Obama torn between Palestinians and Jews

America’s obstruction of a Palestinian statehood drive at the UN has left President Barack Obama facing charges he watered down his Middle East peace push to appease disgruntled Jewish voters.

南宁桑拿

But polling data and electoral history suggests that American Jews do not make a president’s relations with Israel a litmus test for their vote and seem unlikely to desert Democrats for conservative Republicans in the 2012 election.

Still, experts say, Obama campaign aides, worried about any lost votes in what is shaping up as a close election, will be loathe to see the president spend more of his diminished political capital on a moribund peace process.

Obama’s relationship with Jewish voters — a key Democratic voting bloc — has been in the spotlight as his White House feuded with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pressured Israel on issues like settlements.

Circumstantial evidence suggests he has paid a political price.

APPROVAL RATING

In 2008, Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote and by the time of his inauguration, his approval rating with the community was 83 percent.

But his approval in the community had tumbled to just 54 percent by September, according to a recent Gallup poll.

A recent Republican victory in a fiercely Democratic district of New York where critics slammed Obama for “disparaging” Israel, left conservatives scenting an opening with Jewish voters.

“Don’t even think about throwing Israel under the bus,” said a Jewish voter in an Internet ad run by the Republican Jewish Coalition after the election.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, commentator Dan Senor said Obama was “losing the Jewish Vote” because of the “most consistently one-sided diplomatic record against Israel of any American president in generations.”

And Internet news pioneer Matt Drudge splashed: “Revenge of the Jews.”

Democratic leaders argued the race, in which conservative orthodox Jewish voters were prominent did not carry national implications.

DISCONTENT WITH OBAMA

But Republican 2012 challengers sought to fan Jewish discontent with Obama: Texas governor Rick Perry accused him of appeasing Palestinians.

So when Obama said last week at the UN that the US bond with Israel “is unbreakable,” after vowing to veto the Palestinian statehood bid, some observers saw outside motivations.

“Now is the time in which foreign policy makes way for domestic policy. Palestine-out; the Jewish voters in America-in,” said a commentary in the Israeli Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

The White House said the veto threat was purely motivated by a belief that UN recognition will not bring a true Palestinian state, which can only be defined by negotiations with Israel, any closer.

The case that Israel policy is hurting Obama among Jews especially, is undermined by the fact that many demographic groups, not just Jews, are souring on Obama, including another key Democratic constituency, Hispanic voters.

And at 54 percent, Obama is at least 10 points more popular with Jewish voters, than he is among Americans as a whole.

TWO PER CENT

Exit polls in 2008 suggested only around two percent of voters nationwide are Jewish.

However, in vital swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania they could wield disproportionate power in hard-fought counties, so Obama aides will be wary of alienating even a small sample of voters.

“You have to neutralize as many of the possible negatives as you can,” said Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation, who argues Obama is now in a political box on Israel.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J-Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said Obama’s aides may have drawn wrong conclusions.

“The idea that Jews are somehow fleeing in terms of their votes or their approval or support from Obama because of Israel — that is simplistic.”

“Unfortunately, I think that the way in which the Obama administration is approaching policy on this issue, is affected by their belief that they do have a problem.”

ISRAEL ‘DOWN THE LIST’

A Gerstein poll for J-Street in 2010, suggested Israel was well down the list of concerns for Jewish voters, with only 7 percent naming it as their top issue, compared to 62 percent motivated by the economy.

Ben-Ami also warned Obama aides may be overly influenced by powerful pro-Israeli lobby groups that he said do not reflect the entirety of American Jewish opinion.

Netanyahu has also forged strong links with conservative Republicans, further constraining Obama’s room for maneuver.

Factbox: Whose oil does the EU buy?

The European Union uses around 1 billion barrels of oil each quarter, imported from producers in various countries and offshore around the world.

南宁桑拿

It has now decided to implement an oil embargo on Iran.

The Middle East is only the third-largest exporter of oil to Europe, and oil from Iran constitutes the second-largest quantity from that region.

Here is a look at where Europe’s oil comes from, and which countries may step in to fill the void left by the embargo on Iranian oil

These figures from the European Commission show the total number of barrels including crude, heavy and light, imported into Europe from each country between January and March 2011.

Offshore rigs are responsible for more than 40 per cent of Europe’s oil imports, supplying just under half – 400 million barrels – of Europe’s oil per quarter. The top three suppliers are:

1. The Russian Federation (277,839,000 barrels in total)

2. Kazakhstan (59,730,000 barrels)

3. Azerbaijan (39, 682,000 barrels)

The second-highest volume of oil is imported from Africa, which provides just over 200 million barrels per quarter, mostly from:

1. Libya (85,187,000 barrels)

2. Nigeria (51,417,000 barrels)

3. Algeria (21,105,000 barrels)

Africa’s contribution comprises 21 per cent of total imports.

A further 20 per cent comes from within Europe – with almost 200 million barrels supplied by:

1.Norway (111,306,000 barrels)

2. The United Kingdom (47,687,000 barrels)

3. Other European countries

The Middle East is fourth, providing just over 130 million barrels, or 14 per cent, in the first quarter of 2011. The main suppliers are:

1. Saudi Arabia (60,109,000 barrels)

2. Iran (39,322,000 barrels)

3. Iraq (17,782,000 barrels)

Just over 2.5 per cent of Europe’s oil comes from the Americas, with Mexico and Venezuela the main suppliers.

Court defers Assange ruling

British judges on Wednesday deferred their decision on an appeal by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange against his extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.

南宁桑拿

The High Court in London heard two days of arguments from Assange’s lawyers and from Swedish prosecutors as the Australian sought to overturn a ruling in February that approved his extradition.

