ablity to contest maybe 10 per cent of Majlis seats, he said. “We don’t want to boycott the election but how can we run without candidates?”

Another reformist party, Etemad-e Melli (national trust) which is headed by former parliamentary speaker, Mehdi Karroubi, and is not part of the coalition, has been left with 36 out of its 260 candidates.

Those reformist candidates that have passed the test are mostly relatively unknown, with only a few prominent figures remaining who have a good chance of winning.

The mass disqualifications have guaranteed that conservatives will retain their absolute majority in the next parliament, which they won four years ago following disqualifications on a similar scale.

Mr Karroubi and two former presidents, Mr Khatami and Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani held an emergency meeting recently in which they decided to appeal to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say in all state affairs, to intervene.

All three reportedly had separate meetings with Ayatollah Khamenei, but the outcome has not been disclosed to the media.

“The result only seems to be more disqualifications,” said one despairing reformist.

The tripartite lobbying team has urged reformists not to boycott the election but to compete wherever they can.

Europeans keep doing business with Iran

February 6, 2008

From a January 6, 2008 Jpost article:

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik was here this week on her third visit in her current post. The visit was no doubt a friendly one. As our Foreign Ministry gushed, it was “a symbol of the improvement in relations between the two countries in recent years.”

Yet there is a major fly in the ointment. Austria, according to diplomats, is among the “weakest links” in the international campaign to sanction Teheran. The major item on Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s agenda with Plassnik was a €22 billion deal between Austria’s state-owned gas company OMV and Iran that was signed last April.

As a sign of how far off the reservation this deal is, another weak link, Germany, has criticized Austria. German Chancellor Andrea Merkel reportedly chastised Austria for setting a bad precedent by seeking to develop Iran’s oil sector.

Coming from Germany, however, this is close to the pot calling the kettle black. Germany is Iran’s largest European trading partner and has been the most resistant to tightening sanctions among the pivotal EU-3 – the UK, France and Germany.

On the one hand, Merkel wrote in Handelsblatt on December 27, “It remains in the vital interest of the entire international community to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, if necessary by intensifying sanctions.” But the German Ambassador to Iran told Iranian Press TV that the “German Embassy is trying to… improve economic ties between the private sectors of the two countries.” Further, the ambassador admitted that German exports to Iran have not been affected by UN sanctions because they pass through the Dubai free-trade zone.

Berlin’s criticism of Vienna could equally be levelled at itself. As Yves Pallade, director of the Foreign Affairs Network of B’nai B’rith Europe, put it, “If the special relationship with Israel… counts for anything, this is the time for the Federal Republic to set an example… by enacting comprehensive and if need be even unilateral sanctions and slashing all export credit guarantees.”

Germany is hardly alone in Europe. In January 2007, Shell, a Dutch company, joined with Repsol, from Spain, in signing a preliminary deal to develop Iran’s South Pars oil field. The project would allow Iran to liquefy 8 million tons of natural gas a year and, according to Iran, is valued at $10b.

In the same month last year, the Norwegian company Statoil began talks with China’s National Petroleum Corp on a $3.6b. Iranian natural gas project.

All such deals put these companies at risk of being sanctioned by the US under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 (ISA), which could apply to any company investing over $20 million directly into Iran’s oil sector in any given year.

Given France’s recent leadership on the Iran sanctions issue, it is ironic that the firm that arguably has violated ISA most consistently is Total, France’s oil company. In 1997 and 1999, after ISA became law, Total signed multi-billion dollar deals with Iran. Indeed, in each of the years since 1996, Total has made investments in Iran (excluding South Pars) in excess of $20m. Further, the company has reported to US regulators that it expects to invest significantly more than $20m. per year in Iran in the foreseeable future.

As critical as such investments are for Iran, they are minuscule in relation to European economies. A full 40 percent of Iran’s trade is with Europe, while only 1% of Europe’s trade is with Iran. Even Total, as of 2006, reported that its operations in Iran produced only 1% of its total worldwide production.

Iran, and the radical Islamist movement it spearheads, pose the greatest totalitarian threat to international peace and security since the defeats of Soviet communism and Nazi fascism. As in the 1930s, we are at the point when the threat is growing, but can still be stopped by imposing draconian diplomatic and economic sanctions, without military force.

Europe’s foot-dragging on sanctions is leading inevitably to military action, war, a nuclear Iran, or some combination of the exact scenarios that European leaders claim they want to avoid. The refusal to impose small economic costs now will result in a major economic costs – both through rising terrorism and oil prices – to European economies later, not to mention growing loss of life, freedom and security in the world.

Though Europe is acting blindly to its own self-interest, let alone Israel’s, our government should make clear that any nation that fails to take minimal effective steps to confront the Iranian threat cannot be considered a friend of the Jewish state.

