Friday, March 6, 2009

Good stuff

This is a great story about real hope and change.

Less than a day after receiving the rank of officer and before heading back to the paratroopers he will command, Lioz Shaashua headed to Havat Hashomer military base to direct a phys-ed class. The visit had great significance, not just for Shaashua but for all involved in a project launched 30 years ago by former IDF Chief of Staff Rafael (Raful) Eitan.

The project, dubbed 'Raful Youth', was intended to assist and support soldiers from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and to reinforce their integration within the IDF.

The army was reluctant to enlist Shaashua, 22 from Bat-Yam, who dropped out of high school after completing the tenth grade and became involved in criminal activity. But he claims the army changed his life as he became the first 'Raful youth' to complete the officers' training course on Thursday.

"It's an amazing feeling of satisfaction and personal victory, but it's also more than that," Shaashua told Ynet. "My message is clear – whoever wants to reach the top just needs to know how to get the right tools, and no one will be able to stop him."

And there's both good and bad news out of Italy. First, the good news:

ROME (AP) — Italy said Thursday it is pulling out of a U.N. conference on racism — the latest blow to a meeting seen by many Western governments as marred by Muslim attempts to attack Israel and shield Islam from criticism.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini also decided to postpone a planned trip to Iran in protest over remarks against Israel and the U.S. administration by Tehran's leadership, the ministry said in a statement.

Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Frattini said Italy has withdrawn its delegation from the preparatory negotiations ahead of the so-called Durban II conference due to "aggressive and anti-Semitic statements" in the draft of the event's final document.

And then, the not-so-good:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican said Friday it would attend a U.N. conference on racism next month but hoped for a change in the wording of its final declaration, which some countries view as hostile to Israel.

"People go to conferences to discuss and debate," said the Vatican's chief spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi. "That doesn't mean we agree with the draft text of the final declaration as it is now."

Both Italy and the United States have said they will not attend unless the wording of a document they consider hostile to Israel is altered before the gathering starts.

Israel is calling for a boycott of the April 20-24 event but so far only the Jewish state and Canada have said they will not participate.

This is incredibly disappointing, as well as naive. And it sounds a lot like what Obama was saying a few weeks ago before he was disabused of his optimism.

Yes, I know that Anne Bayefsky and Melanie Phillips are seeing this glass half empty. I did catch the weasel words and I reluctantly suspect that Durban II's agenda is a lot less offensive to the Obama administration than they like to pretend. My optimism stems from the fact that most of the world won't look too closely behind that curtain and on the surface at least, the departure of the U.S. and Italy are both good. It also stems from my desperate need to find something to be optimistic about.