“We will hand down our judgment in the usual way,” said Judge John Thomas, one of two judges dealing with the case, referring to a written decision.

He did not say when the ruling would be given.

Assange was arrested by British police in December after Sweden requested his arrest for questioning over allegations of sexual assault and rape against two women. He denies the claims.

Lawyers for Swedish prosecutors on Wednesday rejected defence claims that a rape allegation against Assange, made by one of the women, would not count as such under English law.

Clare Montgomery accused Ben Emmerson, one of Assange’s lawyers, of “winding English law back to the 19th century” with his definition of consent.

“They (the alleged victims) are describing circumstances in which they did not freely consent without coercion,” Montgomery said.

“They were forced either by physical force or by the sense of being trapped into the position where they had no choice and therefore submitted to Mr Assange’s intentions.”

On the allegation that one of the women woke up to find Assange having sex with her without a condom, Montgomery said: “She may later have acquiesced in it… but that didn’t make the initial penetration anything other than an act of rape she had not consented to.”

“This woman had never had unprotected sex and it was a very important issue to her,” she said.

Montgomery was later challenged by judge Thomas over her arguments that the European arrest warrant used on Assange was proportionate.

Discussing whether it would be sensible for Assange to be interviewed by Swedish authorities in some way before the extradition goes ahead, Thomas said: “If you actually take sensible steps to eliminate problems in the spirit of judicial cooperation, you may find the process simpler.”

Another of Assange’s lawyers, Mark Summers, reiterated arguments that the European arrest warrant was invalid because he is only wanted for questioning and has not been charged.

“There was from the very outset of this case an easier way to proceed, a more proportionate way to proceed,” he told the court.

He said the EU’s executive Commission had examined the European arrest warrant system and issued guidance that warrants should not be issued in circumstances where there is a “less onerous” alternative.

Assange took on a new legal team after a hearing in February which abandoned the bombastic statements by his previous lawyers warning that he could be deported to the United States and incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The former Australian hacker has himself remained uncharacteristically silent during the latest proceedings.

He refused to comment as he left the court on Wednesday surrounded by a scrum of some 50 journalists who were firing questions at him, instead pushing his way slowly through the crowd to a waiting car.

A ripple of applause went up from a group of his supporters who had set up a small encampment outside court, some of whom were dressed in orange jumpsuits of the kind worn by Guantanamo Bay detainees.

One man yelled into a loudspeaker: “We support you. But you should wear a condom, save yourself the trouble.”

At his previous appearances Assange gave long press conferences claiming the allegations are politically motivated and linked to his whistleblower website’s releases of huge caches of leaked US government documents.

He has been living under strict bail conditions, including wearing an electronic ankle tag and a curfew, at a friend’s mansion in eastern England.

Octopuses limber up for World Cup

“We are currently conducting different skills-training exercises with the octopuses in the hope that at least one of them can forecast as Paul,” said Britta Anlauf, spokeswoman for Sea Life Germany.

南宁桑拿

In order to ensure a level playing field, each of the eight Sea Life centres in Germany, which is host to the June 26-July 17 women’s competition, will have exactly the same equipment, which will be delivered this week.

On the day of every Germany match at 11:00 am (0900 GMT), the octopuses will be put through their paces in Berlin, Hanover, Koenigswinter, Konstanz, Munich, Speyer, Timmendorfer Strand and at Paul’s old home in Oberhausen.

The exact format though is being kept a secret, but it is likely to be along the same lines of what Paul did during last year’s World Cup, when he was credited with correctly predicting the outcome of all seven Germany matches.

Two boxes were lowered into the salty soothsayer’s tank, each containing a mussel and the flag of the two opposing teams. The box that he yanked open first was deemed his choice to be the winner.

By the end the British-born cephalopod’s performance was being carried live on rolling news channels in Germany. He cost bookmakers a fortune and even correctly predicted Spain’s victory over the Netherlands in the final.

Paul died aged nearly three in October, sparking hundreds of messages of condolence from his fan club on social networking website Facebook, whose ranks have more than tripled since his death to more than 200,000.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said all the fuss encapsulated everything that was wrong with the West.

‘Kazakh poll failed to meet democratic principles’

“Notwithstanding the government’s stated ambition to strengthen Kazakhstan’s democratic processes and to conduct elections in line with international standards, the parliamentary elections still did not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections,” the observer mission said a preliminary report about Sunday’s ballot.

南宁桑拿

The snap election was won by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s ruling party Nur Otan with 80.74 percent of the vote, according to initial results.

The group will be joined in parliament by the pro-business Ak Zhol (Bright Path) party with 7.46 percent of the vote and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan — a largely pro-government group that won 7.2 percent.

The elections were run under new rules assuring the second-place finisher a few seats in parliament even if it won less than the seven-percent threshold.

The mission praised Kazakhstan’s plans to gradually introduce political plurality and noted that the vote was “aimed at introducing at least a second party into the parliament.”

But the mission — which involved the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, criticised the government for barring several opposition parties and leaders from the polls.

“If Kazakhstan is serious about their stated goals of increasing the number of parties in parliament, then the country should have allowed more genuine opposition parties to participate in this election,” said the mission’s special coordinator Joao Soares.

The report added that monitors also witnessed problems with how the vote was counted and did not always have access to the information they sought.

“The counting and tabulation processes were significantly lacking in transparency and respect for procedure, with cases of electoral fraud noted,” it said.

Miklos Haraszti, the head of the Election Observation Mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said: “This election took place in a tightly controlled environment, with serious restrictions on citizens'” electoral rights.

“Genuine pluralism does not need the orchestration we have seen.”

International observers had also condemned the conduct of April 2011 presidential election that saw Nazarbayev win more than 95 percent of the vote in a poll where even one of his rivals voted for the Kazakh strongman.