Support the Colombian Free Trade Agreement

February 5, 2008
Have a look at the NYTimes article below about Colombians protesting abductions by FARC, a guerrilla group there.  There is a lot of misinformation on Colombia in the United States these days that has prevented a much-needed Free Trade Agreement between the US and that country from being passed.  A similar FTA with Peru was passed late last year in spite of widespread opposition in Congress, especially from Democrats.  The Colombian FTA has been held up due to complaints about the human rights record of Colombian President Uribe’s government in its fight against two vicious guerrilla movements there.  I believe that President Uribe has done a fine job improving security and reducing the threat from these guerrilla groups (as well as improving economic policies), and that accusations of complicity of people in his government with human rights abuses of paramilitaries are overblown.  In fact, most of the paramilitaries have been disbanded.  The latter issue has become an excuse to scuttle the much-needed US-Colombian FTA, which if not passed, will harm job growth for poor people in that country and US-Colombian economic and diplomatic relations.
New York Times article from today:
By JENNY CAROLINA GONZÁLEZ and SIMON ROMERO

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched here and in other cities around Colombia on Monday to protest the abductions and killings carried out by the country’s largest rebel group.

The marches, which also took place on a smaller scale in foreign cities from New York to Tokyo, were a vivid display of growing outrage in relation to the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. Demonstrators also criticized President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela for his plea to remove the FARC from lists of terrorist groups.

“The FARC made themselves into criminals a long time ago,” said Martín Orozco, 32, a surgeon who marched to the Plaza Bolívar downtown here to voice chants like “No more FARC!” and “We want peace and liberation!” “We are simply tired of this,” he said.

Until several months ago, such a mass gathering against the FARC would have been improbable in this country. Large cities like Bogotá and Medellín had been largely pacified in recent years, with war still raging in parts of the countryside, and the FARC and other guerrillas groups had become less of a pressing concern as the economy boomed.

But then 11 lawmakers held by the FARC were shot to death in a jungle camp last June. And Mr. Chávez’s efforts to win the release of dozens of other hostages held by FARC changed things. President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia withdrew his support for Mr. Chávez’s mediating role last November, triggering a political dispute that has intensified in recent weeks.

The FARC released just two high-profile hostages last month and was found to be lying about the whereabouts of a 3-year-old boy born into captivity, discovered living in foster care here and not in jungle camps. Shortly after the release of the two hostages, Mr. Chávez called on the FARC to be seen as a “real army” and not terrorists.

That assessment did not sit well with many Colombians already upset with delays in releasing hostages. A group venting their rage at the FARC on Facebook, an Internet social-networking site, had formed in early January before Mr. Chávez’s comments. It organized Monday’s marches, gaining the support of Mr. Uribe’s government.

“The Colombian people were lethargic, with an almost cynical indifference to the problems of violence,” said Óscar Montes, 33, a civil engineer in Barranquilla who helped organize the marches on Facebook. “At this time the FARC can say whatever they want,” he said in a telephone interview. “But they will not have legitimacy.”

The FARC said over the weekend that it would hand over three more hostages to Mr. Chávez, citing the deteriorating health of the captives, former lawmakers who have been held for more than five years. No date was set for the release of the captives, Gloria Polanco, Luis Eladio Pérez and Órlando Beltrán.

The FARC lashed out at the marches and at Mr. Uribe in a statement Monday, claiming “inhuman intransigence” on his part had blocked efforts to achieve a prisoner exchange.

The Marxist-inspired FARC continues to hold more than 40 political hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate, and three American military contractors captured when their plane crash-lnaded in the jungle in 2003. The guerrillas are also accused of holding 700 captives for ransom.

Support for the marches was not unanimous in Colombia. Relatives of some of the FARC’s captives opposed them, contending that they lowered chances for a release.

The FARC, one of the main actors in Colombia’s long internal war, finances itself through kidnapping and cocaine trafficking. A smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army also carries out abductions for profit, largely along the long border with Venezuela.

Private militias, which battled both guerrilla groups for much of the 1990’s and well into this decade, have largely disbanded. But many of the combatants in the militias, which carried out their own kidnappings and massacres, have resurfaced in Mafia-like groups that profit from drug trafficking and extortion.

Mr. Chávez’s role in mediating Colombia’s conflict has come under increasing scrutiny here. At the march on Monday, people chanted, “Chávez guerrilla, the people are offended!” among other chants critical of Venezuela’s president.

A report in Semana, a leading news magazine, claimed this week that Hugo Carvajal, Mr. Chávez’s chief of military intelligence, provided logistical assistance and forged Venezuelan identity documents for FARC commanders. Mr. Chávez lashed out at the report Monday night, calling it an “attack against the revolution.”

Anti-FARC marches took place in Venezuela and other countries affected by the war throughout the Americas. In Lima, Peru, more than 800 people gathered in front of Congress. One demonstrator there was Jorge Santamaría, 56, who was kidnapped by the FARC in 1999 when he fled attacks by Shining Path guerrillas in Peru.

“I don’t think they killed me because I made it clear I am not afraid of death,” said Mr. Santamaría, abducted at Bogotá’s airport and held for eight months. “I convinced them I was no one important,” said Mr. Santamaría, who was working for a palm oil company in the Peruvian Amazon at the time.

One of the most poignant expressions against the FARC could be seen outside the United Nations headquarters in New York where hundreds of demonstrators gathered. Salvador Zapata, 37, a restaurant worker in Edgewater, N.J., held his thoughts high above his head, written in a bright blue poster.

“FARC stop this dirty and fractious war against the people,” read one line of his comments.

“They say that they represent the people,” said Mr. Zapata, who is from Caldas, Colombia. “This is a lie.”

Jenny Carolina González reported from Bogotá, and Simon Romero from Caracas, Venezuela. Andrea Zarate contributed reporting from Lima, Peru, and Angelica Medaglia from New York.