The Globe at a Glance: February 22-28
● Four Americans taken hostage by Somali pirates off the east coast of Africa were killed by their captors. The pirates had fired a rocket at a US Navy vessel that was trailing it, after which gunfire erupted between the two sides. The battle ended with a dramatic takeover of the pirate vessel by Navy commandos; one pirate was killed in close range knife combat, and then there was an unfortunate discovery of the dead captives. This marks the first time a U.S. citizen has been killed by pirates since the early 1800s – when the newly formed US Marine Corps battled Libyan ‘Barbary’ pirates that had been plaguing the Mediterranean Sea.
● A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the city of Christchurch, a tourist magnet in New Zealand. More than 150 people, including at least one Israeli backpacker, died in the wreckage, and many more are still missing. The earthquake was the second to hit Christchurch in the past five months. The city came through a 7.1-magnitude quake in September without loss of life, but seismologists said Tuesday’s quake struck closer to the city and much closer to the surface, making it far more lethal.
● In the ongoing drama unfolding in the Arab world, Libya’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, dismissed reports that he had fled amidst the unrest sweeping the country, calling foreign news channel correspondents “dogs”. Speaking to state TV from outside a ruined building, he said: “I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela,” after rumors that he had flown to Caracas.
● An Irish reporter was thrown out of a Brussels press conference after he tried to arrest Israeli Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, for alleged ‘war crimes’ against the Palestinians. It was not the first time the journalist tried to carry out a citizen’s arrest of a high-ranking public official. Last year, the Irishman’s press credentials were temporarily revoked after he attempted to arrest former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for what he said were crimes committed against the people of Iraq.
● A United Kingdom budget airline apologized to its Jewish customers for a flight loaded up with ham and bacon baguettes instead of the standard kosher food. Some passengers were forced to go hungry during the 4 1/2-hour EasyJet flight from Tel Aviv to London. “We would like to apologize to the passengers, and can confirm we have done everything we can to ensure that this does not happen again,” the airline said.
● Armed Rebels protesting the 40-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi closed in on Tripoli, the Libyan Capital, as they repelled an organized assault by his mercenary forces in nearby cities. Gaddafi has reportedly tried to strengthen his dwindling public support by handing out cash on the streets.
● A Saudi Arabian attending college in Texas was charged by the FBI with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Authorities say possible targets included former President George W. Bush, who is currently residing in Dallas. A journal found among his possessions suggests he was close to carrying out his plan – which allegedly included planting bombs in rented cars and positioning them in crowded urban areas during rush hour. He also reportedly considered using infant dolls to conceal explosives and targeting a nightclub with a bomb in a backpack. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
● In a speedy late-night vote, Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly approved a bill that would strip Public Employees of most collective-bargaining rights. Thousands of angry union members and their supporters have descended upon the state capitol building to protest the bill, while Senate Democrats have fled to neighboring Illinois to keep it from coming to a vote in the upper chamber. The Governor, Republican Scott Walker, said the bill is necessary to avoid thousands of layoffs due to budget shortfalls, and has called on the AWOL Democrats to return and do their job. Without the Democrats the Senate remains one lawmaker short of a ‘quorum’ necessary to bring any bill to a vote.
● The media went wild with a rumor that Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi had been shot. To the disappointment of his adversaries, this rumor turned out to be unsubstantiated, as Gaddafi appeared alive and well in Tripoli to rally his remaining supporters.
● In other news of the ‘wild Gaddafi rumors’ genre, two Israeli women of Libyan origin, who claim to be distant relatives of Gaddafi, say that the Libyan strongman is actually Jewish! “The story goes that Gaddafi’s grandmother, herself a Jewess, was married to a Jewish man at first, but he treated her badly, so she ran away and married a Muslim sheikh. Their child was the mother of Gaddafi” The women told Israel’s Channel 2 news. Gaddafi was unavailable for comment.
● Jewish leaders called on Raul Castro, President of Cuba, to release US citizen Alan P. Gross, who has been held in the communist nation’s squalid prisons for over a year without knowing the charges against him. Gross was charged only earlier this month with “Acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the State.” According to his lawyers and the US State Department, the Inmate was in Cuba on a humanitarian mission to help the local Jewish community. His trial is set for March 4th.
● The wave of Middle East protests continued its phenomenal spread as rioters in the Gulf nation of Oman clashed with police and set fire to cars and businesses as they demanded better treatment from their government. Inspired by the toppling of the corrupt government of Tunisia by fed up citizens, the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ has spread like wildfire among Arabs in oppressive and/or corrupt regimes, including Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain and now Oman. Protests are also scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Kuwait. A few non-Arab regimes, such as China and Cuba, have been seeing some unusually bold anti-government activity as well.
● Fox News commentator Glenn Beck apologized to Reform Jewry for comparing it to radicalized Islam. “Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It’s almost like radicalized Islam in a way where it is… less about religion than it is about politics” Beck said on his radio program. In his apology letter, Beck called his remarks “one of the worst analogies of all time.” The apology was welcomed and accepted by the Leaders of the Reform Movement and the ADL.