A Briefing on Syria
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County (JCRC), the Interfaith Clergy Committee of Palm Beach County and the American Muslim Alliance of Florida joined together to present "A Briefing on Syria" on July 22, attracting nearly 50 people for breakfast and stimulating dialogue moderated by Professor of Middle East Studies at Florida Atlantic University Dr. Robert Rabil.
Distinguished panel participants included:
- Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, senior political adviser, government relations director and strategist for the Syrian American Council, a frequent traveler to Syria and the Middle East, as well as speaker at international conferences on Syria. He received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Damascus University.
- Oubay Atassi, a member of the Syrian National Council and president of Doraltech, who has held numerous senior positions within the telecommunications industry, including vice president of multiple divisions for Nortel Networks in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Miami and is fluent in Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French and English.
- Ahed Alhendi, the founder of Syrian Youth for Justice, who fled Syria for the U.S. after being imprisoned and tortured for political activism as a student. He has written for numerous publications, including Reuters, The Daily Beast, The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post, and has been interviewed by CNN, NPR and Bloomberg, to name a few media sources.
- Shlomo Bolts, a researcher, writer and activist for multiple Syrian pro-democracy organizations in Washington, D.C. He previously worked for the Project on Middle East Democracy, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Orthodox Jewish social justice group Uri L’Tzepek, where he is currently a prison reform consultant. Bolts received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and graduate degree from Cambridge University.
“The Arab Spring has broken the monopoly of power of the Arab tyrannies as the voice of the Arabs. Despite the uncertainty of the future, new liberal and enlightened forces who seek a life of freedom, peace and progress are emerging in the Arab world,” said The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County’s Executive Director of the JCRC Dr. Luis Fleischman. “Americans and Jews cannot miss this opportunity to interact with these emerging sectors. We need to have a ‘people to people’ dialogue now and break the prejudices that have separated us for such a long time. Hosting people like Mohammad, Ahed and Oubay, did precisely that."
Much of the dialogue and Q&A at this educational program centered on Syrian President Bashar Assad, and how the West could be helpful regarding the present conflict.
“When Bashar Assad came to power in 2000, many people expected he would make changes,” said Ghanem. ”When the Arab Spring was sweeping the region, many experts discounted the possibility that it would spread to Syria. Today, the Syrian army’s combat ability has been significantly degraded; many soldiers have defected or deserted. The Assad regime is presently supported by Iran and Hezbollah, who have recently helped Assad regain momentum. General Salim Idris is a reliable partner who shares our ideals, and the international community should support his efforts as he works diligently to unify the ranks of the armed opposition.”
“Assad was like G-d,” said Alhendi. “At the Christian school I attended, students were forced to pray for Jesus and Assad, and power outages and other technical difficulties were blamed on Israel. Today, the Syrian rebellion is not a struggle between secularists and Islamists, but Jihadists are strong because the liberals are not getting adequate support from the West.”
With regard to a sectarian conflict, Ghanem said, “The Syrian rebellion is not Sunnis versus Alawites. The opposition includes Alawites, Christians and Syrians of all backgrounds. Similarly, Assad is supported by a number of Sunnis, who benefited from his rule. The longer the war continues, however, the more likely that it will turn the sectarianism that Assad is fomenting to take hold. The U.S. has provided humanitarian support, but the humanitarian catastrophe is symptomatic of a much larger problem that can only be resolved with assertive American leadership.”
“Many Latin American countries are supporting Assad, particularly Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador,” said Atassi. “I have personally refused to meet with Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner because of her pro-Assad positions. I also believe that I large segment of the Latin American press is anti-American and anti-Zionist.”
“The Syrian regime deliberately and systematically targets civilians as Assad armed forces collapse,” said Bolts, an Orthodox Jew of Syrian ancestry. “Iran and Hezbollah are taking over from Assad; Iran will eventually gain access to Syria’s chemical weapons, making Israel far more vulnerable.”
Be on the lookout for additional JCRC offerings throughout the year, including a November 2013 "Christian-Jewish Summit for Israel". Information will be posted on Federation's website as details are available.