The Cable

Brownback’s case against proposed Turkish ambassador Ricciardone

Last week, we reported that the GOP is holding up the nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Today, we bring you the letter from Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explaining his objections to the nomination.

Brownback, who will retire from the Senate at the end of this year, has long been critical of Ricciardone dating back to the nominee's time as ambassador to Egypt during the Bush administration and as one of the key officials chosen to strengthen Iraqi opposition groups in early 2003. Brownback states in his letter that Ricciardone "downplayed" the Bush administration's pro-democracy efforts in Egypt and "did not favor" a strong effort to work with Iraqi opposition groups in the run up to the invasion.

"From the latter days of the Bush administration to today, opposition groups from Africa to the Middle East to Asia have been questioning the U.S. commitment to democracy and human rights. Given these questions, I am not convinced that Ambassador Ricciardone is the right ambassador for Turkey at this time -- despite his extensive diplomatic experience," Brownback wrote.

Brownback also criticized Ricciardone for his work while in Cairo to establish an endowment fund to provide non-military aid to Egypt, which the senator argued would have been a slush fund for the Mubarak government and contributed to the further marginalization of democracy and human rights opposition groups there. The Obama administration is negotiating over the controversial endowment even to this day.

"I believe democracy and human rights should be considered on par with other aspects of our bilateral relationships, but I am not convinced that Ambassador Ricciardone shares that view. I am concerned that the endowment plan will marginalize further discussion about the development of democracy in Egypt," he wrote.

All of this speaks to how Ricciardone would conduct American diplomacy in Turkey, according to Brownback, who alleges that secular Turkish opposition groups are already complaining they don't have good access to current ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who is on his way to take over for Chris Hill in Baghdad.

Brownback is requesting that State provide written answers and assurances on a list of questions ranging from Ricciardone's views on numerous issues to assurances regarding how the State Departmetn will conduct aspects of foreign policy.  He also signaled that Turkey's recent decisions to vote against new sanctions on Iran at the U.N. Security Council and harshly criticize Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident will also be part of Ricciardone's confirmation debate, which could resume when Congress returns from recess.

"I am also concerned that we have not fully considered the ramifications of a Turkish tilt toward Iran and away from Israel, and I will give those issues some attention before the Senate reconvenes in September," Brownback wrote.

Full letter after the jump:

Brownback Letter to State Dept Re Nom of Ricciardone August 2010

The Cable

Harvard not divesting from Israel

Harvard University sold off some of its investments in Israel but is not divesting itself from the Jewish state and the portfolio changes were not politically motivated, according to the university's spokesman.

Reports that Harvard sold off all of its holdings in Israel sparked immediate outrage across the Internet Monday morning, based on the news that the Harvard Management Company's most recent SEC filing revealed that it had sold stocks amounting to $39 million in Israeli companies such as Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., NICE Systems Ltd., Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., Cellcom Israel Ltd., and Partner Communications Ltd.

But Harvard spokesman John Longbrake tells The Cable that the filing shows only a change in holdings, not a change in policy.

"The University has not divested from Israel. Israel was moved from the MSCI, our benchmark in emerging markets, to the EAFE index in May due to its successful growth. Our emerging markets holdings were rebalanced accordingly," he said.

Harvard still is invested in Israel, Longbrake said, but he declined to go into specifics. He said the filing in question only represents a small portion of Harvard's overall portfolio, which is about $26 billion.

In other words, Israel's growth and development resulted in a status change whereby the stocks could no longer be considered "emerging market" holdings, requiring Harvard to rebalance its emerging market portfolio.

"There are some funds which invest only in emerging markets," Yaacov Heen, the Cellcom CFO, told The Media Line. "So Harvard had to sell our stock because Israel is no longer classified as an emerging market and they no longer have the ability to hold this stock within the emerging markets fund."

From The Media Line:

Formerly the Morgan Stanley Capital International, MSCI World, is an international index of 1,500 stocks from a couple dozen ‘developed' countries and is often used as a benchmark by global stock funds. In May, MSCI upgraded Israel from an ‘emerging' economy to a ‘developed' economy.

But it's also true that several of the stocks Harvard sold were doing poorly. Harvard's three biggest remaining holdings are all in emerging markets, Israel's Globe business news site reports. They own $295 million in a fund composed of Chinese equities, another $295 million in a fund focused on emerging marks, and $181 million in a Brazilian stock fund.

Harvard's explanation didn't stop the group organizing the Arab boycott of Israel, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) for Palestine movement, from claiming a victory.

"We welcome Harvard's decision, and encourage all academic institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere to follow its lead, to invest in socially responsible investments, and divest from Israeli war crimes," Hind Awwad, Coordinator of the BDS National Committee in Palestine told The Media Line. "After Israel's war of aggression on Gaza in 2008/2009, and its recent attack on the Freedom Flotilla, the Global BDS campaign has gained great momentum."

The BDS campaign -- targeting Israeli consumer, academic, cultural, and sports organizations -- started in 2005 and had its first conference in Ramallah in 2007. The Anti-Defamation League has pointed out that, in February 2009, a similar claim by BDS that Hampshire College had divested its Israeli holdings was also disputed by the college.

"Despite the best efforts of activists, and some gains among church groups, the divestment campaign in the U.S. has been largely unsuccessful," the ADL said. "To date, it has failed to bring its primary targeted institutions to divest from Israel or from U.S. companies doing business with Israel."