THE INDEX — March 17, 2010

The diplomatic row between the United States and Israel is being fanned yet again as Israeli officials reject demands by Washington to withdraw plans for further settlements in the disputed East Jerusalem territory. “We must tell the American government that there are things we can do and things we cannot do,” says Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. “Freezing building in East Jerusalem is one of those things we cannot do.” Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel last week was meant to emphasize American commitment to Israel’s security in the face of a possible Iranian nuclear threat, while creating a supportive atmosphere for pending talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. However, relations between the United States and israel were strained when, during Biden’s visit, Israeli officials made what they admitted was a poorly timed announcement to build 1,600 new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem—an area contested by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed surprise over the building announcement and claimed not to have been aware of the plans, the Obama administration contended that Mr. Netanyahu should have been in control of the construction process by working side by side with Israel’s housing commission.  Top White House official David Axelrod, said in a television appearance that Netanyahu’s announcement during Vice President Biden’s visit to the region “seemed calculated to undermine” the kickoff to negotiations. Israeli officials vehemently disagreed with this accusation. The New York Times reported additional “anger over the public upbraiding of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the Obama administration.” Netanyahu, while rejecting Washington’s demands for a halt on continued building in East Jerusalem, added that the Israeli government never promised to modify its development of Jerusalem as part of the indirect peace talks. And he declined to withdraw last week’s announcement of these plans. In the Knesset this week, Mr. Netanyahu said, “No government of Israel for the last 40 years has agreed to place restrictions on building in Jerusalem.”

Riots broke out in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on Wednesday after a fire the previous night destroyed the mausolea that houses the sacred tombs of one of the country’s pre-colonial kingdoms. The kingdom in question, Buganda, encompasses Uganda’s largest modern-day ethnic group, and is a residue of a large political state that existed in the region prior to the incursion of colonial powers in the late-nineteenth century. At least two people were reported dead after members of the Ugandan military open-fired on a crowd that was attempting to block the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, from entering the charred burial ground. While the origins of this fire are not known, many Baganda (the term used to denote the subjects of the ancient Buganda Kingdom) have assumed that the Ugandan government was somehow involved. According to local news reports, “Although there is no word yet on who set the sacred Baganda royal cemetery to fire, a vast majority of Baganda lay the blame squarely on Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni.  Many point out that Mr. Museveni has laid siege on Buganda since 2009, putting traveling restrictions on Kabaka [King] Mutebi … closing Radio Buganda, and persecuting many of the Kabaka’s officials.” Wednesday’s riots marked the second outbreak of sectarian violence to sweep Uganda’s capital over the past six months. Three days of rioting last September pitted the country’s military against scores of angry Buganda subjects. The number of fatalities in this previous set of riots has been a source of dispute between the Ugandan government and the Kingdom of Buganda–the government claiming 27 deaths and the kingdom claiming 42. Just last week, subjects of Buganda Kingdom threatened to refer their case against Museveni to the International Criminal Court, claiming the government used excessive force during last September’s riots. This referral could piggyback off the momentum generated by the court’s investigations of neighboring Kenya’s post-election violence in early 2008. The ICC’s review conference is scheduled to take place in Kampala in June.

Cardinal Sean Brady has indicated his intent to stay on as head of the Irish Roman Catholic church, despite recent calls for him to resign amid revelations that he actively abetted church authorities who concealed evidence about a sexually abusive priest from Irish police. According to Brady, “Yes, I knew that these were crimes. But I did not feel that it was my responsibility to denounce the actions of [abusive priest] Brendan Smyth to the police. Now I know with hindsight that I should have done more, but I thought at the time I was doing what I was required to do.” In 1975, when Brady was a bishop’s secretary, he was present at a meeting where church authorities had two of Father Smyth’s victims, ages 10 and 14, sign oaths of silence about their molestation. At the time, according to Brady, the church was conducting an internal investigation of Smyth, which eventually resulted in his expulsion from the priesthood. However, because church authorities failed to reveal their findings to Irish law enforcement, Smyth went on to abuse other children before finally being arrested in 1994. In 1997, Smyth pleaded guilty to sexually abusing 20 children in Ireland between 1958 and 1993, and is thought to have abused at least 70 more in Britain and the United States. In the wake of disclosure of the alleged cover-up, Cardinal Brady told parishioners in Armagh, Ireland this Sunday, “This week a painful episode from my own past has come before me. I have listened to reaction from people to my role in events 35 years ago. I want to say to anyone who has been hurt by any failure on my part that I apologize to you with all my heart. I also apologize to all those who feel I have let them down. Looking back, I am ashamed that I have not always upheld the values that I profess and believe in.” Pope Benedict XVI is expected to release a pastoral letter addressing the history of pedophilia by priests in Ireland.

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